Today is September 12, 2017—the sixty-ninth anniversary of the day a young man knelt alone at the feet of his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda. His heart aching with divine longing, the twenty-two-year-old James Donald Walters said beseechingly, “I want to be your disciple.”
The Guru paused, then replied, “You have good karma. You may join us.” Later at that first meeting, Yogananda said, “I give you my unconditional love.” For the remainder of the man’s life, he was shaped by that love, and by the consciousness of this great yogi. As a result of that meeting, many other lives throughout the world were destined also to be changed, as Yogananda began the transformation of his young disciple into the remarkable spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda.
Recently while at Ananda Assisi, we watched this touching first meeting as it was beautifully portrayed in the film The Answer. The movie, written by Swamiji, is a dramatic reenactment of his boyhood search for truth, the predestined meeting in 1948 with his guru, and his years of training at Yoganandaji’s feet until the Master’s passing in 1952.
The Answer has already won nearly thirty awards at film festivals throughout the world, and will be released internationally in the spring. The movie’s spiritual power lies in its depiction of the guru-disciple relationship, which opens viewers’ eyes to the depth of care, wisdom, and love upon which this bond rests.
In bringing about Swami’s inner transformation, Yogananda guided him in many ways over the years. Soon after Swamiji’s arrival, for example, he told him, “You are too intellectual. You must get devotion.” So Swami poured himself into chanting and devotional practices, until one day the Master said, “Look how I have changed Walter.” (This was the name by which Yogananda always called him.)
Master placed him in charge of the monks, even though he was both young and new to the work. Under the Master’s guidance, he organized the monks into a disciplined order.
Enthusiastically pouring his heart into everything that Yogananda asked of him, he more than fulfilled his guru’s expectations. Swamiji gave of himself completely, holding nothing back—returning in full measure the unconditional love that he had received.
Towards the end of Yogananda’s life, he made three significant statements to Kriyananda about what lay ahead. First, he said, by way of instruction, “Your work in this lifetime will be lecturing, editing, and writing.” This Swamiji fulfilled, leaving a prodigious legacy of books, music, and recorded talks.
On another occasion he said prophetically, “You have a great work to do.” What was this “great work”? The Master never told him; perhaps only with the passage of time will the full extent of it become clear. Surely it included in important part the creation of the ever-expanding Ananda Sangha and spiritual communities which share Yogananda’s vibrations and teachings worldwide.
Finally, just days before his passing, Yogananda said to him lovingly, “You have pleased me very much. I want you to know that.” These words gave Swamiji the reassurance and strength to fulfill everything his guru had asked of him, and became his guiding light through the many obstacles that lay ahead.
So what is the secret of Swamiji’s life? It is the constant flow of grace born of total self-offering and unconditional love.
And what can we learn from his example? Few of us will leave so rich a legacy in service to our guru, but we, too, can offer every ounce of what we have to give. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna says, “I accept even a leaf, if offered with devotion.” No gift offered lovingly is too small or insignificant for God to accept.
Swami Kriyananda once said these words about Ananda’s work—words that apply equally as well to him: “We are part of a great tide of loving, joyful energy that wants to give and give as long as people are happy to receive it.”
Thank you, Swamiji, for your remarkable life, and Happy Spiritual Anniversary!