“You Have a Great Work to Do”
Yogananda’s Commission to Swami Kriyananda
“I prefer to speak with the eyes,” Yogananda said to Kriyananda. Instead of teaching the disciples only through words, and thereby imposing his instructions on them from without, he helped those who were in tune to develop their intuitive insight. For only from within, he said, can wisdom be perceived and absorbed truly.
And so Yogananda didn’t spell out in detail to the disciples his hopes and plans for them. He did, however, give them indications: sometimes quite subtly-communicated, perhaps, through a nuance in his tone of voice, or by an expression of the eyes—and sometimes more openly, but more often by a hint. He planted seeds of awareness in his disciples’ minds, that, with proper watering by deep meditation and devotion, the seeds would in time grow to a fuller understanding.
Here, culled from Swami Kriyananda’s writings, are some of these seed instructions that he received from Yogananda during the three and a half years he spent with him, until the day of Yogananda’s passing on March 7, 1952. Since then, Kriyananda has spent his life meditating on them, as he has, indeed, on everything his Guru did and said.
“You have a great work to do”
Several weeks passed [after Master put me in charge of the monks]. Then one day I was standing with Herbert Freed, one of the ministers, outside the entrance to the basement. We were talking with Master, who was on the point of going out for a drive. Herbert was to leave that afternoon to become the minister of our church in Phoenix, Arizona, and Master was giving him last-minute instructions. After a pause, Master continued quietly:
“You have a great work to do.”
Turning to Herbert, I smiled my felicitations.
“It is you I’m talking to, Walter,” Master corrected me. He said no more on the subject; moments later his car drove away. To what sort of work had he been referring?
A command, not a compliment
Thereafter, in one context or another, he often repeated this prediction. “You must do so-and-so, Walter,” he would say, “because you have a great work to do.” Or, “You have a great work to do, therefore. . . .” Two years after Master’s mahasamadhi, Rajarsi Janakananda, his chief disciple, was blessing a group of us one evening in Encinitas. He paused when I came up to him, then said softly, “Master has a great work to do through you, Walter. And he will give you the strength to do it.”
What was this “great work” they were referring to? Neither of them ever told me. But Master’s words were, in their cumulative effect at least, the most insistent he ever addressed to me. They returned often to my mind through the ensuing years, demanding comprehension. Clearly, I reflected, they had been meant as a command, not as a compliment. They seemed intended to invest me with a sense of personal responsibility for some aspect of his mission, and also, perhaps, to inspire me not to shirk that responsibility. Clearly, too in the context of his remarks on several of those occasions, mine was to be a public work, one in which I would have to stand on my own feet, and one therefore, perhaps, not closely connected with normal institutional activities.
Instinctively I feared such responsibility. I wanted to be in tune with Master, and not to dance the wild jig of outward success and acclaim, fraught as it is with temptation. We are here, Daya Mata had said, to please Master. Couldn’t I, I prayed, just please him from the background—the safe ground—where no lure of outward importance could intrude?
“I don’t want to do a great work!” I wrote to Rajarsi the day after he had spoken those words to me. “I just want to serve Master unnoticed.” (Rajarsi’s reply was to come and bless me again, smiling quietly.)
But when, one time, I resisted Master’s efforts to draw me into teaching activities, his response was brusque.
“Living for God,” he said sternly, “is martyrdom!”
“You have a great work to do,” he emphasized one afternoon as we were taking a short walk on his retreat grounds. “You must be conscious of how your words and actions affect others.” He was trying to get me to combine childlike simplicity with the dignity of one who is centered in the inner Self—a difficult combination it seemed to me at the time. My inclination was to speak boldly of my failings, and to present myself as having few virtues—all in the name of humility. This behavior, Master implied, was neither dignified nor necessary for the development of humility. To achieve perfection, one must dwell on the thought of perfection, while recognizing it as God’s gift, not as one’s own accomplishment. Master set out to correct this flaw in me.
Honor the position
“Sir,” I asked him one day, “would you prefer that the other monks call me Walter?” They had been calling me Don.
“They should call you Reverend Walter.” In dismay (we monks never addressed any of our own ministers as “Reverend”), I tried hastily to change the subject, but Master persisted: “It is not that one disciple is better than another, but in an army there have to be captains as well as privates. You must accept respect from others as proper to your position.”
This was, I confess, one piece of advice that I found difficult to accept.
Meditation and activity
“Your life [said Yogananda] is to be one of intense activity,” he told me one evening, “and meditation. Your work is lecturing and writing.”
“But Sir,” I protested, “you yourself have written so much already. How can more writing possibly be needed?”
“How can you say that?” My question surprised him. “Much yet remains to be written!”
Some months later I addressed him further on this subject. “Master,” I said, “Mrs. Nealey has suggested to me that I write a book explaining how I was drawn onto the path—somewhat like Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain. It might help many people, she says. Would you like me to write it?”
“Not yet,” Master replied. As we discussed the idea further, he implied that he wanted me to write such a book someday.
“Sir,” I once pleaded with him, “I don’t want to be a lecturer!”
“You’d better learn to like it,” he replied pleasantly. “That is what you will have to do.”
Writing down the Master’s words
At about this time in my life Master began asking me to jot down his words. He intimated strongly that he wanted me someday to write about him. For long hours he would reminisce with me about his life, his experiences in establishing the work, his hopes and plans for its future. He told me countless stories, some of them to illustrate points he was making; others, I suppose, simply because they were interesting, or helped in some general way to round out my understanding of the path. Many of his meanings reached me not only through the medium of words and stories, but by a kind of osmosis, a subtle impression gathered from a facial expression, or from the tone of his voice, or by some even subtler transferral of consciousness.
“I predict you will make a good editor”
In 1950 Yogananda asked me to work on editing his writings, beginning with [his commentaries on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam], which had first appeared in serialized form in “Inner Culture Magazine,” 1937-1944. He prefaced his request with a statement that could hardly have failed to make an impression on me. “I asked Divine Mother,” he said, referring to that aspect of God to which he normally prayed, “whom I should take with me for this work, and your face appeared. Twice more I prayed to make sure, and each time your face appeared.”
One day at Twenty-Nine Palms he looked at me and, out of the blue (I thought), said, “I predict you will make a good editor someday, Walter.”
It was his ideas he wanted me to present to people. That was the “great work” he had in mind for me. I see it clearly now.
“Sir,” I said one day, “what letters we are getting from Germany. Such sincerity and devotion! Letter after letter pleads with us for Kriya Yoga initiation.”
“They have been hurt,” Master replied with quiet sympathy, “that’s why. All those wars and troubles! Kriya is what they need, not atom bombs.”
“How wonderful it would be to send Henry [Schaufelberger, later, Brother Anandamoy] there, with his knowledge of German.”
“Well, maybe I will send you there someday.”
Recalling his intention to send me to India, I replied, “I thought you had other plans for me, Sir. But of course I’ll go wherever you send me. I’m familiar with Europe, certainly.”
“There is a great work to be done there.” [Kriyananda wrote these words in 1977. Years later the Master’s prediction was fulfilled. Swami Kriyananda founded a world brotherhood community in Italy, and has been living there, just outside Assisi, since 1996.]
In May 1950, while I was walking with him at his retreat at Twenty-Nine Palms, he said to me, “Apart from Saint Lynn [Rajarsi Janakananda], every man has disappointed me.” He added with intense earnestness, “And you mustn’t disappoint me!”
[Yogananda foresaw, no doubt, the opposition Swami Kriyananda would face in the years ahead, and the efforts certain of the disciples would make to destroy his faith in himself and in his discipleship. Perhaps that’s part of the reason Yogananda offered him (directly or through the reports of others) the following words of encouragement:]
One time Master was lamenting to the monks about the numbers of ministers in the work who had allowed praise to go to their heads, and as a result had fallen spiritually.
“Sir,” I said, “that is why I don’t want to be a minister.”
I was surprised at the gravity with which he sought to reassure me: “You will never fall due to ego!”
[During the Christmas meditation in 1949] Master spoke to us for some time from the depths of his divine communion. He blessed St. Lynn, Dr. Lewis, Daya Mata, and several others, telling them that God was “much pleased” with them. “Walter,” he continued, “you must try hard, for God will bless you very much.”
Now [five days before Master’s mahasamadhi], alone with me, he gazed into my eyes with deep love and understanding, and said, “You have pleased me very much. I want you to know that.”
[Several times, Yogananda chose to express his confidence in Kriyananda to others:]
To Vance Milligan, a newcomer, he said, “You should mix more with Walter. You don’t know what you have in him.”
A friend of mine [Swami Kriyananda said] met an ex-SRF monk recently who had been with Master. The man told my friend, “I once heard Yogananda say, ‘If Walter had come sooner, we would have reached millions!’”