jjI was working day and night, compiling a book of stories about my beloved teacher, Swami Kriyananda.
At the time, I hadn’t chosen a title. With Swamiji’s blessing, I eventually called it Swami Kriyananda As We Have Known Him.
The “we” in the title refers to the many friends who shared their stories of this great soul.
At one point while I was gathering stories, I asked Swamiji if he had ever taken on the karma of others. In Paramhansa Yogananda’s book, Autobiography of a Yogi, we read how Yogananda’s guru, Sri Yukteswar, fell ill. Yogananda explained that the illness was caused by his master taking on some of his disciples’ karma.
Swami Kriyananda’s medical condition was complex. The medical chart of his ailments ran to many pages. It was so unusual that it seemed a likely explanation – that he was carrying some of the burden of his friends’ karma to help them progress spiritually.
Swamiji was usually quite forthcoming when I would ask him questions. But in this case, he was not.
He talked around the issue. When I pressed him (inappropriately, as I realized later), he said only, “I have prayed to Master to be able to help others in any way I can.”
Later, he added, “It is up to God. It is not for me to say.”
I recalled a story that Swamiji told in his book The New Path: My life with Paramhansa Yogananda.
Yogananda was entertaining guests at lunch. One of the visitors casually asked him, “Dr. Lewis was your first disciple in this country, wasn’t he?”
(Dr. M. W. Lewis was indeed Yogananda’s first follower in America. The dentist had met the sage from India in Boston in the mid-1920s.)
Yet the Master’s response, Swamiji reports, was “unexpectedly reserved.” Quietly, he said, “That’s what they say.”
Swamiji explained, “Discipleship was too sacred a subject to be treated lightly, even in casual conversation.”
For the guru to take on the karma of his disciples seems a truly breathtaking gift. The guru must have the wisdom to know if the removal of obstacles will help the disciple, or if it will deprive him of lessons needed for his growth toward freedom.
If normal mortals such as you and I were given the power to remove our friends’ and relatives’ karma, it is almost certain that in our well-meaning but blind compassion we might make terrible mistakes.
Many healers have told how they’ve had to learn when it’s appropriate to heal a person, and when to leave the illness in place as a necessary instrument for the patient to grow in wisdom and happiness..
In my book about Swamiji, I told he was in the hospital recovering from a major surgery. His nurse was a disciple of Yogananda. At one point, Swamiji asked the nurse to do his Kriya Yoga meditation practices for him, as he was too weak to do them himself. It was an appropriate request.
A friend gave Swamiji the birthday gift of doing Kriya meditation for him. Again, it was an appropriate gift – Swamiji was touched by the offer. On another occasion, when a devotee was hospitalized and unable to do Kriya, Swamiji said that he would meditate for her.
Clearly, it is possible for us to help one another spiritually. It is similar to the way we lend them money or help them carry heavy boxes. We can mitigate a bit of their karma by adding our energy to theirs.
However, taking on the karma of others – especially, using our bodies to help work out their karma – seems to require a wisdom that is beyond the reach of all but the most spiritually advanced. Still, it is an expression of the same natural urge to offer our loving help.
Think how a mother prays at the bedside of her sick child, “Lord, take this suffering from my child and give it to me.” And think how rarely these requests are granted.
Our karma is much too complex to be shifted willy-nilly. Even when great love inspires us to help our dear ones, God in His wisdom may close the door. Only those who have given themselves wholly to God are permitted to help in this divine way.