Swami Kriyananda, among the last of direct disciples of the iconic Paramhansa Yogananda, passed away on Sunday in Italy, his organisation Ananda Sangha announced. He was 86.
A great admirer of India and its spiritual legacy, Kriyananda, who was born J Donald Walters, breathed his last at 12 noon India time at his home in Asissi, a spokesperson for Ananda Sangha said in New Delhi.
"He had been unwell for a few days. He left (passed away) peacefully," a brief statement said.
In the over 60 years that he devoted to spirituality, Kriyananda, an American, wrote around 140 books and 400 pieces of poetry which together sold more than three million copies in 90 countries.
During this period, he preached Sanatan Dharma, Kriya Yoga and meditation, earning a large number of followers in numerous countries including India.
His last public discourse was in Chennai Jan 20 this year when more than 2,000 people packed the Music Academy hall in the heart of the city.
Born in Romania, Kriyananda met Yogananda at the age of 22 after reading his "Autobiography of a Yogi", regarded as one of the greatest spiritual works to be ever written.
Kriyananda spent nearly four years with Yogananda until the latter passed away in 1952.
After being with Yogananda's Self Realization Fellowship, Kriyananda founded the Ananda Sangha in 1969.
He first came to India in 1958 and visited the country later many times, eventually opening an Ananda Sangha centre at Gurgaon near Delhi in 1993. Other centres followed in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore.
Kriyananda met several spiritual masters in India. He also had interactions with then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He spoke nine languages including Bengali and Hindi.