PUNE: It is hard to miss the reversal of roles between the East and the West, when you meet J. Donald Walter a.k.a. Swami Kriyananda, the 78-year-old yogi and guru from the US.
At a time when religion equals fundamentalism and “men of god” increasingly come under the scrutiny of law in this land of spiritualism, Kriyananda shifted to Delhi two years ago from the US to spread the word of his guru — Paramhansa Yogananda.
The latter was, perhaps, India’s first spiritual ambassador to the US, who settled in the US way back in 1920.
Kriyananda was on a visit to the ‘Victorious Kidss Educares’, an “alternative school” in Koregaon Park, Pune, on its fifth foundation day on Wednesday. The reversal of roles continued during the visit as he faced Western, rationalist questions like: what made an affluent 22-year-old New Yorker like him embrace Indian philosophy and way of life in 1948? What is the need to impart spiritual learning, and can it indeed be taught? What practical steps could he suggest to the uninitiated?
“After I read my guru’s book, ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’, I just knew I had to meet him. I took a bus from New York to LA. It took four days and four nights, back in 1948,” says Kriyananda.
He was just out of university then, and was expected to make a career as a singer. But, “I was a seeker then”, he says. Asked to explain why not many 22-year-olds are interested in seeking god, Kriyananda attributes it to the very Indian theory of reincarnation.
“The urge to seek knowledge, truth or god comes from a past incarnation. It is not right to assume we learn everything during a single life time,” he says. Having met his guru, he stayed on for three-and-a-half years. “He taught us meditation and energising exercises.
The one remarkable thing about him was he knew my thoughts. The other was his humility. There was never any ego in him. From him, I learnt that being great was not to make others any less.”
Like all gurus, Kriyananda uses anecdotes to answer questions. He tells a sceptic, “A man once asked me to define god, given he was an atheist. I told him, ‘Imagine the highest potential for you to be god’.”
The most interesting thing he recounts about his guru is his vision for India and the US. “India and US are destined to unite spiritually and lead the world to harmony.”
This, perhaps, brings the guru to India after decades. East meets West: A US guru in India Pune: Paramhans Yogananda’s teachings emphasised the direct inner experience of god, which he called selfrealisation. Based on his teachings, Swami Kriyananda founded Ananda Sangh communities in the US in 1968. It has over 1,000 people in six communities in the US and one in Italy today. The eighth one was founded at Gurgaon, New Delhi, in 2003.
Kriyananda has written over 70 books and composed 400 pieces of music. He has shown how to apply spiritual principles to art, music, education, business, relationships, and much more. He is also presently formulating a home study course.