I first met Swami Kriyananda on an October evening in Berkeley, California in 1968, a few months after my graduation from college. I was waiting on a sidewalk with a few others for someone to unlock the building where that evening’s class was to be held, the first in a series on hatha yoga and raja yoga led by Swami Kriyananda. I had heard his voice on the radio a few weeks prior speaking about his guru Paramhansa Yogananda, and I was responding to his invitation to learn more. I had little idea about what to expect, but because I had recently read Yogananda’s autobiography, I was eager and curious.
After a short wait, I noticed a stranger approaching, but unlike those of us at the door dressed in typical student fashion, the new arrival’s dress immediately caught my attention. I thought, “This must be Swami Kriyananda.” To this day, I clearly remember that first view I had of him. As he navigated the busy street, he carried a harmonium and wore an orange dhoti and Indian kurta (both unusual in those days), black dress socks, polished leather shoes and ……a French beret. That last item was so incongruous, I immediately, for some unknown reason, felt an attraction.
I didn’t at that time have language to describe what I felt, but now, fifty years later, I would describe Swamiji as having “magnetism,” a subtle power of attraction that drew me. It was as if an appealing aura surrounded him as he approached. I simply knew, intuitively, that this was a man who was “genuine,” someone who walked his own path, was inwardly guided, and who was someone from whom I could learn.
Magnetism, the soul’s power of attraction, is a characteristic trait of all great souls. Like a strong flow of energy in the physical world generates a measurable magnetic field, so too saintly souls naturally manifest an attractive power through the creation of a strong upward flow of energy within. Indeed, magnetism in the highest sense is an expression of divine love, but on lower levels, it’s the power to attract what we need when we need it, a requisite for any advanced spiritual seeker.
Swami Kriyananda’s magnetism naturally drew people to him; they liked being in his company because he was positive and energetic, and in those days, so physically energetic. It was as if an inner light was burning within him. I don’t know if others felt as I did, but my immediate reaction was, “That’s how I want to be,” with little idea about how to proceed.
In retrospect, I see that dormant tendencies from past lives were stirred by my reading of Yogananda’s autobiography and consequently guided my steps. After the class, I introduced myself and told Swamiji of my interest in Kriya yoga and my desire to learn more. He was gracious, gave me a few suggestions, and invited me to visit him at his flat in San Francisco so as to “get to know me better.” To make a long story short, that’s exactly what I did, and my life completely changed!
From that first encounter onward, I found myself under Swami Kriyananda’s magnetic influence, wordlessly absorbing countless lessons he exemplified in his own life. Here are three important ones I learned during my first year with him.
- “Say Yes to Life” was the title of a musical album recorded by Swamiji in the 1960’s. It characterized his approach to life. Be positive, energetic, and enthusiastic in whatever you do, and you will generate a flow of magnetic power. Resist the temptation to say, “Yes, but….” Simply say “Yes” to whatever challenge (opportunity?) life presents and respond appropriately and positively. As a great saint once said, “Say ‘yes’ and make it snappy.”
- “Stand up straight!” Swamiji commanded me, observing my lackadaisical slouch. “A bent spine is the enemy of Self-realization.” Seemingly a simple piece of advice, I found that these words held meaning on levels far deeper than the physical alone. Magnetism results from strong energy flows that come with good physical, mental, emotional and spiritual posture, all combined with right attitude.
- “Be in tune” was the most important advice of all. Magnetism is acquired by a weak magnet when in the presence of a strong magnet, but only if the weak magnet is open to receiving it. Our ability to attune ourselves to the source of blessings determines that which is received. Though all of us in that first class responded favorably to Swamiji, only I took the additional step of becoming his student. There was something within me that responded to what he had to offer, just as an iron magnet may attract metals of a certain type and have little influence upon others. As Saint John said of Christ, “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the Sons of God.”