For free excerpts and audio please visit As We Have Known Him.
The greatness of a spiritual teacher is only partially revealed by the work of his own hands.
The rest of the story is one he cannot tell for himself. It is the influence of his consciousness on those who come in contact with him—whether for a brief moment, or for a lifetime of spiritual training. This is the story told here.
Swami Kriyananda, a foremost disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi) has been prodigiously creative in his service to his Guru. His books are available in 28 languages in 100 countries. His music is performed around the world. In India, millions of people watch his daily television show. He has founded schools and retreats, and communities on three continents. He speaks eight languages, and has circled the globe dozens of times lecturing and teaching.
In this “biography of consciousness,” Swami Kriyananda’s remarkable qualities are revealed with breathtaking clarity—love for God, divinely guided strength, joy in the face of adversity, humor, wisdom, compassion, and unconditional love.
A true teacher, however, does not live to show the world how great he is, but rather to illuminate for others the pathway we all must follow.
Here, in some two hundred stories spanning more than forty years, personal reminiscences and private moments with this beloved teacher become universal life lessons for us all.
1. Moments of Truth
2. God Alone
3. Divine Friend & Teacher
4. From Joy I Came
5. First Impressions
6. In Service to His Guru
7. For Joy I Live
8. Through All Trials I Sing Thy Name
10. In Sacred Joy I Melt
Vivid in My Heart
The first time I saw Swami Kriyananda was in a tent set up behind the Beta Chi fraternity house on the campus of Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California. It was late November 1969. He was in his early forties. I was twenty-two years old.
Usually the tent served as an expanded venue for the parties for which the fraternity was famous. It was the ‘60s, though, and everything was changing. Someone thought it would be interesting to invite a swami to speak.
I had attended Stanford University, but had dropped out after only one year. I had hoped to find teachers there who were not only knowledgeable, but also wise. It soon became apparent to me that my professors, though brilliant in their own fields, were groping in the dark for happiness even as I was. So I left.
Soon after, I discovered the Bhagavad Gita and the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna. Even as a child, I had the feeling that something far more important was going on in life than most people were aware of. At first, I thought the adults around me were all in on the secret and were just holding it back from me as a kind of elaborate practical joke. “Soon,” I thought, “they will reveal it to me.” Only slowly did I come to know that this was not the case. My parents and teachers were good people, intelligent, honorable, and kind. For the most part, though, they accepted life as it appeared to be and expected me to do the same.
>Once I discovered Eastern religion, at least I had a name for what I was seeking: Self-realization. Still, I had no idea how to turn these high ideals into an actual way of life. I read about the saints of many religious traditions, hoping to find in their example a way to bridge the gap between theory and practice.
Their stories were deeply inspiring and I devoured book after book. The circumstances of their lives, though, were so different from my own. Catholic monasteries, Indian ashrams, Himalayan caves, leper colonies in the middle of the jungle—their example proved to be of little practical value. My life was becoming one of quiet desperation.
Then Swamiji walked into that tent and everything changed.
I was in the last row of the bleachers, way up toward the top of the tent. I had wanted to be closer to the stage, but my companions insisted on this faraway perch. The choice proved felicitous, I daresay, God-inspired, for I was directly across from the entrance and high enough to have an unobstructed view of Swami Kriyananda when he walked in.
Swami means teacher. Ji is a suffix denoting both affection and respect. From the moment I saw him he was Swamiji to me. The image of Swamiji coming through that doorway is as vivid in my heart today as it was the moment it happened.
He was dressed in the traditional orange robes of an Indian Swami: a long loose fitting shirt and a sarong-like garment called a dhoti. He had a neatly trimmed beard and long hair, brownish in color, which hung straight and thin down his back.
He was slender, a little less than six feet tall. He moved with a certain grace and gave the impression of great strength, although more like a dancer than an athlete. Later I heard the phrase “lion-like Swami.” It described him perfectly.
The instant I saw him, the thought flashed in my mind, “He has what I want.” With a determined step and what I came to recognize as his characteristic posture—straight spine, slightly raised chest so as to meet life “heart-first”—he covered the short distance from the doorway to the stage at the center of the tent. By the time he reached the platform, before I even heard the sound of his voice, I had forged with Swamiji a lifelong bond.
He gave a lecture, but I don’t remember a word of what he said. All I remember is that when he finished, I thought, “This is the most intelligent man I have ever met.”
Somehow I picked up a few facts. Swamiji is an American, although he was born in Europe, and spent his childhood there. He is a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda. He had been part of Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), the organization Yogananda founded, but now he was on his own. He lived in San Francisco and taught classes all over the Bay Area to earn money for a community he was starting in the Sierra Nevada foothills, about four hours away. He called the community Ananda.
I owned a copy of Yogananda’s classic Autobiography of a Yogi, but I had never read more than a few pages. The devotional tone and the plethora of miracles had not appealed to me. On page 9, the yogi Lahiri Mahasaya materializes in a wheat field to deliver a spiritual message to Yogananda’s father. I don’t think I even got to page 10.>
Now, with renewed interest, I tried again. If Swamiji was devoted to this book and its author, I had to give it another try. This time, I was enthralled. I couldn’t understand why Autobiography of a Yogi had not held my interest before. Later I understood that my first meeting with Swamiji opened my heart not only to him, but to Paramhansa Yogananda as well.
It wasn’t long before I threw my lot in with Swamiji and moved to Ananda.
The idea of writing this book came very early in my time with Swamiji. I have always had a deep longing to help others, but until I met him, I didn’t feel I had anything meaningful to give. Now I was eager to pass on to others all that I was learning.
I began giving classes for guests at our retreat, which I filled with stories about Swamiji. I longed, though, to make a more lasting contribution. Though I hardly felt qualified to write a book, I began to write down my experiences with Swamiji. When I spoke to him about it, he was reassuring.
”You don’t have to do it now,” he said, “you can do it later when you feel ready. I will help you.”
In the many years that passed between the first time we spoke of it and when I actually began to write this book, Swamiji referred to it only occasionally. It was always in my mind, though, and, I believe, also in his, for I see now all the ways in which he helped me, just as he said he would.
He included me in so many situations where I didn’t really belong except that to be there helped me understand the breadth of his work and the depth of his consciousness. Whenever his attitudes or actions were obscure to me, he would patiently explain what he was doing and why. Whatever I asked, he would answer. In this way, again and again I was able to test my intuition against his explanations, until gradually I gained the confidence to write this book.
What follows is not a biography in the conventional sense. You will learn about many of the significant events and achievements of Swamiji’s life, but it is not a comprehensive account. There is no chronology or sequence to the stories that follow. Sometimes events from different time periods and different locations are included in the same vignette. It is a biography of consciousness—Swami Kriyananda as we have known him.
Many people have shared their stories with me. Some names are included; others have preferred to appear in the book only as “an Ananda devotee.” When there is no other attribution, the first person accounts are my own experiences. I have also described the experiences of others as I observed them, or learned about them from Swamiji himself. Names that appear first with an asterisk (*) are pseudonyms. Unless it is clear from the context that the individuals involved are from India, devotees referred to by a single Sanskrit name are Europeans or Americans upon whom Swamiji has bestowed these names as a spiritual blessing. Swamiji’s appointed spiritual successor, for example, is Jyotish, which means inner light. Jyotish’s wife and partner in leading Ananda is Devi, which is a name for Divine Mother. My name, Asha, means hope.
The name Master refers only to Paramhansa Yogananda.
I meant well, but I was too immature to handle the assignment. Eventually I had to admit defeat and go back to Ananda Village. I felt like a complete failure.
Soon after I returned, Swamiji had a party at his home, Crystal Hermitage. I was in such turmoil I didn’t feel like being with people, so I stayed just long enough to greet Swamiji. Then I slipped out the door unnoticed and went up the hill to meditate in the chapel. Everyone else was at the party so I had it all to myself.
My mind was churning. “Where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently?” After about an hour, I felt a presence beside me. When I opened my eyes, Swamiji was sitting there. I don’t know how he even found me.
Part of my turmoil was the thought that I had let Swamiji down. He had trusted me to make the situation better; instead I had made it worse. He reached over and touched me consolingly on the hand. Then he looked deeply into my eyes and offered a few simple words of advice. “Don’t take it inside, just let it go. These things happen.”
I felt a ray of hope penetrating the grim interior of my mind where I had been wrestling for days with my failure. In his eyes, there was neither judgment nor disappointment, just compassion for my suffering and the promise of his unconditional friendship.
~ From Sudarshan ~
A devotee prayed to Master, “How can I thank Swamiji for all he has done to help me?” The thought came, “It will soon be Valentine’s Day. You could make him some cookies.”
“It was just a small thing, a plateful of cookies,” she said. “But I felt the inspiration came from Master and it was important to me that I do this for Swamiji.” In her little cabin, she had only a hotplate, so she arranged to use the oven at the community market. Early in the morning, on Valentine’s Day, she gathered up her supplies and went to do her baking.
But there had been a misunderstanding, and the oven was in use. A few hours later, she returned there, but the oven still wasn’t available. When the same thing happened a third time, she decided sadly, “I guess it wasn’t meant to be. The whole day has passed, and I have nothing to give Swamiji. Master, you’ll have to ﬁnd a way to thank him for me.”
Two days later, she received a note from Swamiji, which began, “Thank you for the Valentine cookies . . .”
I had suffered a severe disappointment and was living under a cloud of sadness I couldn’t seem to shake. I found comfort in the words of St. Teresa of Avila: “Let nothing disturb you, nothing afright you. All things will pass, but God changes not.”
Teresa is a popular saint at Ananda, and several people had set those words of hers to music. But the melodies expressed the sadness of life, not the underlying joy.
I was talking to Swamiji about my disappointment and my love for Teresa’s prayer. “I want to chant it as well as say it,” I said. “But the melodies we have are depressing.”
“Would you write down the words?” he said. I was touched by his concern for my little desire.
We were sitting in his living room and his coffee table was covered with papers and correspondence awaiting his attention. I wrote down the words, but as I added my piece of paper to that heap I thought, “It will be a long time before he gets to this.”
Imagine my surprise and gratitude the next morning when Swamiji called at 8am. It was my birthday, and he said, “I have something for you.” Then, over the phone, he sang St. Teresa’s prayer with the lilting, joyful, perfect new melody he had written.
Singing that prayer, and feeling Swamiji’s love behind it, helped turn the tide. The cloud of sadness soon melted away.
~ From an Ananda devotee ~
No one was home at Swamiji’s house, so Tim placed the bowl of pudding in the refrigerator. It was a gift to Swamiji from a spiritual teacher known as Shree Ma. Rather than write a note, Tim decided he would explain it to Swamiji later.
But before Tim could tell him about it, Swamiji found the pudding himself. He took a big spoonful.
“This pudding was made by a saint,” Swamiji exclaimed. “It is delicious. Who made it?” A few friends were in the kitchen with him, but no one knew.
The next day, of course, the story came out. But with one bite, Swamiji had already grasped the essentials.
~ From an Ananda devotee ~
"You have compiled a wonderful book of many different experiences with a great spiritual teacher. My feelings about this book is that, when you sat down to write these words, you sought to connect heart to heart with each person that reads them. Swami Kriyananda: As We Have Known Him gives readers examples and teachings they can relate to it in everyday life. It also answers some of the spiritual questions they may have on their own journey."
—Rev. May Leilani Schmidt, Minister, Reiki Master, Radio Host of "The Universal Spiritual Connection"
"Swami Kriyananda: As We Have Know Him is more than just a simple book of memories. Praver has given the world a glimpse of Ananda’s core. Her book is representative of what is in the hearts and souls of the Ananda community when it comes to the inspiration that transforms Swami Kriyananda from a simple man into a channel to God."
—Lee Gooden, ForeWord Magazine
"A remarkable collection of personal stories that reveal Swami Kriyananda’s inner character as a master teacher and spiritual guide."
—The Rev. Canon Charles B. Atcheson, Episcopal Priest (ret.)
"Through this loving gathering of many hearts and voices, many will come to know not only the greatness of Swami Kriyananda, but also, through his example, the essence of the teachings of his Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda."
—Nischala Joy Devi, author of The Healing Path of Yoga and The Secret Power of Yoga
"This book is a must for anyone even remotely interested in spirituality. Kriyananda has been an ideal disciple of a great Master."
—D.R. Kaarthikeyan, Former Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (India), National Human Rights Commission
"So many profoundly moving stories of selfless love, miraculous healings, adherence to dharma in the face of overwhelming challenges. No need to extrapolate spiritual lessons from a time and culture far different from our own. Here is a twentieth-century American man who is also one of the most renowned spiritual teachers of our time."
—Shanti Rubenstone, MD, formerly Clinical Instructor, Stanford University School of Medicine
"To read this book is to spend intimate time in Swami Kriyananda’s presence; afterwards it’s impossible to look at life in the same way. One’s understanding has been raised to a higher sphere."
—Richard Salva, author of The Reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln and Walking with William of Normandy
"Profoundly moving stories . . . a book to reread indefinitely."
—Anandi Cornell, writer, editor
"This book is one that you can pick up and read anywhere and become inspired, intrigued and amazed. It’s a wonderful book of Swami Kriyananda’s teachings and various experiences that Asha and others have shared over a 36-year period. It’s full of so much wisdom. And all of the absolute truths that you think you know, after reading this book you may have a different understanding. It’s so interesting to see how someone with this level of understanding lives and teaches."
—Nancy Lee, Author, Intuitive Psychotherapist, Radio Journalist, Host and Producer of "Lights On with Nancy Lee"
"I have never before met, heard of, or read about anybody with his level of integrity. Swami Kriyananda is a man who walks the walk, in ALL areas of life. For anyone serious on the spiritual path, Swami Kriyananda: As We Have Known Him is a must-read. This book illustrates the life of a soul of the highest caliber, a man who has spent 60 years as a foremost disciple of a great Master. I highly recommend it."
—Lisa Kaz, President, Los Angeles Auto Show
"Swami Kriyananda is a generational figure. He introduced many young Americans to Yoga in the 1960s and ’70s, when the western Yoga movement was in its early stages, particularly through the dynamic spiritual communities that he fostered. Yet Kriyananda continued through the years spreading the teachings of Yoga, not only in the United States but in Europe and recently in India, where he has gained much recognition. He has created a great legacy of numerous books, music, and perhaps above all, dedicated disciples. Swami Kriyananda: As We Have Known Him shows the depth and power of his influence and his ability to change the lives of people."
—Dr. David (Vamadeva) Frawley, founder of The American Institute for Vedic Studies, author of Yoga: The Greater Tradition