Kriyananda Answers Charges of Sexual Misconduct and Abuse of Power: Part 1 (Letter 2)

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


November 25, 294 Dwapara
Letter continues…

And let us ask ourselves, What would be the best way to prejudice a judge against a “spiritual leader”? Harassment wouldn’t suffice. The leader would have to be accused of pretending that he was better than others, more “spiritually advanced” than they, with access to levels of divine insight that permitted him to demand favors offensive against the judgment of any normal human being. He would have therefore, of course, to be an authority figure, and one who commands people to submit to his personal desires in the name of offering obedience to a higher, divine will. It would help also if he could be shown to create an atmosphere hostile to women. To do so, he would have to be described as belittling the position of women in his community, and as assigning them a role subordinate to the men.

Who wouldn’t be prejudiced against such tomfoolery? Imagination, however, is not even needed for this concoction. The charges exist already, ready-made; they were lifted wholesale from other, though completely dissimilar, cases. They are not even an attempt to relate in a relevant manner to Anne Marie’s actual situation, or to that of anyone at Ananda.

Let me begin with the last point: women’s place at Ananda. Visitors often comment to the effect that they find it so refreshing, at Ananda, to see women holding prominent positions. The role of women in our communities is, in fact, every bit as important as that of men. There is no consciousness of distinction between men and women as regards intelligence, management roles or ability, or any other aspect of our life here.

It would be difficult for the average person even to visualize how very different my own leadership style has been in these matters. It is not for me to offer stories to substantiate how very much the opposite of authoritarian I have always been, even to the point of listening as respectfully to the merest neophyte as to the oldest member here. Often people, including new members, have heard me agree to suggestions and corrections of theirs that were at variance with my own initial ideas.

So what else could Anne Marie’s counselors propose to her? Not much.

Brainwashing? Well, of course! This greatly overworked word, however, could not even conceivably be applied to Ananda, which shines in this respect among all social environments with which I have any familiarity.

Anne Marie claims to have seen me exchanging loving glances with another woman. I asked this other woman frankly what Anne Marie could have been talking about. This woman recalled to my memory that she had, at that time, just come out of the hospital, where her life had been in grave danger. Naturally, I was delighted to see her well again.

All I can say is, Anne Marie would draw from anything she saw the most intimate conclusions possible.

But enough of this nonsense. It would be laughable were it presented in a less serious form than that of a lawsuit. Let us pass on to the SRF connection.

When Anne Marie left the Ananda community in Palo Alto she got in touch, as I said, with a local SRF group, some of whose members are ex-Ananda dissidents or otherwise anti-Ananda. The wrath of these anti-Ananda friends (we think of them as friends) has been awakened by Ananda’s so-far successful attempts to defend itself against SRF’s lawsuit. Their wrath has long existed, however, smoldering in these people’s determination to side with SRF in its years of opposition to me and to Ananda.

Ex-Ananda members are also motivated, of course, by their very disaffection. Negativity has its own force. The best reaction to it is to look at the lives of the people concerned: the accusers as well as the accused.

When I was first ousted from SRF, Tara Mata, one of the SRF directors (Tara described herself to me by note as the “Second President of SRF”), attempted to prevent me from any possibility of speaking publicly. I was invited to teach at two institutions in San Francisco, the American Academy of Asian Studies and the Cultural Integration Fellowship. Tara telephoned long-distance to the presidents of these institutions, speaking in each case for forty minutes. She denounced me, and insisted that I not be allowed to speak from their platforms. Dr Landrum, of the American Academy, approached Dr. Chaudhuri of the Cultural Integration Fellowship, and asked, “What shall we do?”

“It seems to me,” Dr. Chaudhuri replied, “that we should go by what we see.” They both invited me to teach in their institutions.

I do not know why good people, people whom I personally know to be good, should go to such great lengths to destroy another human being. Tara’s attempts were extraordinary. Is it unreasonable to expect a devotee to have the faith that God will straighten out any errors, in His own way and in His own time?

Speaking of our present self-styled enemies of Ananda, I can only say that such people are usually to be found in the shadows of religious works. They are a part of the shadow that accompanies light. Their motivation may be envy and jealousy. It may be compensation sought for personal failure. In reviewing such cases in Ananda’s history, they seem always to have consisted of people who for some reason didn’t do well at Ananda, but on whom Ananda had exerted too strong an influence for them merely to forget their experience here. Some of these people wanted importance, and found their desire, because rooted in ego, constantly thwarted. Some of them were simply negative by nature, and found their negativity frustrated by the lack of openness to it in the persons around them.

Some ex-Ananda members have formed little pockets of resentment against Ananda. For anyone who would listen to them, I say only, “Compare, then decide for yourself.” The saying, “Where there’s smoke there’s fire,” doesn’t always apply, where negative resentment is involved. Sometimes it’s only the smoke produced by the critic’s own cigar.

I said to one of these people years ago, “J——, I could be the devil himself. Still it wouldn’t be your problem. Why do you allow yourself to be so obsessed with hatred that it affects your own peace of mind? You know very well that I bear you no ill will, that in fact I am your friend.” This friend admitted that he simply couldn’t overcome his obsessive hatred of me. I glimpsed a fleeting regret in his eyes at that moment. My words, however, didn’t change him.

With the help of these anti-Ananda SRF members, and with behind-the-scenes help from SRF (we have strong evidence of top SRF involvement) Anne Marie has sought to strengthen her case by accusing me of past situations, of which she has had no personal experience but which she offers in support of her claim that I harassed her sexually. I must therefore repeat with absolute conviction: I have never harassed anyone. Not sexually. Not in any other way.

It would be so easy to leave the subject there. But it wouldn’t be sufficient. These anti-Ananda friends have raised the general subject of my status as a swami, claiming that I have misrepresented myself publicly to deceive people. I welcome this charge as an important opportunity to clear the air not for only myself, but for many other spiritual teachers in America who have faced similar charges in recent years.

We live in a culture where sex is paraded as the ultimate human fulfillment. Advertisements, movies, books, magazines, newspapers, radio and television — all put out the message that sex is wonderful, that it is the ultimate answer to the quest for happiness. I read an advice column in a newspaper a few years ago in which a woman correspondent stated that sex didn’t really attract her all that much, and that she was perfectly happy without it. The counselor, evidently considering herself a mouthpiece for contemporary opinion, replied by commenting on that woman’s “problem,” ending with the suggestion that she get psychiatric counseling.

It all began with D. H. Lawrence, and, boy! have people brought sexual “liberation” a long way. Meanwhile, however, there are more divorces, more marital battles, more deep disillusionment with the very subject of love. And what is the general solution offered? Less emphasis on love, but more emphasis on sex. Our society is morally sick.

Meanwhile, the concept of renunciation receives little or no support in the public consciousness. To be a renunciate seems irrelevant to most people. Even among those who want to live a spiritual life, there is a growing tendency to feel that God must be sought in a more “normal” life. And indeed, with so much gross abnormality in so-called normal life, examples are desperately needed of people living Godly lives not in monasteries, but in the home.

The Virgin Mary has been appearing in hundreds of places on the planet to warn against living an ungodly life. Usually, though not always, her appearances are to children. And her message to them is no longer the same as it was to Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes, and to Lucia at Fatima. For no longer is she telling these child visionaries to enter monasteries. She’s telling them to marry and have children.

The monasteries today all over the world are virtually decimated. Most of their few remaining inhabitants are in their seventies and eighties. Newer monasteries, like those of SRF, include younger members also, but their rate of attrition is extraordinarily high.

The first thing most of those do who leave the monasteries is get married. Stripped of the protection of the monastery walls and of the monastic routine, they find themselves defenseless against the barrage of temptation that awaits them on the outside. Most of them, alas, think of themselves as fallen. They might look upon marriage as an alternate way of living for God. Instead, they see themselves as spiritual failures. These ex-monks and nuns could be marching in the vanguard of a new understanding of the spiritual needs of this age. Instead, all too many of them view themselves as the debris of battle, strewn by the wayside while others, worthier than themselves, continue the war against darkness.

The problem is very similar for the swamis who come to this country from India. Indeed, for them the problem is exacerbated. On the one hand, there is no support in our society even for the very concept of swami. On the other hand, they are accustomed to attitudes in India that understand, accept, and support their status in society. Here they find themselves in what amounts, spiritually, to an alien culture.

Women here, even if they respect the ideal of renunciation, do not know how to relate to swamis in the impersonal way women are accustomed to do in India. They have no models as guidelines of behavior. It also is not surprising that the swamis find themselves tempted. Few of them are liberated beings. Most are sincerely willing to do their best for others, while they themselves do their best to grow spiritually. Even in the matter of dress, Western clothing is very much less modest than the normal sari women wear in India. Rarely do swamis live in America in the safety of a monastery, and even those who do usually have more women students than men students. That they have held to their ideals as well as they have is, I think, cause for praise rather than blame. If some of them have slipped, and if the slip is recognized as such and personally repudiated, I would say only this: A slip is not a fall. Rarely do we find anyone who is perfect. What we must do, usually, is look at the direction a person is moving, and not define him or her in terms of a few deeds. If the direction is upward, we should be encouraging, not judgmental. If it is downward, we may feel we have to withdraw our support, but we should not withdraw our love.

I am reminded of Yogananda’s meeting with his guru, Sri Yukteswar. The guru said, “I give you my unconditional love. Will you also give me yours?”

“How can I love you unconditionally?” the young man asked. “What if you were ever to slip from your spiritual ideals?”

“I don’t want your love,” the guru stated. “It stinks!”

At those words Yogananda understood, and gave Sri Yukteswar his unconditional love.

You see, there are two sides to this question. The first is the difficulty of renunciates — swamis, priests, and others — who want sincerely to live by principles in which they believe, even when, sometimes, they make mistakes. The second is that of a public that demands a level of perfection towards which they may not even aspire in their own lives.

Supposing a swami, or a priest, slips? Shall he then declare, “I am no longer a swami”? Certainly he should not put up a false front. At the same time, there is nothing false about clinging to what one truly believes. Why should he open himself to even greater dangers? — the possibility, for example, that women may now look upon him as vulnerable to their desires. And would it not be defeatism to accept occasional failure as a definition of who he is and what he deeply wants to do with his life? To do so would be cowardice, surely.

Years ago, at the age of twenty, I resolved to give up smoking. Unfortunately, however, I “backslid” repeatedly — after a good meal, for example, or with a cup of coffee: in other words, at times when a smoke tasted particularly good. Each time I went back to smoking again, however, I affirmed mentally, “I haven’t yet succeeded.” I didn’t allow myself to define backsliding as failure. Thus, though I slipped repeatedly, I found my affirmations of eventual success, repeated just as frequently, strengthening my will power instead of weakening it. After a year of this seesawing I finally reached the point where my will felt equal to the task of giving up smoking altogether. I announced to a roommate that evening, “Tomorrow I’m giving up smoking permanently.” “Oh, yeah,” he jeered, adding a line from a popular song: “It seems to me I’ve heard that song before!” But I awoke the next morning without the slightest desire for a smoke. For two weeks I carried a half-empty packet of cigarettes in my breast pocket, passing them out to friends, but never feeling the slightest temptation to partake personally. From that day to this, I haven’t had the slightest desire for another cigarette.

Swamis need to reaffirm their renunciate status much more for their own sakes than for the sake of others’ opinion of them. Some of them, presumably, do like to impress others and enjoy the outward trappings of respect and even reverence. For a person to be respected does not mean necessarily, however, that he courts that respect, or revels in it. It may just as easily be a burden he accepts unwillingly, as a price for sharing his knowledge with others.

A sincere teacher will never accept people’s devotion for himself: He will give it to God. Indeed, the fundamental ideal of renunciation is to act without seeing the ego as a causative factor.

A sincere teacher will never say, “Look at me. See how great I am!” He will say, “God alone is great. I am nothing but His servant, and the servant of all of you.”

A sincere teacher will never say, “I am perfect.” If, in God’s eyes, he really is perfect, he will be the last to say so. If he knows himself to be human and less than perfect, he will point to the ideals towards which all are struggling.

In India many years ago I was invited to address the students at a women’s college. The principal, in introducing me, said, “When I was young, I was taught, every time I saw a swami, to place my hands together and bow to him. In that spirit we all greet you.”

I began my lecture by replying, “If you bow to me as an individual, you bow to something imperfect and worthy of no special reverence. If, on the other hand, you bow to the ideal I represent, then I must say that I also bow to that ideal, and strive ever to be worthy of my dedication to it. In the same spirit, moreover, each of you to me represents the Divine Mother. With even greater reverence, therefore, I prostrate myself before you.”

I have never thought of myself as teaching anyone. All I see myself doing is sharing humbly with others the insights I have received from my guru, and gained in my own life. I share these insights not only because I believe in them, but because I love them. They thrill me. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these are the truths people need in this time of darkness.

How often I have seen audiences trying to force us “teachers” into an artificial mold: “gurus,” “perfected masters,” “better than anyone else.” Sometimes, I regret to say, I have seen some of the “teachers” themselves accepting this role into which people cast them. Most of the others, I imagine, “go along with the gag” because they think people would be disappointed if they behaved too naturally. I was told of one such teacher who, caught reading a newspaper by someone entering the room, hastily sat up straight and closed his eyes, as if in meditation. This was of course hypocrisy; I have no use for it. But I have seen many other teachers who sincerely want to serve, and who don’t themselves know what image to hold up of themselves in this culture, alien as it is to most of the things a swami is supposed to represent. I myself am perhaps unusual in that I’m an American, and am happy, besides, to let people think anything they want of me. But I do want to say to people, “Please, treat spiritual teachers as human beings. That’s what we are. We do know something worthwhile, and are eager and happy to share it with you. But for God’s sake don’t treat us as gods. You haven’t the cultural background even to understand what that means.”

Celibacy is an important aspect of renunciation. So also are other aspects such as simplicity, non-attachment, harmlessness, truthfulness, and a refusal to view the ego and egoic desires as causative factors in life. Nor do these other aspects define the whole of what it means to be a true renunciate. The essence of renunciation is to reach the realization that man, himself, is nothing: that God is everything.

A swami is a man or a woman vowed to renunciation, including the practice of celibacy. In this sense he is like a Catholic monastic or priest. Has a person failed in his renunciation if he is ever tempted, or, worse still, if he or she succumbs to the temptation? To carry this thought further, has a person failed as a renunciate if he or she slips in any of the other aspects of renunciation? Is he, for example, a failed renunciate if he accepts a compliment to his ego? Celibacy is important, not only for the renunciate, but in relative measure — that is to say, the practice of at least moderate self-control — for everyone. So, we speak of error, but why define error as failure? Indeed, why define it as sin? A slip is not a fall.

To be a perfect renunciate is wonderful. Nowadays, however, outside the protection of monastic walls, I wonder how many people really succeed. I think we must view renunciation, and the status of a swami, in two ways. The first would be one who declares, “This is a state I have attained. Nothing can make me fall from it.” The other would be a directional view of moral values in general. This is, I think, more realistic than condemning others, while living, ourselves, as we please.

I remember saying once to my guru, “I would rather kill myself than give in to sexual temptation.” “Why speak of killing yourself?” he gently scolded. “Do your best. This quality is not deep in you, and you will overcome it.”

To kill oneself, I later came to understand, would be to identify oneself with failure, not with one’s potential for spiritual victory.

Yogananda also said to me, “Remember, you are not safe until you attain nirbikalpa samadhi (the high state of union with God).” I have not attained nirbikalpa samadhi, so I must assume that, although I’ve reached a point in my spiritual life where sexual desire seems to me fairly pointless (I watch two people kissing on a movie screen and find myself thinking, “Get on with the story!”), yet I will not say that I am above the possibility of being tempted. I have always done my best, have never presented myself as different from or superior to anyone else, spiritually, and even when thoughts of temptation came I refused to accept that they defined who I was.

If a person is doing his best, that is all God Himself could possibly ask of him. And it is not being hypocritical. It is struggling to rise toward the Truth, and to leave error forever behind.

Hypocrisy must also be considered from an opposite standpoint: in the attitude of the condemners. For is it not hypocrisy to demand so much of others, when one has not the remotest interest in overcoming, or ability to overcome, desire in oneself?

I think it is time people involved in the spiritual scene in this country, particularly those who practice yoga, became more real in their assessments. For there are many teachers who have much to give, if we don’t ask the impossible of them. If they are sincere, they are not merchants trying to get people to buy their wares. They are fellow human beings who understand that the less importance they give to themselves, the more good happens through them. That good isn’t their doing. It couldn’t be, or it wouldn’t be good.

Values at every level of society should be taken out of the rusty enclosure of absolute definitions, and viewed as directional development. We are all working to become better. That “better” may someday become “best,” at least for ourselves. But it certainly won’t become so in a day, a year, or perhaps not even in one incarnation.

In divine friendship for all,

Swami Kriyananda