Swami Kriyananda; a life of discipleship – Service to SRF

Years in His Master’s Hermitage
Kriyananda’s Training and Responsibilities under Yogananda

Yogananda gave Kriyananda many indications of the work he had in store for him (Please see Yogananda’s Guidance to Kriyananda), and from the outset trained Kriyananda along these lines. Five months after this disciple’s arrival, Yogananda looked at him one day and announced quietly, “I have plans for you, Walter.” Three months later, while Kriyananda was still only twenty-two, the Master sent word—on Saturday morning—that Kriyananda was to conduct the Sunday service in his stead at SRF’s San Diego church, and to give a Kriya Yoga initiation afterward to a devout member. Soon, the Master had Kriyananda giving services occasionally at the other churches also: in Hollywood and in Long Beach. Before long, he had Kriyananda giving the services once monthly in all three churches, with one Sunday a month off. For years Kriyananda was the alternate minister at SRF’s Hollywood Church until August, 1955, when he was given full charge there.

Encouraged to write

Kriyananda also received encouragement from the Master to write. He helped Yogananda with his correspondence, writing letters that went out over the Master’s signature. He was also made a part of SRF’s correspondence department, writing letters to male members. Beginning in 1949, he wrote several articles that were published in SRF’s magazine under the pen-name Robert Ford. In January, 1950, Yogananda asked him to accompany him to his desert retreat at Twenty-Nine Palms to help with editing his writings. His first assignment was to work on Yogananda’s commentaries on The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. He continued from there, in response to Yogananda’s wishes, to work with his commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita and, later, on the Bible. The Master indicated that he wished his disciple someday to write an account of how he had come to the spiritual path. (Thus, years later, he wrote his autobiography.)

Yogananda surprised his disciple one day, while he and others of the monks were demonstrating the yoga postures before Swami Premananda (from Washington, D.C.), by conveying to Kriyananda the ability to do the Hatha Yoga postures with ease. Some of them, before that occasion, had been difficult for him to execute. From then, he became recognized as SRF’s Hatha Yoga expert. Later, he posed for the photographs accompanying Hatha Yoga articles in Self-Realization Magazine. Yogananda often had Kriyananda serve him and his guests lunch, and demonstrate the postures afterward. At the Master’s request, Kriyananda recorded many of the comments made during those occasions, and included them later in a book, The Essence of Self-Realization. After the guests left, Yogananda sometimes would ask him to stay on. Sometimes, on these occasions, he gave the disciple advice on the work he would do in the future. Most of the personal advice he gave concerned the public service he was to do.

Early responsibility give by Yogananda: Kriya initiations, services, leadership

From May, 1949, when Kriyananda gave his first Sunday service in the Master’s stead and his first Kriya initiation, he often gave Kriya initiations—usually in private, at first. During this time he gave initiation to several well-known persons, including Dick Haymes (a former vocalist for Harry James’s band) and Herb Jeffries (the vocalist for Duke Ellington’s band), both of whom also acted in Hollywood movies. Later, Kriyananda gave initiations publicly also. (Few ministers were ordained to give it, and all of them were senior ministers in the organization.)

In the summer of 1949, less than a year after Kriyananda’s arrival, Yogananda placed him in charge of the other monks. Later, when Kriyananda realized the time had come to organize the monastery, the Master told him, “Don’t make too many rules. It destroys the spirit.” Apart from that advice, given Kriyananda when he was 24, Yogananda made few suggestions to him concerning the monks. He wanted this disciple to rely as much as possible on inward attunement with the Guru’s guidance. In this way, as in many others, Yogananda was training him for the work that lay before him.

Years with SRF after Yogananda’s Passing

In 1962 came the greatest and most painful test of Kriyananda’s life: his sudden ouster from Self-Realization Fellowship. The account of this major trial is given in detail in Kriyananda’s book, A Place Called Ananda. It was quite unexpected, and for him tragic, but it proved to have been necessary as a means of freeing him for the work he has done since then, including building Ananda, writing eighty books (that have been published in 23 languages), composing over 400 pieces of music, and helping countless thousands of people (his books and records together have sold, to date, some three million copies) with Yogananda’s teachings that would not have been benefited by this “great work” had Kriyananda remained within the organization.

Tests like the one he endured then, if they are taken in the right spirit, often prove themselves great blessings in time. Such was the case with his painful separation from SRF. Had he remained in SRF, he would never have been able to write the books Yogananda had told him to write, or to bring to birth Yogananda’s oft-spoken-of vision of what the Master often spoke of as “world brotherhood colonies.”

And yet, to understand just what a blow to Kriyananda his ouster was, one needs to appreciate that he’d never had the slightest inkling that he would ever find himself outside of SRF. Rather, during the ten years that began with Yogananda’s passing in 1952, he threw himself body, mind, and soul into serving Yogananda through SRF, the organization that his Guru had founded. Here is a list—not a complete one—of some of the responsibilities and projects he took on:

(It was during this time, incidentally, in 1955, that Kriyananda took his final vows of renunciation, receiving sannyas, or ordination into full monkhood, from Daya Mata. On that occasion he took the name Kriyananda, which means “divine bliss through Kriya Yoga,” or, alternatively, “divine bliss in action.”)

  • He continued as head monk until his ouster in 1962.
  • Weeks after Yogananda’s passing he reorganized the main office: a job which he expected would take two weeks, but which took him a year and a half!
  • He continued the reorganization of the monks.
  • In 1953 he was placed in charge of the SRF center department. He then extensively organized the SRF centers as well as the center department, writing rules for the centers (which, with his suggestion, were re-named “meditation groups”), wrote services for them, suggested outlines and subjects for their Sunday services. He developed Sunday sermon topics and outlines for the groups, including readings from Yogananda’s writings. Many years later, these sermons were formalized as entire readings for Sunday services. Kriyananda, himself, had wanted to give center leaders (or, as they were later called, the meditation group leaders) the opportunity to develop their own ability to teach. His proposal was also accepted that selections be read from Autobiography of a Yogi at Sunday services.
  • While he was in charge of the Hollywood Church, he also developed the SRF lay-disciple order.
  • His extensive outline on the right attitudes for a disciple, which he used for classes to the monks, was later—and still is—used for training the monks and nuns.
  • He wrote several of SRF’s booklets including “Why a Church of All Religions?” and a booklet on reincarnation (after the Bridie Murphy brouhaha that some readers may remember). He wrote, “Give Me Thy Heart,” the booklet—still used, in some form, today—for new monastics.
  • In 1954 he wrote Stories of Mukunda as a Christmas gift for the monks. (This book was later published by SRF).
  • He created the ceremonies for the Masters’ birthdays and mahasamadhis.
  • After becoming the main minister at Hollywood Church in 1955, he gave twice-weekly services there for several years.
  • As the director of center activities, he traveled widely, speaking and giving Kriya initiations on behalf of the organization. In that capacity, in 1954, he visited the SRF groups in Mexico City and Yucatán. The next year, and for several years thereafter, he toured the centers in the U.S. and Canada, and also in London, Paris, Stuttgart (Germany), and several cities in Switzerland. In 1960, returning to Europe, he again visited Basel, Zurich, Bern, Geneva, Stuttgart, and then (for the first time) Italy, where he visited the SRF centers in Milan, Florence, Rome, and Catania. In 1958, passing through the Fiji Islands, he was in great demand as a speaker (though no SRF group existed there at the time). He went on to Auckland, New Zealand, and Sydney, Australia, where he lectured and gave Kriya Initiations. His subsequent activities in India are detailed below.
  • In May 1960, following the death of the then vice president Dr. M. W. Lewis, he was elected unanimously by the SRF Board of Directors to the Board, and to the vice-presidency of Self-Realization Fellowship. On his return to India later that year, he was elected to the same positions in SRF’s sister organization, Yogoda Satsanga Society of India.

In India, 1958-1962, his activities included the following:

  • He was for some time the editor of Yogoda Magazine.
    He lectured extensively, especially in the northern parts, where he spoke to many thousands and became widely known as “the American yogi.”
  • During his first year in that country, he wrote the Rule for the monks, which may be used to this day, and certainly formed the basis for what is in use. The rule he wrote was adapted also for the nuns.
  • He spent a year reorganizing the correspondence course (the “Lessons”) with the intention of addressing more effectively the needs of students of the teachings. As a disciple with experience in presenting Yogananda’s teachings in public, he had a feeling for how to reach people better than had been done by the person who originally organized the lessons, who never worked with the public. (This major work was abandoned at the time of his ouster—not because it hadn’t been accepted, but because it was felt that if a member moved from America to India, or vice versa, he would find it difficult to continue where he had left off. The lessons were changed only in their sequence and organization.)

In summary, Kriyananda was central to nearly everything that happened in SRF until the time of his ouster—both as an “insider” and as SRF’s main public figure and lecturer. Since his dismissal, SRF has rewritten history. Kriyananda has become a “non-person”—one who, it is now claimed, “never knew Yogananda personally,” and was minimally involved in SRF affairs. Even a brief study of old SRF magazines, however, would reveal how very central he was to everything that went on during those days.