MEET Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda.
“India! Land of great saints and yogis... one has only to set foot on that sacred ground, if he is sensitive, to feel the blessings rising up therefrom.”
This is how Swami Kriyananda paid one of his many tributes to India, a country the American, direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, has come to admire for its spiritual roots and treasures. At age 86, over six decades after he began his spiritual journey as a callow 22-year-old, Kriyananda has returned to India on a six-month trip that is taking him from Delhi and Mumbai to Bangalore and Chennai.
Born in 1926 in Romania to American parents, Kriyananda was studying to be a writer. In 1948, at a New York book store, he chanced upon Yogananda’s ‘Autobiography of a Yogi.’ The iconic book – an amazing story of how the Gorakhpur-born Mukunda Lal Ghosh became Yogananda, a spiritual giant -- had been published only two years earlier.
It had an electrifying effect on J. Donald Walters, as the American was known then. He wasted no time in taking a cross-America bus ride to reach Los Angeles to tell Yogananda that he wanted to be his disciple.
As he recalled later, he knew nothing of meditation and yoga then. The word ‘guru’ did not exist in his dictionary. And India was another planet!
The four years he was with Yogananda, until the latter passed away in 1952, transformed the spiritually hungry Walters into Swami Kriyananda, making him, in the long run, one of the best known exponents of Sanatana Dharma, and the long lost Kriya Yoga.
Kriyananda first came to India in 1958 and spent four years exploring its spiritual dimensions. His next visit was shorter - 1972-73. He made several repeat visits before moving in 2003 for a longer stay when he founded the India unit of his Ananda Sangha group.
By then, Kriyananda had written some 80 (now 144) spiritually enriching books, which had been published in about 100 countries and 28 languages. “I feel a deep-seated nostalgia for India,” he says. His love for his Guru’s country encompassed everything: music, manner of dressing, kindliness to all forms of life, devotion, gentle acceptance of others and longing for eternal verities. “These things inspire me as no other culture has ever done.”
A Christian by birth, Kriyananda considers himself a Hindu in line with the true meaning of Sanatana Dharma. “The true message of Hinduism is inward, not outward. It is a message of soul uplift , of inner purification, and of deepening awareness and love,” he says. Hinduism, according to him, is more tolerant of “other ways” than any other religion. (In Chennai, Ananda Sangha can be reached on 88073-50623/93.)
Swami Kriyananda will speak on 'Religion in the New Age' at the Music Academy on Jan. 20, 5.30-7 p.m.