Swami Kriyananda (1926-2013), a direct disciple of the renowned yoga master Paramhansa Yogananda, was the founder of Ananda Sangha Worldwide; nine spiritual communities, including Ananda Pune; and many more teaching centers and meditation groups. He was also an internationally known author, lecturer, and composer who will forever be remembered and celebrated as one the great spiritual renaissance figures of our time.
Years with Yogananda
In 1948, at the age of 22, Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters) found Yogananda’s now famous Autobiography of a Yogi in New York City, and the next day he left on a cross-country bus to meet the saint who he felt “was the truest friend I had ever known.” At their first meeting in Los Angeles, Kriyananda knew that here was a true guru, one united with God. Yogananda accepted him as a disciple that very day, and Kriyananda began a new life in search of divine joy. From then until 1952, when Yogananda consciously left his body in mahasamadhi, Kriyananda worked increasingly close with this great Self-realised avatar.
”You have a great work to do.”
Your work,” Yogananda told Kriyananda, “is writing, editing, and lecturing.”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.
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 worship all in one place, living for God and serving Him with fellow devotees. He called these communities “World Brotherhood Colonies.”
In 1968 Kriyananda founded Ananda, and with it the first world brotherhood colony in California. He named it Ananda Village. Unlike secluded spiritual communities comprised solely of monks and nuns, Ananda Village included both householders and formal renunciates.
Ananda Village today, over 45 years later, is surely the world’s most successful spiritual community, and the model of cooperative, harmonious living for which it is famous has since seen the creation of eight other Ananda communities worldwide, of which Ananda Pune in India is the most recent.
What has enabled Ananda to survive and thrive when countless others have failed? Kriyananda based the founding of Ananda’s communities on two principles primarily:
(1) People are more important than things, and (2) “Jato dharma, tato jaya. Where there is right action, there is victory.” By adherence to these principles, and with dedication to God, Ananda members have been able to meet their challenges with enduring success.
His Lasting Legacy
Swami Kriyananda took the ancient teachings of Raja Yoga and made them practical and immediately useful for people in every walk of life. His books and teachings on spiritualizing nearly every field of human endeavor include business life, leadership, education, the arts, community, and science. He wrote extensive commentaries on the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, both based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda.
The list of Swami Kriyananda’s creative achievements is truly astonishing. In the 65 years after Kriyananda took discipleship to Paramhansa Yogananda, he:
• Founded 9 spiritual communities.
• Gave thousands of lectures, based on his Guru’s teachings.
• Wrote 150 books on subjects ranging from scriptural interpretation, yoga, art, leadership, and material success, to the life and wisdom of Yogananda.
• Composed 400 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, Europe, and India live in the Ananda’s World Brotherhood Colonies, adhering to a lifestyle that has brought inspiration to people around the world. Interestingly, many visitors to one of these communities often wonder at first, “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 ever achieved, he laid at the feet of his Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda.