Interview with Swami Kriyananda
When I went to interview Swami Kriyananda at the Expanding Light Retreat the first thing that becomes apparent is the quiet peacefulness that you share with the nature around you including the dears that freely walk the grounds. If you haven’t been there it’s a trip that is well worth the short drive from Nevada City. I would like to give a special thanks to all the wonderful people I met there that helped coordinate this interview.
Lotus Guide: What started you out on this path?
Swami Kriyananda: Well, I was always seeking truth from childhood. And I identified truth with many things, with science, with politics, with art, and I kept coming back to the thought that without God I can’t get to what I’m looking for. The churches had left me cold, but I thought there’s got to be a God. I remember going out, this is in Charleston, South Carolina, and my desire then was to be a playwright, and I was studying theater, and I went out one night, late at night, and I asked, “What can God be if there is a God?” I wasn’t sure there was a God, but if there is a God, what must he be? Well, he can’t be a judge, who’s up there just waiting for us to make a mistake so he can clap us into hell. There’s got to be something more than that. I thought, “Well, what am I, what is enabling me to ask this question? Because I’m conscious. And where did I get this consciousness?” It didn’t come from the brain. When I find that I am more conscious, it’s because I’m in tune with a higher reality. When I’m less conscious, it’s because I’ve cut off that entunement to some extent. Maybe through drinking, through anger, through whatever. And I realized then that God has to be an infinite consciousness, and that I had to be an expression of that consciousness. And that the goal of life then must be to become more and more in tune with that consciousness. And I decided to give my life to God. And around that time, to make a long story short, I found Autobiography of a Yogi. I had always been very rational, but I’d always used reason in such a way as to convince myself that reasoning alone would not solve anything, really. Reasoning is theoretical. Until you feel with your heart, you don’t know if a thing is true. I found that book was absolutely authentic. I absolutely knew it was the truth. My whole heart accepted it. And I took the next bus across America and came to Yogananda, this was in 1948, and I said, “I want to be your disciple.” And now in another week I will be celebrating my 60th year of discipleship.
(We sat in silence for some time at this point)
LG: Sometimes the best questions come from silence.
SK: Also the best answers.
LG: Whether it’s governments, corporations, or religions it seems that every organization that is ego based and built on old paradigms of competition and secrecy are breaking down. In regard to religion what do you think the difference is between religion and spirituality?
SK: Religion is organized, and spirituality is what the individual feels in his relationship with truth and with God. And although spirituality may be expressed in a religion, many people are spiritual and never go to church. They aren’t religious in the sense that they practice a certain type of discipline.
LG: I can only speak for myself but on a personal level the only thing meaningful I have ever learned of spirituality, or what some would call God, has been experiential and actually, it would be impossible to transmit that to another person through traditional communication.
SK: Yes, you can’t go further than that. You can accept it that it may be true what somebody else says, but until you have experienced it, it is not dynamic to your own awareness.
LG: I was talking with my daughter once about something and she asked, “What do you mean?” and I said, “Well, it would be like if I eat a piece of fruit, I can taste it, I can feel it, I can be nourished from it, and I can tell you about it, but . . .”
SK: Until you’ve tasted it, you can’t really know it.
LG: Yes, there is spiritual nourishment that comes only through direct contact and experience of any truth. This is what I think gets lost in a lot of belief systems built around rigid dogmas.
SK: Absolutely. Spirituality means seeking experience. Not just belief.
LG: When I was walking around Ananda today I was struck with a deep sense of purpose and realized that the only way a place like this could come into manifestation is through intent and purpose. What do you think the real, essential essence and purpose of Ananda is?
SK: The essence of Ananda is both personal and sociological. Personally for people who seek truth or identities of God, it helps to be with other people who share those ideals. Environment is stronger than willpower, and when you are with people who have high ideals, it helps you to grow in your ideals. Sociologically, I think it is the most important thing going on in the world today. Because you can’t change people by force. Communism made a great mistake in trying to inflict its beliefs on everybody. People have to find their own understanding, and if you can offer them an example that will inspire, they will come naturally to it. Ananda tries to offer this inspiring example.
LG: One thing that I see with communities like this is the high resonance of the people here. If you can bring your vibration up, you can receive higher frequencies that contain a level of truth that most people can’t receive in normal society. And then you can disseminate that same information out into the community in more traditional ways that people can understand.
SK: Quite so. This is why communities help.
LG: With what’s going on the world today, I think it is really important to have dialogue with people you don’t agree with, and for curiosity I called up Amnesty International, and they told me that today there are 15 religious wars going on in the world. And these wars are usually based upon collective beliefs. Of course a lot of these wars are people with agendas hiding under the umbrella of a particular religion.
SK: Abstract beliefs.
LG: Yes, I’m talking about the kind of beliefs where you’re pretending that you know something that really you don’t know and probably have no way of knowing.
SK: Quite right.
LG: What are your thoughts on these kinds of conflicts?
SK: Well, I think they’re just what you say. They are ego based; it’s a mistake to think that God has conflict with anything. He’s everything. So the more close you are to God, how can you be in conflict with anybody? Conflict comes from ego, and from thinking, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” If I can reach the point where I understand that what is right for me may be different than what is right for you, that would be a good step. But most people don’t reach that point, and so they fight about it.
LG: So how do you handle your own personal inner conflict, or do you have inner conflict?
LG: How did you get to this point?
SK: I don’t really know. I had conflict with my church, because I couldn’t accept what they were telling me. But when I met my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, I knew that he knew. And so I offered my life to him and asked him to correct me. And no, I don’t feel any conflict. I just know what I want and that’s what I’m seeking.
LG: That’s a good place to be, Swami. I read a lot of religious and spiritual books and sometimes when I read the Bible, mostly the New Testament, I read a lot of really inspirational thoughts that are attributed to Jesus, and I would like to hear your thoughts on some of his sayings. For instance, “Ye too are gods, even as I am.”
SK: That was the time when he declared, “I and my father are one.” It was because the Jews took up stones to stone him, and he said, “What do you want to stone me for?” That shows to me first of all that he had a great deal of courage and a good sense of humor. He wasn’t saying it self-pityingly, “I’ve done all these good things; why are you not . . .?” He was just saying, “What good thing are you criticizing me for?” But then they said, “We’re not condemning you or stoning you for the good things you have done, but for the blasphemy of saying you and God are one.” And then he responded, “No, your scripture is saying that you are God.” The truth is that we are a part of God. God could not have created anything except out of his own consciousness. We’re all his dream, and our duty in life that God has assigned to us, that the universe has placed squarely in our laps, is to find out who we really are. “Gnothi seauton,” as the Greeks used to say. “Know thyself.” But to know thyself, if you trace it back, to the deeper and deeper levels, you discover that that self is not your body or your ego or your personality or your country or anything, that’s just a sack of self-definitions that you carry around with you. But what is your true self is the God within you who became you, and when you realize that you are not yourself but you are he, then you discover that you and he are one, just as Jesus said. Jesus was a great master, and he had great teachings for the world, and when it says in the Bible, “All those who received him, to them gave the power to become the sons of God.” The thing is that the ego cannot cure itself of its own malady of egoism; it’s already infected by the disease itself. And that is why it is necessary to go to a guru who knows God and by absorbing his consciousness into yourself, you discover that you aren’t this ego. You cross that abyss and you find that you are infinite. So what Jesus taught must be understood from the deepest level and that is one of the best sayings to show that he was talking in that way. In the book Revelations from Christ, I found out something that Yogananda said. That Jesus had said son of men and son of God, and people often misunderstand so sometimes the translations themselves are wrong for that reason. So when he said son of man he meant his human body and personality. When he said son of God, he meant the infinite Christ consciousness with which he’d obtained oneness. So take it from there. What other questions?
LG: Oh, how about one that we seem to have all but ignored because of its inconvenience and difficulty, which is “Love your enemy”?
SK: Your enemy is still yourself. You don’t have enemies. They may be self-styled. I have plenty of self-styled enemies. I don’t wish them harm. I know that everybody is seeking bliss. And they’re all looking for it mostly in the wrong ways, and as a result of that, they err, but there’s no reason to hate them; they just don’t know any better. Jesus himself on the cross said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And so people who hate you, that’s their problem. It doesn’t have to be your problem. I wish them well.
LG: Yes. It’s also disarming to have a person love you unconditionally and to wish you well when you are holding on to anger or hatred.
You know, on my own personal search through meditation, and through inner reflection, and really trying to grasp what waking up and enlightenment are about, I’ve run into an obstacle, and the obstacle is this. I’ve come to the realization that a part of my personality that I have identified with will not be there after I wake up. This creates a situation sometimes where I think I’m working toward waking up only to find out that, once again, I have been deceiving myself.
SK: And that’s why you need the help of a guru. If you begin to identify yourself with that inner awareness, and then you realize you’re not really doing anything. As long as there’s the thought, “I’m trying to wake up,” that thought of “I” is still there. That is why there is a story in the Gita, the scriptures of India, that my guru told me. That a man was being bothered by a demon, and he looked in the Vedas and the Vedas gave him a mantra and it said to throw powder on the demon saying this mantra. So the man said the mantra and cast this powder on the demon and the demon laughed and he said, “Before you even began your mantra, I myself got into the powder.” And so this is a story indicative of the fact that the very ego with which you’re trying to dissolve ego is already the problem. And that’s why it’s virtually impossible for man to rise above this state without the help of somebody who’s already got there.
LG: Maybe that’s why the idea of surrender has been coming to my mind a lot lately.
SK: Yes. But surrender also means your back’s to the wall and saying, “Okay, I give up.” But rather it’s a joyful self-offering. When you come to the point of realizing that “I never get it right. I always make a mess of things; I can’t do anything right. Let him do it.” And then you ask his power to do it through you and you find suddenly that it works that way.
LG: So what is it in me, when I look in the mirror, and say, “I am God,” what is it in me that feels uncomfortable with that?
SK: It’s the fact that your body and your personality are not God. God is you. But you can’t say you are God just as the ocean is all the waves, but you can’t say one wave is the ocean. And so you manifest God in a way that you don’t understand. Man himself is the image of God, but he doesn’t see that image in himself. And you need to meditate, and there will come your answer, not looking in the mirror.