My beloved teacher, Swami Kriyananda, entered mahasamadhi on Sunday, April 21, in Assisi, Italy. Only three or four people were present at his passing. That was Swamiji’s way, never to make a fuss. His focus was always on helping others.
Swamiji’s great guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, told him many times, “Final liberation won’t come to you until death – that is the final price that you will have to pay.” What did he mean? Swamiji’s passing wasn’t dramatic. He simply lay on his bed in silence and stopped breathing.
The “price” had been paid in full. For 64 years, since the day he met his guru, Swamiji used himself up in serving his work. There was seldom a moment when he wasn’t serving people directly or working on some new project that would inspire them and instruct them in how to seek their own greater happiness. To the end, he was always working on a new book, a piece of music, a film, a TV program, or a lecture. When he died, an uncompleted film script lay close at hand.
It was no coincidence that, the day before his passing, the first public showings of a 90-minute movie conveyed, with stunning beauty, a major theme of Yogananda’s work – the creation, by his disciple Kriyananda, of small spiritual communities where people can enjoy a life of “plain living and high thinking.”
What did I learn in my long life with Swami Kriyananda? I certainly learned that “his ways were not my ways.”
Each time, over these forty-some years, when I thought he didn’t understand something properly, it always turned out that it was I who lacked understanding. Not that I am ignorant or unintelligent, but the issues were always about my state of consciousness.
Whenever Swamiji was kind enough to explain himself to me, I found that there were factors that I didn’t even know existed. It was a training in dealing with any questions of a divine nature that might arise in my mind.
“How big is my consciousness?” That question defines the limit of my understanding. If I want answers to questions that are infinite in scope, I must expand my consciousness to hold those answers.
I used to think that if I could get a reasonably logical answer to whatever question my mind might throw at me, the explanation would change my consciousness and my behavior.
But, with Swamiji’s help, I learned that explanations may be fascinating, and to be fair, they can be helpful, but change requires more than intelligent knowing. There must be a change of heart, a change of awareness, a change of perspective.
For example, let’s consider a Big Question: “Why did God make creation the way He did?”
The answer can come not by carving out a staggeringly intelligent, complex, logical answer. It will come by learning to live selflessly, love God, meditate, and serve.
When your consciousness changes, you experience the answer to the “big” questions. Above all, what you experience is an increase of inner happiness. This in itself is a very big answer! God’s ways do not seem as unknowable, when you share in His bliss.
I’ve known many people who loved to ponder the big questions, but I am not one of them. My mind tends to travel along practical lines. How do I feel right now? What can I do to make myself feel better?
Knowing the answer to the big metaphysical issues doesn’t change the “big” problem in front of me: my inner well-being. Whether I have free will in some larger, important cosmic sense, I know from my own direct experience that the choices I make in the morning will affect the way I feel in the afternoon. The decisions I make this week will bring consequences next week.
Even if I can’t see deeply into my past or future lives, the little bit of evidence that I have tells me that right action brings right results, that expansive attitudes bring greater happiness than contractive ways of thinking, and that love conquers all.
Further speculation may be interesting, but in the end, as Swamiji once replied in response to someone who asked him a “big question,” – “What difference would it make?”
I like the little questions rather than the big ones. Maybe my sense of “free will” is merely an illusion (big question), but it is an illusion that works for me.
Little questions bring little answers that bring little changes, that lead eventually to a lasting change of consciousness. This I know, not from books, or from being told by those wiser than myself. This I know from persevering over the years and finding out the truth for myself, from my own actual experience.
I am boundlessly grateful for Swamiji’s unceasing efforts to help me find greater happiness.