Experiences with Swami Kriyananda: Part 27

A Channel for Yogananda’s Vibration
John Lenti

Many people at SRF have accused Swami Kriyananda of egotism and usurping the role of the guru. These are serious charges and completely untrue. I know Kriyananda as a spiritual friend, and for twenty-three years he has been an integral part of my life. I have observed him and interacted with him in many different settings in Europe and America, and I can say from personal experience that to accuse him of “egotism” and “usurping” the role of the guru is absurd; nothing could be further from the truth. If anything it’s been just the opposite. In the years that I’ve known Swami, I’ve never noticed any exaggerated sense of self-importance. Egotistical people are always looking for adulation and trying to draw energy to themselves. Swami has always steadfastly avoided that.

One example that comes to mind was in 1990 at the Whole Life Expo in San Francisco. Swami was scheduled to give a talk along with many other speakers that day. He talked on the basic principles of yoga, but what was noticeably different is the way in which he spoke. While other speakers were trying to reach out and grab the audience with dramatic gestures and body language, Swami was very calmly centered in the spine inviting people to listen; and radiating joy to everyone in the room. The implicit message from most of the other speakers was, “Listen to me!” Swami was merely offering to those who were receptive.

It was the same when I first heard him speak at the Ananda guest retreat in the spring of 1978. He was inviting me to listen, and I was thirsty for what he had to say. I had come to a crossroads in my life and I was deeply seeking some kind of guidance and spiritual direction. Since graduating from college, I had been involved, off and on, with various spiritual groups mostly in the Bay Area, and I couldn’t seem to find what I was looking for. In the course of eight years, I had met and listened to many so-called teachers, New Age and otherwise, who made all sorts of claims. One teacher turned out to be a former insurance salesman, who claimed that if I joined his group, I could achieve enlightenment in fifteen years. My knowledge of spirituality was somewhat limited, but this seemed a bit far-fetched.

Another teacher, who had developed quite a following, began posting his previous incarnations as a master of this or that monastery in a full page ad in one of the new age magazines. I found out years later that he committed suicide.

I sensed that in Swami, I had found someone possessed of true wisdom. When he spoke there was something behind those words that I found inspiring and touched me at a deeper than conscious level even though I couldn’t define what it was. I think many great teachers have this kind of spiritual magnetism. It’s certainly is true of Swami. What I have learned over the years is that as an instrument of the Divine, Swami is able to transmit and convey Master’s vibration and channel this higher consciousness to others.

SRF is saying that Kriyananda has tried to make himself the guru. In what way? He has never claimed to be the guru. Swami has never claimed to be a God-Realized master. He acts on behalf of the guru and, in so doing, tries to attune to the guru’s guidance. From everything I know Swami is deeply attuned to Yogananda. I have been listening to Swami’s talks and transcribing them for many years, and I have never heard him utter a word that has ever been contrary to what Master taught.

Kriyananda is not interested in furthering any personal agenda, but only in attuning to what God wants. I saw a good example of this when I lived at the Ananda retreat center in Assisi in the early 1990’s. Swami was visiting there and we were having discussions about new directions for the work in Italy. We were feeling somewhat ambivalent about whether or not we should even be there. The Italians were very attached to their homes and families, and liked to visit Assisi but were reluctant move to the center. The Germans, on the other hand, who were in a majority, and more independent, enjoyed living in a community setting. The thought had crossed my mind that since the Germans were more attuned to the idea of community that maybe we should think about a community in Germany. When I brought this up at one of the discussions, Swami said, quite simply, “This is where Divine Mother wants us to be.” I felt in his voice an inner certainty that came from a place deeper than reason or intellect. Swami was in Italy not because it was easy to start a center there, not because he personally wanted to be there, but because it was where Divine Mother wanted him to be.

Having a center in Italy was not his idea; he was merely acting as an instrument for what God wanted. He said it was especially ironic to be in Italy because he didn’t speak Italian whereas he was fluent in many of the other European languages, including German. This thread of deep inner attunement is the hallmark of Kriyananda’s leadership and has permeated every aspect of his ministry and the growth and development of Ananda. As a spiritual teacher he has tried, first and foremost, to impart to us the importance of our attunement to Divine Mother.

Swami works with people to help them develop their own inner resources. Whereas some people might see his position of spiritual director as an opportunity to exercise control and power, Swami has seen it as service to others. This is the antithesis of egotism. His approach is to invite, to hint, to suggest and to work with people at their own level of experience and understanding. There have been times when Swami has felt strong inner guidance about some new idea or direction, but his way has always been to propose it tentatively or to wait until people are ready for it, never to impose his will.

Important, also, has been his willingness over the years to allow people to make their own mistakes, not in the sense of being indifferent, but in allowing them to find out for themselves what they need to learn. I include myself in that category. There have been times in my life when I felt the need for his advice. I have always found it helpful and permeated with spiritual insight. He has never said to me, “do this” or “do that.” He might offer suggestions, but I have always had to make the decision myself. This has been especially true in the area of relationships where things can get very complicated because of karmic and past life connections.

When I first moved to the Palo Alto community in 1985, I became involved in a relationship with one of the women there. We felt a strong mutual attraction for each other, but I also felt deeply conflicted about it. In terms of commitment I could see the pros and the cons of this relationship, but I really didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t feel any inner guidance to pursue this relationship while, she, on the other hand, was determined that we should get married. This went on for quite awhile. When I went to Swami about this he cut right to the chase. After a little discussion, he asked me, “Do you love this woman?” As painful as it was, I had to admit that I didn’t and it was left at that. He didn’t tell me what I should do, but my answer was self-explanatory. It gave me the strength to end a relationship that for all practical purposes could have been spiritual suicide.

Characteristic of Swami is that he sees the highest in all of us. He may recognize our faults, but at the same time he always encourages our potential for growth. He never focuses on our mistakes. Ultimately, his leadership style is grounded in the principle of free will and respect for each of us as a child of God. He’s not here to impose himself on us, but to help us in what we are already trying to do, which is to find God. To the extent that we are able to tune in or be receptive to his help is he able to work with us. It’s a reciprocal thing, like being invited to a fine banquet. If you’re not hungry, no one is going to force you to eat.

I have to say that it’s difficult to judge the influence that person like Kriyananda has on one’s life. It tends to be both personal and impersonal at the same time. Personal in the sense that I have a relationship with another human being, yet, it is a sacred trust that doesn’t lend itself to an easy-going familiarity, but demands the highest in all of us. This impersonal quality is what has made his spiritual leadership at Ananda unique, and very different from other teachers I have known because grounded in the higher qualities of the soul.

This work of Ananda is imbued with Master’s vibration. As founder and spiritual director of Ananda, Swami has set the tone for this by his own discipleship and attunement to the guru. SRF may choose not to recognize Kriyananda as a legitimate channel for Yogananda’s teachings; that’s their business. But that doesn’t diminish Kriyananda or the work he is doing. The fact to the matter is that a tree is known by its fruits. By fulfilling his dharma as a world teacher, he has been a blessing and an inspiration to many thousands of people all over the world. Since his move to Assisi in the last few years, it is not coincidence merely that the Assisi center has grown by leaps and bounds. It is because of Swami’s attunement and ability to channel Master’s inspiration to others. The staff has more than doubled and they are serving more people than ever.

I can say without equivocation that the existence of Ananda and Kriyananda’s guidance and example of discipleship, has enabled me to grow spiritually in ways that I would never have thought possible.

John M. Lenti
Ananda Village
November 2001

John lives at Ananda Village where he helps in the ministry office and also
works at Earth Song, a local health food store.