I was twenty-two years old when I met Swami Kriyananda. Swamiji, I call him, respected teacher. It was late November 1969. He was giving a lecture at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. The moment he walked into the room, even before he spoke, I recognized him as the polestar I had long been seeking.
Many times in the years since, I have failed to live up to the spiritual ideal he held before me; but in my commitment to follow him, and to keep trying—to die trying, if necessary—I have never wavered.
Despite his Indian name, Swami Kriyananda was an American, born James Donald Walters. He was a foremost disciple of the great Indian Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi.
Swamiji was twenty-two when he met his Guru, whom he called Master. From that day, September 12, 1948, until Master’s passing on March 7, 1952, he lived with Paramhansa Yogananda in his ashram in Los Angeles, California. In the more than sixty years that followed, Swamiji did his utmost to fulfill his Guru’s commission to him: “You have a great work to do.”
Future generations will find it hard to believe that one man, in one lifetime, could accomplish so much. Swamiji gave thousands of lectures, in five languages, and wrote almost 150 books. Various titles have been translated into forty languages, and are distributed in one hundred countries. He composed some four hundred pieces of music, recording many of them in his own voice, and founded nine communities on three continents.
Single-handedly, he has created an entire culture of Self-realization. I believe history will show that, second only to Paramhansa Yogananda himself, Swami Kriyananda is the most important spiritual figure of our times.
The assignment to write about him was given to me in 1972 by Swamiji himself, although we both knew it would be years before I was ready to write. “Not yet,” Swamiji said, when he first told me, then added, “But if, even now, it is explicit between us, I can help you.”
It was my first year living at Ananda, the spiritual community Swamiji founded. I knew I was a witness to greatness and the experience was not meant for me alone. From then on, I always carried a small notebook in which to write down things Swamiji said, my observations and experiences with him. It was natural to collect all his books. I also saved every note, letter, email, and public or private document that came into my hands, that he wrote or that referred to him.
He included me in events where I otherwise did not belong, for the sake of what I would write about them later. He talked to me about what he was doing, and why. I asked him many questions, not only about the spiritual path, but also about his feelings, intentions, and interactions with people. Almost always he answered me, often at length.
In my collecting and note-taking, I was fairly conscientious, but not systematic. My first attempt to write this book, some fifteen years ago, started with more than a year of organizing decades of paper into files, by date and subject. It might have been more efficient to scan it all into my computer, but I was born too early to feel comfortable without having something I could pile on my desk, hold in my hand, and rifle through. Eventually I had twelve file drawers of material.
At that time, though, writing this book proved beyond my ability. Instead I wrote Swami Kriyananda As We Have Known Him, stories of experiences with him, both my own and of others.
About a year after Swamiji’s passing in 2013, I felt ready to try again. It was a struggle, and I began to fear that, for the second time, I would fail in the assignment. But after I gave up all other responsibilities, put my notes into fifteen cardboard boxes, and went into seclusion to write, the book began to tell me what it was supposed to be.
As I progressed through forty-four years of life with Swamiji, I felt him guiding me. Puzzling situations appeared in a new light. Elusive understandings were suddenly crystal clear. Deeper, more subtle aspects of his character were revealed.
Swamiji had said: “I can help you.” And he did. Much of the story is told in his own words. Each chapter is one year and most of Swamiji’s words included in that year were written or spoken then, or close to it. So his point of view unfolds for the reader in the same way it did for me.
This is a first-hand account, mostly of what I experienced myself, or that Swamiji told me, plus some accounts from close friends. It is not, however, a memoir or an autobiography; after the first chapter, the details of my life fade into the background.
There are gaps in the chronology; some events are under-reported or left out altogether, not because they were unimportant, but because they were peripheral to my experience. Those are stories others will have to tell.
Sometimes I was alone with Swamiji, but more often, one or more of a dozen close friends—mostly community leaders—were also present. With this group, Swamiji could speak frankly, without fear of being misunderstood. I mention their names, but only in passing, because they, like me, are incidental to the story. When I say we, or us, it is usually this group to which I refer. Although at times I also use the royal “we” when referring to Ananda itself.
Thousands of people have passed through Ananda, so when I say “the community,” usually I mean those for whom Ananda is a forever home—whether as a place to live or as an inner spiritual commitment.
Right now, much of the world is running madly in the opposite direction from where true fulfillment lies. When the inevitable, catastrophic results of this course of action come to pass—whether in individual lives or society as a whole—people will look desperately for an alternative. Many then will discover Swami Kriyananda and his Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, and the trail of light they blazed for all to follow.
Palo Alto, California
United States of America