In her book, Swami Kriyananda: Lightbearer, Nayaswami Asha writes:
At another performance of the Oratorio, when Swamiji listened from the audience, I was sitting next to him. The quartet finished The Temptation of Christ, in which Jesus sings,
“Get thee behind me,” Jesus declared.
“Satan, know you not our Father offers love in your stead?
“His gift of love to all is my only food;
He is all I own. What does man need, but Him?”
In the pause between songs, Swamiji whispered to me, “Rajarshi told me that Master would give me the power I needed to do this work. What he meant, among other things, was the music. I don’t know where it comes from; it is just there.” Later he said, “Ananda would not be what it is today without the influence of the music. Books and lectures are the outer form of the teachings; music is its coursing blood. It is not my music or even our music. It is a new ray of consciousness that is coming into this world as music. Every note is the way I heard it. I didn’t create it, I just wrote it down.”
Tyagi Ram Smith recalls how the universal appeal of compositions by Paramhansa Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda was powerfully demonstrated when a small choir from Ananda Assisi performed for the Pope at the Vatican.
One of the most memorable events of our lives at Ananda Assisi was when the World Brotherhood Choir sang at the Vatican on Wednesday, March 8, 1989.
After celebrating Paramhansa Yogananda’s Mahasamadhi Anniversary the previous day, members of the the Ananda Assisi community felt a deep blessing as we caravanned to Rome to share Master’s and Swami Kriyananda’s songs as a vibrational offering for the Spiritual Unity of All Mankind. It was a historical time for Ananda Assisi as we shared our teachings of Original Christianity and Original Yoga as taught by Jesus Christ and Babaji Krishna during an audience with Pope John Paul II.
Excitement was in the air that day! We arrived at the majestic St Peter’s Basilica in Rome that seemed to welcome us with joyous anticipation and out-stretched arms. Almost the entire staff came from Ananda Assisi to attend this auspicious gathering with The Holy Father of the Roman Catholic Church.
All the devotees were buzzing with questions. Will we actually meet him, or will he be behind a plastic security enclosure? Can we talk to him and shake his hands? Is there a chance for him to bless us? These questions were soon answered as we were directed by ushers into the Pope’s Audience Hall. With a capacity of 10,000, the hall was completely full as we gathered for the weekly event. Nine months beforehand, we had written the Vatican and made reservations for this very special day, but how did the inspiration come to get us here?
Well, it came from a Joy Singer group called I Cantanti Della Gioia composed of five devotees from Ananda Assisi, of which I was a part. The Cantanti had performed an audition at the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, conducted by a resident Franciscan monk, Padre Testa, who was a longtime friend of ours.
We became Padre Testa’s friends when we brought hundreds of pilgrims several times a year from all around the world to visit the sacred shrines of St. Francis, even in the early years the Ananda Europa Retreat was located in Lake Como, Italy. The Ananda pilgrimages were an important income stream for our fledgling community from the very beginning, as they continue to be today.
Even before Ananda Europa moved to Assisi in the fall of 1986, we had established a relationship with Padre Testa, as he knew us from the tours of the Basilica of St Francis that he led. But while Padre Testa knew us well, he didn’t know our music.
When we sang for him at St Francis’s Tomb, he went wild for JOY! His name, Testa, means “Head” and reflects his transformation by the Ananda Music from the head, dalla sua testa, to his heart, al suo cuor. The Spirit of Christ and St Francis in the music touched him so deeply that he exclaimed, “Your music is of God! You are welcome to sing here or in the Upper Basilica anytime you choose!”
Padre Testa further suggested, ”If you’d like your music to become known, go and sing for the Holy Father at the Vatican.”
Swami Kriyananda was living at Ananda Village at the time, but when he heard that we might sing for the Pope, he was ready to fly over to be part of this historical moment. However, we couldn’t guarantee that he could have a heart-to-heart meeting with the Pope, so he didn’t make the long trip but sent an Ananda choral director to help develop the small Joy Singer group into a seventeen-voice World Brotherhood Choir. This was the first time we began to develop a choir at Assisi, in the fall of 1988.
Our director whipped us into great singing shape, and over the next eight months our confidence steadily grew in anticipation of this joyful opportunity. It would be a chance to create bridges between East and West – a tribute to Paramhansa Yogananda’s mission and the teachings of Self-Realization.
When Yogananda visited Assisi and Rome in 1935 on his way to India, I wonder if he knew that there would be a center founded in his name near the town of St Francis. Master had many visions of St Francis and called him his “patron saint.”
Yogananda recounted in a letter to Rajarsi Janakananda a visit to the tomb of Francis on July 23, 1935.
“As I was visiting his living tomb and put my head on the shrine steps, St Francis appeared to me. Then I saw a tunnel of Eternity in which he disappeared. The entire cellar beneath the church was replete with his vibrations.”
Master told Swami Kriyananda about his experience at Mt. Subasio for the first time: “I walked the pathway of St Francis’s hermitage, L’Eremo delle Carceri, and I had a vision of Christ and Francis walking with me, hand and hand, in great Joy!”
Back to our visit to the Vatican. The first song we sang that day was “Door of My Heart,” sung in four-part harmony in Italian. It was an inspired choice because the power of the chant sung by our seventeen-voice choir captured the attention of the huge audience. People immediately hushed their conversations as a wave of God’s blessings swept through the crowd. People began listening intently.
Then the miracle happened – the audience of 10,000 quickly learned the words of “Porta del Mio Cuor” and began singing. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life. Everyone was crying as we were uplifted in the spirit of the chant.
I’m sure no one expected the Holy Spirit to descend so powerfully, drawn by an inspired chant by a Hindu yogi. Yogananda’s attunement to Christ filled the hall as the choir chanted with the 10,000 voices. If we had announced beforehand that the song was written by Paramhansa Yogananda, I wonder who would have sung. After the chant, the choir sat down to rousing applause.
Pope John Paul II then came to the dais and Catholic hymns were sung. After a reading from the Bible the Pope gave a moving sermon based on the reading. Finally the various groups from around the world were introduced to The Pope, including as “the World Brotherhood Choir from California.” When our name was given we stood and sang Swamiji’s “Thy Light Within Us Shining” from the oratorio, Christ Lives.
“Thy Light within us shining as shown where freedom lies!
From earthly walls confining,
To soar in Spirit’s skies!
How oft, like sheep, we’ve strayed apart –
Now guided by Thy ray,
In inner freedom of the heart
Our night has turned to day!”
Like Padre Testa at the tomb of St Francis, the Pope went wild with joy. As we finished the song he was waving his hands and arms, blessing us from a distance. The Holy Audience was concluded with a prayer by Il Papa who came down from the dais and began to connect with the audience.
Here’s a film of the event:
The film shows the Pope shaking hands with and blessing the Ananda Assisi members. We presented the Holy Father with gifts of Swami’s books and letters from various people, including a letter from Swamiji..
It’s important to mention that after our audience with Il Papa, the choir began to compete in choral competitions where we won trophies. At a competition of songs dedicated to the Virgin Mary, we sang “Mother of Wisdom” and our seventeen-member World Brotherhood Choir won second place. We later won first place with Swamiji’s song “Peace” in Italian at a choral festival.
Spiritually minded people everywhere are deeply touched by Ananda’s music. We’ve sang at Roman Catholic churches throughout Italy and Europe, and these performances have always been a wonderfully way to share the teachings of Self-Realization.
As Swamiji often said, “If you would like to know me as I am, sing my music.” May the world be touched by these songs. May all human hearts be transformed by this music as it ushers in a new age of spiritual awakening!
Aum Peace Amen!
Tyagi Ram was the spiritual director of Ananda Assisi from 1988 to 1991. Ram has many stories of his in the early days of Ananda Europa, traveling with Swamiji and the World Brotherhood Choir. He now lives in Los Angeles, the “Benares of the West,” as Yogananda called it, and serves as a Lightbearer with Ananda Sangha in Los Angeles. Ram also serves at Crystal Clarity Publishers where he helps spread the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda.