On page 268 of Asha Nayaswami’s new book, Swami Kriyananda: Lightbearer, she presents a startling sequence of remarks by Swami Kriyananda, regarding the most effective way to spread Paramhansa Yogananda’s world mission.
Speaking of those words, Asha said:
“Swami’s remarks about the Expanding Light and all that followed are critically important for all disciples.”
From Swami Kriyananda: Lightbearer, pp. 268-272:
After lunch, Swamiji held up the most recent brochure from The Expanding Light. He praised the high quality of the concept, writing, and artistry. Still, there were only six guests for the weekend. He contrasted that small number with the crowds that come to the retreat in Assisi. At The Expanding Light, Swamiji said, pointing again to the brochure, the emphasis is on programs. In Assisi, it is the place, and above all, the people.
“There are only twenty to thirty people living at Ananda Assisi. They are overworked, but carry on because they are there to serve. We have a wonderful staff here, too. But because our emphasis is on the programs, guests think, ‘What am I learning?’ rather than, ‘What am I experiencing?’ We need less emphasis on teaching, and more on simply being here.
“The Expanding Light is the way we can reach people and change their lives. Yes, the teachings are important, but they should come here because it is a life-transforming experience. In this atmosphere, they will draw God-inspired solutions to the problems they face. They’ll meet a whole community, hundreds of people, dedicated to living in a way most people can’t even imagine. It will give them a new perspective on life.
“In Assisi, it is surprising how many people have been drawn back because of a contact they had with one person. Not necessarily a teacher, staff member, or even someone who has been there a long time. Maybe the person they meet can’t even explain the teachings very well, but everyone can give love. That’s what changes people.
“We need to reach people with who we are. Everyone who lives at the Village should spend time serving at The Expanding Light. It is the heart of what we are doing. When the staff plans the programs, when they write a brochure, they need to feel the whole community is with them. There is tremendous power in that thought.”
At Ananda Assisi, contact between the guests and residents was automatic. Everyone there meditated in the same temple, and took their meals in the same dining room. The whole community was focused on the Retreat.
At the Village, there were many enterprises. People cooked in their own kitchens and meditated on their own, or in small groups here and there. Most of the teachers at The Expanding Light came only to give their classes. Afterward, they would go back home, or to another job.
Meditations at The Expanding Light were led by a resident or a staff member, but everyone else in the temple was a guest. In Assisi, the guests were surrounded by experienced meditators, making it easier for them to go deep. Rather than being immersed in the community, guests at The Expanding Light were often left mostly to themselves, with just a few staff members. There was much to consider.
Swamiji then suggested that everything would change if we had a real temple at The Expanding Light. “What we call the temple there was designed to be a classroom,” he said. “Even after all these years, it still feels like a classroom. It doesn’t feel holy like the Temple does at the Meditation Retreat. Once we have a temple at The Expanding Light, that magnetism will draw many people here.”
Of course, the problem was money.
Someone pointed out that people were now paying large sums of money to go on pilgrimage with Ananda. Yet our own community—because of Swamiji’s presence, and years of concentrated spiritual practice by so many sincere devotees—was as holy as many of the places we were visiting. Perhaps this year we should cancel all the other pilgrimages in favor of a pilgrimage to Ananda, with all proceeds going toward building the temple.
On our trips to India, we had made wonderful connections with Master’s family in Kolkata, and Lahiri’s descendants in Varanasi. They could be the guests of honor. Lahiri Mahasaya had his Mahasamadhi on September 26, and was born on September 30. Those four days would be ideal for our Pilgrimage to Joy.
When we broke for lunch, the room was abuzz with the idea of building a temple. During the break, a few people with more knowledge of the accounts presented to Swamiji a host of objections. Ananda was carrying a debt of over $1,000,000. The reason there were so few guests at The Expanding Light was because in winter there was no place for them to stay. If the temple drew crowds of people, where would we put them? Building year-round guest facilities had to be the first priority.
After lunch, Swamiji shared these objections with everyone. He was undeterred and hoped we, too, could raise our energy to meet the challenge. Instead, enthusiasm for the temple collapsed like a deflating balloon. Seeing that we didn’t have the faith, and therefore wouldn’t have the magnetism, to make it happen, he suggested, “Instead of a big temple in the meadow, we could build a small chapel by the lake. The cost of that could be folded into the fundraising for the guest rooms. We can build the temple later.”
Swamiji then turned his attention to Kriya. “In terms of drawing people, advertising is good, but our real power is Kriya. That is what will generate the magnetism to bring people to Ananda and inspire them to come back. In Autobiography of a Yogi, Master says that whatever problem people brought to Lahiri Mahasaya, his answer was, ‘Do more Kriya.’ He gave other advice, too, but Kriya was central.”
On the last day of the retreat, Swamiji again took up the subject of Kriya, filling out what he had said before. “Lahiri was talking to people who had been raised from the cradle with reverence for the Guru and the need for the Guru’s grace. He talked about faith and devotion, but he didn’t have to emphasize these things the way Master did and the way we have to do. In Lahiri’s time, the need was to help people bring their devotion to a clear focus through the practice of Kriya.
“In the West, the situation is entirely different. The devotional aspect of religion is weak. Even in the churches, people sing about God; they don’t sing to Him. Devotion is weakest of all among those who come to yoga. Most have left their church, or never joined one, and many don’t even believe in God. They like techniques because ‘It is something I can do for myself!’ In Europe, the yoga scene is even more dry than it is here.
“Americans understand the value of techniques. Look at all the self-help courses! Even small appliances come with a book of instructions! Americans want a spiritual path that is down-to-earth. They want to approach God in a practical way. We have to introduce the path to them in a way they can accept.
“That’s why I cut my hair, started wearing Western clothes when I lecture, even using the name ‘J. Donald Walters’ on books that don’t deal directly with yoga. Otherwise, no matter what I said, people got the subliminal message that to practice these teachings, you have to grow your hair long and live in a cave—or at least out in the country. I created Superconscious Living to give people techniques they can use in their everyday lives.
“But if we go only that way, the path is too dry. Technique alone won’t do it. There must also be longing for God, reverence for the Guru, and the attunement to receive His grace. That is what Master emphasized. We have to reach people in a way they can understand, but when they come to one of our centers, or to The Expanding Light, let them also learn our language and our way of approaching the spiritual path. Otherwise, we dilute what we have to offer.
“If we can emphasize chanting, lots of chanting, that will get them into devotion. And energization—teach them to be aware of energy and how it can be properly directed, including toward devotion. This leads naturally into talking about the Guru and how to receive his power. If we approach it this way, people won’t make the mistake of thinking, ‘Now that I have the technique, I have everything I need.’
“Those who do Kriya, but without devotion to Master, never get anywhere. Even those who think they can make progress by themselves without coming to Ananda or going to SRF, don’t get nearly what those do who seek out the company of other disciples.
“Above all, Master said, ‘If you want to be in tune with the Guru, serve his work.’ He wrote to a devotee in St. Louis, urging him to support the center there. ‘If you get behind this work and help build it,’ Master said, ‘God will bless you and give you realization.’ This is the truth. We shouldn’t hesitate to speak frankly on the point, but urge people to support what we are doing. If we are of one mind on this, our work will gain great power.”
During the retreat, Swamiji ordained new ministers, blessing and giving individual advice to each one:
“Don’t look to others for endorsement. The joy of pleasing Master is enough. It doesn’t matter whether others are pleased, but it matters everything that God is pleased.”
“What has made me happiest in you hasn’t been your efficiency or the things you do, but your increasingly humble and childlike attitude. Put your hand in His and let Him lead you.”
“Don’t hold back. Plunge over the cliff into the arms of the masters. If you have courage, faith, and openness, everything that needs to be done, they will do through you. Be strongly courageous, joyfully courageous, and courageously joyful.”
“You have shown lovely spirit, but let it now be radiant spirit—large, not small. Expand outward to embrace everyone with God’s love as it flows through you.”
“You have dedicated yourself and there is no turning back. Don’t fear anymore. Have faith, fervor, and calm conviction. The more you call on Him, the more He will work through you.”
“You are not alone. It isn’t only God that is with you, you also have all of us—your brothers and sisters in God. We are one with you, and you are one with us.”
“People need love so much—Divine Mother’s love. She is Infinite. If you offer yourself into Her flow, She can use you as Her channel. Don’t be afraid to give love.”
“It is nice to be childlike, but know that, as a child of God, you also have infinite power, infinite consciousness. Live more in that. When you share, share not only as a child of God, but also as an instrument of that majesty. Dig deep; you have much to give.”
“Don’t waver anymore. Say, ‘From now on I will live the way Divine Mother wants me to live.’ You aren’t a boy now, you are a man, and can be a great man if you let Divine Mother work through you.”
“You have the body of a young woman, but you are an old soul with maturity, dignity, and intuition. Think of yourself as a temple of Divine Mother.”
Leading us into meditation, Swamiji said, “Feel that you are Master. Seek God with the kind of fervor you hear in his voice. Let his power be your power. That is what it means to be a disciple: to take on the Guru’s power. Listen to AUM. Only AUM is real. Let AUM negate any thought of self.
“Alone, we can do so little. But many of us together can do so much. Let us unite ourselves in this great mission of God.”