My Life of Service Through Writing
by Swami Kriyananda
People take up writing as a career, or as a serious form of self-expression, for several reasons. Apart from the usual need to earn a living, there is the more personally meaningful reason of stating one's thoughts as clearly as possible, in such a way that others, too, may benefit from them. There is, further, the pleasure of exploring the subtle nuances of words, of sequence variations, and of rhythms with a view to sharing with others not only one's ideas, but also one's feelings.
There are many ways other than words for getting one's meanings across. Non-verbal communication—as happens, for instance, in music through chords, rhythms and melodies—can be deeper in the transferral it effects of states of consciousness and even of ideas. Words are often more superficial in their impact. All of the fine arts have, finally, the capacity to convey vibrations of feeling and consciousness in ways that mere ideas, as expressed through words, may never be able to do.
Every means of self-expression, moreover, can serve the higher purpose of inspiring others with lofty feelings and aspirations, and with spiritual insights.
In my own work, all three motivations have been important to me: earning money (for charitable purposes), improving my ability to communicate, and, above all, sharing insights and inspiration with others. Money has never, for me, been an end in itself. What I've earned from writing, music composition, and recording has gone toward helping and (I hope) inspiring others spiritually. I am a monk, dedicated to finding God and to serving Him in all. I cannot discern in myself any personal ambition, but I do want very much to help uplift others.
My Guru (Paramhansa Yogananda) told me that my duty of discipleship would be to spread his teachings by means of writing, editing, and lecturing. These activities, I soon discovered, differ very much from one another. Writing offers a challenge to express one's thoughts clearly and exactly. The challenge of lecturing, on the other hand, which is a form of direct communication, offers a means of sharing one's vibrations of feeling and consciousness. The advantage of lecturing is its greater immediacy: the chance it gives the speaker to draw his audience into whatever his actual feelings are on the subject he is discussing. Speakers who simply read out their papers to audiences, having prearranged their speeches, might as well print the papers and pass them around for private consideration.
Editing, finally, is an important and (generally speaking) poorly understood part of the writing process. Editing means much more than making corrections of grammar and of accuracy. It is a way of bridging the relative remoteness of the writing process and the immediacy of actual speaking. Good editing—whether of one's own work or of another's—requires great attention to the color and rhythm of words. Good editing can help to bridge the abstraction of writing and the immediacy of speaking. Thus, it can make a piece of writing more colorful and alive, so that it becomes almost as immediate as speaking. (In fact, I've found it helps to read aloud what I've written, before I'm completely satisfied with it.) On the other hand, the practice of good editing can help speakers, also, to be aware of the importance not only of being exact in one's use of words, but also of using them colorfully and interestingly.
For many years I found it extremely difficult to switch from writing to lecturing, or back again from lecturing to writing. The needs of these two activities seemed to be mutually contradictory. Gradually, over years, particularly with the insight I gained from doing my own editing, I have learned to bridge the two. Nowadays I find I can move from one to the other more or less effortlessly. In the process, what my lectures have gained in clarity my writing has gained also in flow and spontaneity. I have also learned when writing, however, that I need to work harder to create an impression of spontaneity. This I accomplish by the careful arrangement of sentence structure and rhythm. I may have to rewrite more now than I once did. If writing can be made to sound like speech, however, and lecturing be given some of the precision of good writing without encumbering it with the dryness and abstraction of an intellectual exercise, these two worlds can be happily married.
When my Guru told me that my task would be, among other things, to write books, I replied, "Sir, haven't you already expressed everything necessary through your own writings?" He seemed surprised at my short-sightedness. "Don't say that," he exclaimed. "Much more is needed!"
I realized in time that his teachings, like seeds, are destined to grow and spread out, eventually becoming like a vast forest. I saw his teachings also as the hub of a great wheel from which central truths radiate outward in all directions like spokes on a bicycle wheel. My Guru himself showed in some of his writings how those spokes might reach out to every aspect of life, providing fresh and meaningful insights. In effect, the hub that formed the center of his teachings had the potential to energize humanity's entire existence.
I set out to write books, therefore, that would demonstrate how life lived at every level could be given deeper meaning: how one could succeed at anything he wanted, and attain any goal he set for himself. Above all, the simple rules of life he gave to the world can help everyone to achieve the universal goal of all life: happiness.
I've written because my Guru charged me to. Would I have written them, otherwise? I'm not so sure. Though my ambition as a young man was to be a poet and playwright, when the realization dawned on me, at twenty-one, that I didn't myself know the truths I had been hoping to share with others, I determined to give up writing altogether unless and until I could know those truths for myself.
I also understood that my Guru had given gave me this charge because he saw that this was what I needed for my own spiritual growth. For it was his way to help each of us to develop along our own natural bent. Writing came naturally to me, so it was also natural that he should encourage me to use this tendency for my own spiritual development.
More was involved in my Guru's instructions, of course, than developing our own natural talents. He had a mission to spread. It was our good karma if we could help him in that Herculean task. Apart from any ability I had with words, there was also the fact that I had an intense desire not only to find truth, but also to help others to find it. Writing, for me, meant learning to express truth as joy and inspiration. After I came to him, my aspiration changed to a lifelong resolution to reach out to others with his teachings.
I think it might be instructive to some people if I described a little further my own early search for truth. When I was thirteen, I thought of becoming an astronomer, hoping to find what I was seeking in the vast heavens. I spent many months grinding a six-inch mirror for a telescope. Alas, this enterprise ended prematurely when the mirror I was working on fell from the work table. It had been just nearing completion. The fall caused it to chip disastrously. By this time, my interest had begun to shift, in any case, to a search for something not so abstract as infinite space, but meaningful in more deeply human terms.
For a time I dabbled with political theories, seeking perfection through some new social order. I soon understood, however, that the perfection I was seeking had more to do with inner perfection, and above all with inner happiness. Further thought convinced me that human happiness will never come by imposing it outwardly: It must be discovered by each individual for himself. The best I could hope to accomplish for others was to inspire them to want an inward change: that it would be useless to try to force even a good system on anyone. Truth, I came to understand, must be recognized; it cannot be taught.
Thus I began, at the age of fifteen, to dream of creating a better world by inspiring people, not forcing them, to a new understanding. This line of thinking led me to dream, further, of creating small intentional communities, "far from the madding crowd." For months I dreamed of starting such a community, and tried to interest my friends in joining me in this effort. They seemed enthusiastic for a time—that is to say, until they realized that I was serious. At this point, they abandoned the idea!
My constant preoccupation during my teen years was with how to improve human life. One day my college roommate from Argentina, concerned on seeing me so engrossed in thought, staring sightlessly out our living room window, cried out in exasperation, "Relax! Can't you ever relax?"
I tried also to work out my ideas through writing. It wasn't until I reached adulthood that I realized, at the age of twenty-one, that I myself had far to go in realizing the truths I believed in—indeed, that without God I would never find them. At this point I resolved to give up writing altogether and devote my life to trying to attune my own consciousness with His.
Soon after reaching this decision, I found my Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda. What led me to him was his book, Autobiography of a Yogi. I knew nothing at the time of India's timeless teachings. Even words that are commonly known nowadays, such as karma, guru, and yoga, were unknown to me. One week after buying his book, I was—strange to relate!—accepted by him as his disciple, and was living as a monk at his international headquarters on Mt. Washington, in Los Angeles.
For, after reading his book, I took virtually the next bus across America to meet him—all the way from New York to Los Angeles. The first words I uttered to him were, "I want to be your disciple." This sentiment would have been unthinkable for me as recently as seven days earlier!
Fifty-six years have passed since then. With God's grace, I have never once been even tempted to look back.
It was Paramhansa Yogananda who showed me how to help others, as I had been longing to do: by seeking God as first in myself, and then by sharing with others my own experience of His joy.
Thus, although the books I've written cover a wide range of subjects, that range does not betoken restlessness or inconstancy, but the realization that all things created are but rays of one truth and one light. Such was my Guru's revolutionary explanation of Eternal Truth—of Sanatan dharma, as it is called in India.
I would like in these pages to give a hint, at least, of the genesis of those books, so that my readers may come to appreciate how a single, great teaching expresses God's plan for the upliftment of all mankind in modern times. For humanity is standing on the threshold of a New Age. The scientific, religious, and humanitarian advances that await us in the future would not have been conceivable to mankind even two hundred years ago.
I should add also that my own work has been simply to water the seeds that were planted by my Guru. Always it has been my hope to inspire others—whether few or many—to explore deeply the ramifications of his teachings. What he said to me remains forever true: "Much more is needed."
I have tried humbly to do my bit in getting the ball rolling. In so doing I have, of necessity, been only relatively successful. Still, in terms of normal worldly reckoning, my books have had slight success. Taken all together they've so far sold about three million copies in English alone, and have been published in twenty-seven languages. This contribution has been small compared to humanity's need everywhere. Even so, the effort has been worthwhile—to me, intensely so. Most important of all, perhaps, it has inspired others also to act. No matter how much anyone, or any group of people, accomplish, I think what my Guru said to me will remain true for centuries to come: "Much more is needed."
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