Unlike the 1960s when many young people were drawn to Eastern teachers, few came to live in Yogananda’s monastery. And relatively few stayed. It was a life of long, daily meditation and service to others. But Walters blossomed. He had a natural capacity for long meditation, a deep mind, and an openness to learning. Yogananda knew one of his own had come.
He soon made twenty-two-year-old Walters head of the male monastics, brought him to his desert retreat to help with editing his writings, and told him on several occasions, “You have a great work to do.” He spent many hours talking about the teachings of Yoga to his young disciple, and said that he would become a writer and a teacher. When Walters protested that he didn’t feel adequate to the task of teaching, Yogananda replied sternly, “Living for God is martyrdom!” And then more gently he added, “You’d better learn to like it, for that is what you will have to do.”
And thus began a life of service to his guru that can scarcely be imagined, except that hundreds of people personally witnessed it, some for as long as forty years themselves on the path, working shoulder-to-shoulder with him. For a span of nearly sixty-five ceaselessly busy years, Walters (Swami Kriyananda) expended every ounce of energy in fulfilling his guru’s work. That included writing some 150 books; teaching nearly continuously in America, Europe, and recently also throughout India to audiences in the thousands; founding ten spiritual communities around the world (a long-cherished dream of Yogananda’s); composing hundreds of pieces of music; establishing a new model for children’s education (Education for Life schools); keeping up with endless correspondence; praying for those in need; offering training and mentoring to countless students on the spiritual path in ways that were unique to the needs of each individual.
Despite increasingly frail health, he continued a breakneck pace of teaching and writing even in his eighties, until just weeks before his passing, that left companions in their twenties racing to keep up. Swami Kriyananda lived by two principles: “People are more important than things,” and “Where there is adherence to dharma, there is victory.”
These ideals guided the development of the Ananda communities begun by him in the 1960s. He clung to them against all “common sense”—such as when the first community burned to the ground and all that was left was one home. The cause was found to be a county vehicle. Neighbors sued and won, but Kriyananda wrote to the county saying he had no intention of suing. “We didn’t come here to take, but to give,” he said. What little money the community raised it gave first to families who wanted to leave. Those who remained built again over time, and soon the community was flourishing beyond anything before the fire. “The only way I want people to remember me,” said Swami Kriyananda, “is that, ‘He was a good disciple.’”
Those who worked with him closely could verify that his only desire was to serve his guru’s work. Whether it was will power or love, or a peculiar grace, it was the fruit of what yogis say are lifetimes of effort. In his last years, he could hardly speak without tears. He often spoke of indescribable states of bliss, and when you looked into his eyes, you felt it too. He found the Truth he’d been seeking. And he told us we would find it too.
That Truth has long been the promise of the sacred texts of East and West. But not many make the effort. “The harvest is plenteous,” said Jesus. “But the laborers are few.” Farewell to one who labored well. And who showed the way, so others might do the same. Swami Kriyananda passed away peacefully in Assisi, Italy at 8 a.m. on Sunday, April 21, 2013. He was 86.