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Kriyananda (born James Donald Walters; May 19, 1926, Azuga – April 21, 2013, Assisi) was a direct disciple of the yogi Paramahansa Yogananda, and the founder of the Ananda, a worldwide movement of spiritual intentional communities based on Yogananda's World Brotherhood Colonies ideal. Yogananda made Walters a minister for his organization, Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF). He authorized him to teach Kriya Yoga while with SRF, and appointed him the head monk for the SRF Mount Washington monks only. After Yogananda's death, Walters was given final vows of sannyas in 1955 by then SRF President Daya Mata and given the name Kriyananda. In 1960, upon the passing of M.W. Lewis, the SRF Board of Directors elected Kriyananda to the Board of Directors and to the position of Vice President. In 1962, the SRF Board of Directors voted unanimously to request his resignation. Kriyananda is the author of about 150 published books/booklets and the composer of over 400 pieces of music, which altogether have sold over three million copies. A few of the books have been published in 28 languages and a few are sold in 90 countries. He lectured in different countries throughout the world. In addition to English, he spoke Italian, Romanian, Greek, French, Spanish, German, Hindi, Bengali, and Indonesian. He established a new Swami order in 2009: the Nayaswami Order. A jury in a court of law found Kriyananda aka Donald Walters guilty of fraudulently representing himself as a celibate religious leader or swami even though he had sex with several of his devotees during 30 years at the helm of Ananda. Several women came forward during the civil trial to testify that Walters had sexually exploited them.

kriyananda yoga self-realization

1. Biography

1.1. Early life

J. Donald Walters was born on May 19, 1926, in Teleajen, Romania to American parents, Ray P. and Gertrude G. Walters. His father was an oil geologist with the Esso Corporation (since renamed Exxon in the United States) who was then assigned to the Romanian oilfields. He received an international education in Romania, Switzerland, England, and the United States. He attended Haverford College and Brown University, leaving the latter with only a semester left before graduation to dedicate his life to searching for God.[1]

1.2. Time with Yogananda

In September 1948, in New York, Walters read Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, a book he says transformed his life. By September 12, Walters had decided to leave his old life behind, and soon afterwards traveled cross-country by bus to southern California to become one of Yogananda's disciples. In Hollywood, California, Walters first met Yogananda at the Self-Realization Fellowship temple there and was accepted as a disciple.

As recounted in his autobiography, The New Path,[1] Walters, twenty-two years old at this point, took up residence with other monks at SRF's mother center headquarters located on top of Mount Washington, Los Angeles. A year later, Yogananda had put Walters in charge of the monks there, asked him to write articles for the SRF magazine, had him lecture at various SRF centers,[1] ordained him a minister, and appointed him to initiate students into Kriya Yoga.[1] In their three and one half years (9/1948–3/1952) together, Walters took notes of his conversations with his master, publishing them in his 2003 The Essence of Self-Realization[2] and his 2004 Conversations with Yogananda.[3]

1.3. After Yogananda

On March 7, 1952, Paramahansa Yogananda was a speaker at a banquet for the visiting Indian Ambassador to the U.S., Binay Ranjan Sen, and his wife at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. While giving his speech, Yogananda suddenly dropped to the floor and died. Walters was present in the hall, and this was a pivotal moment for the young monk.

In 1953, the SRF published Walter's book, Stories of Mukunda,[4][5] and in 1960 an LP album with him singing Yogananda's Cosmic Chants, entitled Music for Meditation. In 1955, Walters was given his final vows of sannyas into the order of Shankaracharya swamis, by Daya Mata, SRF president from 1955 until her death in 2010, and took the monastic name of "Kriyananda".[6] Yogananda stated in his Autobiography of a Yogi regarding this order:

Every swami belongs to the ancient monastic order which was organized in its present form by Shankara. Because it is a formal order, with an unbroken line of saintly representatives serving as active leaders, no man can give himself the title of swami. He rightfully receives it only from another swami; all monks thus trace their spiritual lineage to one common guru, Lord Shankara. By vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the spiritual teacher, many Catholic Christian monastic orders resemble the Order of Swamis.[7]

He was made the director of the SRF Center Department, which guides SRF's meditation groups and centers, and was made a minister of Yogananda's Hollywood temple. He lectured for SRF in the United States, as well as in Canada, Mexico, England, France, Switzerland, Italy, Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, and India. In 1958, when Daya Mata, then President of SRF, traveled to India with Ananda Mata and another nun, he came along as well. In 1960, upon the death of Board member and Vice President of SRF, M.W. Lewis, the SRF Board of Directors, who were direct disciples appointed to the board by Yogananda, elected Kriyananda as a member and Vice President of the Board. He served in that capacity until dismissed in 1962.[6]

1.4. Dismissal

Kriyananda remained in India, serving the SRF until 1962, when the SRF's board of directors voted unanimously to request his resignation.[6] SRF said that the reasons for his dismissal had to do with specific actions of his – his basic pattern of behavior and being self-serving.[8] "Kriyananda constantly argued that his dismissal was unjust."[9]

2. Outward Accomplishments

Kriyananda established Ananda Village as a World Brotherhood Colony in 1968 on 40 acres (160,000 m2) of land near Nevada City, California – his portion of a 160-acre (0.6 km2) parcel acquired with Richard Baker, Gary Snyder, and Allen Ginsberg.[10] The village was actually founded with the signing of the first purchase agreement of a larger parcel of land on July 4, 1969.[11] According to Kriyananda, these communities provide a supportive environment of “simple living and high thinking” where 1,000 full-time residents live, work, and worship together. The establishment of World Brotherhood Colonies was one of Yogananda's central "Aims and Ideals" published in his Autobiography of a Yogi until 1958.

Kriyananda founded various retreat centers: The Expanding Light Yoga and Meditation Retreat and nearby Ananda Meditation Retreat, both located near Nevada City, California, U.S.A.; Ananda Associazione near Assisi, Italy; and Ananda Gurgaon, India.

There are over 125 Ananda Meditation groups in 19 countries, all of which were inspired in one way or another by Kriyananda.

The Expanding Light retreat center in California, founded by Kriyananda.

Kriyananda stated that at Yogananda's request he devoted his life to teaching. Over the course of sixty years, he lectured on four continents in five languages. He gave thousands of lectures and continued lecturing in Asia, Europe, and America until his death.

Kriyananda met a number of well-known spiritual teachers: Anandamayi Ma; Sivananda Saraswati and his disciples Chidananda and Satchidananda; Muktananda; Satya Sai Baba; Neem Karoli Baba; the 14th Dalai Lama; A. C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada; Ravi Shankar; Vicka Ivankovic, visionary of Medjugorje; and a few others.[12]

In the early 1960s, one of Kriyananda's inter-religious projects near New Delhi, India, received personal support from India's Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. He also had personal contact with Indira Gandhi; with India's Vice President Radhakrishnan; and, in 2006, with India's President, Abdul Kalam.

In following his guru's guidance that his task would be "writing, editing, and lecturing",[1] Kriyananda wrote about 150 books, each of which he stated was intended to help individuals expand their awareness. By the application of Yogananda's teachings, they expand on such varied topics as marriage, education, leadership and success, spiritual communities, yoga, self-healing, art, architecture, astrology, and philosophy, as well as Yogananda's teachings on the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and other scriptures.

One of Kriyananda's books is The Path (revised as The New Path in 2009), which among other things contains details of the three and a half years he spent as Yogananda's direct disciple in Los Angeles.

Kriyananda started Crystal Clarity Publishers and the East-West bookshops in Sacramento and Mountain View, California, and Seattle, Washington.

Kriyananda's plays include The Peace Treaty and The Jewel in the Lotus. He wrote his first play at age fifteen and worked and studied with the Dock Street Theater in Charleston, South Carolina, in his early 20s. Rome's famous Teatro Valle (its oldest still-active theater, built in 1726) hosted The Peace Treaty in June 2009.

Kriyananda won poetry and essay contest prizes at Haverford College and also studied under the poet W.H. Auden at Bryn Mawr College.[1]

In 1973, Kriyananda developed a system for educating children called Education for Life. Education for Life schools state that they offer character development, strong academics, and development of moral strength. The school curriculum is ecumenical; students from all religious backgrounds may attend. There are schools in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and Palo Alto and Nevada City, California (all U.S.A.); in Italy near Assisi; and one was recently (2009) started in Gurgaon, India. Other schools are adopting the curriculum and ideals of Education for Life. Kriyananda's educational ideas also inspired Ananda College, a yoga university as envisioned by Paramahansa Yogānanda, located near Nevada City, California.

Kriyananda created Ananda Yoga. Yogananda had asked him often to perform the asanas for visiting guests, in his presence. This inspired him to create Ananda Yoga. It is designed to uplift consciousness, and to prepare the student for meditation. Its distinguishing features are the affirmations associated with postures.

Kriyananda took over 15,000 photographs, many of which he said captured the consciousness of human beings behind the image. His photos have been used on inspirational posters, on album covers, for slideshows, in film productions, and in books.

Kriyananda created several paintings, which have been used on book covers and on posters.

He also produced films, as follows:

  • Saint Francis of Assisi (narration, music, photography)
  • Mediterranean Magic (narration, music, photography)
  • The Land of Mystery (narration, music, photography)
  • The Autobiography of a Yogi (narration, music, photography)
  • Christ Lives! (narration, music, photography)
  • Different Worlds (narration, music, photography)

3. Volunteer Work

  • 1948–2013: As a renunciate or as a householder, Kriyananda dedicated his life in service to others. Copyrights to his books and music were placed in a trust. Royalties were directed toward the work of sharing Kriyananda’s teachings with the public. For many years in his later life, he received no salary or stipend, and depended on donations for all his needs, including food, housing, and medical care.
  • 1997: After the destructive Umbria and Marche earthquake that damaged large areas around Assisi, Italy, including the Basilica of St. Francis, Kriyananda raised funds to help rebuild homes in the area, in a campaign called “Hope and Homes for Italy”. He encouraged the use of wood instead of stone building materials, to minimize future earthquake fatalities.

4. Legal Cases

4.1. Self-Realization Fellowship Church vs Ananda Church of Self-Realization & J. Donald Walters litigation

Self-Realization Fellowship filed suit against James Donald Walters (a.k.a. Kriyananda) and Walters' (then-called) Church of Self-Realization regarding the changing of the name to the Church of Self-Realization and on issues regarding specific writings, photographs and recordings of Paramahansa Yogananda. The litigation lasted for around twelve years (1990–2002).[13] SRF asserted Yogananda wanted SRF to maintain the copyrights to his works and to publish them. SRF also asserted exclusive and sole rights (trademark and service mark) to the names "Self-Realization Fellowship", "Self-Realization Fellowship Church", and "Paramahansa Yogananda", as well as all images of Yogananda and the term "Self-Realization".[14]

SRF conceded some copyright and trademark claims during federal court in Sacramento, California, but prevailed on its assertion that Yogananda repeatedly stated his intentions for SRF to maintain copyrights to his works and to publish them.[13][15] Both SRF and Ananda had wins and losses. SRF won the service marks to "Self-Realization Fellowship" and "Self-Realization Fellowship Church". SRF lost its service marks to the names "Paramahansa Yogananda" and "Self-realization", its claim of Unfair Competition, and its claim to own copyrights on ten photos of Yogananda. Ananda submitted the following counterclaim and lost all four claims: (1) Violation of the Sherman Act, (2) Libel, (3) Slander, and (4) Unfair Business Practices. In 1992, the court dismissed the second and third counterclaims on 1st Amendment grounds, and Ananda subsequently withdrew the other two counterclaims.[14]

At the jury trial in 2002, SRF won the claim that Ananda violated SRF's copyrights to magazine articles written by Yogananda.[13][15] Another issue on which the jury found in SRF's favor was its claim that Ananda violated SRF copyrights to recordings of Yogananda's voice.[13][15] In mid-litigation, Ananda began publication of Yogananda's first, 1946 edition of Autobiography of a Yogi.[16]

In 2002, the long litigation was completed with a jury verdict. As reported in The Union, a newspaper located in Grass Valley, California, on October 30, 2002:

The case hinged on the writings and recordings of Paramahansa Yogananda, a native of India who founded Self-Realization Fellowship in the late 1920s. He died in 1952. Walters became a member in 1948 but was "thrown out" in 1962, said Stillman's legal partner, Michael Flynn.

Walters, known as Kriyananda, later started Ananda Village in Nevada County. It became home to hundreds of followers who also revered Yogananda and his words. The group republished his articles and sold his recordings, according to Stillman and Flynn.

Jurors ultimately agreed with Self-Realization Fellowship's argument that Yogananda had repeatedly made his intentions clear before dying - he wanted the Fellowship to maintain copyrights to his works.[13]

Yogananda incorporated the Self-Realization Fellowship as a nonprofit organization and reassigned all of his property including Mt Washington to the corporation, thereby protecting his assets.[17]

4.2. Anne-Marie Bertolucci vs J Donald Walters & Ananda litigation

In 1997–98, Anne-Marie Bertolucci, a former resident of Ananda, filed suit against Ananda, Ananda minister Danny Levin, and J. Donald Walters (Kriyananda).

The jury found the church (Ananda) and Kriyananda liable for "constructive fraud", with a finding of "malice" and "fraudulent conduct". The church, Kriyananda and Levin were found liable for "intentional infliction of emotional distress" with a finding of "malice" and a finding of "despicable conduct" against the church. During the trial, six women testified under oath that Kriyananda had taken sexual advantage of them when they were impressionable twentysomethings in search of spiritual advancement. Walters blamed the women who accused him of sexual abuse, saying they 'thrust their company' on him and interrupted his meditations by taking advantage of his sexual 'weaknesses.' Court depositions came from many different women from different areas over a twenty-year period whose only point of contact had been the Ananda church. The church was found liable for "negligent supervision" of Kriyananda, with a finding of "malice and fraud" on the part of the church.[18]

Kriyananda was judged to have misrepresented himself as a monk and to have caused emotional trauma, and was ordered to pay $685,000 in compensatory damages, and another $1 million in punitive damages. The jury also found that Levin had made "unwelcome sexual advances".[19] The punitive damages were reduced by $400,000 on appeal. The Ananda Church responded to the million-plus-dollar judgment by filing for protection under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code.[20] That allowed Ananda to settle the lawsuit by paying $1.8 million to Bertolucci and her attorneys. They presented, according to Kriyananda, "lies and complete distortions of the truth." Ananda hired a private investigator who was caught rummaging in the trash of opposing counsel.[21] The judge's sanctions of Ananda included disallowing the questioning of the many women alleging sexual misconduct against Kriyananda.[20]

4.3. Ananda Assisi vs Italian Authorities

In March 2004, Italian authorities raided the Ananda colony in Assisi, responding to allegations of a former resident who accused Ananda Assisi of fraud, usury and labor law violations. Nine residents were detained for questioning. They also had a warrant for Kriyananda's detention, but he was in India. A seven-year-long investigation followed.[22] In March 2009, the judge ruled that the case was "non luogo a procedere perché il fatto non sussiste" (not to be continued as the matter is without substance).

5. Recent Years

Kriyananda married in 1981, and publicly renounced his monastic vows in the Shankaracharya order on the occasion of his second marriage in 1985 and returned to using his birth name, James Donald Walters. He was later divorced. In 1995, on his own, he resumed his monastic name and vows.

From 1996, as Kriyananda, he lived and taught for seven years at the Ananda Italy center, near Assisi.

In 2003, he moved to India, where he began an Ananda center in Gurgaon, near Delhi. For five years (until May 1, 2009) he appeared on Sadhna TV and Aastha TV, television channels that were broadcast throughout India, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Since his 2003 move to India, Ananda teachers have been giving classes on meditation and Kriyā Yoga in many major Indian cities. In 2009, at age 83, he moved to Pune to start a new community.

In 2009, he established a new swami order, different from Yogananda's lineage in the Giri branch of the Swami Order of Shankara.[7] According to Kriyananda, he believed that in this new age (Dvapara Yuga) not all old patterns remained valid, some reformation was necessary. Some of the features of the newly formed Nayaswami order are: (1) Nayaswamis can be single or married. (2) They can be freely creative, if the purpose is to serve others. (3) A new Nayaswami is named not by one Nayaswami (which had been the tradition), but by three. (4) A Nayaswami of this new order is called "Nayaswami", with "naya" meaning "new". Hence, he initiated himself and gave himself the title Nayaswami.[23]

On April 21, 2013, he died in his home in Assisi.[24] His remains were brought back to Ananda Village in May 2013.


  1. Swami Kriyananda, The New Path - My Life with Paramhansa Yogananda. (Crystal Clarity Publishers, 2009). ISBN:978-1-56589-242-2.
  2. Kriyananda, The Essence of Self-Realization Crystal Clarity Publishers (2003) ISBN:0-916124-29-0
  3. Kriyananda, Conversations With Yogananda: Stories, Sayings, and Wisdom of Paramhansa Yogananda Crystal Clarity Publishers (2004) ISBN:1-56589-202-X
  4. Walters, James Donald Erzieher Stories of Mukunda Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship (1953) OCLC 633537040
  5. See Autobiography of a Yogi, (1955) 6th ed., OCLC 546634 p. 498
  6. Self-Realization Magazine. Los Angeles, California: Self-Realization Fellowship. 1949–1960. ISSN 0037-1564.
  7. Yogananda, Paramhansa, Autobiography of a Yogi Nevada City, California:Crystal Clarity Publishers (1995 [1946]) ISBN:1565891082 Wikisource, Chapter 24
  8. Goldberg, Phillip (2013). American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation How Indian Spirituality Changed the West. Harmony. 
  9. Beverley, James (2009). Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions. Thomas Nelson, Inc.. 
  10. Suiter, John. Poets on the Peaks (2002) Counterpoint. ISBN:1-58243-148-5; ISBN:1-58243-294-5 (pbk) pg. 251
  11. Helin, Sadhana Devi Many Hands Make a Miracle
  12. Visit to Saints of India, Ananda Sangha Publications, ISBN:978-81-89430-24-5
  13. Doug Mattson (October 30, 2002). "Jury: Copyrights violated by church". The Union (Grass Valley, California). 
  14. Novak, Devi (2006). Faith is my armor: the life of Swami Kriyananda. Crystal Clarity Publishers. ISBN 978-1-56589-213-2. 
  15. Beverley, James (2009). Nelson's illustrated guide to religions: a comprehensive introduction to the religions of the world. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 9780785244912. 
  16. Library of Congress Catalog Record
  17. Foxan, Anya (2017) (in en). Biography of a Yogi. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0190668051. 
  18. Vicky Anning (February 11, 1998). "COURT: Jury stings Ananda Church and its leaders". Palo Alto Weekly (Palo Alto, California). 
  19. "$1 million judgment against swami". Palo Alto Weekly (Palo Alto, California). February 27, 1998. 
  20. Goa, Helen (March 10, 1999). "Sex and the Singular Swami". San Francisco Weekly. 
  21. Wayne Wilson (November 2, 1997). "Church-financed trash raid disrupts sex-abuse lawsuit". The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California). 
  22. Jamie Bate (27 March 2004). "Swami clear in Italy case: Ananda founder safe from arrest, supporters say". The Union. 
  23. Sonal Srivastava (Oct 24, 2011). "The naya swami". The Times of India (India). 
  24. Ian (April 21, 2013). "Swami Kriyananda passes away in Italy". The Times of India (India). 
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