The Writing of Faith Is My Armor: An Interview with Devi Novak
Q: Devi, why did you decide to write, Faith Is My Armor?
D: Looking back, I realize that I’d been preparing to do it for a long time. For many years I’ve kept a file of things about Swamiji—clippings from articles in which he talked about his life, notes of conversations with him. It always seemed like something I might do in the distant future.
Then in the spring of 2004, Swamiji called and said that with the work starting to grow in India, a short biography of his life was very much needed. His autobiography, The Path, ends with the creation of Ananda, but so much has happened subsequently.
I suggested the names of several people who could possibly write the book, but with each one Swamiji said, “Oh no, that isn’t the right choice.”
Finally there was a long pause, and I asked, “Swamiji, would you like me to try to write it?” He let out a sigh (probably at my slowness on the uptake) and said, “I was hoping you would say that.” On some level I had known that he was asking me to do it, but because I realized the magnitude of the project, I was pushing it away.
Q: What were the biggest challenges you faced in writing the book?
D: First I felt inadequate to the task. How could I, with my limited spiritual perception, do justice to someone whose depth of spiritual consciousness so far exceeded my own?
Secondly, the book had to be objective. I knew it couldn’t just be about the experiences of one devotee saying, “Oh, I knew him as such a wonderful soul!” I needed to objectify my own experiences and understanding in a way that would be meaningful and inspiring to others.
Q: How did you approach the writing of the book?
D: I spent several weeks re-reading what Swamiji had written about his life—The Path, A Place Called Ananda, and various booklets. I reviewed material about the lawsuits against Ananda and other aspects of Ananda’s history. From that I created an outline of the major events. The outline came quickly—actually in a day. I then began organizing my notes and developed the story line.
Q: Did the files you had been keeping over the years play an important part in the book?
D: Yes. It was as though I’d been writing the book for a long time without knowing it. I used everything I had set aside.
Q: Did you show any part of the book to Kriyananda before it was finished?
D: To see if I was on the right track, I showed him the first seven chapters when Jyotish and I visited him in India in October 2004. He said, “This is a good start, but you’ve bogged down in several places. You need to rethink it.”
The problem was that I was trying to be too objective. I wasn’t adding my own impressions and understanding. The book had to be objective, but if the point of view it expressed didn’t resonate with my own understanding of Swami’s life as I had observed it over 35 years, it would lack sincerity.
So I returned to Ananda Village and began meditating on how to present his story in a deeper, more insightful way. A good friend said, “Devi, to go deeper with this book you need to go into seclusion.” And that’s what I did. I had been working on it halftime. Now I began working on it with full-time energy.
As I approached the book in this way, insights came. It was a powerful lesson—that in anything that we do, we must fully enter into it with all of our heart. The more I did that, the more the story flowed, and I knew that this was the way that Yogananda wanted Swamiji’s life told.
I showed the manuscript to Swamiji when we returned to India in February 2005. He said, “Now you’ve picked it up in the proper way.”
Q: You wrote Faith is My Armor in nine months. Does what you’ve just described explain how you were able to write it so quickly?
D: Yes. It was an amazing experience and a reflection of how Swami has trained us in the use of energy. I gave myself the deadline of finishing it by the time we left for India in February. The writing process was one of letting go of everything else in order to immerse myself in an energy field, and never stepping out of that field. I couldn’t interact much with people. When I needed to clear my mind, I’d go for long walks but kept the ideas in my mind.
Once when I was closing down my computer after a day of writing, the outline for the next chapter suddenly came to me in vivid detail. And I said, “I’d better get this down now, while it’s flowing.” So I outlined the chapter, and the next day writing it was easy.
Q: Did you ever feel that the project was too big for you?
D: No, and here again there’s a parallel with the process of spiritual growth. If we think of the long process of achieving liberation, we can get daunted. But if we think of the process of meditating properly each day, that’s doable. In other words, we have to break things into chunks we can handle.
I would try to keep my mind in the present. I would say to myself, “Today I’m writing about the history of Ananda. Okay, that’s doable.” I wouldn’t think, “Oh, I have to write the whole biography of Swami Kriyananda.” I only looked at what was in front of me. I did feel a certain sense of pressure, but I was always aware of being supported by a wonderful energy flow, and I wasn’t anxious.
Q: You haven’t used the words, “guru’s grace,” in describing this process. Were you aware of Yogananda’s presence?
D: Certainly. When I began writing in this flow of energy, I felt Yogananda’s power and blessings. And I felt that he wanted Swamiji’s story told in the way I eventually approached it.
Q: Would you say that in writing the story you tapped into the superconscious level of awareness?
D: Yes, and we all do this much more than we realize. The difference was that this was a sustained effort. It took a sustained act of will to stay in that superconscious flow where my thoughts could be guided.
Q: Kriyananda has encountered considerable opposition during his life, much of it from Self Realization Fellowship (SRF). Does the book discuss SRF’s lawsuit against Ananda?
D: Yes. That chapter proved interesting in many ways. I had collected a lot of information on the lawsuit, but when it came time to write about it, I decided not to discuss it in depth.
Interestingly, Swamiji called around that time and asked, “How are you going to deal with the lawsuit?”
I said, “So much has been written about it already that I’ll only touch on it lightly—two or three pages.”
He replied, “Oh, okay.”
That night I woke up at 3 o’clock in the morning, and I saw how to do the entire chapter on the lawsuit. I ran to the computer and wrote from 3 to 6 AM. It turned out to be about 25 pages. I later refined it, but the entire chapter came in that flow of energy.
Q: Would you consider this book a defense of Swami Kriyananda or Ananda?
D: I see it more as shining a brilliant light on the truth of a man’s life. We don’t need to defend ourselves when the truth is presented in strong, clear terms.
As I put Kriyananda’s life in context against the backdrop of ongoing opposition and persecution, the false accusations, and the lawsuits, what emerges is a soul moving through a life of tremendous challenges to fulfill his guru-given mission, and fulfilling it with incredible integrity and effectiveness.
Q: History is full of conflicting biographies about great figures. Is there an advantage in having the subject of the biography review it?
D: Absolutely. There were some incidents that I had presented incorrectly or in the wrong sequence. Kriyananda corrected these when he went through the final manuscript.
But more than anything, as I was writing the book, I felt Swamiji guiding my thoughts, and trying to help me to understand his life more deeply.
I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to work on this book, and to help others know more about Swamiji’s story. Working on it has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. Through Swamiji’s life of total dedication to his guru, a great spiritual light has been brought into this world that will spread and uplift the lives of people everywhere.
Devi Novak, together with her husband, Jyotish Novak, serve as acharyas (spiritual directors) for Ananda Sangha Worldwide. She is a founding member of Ananda and lives at Ananda Village.
Other Clarity articles by Devi Novak are listed under “Nayaswami Devi.”
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