Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters) is the founder of the Ananda communities, and a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda. Through his books, music, and his life of service, he shares wisdom, love, and joy through yoga, meditation, and the spiritual life. He now divides his time between Ananda's original community near Nevada City, California and its European branch in Assisi, Italy. As one of Ananda's teachers here in Seattle, I arranged to obtain this interview with him.
Terry: How should one love God?
Kriyananda: The two approaches are beautifully epitomized in the visions seen by the children of Fatima in 1917. The boy, Francesco, felt the only thing he wanted to do was to console Jesus' sorrow for the many human beings living in materialism, whereas the little girl, Jacinta, felt that what she wanted to do was to help all those people so they wouldn't have to err again. In these two, different responses, you have epitomized the essential paths to God.
Terry: Are these really separate paths, then?
Kriyananda: Both are equally valid and necessary for the individual - there's not really a choice. The one is the wish to forget everything and just love God - like the prodigal son who at last comes home. The other is to go out to help other people to discover that love for themselves. The devotee must learn to bring them both into balance.
Terry: How should we love others?
Kriyananda: God wants us to love not the personality of others, but to love God in others. When you see another human being, don't think of him as just 'old Joe,' but rather see that God is in that form.
Terry: What happens when we try to see God in others?
Kriyananda: When you see God in another person, you encourage that person to express qualities of the soul. Living with my guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, was that kind of experience. He gave us faith in our own goodness and in our divine potential.
Terry: If we see God in all, will we be loved by all?
Kriyananda: Well, of course, love begets love, but you can never please everybody. Those whom you please today may tomorrow become your enemies or may turn away because the mind is restless. Ultimately it's between you and God in your own inner silence. God can never misunderstand you. God will always love you, so open your heart to God. Don't hide anything! Yogananda used to pray "Divine Mother, naughty or good, I am your child and you must release me from delusion." Be confident that even if nobody in the world understands you, God understands you. He knows that the deepest part of your nature is striving for something better.
Terry: What are we seeking?
Kriyananda: We are always searching for our innate goodness. I don't suppose there's anyone in this world, even the worst Mafiosi, who will say, "I am evil." People always have that wish to think of themselves as basically good, and so you find people saying silly things like, "Well I may drink, but at least I don't smoke." People who smoke will say, "Yeah, I know I may smoke but at least I don't drink."
Terry: Then why is our spiritual growth so difficult?
Kriyananda: Paramahansa Yogananda made a very interesting statement. He said that all disease, including ignorance, is the result of the conflict between the upward, God-ward moving energies and the matter-ward, or lower, energies. We are a caught in the midst of a conflict, and it cannot be resolved by trying to ignore it, or by pretending to resolve it in favor of our lower nature.
Terry: How, then, do we resolve this conflict?
Kriyananda: There is another direction to go. All you have to say is, "All right, I'm going to live for those higher ideals: for God, for kindness, for love. In this way, I will transform my lower nature." Yes, it is a struggle. It is a universal struggle. It's the story of the Bhagavad Gita: the warrior caught in the battle between good and bad. Arjuna, the great warrior and disciple of Krishna, says to Krishna, "I don't want to fight those people, they're my own kith and kin! Far better just to let them win than to incur the personal sin of killing those to whom I'm related by blood." Krishna says, "There's no such thing as death. Those who die here will simply be reborn." What he is saying is that each of us thinks that the negative qualities that we have are an inseparable part of our own self, so while one part of you wants to change, the other side of your mind says, "Well, gee, we've had good times together," and so you struggle.
But in the transformation of the lower into the higher self, you find that you don't lose anything! The same energy that went toward feeding a bad habit is feeding a good habit! The main difference is that you begin to feel increasing inner freedom and joy.
Terry: Is this struggle a matter of belief?
Kriyananda: Let's go back to this question of disease. If, by social conditioning, you go against the laws of nature and health, illness can strike regardless of belief. There are whole nations that have certain belief systems that go against nature - for example, cannibalism! There is an energy in the body that is independent of your own belief system. It's angry with you when your vibrations conflict with its vibrations, and as a result you feel something amiss. Life is a process of learning what that law is. When you hurt another person you are hurting yourself. Anything that offends against the law, regardless of belief, will still offend. The law of karma is a universal law. When we go against it, we suffer.
Terry: What is the purpose of this law?
Kriyananda: The law of life and the hidden mission in life is to understand why we are born. We were born to learn how to transform ourselves into the higher self, because that's who we are. We were born out of God, who created everything that exists. It's amazing how many physicists are beginning to say that matter seems to be a product of consciousness. You'll find in every culture, in every age, people who, regardless of education or religious beliefs have had the experience of superconsciousness, and who agree that this knowing is what life is all about. They're even willing to give their lives to help other people find it. This is really the adventure and story of your own life, too.
Terry: But it's a long, difficult road to that victory, isn't it?
Kriyananda: Yes. Some people say, "Why does God have to make it so hard? Why does there have to be so much suffering?" Well, let's make an analogy. Suppose you read a novel. The hero of this novel is born into a rich home on the right side of the railroad tracks. He's handsome, strong, a great athlete. He goes to college, gets the highest degrees. He's brought into a business that quickly rises. Et cetera, et cetera! Somewhere during that story you'll be putting the book down and yawning, "What a bore!"
Now suppose instead that that young man is born on the wrong side of the tracks. He's got to overcome the handicap of poverty. Perhaps he's been born into an immigrant family and doesn't know English well, but he works hard and becomes a successful student. He manages to enter business, but there experiences prejudice due to his background. But he overcomes this too! Isn't this at least a more interesting story?
When you reach the goal, you will look back and say, "It was all worth it!" A disciple of Yogananda once asked him, "I want God so much; why doesn't He come?" Yogananda replied that "His delay makes it all the sweeter when He does come." Besides, down deep you don't want it to come so easily, so stop complaining! (Laughter) Just say, "God, no matter what, I love you." Besides, what kind of dramatist would the Lord be if He couldn't fool you to the end?
Terry: What's the most important thing we should do, then, to reach this goal of life?
Kriyananda: God doesn't care whether you are wise or stupid. The only thing that matters is the purity of your heart - if you love God, and if you love God in others. I meet so many people who are trying to figure it all out. You can see that they think that when they have it all worked out, then they'll understand it - like a big chess game. In a chess game the real understanding comes when we ask, "What am I doing with these silly pawns? Why don't I find something better to do?" Just love God. In that love you find so much joy. In that joy, you know, and nothing else really matters. If others don't love you, that's their problem, but you will suffer if you hate them in return. You'll feel dry and shriveled if you withhold your love.
Terry: You say love is the most important thing, but how do we make that practical?
Kriyananda: Now, with that love [of God] comes the importance of expanding that love through service. Thus, your devotion to God in silent meditation expands into the world. Yogananda said, "Don't think you can win God's love if you haven't yet earned the ability to win people's love." Love others not for the sake of personality or looks but because of that aspiring spirit within them. Then you will find that your heart's love begins to overflow and you feel so much security and joy that there's no worrying about what will happen to you. To see God in all and to love God in all is the way to go. See every opportunity, every person in life, as a window through which God is beckoning you, and you'll see that your whole life is transformed.
Terry: But aren't we supposed to work on getting rid of the ego?
Kriyananda: I hear this often on the spiritual path: "Our egos mustn't get involved!" Well, my answer to that is, "So what else have you got?" You're living in the ego; that's all you know. The way to get out of the ego isn't to suppress your wish to do things, but to do things for God, for others, and not think of yourself. In other words, to overcome the ego is not to stop action, which is what many people think. The Bhagavad Gita specifically answers that you cannot get out of action by not acting. The determination not to act is itself a kind of action.
Terry: So how do we do things for God?
Kriyananda: Be creative, not for glory, but for God. Do everything you do to please God. When you are meditating be actively devotional and actively calm, and when you act, be inwardly still. The more you do it for God, with the thought that it's God you're serving, the more you will feel His joy and inspiration working through you. There won't be that thought anymore: "I'm doing it."
Loving God in silence and in action - doing everything the best you can for Him - you will see that you are drawn up more and more to a state of stillness where the work itself will fall away and only one thing will exist: you - the real you. It isn't that you're obliterated. Rather, you discover that you were never this little body. Ego is simply self-awareness identified with the body and the personality, but to go beyond that ego is to realize who you really are: infinite love, joy, and wisdom. Jesus and other great masters come into this world to show us not how great they are, but how great we are potentially.
When you strip away all these false veils you'll discover that the essence of your reality is absolute joy. Isn't this worth it? There's no other game in town! Nothing else works. The dice are loaded. The House of True Joy wins in the end because whether it takes billions of years or one lifetime you will discover that you are a part of that infinite reality which is all there is!
Joy to you!
For more information on Ananda, its local community near Lynnwood, or meditations and classes, call (206) 523-4343 or contact us at <www.adhost.com/ananda>.