Art as a Hidden Message

A Guide to Self-Realization
by Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters)

Preface by Derek Bell

25th of July, 1997

I have known Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters) in several contexts for many years. First, I've known him as a gifted, and I will even say inspired, composer. I recorded The Mystic Harp, an album of his most poetic musical compositions, in 1995.

What strikes me above all about Kriyananda is the all-embracing nature of his mind, which is probably the result of his incredible capacity for concentration. He has an ability to uncover countless unusual aspects of a subject, and to reveal them in an unexpected and original light. When he turns the spotlight of his concentration on any given subject, he leaves no aspect of it uncovered.

I have also known Kriyananda for many years as one of the few still-living direct, full-time disciples of the great Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now famous Autobiography of a Yogi. I myself consider that Yogananda was one of the most important beings to incarnate on this planet in many centuries. I've been familiar with his work since 1962, and have been aware of Kriyananda, as his disciple, for most of that time.

It was not until about 1989, however, that I spotted Kriyananda's masterly autobiography, The Path, in a London bookshop. After reading it, I decided at last to get in touch with him. We corresponded, and I subsequently read a fair cross-section of his books, heard some of his tapes, and watched a few of his videos. I also visited Ananda several times, the beautiful village Kriyananda himself founded in 1968. There I learned from him and his followers as much about Yogananda as I could. In 1995 I offered to record some of Kriyananda's music, both because I loved it, and for the sake of completeness—of returning with gratitude what I had gained.

In Kriyananda's books it has become obvious to me that he asked his master, Yogananda, more interesting questions than anyone else, and that Yogananda, consequently, gave out many of his most interesting ideas to this disciple. The exchange between them has become, subsequently, a gift to us all! Another thing has become obvious to me in reading Kriyananda's writings, and that is his unbiased discrimination. Unfailingly, he makes it crystal clear, for example, as to when, on any given subject, he is expressing his own ideas and when he is stating what Yogananda said. Such perfect fairness is, I believe, not at all usual.

What we have in Swami Kriyananda as an author, then, is an unusual and powerfully magnetic mind, and also one whose judgment is always fair. To me, Art as a Hidden Message is by far the most important book of its kind since the publication of that work by the great impressionist English composer Cyril Scott, "Music, Its Secret Influence Through the Ages." Kriyananda's work is, however, more comprehensive, for while Scott's is largely concerned only with inspiration through music, Kriyananda's masterpiece covers all the arts: painting, sculpture, architecture—even dance, photography, film, and the theater. An important point strikes me in the works of both writers: Neither of them believes in that tired and fortunately fading doctrine, "art for art's sake." Both are convinced that Art holds a potential for both purpose and meaning. Scott and Kriyananda both emphasize also Art's potentials for healing, for effecting beneficial changes in people's lives, and even for changing and uplifting the environment.

Kriyananda refers to the general, lamentable, ignorance in these matters in the West, but does not dwell on it. From his amusing Prefatory Note on the masculine pronoun (now there's a vexed question!) to his grand finale, the last chapter titled "Where Is Art Headed?"—from beginning to end, in short—I found this book completely enthralling. To have covered so many aspects of the subject so thoroughly, and in so few pages, is in itself an amazing accomplishment. Just to run the eye down over the chapter headings in the Table of Contents gives an exciting preview of the erudition and of the sheer range covered in this mighty opus.

Anecdotes and examples abound. From the description of what deserves to go down in song and legend as The Painted Pipes of Kauai, to his stories of Handel and Mozart and of an ancient Indian manuscript foretelling the lives of many people living today, to illustrations from Shakespeare, da Vinci, Coleridge, P.G. Wodehouse, and many others, to his most interesting comments for and against formal study, and his arguments on the need for balancing reason with feeling, this book makes for altogether fascinating reading.

Kriyananda's predictions for Art's future, also, are enlightening. They include a return to simplicity, and a renascence of beautiful melodies. I cannot but add that I, personally, would deeply regret the fulfillment of one of his predictions: the eventual disappearance of the symphony orchestra. For I love symphony music—as does Kriyananda, for that matter—with its grandiose but also extremely subtle nuances of expression. To me, the symphony orchestra is like a great, living organ, and it is my own favorite medium of composition. But honesty obliges me to add, sadly, that Kriyananda's prediction is already coming true.

I was greatly intrigued by his idea, expressed in the last chapter, that printed notes would again become more "skeletal," as they were during baroque times with the figured bass, and as they are today in jazz, pop, and rock music. I applaud Kriyananda's prediction of greater cooperation between composer and performers, though at the same time I worry that such cooperation might get taken too far, and thereby destroy the composer's original intentions!

I salute Kriyananda, in conclusion, for what I consider a true masterpiece. Art as a Hidden Message is a monumental work, and should be required reading for everyone. Artists, especially, will benefit from it, and should carefully read, study, and act on what is enshrined in these pages. This book is, I believe, the most important book of our time on this vitally important subject. May it be well received, and have far-reaching success in refining the way people approach a subject so crucial to the emotional and spiritual health of society.

Derek Bell
Bangor, Ireland

See Also: Contents  Sample Chapter  Behind the Scenes  

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