The Freedom to Grow
By Jan Lotichius
Back in 1985, when I first met Swami Kriyananda in the mountains near Como Italy, I had already drawn great inspiration from his work. A few years earlier a friend of mine had given me Autobiography of a Yogi and, along with it, Kriyananda’s The Path, his 14 lesson yoga course and tapes with recorded lectures.
In Autobiography of a Yogi, I finally found the inspiration and the nourishment I had sought so sincerely and so intensely during the previous years. In Paramhansa Yogananda I recognized my Guru, He Whom the Indian Scriptures define as the greatest blessing in the three worlds.
Yet, paradoxically, the Autobiography contains little factual information about its author. Almost all chapters are set in India and speak about other Indian saints of Kriya Yoga, like Sri Yukteswar, Babaji and Lahiri Mahasaya and although Yogananda spent more than twenty years of his life in America, the land where his mission started, hardly any mention is made of his activities there. Apparently this task was entrusted to his direct disciples.
I have always considered it to be highly significant that I, as a twenty year old student, was to receive Kriyananda’s books and recordings along with the autobiography of his guru: the works are highly complementary. Kriyananda brought the light and the teachings of the great master from a faraway country and culture and from another generation into my life in Amsterdam. And all this happened in a completely natural way, as if the works of these authors had a life of their own and had been looking for me as intensely as I had been looking for them.
Kriyananda’s stories about his life with the great avatar and about the birth and growth of Ananda filled me with spiritual enthusiasm. His yoga lessons were an invaluable help in my first attempts at meditation and they continue to be so up to today. I came to love and respect Swami Kriyananda as my older brother on the path who, as I could keenly feel, had been deeply blessed by my guru to reach many souls with his divine inspiration. I wrote him a letter in which I expressed my love and appreciation of him and his wonderful work as a channel of my guru.
So my twenty-four year old heart bounced when, on May 18 1985, I finally heard Swami Kriyananda’s beautiful voice from the room next to the one where a small group of German devotees and I where expecting him for a satsang in German: I was going to meet a man who had been blessed by a great avatar! In he walked. He was slightly overweight at that time but as radiant with energy as ever. When he saw me, a newcomer, he walked over to me, and shook my hand. He listened to my name, looked at me calmly and said: “Good!”
He seemed a bit unsure about having to lecture in German, but then took up the Indian harmonium, calmly concentrated his mind at the point between the eyebrows and started chanting, invoking the presence of the gurus. There followed a short period of silence and when he finally spoke, his German sounded, if not as perfect, in any case just as natural as that of any native speaker.
I remember how he spoke about his birthday that was to come the next day. There is hardly any reason, he said, to celebrate the fact that this body is turning fifty-nine tomorrow. “But I find real happiness in my attempts to be born anew every day, in God.” He added very sweetly: “Whenever I was going through dark moments in my life, it was because I had been thinking of myself and not of God.” He also spoke about the courage that was required to live this life of devotional meditation and community service. “If others judge you for it,” he said, “it is only because they don’t know anything about it.” And then he quoted Max Plank, who claimed that new scientific discoveries gain acceptance, not because of their intrinsic validity, but because the generation of scientists who were unable or unwilling to appreciate their validity, passes away.
How distinctly I remember all this, even though it happened more than sixteen years ago and I never kept a diary in that period! I had never even reminisced on it before I started writing this letter. That first meeting must have had the power of a real initiation.
The next day he gave a satsang in beautiful, fluent Italian. There his voice took on all the sunny qualities of the Italian people! I remember how self-righteous I had felt until then, each time I had managed to meditate for thirty minutes or longer, without there being any regularity at all in my spiritual practices. But here Swami came and said: we must seek the company of spiritual people and we must meditate (pause) every day. Was he talking to me? Thank you for reminding my soul, Swami! Since then I have never missed a day without seeking the inner silence. I stayed at Ananda for three months, after Swami had left for America, and received beautiful spiritual training from Swami’s close friends, wonderful devotees like Ram, Diana, Kirtani, and Parvati, who in their turn, had been trained by Swami himself. These three months at the Ananda ashram in the mountains near Como proved a blessing for the rest of my life.
During the Indian banquet that night of his birthday, I experienced the joy of playing Swami’s music for him. Until Lila Devi gave me the score for “Rumanian Memories,” I had never known that Kriyananda also composed music. But I had been deeply touched by those first pages from The Path in which he describes his childhood in Rumania, where the nightly gypsy violins talked to him about their lost country, India. How effortlessly those melodies now flowed through my violin! Those few notes carried all the intimacy and the mystery of childhood. Swami has always said that he never creates music, it simply comes to him, maybe as a special gift from God to help build the specific vibration of Ananda. One day, recently, I was driving past his home in the mountains near Assisi, when I could distinctly hear one of his melodies in my inner ear. There is always a lot of music in my mind, since music happens to be my profession, but this was a different experience: it wasn’t coming from my mind but from some higher source, outside my own personality.
On that same day, his birthday, I also asked him if he would give me Kriya Initiation. Of course I longed to be able to practice the sacred, liberating technique and I knew Yogananda had given him the duty to spread his message and to teach it. But he said, quite sternly, he couldn’t give Kriya to people as new on the path as I was. In fact he gave it to me some years later, when my heart was steadier and more committed to the spiritual path.
I spent quite a few years in Holland without attending Ananda, but inwardly I always stayed in touch. I remember my reaction in Amsterdam, when I received an invitation from America to attend Swami’s wedding with Rosanna. Here were two people I had only met a few times, and yet the news of their wedding gave me this deep joy, this intense feeling of bliss! Why? Swami, in one of the letters published on this website, confirms that he married Rosanna not only because he loved her deeply, but also because he felt that Ananda would somehow benefit from it. Later, on visiting Ananda Village in California, I learned that Swami and Rosanna had separated. Of course I felt sorry, but I could clearly see how Swami’s decision to marry had changed the lives of many devotees. At Ananda people are encouraged to be celibate, if that is what they really want, but they are also free to accept the responsibility of personal relationships and marriage. Balance is the real issue. A lot of workshops were dedicated to the subject of marriage and the spiritual path. Swami himself has written a wonderful book about it. Some of the best Ananda teachers are married and their balanced life of devotional yoga meditation and marriage, a unique combination indeed, has enabled them to relate to people on many levels in society. Their practice of Kriya Yoga, however extraordinary it may be, has never made them feel superior to ordinary people. They have never had a chance to develop religious arrogance, which is only the projection on an institutional level of what Swami Sri Yukteswar listed as one of the eight meannesses of the heart: pride of pedigree. Being with people rather than above them, they show Yogananda’s teachings as they really are: one sacred answer to all problems in life and death.
In 1990 I moved to Italy and the way in which I could help start an Ananda meditation center in Rome, beautifully illustrates one of Kriyananda’s and Ananda’s main principles: People are more important than things.
In previous years devotees had come from Ananda Assisi to Rome to see if they could start a meditation group there, but they had always found it wasn’t the right time yet. Then, in 1994, Alberto Bugliazzini came to visit me in my house in the country north of Rome. He had gotten my address from Ananda Assisi. We chanted and meditated together and he left in an inspirational mood. Some time later Alberto returned to ask me if I wanted to teach meditation on Monday nights at his home in Rome. I thought of how big and chaotic Rome was and how late I would come home after such an evening class and I wanted to say no. But then his house turned out to be near the place where I was working at that time on Monday afternoons. I started going to his house on Monday nights, not as an officially authorized teacher from Ananda, but very eager to share what I had gained from Yogananda’s teachings and especially from my association with Kriyananda and Ananda. Quite a few of the people who attended those evenings are now firmly on the spiritual path. Two of them, Alberto Rinieri and Maria Grazia Scalchi, were particularly inspired and started taking meditation courses at Ananda Assisi. Alberto Rinieri and I also became good friends and I went to his house in Prati as often as possible to meditate with him. He and Maria Grazia then started a meditation group on Thursday nights, while Alberto Bugliazzini started a radio broadcast about Yogananda. He started sending people to Alberto Rinieri’s house, which has now become a flourishing Ananda meditation center. There are activities almost every night of the week, attended by many people who feel attracted by Yogananda’s ray of light and lovingly nourished by Ananda ministers who come whenever they can, to give spiritual guidance.
This story, and similar ones that, I am sure, can be related by other devotees in many great cities in Europe and America, beautifully highlights the nature of religion in this New Age. When I started teaching meditation, the Ananda ministers never tried to control me for what I was doing. On the contrary they put great trust in me, knowing that when a man relies on his own ego rather than on inner, divine guidance, his initiatives won’t last anyway. This is exactly what Kriyananda said about his own work at the dedication of the Temple of Light in Assisi, Italy: “Whenever something went wrong, it was because of me, whenever things flourished, it was because of God.” A very good example of self honesty indeed!
When we started the Ananda center in Rome, we never wanted to create anything apart from Ananda: we could feel the spiritual power coming from Ananda, and all we needed to do was try to cooperate with that power.
Now, a few words about SRF. I have known that this Fellowship exists, ever since I read Autobiography of a Yogi. It has always seemed perfectly natural to me that some organization is needed to preserve the teachings of a great avatar. Swami Kriyananda himself refers to this Fellowship as one where devotees can learn Kriya Yoga. Yet I never felt the need to become an SRF member. Ananda itself fully satisfies my spiritual needs. And I have met SRF members who say the same about their Fellowship. In fact, that is what religion is bound to be in this New Age: it either comes to people naturally, or it won’t come at all.
Which makes the SRF leaders’ secretive attempt to destroy Kriyananda and Ananda even more difficult to accept. Of all wars and conflicts, the religious ones are perhaps the most odious: how can anyone claim God as his own? Crimes against humanity are the inevitable outcome of religious and institutional arrogance: we can see this in history again and again. We can see it happening in New York and Washington on September 11. There are thousands of Muslims in America and they have always been perfectly free to practice their own religion. And that is how it should be: people need freedom to make their own choices. They also need freedom to make their own mistakes and learn from them. Robbing people of this freedom sectarianism. Without it human growth is impossible and any institution that says it knows better than people know for themselves is a real danger to society. (This is an implicit answer to those Srf members who try to make people believe that Ananda is a sect.)
SRF may be fighting against Kriyananda, but they are certainly not fighting for Yogananda. If they wanted to help people to understand the teachings better, they should read Swami’s books and comment on them. They should visit Ananda and see for themselves what is happening there. Yet they have never done so. Many Ananda residents know SRF much better than SRF knows Ananda.
Swami once said to me: I never fight against, only for something. This website was created, not to fight against the Fellowship, but to show Ananda for what it really is: a beautiful answer to the many problems of modern society, an answer we feel is deeply blessed by a great avatar of modern times: Paramhansa Yogananda.
Jan is from Holland. He now lives in Rome with his wife Anna and their two young sons. He is a professional musician.