Traveling with Swamiji – Introduction
by Lawrence Vijay Girard
I never imagined until it happened, that I would meet and become associated with a truly great human being. Certainly I had read in history books about individuals who accomplish great deeds, but I didn’t really have any idea what they were like as people or what gave them the power to achieve excellence in life. Even less understood than those who stand out for their outward successes are those who shine because of their spiritual radiance. I was not raised with a concept of what spiritual greatness should look like, or even what value it might have.
Now I can say though my own life experience that there is no greater good fortune in life than that we should become associated with the person that is to have the greatest positive spiritual influence on our lives. Yet why we should need such a person, and how we might find and recognize that person, are subjects that many never discuss. Once such a person has come into our lives an even larger mystery presents itself: How can we most effectively understand and grow in that relationship? For how can we prosper in a situation to which we don’t understand the rules or even, clearly, the goal of the game?
The path of discipleship seems to many an anathema to the ideal of freedom. I certainly had no basis for understanding it when I first discovered that there was even a path of discipleship to follow. As a young American I grew up with a fierce sense of independence. In the 1960’s I was firmly anti-establishment and determined to find my own way in life. No one was going to tell me what to do about anything! I would live life on my own terms, guided by my own choices.
The only problem was that I wasn’t happy. And in fact, I didn’t know anyone who was. My education as a child didn’t include any discussion that I can remember on the subject of what happiness actually is or how to make choices that will lead to happiness. So I was left on my own to discover where lasting fulfillment in life can be found.
It was during my teenage years that I began a conscious quest to understand life’s purpose. I wanted to know if life has meaning, or is it just one big mass of chaos? I was searching for the resolution of not only the injustices that I saw in life, but the positive fulfillment of my heart’s need to love and be loved. I searched both within myself and in the world around me to find out what I could about how life works, and what I could do to point my life in a direction that would free me from the empty feeling of lack that plagued my heart. I deeply longed to find solace in a world that I found to be simultaneously beautiful and terrible.
As I look back at my life’s journey, I observe that even though I might not have recognized it at the time, each and every person I’ve met has had within them a spark of the extraordinary. It isn’t that everyone is what would generally be called a “great person” with the perfect blend of intelligence, strength, love, humor, dignity and charm. I have met many dull and uninteresting people, as well as, some who were just plain mean and unpleasant to be around. What I have observed is that life itself is so wondrous that hidden in the ups and downs of each person’s life is the very real potential for greatness. Life itself is trying to blossom through every molecule of the Creation into something glorious. Each person’s struggle to reconcile with that universal urge is very much a part of what I hope to explore with you during our time together.
Each of us has within ourselves an instinctive belief that we can, or could have been, depending on our current stage of life – truly great in this life. Of course greatness means different things to different people. When I was a boy I thought that greatness was a fireman, a sports hero, or a movie star. Many people see greatness as material wealth or worldwide recognition. What I am referring to is that deep down belief/urge that we all have that tells us that we have an as yet untapped potential in us that is trying to come out if we can just come to grips with what it is and how to develop it. That mysterious voice calls to us from within and tells us that true fulfillment – whatever exactly that might be – can be achieved.
I am not talking about the ego’s desire to be great. That kind of greatness is like a balloon that eventually pops from the pressure of its own limitations. The greatness of the soul has no such boundaries…but then I am getting ahead of myself!
In 1969 I read a book called, Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramhansa Yogananda. As you will see, this book had a dramatic affect on my life. Three years later, in 1972, I met and became associated with Swami Kriyananda, who is a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda. Swami Kriyananda’s name at birth was James Donald Walters, but I have known him with both respect and affection as Swamiji.
A complete discussion of Swami Kriyananda’s outward accomplishments would certainly take a book unto itself. As the author of over 85 books, two plays and the composer of over 400 pieces of music, along with founding seven residential communities with over 1,000 residents and two internationally respected retreat facilities, he has touched millions of lives through his music, books and lectures. The sheer volume of his productivity alone puts him in a class with the upper echelon of men. If we then add his truly fresh expression of creative spirituality to all aspects of life to the tally, he must then be placed in that rare category for those who have transcended mere intellectual creativity: to divine expression.
Yet these worthy accomplishments are secondary to the purpose of my story. Swamiji’s greatest achievement, which gives power to his outward expressions, is how he has lived and who he has become as a person, and as a soul, through his own journey of discipleship.
When I first met Swamiji I hadn’t the faintest conception of the profound influence he would have on my life. Nor did I fully realize the scope and depth of who he was and what he had to share. I couldn’t have anticipated that I would travel around the world with him. And I had no idea that traveling with Swamiji on a seven and a half month adventure, which included four and half months in India, would be just a small, yet transforming, part of the tapestry that life has woven into my over thirty year relationship with him.
Sharing some of the fruits of my lifelong quest to understand how life works, along with my spiritual education and inspirations with Swamiji is a daunting task. For not only have I made many potentially embarrassing mistakes, I also realize that I am attempting to pass on information about a tradition that has for thousands of years guided truth thirsty souls to the well of life’s most precious nectar. I am honored and humbled in this task.
Though I have not yet reached the zenith of my own spiritual quest, I believe that in some strange way it may be easier for you to consider what I say because I am not transcended into some seemingly out-of-reach person. Yet at the same time, I would warn you against making a mistake that I have made many times. I thought that to receive perfect teachings, you needed to have a perfect teacher. I have found that just isn’t true. While it might be nice to have a teacher who is a perfected being, the key to successful learning, no matter the status of the teacher, is to be as perfect a student as possible. It is also important to remember that the most perfect teachings for us are those that we need right here and now.
In order to become both worthy and adept students we must explore the depths of true discipleship; for true learning is not just an intellectual process, it is a form of osmosis that can only take place when we are truly and fully open to the lessons that life places before us. The spiritual masters throughout history are not great because they are masters, but because they are all great disciples. It is the path of true discipleship that leads to spiritual fulfillment.
I offer this view into my life, Swamiji, my spiritual family, and the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda with a multifold purpose. The first is to stand up and say, “Thank You.” Thank you to God who has blessed and guided my life through the channel of my guru Paramhansa Yogananda. Thank you to my friend and guide Swami Kriyananda who, along with acting as an incredible example of discipleship, took me under his wing and has guided my spirit with endless patience and love. And thank you to all the souls of my spiritual family who have acted as channels to enrich my life, inspire me to push forward in times of difficulty, and share the spoils of inner joy when life is lived for God.
I also want to bear witness to the having experienced that Sanaatan Dharma, the Eternal Religion, is alive and well, blossoming through the hearts of sincere devotees all around the world. The understanding that the cornerstone of true religion is each person’s personal relationship with God, melts sectarian differences and binds all truth seekers in the oneness of God’s loving presence.
And lastly, I pray that you the reader will find inspiration, hope and a few practical tips for your own spiritual travels. The journey of discipleship is the most challenging of all life endeavors. Fortunately, it leads to the greatest of all goals: God.
Namaste. (Spirit in me bows to Spirit in you.)
P.S. Because of the years that have passed a few of the names of the people who have touched my life have been forgotten. So I have supplied some of those people with imaginary names to help my narrative. To those people I can only say that while your names escape me, your effect on my life does not. I should also mention that the man, Lakshman, who is mentioned in this book, is not the same Lakshman who has been for many years Swamiji’s secretary.