In the forty years that I was as a close associate of Swami Kriyananda, helping him to serve Paramhansa Yogananda’s mission in America, India, and Europe, I came to think him as the Guru’s chosen messenger.
Yogananda told Swamiji that he would be not only a teacher, but that he would have responsibility for people’s spiritual well-being. Thus it became important for us who were karmically drawn to him as our teacher to understand how to relate to his spiritual authority.
I often think of the spiritual life as a kingdom, where the king appoints his son to be in charge of certain parts of his realm. The fact that the prince is not the king makes him no less empowered to rule in the king’s name.
From almost his first days with Yogananda, as a young man of age twenty-two, the Master gave Swamiji the responsibility of speaking in his name. Thus, those who paid attention to Swamiji found themselves receiving Paramhansa Yogananda’s help. But those who turned away from him in favor of going directly to Yogananda, found that the “system” broke, and that their spiritual progress came to a standstill.
Many people don’t understand how to relate to spiritual authority. They often think they must relate to the teacher mindlessly, and that they should not try to think for themselves. But it’s extremely important to understand that God can help us much more if we are absolutely sincere with him – sharing our doubts, fears, and even our worst qualities with him, and not pretending to be better than we are, or to offer him a level of obedience that we don’t truly have.
If you act with common sense and with devotion, then the people to whom God has given authority for your spiritual welfare will be able to help you much more.
Even in our human relationships, we find that they work much better if we are respectful, attentive, and intuitively receptive to the other person’s reality. And this is equally true in the relationship with the teacher, where our goal is to let the teacher guide us.
Yogananda’s most advanced woman disciple was an American-born woman to whom he gave the title Sister Gyanamata. Through her many long years of devoted service and devotion to him, she left us the most extraordinary example of what it means to be a true disciple. She said, “You can say anything you want to the guru, as long as you speak with detachment and respect.”
I’ve given Gyanamata’s words a great deal of thought over the years. And I find that they are true also of our relationship with the other people in our lives.
You can say almost anything to anybody, if you speak with “detachment and respect.” Things begin to go awry when we speak carelessly and inattentively, without detachment and respect. But when we are impersonal, sharing our ideas with sincerity, with respect for the person we’re talking to, then a good communication can happen.
Many years ago, Swamiji told me, “You don’t express what you really feel, but you’re not fooling me.”
I was working hard to hold the right “spiritual” attitudes. In fact, too hard! So hard that in the name of being spiritual, I wasn’t allowing myself to have my own feelings and think my own thoughts.
Swami said that he much preferred an honest argument to a mindless “Yes.” Mindless agreement is no agreement at all – it’s a bomb waiting to go off. But an honest, sincere discussion is an excellent start to finding our common ground.
I remember something that happened just after Swami had published one of his books. A woman began calling me with long lists of incredibly petty objections to things he said in the book.
She was an intelligent woman, but I simply couldn’t understand her objections. And finally I got so tired of listening to her that I said, “What are you doing?”
She looked surprised, then she said, “If Swami isn’t wrong, then I’ll have to listen to him.”
I said, “Oh, I get it. All right, we’re talking about fear. Now we can have a real discussion.”
She was doing her best to discredit Swamiji so that she wouldn’t have to face the possibility that he might be right, and that she might have to do as he suggested.
I always treated Swami as if he were Paramhansa Yogananda, because I felt him to be Master’s representative, and he always spoken to me in that way. I felt that what he said to me carried that level of God-given authority. He was an extraordinary channel for the grace and power of the Master to all who knew him.
But God can inspire us only to the extent that we are receptive. If you pray, and you are sincerely open to hear what God has to say, then the divine can enter your heart and mind and help you.
Many times, when people have asked me for advice, I couldn’t think of anything to say. And in every case I realized that the person didn’t actually want me to say anything, because they were afraid of what they might hear. As a result, I drew a blank when I prayed for inspiration.
Several times over the years, I asked Swami for advice when it was crystal-clear that I wouldn’t be able to follow whatever advice he might give. And in each case, his answer was, “I have nothing to say.”
Swami Kriyananda wasn’t fully liberated until the end of his life, but he was deeply attuned with Yogananda throughout the sixty-five years that he was his disciple, even in the smallest things. In his presence, we felt that it was the Master’s power of love and wisdom and grace that flowed through him. He was, and continues to be, a pure channel for his Guru’s help to all.