This is an unparalleled firsthand account of Paramhansa Yogananda and his teachings, written by one of his closest students. Yogananda is one of the world’s most widely known and universally respected spiritual masters. His Autobiography of a Yogi has helped stimulate a spiritual awakening in the West and a spiritual renaissance in his native land of India.
More than half a century ago, in a hilltop ashram in Los Angeles, California, an American disciple sat at the feet of his Master, faithfully recording his words as his teacher had asked him to do. Paramhansa Yogananda knew this disciple would carry his message to people everywhere.
Kriyananda was often present when Yogananda spoke privately with other close disciples; when he received visitors and answered their questions; when he was dictating and discussing his important writings. Yogananda put Kriyananda in charge of the other monks, and gave him advice for their spiritual development. In all these situations, Kriyananda recorded the words and guidance of Yogananda, preserving for the ages wisdom that would otherwise have been lost, and giving us an intimate glimpse of life with Yogananda never before shared by any other student.
These Conversations include not only Yogananda’s words as he first spoke them, but also the added insight of an intimate disciple who has spent more than 50 years reflecting on and practicing the teachings of Yogananda. Through these Conversations, Yogananda comes alive. Time and space dissolve. We sit at the feet of the Master, listen to his words, receive his wisdom, delight in his humor, and are transformed by his love.
It has taken me over fifty years to publish these conversations. For all that time, the notebooks containing them were my most precious possession, and their protection my first care. In the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, where I resided for many years, forest fires are a major threat. I therefore kept in mind always that, should my home ever be threatened by fire, my first duty would be to save this material. Everything else was secondary. I kept the notebooks locked securely in a safe. When, eventually, I moved to Italy in 1996, I brought the notebooks along with me, taking the loving care of them that a father would devote to his only, delicate child.
Now at last that responsibility has been discharged. You would certainly be justified, dear reader, in asking me, “What on earth took you so long?” My answer, however, would be equally justified: It takes time to excavate a diamond mine. Discipleship is a long-term commitment. To convey to others the wisdom of a great master requires a certain maturity in the disciple also.
I’ve been a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda’s since 1948. I was twenty-two when I came to him. In May of 1950, he began urging me to record our conversations. I couldn’t, however, contemplate publishing them soon; I was hardly more than a boy then. The spiritual value of his words, however, was not limited to the time when they were spoken. The conversations are as immediate today as they were then, over fifty-three years ago. Indeed, they will remain so thousands of years from now. Meanwhile, my memory, fortunately, remains fresh; I have not had to depend exclusively on my notes, and have even added material to them, from memory. I present them here as clearly as if they had occurred yesterday. I believe, friend, that you will find many new insights in these pages. Some of them may be unexpected by you, for the life and actions of my great Guru followed no well-worn rut, and were never ruled by conventions that he considered pointless. He was a way-shower, not an institution.
Some of this material has already appeared in two others of my books, namely, The Path, and The Essence of Self-Realization. A few other sayings have appeared also in print, notably in the book A Place Called Ananda. The first of those three, The Path, was published in 1978. I gave it an autobiographical form, to help others to know something of what the life of discipleship was like under that great master. The reason I made it an autobiography was that I felt incompetent, still, to write about him with any authority, and wanted to give discerning readers a chance to separate whatever they might deem unworthy of the Guru from the imperfect instrument who was trying with his pen to do him justice. I hoped also that others would find in my own search for truth, leading as it did to the feet of Paramhansa Yogananda, answers to their own spiritual seeking. To my great satisfaction, this latter hope has been realized in many thousands of readers.
There remained much material that was not used in The Path, or that I quoted there only partly, in the hope of using the rest of it again later to better advantage. My thought was, Let me advance further on the spiritual path; perhaps in another twenty years I’ll be able to present this material with greater wisdom.
In February, 1990, I abstracted selections from those notes for a second book, which I titled, The Essence of Self-Realization. The material I chose was limited to that theme. If, therefore, a quotation contained other teachings which weren’t relevant to the subject, I omitted those portions. In some cases, that material has been included here in its entirety. There remained much more material, covering a wide range of topics. Most of it—leaving out any conversations that might hurt or offend living persons—appears in this volume.
A quarter of a century has elapsed since The Path was written and published. Since then, I have prayed for guidance as to when I should release the rest of the material for publication. Always the response I felt intuitively was, “The time will come. Be patient.”
As one’s life slips by, increasing age forces on him an awareness that his time on earth is growing steadily shorter. How long would this body live? Hundreds of years might be desirable for a work of this nature, but if I put it off too long it would have to be finished by someone else, and under the considerable disadvantage of not having even known the Master. I had to accept that my position for undertaking this labor was unique, however incompetently I did it. In 1996, I passed my Biblically allotted threescore and ten years. Increasingly, the completion of this book was becoming a top priority. To be fair to these conversations, I couldn’t simply toss them out disjointedly, without any commentary or explanation. They needed to be presented in their proper setting, and not left dangling in midair, like an abused participle.
A gemstone’s beauty is enhanced when it is set in a piece of jewelry. Thus too, the clarity of these sayings would be enhanced if the reader could know, wherever possible, to whom the Master was speaking, when he spoke, and where and why. The perceptive reader, moreover, would have no difficulty in detecting any artificial mise en scene in this regard. Here again I was, in most cases, the only one who knew the whole “picture.”
Recently, the guidance came to me at last to begin this work. Though I saw it as a labor of love, the magnitude of the challenge had always, I confess, daunted me. Not only did I expect it would take at least two years—not so very long a time, perhaps; others of my books have taken longer. The really daunting part, for me, was that I had no idea how to arrange these conversations into any logical sequence. I had been accustomed, when writing, to develop a theme gradually. My mind resisted the idea of simply scrambling groups of unrelated thoughts together randomly. Yet randomness proved, in the end, the best way. Indeed, it was the only possible way. The conversations were simply too varied, and in many cases too brief, to be put in any sequence.
To my astonishment, the work simply flowed. Much of it entailed, of course, simply transferring to my computer what existed already in my notebooks. I found, however, that apart from grouping a few of the conversations together I could leave the sequence more or less as it was already, or heed an inner guidance that said, “Why not put this one here, and that one there?”—without effort on my part. It has taken me hardly two months to finish the entire book.
Throughout these pages I’ve referred to myself, when necessary, in the first person. This method seemed to me simpler and clearer than the common, and perfectly legitimate, third-person device. To help the reader to distinguish when the first person refers to me and not to Paramhansa Yogananda, I’ve occasionally inserted parenthetically the name by which he himself used to call me, “Walter.”
~ 166 ~
The Master summoned Clifford Frederick, a disciple at Mount Washington, to his desert retreat. Clifford came, but was privately worried about the duties he was neglecting by his absence.
The Master said to him, “I know you are worried, but this, now, is your responsibility. I go by the orders of the ‘Supreme Boss’ up there. It is to Him you are answerable. Don’t bother with anything else. Be free, inside.
“If God told me at this very moment, ‘Come home,’ I would gladly drop everything—organization, buildings, work, books, people—everything, to do His will. This world is His business. He is the Doer, not you or I.”
~ 167 ~
Television appeared on the market only late in the Master’s life. He cautioned us against watching it too much. “Television has a satanic influence,” he said. “Don’t let yourselves be too fascinated by it. Seek, instead, the ‘television’ of superconscious visions in the spiritual eye.”
~ 168 ~
I once asked the Master if, during classes that I was giving for new monks, it would be all right to include a few stories from the life of Krishna. To my surprise, he replied cautiously.
“It’s all right to tell them a few of those stories,” he said, “but be careful to choose only those with a clear message. The stories of Krishna—especially those of his boyhood in Brindaban—are allegorical. They have been greatly misunderstood by Westerners, and by many Indians as well. Westerners, especially, when reading them, think the gopis were ordinary young women enjoying the emotion of human love. Actually, the gopis were incarnated rishis [sages]. They took birth to show, allegorically, the soul’s relationship with the divine Beloved. There was nothing sensual or impure in that relationship. Worldly people, when they hear those stories, project onto them their own sensual or selfish tendencies. The reality wasn’t like that at all.
“Those stories were intended to win people away from lust and desire. Therefore I say, Be careful how you present them to your classes.”
~ 169 ~
Showing the transcendent nature of Krishna’s relationship with the gopis (cowherd girls; Krishna’s disciples), the Master told us the following story:
“Krishna and Radha, his closest gopi disciple, were walking together in the forest. She felt drawn down, briefly, to the delusion of being a woman, whose own dear beloved was Krishna. With sagging shoulders she said to him, ‘I am feeling very tired!’
“Krishna, well aware of what she was feeling, asked her, ‘Would you like me to carry you’? Oh, she was so pleased! ‘Yes!’ she cried happily. ‘Would you’?
“He bent down to let her jump onto his back. The moment she jumped, however, he disappeared! She landed flat on the ground. At once she realized her mistake, and cried tearfully, ‘O Krishna, Lord, please forgive me. I know that in your true nature you are infinite, and that your love is given equally to all. Please, come back to me!’
“Krishna appeared again, quite unconcerned at what had occurred. Peacefully they continued their walk through the forest.”
~ 170 ~
Arthur Smith, a minister in the Master’s work, left it after my arrival there. The Master told me later, “Smith announced to me one day, proudly, ‘Do you know, I never take any of the collection money from the church. It all goes to the work.’ The moment he said that, I knew he was not for this path.”
What the Master meant was that such an act, in a true devotee, would have been only natural; it would not have been a cause for pride.
~ 171 ~
“God watches the heart,” the Master said. “Seek to please Him above all. Don’t act with the prime motive of pleasing others.”
I was struck especially by his next words, which showed how balanced he was in everything he taught. “It is even good,” he added, “to do good for the sake of praise. That is better than not to do good at all! Still, when you do good to please God alone, that is true Karma Yoga. It is almost as good as meditation. Indeed, it is ‘half meditation.’ Even if others misunderstand you, God will never misunderstand. Live to feel His smile in your heart.”
~ 172 ~
To those who grieve over the death of a loved one, the following words of the Master’s should offer deep consolation.
“Departed relatives and friends sometimes come to one in dreams. Be open to that possibility, especially if you deeply miss your loved ones, for such dreams can be true experiences.
“When Woody’s mother died of breast cancer,* I became very withdrawn for a time.
“‘Don’t be moody,’ someone said to me.
“‘This is no mood!’ I exclaimed. (How can genuine sorrow over the loss of a friend be called a mood!) I prayed deeply. Then at last I saw her in the astral world.
“An angel was leading her away from me. I saw her pause briefly and smile at the beauty of the flowers in a meadow. I called to her, and she turned. At first she didn’t recognize me. But then I touched her on the forehead, and she cried, ‘I remember!’ She parted the gown she was wearing and said, ‘See: no more cancer!’ She was free, and wonderfully happy.”
* Woody was a close woman disciple of the Master’s.
~ 173 ~
Rogers, before coming to Mount Washington, had been a professional house painter. The Master once said to him, “I see you, in the astral world, creating flowers by thought alone.” Rogers’s love of visual beauty, the Master was saying, would be fulfilled on that plane. Indeed, though worldly desires can only be satisfied on the physical plane, pure desires can be fulfilled better in the astral world.
“Many great works of art, poetry, and music,” the Master said, “are inspired by astral memories. The desire to do noble, beautiful things here on earth is also often a carryover of astral experiences between a person’s earth lives.”
~ 174 ~
“Sir,” a student asked him, “is everyone conscious in the astral world?”
“Not everyone,” he replied. “People of worldly consciousness enter a sort of gray mist. Some of them are vaguely conscious, depending on the sensitivity of their perception, but for many of them it is like a dream. They aren’t quite sure what is going on. If your intuition is even slightly developed, however—especially if you’ve meditated and prayed some in this life, but also if you’ve served others, even as a soldier who fought heroically in battle—you will find, after you leave this world, that that other world is far more beautiful than this one, and extremely enjoyable!”
~ 175 ~
“A couple expressed to me their desire for a spiritual child. I prayed for them, then showed them a photograph. This soul, I told them, would be suitable for them, and was also, I felt, ready to be reborn on earth.
“‘Meditate on this soul,’ I said. ‘Concentrate especially on the eyes. Invite him to come dwell in your home. In addition, have no sexual contact for six months; abstinence will increase your magnetism.
“‘When, at the end of that time, you come together physically, think of that person, and think also of God. If you follow my advice in all these respects, that soul will be born to you.’
“They followed what I’d told them, and, some time later, that was the very soul which was drawn into their home.”
My Guru asked me, and repeated his request many times, to write down his comments on the things he said. This book is a response to that request. I have added to it the fruits of my own nearly sixty years of reflection and meditation.
A true guru expresses his wisdom not only through words, but in countless other ways: nuances in his tone of voice; his facial expressions; the way he pauses in his speech; the emphasis he gives certain words; his gestures and “body language”; most of all, the palpable vibrations of his consciousness. All of these I have done my humble best to convey through this book. It contains the essential wisdom and insight which has guided me through the years.
I didn’t try to include in this book all that I had ever heard him say. What I included were specially meaningful conversations. I omitted, for example, many things he said about individuals, and statements that might have affected some people adversely. For when speaking to me he was sometimes very frank—although always true to his own nature, which was unconditionally loving and supportive of everyone. He was, indeed, our true spiritual father for eternity.
“Not many theologians can speak of Conscious bliss from a place of personal experience. Paramhansa Yogananda, a renowned twentieth-century spiritual teacher . . . can. His personal authority lends dramatic credibility to concepts and methods for spiritual aspirants from any tradition, from uncertain agnostics to fervent believers.”
“Yogananda reaches out to everyperson and therein lies his natural and powerful attraction. He speaks to the deep well of wisdom within and beckons us to our highest calling.”
—Michael Toms, Co-Founder of New Dimensions Radio, author of A Time for Choices and True Work
“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.”
—His Holiness, the Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram
“A rare gem of inestimable value, the like of whom the world is yet to witness, Paramhansa Yogananda has been an ideal representative of the ancient sages and seers, the glory of India.”
—Swami Sivananda, Founder of The Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, India
“There is a clarity in Yogananda’s words that transcends our superficial differences, a purity that reflects the timeless heart of that true spirituality that underlies and unites all of us.”
—Ken Carey, author of The Third Millenium
“Every once in a while, a great messenger comes to remind us of the purpose of our existence . . . . One of those messengers was Paramhansa Yogananda.”
—Franco Battiato, musician, composer, film director
“I met Yogananda when he came to India in 1935. . . . Master became very close to me and I had the opportunity to spend many days with him, gaining enormous benefits from his spiritual knowledge, his greatness, and his deep love for everyone . . . . With great joy, I found all those qualities in Conversations with Yogananda, a masterwork of great value, which transmits Yogananda’s inspiration faithfully. Swami Kriyananda did a wonderful job, and I am sure this book will be of great benefit to all who read it.”
—Hare Krishna Ghosh, Paramhansa Yogananda’s nephew
“A treasure of knowledge, wisdom, devotion, and humor . . . this is one of those books to keep on your night table and check constantly, whether in difficult or happy moments.”
—Paola Giovetti, writer, journalist, editor of Light and Shadow magazine
“This book is a precious invitation to spiritual awakening. Read it . . . and you will receive love and wisdom.”
—Giorgio Cerquetti, PhD, Founder of Vegetarian International, philosopher, spiritual researcher
“Swami Kriyananda, direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, transmits with extreme clarity the wisdom of this great, enlightened master, whose wonderful messages lead us toward union with the eternal light of God.”
—Dr. Nader Butto, MD, cardiologist, alternative medicine expert, author of the bestseller Il Settimo Senso (The Seventh Sense)
“Conversations with Yogananda is a synchronistic event. The spiritual maturity which Swami Kriyananda has reached made the realization of this book possible. . . . Every thought expressed, every fact recorded in this book—through an alchemical process—interacts with the reader’s consciousness and elevates his awareness. Conversations with Yogananda has the power to bring a new equilibrium to this planet.”
—Sabrina Parsi, yoga instructor, journalist, biopranotherapist
“I had the feeling that in this Swami’s dialogues there was a construction of thought built on . . . an awareness present everywhere.”
—Professor Vittorio Marchi, quantum physicist
“Our thanks to Swami Kriyananda for keeping alive for all of us, these words of his beloved master Paramhansa Yogananda. Once again we are amazed by the simplicity of heartfelt wisdom, and the truth which takes us by the hand and shows us the way to deep happiness.”
—Giacomo Campiotti, film director
“Conversations with Yogananda picks up where The Essence of Self-Realization left off. Once again, Swami Kriyananada has delved into his old notebooks in which he had faithfully recorded his master’s words, gathered the pearls lying there, polished them off, and laid them out under a brilliant light for our appreciation and edification. Once again, Paramhansa Yogananda manifests a supremely subtle grasp of deep spiritual truths and how they apply to various situations of daily life. I cannot conceive of a better introduction to the mind and heart of Yogananda. This book is a treasure trove. If your goal is to grow spiritually, get a copy now.”
—Richard Salva, author of Walking with William of Normandy: A Paramhansa Yogananda Pilgrimage Guide and Blessed Lanfranc: The Past Life of Swami Sri Yukteswar, Guru of Paramhansa Yogananda