Experiences with Swami Kriyananda: Part 21

Be Yourself, With Energy!
Anandi Cornell

One thing I discovered when I first moved to Ananda was what it meant to have “authority issues.” I discovered them in myself, and I’ve been interested to note how common they are in this country. I’ve heard so many interesting analyses of Swami Kriyananda, made by people who don’t know him. Clearly, they speak from their own assumptions about people in positions of authority, and not from personal experience.

The people who know Swami well have experienced countless examples of his innate humility and childlike nature. I’ll share just a few examples from the 30 years I’ve known him. The longer I know Swami, the deeper my appreciation grows, for the depth of his kindness and compassion toward all.

In the 1980’s, Swami built a swimming pool at his house. Because it was one of just a few pools in the community, he’d often invite people over for “pool parties” on Saturday afternoon. At one of these parties, the people in the pool divided into separate groups. The women gathered in the shallow end and created an impromptu water ballet. The men gathered in the deep end and began playing a “guy game,” where a big, strong fellow had Swami on his shoulders and they challenged another pair to a duel. A man named Peter was the “horse” for the challengers. Several men tried to unseat Swami, but not wanting to injure Swami, they were halfhearted in their efforts and Swami easily knocked them into the water. Then, much to my horror, my husband Bharat climbed on Peter’s shoulders and I could see by his face and body language that he was determined to go after Swami with everything he had. Bharat likes competition and he was clearly determined to win.

I was a bit shocked. First of all, Swami is 25 years older than Bharat, but most of all, he’s our teacher, and it didn’t seem very respectful to dump him unceremoniously into the pool. But after a valiant effort, it was Bharat who was knocked in the water. When Swami competes in this sort of game, he generally wins; with his long years of meditating practicing Yogananda’s energization exercises, he’s very centered and has excellent control of his energy, so it’s very hard to knock him off center.

The sweet thing was, the next day at Sunday service, Swami described the scene and praised Bharat for the focused energy that he’d put into the game. He said, “If you’re going to do something, you should do it with everything you have.” Bharat noted later that in telling the story, Swami never mentioned who won the contest.

Swami’s behavior has always been natural and unaffected. We, his students, often want to treat him with much more respect than he has ever asked of us. On another occasion, when Bharat and I were living in Palo Alto, Swami visited the Ananda House in San Francisco and we drove there to have tea with him and a group of other Ananda members. Swami had recently written some songs based on the life of Saint Francis, and a song called “Life Flows on Like a River” was written for a bass voice. I usually love Swami’s music, but something about that song didn’t appeal to me.

We arrived a bit late for the tea, and Swami was talking with a group of about 20 people from the San Francisco congregation as we entered quietly and sat down. He was talking about the new St. Francis music, and as we came in, he greeted us and said, “Anandi, what do you think of that song, “Life Flow On Like a River?” How strange to be singled out for that particular question!

I said, “Well, I’m not much of a musician, but for some reason, I just don’t like that song.” His reaction was interesting–he seemed quite pleased with my answer! Later, as we were walking down the hall, he explained delightedly to someone who’d missed the tea that Anandi didn’t like that song, “Life flows on like a River.” What was going on? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect there were a couple of elements involved. I think part of his delight may have been that Master told him to ask me that question, because truly, it was as if he’d read my mind. And also, because I had answered truthfully with no issues around it, I had “done well.” Our friendship was the most important thing; whether I criticized or praised him wasn’t important. The image of someone who courts or demands praise from his “minions”-as I’ve heard Swami describedjust doesn’t gibe with this story at all.

The final story happened many years ago. Swami was giving a class to a large number of people. He was speaking about how, as people develop spiritually, they have more energy, and the result is that usually this energy exaggerates their strengths and their weaknesses. To illustrate this point, he gave the example of an advanced disciple of Yogananda’s, explaining that this person was very close to Master. Yet this man would express jealousy, a quality you wouldn’t expect from someone so advanced. As Swami spoke, I didn’t have the feeling that he was judging the man, only that he was making a point that might be useful for us to know. But suddenly he stopped talking and said, “This may surprise you, but I know that Master is not pleased with me for speaking that way.” And he went on to speak of that disciple only with the highest praise.

That incident was striking to me: first, because Swami was paying such subtle attention to the flow of Yogananda’s inspiration even as he spoke; and second, that he had no fear of humiliating himself in front of others. His only goal was to please Master.

This is the Swami I know: unassuming, natural, friendly, and completely devoted to serving his guru.

Anandi lives at Ananda Village and serves on the Expanding Light Retreat staff.