Was Swami Kriyananda a Jivanmukta — a Liberated Soul?

by Nayaswami Rambhakta

Not long after I moved to Ananda Village, in February 1976, Swami Kriyananda visited the publications building. As he was leaving, I seized the chance to be alone with him in the foyer, where he was pulling on his boots.

“I think you are my spiritual teacher,” I proclaimed, no doubt hoping for a Golden Moment with the sage.

Forty years later, I can just about forgive myself. It was extremely silly, a typical spiritual neophyte’s buffoonery. I’m pretty sure I was hoping that the teacher would smile gently, murmur, “Very good!” and bless me at the spiritual eye.

Swamiji briskly finished lacing his boots and stood up. “Well,” he said, “I’m not a perfected being.” And without further ado, he turned and left the building.

Recalling his words, I’ve often pondered the meaning they might have been intended to convey.

In the thirty-nine years that I knew him, I can’t remember a time when Swamiji ever spoke carelessly. It’s my belief that “I’m not a perfected being” wasn’t tossed off lightly – as if to say, “Why’s this greenhorn bugging me – let me get rid of him with a few cryptic words.”

I believe it was intended to say: “I am not a siddha – one who is fully liberated and free of all karma. But I’ll leave it to you to decide what I am.”

In fact, I had my doubts – I felt that Swamiji was a great man, in fact a saint of very high stature. But there was a part of me – the objective, university-trained rationalist, who couldn’t be entirely persuaded without objective proof.

Swamiji once told me, “You have a very objective mind.” I wasn’t sure if it was intended as praise, or meant to let me know that I had a problem. Certainly, my objective brain has given rise to certain doubts over the years, though increasingly less so, as I began to realize that the heart has its own ways of knowing, and that in spiritual matters those ways are more reliable than reason alone.

A word of explanation may be in order. Paramhansa Yogananda distinguished between three stages of liberation. In the first stage, the yogi attains the ability to enter the breathless state of union with God, known as sabikalpa samadhi. However, he is unable to maintain that inner connection when not meditating. At this stage, Yogananda said, it’s still possible for the yogi to fall, drawn by worldly desires.

Once the devotee attains nirbikalpa samadhi, he is permanently free. He is known then as a jivanmukta – one who is “freed while living.”

In nirbikalpa, he no longer needs to sit in meditation to be aware of his oneness with the Lord. He lives always in that state.

But even after achieving the irreversible freedom of nirbikalpa, he may still have some remaining karma to work out. Yogananda said that a jivanmukta can choose to dissolve his karma through visions, or by simply letting it unfold.

He may decide, for example to work out his good karma by using it to dissolve some of his disciples’s karma. And he might work out his negative karma in the same way, or by letting it affect his body. But in nirbikalpa samadhi he remains inwardly untouched by the karmic workings.

In the final state of liberation, having freed himself of all his karma, he becomes a perfected being – a siddha.

Paramhansa Yogananda describes that state in Autobiography of a Yogi:

“His bones stripped of all desirous flesh, his karmic skeleton bleached in the antiseptic suns of wisdom, he is clean at last, inoffensive before man and Maker.”

Let me re-state my prejudice. Based on my observation of Swamiji for thirty-nine years, I’m persuaded that he was a jivanmukta – a soul who had attained nirbikalpa samadhi in a former life, and was born in this lifetime inwardly free, but with some karma to resolve.

Paramhansa Yogananda told Swamiji, “This is the life in which you will be able to balance out all of the things you’ve been working on and go into God.” He told him that he had “just one or two things” left to take care of.

Swamiji occasionally talked about the nature of that karma. In one instance, it was the negative karma of having divided his guru’s work “in the time of Shankaracharya” (788-820 AD). Apparently, he disagreed with the guru and left the hermitage, taking a number of disciples with him.

Swamiji said that he had saved that karma for a time when it would be helpful to his guru’s work. In this life, he had to endure the betrayal of his fellow disciples, when they threw him out of his guru’s organization for reasons that were patently untrue.

Swamiji was deeply hurt by their rejection. He wrote to the great Bengali saint Ananda Moyi Ma, explaining what had happened, and asking for her guidance. She replied, “Take this as your guru’s grace.”

Though he was initially reluctant to accept Anandamoyi Ma’s answer, he realized, in time, that by removing him from SRF’s control, Yogananda had freed him to complete a special mission that he had commissioned him to do.

Paramhansa Yogananda told Swami Kriyananda repeatedly, “You have a great work to do.” That work, Swamiji said, was the creation of Ananda, in fulfillment of one of the fourteen main points of his guru’s world mission: the creation of spiritual communities. Another, equally important aspect of the “great work” was the freeing of the master’s teachings from narrow institutional control.

It’s my belief that Yogananda would never have entrusted such a “great work” to a soul who wasn’t capable of fulfilling his vision unobstructed by ego-born doubts or hesitation. The stakes were simply too high. If he had assigned it to a monk of lesser realization, it would have failed.

Since Yogananda’s passing, Self-Realization Fellowship had turned increasingly toward narrow institutionalism, largely under the lingering influence of a senior disciple, Tara Mata (1900-1971).

Tara said, “In an organization, no one has a right to think except the board of directors.”

Swami quoted this statement as exemplifying an attitude that was completely incompatible with Yogananda’s teachings. The Master said, “When I am gone, only love can take my place.” And to a disciple whom he had asked to give Kriya Yoga initiation, but who expressed a fear that she might be treading on SRF’s toes, he said, “Are you following me or the organization?”

When Swamiji created Ananda, he made the welfare of the individual the keystone of the work, instead of urging the members always to “think first of what’s best for Mother Center,” as Tara insisted.

The SRF monastics have accused Kriyananda of trying to destroy Yogananda’s work. Nothing could be further from the truth.  By defending the right of people everywhere to follow the master’s teachings, free of institutional control, Swamiji has fulfilled his guru’s wishes and rescued the spirit of his work from SRF’s misguided direction.

How can we know that it was Yogananda’s wish to make his teachings freely available? During the lawsuit that SRF filed against Ananda, it was discovered that the master had not copyrighted his works of given them to SRF, contrary to SRF’s claim that he had given them exclusive rights to all of his books, recordings, and photographs.

By creating Ananda, with its seven “World Brotherhood Colonies” in America, Europe, and India, Swami Kriyananda realized a vision that was dear to Yogananda’s heart, and that he strongly urged his followers to act upon.

Yogananda said, “This colony idea will someday sweep over the world like wildfire.” Yet, when Swamiji asked Daya Mata what SRF could do to further this aspect of the master’s mission, she said, “Frankly, I’m not interested.”

In the midst of the SRF lawsuit, a strange thing happened. A man showed up at Ananda Village unannounced and asked to speak with Swami Kriyananda.

He told Swamiji that he had traveled from New York City to deliver a message from Tara Mata. He said that Tara had appeared to him in a vision, and that she had asked him to go to Swamiji and ask for his forgiveness on her behalf, for having dismissed him from SRF in such a cold and brutal manner. She explained that at the time of his dismissal she had been influenced by the memory of his having divided the work 1200 years earlier.

The man delivered his message and left, not even remaining long enough to accept Swamiji’s invitation to lunch.

I recall Swamiji talking about a saint who had saved up his karma for a time when it would be helpful to his guru. Swamiji remarked that it would take a jivanmukta, a freed soul, to be able to manipulate his karma in that way. The rest of us, the struggling masses, must take our karma as it comes. Only a master, whose consciousness has transcended the plane of the karmic workings, can choose how and when he will work it out.

The second of the “few things” that remained for Swamiji to work out was, I believe, an attraction to the opposite sex. Yogananda called sexual desire “the greatest delusion.” He said that it is nearly always the last desire to go, before a saint achieves liberation. It’s my belief that Swamiji saved that karma, also, for a time when it would benefit his master’s work. The role that it played in that work was explained very clearly in a talk by Nayaswami Asha, a close associate of Swamiji’s. You can find that talk here: Defending Yoga in America – The Sacrifice of Ananda.

I’m aware that my words will never persuade Swamiji’s enemies, for the simple reason that they don’t want to be persuaded. They are dogmatic in their rejection, and their views therefore don’t concern me. The SRF leaders have invented a fictitious version of Swami Kriyananda to suit their institutional agenda. I am writing this for independent-thinking readers who will want to weigh the evidence and make up their own minds.

The world has entered an age of energy-awareness in which religion will look very different from the form it took in the preceding age of matter-awareness, with its heavy insistence on blind belief, rigid dogmas, and unquestioning obedience to church authority.

Religion in the age of energy will be more practical and scientific, no longer demanding blind faith, but grounded in the devotee’s own experience.

I believe that Swami Kriyananda came into this world to serve as a model for spiritual aspirants who will work out their salvation in the age of energy.

During the SRF court case, he said that by concentrating on serving his guru’s work, rather than fretting over any momentary weaknesses, he had found complete freedom from those desires.

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” he told us near the end of his life, speaking of romantic attraction. “But I don’t see what you see in each other.”

I recall Swamiji talking about Padre Pio, a great modern Italian saint (1887-1968). Thousands of people, before and since Padre Pio’s passing, have testified to the guidance they received from him, in visions, or by hearing him speak to them, and on rare occasions when he appeared to them in his physical form.

Swamiji said that Padre Pio was a true master – a jivanmukta, possibly even a perfected being. He explained that only such a person would be capable of appearing in two places at once: the miracle of bilocation.

When I was new to Ananda Village, a friend who had lived there since the start told me a strange story.

A woman from Ananda was walking up Tyler Foote Road on a hot summer day. She was barefoot and carried her infant daughter in her arms. The pavement was scorching, and she was weeping from the pain, knowing that she had to find shelter for herself and her child.

Along came Swamiji in his battered Volkswagen. He pulled over and cheerfully offered the mother and daughter a ride.

Later, she told an Ananda member how Swamiji had saved them. She expressed her gratitude for his help, and her delight at his awareness of their plight.

The other person gazed at her for a long moment in mute disbelief. “But that’s impossible!” she said. “Swamiji was giving a class in Sacramento at exactly that time!”

When my friend told me the story, she said that Swamiji had revealed his spiritual stature more openly in the early days – perhaps because there were people in the community who were unclear about the importance of Yogananda’s work. Perhaps God wanted them to take Ananda’s spiritual mission more seriously, and not limit their vision to creating a cozy life for themselves in the country.

Later, several others confirmed that Swamiji had indeed been talking with a group of students in Sacramento at the time he picked up Lakshmi and Gyandevi in his VW.

Was it true? I’m fully aware how easy it is to raise all manner of objections based on rational grounds, or to dismiss the story outright as the wild imaginings of gullible minds. But from my experience of Swamiji, I choose to give it a fair shake. I knew him too long, and witnessed his spiritual stature on too many occasions, to dismiss the story lightly.

It might well be asked, “Why does it matter to know if he was a jivanmukta?”

I believe it’s important. If he was an interloper, as SRF claims, bent on destroying his guru’s work, motivated by rage over his dismissal, the implication is that he could not possibly be a liberated master. But in the thirty-nine years I knew him, I never saw the slightest sign that he was seeking to avenge himself against his brother disciples. On the contrary, he always spoke of them with great respect. It was an attitude that he held with unvarying consistency for more than twenty years after they dismissed him. Only when it became clear that SRF was intent on destroying Ananda did he defend this aspect of his master’s work, and begin to speak openly of the SRF leaders’ betrayal of their guru’s vision.

A jivanmukta never acts of his own accord, motivated by personal desires. He is one with God, and does only as God wills. As Yogananda said, “I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this temple now but God.” This is what I saw in Swami Kriyananda, and why I’m persuaded that he was a liberated soul.

The second part of SRF’s lawsuit posed a much greater challenge to our faith in Swamiji.

Desperate for a way to reverse its endless losses in the courts, SRF resorted to an “end run” strategy, in which it secretly supported a woman who had filed a lawsuit against Ananda and one of its ministers for sexual harassment.

SRF knew that if it could persuade the court that Ananda was a morally corrupt organization, they could argue that because both groups followed the same path, there was a public association between them in the public’s mind: that the courts should not allow SRF to suffer any longer from such “tarnishment,” and that it should therefore return to SRF all of the rights it had lost in the court’s rulings on its preceding motions.

After the judge in the case reviewed the evidence regarding SRF’s involvement in the sexual harrassment case, he rejected SRF’s arguments about “tarnishment,” saying that SRF could not be allowed to benefit from a scandal that it had helped to create.

I’ve talked elsewhere about the case, so I won’t go into it here. But I believe it’s important to understand the broader spiritual meaning of the lawsuit, in the context of the yoga movement in America.

In August 2015, Nayaswami Asha gave a talk at Ananda Sangha in Palo Alto, in which she gave an inspired and very lucid explanation of the meaning of the case. At this point, I’ll defer to Asha. Here is the link to Asha’s talk, Defending Yogananda’s Work – The Sacrifice of Ananda.





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