“There is a peace and quietness surrounding Swami Kriyananda that give a hint of his spiritual stature. Many times I listened to him speak, and have always come away feeling refreshed and energized. It is not only his lectures, teachings, and books that shed light on areas of darkness and confusion in people’s lives.

“Above all, it is the example of the man himself, the peace and calm that surround him, the spiritual power that emanates from him, pointing the way to each person’s own inner path to enlightenment.”

—John Harricharan, Body, Mind, l& Spirit magazine

A Brief Biography

In 1948 at the age of twenty-two, Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters) became a disciple of the Indian yoga master, Paramhansa Yogananda. At Yogananda’s request, Swami Kriyananda devoted his life to lecturing and writing, helping others to experience the living presence of God within. He taught on four continents in seven languages over the course of 65 years.

His talks, his music, and his many books have touched the lives of millions. Swami Kriyananda took the ancient teachings of Raja Yoga and made them practical and immediately useful for people in every walk of life. His books and teachings on spiritualizing nearly every field of human endeavor include business life, leadership, education, the arts, community, and science.

He wrote extensive commentaries on the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, both based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. He is known as the “father of the intentional communities movement,” which began in the United States in the late 1960s. Inspired by Yogananda’s dream of establishing spiritual communities, in 1969 he founded the first of what are now 9 Ananda communities worldwide. They provide a supportive environment of “simple living and high thinking” where over 1,000 full-time residents live, work, and worship together.

The time has come for people to live lives of even higher dedication than that which inspired monks and nuns of the past. It is time to direct our spiritual awareness also into matter, into everything we do: work, education, family life, friendship, communications with strangers, the way we build our homes — to all the most mundane, practical aspects of daily human life. People need to become God-centered from within, and from that center to see God everywhere, in everything.”

—Swami Kriyananda, Cities of Light

A monastic almost all of his adult life, Swami Kriyananda was a Swami of the Giri (Mountain) branch of the ancient Swami Order, as was his guru and his guru’s guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar. He was the spiritual guide of Ananda Sangha Worldwide.

Founder of Ananda

Fulfillment of Yogananda’s Dream of Spiritual Communities

“This day marks the birth of a new era. My spoken words are registered in the ether, in the Spirit of God, and they shall move the West. “We must go on — not only those who are here, but thousands of youths must go North, South, East, and West to cover the earth with little colonies, demonstrating that simplicity of living plus high thinking leads to the greatest happiness!”

—Paramhansa Yogananda, Beverly Hills, California, July 1949

Since his youth, Kriyananda had dreamed of utopian communities. But few shared his enthusiasm, and he gradually put his dreams aside. He was surprised, then, to discover Yogananda speaking often about the need for “World Brotherhood Colonies” as places to foster spiritual attitudes and friendly cooperation.

It was at a garden party on July 31, 1949 that Yogananda gave a talk quoted above that changed the course of Swami Kriyananda’s life. “Moved to his core” by the tremendous energy with which Yogananda made his pronouncement, Kriyananda later wrote: “Deeply, I vowed that day to do my utmost to make his words a reality.” The opportunity to do so came in 1967.

With the help of a few friends and many miracles, Swami Kriyananda was able to purchase a small piece of land in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Nevada City, California. Thus was started a spiritual community, which is now known as Ananda Village. More than 200 people live in this intentional spiritual community dedicated to Yogananda’s ideals. A variety of Ananda-owned and private businesses form the economic backbone of the community.

The Expanding Light retreat, Crystal Clarity Publishers, The Living Wisdom School, and a grocery store are among the activities on the rolling 900 acres in the rural Sierra foothills. Homes and gardens are well cared for, and there is a palpable feeling of harmony. Visitors are welcome year-round: (800) 346-5350.

Other Ananda communities have developed over the years to include Ananda Palo Alto, Ananda Sacramento, Ananda Portland, Ananda Seattle, Ananda Los Angeles, Ananda Assisi in Italy, and Ananda India near Delhi and Pune. Each community has a spiritual focus (a teaching center and temple) and a community (homes where members live).

Leadership

Swami Kriyananda’s example of inspired leadership was the reason for Ananda’s success. He uplifted and encouraged people through personal example, spiritual counseling, writing, lecturing, music, and prayer. He trained the current Ananda leaders in much the same way: free from egoic motivation, always placing the spiritual needs of others foremost in all decisions.

He was a patient and sensitive teacher, allowing people to learn by experience, and never placing institutional needs ahead of the needs of an individual. “People are more important than things” is one of the foremost guiding principles of Ananda. And “Where there is adherence to dharma [right action], there is victory,” is another.

Final Years

Swami Kriyananda passed away on April 21, 2013 at his home in Assisi, Itay. He was 86 years old. You can see video and written tributes to him at: Swami Kriyananda Remembered. In the final years of Swami Kriyananda’s life he often traveled between Italy, India, and America, giving many lectures and spreading Master’s teachings around the world. He wrote several books, including Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography, Commentaries on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, The Time Tunnel, A Pilgrimage to Guadalupe, Love Perfected Life Divine, and others.

Honors and awards

  • 2012 International Book Award for Best New Spirituality Book for Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography With Personal Reflections & Reminiscences
  • Appointed to the Board of Vedanta Today (2009)
  • More

In 2005 I was asked to create the Swami Kriyananda website as part of my work with Ananda’s outreach ministry. It will probably remain one of the best writing projects I’ll ever work on, though I continue to write for 60 years or more.

Particularly amusing — and also indicative of Ananda’s good character in the way it serves its members, rather than expecting to be served by them — was that at that time, I was one of the few people at Ananda Village who had never met Swami Kriyananda in person! I was also the youngest person in Ananda’s outreach ministry, and there, the only one who had never met Swamiji in person.

If that wasn’t enough, I was also almost completely untried as a writer. But somehow, owing to my job with websites and the fact that my job commitments were flexible (I was able to set aside of lot of time to tackle a specific project), I had this opportunity.

2005 was also my first year as a monk; during that time I usually spent Saturdays in silence and partial seclusion.

My Saturday routine, after being given this assignment, soon changed to this: after a long morning meditation, I would return to my bungalow and write as much as I could in an uplifted state of consciousness, filling in the details of an outline proposed by Dave Warner. In the afternoon I usually took a walk. I might do some editing, or read something of Swamiji’s, before meditating again in the evening.

Devi Novak, one of the founding members of Ananda and a close friend of Swamiji’s, helped with the editing and made suggestions for the writing. Her biography of him, Faith is My Armor, was the primary guide for me in determining how to treat Swamiji’s life.

One section of Swamiji’s life that I was leaving out was the period of time when Ananda was attacked with dual lawsuits [We removed this section of the website a few years after this article was written —Nabha]. Strangely — I don’t know why — my experience mirrors the one Devi describes in writing her book.

In an interview in Clarity Magazine, she said,

I had collected a lot of information on the lawsuit, but when it came time to write about it, I decided not to discuss it in depth.

Interestingly, Swamiji called around that time and asked, “How are you going to deal with the lawsuit?”

I said, “So much has been written about it already that I’ll only touch on it lightly – two or three pages.”

He replied, “Oh, okay.”

That night I woke up at 3 o’clock in the morning, and I saw how to do the entire chapter on the lawsuit.… I later refined it, but the entire chapter came in that flow of energy.

I knew quite a lot about the lawsuits, but was hoping I could skirt by without needing to address them in depth — “Maybe just two or three paragraphs,” I thought. Then Devi asked me if I was going to write about them. Suddenly, remembering her story above, I said, “They need to be dealt with!”

Thinking on it later, I realized, “Of course you have to deal with those lawsuits in telling Swamiji’s story.” It is a story with an incredible, beautiful conclusion of triumph. Even the title for Devi’s book is a quote from Swamiji about that period of time. (She had told him she didn’t think she could go through what he had gone through, and he replied, with conviction, “I didn’t know that I had the strength, but faith is my armor.”) However, as Swamiji had done for her, Devi gave me the choice whether or not to address them.

The real bulk of the writing was done during a four-day seclusion at Ananda’s Meditation Retreat. (I recalled Devi saying that she had needed to go into seclusion to write sections of Faith is My Armor.) These several days remain my treasured gift to Swami Kriyananda — which it was my blessing and honor to give.

During the seclusion, I would wake up, meditate longer than usual, eat breakfast, and spend the morning writing new sections of the site. In the afternoon I would edit. Then I meditated again as evening fell, and after dinner read or listened to a talk of Swami Kriyananda’s.

Writing took longer than I imagined it would — so many hours for so few pages! I tried to deeply understand the meaning in the words and be conscientious in writing. Especially important, I tried to tune in to the consciousness of Swami Kriyananda, and even tried to feel that he was writing it. How successful I was in this, I can’t say. But by making the attempt, I felt that insights came which wouldn’t have otherwise.

Truth told, I did feel, particularly during that seclusion, that I had a lot of help in writing the site. Certainly I prayed to God and to Yogananda to be guided in what I was doing.

Once the writing was done, Jyotish and Devi Novak, Spiritual Directors of Ananda Worldwide, contributed to the editing, as well as Maria Warner, who manages Ananda.org and the other websites of Ananda’s worldwide outreach ministry.

And at this point we come to a fascinating part of the story.

They edited so little.

It isn’t that the writing was perfect. Far from it! I read through it all more than a year later on my own and found a number of mistakes. But Jyotish, Devi, and Maria were demonstrating two principles which I’ve seen applied so often at Ananda:

  • A willingness to really let others go ahead and make mistakes, if it will help them learn
  • Guiding a person when they are receptive, but not to the point where that person might become dependant upon their guidance

As I look back on one of the old edited copies of the site (we printed everything out before editing), I see that many of the suggested changes have spiritual lessons behind them.

These are a few:

  • In the sentence, “Many times his Guru told Kriyananda, ‘You have a great work to do,’ — or perhaps, ‘You must do such and such, because you have a great work to do,’” she crossed off  “or perhaps,” and suggested “and also” in its place, because the latter expresses greater conviction. Literarily, I think both ways work, but for me, this change provided a useful lesson.
  • Devi changed “lead a Sunday Service” to “conduct a Sunday Service,” shifting the personal emphasis on the importance of the minister to a more impersonal emphasis on the Service itself.
  • In place of “Given thousands of lectures all over the world,” Devi suggested “Given thousands of lectures based on his Guru’s teachings.” This edit clarifies what is really important: not just reaching large numbers of people, but reaching them with something of value, something that is in tune with what Yogananda brought.

In this first round of editing, when you would expect the most changes, there were rarely more than a couple of suggestions per page.

Considering that Devi had recently finished a 250-page book on the same subject, one which she considered incredibly important (she described herself as feeling “inadequate” to the “magnitude” of the work — of needing to do justice to such a great soul like Swamiji), I find the willingness to give me this degree of freedom doubly-amazing.

Today, almost 1,000 monthly visitors come to www.swamikriyananda.org, and there have been nearly 50,000 visits to the site since it was first launched. A special newsletter, which has its goal as keeping people up to date on Swami Kriyananda’s new projects, talks, and public services, has close to 500 subscribers. (Since we’ve never advertised the newsletter, this seems like a reasonable number. If you want to sign up, you can do so on the home page of the website.) Of course, I’m very grateful to have played a part in its creation.

The greatest honor, though, came about a year ago, when Swami Kriyananda finally read the site himself (he’s not much of a web surfer! I think someone printed it for him). I was told that, reading it, he exclaimed, “Who wrote this? This is excellent!”

When I first heard that, I thought, “Oh my gosh, I must be a good writer,” but something in his choice of words made me pause. I remembered the seclusion, and how I had tried to tune into what he and Yogananda wanted to write through me. Anything that was inspired, therefore, I couldn’t claim as my own.

Like the painter who paints a beautiful sunset, and cannot claim credit for the scene, the quality of the canvas, or the brilliant hues of the paint, I was drawing material from sources that others had put together, using an outline suggested by a friend, and helped by others’ editing.

Besides, it was Swami Kriyananda who had lived the drama in the first place, and had made his life worth writing about — a life which he, in turn, gives all the credit for to God. My only work was in adapting his story for the web, which in comparison was nothing at all!

“Of course it’s good,” I realized, laughing to myself. “He wrote it!”

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8 Comments

  1. Dear Nabhaji,
    thank you so much for this wonderful testimonial of humble, deep attunement with Master and Swamiji.
    Joy and blessings to you my friend!

    ramesha

  2. Beautiful story, Nabha. And thank you for the great service you’ve done for us all, and the world, with SwamiKriyananda.org!

  3. Nabha—Reading about your writing experiences in creating the Swami Kriyananda web-site bring me great joy. I know that artistic endeavor is an expression of spiritual energy. The ability you have to participate in that flow, the commitment you have had to pursue the truest, and most informative and inspirational work is art. That is all I have wished for you —may you share your gift with others and help them connect to that energetic light in themselves. I am so amazed and grateful that you are you. Love, Mom

  4. Wonderful Nabha! Reminds me that “much more is needed” in terms of sharing our spiritual lives with others.

  5. Thank you, Nabha, for what you wrote and for your inspired sharing about the process/experience of writing. It’s a blessing to share this path with you.

  6. Marvelous and interesting, Nabha. Thanks for sharing (and for the great writing). And your mom is a fan, wow! blessings, -Jack

  7. blank

    Wow, thanks everyone (especially Mom!).

    Something happened while I was writing this article that was similar to my experience in writing SwamiKriyananda.org. It felt like some higher consciousness was helping to guide the writing — so again, I don’t feel responsible for it!

    But it is a joy to share it with you.

    Love,
    Nabha

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