Interview with Goswami Kriyananda Part 4
Where did yoga come in?
It came in through the book and the technique I was practicing. What I did was try to find a spot in the basement or in the closet. I would go in the closet and stay in there for quite some time, whether you want to call it meditating or visualizing or simply being peaceful and quiet, a lot of pranayama. One thing leads to another.
And how did you meet Shelley?
I had a friend I met quite a few years later. Actually, it was in high school. I met a young man. Obviously, the first thing I did when I got to high school was volunteer to be a library sorter to put the books back in the library, so I would have access to all the books. There was another introverted gentleman there called Ken. He taught me how to play chess, which was a pretty nice game. Then he invited me over to the house and I started beating him at the game. And he invited me to play with his father. In the old days they had this 3x5 file cards of every move. They didn’t have computers. He beat me very badly for quite some time and one day I got onto his method.
Anyway, we became close friends. He no longer liked me-the father. The mother liked me because I beat him. She said I was the only person who was ever able to beat him. She told me she had a sister up in the Canadian border. She knew I was a little bit strange.She said there was another strange one up by the Canadian border. I asked who he was and what he did and she wasn’t sure at all, but he had interesting hands. She thought he was doing the same thing I was doing. But she didn’t know what I was doing or what he was doing. I asked her for his address and she wrote her sister who mailed the address and gave it to me. I wrote a letter to Shelley and asked him, “Do you know anything about yoga?” And he wrote back to me a very short note. He said the only thing I know about yoga is what I learned sitting at the feet of a Hindu master. That was it. That was Yogananda.
So I wrote him back and asked if I could come visit him. And I visited him off and on, over and over, until finally I asked to become a disciple. I asked if I could move in with him, which is rather imposing but he said yes.
I remember the first time that I met Shelley by the Canadian border in Minnesota. It was a rather difficult time because it was the rainy season and all the roads had been washed out, and I was sure the sister of Ken’s mother said “I don’t think you’re going to get through when it rains like this.” The road are blocked for months sometimes. It’s just totally isolated out there on the backside of the lake.
It was raining and raining and they were all dirt roads. The man driving me up there said “I think we have to turn back.” He had the radio going, and he said, “One more of these and we simply have to stop and go back.” He had the radio going, and he said, “One more of these and we simply have to stop and go back.” And we got to the last washed out part of the river coming across, and he said, “I really can’t make it.” I just put my head in my lap. I wasn’t crying, but he felt my pain. And he said, “Oh, what the hell, it’s not too new of a car.” And he started forwards very slowly to get across the river flow that was crossing.
I remember at that point on the radio the song “Red Wing” came on. All of a sudden I hear him say, We’re gonna make it. We’re going to get there.” I thought it had to be an important song. It was true, that for two or three decades every time I heard that song, something mystical and very important in my life always occurred thereafter.
Anyway, at that time Marjorie came to the door and said, “So we’ve been expecting you. We didn’t expect you to get through.” I came in and she invited the man in and he said, “No no, I really have to be getting back. It’s getting quite dark.” So he left immediately I’m standing there with my little suitcase because I was supposed to stay there for a week. I sat in the kitchen. It was a small little cabin. I waited for him for a long, long time. It seemed like hours but I’m sure it was 10 or 15 minutes.
Finally he came in dressed in all black with a little white scarf tucked around his neck as he always did. And the sun was just setting, He came to me and clicked his heels and bowed. I’m thinking, “What kind of yogi is this?” Obviously he was telling me something from a past life. He clicked his heels like a good German officer should.
Anyway, we chit chatted and Marjorie made supper. We were all around the table and they said, “Sit down” and I wouldn’t sit down until he sat down. And he wouldn’t sit down until she sat down and she was busy and finally everybody got into position and he finally sat down.
I took my chair and sat down across the table from him. One of the most powerful, mystical, visional states took place as I sat down on my chair and looked up at him. It was almost like in a movie were the whole room was filled with white smoke-not a danger signal, but like a cumulus cloud, and on one side was he and the other side of the table was me, and then the table and all the people disappeared and there was just he and I and we were pushed back into a past life memory experience. It lasted. I was silent for quite some time.
And I looked up and I said, “Shelley, did you see that?”
And he looked at me with a Scorpion grin and picked up a carrot and said, “Aren’t these carrots good?” He didn’t say yes or no. And obviously at that point I knew there was a powerful link from the path, both by his symbolism, the way he greeted me and also by the visional state.
He gave me a couple of techniques and I went back home and I practiced those. And for a couple of years I tried to go once or twice a year for a week. And then I finally told him I really wanted to come and study with him at the ashram. As I said, he finally said yes.
How long did you stay with him?
I was there off and on from the first time I met him until I was drafted out of the army. It was about a three year period, I believe I was out of high school by then. By the time I went up there, I had finished two years of college and I had stopped college to go study what I thought was far more important than mathematics, chemistry and physics.
What were your days like with him? Did you work up there?
Days were relatively simple. When he woke up he went through an hour ritual of breathing Kriya and we all had to be very quiet. During the rest of the day I basically chopped wood for the fireplace or tilled the garden. Very simple things like that.
The pattern was that after we ate, I helped with the dishes. Sometimes it was 7:30, sometimes 8:30 or 9:30. Around that time he had a signal. The way he held his hand and sort of looked at me and nodded, which meant I could ask a question. When that happened usually the other two children had gone to bed because they usually got up quite early. And Marjorie at that point went in the other room and closed the door and read a book.
And I’d ask a question and he’d think for five or ten seconds and then he would start answering the question. And he would continue to answer questions but if I nodded my head a little like I got sleepy, he’d say, “Well, it’s time to go to bed.” I’d say, “No, I’m wide awake.” And he’d say, “Well, I’m sleepy.” And that was the end of it. If I remained alert, he would talk until 7 the next morning without stopping. And then he would say to me, “and Kriyananda, that is the answer to your question which was…” and I’d stop for a minute and ask myself, “What the hell was the question I asked 7 hours ago.” He had it indelibly in his head.
And this went on day after day. And so I realized I had to be very careful because if I asked a frivolous question, he’d spend eight hours on it. It became obvious there was one question per night. I had to take part of the time to study and think of which question was most vital.
What kind of questions did you ask him?
Basically every question I could think of, to begin with, were based around questions like, “Why is everybody suffering? Why is everybody so stupid? Why is God mad at man?” Things of this nature. And the answers were profound.
But the answer was that God made us with our free will and he can’t interfere with the free will. And he sits there sadly as we make a mess of our life. But that’s how we grow, like a kid trying to learn how to walk. The parent sees the kid fall and skin his knees and doesn’t want him to skin his knees. And it carries the kid and the kid will never learn how to walk.
Later on he pointed out that we as earthlings really were not created by God, that we are self-created beings like God himself, the self-existent one. So it all slowly fell into place. And I thought, “Wow, why don’t they teach that in church?” I remember as a young child saying that to him. And he laughed, and that was the first time I ever heard him really roar. He laughed and laughed and laughed. And over the years I heard that laugh so many times. And he always said, “Kriyananda, I love your humor. Now who would want to teach a religion that said you don’t need priests. Who would want to teach a religion that said God is good and that it’s in direct relationship to “you made it, you correct it.” You can’t collect any money on that. You can’t control people like that.
Don’t you think that now, people support yoga. They do want to hear that type of thing. They want to know truth now, but maybe not back then?
Well different organizations have different concepts and attract different types of people. Some want to know truth. I remember one day at the ashram, it was late in the evening and someone had come from New York. And he came to see Shelley. He said, “I have one question, Shelley. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
And Shelley said, “Yes, what is the question?”
And I figured, “Well, here goes an eight hour discourse.”
And the man says, “Is there a God?”
And without any hesitation, Shelley said, “Yes.” And you know, that was the beginning of the eight hours. And the mans stood up and said, “Thank you.” and he left. He just wanted a yes or no. He didn’t want any explanation. And Shelley said a lot of people are like that. That they just want someone to reaffirm there is goodness and God. After that, they’re no longer interested in the philosophy.
But he said to me, “You see, Kriyananda, not everyone is like you and I.”