Kriyananda Answers Charges of Sexual Misconduct and Abuse of Power: Part 1 (Letter 1)

Something Has Come Up That Must Be Faced, by Swami Kriyananda

 

November 25, 294 Dwapara

Dear Friends:

Something has come up that, while disagreeable, must be faced. And I have to ask you, regretfully, to face it with me. It concerns an attack on Ananda Church, on one of the Ananda ministers, and on me as the spiritual leader of Ananda. To tell the truth, while we must treat this matter seriously, it is rather a soufflé: mostly air. I even see much good coming out of it.

I’d like to preface this account by pointing out that there are always two influences at work in the world: the twin forces of light and darkness, love and cynicism, the divine and the satanic. The influence of these forces is demonstrated in our lives by the ways we react to things. Whatever happens in your life, it is in your reaction that the key lies. Ask yourself, simply: “Am I becoming wiser and more loving? Or is my understanding becoming darker and filled with despair?” The issue is not whether evil exists objectively. It does, as the product of deliberate evil in people’s hearts. But the issue is whether we allow ourselves to become darkened, mentally, by the darkness around us. If our aim is to help anyone, we cannot afford to allow evil to enter our own hearts. Our first essential step toward dispelling darkness anywhere is to love impersonally.

We have strong evidence of SRF involvement in the present attack on Ananda. We of course view it, therefore, as an extension of their lawsuit against us. Let me place this little “vignette” in a larger frame.

I haven’t talked about this much, but I’ve been playing a high-stakes game with my life. For over thirty years, beginning with my ouster in 1962 from SRF, fellow disciples in my guru’s organization have attempted to convince me that everything I’ve done with my life has displeased Yogananda. I ought not, according to them, to spread his teachings outside of SRF. (The fact that I couldn’t spread them from inside is never touched upon.) I ought not to have founded Ananda. I ought never to have given Kriya initiation. I am demonstrating nothing but ego in writing my own books. (Someone in SRF actually went to the trouble to count the number of times I had used the personal pronoun in my autobiography, The Path.) And of course I ought not to have presumed to defend myself against SRF threats against me, which culminated in their lawsuit.

They have tried to instill fear in me, warning me that by my actions I am endangering my own salvation — indeed, that I am inviting incarnations of future suffering.

For myself, I must say that the opinions of my fellow disciples are important to me. I would be rash to insist that I know better than they: I, all alone, against what they claim, at least, to be all of them? Looked at from a standpoint of church authority I stand on dangerous ground indeed. But what shall I do, when my own understanding simply does not endorse their position? Shall I allow myself to be ruled by fear?

Perhaps the most valid test of the rightness of an act can be seen in its consequences. If the act is right, not only will we feel the corroboration of our own conscience: The consequences themselves will be beneficial. If the act is wrong, however, the consequences will be damaging to all concerned.

Do I believe that Yogananda’s blessings have been on my work? Considering the countless blessings that have attended it, how could I possibly doubt?

In the very midst of every success, however, I always pray, “If by any chance I am wrong, please, show me my error. Correct me in any way you please, even if it means my very life ending in failure. Whatever your will is, I shall be humbly grateful for the opportunity to follow it. I will not presume. All I want is that your will be done. The only condition I place on my service to you is that I cannot, in the name of serving you, do nothing at all.”

I do believe that I have acted rightly. Success and failure in themselves, however, mean nothing to me. The only thing I want is God’s love, and to attain eternal wakefulness from delusion in that love.

I should like to add a related point here: At Ananda we make it a principle never to impose on anyone’s free will. One of our guiding principles is, “People are more important than things.” There are times, of course, when decisions must be made resolutely. In such cases we do our best always to be fair — fair not only to everyone here at Ananda, but to what we consider our larger community: our neighbors, and humanity everywhere.

These are unusual positions to take. People generally assume the existence of an authoritarian government in a spiritual community. They assume patriarchal attitudes in the leader of such a community (if the leader is a man, or matriarchal if a woman), with all the authority and coerciveness that such an image suggests. They can scarcely imagine my own attitude toward leadership, or the fact that I assign no special importance to this role at all. To me, it is simply a function that must be filled by someone, even as other jobs must be fulfilled to enable a community to function. I never demand obedience of anyone; all I ever ask is cooperation.

Months ago, I remarked to our Ananda legal team who are responsible for our legal defense in the SRF lawsuit, “What can SRF do now, in the face of repeated losses? What is left for them, if they want to go on fighting us? Only persecution, surely.” Isn’t that the route religions have usually taken?

The attack mentioned at the outset of this letter is a typical example of such persecution: not a direct attack, but one wouldn’t expect that, at first. We have, as I said, abundant evidence of SRF complicity.

There was a woman living for a time at Ananda who got romantically involved with a married member, an Ananda minister. When I first learned of the situation, I asked this man what his intentions were. Certainly, I hoped he would say that he wanted to remain faithful to his wife and family, and I would have tried my best to help him to attain clarity in this matter had he been confused to the point of saying he wanted to leave his family. Adding to the poignancy of his situation was the fact that he and his wife have a little daughter of delayed mental development.

This man told me that, although he had become romantically involved with this woman, and found himself in love with her, he had reached the decision on his own, after meditation, to remain with his wife and daughter, and to be loyal to them. I did my best to support and strengthen him in this decision.

I urged him not to speak of this matter to others, and asked those who knew about it to do likewise. Silence at this point was, I felt, necessary — not to protect Ananda from scandal (as this woman now claims), but to give both him and her a chance to work out their problem without the interference of other people’s negative thoughts.

I spoke to this woman also, and tried to dissuade her from further involvement with this man. She told me it was difficult to break the attachment she felt for him. At first I tried only urging her, strongly but lovingly, to do her best, and pleaded with her also to be compassionate for the daughter who, because of her delayed development, depended even more than most little children on her parents. I felt the child was to some extent aware of the situation already, if only subconsciously, and that a part of her developmental problem was related to her fright and insecurity in the face of things she didn’t understand.

The “other woman” said, somewhat doubtfully, that she would do her best. How hard she tried I have no way of knowing. Her reputation at Ananda, unfortunately, was that she was, as one person put it to me, “on the prowl.” Though she had not been connected with Ananda long, this was already her third case of romantic involvement with men. My own impression of her was, and remains to this day, that there is much sweetness in her, but that this quality in her vies with a hardness that borders on ruthlessness.

Danny L., the minister to whom I’ve been referring, quoted the “other woman” to me as telling him on several occasions, when he insisted that he wanted to remain loyal to his wife: “I always get my way.”

Two weeks passed, and I saw that the attraction between the two of them was still alive. (Danny said it was she who fanned it. She says otherwise. I myself have no way of knowing the truth of the matter for a certainty, but I believe Danny because I have always found him to be scrupulously truthful, regardless of any disadvantage to himself. This woman, on the contrary, has been discovered in many lies, a number of which she has openly admitted.) I therefore requested that she be transferred to another department at Ananda Village. In this way, at least the two of them would not be working in the same building.

I must interject here that at Ananda, since it is a religious work, it is our strict priority to find that work for people which holds the greatest promise of being helpful to them in their spiritual development. Their work skills are, to us, a secondary consideration. Their spiritual sincerity is everything. We have never, to my knowledge, accepted anyone as a member of Ananda on the basis of any skill he or she possessed.

Anne Marie Bertolucci, the “other woman” in this case, complains that we took her out of work in which she was performing competently. The issue of her competence did not arise in our minds. In fact, however, the new position she was given represented a better use of her skills, and gave her also a better salary. Still, Ananda is not a place of business, and had her first position seemed indispensable to us she would still have been transferred. Similar transfers, sometimes very difficult for the work at hand, have had to be made a number of times at Ananda, for the spiritual good of the person or persons concerned. Sometimes, in cases similar to the one here being discussed, we have transferred members to other Ananda communities. We are not a company, nor is Crystal Clarity, Publishers, where Anne Marie then worked at Ananda Village, a company. People who live at Ananda accept that the priority in their lives is their spiritual, not their material, wellbeing.

Anne Marie joined the Ananda pilgrimage to India that fall. I do not remember whether I encouraged her to go, but certainly I was glad for her sake to see her going. My hope was that the pilgrimage would cure her of her infatuation for Danny. On her return it was evident the experiment had proved a failure. She told me frankly, after her return, that she had made no attempt, while meditating in those holy shrines, to free herself of her attachment. To Danny she confessed that her only prayer had been that her desire to marry him be fulfilled.

Danny said to her, “I am determined to remain with my wife and family.” Anne Marie, so Danny tells me, replied, “This is my punishment for all the people I’ve hurt this way in my life.”

Her next step was to come to me and announce her determination to marry Danny. I tried unsuccessfully to shake this determination. In answer to my appeal to her conscience, she made it clear that it no longer mattered to her whether she broke up a marriage and a home. When I reminded her about the condition of Danny and Karin’s daughter, she exclaimed fervently, “I will make a good mother to Elisa!” What could I do, at that point, but act resolutely against her wishes, in the name of a larger good?

I then told her, “I am sorry, but I have spoken to Danny, and he doesn’t want it. It is morally wrong, Anne Marie. I cannot and will not sit by idly and let you wreck their home.” I then told Anne Marie she would have to go live in one of our other communities. I gave her her choice, recommending especially our communities in Seattle, Washington, and in Assisi, Italy. She reacted with barely contained fury. Possibly she had never been so completely thwarted before.

I reiterated that I wanted to help her as much as I wanted to help Danny, and said that it would ultimately hurt her more than anyone else if she destroyed this marriage. I assured her of my desire to help her, wherever she was. Guilefully, she took this expression of supportiveness as a sign of possible weakening, and began trying to play up to what she perceived as my softness. Instead, she found me absolutely firm.

“We are not driving you out,” I told her. “We are only giving you your choice of living in another of our communities. I don’t insist you go to any of them, specifically. That choice I leave to you.”

I am by nature a gentle person, and I don’t think she was prepared to find me formidable. Her attitude that afternoon, as she left me, made it clear that she was completely unreconciled to my decision; indeed, she didn’t even greet me or glance at me in farewell.

I then set the wheels in motion for her transfer to another Ananda community. The only one in which she expressed a willingness to live was the Ananda Palo Alto community, so I acquiesced, though I didn’t think Palo Alto was the best choice for her.

Anne Marie now accuses Danny of harassing her sexually. He, for his part, never even had a girl friend during his many years at Ananda, until he fell in love with and married Karin. Given Anne Marie’s history of seeking sexual involvement with a series of men, and Danny’s complete lack of any such history, I think it absurd that this harassment issue should be raised against him. Were Danny so inclined, he might well turn the accusation of harassment against her.

Anne Marie accuses me, and Ananda, of keeping her and Danny’s involvement a secret with a view to protecting Ananda’s good name. I have explained my reasons for not wanting it talked about. I was certainly not motivated by a desire to protect Ananda, but only to protect Danny and his family, and Anne Marie herself, and to give them all a chance to heal without outside interference.

Ananda has a widespread reputation for extraordinary honesty and openness about its mistakes. As I read once in a magazine, however, “It is good to be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brains fall out!”

Anne Marie accuses us of favoring Danny over her. And it was she who tried to wreck their home!

She accuses us of turning people against her. This accusation shows merely the wrath of a vengeful woman. We did our best to protect her, even after she spoke out against us in Palo Alto, and against me, when she encountered anyone who she felt could be influenced against us. Even now we wish her well, and would, if she allowed it, do whatever we could to help her.

Whatever mental process she actually followed, she broadened her accusations to include allegations that I sexually harassed her. I had thwarted her will. She now singled me out as the principal recipient of her revenge.

On what were her accusations based? I have never in my life harassed anyone. Nor am I limiting this statement to sexual harassment. I have too great respect for the free will of others to impose my will on them for any reason whatever, even at great personal cost to myself.

Anne Marie accuses me, unbelievably, of watching an erotic video with her, presumably with the hope of arousing her sexually. The simple fact is, I have never in my life watched a pornographic movie. Nor have I the slightest interest in doing so. I find even the “bedroom” scenes, so common in movies nowadays, merely irritating. Either I “fast-forward” a video at such points, or, if I’m in a movie theater, I close my eyes and meditate. The standard joke at Ananda is, “Don’t go to Swami’s house to watch videos. All you’ll get is Cary Grant movies, black-and-whites like ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ and old Walt Disney classics.” I counter their joke by pointing to the new movies I have liked. It is true, however, that I prefer the old ones, primarily because they are more innocent, and less jaded. (I might do well to add that I only rarely watch videos, anyway.)

I don’t remember the specific movies I watched during that period in my life which Anne Marie describes. I remember that I was forced to seek entertainment by the fact that I couldn’t really do much else. I was having a medical problem with my heart, which gave me so little energy at that time that I could hardly walk twenty feet without having to lie down awhile and pant. The only movie from that time of my life that I remember was “The Sound of Music.”

Anne Marie accuses me of harassment because I asked her if she would massage my shoulders; because I gave her neck a chiropractic adjustment when she complained to me of pain (quite a few people at Ananda consider me adept at adjusting necks); because I gave her a hug; and because I pecked her on the cheek. None of this amounts to harassment. I didn’t order her to give me a shoulder rub. I didn’t order her to submit to a neck adjustment; it was she who requested it. Many members of Ananda, men as well as women, have from time to time given me shoulder rubs, a sharing I enjoy but have never demanded. As for hugging Anne Marie, I do frequently express affection for people by hugging them, and often by pecking them on the cheek (a custom I learned in Europe, where I grew up). I’ve never known anyone to take it amiss, nor is it an expression of desire on my part. Anne Marie never expressed the slightest disinclination toward such expressions. Had they displeased her, the merest hint would have sufficed for me to keep my distance. It is significant, I think, that she has waited an entire year before even suggesting any impropriety.

Durga (Sally Smallen), who has counseled women at Ananda for nearly twenty years, stated recently, “In all my years of counseling women here, I haven’t heard a single complaint against Swami.”

Though I gave a lot of affection to Anne Marie, it was certainly not more so than to countless others, men as well as women. In her case, my hope was to encourage the sweetness in her nature, and to soften the hardness I had been sorry to observe. She now quotes people as having told her I had a special love for her, and that I considered her ready and worthy to be close to me. The persons she quotes in this regard categorically deny having ever said anything remotely similar to her. The picture suggested by her words, of “ready and worthy” women clustered in throngs around me like the wives and concubines of some oriental pasha, simply do not match reality. Most of my close friends are happily married couples. I have as many single men friends as women friends — and, no, I am not homosexual. Christmas dinners, to which I customarily invite my most intimate friends, generally number about 150 people. Anne Marie evidently knows nothing of my personal life. All she can do is invent one for me.

When Anne Marie left the Ananda community in Palo Alto, I am informed she began attending the SRF church in Richmond. There, she related her “sad story” to certain SRF members who were anti-Ananda. Until that time, the only complaint she had voiced that we’d ever heard was that she felt she hadn’t been treated fairly at Ananda. Her post-Ananda advisors, however, most if not all of them SRF members — helped her to “cook up” her case against us.

But let us now visualize a person being encouraged by negative people in her desire for revenge. What other charges could they help her to trump up, to strengthen her case? What charges would do the greatest damage? Accusations against an Ananda minister would have some damaging effect, yes — but, after all, so narrow a focus could prove only minimally harmful. Accusations against Ananda for unfair employment practices would broaden the scope somewhat, however unrealistically. But we know that Anne Marie asked others, some of them known to us, for advice in this matter, and I can imagine them saying, “Why not go for the jugular? What can you say against the spiritual leader of Ananda? There, after all, is where the real juice lies!”