The Path: One Man's Quest On the Only Path There Is
by Swami Kriyananda
(J. Donald Walters)
Direct Disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda
Purchase a copy of 'The Path'
"Feed My Sheep"
Nineteen fifty-five was an important year for Self-Realization Fellowship. In February, Rajarsi Janakananda died. The Board of Directors elected Daya Mata to replace him, making her the third SRF president. Her activities prior to that time had been more or less behind the scenes. We who knew her, however, and who knew the high esteem in which Master held her, hailed the choice as the best possible one.
Nineteen fifty-five was an important year also for me, personally. In May and June I went on a lecture tour to SRF centers in America, Canada, and Europe. Shortly after my return to Mt. Washington, I was appointed the main minister of our Hollywood church. And on August 20th, three other monks and I took our final vows of renunciation in solemn ceremony, receiving sannyas, or ordination into full monkhood, from Daya Mata. On that occasion we symbolically cremated our bodies in sacrificial flames, to signify that we looked upon ourselves thenceforth as dead to the world, and alive only in God.
Sannyasis (those who embrace sannyas) usually belong to the Swami order of monkhood, which Swami Shankaraor, as he is also known, Swami Shankaracharyaestablished many centuries ago in India. There are ten subdivisions of Shankaracharya swamis in India. Ours is the Giri, or "mountain," branch. Acceptance into the monastic order of Self-Realization Fellowship entails acceptance also into the Giri order of swamis. Thus my full name and title became, properly speaking, Swami Kriyananda Giri.
The sannyasi schools himself to view the world and everything in it as a dream. Seeing God as the Sole Reality, he seeks to live his life by the divine will alone, without any personal attachment or desire.
Traditionally excluded from initiation into the Swami order were non-brahmins (that is, those born outside the priestly caste of Hindus), foreigners, and women. Great masters in this age, however, have broadened the tradition as it applied to non-brahmins and foreigners, and discarded it altogether as it applied to women.
As regards the former, they have pointed out that caste was not originally intended as a hereditary system. Rather, it constituted a simple recognition of universal realities of human nature. The whole human race, Yogananda explained, consists of four natural castes, known in India as sudras, vaisyas, kshatriyas, and brahmin s. Sudras are those who live uncreatively, on a purely physical plane. Vaisyas live more creatively, but for personal gain. Kshatriyas devote their energies primarily to society. And brahmins are those whose interests are essentially spiritual. Obviously, those only whose nature places them in this fourth category are fit for sannyas, the definition of which is a life lived for God alone, and for the spiritual upliftment of others. Nationality is not a consideration here. India's millenniums-old adoption of the caste system constituted a recognition, merely, of universal stages in human evolution.
The barring of women from taking sannyas, on the other hand, has no basis in the eternal truths propounded by India's Scriptures. In no age have women been denied the highest spiritual attainments. Their non-acceptance into the Swami order was based on purely transitory, sociological considerations. Greater social freedom in the present age has encouraged increasing numbers of women to enter ashrams, and to embrace sannyas. Their admission into the Swami order has been fully endorsed by several of the greatest masters of our age.
During the course of a sannyas initiation ceremony in Puri, Orissa, on May 27th, 1959, Swami Bharati Krishna Tirth, the then-presiding Shankaracharya of Gowardhan Math, and the recognized leader of all the Shankaracharya swamis in India, formally redefined those ancient traditions by recognizing Daya Mata's initiation into the Swami order by Paramhansa Yogananda.
Kriyananda, the name I took on the occasion of my own ordination, derives from two Sanskrit words and means "divine bliss through Kriya Yoga," or, alternately, "divine bliss in action." Rev. Michael, Joe Carbone, and Carl Swenson also took their vows with me on this occasion, receiving respectively the names Bhaktananda, Bimalananda, and Sarolananda.
In my heart that day I pledged my life more earnestly than ever to Master's service.
As the minister-in-charge now at our principal church, I realized that the time had come for me at last to take lecturing seriously, according to Master's instructions. The truth is, I hadn't seriously believed, heretofore, that I could do much good through the medium of mere words. But now I decided at least to try, and prayed deeply to my guru to inspire me to help others. Interestingly, it wasn't long before his blessings began to take effect.
It is curious. We naturally tend to think, if we believe in divine guidance at all, that God alone can decide how He will operate in our lives. But the truth is, His grace flows through whatever channels we ourselves open up to Him. We may want with all our hearts to do His will, but the principle of free will is part of His law. He guides us, therefore, according to the kind of inspiration we ask of Him. One might say that it is the magnetic quality of our interest that draws His response. If, for example, we write music, the inspiration we receive will be in terms of music. If we are immersed in religious organizing, the guidance we attract will be related to organizing. And if we seek divine assistance as lecturers, the inspirations God gives us will be for how to lecture well.
Thus it was that, during my years of organizing, most of the guidance I received related to organizing. Consequently, I kept feeling I wasn't yet ready to get into lecturing seriously. But when outward necessity forced me to concentrate more on public speaking, I began receiving guidance primarily as a speaker. People now began telling me that something I had said in a lecture had changed their lives, or answered some long-standing doubt, or awakened love for God in their hearts for the first time.
More was involved here, however, than guidance. For organizing hadn't actually been God's long-range will for me. Now that I was doing more specifically what Master had asked of me, I felt a growing sense of inner fulfillment and joy.
At first I approached public speaking with an attitude developed over years of organizing activities. That is to say, though a minister, I spoke more as one representing my church than as one deeply concerned for the people I was serving. But I soon discovered that, just as organizational activity has its own logic, so also do teaching and counseling. For a minister, it is important to give the highest priority to people's needs. Only by attuning oneself to them may one hope to reach them.
I was aware that, in my evolving understanding of the ministry, I was not treading any well-paved highway. Most of the ministers I'd met seemed to view themselves rather as spokesmen for their churches than as ministers to hungry souls. They reverted hastily to monologue, whenever dialogue looked threatening. I myself, as an SRF minister, had a tendency to begin with to let Master's teachings speak for themselves, rather than apply those truths creatively to my specific listeners.
Sincerity in the ministry came to mean to me, above all, sincerity to the people I was serving. If, I thought, a minister's duty were to answer every question with a dogma, he might as well record whatever he has to say and ask his secretary to play the appropriate tape. But one who sincerely wants to help people cannot but discover in time, because he listens to them, that the guises truth wears are many. His aim then becomes, not to bind people to his church and make "dyed-in-the-wool" believers of them, but to awaken in them a sense of the divine truth within themselves. As Paramhansa Yogananda put it, "Our only goal is to 'dye people in the wool' of their own Kriya Yoga practice."
Often Master told us, "Self-Realization Fellowship is not a sect." As long as my own focus was on organizing, his statement seemed less relevant to me. But it assumed vital significance once I began serving the public. For as I attuned myself to the true task of the ministry, I understood that such service, to be effective, must be centered in truth itself; it must be free of any hidden, sectarian motive.
Sometimes I would actually recommend to someone that he join some other spiritual work. In India once during a question-and-answer period after a public lecture, I urged a listener to spend his weekends at a nearby Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Afterwards this man approached me and asked, "How did you know that I'm a member of that ashram?" I hadn't known, actually, but something about him had brought that society to mind as being on his spiritual "wavelength." Probably this particular degree of nonsectarianism will not be found in any textbook for the ministry! Because I placed people's own, actual needs ahead of normal institutional considerations, however, thousands, satisfied that I wanted only to share with them truths I myself deeply believed in, joined our work as a result of my lectures and classes.
I first went to India in 1958. There, virtually for the first time, I found myself lecturing to audiences consisting mostly of people who were unfamiliar with our work. It was a priceless opportunity to learn how to apply Master's teachings creatively.
In the autumn of 1959 I was invited to address the student body of a men's college in Simla, a hill station in the Himalayas, at the end of their school day. I set out on foot. Misjudging the distance, however, I arrived twenty minutes late. The student-body president, on whose recommendation I'd been invited to speak, met me apprehensively on the street below the hilltop campus.
"I don't know how they're going to receive you, Swamiji. The problem isn't only that you've arrived late. It's that we have just concluded a protest rally against China's latest incursions onto Indian soil. We ended by signing a petition to the Government in blood!" He paused, cocking an ear up the hill. "Just listen to them!"
From the hilltop, sounds of angry tumult were distinctly audible: hundreds of voices raised in a hum of protest, hundreds of feet stamping impatiently on the hall floor.
"Swamiji," my host pleaded, "please allow me to cancel the talk."
"But I can't do that," I remonstrated. "It would mean breaking my word to them."
"I'm only afraid they may mistreat you!"
Climbing the hill, I hoped for the best. During the principal's subsequent, and somewhat nervous, introduction of me, I noticed students glancing meaningly at the door. Obviously, the circumstances were anything but ideal for a lecture on the benefits of meditation!
Instead, therefore, I launched into a vigorous dissertation on the subject uppermost in their minds: China's incursions. I restated their own case to them, perhaps better than they had heard it stated that day. As I spoke, I sensed a flicker of interest, and then mounting approval. Gradually, once I felt their support, I introduced the suggestion that warfare, hatred, and other kinds of disharmony in society are due primarily to disharmony in man himself. Even we, I suggested, who perhaps hated no one, might yet feel that we hadn't as much inner peace as we'd like. The first thing, then, if we would bring peace to others, was to change, not them, but ourselves.
By this time the students were eager to hear more. I went on to speak about yoga and meditation. At the end of my talk they plied me with questions. Many wanted to know how they could study yoga. At last the principal pleaded with them repeatedly to stop questioning me, as the last buses would shortly be leaving Simla for their villages.
In India, by psychically "listening" to my audiences as I lectured to them, and reflecting the truth back to them as their own higher natures understood it, I learned how to reach people on many levels of spiritual unfoldment and get them to take up meditation. After a lecture at Mahindra College, Patiala, in 1959, the professors told me that never in the history of their college had so much interest been awakened by a speaker. Response to my talks and classes in the auditorium of the public library of Patiala was, people said, "unprecedented" for that city. A few weeks later, in New Delhi, thousands enrolled in my yoga classes. I became known in northern India as the "American yogi."
I had entered the ministry reluctantly. Now, however, the more willingly I served God through people in this capacity, the more clearly I experienced His blessings in everything I attempted.
Before the first of my class series in New Delhi, I invited our local members to my hotel room to discuss plans. There weren't many of them. They came cautiously, sat cautiously, and cautiously suggested we engage a small school room where I might address them and their families, and perhaps a few friends. But I felt that Master wanted me to make his message known to thousands.
"Let us rent a large tent," I said.
"A large . . . tent?" They gulped apprehensively. "For how many?"
"About eighteen hundred," I replied. The look in their eyes implied that I'd taken complete leave of my senses. But at last they gave in. The tent was set up on a large, empty lot in Main Vinay Nagar, an outlying district of New Delhi.
The day of my introductory lecture, I was meditating in a nearby home. At four o'clock, the announced time of the lecture, a member came over to fetch me.
"It's a good crowd, Swamiji," he announced dolefully. "About a hundred people."
A hundred peoplein a tent large enough to hold eighteen hundred! Later I was told that one member, of somewhat timid disposition, had already begun pacing up and down outside the tent, moaning, "Our reputation will be ruined!"
"Master," I prayed, laughing inwardly, "I had the feeling we'd get at least eighteen hundred people. That wasn't my desire. If no one had come, it would have been the same to me." But then, recalling people's tendency to be late, I said, "Let us wait a bit."
Seven minutes later the man returned. "There are two hundred there now, Swamiji. Hadn't we better start?"
"Not yet," I replied. He left, wringing his hands.
At four-fifteen, smiling with relief, he returned. "About six hundred people are there now. Shall we begin?"
I rose to my feet. During the brief time it took us to reach the tent, crowds more arrived. By the time I'd reached the dais, the tent was full to overflowing. Two thousand people heard me that day. Most of them later enrolled for the classes.
At the end of my lecture, I announced, "For this week of classes, it would be easier, for those who might want private interviews with me, if I were housed nearby. Would anyone here like to invite me to stay in his home?" Afterwards fifty or more people approached me to invite me. Dismayed, I realized I'd have to refuse all of them but one. "Master," I prayed, "whose offer should I accept?" Then all at once, seeing one man, I was attracted by the look in his eyes. "I'll stay with you," I said.
Later Sri Romesh Dutt, my host for that week, confided to me, "I read Paramhansaji's Autobiography of a Yogi years ago, and wanted very much to receive Kriya Yoga initiation. But I didn't know where to get it. At last I read in the newspaper about your recent lectures in Patiala, a hundred miles away. I decided to request time off from my office and go there to seek initiation from you. But my wife said to me, 'Why go all that distance? If you have faith, Swamiji will come to New Delhi and give initiation here. Not only that, he will stay in our own home!' Truly, Swamiji, your visit in this humble dwelling of ours is an extraordinary proof of God's grace to us!"
Lecturing and speaking to people around India, I gradually came to understand how I might also carry out Master's other instructions: to write. For years I had puzzled over what I could say in writing that would approach even remotely his depth of philosophical and spiritual insight. My usefulness, whether as teacher or writer, was to acquaint people with his message. He was the master. I was only his instrument.
Yet he had told me, "Much yet remains to be written." To what, I wondered, had he been referring? After two or three years in India, it occurred to me that I might be able to "reach out," through writing, in the same way that I had been reaching out to people in my lectures, by "listening" psychically, as it were, to their needs. I could show them how even the worldly fulfillments they were seeking could be achieved, in the fullest sense, only by including spiritual values in their lives. Master himself, I reflected, had touched on numerous fields of human interest. Perhaps I could expand on what, from him, had often amounted to no more than a hint. Taking his teachings, metaphorically, as the hub of a wheel, I would try to show that many spokes led inward to that same hub.
One of the principal goads to my own spiritual search had been the spreading evil, in our times, of nihilism. Many people, after exposure to the teachings of modern science, found it difficult to accept any moral and spiritual values. Idealism they discarded as "sentimental." Of the college-trained intellectuals that I encountered, even in spiritual India, many insisted that truth is only relative, that no higher law exists, that the best justification for any act is the ability to get away with it. A number of these people, unable to abandon their moral sense altogether, embraced communism, with its materialistic moralism, simply because it at least makes a show of believing in something. And all too often, especially in the West, the educated people I met who accepted spiritual values found themselves unable to counter the challenges of modern science, and therefore swept those challenges under the carpet rather than acknowledge their existence. Their beliefs, while constructive, seemed to me to lack a certain intellectual integrity.
Trained as I was in Master's teachings, and familiar with the clear insights they offered to the confused thinking of our age, I longed to help people to find an honest basis for spiritual faith.
By no means all of my time, during the nearly four years I spent in India, was devoted to lecturing. Much of it was given to organizational work for our society. Among other things, I reorganized our lessons, which went out twice monthly from our Indian headquarters. By placing techniques and fundamental yoga teachings earlier in the series, and offering them first in large doses, I tried to make the lessons more responsive to the expectations of new students. I also wrote a set of rules and guidelines for our Indian monastic order, and performed numerous assignments for Daya Mata.
Among my happiest memories of those years are the frequent opportunities I got for visiting living saints, some of whom were well known, and others whose names, though little known in the world, must surely be written in shining letters in the Book of Life. I've already mentioned my four-day visit to Sri Rama Yogi, the highly advanced disciple of Ramana Maharshi. Another great saint with whom I got to spend considerably more time was Ananda Moyi Ma, the "Joy-Permeated Mother" whom Paramhansa Yogananda described lovingly in his autobiography. Memories of weeks passed in her sacred company are among the most precious of my life; to me she seems veritably an incarnation of the Divine Mother. I also met Sitaramdas Omkarnath and Mohanananda Brahmachari, two devotional saints of Bengal; Sanyal Mahasaya, the last-surviving disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya; Deoahara Baba, 140 years old at that time, but possessing the body of a man of forty; Neemkaroli Baba, the well-known guru of the American devotee, Ram Dass; Swami Sivananda, whose saintly disciplesSwamis Chidananda, Satchidananda, Venkatesananda, Sahajananda, Vishnudevananda, and othershave done much in recent years to make India's teachings known in the West; Swami Purushottamananda, a blissful hermit near whose Himalayan cave, "Vashishta Guha," on the River Ganges I spent four weeks in seclusion; His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet; His Holiness, Bharati Krishna Tirth, the Shankaracharya of Gowardhan Math, whom I had met previously in America; His Holiness the Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram; and others.
Something that touched me deeply was the extraordinary regard many of those saints showed for my beloved guru. The Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram told me, "I met your guru in Calcutta in 1935. I have been following his activities in America ever since. As a bright light shining in the midst of darkness, so was Yogananda's presence in this world. Such a great soul comes on earth only rarely, when there is a real need among men."
One thing that impressed me deeply about India was the intensely individual nature of religious worship there. Several of the saints I met were unabashedly, one might almost say gloriously, eccentricas though wanting to challenge people to live for God alone, and not merely to please mankind. How much fresher and more vital, their deeply individual approach to devotion, than the rigid formats of congregational worship! When a religion tries to ensure the preservation of its sanctity by generalizing its standards of outward comportment, it loses responsiveness to the needs of individuals, endlessly varied as they are. Thereby losing elasticity, it becomes moribund.
In May 1960, during a six-month visit to America, the SRF Board of Directors unanimously elected me as a member of the Board, and as the vice-president of Self-Realization Fellowship. After my return to India later that year, I was elected to the same positions in our sister organization, Yogoda Satsanga Society of India.
My new position in the organization, albeit a high honor, heightened also a conflict that had been stirring within me for some years: How to reconcile my organizing activities with my role, which Master had assigned me, as teacher, lecturer, and writer? Most of my co-workers, who seldom if ever attended my public lectures, saw me primarily as an organizer and tried to involve me further in organizational activities. Sri B.N. Dubey (later he was given the name Swami Shyamananda), the secretary of our work in India, wanted me to accept the position of office manager at our Dakshineswar headquarters. (The headquarters was subsequently relocated to Ranchi.)
"Why, it would take me twenty years," I exclaimed, "just to see the light of day again!"
"Quite right," he replied matter-of-factly.
I knew that Master didn't want me in office work any longer. "Your work," he had told me, "is writing, editing, and lecturing." How to persuade others, however, that these were his wishes? The impetus I'd established over years of organizational activities made it difficult even for me to redirect my energies, what to speak of redirecting other people's expectations of me.
There are tides in the more-or-less predictable flow of all lives that draw us, drive us, or sometimes heave us into situations for which we consider ourselves ill prepared, and which may leave us convinced that we are the victims of an evil fortune. Then, with the passage of timemonths, perhaps, even yearswe come to realize that what happened was not only inevitable, but divinely right for usperhaps even a source of extraordinary blessings.
In retrospect, I see that it was such a karmic tide that entered my life at this time and swept me along with it. I found myself at a crossroads. My dilemma was brought into focus by the realization that what the world needed from these teachings was not a smoothly run organization, but a dynamic, joyful, compassionate outreach. We needed to reach people where they were, and not only to serve efficiently the few who came to us.
It wasn't that I didn't see also the need for an organization that functioned with a semblance, at least, of efficiency. Master, however, had often told us (quoting his guru, Sri Yukteswar), "Organization is the hive; God is the honey." I was inwardly certain that what my Guru wanted of me now was that I concentrate on bringing the "honey" of his teachings to truth-hungry souls, and to work less on perfecting the hive.
Master's example in this respect was an encouragement. He, too, had sought by various means to improve the spiritual "atmosphere" in the West: for example, through schools and colleges, through "world brotherhood colonies," and by showing people in all walks of life the sheer common sense of living spiritually. Much spade work was needed, he realized, before India's teachings could win wide acceptance in the West.
The guidance I felt from him with growing insistency was to devote myself to furthering this aspect of his work: through the medium of ideasespecially of books and lecturesto help cultivate the spiritual "soil" of our times, so as to make it more receptive to the liberating message of inner, divine communion and Kriya Yoga.
Given this direction, how was I ever to get my books published, after I'd written them? And how, for that matter, was I to justify to co-workers my need for the time to write them? Our editorial department would, I was perfectly certain, take a jaundiced view of any such activity; it was inconceivable that they would publish the kind of books I had in mind. The main editor had quite enough on her hands as it was, getting out Master's books.
Yet when I had asked Master, "Hasn't everything been said already in your books?" (in response to his statement that my life work would include writing), he replied almost as if taken aback by the narrowness of my vision, "Don't say that! Much more is needed."
The crossroads at which I found myself amounted to a conflict of premises: the one, that the organization was the priority, to which people must adjust if they would receive what it had to give them; the other, that people and their spiritual needs were the priority, to which the organization must work constantly to be responsive. It was assumed for me that my direction lay primarily in organizational activities. My own assumptions in that regard, however, were changing. It wasn't so much that I disagreed with anyone as that a deep urgency within meinspired, as I still believe, by my Guruinsisted on making people's individual spiritual needs my priority.
How the conflict developed is a story I prefer not to go into. Conflicts are always best left to third parties to describe.
To shorten the proverbial long story, destiny intervened. Nothing I did or could possibly have done would have changed the outcome. I myself had been feeling deep within me that some sort of change had to happen, though I could never, in my conscious mind, have anticipated or accepted what actually did happen.
The accusation was made that, in my desire to reach out and help people, en masse and individually, I was seeking personal power. I did my best, thereafter, to "toe the line," and would, I believe, have continued to do my best all my life, whatever the frustrations involved, to adjust what I deeply felt to be the needs of the work to what others expected of me. For my first priority had nothing to do with any work that I might do during this brief lifespan on earth. That priority was, as it had always been, to find God. And to find Him, my basic assumption was that my spiritual development depended on serving Master within the framework of his organization. My "ulterior motive," if one may call it that, was always to please God through service to my Guru. I held strong views on loyalty, both to him and to the organization he had founded. The solution as I saw it, then, was to learn how to live with others' rejection of my convictions about the needs of the work, and at the same time to do what I could, when I could, to continue recommending those needs to my fellow disciples.
As things turned out, I was powerless to change the course of events no matter what I did. Every attempt on my part to influence the powerful currents in which I found myself struggling only worsened my predicament.
Finally, over my anguished protests, I was dismissedcast adrift, so it seemed to me, in a rowboat on a vast ocean. This happened in July, 1962, at a meeting in New York to which I'd been summoned by cablegram from India.
Because the separation caused pain to others as well as to me, I prefer not to dwell on the attending circumstances, which in any case were but the mechanics of the matter. I understand, now, that my dismissal was a good thing.
Was it a good thing for SRF? My fellow disciples there may continue to think so.
Was it good for me? Very definitely! For, as circumstances have since proved, there were things Master had to do through me that could never have been done, had I not been out on my own.
Copyright 1996 J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda), Trustee