Part I – The Story behind the Story
Yogananda’s instruction to Kriyananda
During the Bertolucci lawsuit, Swami Kriyananda wrote many letters to the Ananda family worldwide. He also spoke publicly for the first time about issues that were now the focus of this litigation. Among the things he shared:
On September 12, 1948—their first meeting—Paramhansa Yogananda initiated Swami Kriyananda as a disciple and as a monk. Kriyananda, then J. Donald Walters, was 22 years old.
Just before the initiation, Yogananda asked him: Of the three main delusions—sex, money, and intoxicants—what troubles you?
Swami answered truthfully: Money and intoxicants have never been issues for me, he said, but sex has been troublesome.
I saw that the moment you entered the room, Yogananda replied. He had posed the question as a test of Swami’s truthfulness. It was then he gave him his unconditional love, asking for his in return. Just a few minutes later, Yogananda made him a monk. Swami’s faith in his guru was so great that he accepted that this was a battle Yogananda felt he could face and win.
Over the years, Swami struggled with great courage. Once when he did express discouragement over the persistence of sexual desire, Yogananda said, “Don’t worry. You will overcome this. It is not deep in you.”
“Speak to no one about it.”
On another occasion, Swami asked Yogananda if there was someone other than Master himself from whom Swami could seek counsel about sex. Swami suggested perhaps he could talk to Rajarsi about it. Yogananda was emphatic: “Speak to no one about it.” Because of Yogananda’s instruction, Swami never did—until the deposition in the Bertolucci lawsuit.
At that point, Swami’s obedience to his guru conflicted directly with the requirements of a deposition, where, by law, you have to answer any question that is put to you. At a certain point Flynn started asking Swami direct questions about his sexual activity. Yet, to answer would be to disobey Yogananda. Swami hedged as much as he could, but Flynn kept probing. To refuse to answer in a deposition puts you in contempt of court. Swami could have gone to jail for refusing to answer, and Flynn would have been happy to put him there.
When it became clear that Swami was not going to answer, Flynn began gleefully to pantomime the act of Swamiji being manacled and taken off to prison in chains.
Swami called for a break.
How to respond?
A small group of us went to a nearby restaurant. For the first time ever, Swami told us what Yogananda had said: “Tell no one.” Upon reflection, we realized that Swami had talked very openly through the years about many issues he had faced, but never about sex. Ironically, his silence helped foster the erroneous idea that sexual temptation was not something he had to deal with.
Now, Swami said, he faced a terrible dilemma. If it had been just he, he would refuse to answer, even if it meant going to jail. But it wasn’t just he. All of Ananda was involved. Swami didn’t feel it was a decision he could make by himself.
He turned to us and said, “You decide.”
We were stunned. For a few moments, we just sat in silence. Then we talked about it from a purely practical point of view: What would be the legal result of certain actions? Gradually, the same intuition grew in all of us: Swami should answer. He had nothing to prove in terms of being obedient to his guru. To continue to be silent would hurt Ananda too much.
Without hesitation, Swami said he would answer. At the time it seemed as if he were merely going along with what we thought was right. Much later, someone asked him how he could have turned such an important decision over to others. He said, “Be assured, I wouldn’t have allowed anyone to make such a decision for me. I only wanted to see if they could give me a good reason not to answer. I myself already saw myself has having no choice in the matter.”
It is typical of Swamiji, to test his own intuition by putting the question impartially to others, and letting Divine Mother speak through them. Anwering Flynn’s questions was “what was “trying to happen.” We all felt it clearly.
So that day, and in the days that followed, in answer to Flynn’s questions Swami gave a simple accounting of his sexual experiences. Flynn did his best to make it seem lurid and crude, creating his own version of events which Swami constantly had to deny. The true story was just a man having a life. A mostly celibate life, with infrequent lapses. Lapses that were consensual. Nothing more.
What is a true spiritual teacher?
People speak of “spiritual teachers” as if they have ceased to be human beings. Yes, there are God-realized masters—but not many of them. Most of the people sent by God to help us are like us. More advanced—often much more advanced—but nonetheless, still working on their own salvation.
To reject such teachers is not a sign of discrimination, it is a sign of immaturity and egotism. The false assumption is, “If you aren’t perfect, you having nothing to teach me.
Many teachers have much to offer, even if they aren’t God-realized yet themselves. To reject such a teacher merely because he, too, has karma to work out is also to reject the many pearls of wisdom he has to give us. And if, in our rejection, we become arrogant and ungrateful, we are going backwards, not forwards on the path to Self-realization. Only very advanced souls get to be direct disciples of a God-realized master.
How do we grow spiritually?
A real teacher, having a real life, is a good example for us. Much better than a cardboard fantasy of what the “perfect” teacher is supposed to be. We all have karma to work out. We will stumble, we will fall, we will get up again. This is the spiritual path.
It doesn’t matter what happens to us. Our faults do not define us. All that matters is what we become through what happens to us. Yogananda put it simply: “A saint is a sinner who never gave up.”
Some people have said, “If Swami Kriyananda broke his vow of celibacy he can’t be a great spiritual teacher.” Others of us see it differently.
By any standard, Swami is a great man. His prodigious creative output alone—80 books, 400 pieces of music—makes him one of the outstanding men of our century. Add to that, the creation of Ananda. Then there is his discipleship to Yogananda. And in fifty years of doing Kriya, he has only missed his twice-daily practice two times—both because he had a high fever, when you are not supposed to do Kriya anyway. And we are talking heart surgery, and hip replacement operations, and several health crises that nearly killed him.
Then consider how many thousands of people Swami has helped bring onto the spiritual path and become disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda. It has been quite a life, and it isn’t over.
The necessity to face challenges
And yet, even this great man has struggled. Even this great man has made mistakes. This is what happens in life, even to great men. Think what that means for the rest of us.
No longer do we have to feel guilty and afraid just because we fail. Mistakes are the name of the game. Everybody—even Swami Kriyananda—makes them.
So instead of condemning him, why not take heart and learn from his example? How does a devotee deal with difficulties? How do you face your failings? How do you find the courage to go on? These are important teachings. Who better to show us than one who has lived them in his own life? “A saint is a sinner who never gave up!”
How does one win freedom from sexual desire?
People talk very self-righteously about how “once Swami Kriyananda broke his vow of celibacy he should never have worn the orange robe again.” The path to success is paved with failures. If a goal is worth striving for, you can’t possibly reach it in one step. Success comes when you refuse to allow failure to define you, not because you never fail. You pick yourself up and keep on going.
Few among us would even attempt something so challenging as life-long celibacy. But many of us have taken an equally sacred lifelong vow: the vow of marriage. And look how many of us have been divorced. Virtually all those who accuse Swami have been divorced, some several times. And yet we don’t hear anybody crying out that we have no right to get married again. In fact, most divorced people do get married again. Rather than giving up, we’ve learned from our failures. Our failures, in fact, are the foundation stones of our present success.
Who are we to say what the process is for success in the celibate life? Swami says he has now overcome the delusion of sex. He is free of it, just as, years ago, Yogananda assured him someday he would be. If his path to freedom involved sexual experience, why be surprised? If the context of those sexual relationships was less than ideal, why be shocked? This is life on planet Earth.
We all do our best. Even God doesn’t ask more of us.