Swami Kriyananda, the beloved founder of Ananda, passed away on Sunday April 21, 2013. For more information, click here
Years With Yogananda
In 1948 Swami Kriyananda found Yogananda’s now famous Autobiography of a Yogi in New York City, and the next day left on a bus to meet the saint who he felt “was the truest friend I had ever known.” Responding to an irresistible longing in his heart, Kriyananda said to Yogananda, “I want to be your disciple.” This was the most important moment in Kriyananda’s life – he asked for help from one who could fully give it: a true guru, one united with God. That day Yogananda accepted him as a disciple, and Kriyananda began a new life in search of divine joy.
“Your work,” Yogananda told Kriyananda, “is writing, editing, and lecturing.” In 1950 he asked Kriyananda to take charge of the monks, most of whom were many years older! In that same year, Yogananda invited him to his seclusion retreat at 29 Palms. Here Kriyananda worked closely with Yogananda, and had the opportunity to record much of what the Master said.
Many times the Guru told Kriyananda, “You have a great work to do.” This, Kriyananda knew, was not praise, but a serious commission to help bring Yogananda’s teachings into the world. Yogananda saw in Swami Kriyananda the strong desire to help others. In part for this reason, Yogananda personally trained him to guide other disciples. This training, and Kriyananda’s own natural skill, would allow him to help many souls.
Serving in New Ways
After Yogananda’s passing in 1952, Kriyananda gradually moved into a role of greater public service, including lecturing, which his guru had guided him to do. In 1960 he was appointed First Vice-President of Self-Realization Fellowship, his Guru’s organization.
In India, Kriyananda’s talks drew large audiences, filling lecture halls. The Indians had a natural appreciation for his devotion and sincerity, and especially for the teaching and techniques that Yogananda, whose main work was in the West, had only barely been able to share in his homeland.
One attractive element of Yogananda’s teachings was their non-sectarian approach. Kriyananda often said,
Kriyananda spread his Guru’s work by helping others to find the truth within themselves. Completely misunderstanding Kriyananda’s vision, the members of the board eventually forced Kriyananda to leave his Guru’s organization.
The guru’s blessings sometimes come in disguise. After he was kicked out of Self-Realization Fellowship, Kriyananda found himself free to serve in ways that would have been impossible had he remained — writing, composing, and founding communities.
Founding the Ananda Spiritual Communities
“Gather together people of like mind in the pursuit of high ideals” — this was one of Yogananda’s most important instructions for the future. Yogananda envisioned communities where a person could live, work, and go to church all in one place, living for God and serving Him with fellow devotees. He called these communities “World Brotherhood Colonies.”
More than any other disciple, Swami Kriyananda tried to fulfill his Guru’s vision of spiritual communities. 6 years after his ouster from Self-Realization Fellowship, he founded the first world brotherhood colony, in California, and named it Ananda Village. Unlike secluded spiritual communities comprised solely of monks and nuns, Ananda Village included both householders and formal renunciates.
In the beginning Kriyananda had to handle freeloaders and residents who wanted to use the community to pursue their own visions, but over time a stable core developed that was committed to Yogananda’s original intent. Kriyananda guided Ananda members to ask not “What do I want?” but “What is right?” and “What does God want?”
A few of trials the fledgling community faced in its first decade:
- Kriyananda’s first dome houses, representing months of labor, were torn apart by high mountain winds.
- The community needed $12,000 in two weeks — then, to purchase new property, it needed to raise another $13,500 in one weekend! Swami Kriyananda said, “If God wants us to have it, He’ll help to work everything out.”
- In 1976, a forest fire destroyed 21 of the 22 homes in the main Ananda development. The community faced the very real possibility of bankruptcy.
Why did Ananda survive? Kriyananda based the founding of the community on two principles:
- People are more important than things;
- And “Jato dharma, tato jaya. Where there is right action, there lies victory.”
By adherence to these principles and with their dedication to God, Ananda members were able to face the early challenges and the many others yet to come.
Far from tragic, these and other trials have been essential to Ananda’s growth. Tapasya, or sacrifice, is necessary for bringing anything good into the world. The fire, for example, allowed the community to rebuild with more foresight, and strengthened the resolve of its members. Now they could say more truly, “I live for God alone.”
No one escapes persecution, for God wants to be sure of His devotee. One has to be willing to suffer opposition for choosing the spiritual path over the ways of the world.
Throughout the 1980s, Ananda expanded to become a truly international organization. Swami Kriyananda and Ananda members were expressing Yogananda’s teachings in ever-new ways. Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), until then the only large organization representing the guru, came to view Ananda’s expansion as a threat to what it considered its rightful property: Yogananda’s name, his teachings, and even the guru himself.
Thus, SRF launched a trademark and copyright lawsuit in 1990, intending to gain control over Yogananda’s teachings. Their aim was to do so by beating Ananda in court, or by crippling or destroying Ananda through debt incurred through having to defend itself legally.
The lawsuit was not only an attempt at religious monopoly, but also represented a personal attack on Swami Kriyananda. Kriyananda’s words in A Place Called Ananda sum up his response to this persecution:
SRF’s claims in the lawsuit included exclusive rights to Yogananda’s name, likeness, and voice. SRF also went so far as to claim exclusive rights to the universal term “Self-Realization.”The sheer weight of the financial burden necessary to defend Ananda was staggering — and while SRF hired lawyers from one of the largest law firms in the world, Ananda could only afford, in the beginning, one sole practitioner! High spiritual principles were at stake, however: religious freedom, and the right of disciples to serve their Guru publicly. Kriyananda and his fellow members of Ananda could not back down in the face of this challenge.
Ananda’s “legal team,” consisting of Kriyananda, a sole practitioner lawyer named Jon Parsons, and a 10-person advisory group of Ananda devotees, put in long hours over the 12-year course of the the litigation.
Practicing adherence to the highest truth above all, Ananda was awarded point after point by the court. SRF, in its continuing attempt to gain control of Yogananda’s teachings, resorted to repeated appeals, based on some surprising claims:
- Yogananda wrote all his books as a paid employee of SRF, and under SRF’s full control.
- All his books were written by committee efforts, rather than by his own.
In 1994 a second lawsuit was filed by a former member of Ananda with connections to SRF. In time, this suit became a personal attack against Swami Kriyananda, complete with claims that Ananda was a “power-hungry cult,” and that Kriyananda was a man without moral scruples.
Unfortunately, people are all too ready to believe that when someone does something good, he must have an ulterior motive. In this second trial, the jury eventually decided against Ananda and Swami Kriyananda. Both of these trials, with their combined weight of financial burden, proved a hardy forge for strengthening the faith and spiritual vigor of Ananda members, including, foremost, Swami Kriyananda. Devi Novak, one of the spiritual directors of Ananda, once remarked to him, “I don’t know if I have the strength to endure what you have had to go through in your lifetime.” He replied, “I didn’t know that I had the strength. But faith is my armor.” You can read more about these lawsuits in A Fight For Religious Freedom written by Jon Parsons, Ananda’s lawyer at the time.
I felt inwardly free all through this process. My constant prayer was, “Divine Mother, they can take everything away from me, but they can never take away my only treasure: my love for You.
By the conclusion of the lawsuit in 2002, Ananda had won over 95% of the copyright case filed by SRF 12 years earlier. By doing so, Ananda had established a vital historical and legal precedent for religious freedom. Despite the continuing challenge of servicing the debt incurred during the years of litigation, Ananda’s work has flourished worldwide, founding communities in Italy and India.A Fight For Religious Freedom written by Jon Parsons, Ananda’s lawyer at the time.
Victory at Last
In the 65 years after Kriyananda took discipleship to Paramhansa Yogananda, he:
- Founded 10 spiritual communities
- Gave thousands of lectures, based on his Guru’s teachings
- Wrote nearly 150 books on subjects ranging from scriptural interpretation, yoga, art, leadership, and material success, to the life and wisdom of Yogananda
- Composed several hundred pieces of music to convey his Guru’s philosophy through song
- Initiated thousands into Kriya Yoga, which Yogananda called the “airplane route to God”
Over 1000 people in America, Italy, and India live in the Ananda World Brotherhood Colonies, a lifestyle that has brought inspiration to people around the world. Interestingly, there is a phase that first-time visitors to one of these communities often go through. They think, “Is this real? Can there be a place on Earth where people are so kind, so unfailingly decent? So full of virtue?”
Dr. David Frawley, the well-known author on ancient Indian teachings, was once asked his opinion of what the most successful “new age” communities were.
“Ananda, Ananda, and Ananda!” he replied. “The reason for Ananda’s success is that Swami Kriyananda has trained a whole community of people to develop spiritually, and also to develop leadership abilities themselves. The work of Ananda will carry on far into the future.”
The Ananda communities, and the Ananda meditation groups that dot the globe, are the kind of group effort that can usher in a spiritual renaissance. Their example demonstrates that what might be impossible otherwise can be readily achieved with group magnetism: running retreat centers, ministries, publishing books and music — and giving others the hope that they, too, can find joy.
Swami Kriyananda passed away on April 21, 2013 at his home in Assisi, Italy, surrounded by his spiritual family. He will be missed, but his legacy will live on. Everything he has ever achieved — he lays at the feet of his guru, Yogananda.
Honors and awards
These are honors and awards that Swami has been given for his contributions to the yoga and spiritual community, as well as for books he has written.
- 2012 International Book Award for Best New Spirituality Book for Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography With Personal Reflections & Reminiscences
- 2012 Letter from the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles (Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa): “For over 50 years, Swami Kriyananda has shed a spiritual and reflective light into the world, across continents and into the lives of individuals. We thank him for his many accomplishments and for sharing the life and teachings of yogi Paramhansa Yogananda.”
- Appointed to the Board of Vedanta Today (2009)
- Recipient of the Eric Hoffer Award (self-help/spiritual books) and the USA Book News Award (spiritual category) for The New Path (2009)
- Recipient of the Yoga nel mondo Award by the Milan and Rome Yoga Festival with this tribute: “To the Master Swami Kriyananda, enlightened representative of the yoga science and philosophy, and indefatigable supporter and major spokesman of the bridge between East and West” (May 2008)
- Appointed Honorary Member of the International Yoga Confederation of New Delhi, and Honorary Member of the World Movement for Yoga (May 2008)
- Recipient of the 1st Conacreis Award (National Coordination of the Ethical, Interior and Spiritual Centers) to honor Swami Kriyananda’s dedication to the building of spiritual communities worldwide (May 2008)
- Beacon of Light Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the National Interfaith Council (2007)
- Pioneer in Yoga Award, presented by the Los Angeles Yoga Fellowship in (2007)
- Recipient of the Julius Caesar Medal in Rome in 2007. It represents the keys to the City, and is conferred as one of the greatest honors to heads of state.
- Recipient of the Premio Ponte 2007 del Consorzio Per i Libri (Bridge Award of the Consortium for Books) for “affirming the principles of union between East and west, spreading throughout the world the ancient principles of Yoga and the spiritual teachings of the highest Indian tradition of Self-realization, making them practical and at the same available to people of every social level, and applicable in every area of daily life.” (2007)
- Member of The Club of Budapest International. Other members include Mikhail Gorbachev, the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. (2005)
- Recipient of International Award for Goodness by Tara Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi. Previous recipients include the Dalai Lama. Milan, Italy (2004)
- Lifetime Achievement Award, Unity in Yoga Conference, Snowmass, CO (1995)
Complete List of Achievements
You can see a complete list of all of Swami Kriyananda’s achievements (PDF), including his books, compositions, and other accomplishments.