Before Paramhansa Yogananda came to America in 1920, he published a small book called The Science of Religion.
He held high hopes for the book, as he wanted it to serve as the foundation of the great work that God had commissioned him to bring to the West.
In 2003, Swami Kriyananda published a completely rewritten version that bore hardly any resemblance to the original book.
Naturally, this caused some people to wonder why Swamiji had undertaken the project, and why he had credited it as “inspired by Paramhansa Yogananda.”
The unspoken question, of course, was whether Swamiji had overstepped his spiritual authority in publishing his own words under Yogananda’s name. What was going on?
The “inside story” began with the lawsuit that Self-realization Fellowship filed against Ananda.
In the lawsuit, SRF claimed that it owned exclusive rights to Yogananda’s “name, image, and likeness,” including all of his written and spoken works.
At one point, the federal judge in the case remarked that it looked like SRF was trying to put Ananda out of business. Indeed, if Ananda had been barred from using our guru’s books and photos, we would have been severely handicapped in our efforts to serve people in his name.
Ananda’s attorney, Jon Parsons, had extensive experience in copyright law. After examining the original copyright documents, he realized that most of them were invalid. The federal judge agreed, ruling that SRF had never actually owned the rights to most of Master’s works, thus placing them in the public domain for anyone to publish. SRF’s efforts to put Ananda out of business had backfired rather spectacularly.
One has to wonder if Paramhansa Yogananda’s hidden hand wasn’t operating behind the scenes. The court’s decision affirmed an important point that Ananda regarding Yogananda’s mission: that his works, like those of any great savior such Jesus Christ or the Buddha, belong to the world, and cannot be confined to a single organization.
The head of our publishing company was very excited by the prospect of making Yogananda’s original works more widely available. Swamiji heartily endorsed the idea, and we announced a new series of Yogananda’s books, of which the first to be published would be the original 1946 edition of Autobiography of a Yogi.
Swamiji then began reviewing Yogananda’s other works that were now in the public domain. And the first to come under his view was The Science of Religion.
Swamiji was well aware of the great importance that Yogananda had placed on the book. But as he began to read it, he immediately realized that it didn’t represent the Master’s thoughts as he had intended.
A little-known fact is that Paramhansa Yogananda didn’t actually write that book. At the time when it was published, in 1920, Yogananda wasn’t comfortable with the English language, so he asked a disciple, Swami Dhirananda, to write it for him. But Dhirananda was an academic and proud of his intellect, and the writing was dry and uninspired.
Because of its importance, Swamiji felt it was urgent that we publish a more accessible and inspiring version.
As he worked on the task of rewriting, he felt Yogananda guiding him to write the book in the first person, as if Yogananda himself was speaking.
In the introduction, Swamiji explains that in India, it’s not uncommon for a guru to create written works through his disciples. In Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda describes how Lahiri Mahasaya would occasionally ask his disciples to jot down the thoughts that he would inspire them to write. In this way, Lahiri’s commentaries on a number of scriptures came to be recorded by his disciples, acting as his attuned instruments.
Yogananda had received a revelation for how he could get people to seek God, especially in the West where many people were losing all interest in religion. It was that revelation that he wanted to spread with the help of The Science of Religion.
At Ananda over the years, many people have come to us declaring, “I’m not interested in God – I just want to learn how to meditate.”
Whenever they would announce their disinterest in religion to me, I would say, “It isn’t God you’re against, but a concept of God that you’ve been handed.”
Invariably, it had to do with a particular church and its narrow theology, or a minister’s rigid attitude, or the shallow intellectual trappings in which religion had been presented. And it was very intelligent of them to reject that brand of religion, because it wasn’t something that made any practical sense.
When we bought this church from the Catholics, there were a number of people in our congregation who’d grown up Catholic, and they were very keen to walk behind the altar and, as they put it, “see where the priests go.”
They had sat in the pews and watched the priests disappear, and they hadn’t been allowed to see where they went, or what they were doing. And it was enormously satisfying to see where the priests had disappeared to, and to be able to sit on the side of the confessional where the priest had sat.
They had had a sense that the church wasn’t theirs, and that it was owned by someone else. The priests had special privileges, and their relationship with the parishioners was hierarchical, as if the priests were on a higher plane.
Yogananda wanted to help people understand religion from a more intelligent angle. He wanted to help them see that religion isn’t a question of outward authority, but of each individual’s personal relationship with God.
In 1920, it was extremely odd for an Indian swami to come to this country and start spreading radical new ideas about religion. Today, people travel back and forth to the Far East fairly routinely, but in those days it was a long and arduous journey by ship. It was highly unusual to see an Indian in this country, much less a swami who was God-realized, which was a concept that hardly anyone could understand.
In his first years in America, Yogananda walked around in swami robes and long hair, and for a time he wore a turban. He did it deliberately, because he wanted to attract attention to these teachings, and to emphasize that he was offering people something completely new and different. He was not interested in blending in.
He wanted The Science of Religion to be the foundation of his work. And yet, when Swamiji asked some of us if we had read it, we replied almost to a person, “I read a little bit – I tried.”
One or two people had plowed through it dutifully all the way to the end, but none of us had felt an inspiration that invited us in. It hurt Swamiji, because he knew the high hopes that Master had held for it.
Swamiji felt that the book needed a new title. In 1920, it was novel to speak of religion and science in the same breath. But Swamiji felt that a more appropriate title for this point in time would be God Is for Everyone.
In the early twentieth century, the heroic achievements of modern science were new and exciting. People had tremendous enthusiasm for the latest discoveries. And the thought that the scientific approach could be used to improve religion was both startling and intriguing.
But for us, jaded as we are by the tidal wave of scientific discoveries, and the endless parade of gadgets they have spawned, The Science of Religion seems a bit shopworn as a title. It no longer speaks to our longing for a higher and more intimately inspiring purpose in our lives.
People today are increasingly feeling that religion is simply irrelevant. They mock the older, rigid forms of religion for their insistence that we believe its unsubstantiated claims blindly. People nowadays consider God to be an airy concept that no one with the slightest common sense could possibly be interested in.
But Yogananda’s premise remains very revolutionary. He promised that if we could only experience what God is like, our enthusiasm for Him would be boundless.
When Swamiji finished his work on the book, he said that it was the most challenging writing he had ever done. While editing Yogananda’s interpretations of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, for example, he had refined Yogananda’s words. He had to be very careful to tune into his Guru’s wishes, of course. But with this book, he was writing an original work that would be published under Yogananda’s name.
Later, he told us that the experience of rewriting The Science of Religion was “blissful beyond compare.” He shared with us that it showed him, more deeply than ever, that he didn’t want to have a single thought that wasn’t Yogananda’s.
People are often confused about what it means to be “in tune with the guru.” We often make it harder than it has to be – envisioning ourselves as robots, sternly marching forward and “doing the guru’s will.”
But attunement is a subtle thing. It means aligning our consciousness with the Master’s, and offering ourselves to serve as instruments for his love, wisdom, and joy. It isn’t that we cease to be ourselves, like marching robots. With inner attunement, our thoughts and actions fall naturally in line with his consciousness, in a more relaxed way.
We’ve been privileged to watch as Swamiji has manifested an endless stream of fresh new realities in music and art, and in new ways for helping people. And it all flows from the still, central point where he is offering himself, with his full concentration and energy, into Master’s vibration. And then what flows through him is in tune.
By attuning himself to Yogananda’s consciousness, Swamiji doesn’t have to be forever second-guessing his thoughts and actions: “Hm, is this in tune?”
Swamiji said that while writing this book, he had to go deeper in his attunement with the Guru than ever. He said that he had to pray, “Master, you’ll have to write it through me.” Because he couldn’t allow the slightest hint of interfering energy to intrude, even in the writing style.
After we published an advance edition for the reviewers, Swamiji was still rewriting and rewriting, as he felt Master guiding him to do. This is why he felt justified in publishing it as “inspired by Paramhansa Yogananda, as taught to and understood by his disciple, J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda).”
Because it’s the foundation for Master’s work, this book is also an important foundation for our lives. And one of the key insights it offers us is how we can live more simply.
We’re living in a tremendously complex age. In this culture, it’s possible to go from morning to night without ever ceasing to be stimulated, whether by the latest shocking news headlines, or simply the ambient psychic noise of this very restless time.
It’s extremely easy to lose ourselves in all the noise. And yet, this is the time that God has asked us to live in. And this is the work that we’ve come to help Him accomplish: to help people understand how they can live a simple, fulfilled life by attuning themselves to God’s consciousness, and keeping His presence in every circumstance.
Yogananda starts the book by humorously describing how people find it easier to think of God as living high up in the sky, because it seems more godlike for Him to be up there.
This world has recently emerged from an age which the sages of ancient India called Kali Yuga. It lasted from about 500 BC to 1700 AD, a period of 1200 years, during which people were generally unable to grasp realities more subtle than matter.
It’s why they competed to build great churches and temples that would soar ever higher, as a physical testament to God’s awesome power. When you enter those great cathedrals, you feel dwarfed. It’s how you’re supposed to feel, because we’re supposed to think of God as tremendous and awe-inspiring.
Most people today are still oriented by the dogmas of the age of matter-awareness, which was intensely concerned with rigid outward forms and rituals. But the old attitudes are a serious disconnect with the emerging new energy-awareness.
It’s difficult for people to break free of the old consciousness, with its seemingly secure and reassuring, rock-solid forms. But Yogananda said that the idea of God as far away is the exact opposite of the truth. He wanted us to understand that we can never know God by our thoughts of Him, but only by our own direct experience, in a state of blissful silence where all thoughts cease.
It can be difficult to make the mental leap from understanding the Divinity as a great and wonderful thing, and then to feel that it wants to befriend this little thing that I call “I.” We aren’t comfortable with the thought of God being closer than our dearest friend.
In The New Path, Swamiji describes how puzzling it was, at times, to live with Yogananda. On one level, you were sure that he was the infinite consciousness, but then you would see him eating dinner and joking with the disciples, and getting in his car and driving away.
And then someone would meditate and feel the immense power of God flowing over him from the guru. And Master would call him in and hand him an apple. Swami said that it was hard to put those seemingly opposite concepts in perspective.
Part of the problem is that we think we can make spiritual progress if we can just “get it all understood.” But Master said that the divine life isn’t about understanding God with the mind, but knowing Him with our heart and soul.
First of all, we need to feel the reality of God inside – His love, wisdom, and bliss. We need to base our religion on that experience, not on blind belief, speculation, or mental thoughts. This was Master’s revelation. It was why he called his work “Self-realization.” He wanted people to understand that religion begins and ends by seeking God who is our own higher Self.
During the years of controversy with SRF, one of the things that we were willing to concede for the sake of harmony, but which we definitely weren’t happy to do, was to change our name for a time to “Ananda Church of God-Realization.”
It didn’t sit well, because “God-Realization” conveys a feeling of reaching up to a God who is very big and far away in the sky. It’s reminiscent of the old way of thinking. But when we talk of Self-realization, we’re saying that religion is about finding the God who dwells in us.
It’s a revolutionary idea. And it takes all of the dogma out of religion. We no longer have to “get it understood” by defining God precisely, or believing blindly, or registering for church membership. We practice our religion by communing in meditation and activity with the God who is living within us now.
A friend of mine was raised Catholic. He was a fairly incorrigible boy, and at one point the nuns were trying to bribe him to behave. The bribe they offered was that if he was good, he would have “a bigger house in heaven.”
He said that he was very happy to hear that, because it immediately broke the hold of the dogmatic approach that they were trying to foist on him. Really, who cares about a big house in heaven, when we can have the treasure of God’s love right now?
Swami joked that if our salvation is waiting for us on the other side, we’ll think, “While I’m waiting, how bad can I be?”
The churches have carefully worked out exactly how bad we can be. “This is a mortal sin. This is a venal sin. Repeat this formula and God will forgive you.”
The expectation is that we can push it to the edge, and we’ll still be able to squeeze through the pearly gates at the end.
It’s ridiculous, and it’s why people don’t want to hear about God and religion anymore.
This is the false concept that Master came to correct. In God Is For Everyone, he says, “God is love, and in the experience of Him you will find all of the love and bliss that you’ve ever been seeking.”
In the 1960s and 1970s, when the moral standards of this country were changing, many young people were experimenting with free love. And Swami’s comment, which was surprising for a very orthodox swami, was, “Oh, I think it’s a good thing.”
We were watching the disintegration of morals, and Swami was saying that if people have the freedom to experiment, they’ll discover for themselves that can’t give them what they had hoped for. By making the scientific experiment, they’ll learn a useful lesson.
We often wish that we could escape the long, hard process, and that we didn’t have to learn by our own, occasionally bitter, experiences.
We think, “I don’t want to deal with my moods and my unhappiness and my unresolved issues. I want to work on Self-realization.” And we don’t understand that liberation, as Sri Ramakrishna said, is like a peeling an onion – that God is every bit as present in this very moment as He will ever be. But we must gradually peel away the layers of our desires that separate us from Him.
Whether we think of God as joy, love, energy, forgiveness, or as our Divine Mother, the definition is far less important than the experience.
We have to find our own way to God. We must walk the unique and individual path that God has given us. It’s up to us to increase our awareness of Him, whether we’re raking leaves, taking care of our children, delivering a sermon, or reading the mail. God is useless to us unless we can be aware of Him.
Swami Kriyananda created an inclusive way of life, with environments where we can feel supported in remembering God all the time. And if people don’t live in the Ananda communities, this inspiring example can help them understand how to live a spiritual life where they are.
The first indispensable requirement for living by our own experience is honesty. And the second is to have the courage to trust our experience.
The responsibility of this way of spiritual living is on us. We aren’t being asked to blindly follow priests and dogmas and rigid rules.
We have to discover that God is a loving God, and that I am his child. We have to deepen that experience until we can say, “I feel His presence, and I will not be deterred.”
It’s a challenging teaching, and it’s why our churches are small, and will remain so for a long time. Because it’s easier to follow a teaching that doesn’t demand much of you, where you don’t have to take personal responsibility, and where the goal isn’t set so high.
On the other hand, we have the promise of absolute freedom and joy. And we can have a growing, daily experience of that freedom, starting now. I know now that God is mine, and that I don’t need anybody to tell me about Him.
(From a workshop by Nayaswami Asha on Swami Kriyananda’s book God Is For Everyone, on October 7, 2003.)