Conversations with Yogananda
by Swami Kriyananda
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It has taken me over fifty years to publish these conversations. For all that time, the notebooks containing them were my most precious possession, and their protection my first care. In the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, where I resided for many years, forest fires are a major threat. I therefore kept in mind always that, should my home ever be threatened by fire, my first duty would be to save this material. Everything else was secondary. I kept the notebooks locked securely in a safe. When, eventually, I moved to Italy in 1996, I brought the notebooks along with me, taking the loving care of them that a father would devote to his only, delicate child.
Now at last that responsibility has been discharged. You would certainly be justified, dear reader, in asking me, "What on earth took you so long?" My answer, however, would be equally justified: It takes time to excavate a diamond mine. Discipleship is a long-term commitment. To convey to others the wisdom of a great master requires a certain maturity in the disciple also.
I've been a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda's since 1948. I was twenty-two when I came to him. In May of 1950, he began urging me to record our conversations. I couldn't, however, contemplate publishing them soon; I was hardly more than a boy then. The spiritual value of his words, however, was not limited to the time when they were spoken. The conversations are as immediate today as they were then, over fifty-three years ago. Indeed, they will remain so thousands of years from now. Meanwhile, my memory, fortunately, remains fresh; I have not had to depend exclusively on my notes, and have even added material to them, from memory. I present them here as clearly as if they had occurred yesterday. I believe, friend, that you will find many new insights in these pages. Some of them may be unexpected by you, for the life and actions of my great Guru followed no well-worn rut, and were never ruled by conventions that he considered pointless. He was a way-shower, not an institution.
Some of this material has already appeared in two others of my books, namely, The Path, and The Essence of Self-Realization. A few other sayings have appeared also in print, notably in the book A Place Called Ananda. The first of those three, The Path, was published in 1978. I gave it an autobiographical form, to help others to know something of what the life of discipleship was like under that great master. The reason I made it an autobiography was that I felt incompetent, still, to write about him with any authority, and wanted to give discerning readers a chance to separate whatever they might deem unworthy of the Guru from the imperfect instrument who was trying with his pen to do him justice. I hoped also that others would find in my own search for truth, leading as it did to the feet of Paramhansa Yogananda, answers to their own spiritual seeking. To my great satisfaction, this latter hope has been realized in many thousands of readers.
There remained much material that was not used in The Path, or that I quoted there only partly, in the hope of using the rest of it again later to better advantage. My thought was, Let me advance further on the spiritual path; perhaps in another twenty years I'll be able to present this material with greater wisdom.
In February, 1990, I abstracted selections from those notes for a second book, which I titled, The Essence of Self-Realization. The material I chose was limited to that theme. If, therefore, a quotation contained other teachings which weren't relevant to the subject, I omitted those portions. In some cases, that material has been included here in its entirety. There remained much more material, covering a wide range of topics. Most of it—leaving out any conversations that might hurt or offend living persons—appears in this volume.
A quarter of a century has elapsed since The Path was written and published. Since then, I have prayed for guidance as to when I should release the rest of the material for publication. Always the response I felt intuitively was, "The time will come. Be patient."
As one's life slips by, increasing age forces on him an awareness that his time on earth is growing steadily shorter. How long would this body live? Hundreds of years might be desirable for a work of this nature, but if I put it off too long it would have to be finished by someone else, and under the considerable disadvantage of not having even known the Master. I had to accept that my position for undertaking this labor was unique, however incompetently I did it. In 1996, I passed my Biblically allotted threescore and ten years. Increasingly, the completion of this book was becoming a top priority. To be fair to these conversations, I couldn't simply toss them out disjointedly, without any commentary or explanation. They needed to be presented in their proper setting, and not left dangling in midair, like an abused participle.
A gemstone's beauty is enhanced when it is set in a piece of jewelry. Thus too, the clarity of these sayings would be enhanced if the reader could know, wherever possible, to whom the Master was speaking, when he spoke, and where and why. The perceptive reader, moreover, would have no difficulty in detecting any artificial mise en scene in this regard. Here again I was, in most cases, the only one who knew the whole "picture."
Recently, the guidance came to me at last to begin this work. Though I saw it as a labor of love, the magnitude of the challenge had always, I confess, daunted me. Not only did I expect it would take at least two years—not so very long a time, perhaps; others of my books have taken longer. The really daunting part, for me, was that I had no idea how to arrange these conversations into any logical sequence. I had been accustomed, when writing, to develop a theme gradually. My mind resisted the idea of simply scrambling groups of unrelated thoughts together randomly. Yet randomness proved, in the end, the best way. Indeed, it was the only possible way. The conversations were simply too varied, and in many cases too brief, to be put in any sequence.
To my astonishment, the work simply flowed. Much of it entailed, of course, simply transferring to my computer what existed already in my notebooks. I found, however, that apart from grouping a few of the conversations together I could leave the sequence more or less as it was already, or heed an inner guidance that said, "Why not put this one here, and that one there?"—without effort on my part. It has taken me hardly two months to finish the entire book.
Throughout these pages I've referred to myself, when necessary, in the first person. This method seemed to me simpler and clearer than the common, and perfectly legitimate, third-person device. To help the reader to distinguish when the first person refers to me and not to Paramhansa Yogananda, I've occasionally inserted parenthetically the name by which he himself used to call me, "Walter."