The leader of a spiritual movement whose Nevada County seeds budded into a global movement died in Italy Sunday morning of natural causes.
Ananda founder Swami Kriyananda was 86, leaders of his organization said Tuesday.
“A remarkable light has passed out of the world and its like will not be seen again during our lifetimes,” said Nayaswamis Jyotish, Kriyananda’s successor as the spiritual director of Ananda Worldwide, in a video of the deceased’s Astral Ascension Ceremony at the Nevada County Ananda Village on Sunday.
Born J. Donald Walters, at 22 years old Kriyananda read the book “Autobiography of a Yogi,” a firsthand account of the experiences and life of Paramhansa Yogananda, the first yoga master from India to make his home in the West. The day after reading that book in 1948, Walters embarked on a cross-country bus journey from New York to the Los Angeles area, to meet Yogananda.
In the years that followed, Yogananda took Walters in as a direct disciple.
“To understand (Kriyananda’s) light, it has to be picked up by the pivotal point in his life, which was meeting master and the years of discipleship he spent with him,” Jyotish said.
After Yogananda passed away in 1952, Kriyananda stayed in the Los Angeles area until moving to the San Francisco area a decade later. In 1968, he purchased 70 acres of land on the San Juan Ridge outside Nevada City to be used as a retreat and hermitage with his small band of like-minded pioneers.
Kriyananda’s teachings combine meditation, yoga, a good diet and the idea that right action, or dharma, is the path to happiness and fulfillment, said Pranaba Hansen, manager of Sanga Worldwide Outreach Ministries, in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. From the beginning, his message of people being more important than things resonated with his followers and directed the way the village grew, according to the Ananda website.
“The people more important than things wasn’t just a slogan, it was deeply real to him, and he invested that emphasis in all of us as well,” Hansen said. “For most of us, we felt he was the closest and deepest friend we encountered.”
It didn’t take long for it to became evident that more land would be needed and in 1969, an additional 236 acres were purchased, not far from the Meditation Retreat. In 1974, Ananda acquired another 326 acres adjacent to the original purchase. By 1979, Ananda had grown to a population of approximately 150 adults and 50 children.
The village was the first of the movement’s meditation centers around the world that has grown to include around 10 residential spiritual communities and numerous centers and meditation groups.
“His whole goal in life was to be the deepest disciple of Yogananda and help others be inspired to find their own union in god,” Hansen said.
Presently, more than 250 residents of all ages live on 900 acres of land in the Sierra Nevada foothills that still serve as the Ananda world headquarters. Hansen estimated that worldwide, about 10,000 people follow the Ananda teachings.
“For the last 10 years, he has had three different homes in California, Italy and India,” Hansen said.
In 2003, Kriyananda moved to Gurgaon, India, along with a team to help establish Ananda centers and communities. In his most recent years, Kriyananda established the first rural World Brotherhood Colony on Indian soil, just outside of Pune.
“What I felt from him was a deep sense of an awareness of spirit,” Hansen said. “He conveyed a friendship in that spiritual consciousness.”
One of Kriyananda’s deepest joys was to share music. He often said, “If you want to know me, listen to my music,” according to Ananda’s website.
Kriyananda also wrote more than 150 books to show the relevance of Yogananda’s teachings to every aspect of life, and how living by spiritual principles brings the happiness everyone is seeking.
“There is no more lucid writer to explain the deep meaning of the scriptures,” Jyotish said. “In a sense, (Kriyananda) completed the mission of taking these subtle truths and putting them into words that we can all understand.”
Some of those writings included an effort to interpret some of the world’s various scriptures, such as the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Persian translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and the Indian texts on yoga.
The last book, “Demystifying Patanjali: The Yoga Sutras,” was finished in the last year and is slated for a June release.
A memorial service is scheduled for May 19 at Ananda Village.
“What we really feel is a deep gap in not having him around in our personal lives,” Hansen said.
“We miss him, terribly, but there is also great joy in having him go on spiritually to a higher realm.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
Clarification: (April 25, 2013): In this article, The Union failed to note the departed religious figure was the subject of a sexual assault lawsuit and involved in other controversies. For more explanation of the unintentional omission of these past incidents, about which The Union regrets, click HERE.