1926 – 2013
A Brief Biography
Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters) was one of the foremost spiritual teachers of Yoga principles in the world today. In 1948 at the age of twenty-two, he became a disciple of the Indian yoga master, Paramhansa Yogananda.
Go to ananda.org for archived talks and videos.
At Yogananda’s request, Swami Kriyananda devoted his life to lecturing and writing, helping others to experience the joy and living presence of God within. He taught on four continents in seven languages over the course of nearly 60 years. His television program, radio interviews and music, and his many books in 29 languages have touched the lives of millions of people.
Swami Kriyananda took the ancient teachings of Raja Yoga and made them intensely practical and immediately useful for people in every walk of life, on a daily basis. His books and teachings cover nearly every field of human endeavor, including spiritualizing business life, leadership, education, the arts, community life, and science. He wrote extensive commentaries on the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita.
Swami Kriyananda was also known as the “father of the intentional communities movement” which began in the United States in the late 1960s. Inspired by his guru’s dream of establishing spiritual communities, in 1968 he founded the first of what are now nine Ananda communities worldwide. They provide a supportive environment of “simple living and high thinking” where 1,000 full-time residents live, work, and worship together.
“The time has come for people to live lives of even higher dedication than that which inspired monks and nuns of the past…The time has come for people to direct their spiritual awareness also downward into matter…to everything they do: their work, to education, to family life, to friendship, to their communications with strangers, to the way they build their homes—to all the most mundane, practical aspects of daily, human life. Men need now to become God-centered from within, and from that center to see God everywhere, in everything.”
—Swami Kriyananda, Cities of Light
Honors and awards
• Beacon of Light Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the National Interfaith Council (2007)
• Pioneer in Yoga Award, presented by the Los Angeles Yoga Fellowship in (2007)
• Recipient of the Julius Caesar Medal in Rome in 2007. It represents the keys to the City, and is conferred as one of the greatest honors to heads of state.
• Recipient of the Premio Ponte 2007 del Consorzio Per i Libri (Bridge Award of the Consortium for Books) for “affirming the principles of union between East and west, spreading throughout the world the ancient principles of Yoga and the spiritual teachings of the highest Indian tradition of Self-realization, making them practical and at the same available to people of every social level, and applicable in every area of daily life.” (2007)
• Member of The Club of Budapest International. Other members include Mikhail Gorbachev, the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. (2005)
• Recipient of International Award for Goodness by Tara Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi. Previous recipients include the Dalai Lama. Milan, Italy (2004)
• Lifetime Achievement Award, Unity in Yoga Conference, Snowmass, CO (1995)
More about Swami Kriyananda’s service and activities. (PDF)
“Swami Kriyananda is a man of wisdom and compassion in action, truly one of the leading lights in the spiritual world today. His work and life of selfless service are an inspiration to us all.”
—Lama Surya Das, author Awakening The Buddha Within
“…a wise teacher whose words convey love and compassion.”
—Dr. Larry Dossey, author of Healing Words
Founder of Ananda
Since his youth, Kriyananda had dreamed of utopian communities. But few others shared his enthusiasm, and he gradually put his dreams aside.
“This day marks the birth of a new era. My spoken words are registered in the ether, in the Spirit of God, and they shall move the West...We must go on—not only those who are here, but thousands of youths must go North, South, East, and West to cover the earth with little colonies, demonstrating that simplicity of living plus high thinking lead to the greatest happiness!”
Swami Kriyananda wrote afterwards, “I was moved to my core. It would not have surprised me had the heavens opened up and host of angels come streaming out, eyes ablaze, to do his bidding. Deeply, I vowed that day to do my utmost to make his words a reality.”
In 1967, the opportunity came, with the help of many miracles, large and small. Kriyananda was able to purchase a small piece of land in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Nevada City, California, and started to begin what is now known as Ananda Village. Though thousands of “utopian” communities were started during the late 1960s, only a handful remain today—among them Ananda. More than 300 people live in this intentional spiritual community dedicated to Yogananda’s ideals. A variety of Ananda-owned and private businesses form the economic backbone of the community. The Expanding Light meditation retreat, a publishing company, schools for children, and a grocery store are among the activities on the rolling 1,000 acres in the rural Sierra foothills. Homes and gardens are well-cared for, and there is a palpable feeling of harmony. Visitors are welcome year-round: (800) 346-5350.
Other Ananda communities have developed over the years to include Ananda Palo Alto, Ananda Portland, Ananda Seattle, Ananda Los Angeles, Ananda India (Gurgaon & Pune), Ananda Assisi in Italy, and Ananda India near New Delhi. Each community has a spiritual focus (a teaching center and temple) and a community (apartments or homes where members may live). The community in Sacramento, for example, is a large apartment complex with 65 residents, landscaped grounds, pool, shared community room, and chapel for group meditations: (916) 361-0891.
Swami Kriyananda’s leadership style is at the heart of Ananda’s success. He endeavors to uplift people however possible, through writing, lecturing, music, and acts of kindness. He has trained a large number of his students to teach and to assume leadership responsibility in the same way, as free as possible from personal concern, placing the spiritual needs of others primary in any decision. He offers spiritual counseling personally and in correspondence.
“There is a peace and quietness surrounding him that give a hint of his spiritual stature. Many times have I listened to him speak, and always have come away feeling refreshed and energized. It is not only the lectures, the teachings, and the books of J. Donald Walters that shed light on areas of darkness or confusion in people’s lives. Above all, perhaps, it is the example of the man himself, the peace and calm that surround him, the spiritual power that emanates from him, that point the way to each person’s own inner enlightenment.”
—John Harricharan, Body, Mind, & Spirit magazine