When I talk about Swami Kriyananda, I normally refer to the events of his life in whatever order seems most helpful. But as many of you know, I recently finished writing a book, Swami Kriyananda: Lightbearer, where I found myself having to follow his life in strict chronological order, and I almost always quoted his words in the chapter for the year in which he spoke them.
It was an interesting discipline to have to be loyal to the precise order of events in his life. And I was powerfully reminded that my experience of Swamiji, from the moment I first caught sight of him, was that his consciousness was always the same.
When he was first starting this work in the late 1960s, the West Coast and San Francisco were exploding with a flood of teachings from the East. Many people in America were being introduced to this type of spirituality for the first time, and although many of them would put their own creative spin on it, Swamiji always presented himself in his own particular way, which was as a simple disciple, rather than an exotic guru or a public figure. And as a result, many people either overlooked him or saw him as just another face in the crowd – perhaps with a little more enthusiasm and energy and experience, but without the trappings of spirituality that many of the gurus who were emerging at the time were embracing, and that many people had come to expect from a spiritual teacher.
It was a conscious decision on Swamiji’s part to present himself in that simple way, from which he never deviated in the first three and a half decades after he started Ananda. And it was only after about the year 2000 that he gradually began to remove the veils in which he had kept his true consciousness hidden.
Swamiji described how, when he was in the presence of his Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, he would often come in with certain questions or intentions, and how in Master’s presence those thoughts simply wouldn’t arise, or the answers would be given intuitively.
An example is when Master declared that he had been William the Conqueror in a previous life, which in itself was a startling idea.
There’s a beautiful book on the subject, Two souls, Four Lives, so I won’t try to go into the details here. But on the occasion when Master first spoke of that incarnation, many of the disciples were eagerly asking him, “Who was I in that lifetime?” And Master told quite a few of them who they had been.
But even though Swamiji was very close with Master, and although he had spent time in the English school system, where William was an important figure, he said that it didn’t even cross his mind to ask. And only much later, through intuition and research, did he determine that he had been William’s youngest son, Henry the First, who inherited his father’s kingdoms in England and Normandy.
But the thought didn’t occur, because it wouldn’t have been productive in the context of the work that he would have to do in this lifetime.
People of advanced realization have the ability to influence the ideas that arise in people’s minds. And in the forty-three years that I was with Swamiji, I found that, like Master, he had the spiritual power to create an atmosphere around him that was for our good, because it was always guiding our thoughts toward our own greater happiness.
But in California in the Sixties and Seventies, particularly in San Francisco, there were all kinds of gurus, some legitimate and some merely self-declared. Gurus were springing up all over, and many Americans, having no idea what the guru-disciple relationship was really about, were falling at the feet of anyone who claimed that they ought to, and it didn’t always end well.
But Swamiji, as the heir to a true tradition, understood that discipleship and spiritual teaching aren’t a matter of imposing appearances and attitudes that match our superficial definition of a guru, but of awakening in each devotee’s heart their own intuitive understanding.
And this is why Swamiji would never accept the role of guru. Teacher, yes, but never guru or spiritual leader in an exaggerated outward way. Instead, he directed all of our devotion toward Master, and the only mantle he would put on was of a simple brother disciple who was sort of helping us along.
And what it meant for us was that whatever relationship we developed with him had to be born not of dogmas or cultural expectations, but of our experience. And this was something that I increasingly found to be true over the years, that regardless of what the spiritual path might look like outwardly, the all-important thing was what I could understand from my own experience.
Because no matter what tradition you follow, sooner or later God will push you beyond the superficial ideas you’re holding mentally – and that’s where true spirituality begins.
It’s one thing to look around us and see what everyone is believing, so I’ll believe it, too, because a hundred million people can’t be wrong. And it’s not as if such a thing is entirely bad, because it’s better to embrace a spiritual tradition from the outside than not at all.
I had a strange experience years ago, when I very unwisely accepted an invitation from the California atheist society to appear at a conference they were holding. This woman kept calling, and I kept saying no, and when she wouldn’t stop calling I finally thought, all right, I’ll go.
The main speaker, who was the state chairman of the atheist society, looked as if they had asked a Hollywood casting agency to send them an actor who would fit the role. To my mind, he seemed to have deliberately adopted the guise of an evil wizard – he was craggy and dressed all in black, and he had even dyed his long hair black. And I would have laughed, except that there was nothing funny about it.
They had invited speakers from various religious traditions – there was an Episcopal priest, and I don’t know if there was a Catholic, but they might have had the good sense not to attend. And then there was a fundamentalist Baptist person, and I was representing the Eastern tradition of Self-realization.
I ended up sitting next to the “Christian,” as they call themselves, and I’m putting it in quotes because they try to co-opt the word, but I don’t think they own it.
The Episcopalian was trying hard to hold space for everybody’s point of view, even though the fact that he was doing so was completely deluded. And meanwhile, the fundamentalist and I kept leaning into each other, because I sensed that he and I were the only ones in the room who could feel what a great evil was present, and how dark it was.
So we were huddling together, and at one point I turned to him and said, “You know, in other circumstances we wouldn’t get along, and we would be finding fault with each other, but not here, because we recognize that this is a question of light against darkness, and you and I are together on this.”
At any rate, the evening passed, and I don’t remember a thing about it except my alliance with this man.
Now, the reason I bring this up is that his approach was so diametrically different from mine, yet I was able to feel that his spirituality was genuine, because it was internal, and maybe he had attached it to a particular dogma, but the experience had come first and the dogma only came later.
But as I was saying, if our faith is just something we’ve pasted on from the outside, God will keep pushing us until we’re forced to question honestly. “What do I really believe? And why? And can it stand up to the vicissitudes of life – to betrayal, loss, disappointment, sickness, and death?”
You can make your own long list – you can look at your own life, or look at your neighbors, or if you’re really strong you can turn on the national news. Because the world today is a complete circus when it comes to understanding true values.
I can talk a good philosophical line, and I’m trying to do so today, but just like all of you, I’m vulnerable. My faith in God is by no means something that is settled to the point where I know for a certainty that I’ll be going to heaven. It’s something that I’m compelled to work on every single day, by constantly asking the important questions. What do I believe? And why do I believe it? And if I believe it, why am I feeling nervous or anxious? Why am I not loving everyone? Why am I worrying about myself? Why do I waste time worrying about all the other people in the world?
At the end of my parents’ lives, they were living in Southern California, and I was very involved in their care, because my mother was physically unwell and my father had experienced a deterioration in his mental state.
It wasn’t a horror show, but it was no fun to watch them struggling. And for a while, in my efficient, take-charge way, I was commuting to Los Angeles to help them manage their lives. But internally I was not at peace, and I finally had to recognize that my parents didn’t appreciate my efforts to take charge of their lives.
My subconscious assumption was, “I’m here to make your lives right according to my way of thinking.” And – what do you know? – they had their own opinions, regardless of the trials and struggles they were going through. And what I realized is that every soul has its own destiny.
I’m not afraid of dying, and I wasn’t afraid of them dying, because it seemed that for my mother particularly, death would allow her to escape from that body that was becoming increasingly difficult for her.
But she said to me one day, “Every time I cough, you think I’m about to die. I am NOT about to die – there’s lots of life in me still!”
And, my God, she was telling me the truth. Because I was always on edge about every little thing, and in the meantime she was having her own destiny. She was exactly where she needed to be, and she had attracted to herself exactly the circumstances she needed. And to her credit, she was facing it day by day, not always perfectly, but always as she needed to.
And then I thought, “In my own life I’m trying to affirm that I’m not afraid of whatever karma I might have created and that I might have to deal with. And why am I so afraid and anxious for everybody else?” And I realized, “This is not love.”
I could say, “Oh, but I’m worried because she’s suffering, and because this or that might happen.” And I had to stand back and admit, “In actual fact, this is not love. This is just my own fear and self-interest.”
Why do I think that God is taking care of me and not anybody else, and that He’s just waiting for me to fix everyone else’s life, and that no one has the power to face their lessons and learn from them and keep moving forward?
And if you think about it, in our anxiety for everybody else’s suffering, yes, there’s compassion, which is vital. So don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. And it’s true that we each have to decide what we’re being called to do. But even the right action, if we’re just motivated by fear and lack of faith in God, will never bring about the right result.
In building Ananda, one of the essential principles was, “Where there is dharma, there is victory.” Dharma means right action – that action which draws us closer to the divine consciousness. Because if we’re acting in harmony with the highest divine interest of ourselves and everyone else, it will always end in victory.
Does it mean that it will always come out according to our expectations? Not at all. But if the consciousness is right, the results will sooner or later come out for the best.
So here I am, trying to help my parents, and I’m trying to use all my energy and will power to make this or that result happen. And maybe forty percent of me is genuinely trying to help them, and sixty percent is just trying to make myself feel better. But above all, I’m not trusting that God is taking a hand, and I’m not respecting my parents’ will in the matter. So what are the chances of this coming out right?
This world is a profoundly insecure place, where our lives can be changed in a moment, through accidents, sickness, financial loss, or natural disasters. And I don’t need to make a list, because you all know it’s true – what to speak of icky people who have power and are exerting it in negative ways.
We have only one actual point of security, and that is the absolute knowledge that Divine Mother is in charge, and that She will never let go of our hand. And although She may lead us through the valley of darkness and death, She is always holding us close.
We can try to solve our dilemmas in many ways. We can be ultra-efficient and skillfully left-brained in certain areas of our lives, and we may really know how to get things done and make things happen. And if God gives you those skills, for heaven’s sake, go ahead and use them, because why not? But underneath it all, we must know that we are always using our God-given reason, will, and ability, and that the entire truth of it is that they are God-given.
In our reading today we listened to one of the most beautiful stories in all of the Bible, about the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years, and no human intervention could help her. But she had become persuaded that there was an infinite power, and that its living presence was in the person of Jesus. And her faith could not have been born of simply hearing what other people were saying about Jesus, because the way he responded to her tells us something important about her consciousness.
Many of the people who were crowding around Jesus believed that he could help them, but it was only when this particular woman touched the hem of his garment that he stopped and asked who it was who had touched him. He turned to his disciples and said, “Who touched me?” And they protested, “Lord, there are crowds of people and they’re pressing all around you.” But he repeated, “Someone touched me.”
And they were perplexed, wondering what he meant. And then he uttered the magnificent words: “I felt power go out from me.”
Do you hear the way he’s saying it? Jesus was compelled to live in a physical body and identify with it enough to be able to get around, but his entire awareness was with the infinite Christ consciousness, and that was the power that he had felt go out from his body.
Now, I lived with Swami Kriyananda for over four decades, during which I was able to observe him often and closely. And from an egoic point of view you might expect that the spiritual teacher will calculate and decide, and then he’ll say, “This one needs that, and this other one needs this, and I’m going to give this one certain obstacles that will create this or that effect so that this or that result will happen.”
We have the image of the teacher performing these feats of mental calculation and then manipulating the circumstances accordingly, because of how our own minds are operating.
But I can tell you that Swami Kriyananda did absolutely none of that at all. He had aligned himself with the Divine, and he allowed to happen only whatever the divine power willed to happen, and he didn’t bother to inquire about the elaborate reasons or the likely results.
If it felt like the action that God and Guru wanted him to take, he would take it. And if it felt like what they wanted him to say, he would say it. And then he would be very interested to see what the results might be.
But it all flowed through him, and if it isn’t always flowing through us, it’s because we are wedded to an egoic system that is forever calculating the different points of view. But once the ego has been mastered, it does flow through us. As Yogananda said, “I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this temple now but God.”
So Jesus is moving through the crowd because his heavenly Father has told him to be there among those people. And they’re grasping at him, but none of them are calling forth from God the response that the woman does.
When she touches the hem of his garment the power of her sincere devotion draws the divine power from him, and Jesus is instantly aware of it. “Someone touched me.” Because as the Bible tells us, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” (John 1:12) And that is our only job in this world, to receive him fully.
When I first came to Ananda, I really didn’t understand this. I would hear Swami say certain things about the nature of this world, and I would think that maybe he was a little cynical. And it wasn’t that I rejected some of the things he was saying, but I couldn’t always fully accept them, so I would mentally put them on a shelf. And then, little by little, year after year, everything that he said began to make complete sense to me.
But at the end of his life, when he had completed his work in this world, and when he no longer had to protect us from a wrong understanding about his role, he just let the veil down, and he became a very different person, and everything that he had kept hidden, he now allowed to flow, and his state of bliss began to express through him.
It became literally difficult for him to relate to the world, and difficult for him to give classes in the way he had formerly done. He could still write, but he didn’t like to be with people as he had before. So it was a very different phase.
At the very end of his life he said, “I don’t understand why so many people, as they grow older, become bitter and cynical.” He said, “Don’t they understand that there’s nothing in this world but bliss? Don’t they understand that underneath it all there’s nothing but bliss?”
And he could only speak for a few minutes, because the feeling of bliss would overcome him and he would go into a state that was beyond speech.
Now, I’ve been thinking about this a great deal recently. Because, how many of us are continuously aware that there is nothing in this world but bliss? And what kind of a life ends in that level of realization?
This is the only reason the masters come into this world, because they want to show us how to achieve that level of realization for ourselves.
Swami Kriyananda’s life is the one I was privileged to witness, and in one sense it was a very simple life. It was a life that said, “Divine Mother, how can I serve?” That’s really all he ever asked. “Divine Mother, how can I serve?” And, “Divine Mother, whatever you give me, I accept with gratitude.”
And he was a warrior for that point of view. Because if we imagine for a moment that such a state of surrender and understanding comes merely for the asking, well, just try it and see.
It’s not enough to say, “I am saved.” Because God has to respond. And He responds when we clutch the hem of His garment with our strong faith and devotion, and with enough determined discipline and dedication, moment by moment, understanding that His bliss is the only reality, and that all of the adventures of this world, which may be colorful, entertaining, inspiring, or as Master said, sometimes heartbreaking, are there for one purpose.
We think that it’s an end unto itself. But everybody who passes from this world and comes back says, “This life is for a wholly different purpose than I thought.”
I thought that it was about getting my little ducks in a row, but then you realize that the really important questions have nothing to do with those small things. How much do I love? How much do I serve? How much do I maintain my awareness that Divine Mother is always with me, and that She knows what She is doing? Why am I ever afraid, when anxieties come and threaten to overwhelm me?
Because God is very clever, and He will make it about your money, your relationships, or your health, and He’ll find the little point of vulnerability, and He’ll drive a truck through it.
Just one tiny attachment? Well, that’s one too many. One little misunderstanding? That’s one too many. So He keeps cracking us open. And it’s easy to get annoyed with ourselves or with other people, but when the tests come we just need to keep asking the simple question, “Is God really in charge?”
I remember feeling deeply distressed about the trials that some people I loved were going through, to the point that I was weeping bitterly. And then the thought came into my head, literally in my right ear and through my brain and out my left ear, and it said, “Do you think this is happening outside the will of God?”
And I was very annoyed that I was forced to admit, “Of course it’s the will of God.” Because I didn’t want it to be God’s will, and I had my own strong opinions about what should happen. But I had to concede, “Of course not.”
So, yes, everyone is suffering, but how can that be bad? The soul has its destiny, and it must walk into it courageously, which might mean that it will have to walk in front of a bus and be smashed to bits. But the only reason we might find ourselves walking in front of the bus is because the end of our story is bliss, and the only way we can get to that bliss is by having every other false idea taken away.
The end of our story is bliss, but we can only reach it by constant, determined, unrelenting effort. And no matter how much God tries to break our determination, we must be all the more determined.
Because, just as Jesus walked through the great crowd and the divine power only flowed out of him when the woman touched him, let us be that one.
Let us be that one, no matter what happens. Many times when things get really tough, I visualize Jesus walking through the crowd, and I see myself taking the edge of his garment in my hand and holding on.
We must do whatever works, and it can’t just be blind belief and dogmas. It has to be a truth that we’ve experienced from within. And the great secret of life is that if we never let go, we, too, will be able to say, “Why do people become depressed at the end of their life? Can’t they see that it’s all nothing but bliss?”
We may not be able to say it all the time. But let us remember Lahiri Mahasaya’s words: “Eventually? Eventually? Why not now?” And Swami’s comment, “We’re bound to get it right sooner or later. And why waste a few million years?”
God bless you.
(From Asha’s talk during Sunday service at Ananda Sangha in Palo Alto, California on July 22, 2018.)