Soul to Soul
by Asha Praver
Swami Kriyananda’s former long-time personal secretary and cook shares her years on staff, and lessons in friendship and respect.
Now that I am in my 50s, I have friends and co-workers who are decades younger than I. I am impressed, at times, by how different our energy, attitudes, and experience can be, and it is tempting to focus on the gap in our ages. Then I think about all my years of friendship with Swami Kriyananda and I want to give back to those who are just starting out on the path the same consideration and respect Swamiji has always given to me.
I was 24 when I first came to live at Ananda Village. At that time, Swami Kriyananda was 45. Starting a few months later, and continuing for many years, I worked closely with him, often on a daily basis. Frequently he included me in meetings and discussions he had with others, even if I was not directly involved in the project at hand. This was very generous of Swamiji, considering the fact that lack of knowledge or involvement seldom prevented me from having an opinion and expressing it forcefully! I was no fool; but overall I was far less wise than I thought myself to be.
Astonishingly, I later learned, quite a few times, because of my opposition, Swamiji gave up, or at least delayed, excellent ideas and directions for Ananda that he otherwise felt were the right way for us to go.
“How is that possible?” you may well ask? I was a cook, a secretary, sometimes a project manager, but I never even had a leadership position in the community. Swamiji was the founder and spiritual director!
“People are more important than things.” This is the motto of Ananda and the truth that Swamiji lives by. He knew me better than I knew myself and saw the insecurity behind my bravado. If he couldn’t win me to his cause, or get me to support him even if I disagreed, he preferred to put aside the project rather than damage my fragile self-esteem by overpowering or disregarding me.
Patiently he listened to me, respected, valued and loved me in a way I never dreamed possible. He was that way from the beginning and has continued so to the present day, 30 years later.
In gratitude, recently, I thanked him. “Even when I was young and inexperienced,” I said, “you always treated me respectfully and never once referred to my age.”
“I never noticed,” he replied simply.
It took me a moment to appreciate what he was saying. Then I recalled a conversation we’d had at the dinner table many years before. The subject was a couple who had just left Ananda and were getting divorced. I mentioned, with amazement, that even after several years of marriage, she apparently didn’t know the color of his eyes. “Incredible,” I said. Everyone at the table agreed. But Swamiji looked puzzled.
“But I don’t know the color of peoples’ eyes. Even those I work closely with, like Seva, I would have to look to know,” he said. “I don’t look at peoples’ eyes, I look through them.” Then he turned to Seva, who happened to be sitting next to him. “Oh, I see,” he said, “they are brown.”
Suddenly the old saying, “The eyes are the window of the soul,” took on a deeper and more profound meaning for all of us sitting there.
Remembering that earlier conversation, I understood what Swamiji was saying to me now. It takes mental affirmation for me to have the right attitude; for Swamiji, it is just the way he sees the world.
I have always tried to draw the deepest possible lesson from each experience I have with Swami Kriyananda. And sometimes I think I have really understood. But then, as the years go by, and God moves me another baby step toward Self-realization, I see that my perspective is too small. Whole new dimensions of his consciousness keep opening out in front of me. In this sense, I think of Paramhansa Yogananda’s wonderful words, when a disciple asked him, “Is there any end to evolution?” “No,” the master replied, “you go on evolving until you achieve endlessness.”
What a wonderful adventure in Self-awakening it is to be the friend of this extraordinary man.
Asha lives at the Ananda community in Palo Alto, California where she serves as a minister.