The serialized audiobook version of "Swami Kriyananda As We Have Known Him," by Asha Praver.
[Listen to Asha read this story] Paula checked herself into the hospital because of severe bronchitis, but I think she knew the cancer had returned for the third time. The doctors tried one more procedure, but in the middle, she went into convulsions and for a few moments her heart stopped. After that, the doctor said, “There is nothing else we can do.” She lived three more days. It was one long going-away party, with constant phone calls, a steady stream of visitors, and a crowd of friends and family camped out in her hospital room. She was much loved and would be sorely missed. It was impossible to be sad, however, for Paula was obviously in a state of grace. She had a little unfinished business with a few people, but by afternoon of the third day, it was all done. The transition came suddenly, in the middle of a conversation about coffee. (Paula loved coffee.) She stopped talking, gazed upward, then closed her eyes. An even deeper aura of holiness descended and we fell silent. Paula began to murmur ecstatically, “Swamiji, Swamiji, Swamiji, Swamiji.” From then on, there was a subtle shift. Paula continued to relate to the people around her, but her attention was no longer on this world. She was focused now on the world beyond. To one of her Ananda visitors she said, “You must listen to Swamiji. You must help him, and do everything he asks of you. You don’t know what you have in him.” Around midnight she organized a ceremony. Nothing solemn, that wasn’t Paula’s way. She was dying the same way she lived—light-hearted, happy, almost child-like in her devotion. From Master’s book of prayers, Whispers from Eternity, she picked a few of her favorites and asked that they be read aloud. Then with her own hand she gave each person a flower. After that, she disconnected the supplemental oxygen she had been using, and lay down as if to sleep. We all went to sleep, too, in her room, in the hallway, or in empty rooms nearby. The hospital staff let us take over the whole wing. About 4am, Paula woke up from whatever state she had been in and started waking up the others in her room. “Please, everyone, come in here now,” she said. Her husband sat on the bed next to her and put his arm around her, as he had often done in the last few days. Always before she welcomed his embrace. Now she said, quite impersonally, “Don’t touch me. I can still feel it.” We knew the end had come. At her request, we began chanting AUM. After a few minutes, Paula said, “This is very hard. You have to help me.” For the next few minutes, she was silent and we continued to chant. Then with great feeling she said, “God! Christ! Guru!” Those were Paula’s last words. For the next half-hour, we kept chanting, and she kept breathing. Then her breath stopped. Suddenly, I felt power pouring over me as if a mighty angel were passing by. I was astonished to find myself sobbing with joy. Paula was a spiritual leader at Ananda. Among other accomplishments, she helped develop the Portland community and successfully managed two retail businesses. But she never called attention to herself and most people thought of her as just one devotee among many. So it came as a surprise at her memorial service a few days later, when Swamiji said, “I believe Paula may have been liberated. Only a person of true realization could die the way she did.” On her last day, Paula spoke to Swamiji on the telephone. “I hope you don’t have to come back to this world,” she said. “I hope I don’t have to come back either. But if you come again, I’ll come and help you.”
[Listen to Asha read this story] For many years, the only way to drive to Crystal Hermitage, Swamiji's home at Ananda Village, was over two miles of unpaved road, deeply rutted and littered with potholes. For years also, Swamiji’s only car was a big blue Chevrolet, purchased for him from a government auction of used automobiles. Two cars, exactly alike, were bought at the same time—one for Swamiji to drive, and the other to provide spare parts to keep the first one running. Each cost $75. On the door of Swamiji's car could faintly be seen the words, "U.S. Air Force," put there by one of its previous owners. Naturally, the car became known as "Air Force One,” an amusing title for this ancient vehicle. One summer, Swamiji decided it would save wear and tear on the car if he got a moped for the dirt road and used the Chevrolet only for trips outside of Ananda. Several friends warned Swamiji that dirt roads could be treacherous on a motorcycle, but Swamiji was unconcerned. When a blue moped came up for sale, Swamiji bought it. In that season, his everyday outfit was sandals, Bermuda shorts, and a sport shirt (often a bright Hawaiian print). For some weeks he cut quite a colorful figure in his flowered shirts, sitting straight upright rather than hunched over in typical motorcyclist fashion, and waving cheerfully to passersby. He appeared always serene, driving at moderate speed and calmly smiling. Then disaster struck. The dirt road includes a long, steep hill, which, on a small motorcycle, must be taken at just the right speed. Too fast, and one may lose control; too slow, and one may lose traction. Swamiji had safely negotiated the hill before now, but this day something went wrong. His speed was inadequate and the moped lost traction and began to slip. Swamiji gunned the motor, but it was too late. The moped tipped over, pinning him beneath it. The machine wasn't heavy, but the hot exhaust pipe fell right against the inside of his bare calf, burning into his skin. To get out from under it, Swamiji had to roll over on the ground, which caused the wound to become filled with dust and dirt. Fortunately, someone was driving not far behind Swamiji and was able to pick him up and take him home. The closest medical care was twenty miles away in Nevada City, and Swamiji didn't think the injury warranted the journey. He had no telephone, but somehow the word spread. Soon people began showing up at Swamiji's door with ideas of how to treat the burn. Over the course of the next several hours he received three or four different treatments. Unfortunately, none of them helped much. The wound did not get cleaned properly, and none of the ointments and salves was appropriate. After a few days the wound became infected. Only then did Swamiji consent to go into town and have it treated medically. It was a bad burn, and looked even worse: some six inches long and three inches across, inflamed and full of pus. The doctor assured Swamiji, however, that with a little care it would heal fine. The following Sunday, Swamiji was holding an afternoon satsang in his home, as he often did. He sat in his usual chair in front of the big triangle window that looked out at the river valley and the forested hills beyond. He was wearing bermuda shorts and, in accordance with the doctor's orders, had his leg propped up on a footstool before him. The wound was unbandaged to let the air reach it freely, so we all got a good view of how awful it looked. About a dozen people were present. Suddenly, a man named Ram Lila burst into the room. Ram Lila lived in San Francisco, but often visited Ananda. Before becoming a devotee he had belonged to a rough motorcycle gang called the Hell's Angels. By now he had given up most of the worst habits associated with that lifestyle, but he still looked like a "biker," and still drove a big Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Ram Li
[Listen to Asha read this story] (Told by Hridayavasi) I went through an extremely painful divorce. One particularly awful day coincided with a huge public event. I held myself together until late in the afternoon. Ironically, it was a compassionate look from a dear friend in the middle of a roomful of people that started me crying again. “I’m going to take you over to Swamiji,” my friend said. Swamiji was standing just a little distance away. I made a feeble protest, which my friend simply ignored. “Hridaya is having a terrible time today,” my friend said to Swamiji. I collapsed against his shoulder and he held me while I cried and cried. “I am so sorry,” he said. “I am so sorry.” When I finally gained some little bit of control over myself, I stood back and looked into his eyes. Swamiji is no stranger to disappointment. God has tested him over and over again. In his eyes I could see compassion born of experience. But there was also something else. He wasn’t willing to meet me on the level of shared pain. His eyes invited me to join him on the level where human suffering is just something we offer up to God as a way of growing closer to Him. Sad as I was, I was also thrilled by that look and the promise it held. Swamiji then blessed me by touching me on the heart and on the spiritual eye. My tears stopped completely, and from that point on I started getting better.
[Listen to Asha read this story] (Told by an Ananda devotee) “You have a serious medical condition called a fistula,” the doctor said to me, “The only remedy is surgery.” I had come to Italy to visit relatives and take care of some business obligations there. As soon as I arrived, I started feeling something very painful in my lower back. Within three days, it was so bad I couldn’t walk, and I had to go to the hospital. A fistula, I found out, is an abnormal opening or connection between two internal organs, or from an internal organ to the surface of the body. Mine was inside. “We have to operate as soon as possible,” the doctor said, “otherwise you won’t be able to stand the pain.” I agreed, and the next day I had the surgery. The fistula, however, was so large and so deep the surgeon was unable to repair it completely. “You’ll have to wait a few weeks until the first surgery heals,” the doctor said. “Then I’ll operate again and finish the job.” Oddly enough, the doctor tied one end of a string to the spot where he stopped working, and left the other end dangling outside my body, so he could easily find his way back in. (Shades of Theseus in the labyrinth!) It was disconcerting to see that string hanging there. After the surgery, I had to stay in the hospital another five days, still in great pain, which the doctor said would continue until after the second operation. Swamiji happened to be visiting Italy at the time, and he sent me a beautiful big bouquet of flowers. It caused quite a stir. In Italy, so many flowers are given only to mothers with newborns. When I was released from the hospital, I was still gasping with pain and hardly able to move. That very day an Ananda friend called to tell me that in two days, Swamiji was coming to visit me. I couldn’t say no, but I also couldn’t imagine how I'd be able to see anyone. The next day, I was still in excruciating pain. The day after, however, I woke up feeling quite a bit better. When I got up and started to make the bed, I was horrified to see the surgical string lying there on the sheet. It had fallen out of my body! Immediately, I went to the hospital. The doctor inspected the site of the surgery. He was strangely silent. Then he said, “I see nothing there at all. Everything looks perfect. I can’t find any sign of the fistula.” It was obvious to me, too, that something had changed, for now I had only a little bit of pain. I was stunned by this sudden turn of events, and delighted that I would be well for Swamiji’s visit. We met at 4pm, and at his suggestion, went for a walk together. The day before, I would have been in too much pain. Now I walked easily. My wife knew about my remarkable healing, but I didn’t mention it to Swamiji, or to anyone else. Suddenly, without warning, Swamiji stumbled and nearly fell to the ground. For no apparent reason, he suddenly had an intense pain in his hip, and, being unable to put weight on his leg, could hardly walk. Fortunately, we were not far from the home of one of my relatives, and I half-carried, half-dragged him there. Thank God I was well enough to do it! Swamiji lay down on a bed, and for the next several hours could hardly move because of the pain. Finally, it began to lessen, and I was able to get him back to his hotel. The next day, he was fine. I thought deeply about what had happened: my mysterious healing, and Swamiji’s sudden collapse. I believe he suffered to protect me from suffering. This is something only a saint can do. I will never forget what Swamiji did for me.
Meet It at the Crest
[Listen to Asha read this story] For seven years, the man had struggled to resist an attraction to a woman in the community who was not his wife. Finally he said to Swamiji, “I am too unhappy, I can’t go on this way.” “Let me tell your wife,” Swamiji said. “It will be easier for her that way.” “He has done his best to overcome this,” Swamiji said to her, “but he can’t. It is something he has to live through.” She was devastated, but she took it bravely. When the news came out that the man was leaving his wife for another woman, some people reacted judgmentally. “What about his obligation to the community?” one said to Swamiji. “This will reflect badly on all of Ananda.” “He gave seven years to the community,” Swamiji said. “I think that is long enough. He did his best. You can’t ask more than that of anyone.” The day after the couple separated, Swamiji asked the two women to come to his house and cook dinner together for him and a few guests, including the husband. “Sir! Are you sure that’s a good idea?” a woman exclaimed when she heard the plan. “Don’t you remember what happened yesterday?” “Of course I remember,” Swamiji said. “But they have to get over it sooner or later. If they wait until some future lifetime they won’t even remember why they dislike each other, and it will be much more difficult to overcome. When a wave of karma hits, raise your energy and meet it at the crest! That’s the way to make spiritual progress!” Later, the wife described what happened that evening. “I wanted to give in to my grief and run away,” she said, “but Swamiji wouldn’t let me. He had more faith in me than I had in myself. It wasn’t easy to summon up the courage, but I did my best, and divine grace did the rest. The whole evening, I felt nothing but love for them. Even though circumstances had changed, the underlying friendship was untouched. “Afterwards, I wasn’t always able to maintain such a high state of consciousness, but I had done it once, so I knew I could do it again. Because I followed Swamiji’s advice, I believe I saved myself years, perhaps even lifetimes, of suffering.”
I Need Your Help
[Listen to Asha read this story] (Told by an Ananda devotee) For 29 years, I was afflicted with a terrible addiction. Not merely a habit, but an addiction, something I needed every day. I tried therapy, 12-Step programs, affirmations, will power. Nothing worked. When I got on the path, I read everything Master said about overcoming temptation and changing habits. Still the addiction was unbeatable, stronger than anything I could throw at it. When I confided to an Ananda friend, she responded, “Have you asked Swamiji to help you?” “I wrote to him several times,” I said. “Just writing to him isn’t enough. What I’m asking is: Have you opened your heart to him? Have you asked him to give you the strength to overcome this? Have you prayed to Swamiji?” I hadn’t done any of those things so I decided I would try. That night in meditation when it was time to pray, words came to me with such intensity I felt that they were praying me. “Dear Swamiji,” I said, “I can’t do this alone. I need your help. I know you can help me.” For the first time I understood what Jesus meant when he said, “Pray believing.” I knew that Swamiji could help me. A few days after I began that prayer, 29 years of addiction ended. The desire completely disappeared. In the years since then I haven’t had a single symptom, not an urge, not even a temptation. About six months later, I greeted Swamiji after a Sunday Service and thanked him again for the help he had given me. He held my eyes with a penetrating gaze. When he spoke, I felt as if a surge of electricity came into me, bathing me with his protection and courage. “Don’t ever give up,” Swamiji said. “Keep at it with every ounce of your being. Know that Master is blessing you.”