My Life of Service Through Writing
by Swami Kriyananda
Book Number Fifteen: The Path (One Man's Quest on the Only Path there Is)
I once told my Guru that it had been suggested to me that I write a book about how I came onto the spiritual path, and how I had found him. "Would you like me," I asked him, "to write such a book?"
"Not yet," he replied. He had said to me several times, however, that my "job" would be writing books. I therefore took his answer to mean, "Someday." In fact, I asked him on that same occasion, "Are you saying I should develop more first, spiritually, in myself?" He answered, "That's right."
Nearly a quarter of a century later, I was again urged by a friend to write my autobiography. This time, the idea seemed to me right. My thought was not so much to write about myself as about me as an example of a young man seeking truth. My own Guru's Autobiography of a Yogi, I reflected, had not been written so much about himself as about saints he had known. My own book, I decided, would tell stories about him, describe what it was like to live with a great man of God, and talk about him in a way that he had not felt to write about himself.
A worry I had about writing my own life story was that I'd lived such an unusual life, I feared no one would easily relate to it.
I'd read Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain, which had on its own strength greatly increased the number of vocations for the Trappist Order of monks in America, and had inspired many Americans also to convert to Roman Catholicism. Might my story, I wondered, accomplish the same thing for my Guru's mission in the West?
It seemed to me, finally, that if I was going to write about such a great person as Paramhansa Yogananda, it would be a service to let my readers know through what sort of filter they were getting their information. Thus, they might feel freer to decide at any point in the story, "The facts here may be straight, but the author's interpretation of this particular fact seems to be more his own projection than worthy of a great master."
Thus, in 1975, I set myself to writing what I knew would be an important book, one that I had to make as worthy as possible of the great soul I wanted to describe. I had kept copious notes, and, besides, was fortunate to possess a good memory. Writing the book, however, and then rewriting it to capture in print that golden period of my life with my Guru, took all my energy for a year and a half.
I finished the first version of the book in about a year. In May of 1976 I went to Hawaii to edit Part One in uninterrupted solitude. I "holed up" at Casa d'Emdico, a condominium apartment on the big island, where a friend at Ananda Village had invited me to stay. Hardly a month later, in June, I suddenly felt a strange restlessness, as though something important were about to happen. That afternoon I received a phone call from the Village: "Ananda Village is on fire!"
Flames were sweeping even then down a field toward our publications building. I took the next plane back to the Village, hoping to do what I could for the community's morale. "Publications" had been saved, but 450 of our six or seven hundred acres had been devastated, and twenty of the twenty-one homes in that area had burned to the ground. I called a meeting of all our members and told them that I felt we must now generate strong, positive energy if we were to save Ananda. The community responded valiantly. Although, inevitably, a few members did leave, most of them felt more united than ever.
Neighbors learned that the cause of the fire had been a faulty spark arrester on a county vehicle. "We can sue the county," they crowed joyfully, "and get all our money back!" I decided we must not sue, and wrote the county supervisors to say that, although we were in fact the biggest losers, we would not take out our hard luck on the rest of the county.
Once I was satisfied that the general spirit of the community was upbeat and constructive, I returned to Hawaii, where I spent the rest of that summer, completing Part One of my book.
Back at Ananda in the Fall, I finished the rest of the book. Having done so—nearly a year after completing the first draft—I and a handful of friends flew to India for a few months of much-needed rest and seclusion.
Curiously—perhaps God wanted in this way to test my non-attachment—the first two reactions I received to this major opus of mine were negative.
At the Casa d'Emdico the manager, to whom I'd given Part One to read, commented bitterly, "I wasn't so fortunate in my birth!" Those were her only words!
Later on, while I was in Kashmir, a visitor to Ananda Village who had helped a little with proofreading my book wrote to me, "You need an English teacher [just any English teacher?] to edit this manuscript. It has far too many commas." Again, as nearly as I can recall, this was his only comment!
The custom, while proofreading, is for two people to do the job together, one of them reading out loud: "[Capital] So then he said [comma] gazing around him as he spoke [comma, quotation mark] I wonder if this is a good idea [question mark, close quotation] [New paragraph] I suspect [comma] under such circumstances [comma] that most people [comma] among whom my friend seemed to include himself [comma] would have had a somewhat different reaction from my own [period]".
To my apartment manager in Hawaii, after expressing my sympathy, I simply dropped the matter—though smiling inwardly to think that this had been the first reaction I'd received. Later on, when that "proofreader" wrote his recommendation that I get an English teacher, all I could do was laugh delightedly with my companions, enjoying Divine Mother's sense of humor.
Soon, the compliments were pouring in. Even now, when I myself read the book, I see virtually nothing I might like to change. Indeed, I feel blessed to have been able to lay this labor of love at my Guru's feet.
See Also: Intro