Music That Can Change Your Life

“Swami Kriyananda sat at a piano, playing the sonata he had just composed. As I listened, tears came to my eyes. It wasn’t only that the music was beautiful. The music was changing me. I felt a divine presence within and around me. Pure and perfect love, evoked through the melody, permeated the core of my being. I thought, ‘What is this?’”

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The music of Swami Kriyananda is a new art form that will shape musical styles for decades, and a dynamic instrument of spiritual growth and blessing. His music transforms those who play and sing it, as well as those who listen to it.

During his lifetime, Swami composed more than 400 pieces—a vast legacy.  In A Tale of Songs, Kriyananda shares the story behind the composition of more than 150 pieces of music.

In the accompanying audio DVD, you will hear the songs that have powerfully uplifted thousands of listeners.

Melodies That Raise Your Consciousness

As you read this book and listen to these extraordinary songs, allow the subtle energies within them to open your heart and transform your awareness—until you merge with the divine melody that underlies all of life.

Swami Kriyananda

Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters, 1926–2013) was a direct disciple of the great spiritual master Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the classic Autobiography of a Yogi), a bestselling author, and an internationally known lecturer and composer. Widely recognized as one of the world's foremost authorities on meditation and yoga, he taught these principles and techniques to hundreds of thousands of students around the world.

In 1968 Kriyananda founded Ananda Village in Nevada City, California, dedicated to spreading the spirit of friendship, service, and community around the globe. Ananda is recognized as one of the most successful intentional communities in the world, and more than 1,000 people reside in Ananda communities in the US, India, and Italy. The European retreat and community located in Assisi, Italy, also serves Ananda meditation groups in Europe and Russia.

Ananda Village is home to The Expanding Light, a world-renowned guest retreat facility where thousands visit annually for renewal or instruction in many aspects of meditation, yoga, and the spiritual life. The nearby Ananda Meditation Retreat, located on Ananda's first property, functions both as a retreat and as the site for Ananda's Institute of Alternative Living.

An advocate of simple living and high thinking, Swami Kriyananda's more than 140 books cover a wide range of subjects emphasizing the need to live wisely by one's own experience of life, and not by abstract theories or dogmas.

A composer since 1964, Kriyananda wrote over 400 musical works. His music is inspiring, soothing, and uplifting. Many of his later albums are instrumental works with brief affirmations or visualizations. Chuck Dilberto of Awareness Magazine wrote, “[His] words and music are full of his life and light. His sole intention is to heal, something we could all use during these chaotic times.”

Through Crystal Clarity Publishers, his works have sold over 3 million copies worldwide and have been translated into more than 25 languages.

To learn more, visit the Swami Kriyananda website.

My First Songs
Farther Away Than the Stars
One Day When I Was Walking
Go On Alone!
If You’re Seeking Freedom
What Is Love?
Alphabetical Listing of All the Others (Followed by Children’s Songs)
A New Tomorrow
Big Frog, Little Frog
Blessed Are They
Blessed the Life
Brave Were the People
Canticle of the Creatures
Cherish These
Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto
Children of God!
The Christ Child’s Asleep
Christ Has Come
Christ Is Risen
Christmas Mystery
Come, Chillun, Wake up!
Come Gather Round
Come with Me to Brasov
Dare to Be Different!
Dark Eyes
Daughter of Aran
Dearer Far to Thee
Dearest, I Love You
Dearest, When I Think of Thee
Deirdre’s Sorrows
Divine Friendship
Dublin Town
Emerald Isle
Father, Mother, Friend, Our God
Free At Last!
Give Me Light
Go with Love
God Is Truth; God Is Love
God’s Call Within
Good Night, Sweetheart
Have You Seen Sorrento?
He Who Clothes the Field
Hello There, Brother Bluebell!
The Hill That Was Tara
Home Is a Green Hill
How Shall I Love Thee?
I Live Without Fear
In the Spirit
In the Temple of Isis
Invocation to the Woodland Devas
Irish Lullaby
It’s God’s Green Earth
I’ve Passed My Life as a Stranger, Lord
Quando Mi Sveglio
I Wander with Thee
I Will Always Think of Thee
Jenny Will Love Me
Jim Brown
John Anderson, My Jo
Joined in Prayer
Join Us in Blessing
Krishna’s Flute
Larks Fly High
Let This Cup Pass from Me
Life Flows On like a River
Life Is a Dream
Life Mantra
Lift Your Hearts
The Light That Was Christ
Living Water
Looking for a Friend
Lord, May We Serve You
Make Us Channels of Thy Peace
Love Is a Magician
Mañana, Friends
Many Hands Make a Miracle
Memories of That Isle
More Boxes? No, Thank You!
Mother of Us All
Mother of Wisdom
The Non-Blues
O Master!
Palm Sunday
The Philosopher and the Boatman
Praise Ye the Lord
Prayer Before Meals
Psalm of David
Ra Ma
Rama and Sita
Sail with Me to Capri
The Secret of Laughter
The Shawl of Gold
Sing Out with Joy!
Sing Out with Joy (for the Festival of Light)
Sleep Is Calling
Song of Mary Magdalene
Song of the Nightingale
Springtime in Romania
The Temptation of Christ
That Night When Christ Was Born
There’s Joy in the Heavens
This Is My Son
Three Wise Men
Through All Trials
Through a Long and Lonely Night
Through Many Lives
The Thunder of AUM
Thy Light Within Us Shining
Thy Will Be Done
To Death I’m a Stranger
To Mary There Came
To Souls That Were Fallen
Two Souls
Walk Like a Man
Introduction to the Waltz
Wartime Lullaby
Well Done, Lord!
What Is It For?
When Human Hopes
When You Come from Napoli
Where Has My Love Gone?
Where He Dwells
Who Dreamed of the Tragedy?
The Wonders Man Carved
Yes, It’s Devil Worship!
You Remain Our Friend
Children’s Songs
All the World Is My Friend
Be Free Inside
Guide Me, Lord
It’s Time to Go to School
I Wonder
Lift Your Hearts in Strength
Lightly I Fly
Little Kathy
Melody’s Everywhere
Move, All You Mountains
Of His Dreams Our Love Was Made
Rise in Freedom
Say “Thank You”
Sing in the Meadows
Thank You, God, for the Sun

My First Songs

When the Divine Will removed me from my Guru’s organization, I was anxious not in any way to rival the work they were doing. I had devoted my life to serving my Guru’s mission. If I could not serve him within his organization, I could only serve him outside it. I wanted whatever I did, however, to be in a spirit of harmony and brotherhood. Thus, I cast about for new ways of expressing his teachings.

In 1964, two years after that separation, I spent a week vacationing in Yosemite Park, California. On my last day there, I saw two teenage boys sitting on the wooden railing of a bridge, singing to the accompaniment of a guitar. I felt in a mood to sing, and went over to join them.

I should add here that singing has always been my pastime. As a youth, wherever I happened to be, I would walk singing through the streets, heedless of anyone around me. In high school, our choir director often said to me, “There’s money in your voice.” (Money, I must say, held no attraction for me.) At eighteen, I studied with a voice teacher who taught me how to place my voice so that I had no difficulty in even singing very loudly. (Today, at 86, my voice sounds as free from strain as it did when I was in my twenties.) My voice teacher assumed that I would make singing my career.

What I myself was seeking, however, was the meaning of life: Why are we here on earth? How can we make the best use of our sojourn on this planet? I simply could not imagine wasting my life in expressing ideas with which I felt no sympathy at all. “O cessate di piagarmi! O lasciate mi morir! (Oh, stop plaguing me and let me die!)” were the words of one classical song I learned from my teacher. What a foolish sentiment!

When it came to singing something those boys at Yosemite could relate to, I was at a loss. People in India had loved to hear me sing Bengali bhajans (devotional songs), but these didn’t seem quite the fare to give American schoolboys! What was I to do?

Finally I hit on the well-known spiritual, “Swing low, sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home.”

They loved it. “Please,” they both pleaded, “won’t you come sing for a party we’re attending this evening?”

Well, my time was free, so I agreed. Again, I sang, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Everyone pleaded with me to sing more, but my repertoire wasn’t up to the occasion! I demurred.

As I drove home the next day, however, the thought came to me: Wouldn’t it be wonderful to tour the country, spreading meaningful truths through song! But then came the inevitable thought, What songs were there to sing? The message of virtually every popular song is, “I love you; you love me;” or else, “I love you; you’ve left me; you done me wrong.” What kind of messages are those?

It looked like an impasse. Suddenly, then, the thought came to me: Maybe I could write my own songs! They could have a message that, to me, would be truly meaningful.

All my life, melodies had drifted through my mind. Perhaps, then . . . ?

Just then, a song appeared full-blown in my mind: both melody and lyrics. It was beautiful!

I stopped on my way at a milk shake stand, and wrote the song out on a paper napkin. I understood music notation from years of having played the piano, so for me this was no problem.

When I reached my parents’ home, where I was living at the time, I found that my brother Dick had left his Martin guitar there. It was in excellent condition. All I needed now was to learn how to play it! I bought Pete Seeger’s Guitar Singer’s Guide, and from that book taught myself to play.

More songs began coming to me: “Why?”; “I’ve Passed My Life as a Stranger, Lord”; “Brothers”; “Go On Alone!”—these five (including the one that had first come to me) were the first, and they came (I believe) in that sequence.

I hadn’t been singing these songs three weeks when the secretary from the Unitarian church heard me singing them, and asked me if I wouldn’t like to give a concert in their church. I agreed. She scheduled the concert for one week from that day! It forced me now to practice the guitar almost nonstop for that whole week! By the time the day of the concert arrived, I had been playing the guitar (practicing, rather) in all for just four weeks.

The afternoon before the concert, I was strolling through Golden Gate Park of San Francisco, enjoying its beauty and praying for help. All at once, two more songs came to my mind: “If You’re Seeking Freedom,” and “What Is Love?” The second came because I’d heard that many Unitarians are atheists. I thought, “Surely they all know the feeling of love—of joy. How, then, can they truly be atheists?”

I decided to include these two new songs in the program that evening. When the dreaded event arrived (one of those times in life when you wish death would claim you first!), I found a packed hall: 200 people! The secretary, to create a reflective mood, had turned off all the lights. One candle was left burning on the mantelpiece behind me! (If there was one thing I desperately needed, it was to be able to see those guitar strings. But I was denied even this relief!)

Well, somehow I stumbled through the program, adding a few stories and bhajans to thicken the mix.

Inexplicably, my listeners loved everything! On the way out, a young man said to me, “I’m a music major at Cal State. And I must say, there were some interesting chords in some of the songs you sang this evening.”

“Thank you for calling them interesting,” I responded. “You have a generous nature.”

That evening launched what friends might be generous enough to call my musical career.

Thereafter, I always sang one or two songs before giving a lecture. All the songs expressed a message I wanted to convey, and many of them, therefore, made a good introduction to my subject.

I went on to write more songs, presenting worthwhile teachings in a poetic and interesting way.

Someone once tried to figure out what I was going through emotionally when I wrote this song or that. The truth is, all my songs have come from spiritual, not from emotional, experience. They didn’t reflect any trauma I was undergoing at the time. Rather, they described attitudes all men would be happier for developing in themselves.

Most people confuse spiritual with either moral or theological teaching. If they write songs, the songs become hymns: preachy, often dismally lacking in feeling. I, however, who have been seeking God now for over sixty years, have learned that the essence of the spiritual path is feeling. Spirituality is not drily occult or intellectual. It stems from deep love and heartfelt longing for God. My own deep longing for Him, and my desire to help my fellow beings: these are what I wanted to express in my music.

No two of my songs are the same: each of them is in some way unique. But I must say also that they reveal who I am, as a human being. For I have been the filter for them. Though they came from divine inspiration, they were nevertheless what I had to express. God, as I have often said, has a different melody to sing (or play) through each one of us. Each has his own unique melody to sing.

For some time I attended folk singing gatherings at the home of Faith Petric, in San Francisco, to get a feel for that kind of music. The people at those gatherings enjoyed my songs. One day I asked Faith if she knew of a good guitar teacher for me.

“The ideal person for you,” she said, “would be Larry Hanks.”

Well, I had no idea who Larry Hanks was. And then, some weeks later during the Christmas season, I joined a group of people in Berkeley who were singing Christmas carols. That evening, I saw a stranger seated by himself on a sofa. I went over to him.

“What is your name?” I asked him.
“Larry Hanks,” he replied.
“I thought so,” I said. “I’m supposed to study the guitar from you.” Thus, my guitar teacher became Larry Hanks.

For some time I sang my songs alone, to the accompaniment of my Martin guitar. As I developed the first Ananda Community, however, near Nevada City, California, wanting to get others into the act, I wrote harmonies for the songs so we could sing them in chorus. Gradually I learned, while writing harmonies, to give the different voice parts counter-melodies of their own. From then on, wishing to give others a chance to sing them, I rarely performed the music myself. And I found that people’s lives, by singing them, were transformed.

After I had written perhaps a hundred songs, I began to realize that the transforming effect of the music came to a great extent from the sounds of the music itself, and not only from the power of the words. I then began to compose instrumental music.

In May 1995, I was invited by Derek Bell, the famous Celtic harpist, to write an album for the harp. “But I know nothing about harp music,” I objected. He wrote back, “You can do it. You need only to try.”

I had a book project to finish the next month for a large publishing house. When I got that sent off at the end of June, I turned my mind to Derek’s request. In three days, I’d completed all his melodies. Next, I was committed to go on a speaking tour. When I returned three weeks later, I wrote lyrics for many of those melodies.

My first consideration always, when writing songs, has been melody. The melody has had to suit the theme. The words, then, have had to support the melody.

(On December 18 the year before, incidentally, I had had open heart surgery. My surgeon had ordered me—it wasn’t a suggestion!—to take a full year’s rest. In fact, however, the next year turned out—for reasons I could not alter—to be perhaps the busiest year of my life. After writing the lyrics for those harp songs, for example, I found myself forced to sit through eighty unbelievable hours of deposition by a lawyer grimly bent on my destruction.)

Some years before that, I wrote a piano sonata called “The Divine Romance.” I dedicated it to my mother for her birthday. I played it for her at my parents’ home that day. My brother Dick and his wife were there, staying in their bedroom as I played. They emerged toward the end. Dick immediately began a conversation with Seva, an Ananda member, who quietly continued listening to me. Dick, meanwhile, sat there restlessly to the end of the piece. Once Mother and Seva had finished kindly applauding, Dick and his wife launched immediately into a discussion about a sofa they had just purchased in Sacramento. (Dick resists everything I do, for fear that it may in some way not be orthodox.)

Year later, I wrote a string quartet. The melodies for the movements were taken from four melodies I had written for some of Shakespeare’s lyrics.

The reason for my writing those melodies was that I decided one day to take a rest from all the effort of writing lyrics for my own melodies. The melodies came effortlessly, but the lyrics were difficult. Usually they had to rhyme, a process which took work. Moreover, the words had to be singable, and to flow well together. That was even more difficult.

One day I decided to take time out from writing lyrics, and write melodies for lyrics that already existed. I’d always enjoyed the lyrics in Shakespeare’s plays. Their themes are worldly, but they lend themselves naturally to melodic expression. I decided therefore to try to write melodies for a few of them. In three days, eighteen of them were completed.

I knew that Franz Schubert had written melodies also for two of Shakespeare’s songs: “Who Is Silvia?” and “Hark, Hark, the Lark.” My singing teacher had had me sing both of them. Schubert’s melodies, however, don’t fit the rhythm of the words. His “Who Is Silvia?” possessed none of the rustic charm of Shakespeare’s words. The notes were long and operatic; they were intended to emphasize the beauty of the singer’s voice, not the beauty of the words themselves.

The first words of this song are, “Who is Silvia? What is she?” That word, what, is not beautiful in English. It deserves the diminished emphasis we give it in speech. Schubert drew this word out to the same length as the first word, Who.

In only one place did I “correct” Shakespeare: In the line, “Love doth to her eyes repair,” the word “to” ended up, in my melody, as the highest and most-emphasized word. I changed the sequence to read, “To her eyes love doth repair.” “Eyes,” thus, became the most important note. I’m sure Shakespeare would have approved.

The other song of Schubert’s must have been the result of his not knowing English. The words, “Hark, hark, the lark,” are written in iambic rhythm, but obviously are not meant to be spoken that way. That is to say, they cannot be read aloud, “Hark HARK the LARK at HEAVEN’S gate SINGS.” Rather, the words themselves beg to be read, “HARK, HARK the LARK at HEAVEN’S GATE SINGS.” The melody that came to me for this song, therefore, was designed to follow this natural rhythm.

Of the eighteen melodies I wrote for Shakespeare’s songs, I used only four for the quartet: “Hark, Hark the Lark” for the sprightly first movement; “Full Fathom Five” for the slow second movement; “Who Is Silvia?” for the bright third movement; and for the last affirmative movement, Ariel’s song from The Tempest, “Where the bee sucks, there suck I.”

From something I’ve read somewhere I’ve gained the impression that string quartets are the most difficult form of music to compose (perhaps because, when only four instruments are playing, any wrong note stands out painfully). I had no trouble with my quartet, however. The whole thing came very quickly: in only one day, I believe. The only change I made afterwards was to double the length of one of the chords.

A violinist friend of mine has said he considers the slow second movement of this quartet to be as beautiful as any among the acknowledged canon of music. I must admit, the whole quartet pleases me—so much so that I listen often to a recording of it.

In all, I think I have written some 420 musical pieces, songs, chorals, instrumentals, and piano. All of them have come to me so effortlessly that I do not really consider myself to be their author. They were given to me from a higher source.

“My” Oratorio may deserve a special word. The inspiration to write it came to me while I was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Israel) in the month of September, I think it was in 1982. In December of that year, in Italy, I wrote the melodies. The next month I wrote the harmonies and the words. In February our choir gave the first performance of it in a church in Sacramento, California.

A lady, unfamiliar with Ananda, came up to me afterward and actually genuflected, so moved had she been by the music.

I’d like to add here a final word. I have touched on this thought before, but I think it bears repetition: As far as I know, for everyone who has sung my music, it has been life transforming. I therefore urge you: Sing these songs. You will become a happier, more harmonious, better self-integrated person by singing them. The same has also proved true for persons who play the instrumental pieces. They are not mine. They came from God.

I wrote this song because I, too, had roamed many lands and experienced many cultures. However different men seemed outwardly, my experience convinced me that they all want basically the same things.

I had a vivid dream once in Florence, Italy, where crowds of people passed before me— people of all types, from criminal mafiosi to the generous, self-giving people one finds though all-too-rarely—everywhere on earth. And I realized they were all united by one simple reality: Everyone was seeking happiness. The only thing wrong with most of them was that they had yet to find where true happiness lies. It lies in themselves! And I realized then, This is my reason for loving everyone on earth!

I’ve lived in many countries
And mixed with many men.
I’ve shared their days of sunshine,
Gone with them in the rain.
The fires at evening said we were brothers.
The fires at evening said we were—

A soldier I saw weeping
Beside a dying friend.
My officers had said
I must hate him till the end.
But seeing his grief, I knew we were brothers.
But seeing his grief I knew we were—

A man sat on a doorstep
To see the children play.
The gentle way he smiled there
Would charm your fears away.
A stranger, he, but love made us brothers.
A stranger, he, but love made us—

One day I climbed a mountain
With friends of other lands.
The words we used were different,
But joy one understands.
Our gladness in God’s world made us brothers.
Our gladness in God’s world made us—

Though words and customs vary
Like waves upon the sea,
One life beneath the surface
Binds everyone to me.
Who knows the truth knows all men as brothers.
Who knows the truth knows all men as—

Then brothers, why endeavor
To set ourselves apart?
The fences we’ve been building
Squeeze tight upon our hearts!
Come sing the truth that all men are brothers!
Come sing the truth that all men are—

I passed through Germany in 1938 on my way back from England to Romania, where I lived. I found the German people kindly and helpful. Most people everywhere, I think, are good. Often, alas, they are weak and easily influenced by strong-willed, negative people. But basically they do want what is right and good.

I was sadly impressed, recently, by the death of a Hitler-like politician in Mumbai, India. He, like Hitler, proclaimed the exclusive superiority of his own people. Fortunately he died before the disease could become an epidemic. Such strong negativity, however, is infectious, as also is a strong positive outlook. Let us become forces on earth for the spread of love and brotherhood.