4. The Bertolucci Case: Its Meaning — Letter #2, by Swami Kriyananda

September 24, 295 Dwapara [1995]

Dear Ones:

This process of depositions (six so far, with one more scheduled on October 12th, and with an indefinite number of others being demanded of me) has been traumatic for me. One reason for the trauma is that Bertolucci’s lawyers have been focusing on a much larger picture than the case itself. Indeed, they have paid only minor attention to the case. Because of the larger picture, which is clearly being prompted by SRF, I feel it necessary to explain to you where I’ve been in my life, where I am now, and where I think I should be going.

Because of the court’s restraining order on these depositions, I am strictly limited as to how much I can say about them. In many ways it is a frustrating process—like the Third Degree, with the difference that if I refuse to answer I will be held in contempt of court, and we might consequently lose the case. The energy of their questioning, however, is the Third Degree, with all the brutality and determination on the part of the interrogators to prove me absolutely unregenerate. Their papers accuse me of being a moral pervert. The tone of their questioning is not one of “discovery” (the true purpose of depositions), but of brainwashing, of again and again repeating accusations while completely ignoring my answers.

With their brief they submitted declarations against me that I never cared even to read until two weeks ago, when I was forced to read them. Some of you have asked me about those declarations. I can now say that they are almost entirely false. Where there is truth in them, the facts are so greatly distorted as to be almost unrecognizable.

It is well known that SRF has long had an axe to grind in their criticisms of me and of Ananda, including my vows as a swami, my authorization to give Kriya, my authorization to teach and write in Master’s name and my qualifications to do so, the nature of my relationship with Master, and the things he said to me personally. I am not permitted to give you specifics of the depositions, but suffice it to say that SRF’s agenda has dominated the entire process. Anne-Marie’s legal papers have made the most important issues in their charges the question of my celibacy. I will therefore deal with that here. The other issues have been already dealt with elsewhere.

When I met Master—in September, 1948—he gave me monastic vows. The vow of not being attached to money or to personal possessions was easy; I have never been attached to money or to mere things. The vow of unconditional obedience was to him, personally, as my Guru, confident that what he asked of me would be God’s will for me, never his own personal wishes. (He once wrote that to obey a true guru unconditionally leads to liberation, but that to obey unconditionally anyone who was not enlightened might weaken the will. That is why I myself never ask unconditional obedience of anyone, and would reject such obedience if anyone offered it to me.)

He gave me his unconditional love, and asked me whether I would give him mine in return. As you know from reading The Path, I did so.

Before all the above, he asked me, “Are you troubled by any of the three main delusions: sex, wine, and money?”

I replied, “Sex has been troublesome.”

“I saw that the moment you entered the room,” he replied. He had posed the question as a test of my truthfulness. It was then he gave me his unconditional love, asked for mine in return, and had me take my monastic vows.

In August, 1955, I took final vows as a brother of the SRF Order. These vows included celibacy, poverty, obedience, and loyalty. The vows were as a brother in SRF. When I was dismissed from SRF in 1962, my severance amounted to dismissal also as a brother of the Order. It was not I who broke that vow, but SRF in its duty to care for me as a brother. Daya Mata made clear her own understanding of this duty when she spoke to me—I believe it was in 1960—regarding a woman at Mt. Washington who wanted to take vows of sisterhood, but who Daya felt was unfit to take those vows. Daya’s remark to me at the time—I remember her words exactly—was, “The only reason she wants to become a sister is, she knows that then we wouldn’t be able to get rid of her.” For myself, had I known that I would be cast out (for reasons I’ll discuss in the third letter of this series; I’ve discussed it also in a brochure I wrote several years ago, “My Separation from SRF”) I would not have taken that vow. For me, taking the vow was a hopeful affirmation of intent; I did not take it with the certainty of being able to keep it, were I cast out on my own without the protection of the order.

After SRF threw me out, I had to face the fact that I was no longer a brother. I believed, however, in my monastic calling. And they could not say I no longer belonged to the swami order, of which the SRF monastic order is a part.

So there I was, out of SRF, without the protection of the Order. I had the choice of saying, as SRF would have wanted, “Now I am no longer a monk.” But I didn’t at all feel to do that, even though it meant that I was now without the formal protection of any order. To my mind, to give up being a swami would be tantamount to saying, “I give up.” I would not give up! I absolutely believed in total dedication to God, and determined to abide by this dedication to the very best of my ability.

I remember once saying to Master, “I would rather kill myself than give in to sexual temptation.” Looking at me reprovingly, he answered, “Why do you say that? Just determine to keep on doing your best.” In spiritual tradition, suicide has been considered an honorable alternative: “Death before dishonor.” My guru made it clear to me that, in my case anyway, he rejected that alternative. Even if I did slip, then, he wanted me to “keep on trying.”

Another time he said—this was to a group, not to me alone—”God will never let you down if you keep on making the effort.” He added, “If you give up, then you will be lost at least for this lifetime. But if you keep on trying till the end, that is all God asks of you.”

To another disciple who was being tempted, Master said, “All I ask is that you try.”

When SRF kicked me out in 1962, I felt that to accept the thought “I am not a swami” would be to relinquish the only straw I had left to cling to, while spinning in a vortex of utter despair. I would not give up. I did not give up. My vow was not a garment that I wore to impress others. It was my self-definition before God: my intention not to give up ever, even if it took me a whole lifetime to achieve inner freedom from delusion.

For some years I even resisted being called Swami by others: I was, simply, Kriyananda. But I remember a visitor to Ananda Retreat once asking me my name. “Kriyananda,” I told him. “That’s an interesting name,” he replied. “What are you, a folk singer?” I realized that if I was to represent the yoga tradition, and to be recognized as being steeped in it, it would help me in my teaching as well as in my inner self-definition to let myself be known as Swami Kriyananda.

I was not perfectly celibate, though I did my best, and was determined not to hoist the white flag of surrender ever. To be a swami means many things besides being celibate. It means devoting oneself to becoming complete in oneself; to living centered in oneself; to teaching and sharing with others those truths with which one has become deeply familiar and conversant. The truth is, I have fought nobly on all fronts. I have fought well. Never have I surrendered my determination to find God by total relinquishment of all desires. Sri Yukteswar said, “Even when the body is weak, the mind should be resistant.” My mind has been resistant.

One evening—I think it was in 1969—I was giving a class in Sacramento, and felt a strong sexual attraction for a young woman in the class. I had no encounter with her, but rather than spend that night in the ashram we had then in Sacramento, I rented a motel room and spent the whole of that night weeping in shame and remorse at myself. By morning I felt no inner cleansing. All I felt was the addition of exhaustion to the burden I already carried. I realized then that tears, self-accusation, and remorse were not the way to liberation. I decided, and have since then emphasized to all of you, simply to do my best as Master told me; to fight hardest the battles I felt competent to win; to dwell in the faith that, as I fought and conquered in other fields, the day would come when I would be strong enough to conquer in this field also.

This is how I have tried to guide all of you. I have said, “Don’t beat yourselves over battles that you aren’t yet strong enough to win. Fight in those struggles you have a hope of winning. Advance where you can, and elsewhere, hold the line as best you can.”

Had I devoted my entire energy at that time to this single struggle, I might never have accomplished anything else in my life, and might have been overwhelmed anyway by this one struggle. Instead, I gave myself to doing the things I could do effectively. They’ve been fairly numerous.

I had to reach out to people who were not at all on the plane to which I aspired. I had to open myself to where they were, in order to draw them gradually to where I wanted to bring them. And I had to hope and pray that I would be able to do so without losing the ground I myself had gained on the spiritual path. But I felt my life was not for myself. Master had said it was for others, and I myself wanted it to be for others, not for me.

When I met Kimberley Moore (Parmeshwari) in 1981, I felt strongly that I had met someone who could help me in my next step on the path and in my service of others. I prayed deeply, and felt strongly that this step was right for me, for Kimberley, and for Ananda. Was I fooling myself? I never felt so. I used to say to her, “Nothing you do or don’t do, say or don’t say, can ever touch what I have gained from you in my soul.” I still feel that to be true. It was a courageous step for me to take, but I took it regardless of what the public might say. Our marriage was a step taken in full public view, including letters from both of us to the community, talks by both of us to the community, and repeated requests for feedback from community members. I even wrote to Yoga Journal announcing this step of marriage. I said in that article that, in a very real way, I felt that I had completed my monastic vow. I meant that I was not taking this step out of desire, but out of a deep sense that it was dharmic for me. My feeling of rightness at that time has been confirmed by many people since then. They’ve told me that Ananda was greatly changed for the better by my decision.

I had come to realize that householders at Ananda saw themselves as second-class citizens; that parents were ashamed of having children, for no other reason than that the ideal seemed to be to remain single. This was an entirely wrong concept, but constant admonition on my part had not succeeded in uprooting it. After my marriage to Kimberley I no longer wore the ochre robe of a swami nor used the title “Swami,” though others often used it as an honorific. The only thing for me to do was set a personal example of a spiritually acceptable marriage.

The time around those months with Kimberley, and after her departure, were deeply confusing and testing for me. Always I clung to my fundamental determination to live for God alone.

I married Rosanna in 1985, not only because I felt deep love for her, but also because I wanted to set this ideal for others. At that time, as a formality, I asked Daya Mata to dispense me of my vows. She had already done so, in effect, twenty-two years earlier, but at that time it was not consensual on my part. Even now I told her, “I am still a sannyasi in my heart.” Again, I think my marriage to Rosanna helped many people. Many of you, indeed, have said so. At the present time, most of Ananda’s outstandingly responsible members, spiritually speaking, are householders.

My view of being a swami has always been that a swami is a spiritual teacher, that his dedication to the spiritual life is on many levels, not only one. There are many kinds of swamis in India, not only Shankaracharya swamis. Indeed, even after my marriage to Rosanna, Indians always addressed me as Swamiji.

I found myself increasingly wondering whether there is a place for monasticism in this day and age. Throughout the world, monasteries have become decimated. The largest and most famous of them have been reduced to a handful of old men or women in their seventies and eighties. The Madonna, in addition, has been telling child visionaries to marry and have families when they grow up. It seemed as though God was calling on devotees to perfect the family before renouncing hearth and home to serve Him.

My path has been unusual in many respects. One of these respects, obviously, has been the fact that, having started a community, I have had to think, “What can I do that will help the community, not only myself?” Had I not tried to tune in to where people were, I could never have made Ananda the open, all-embracing and beautiful community it now is.

In thinking and praying deeply over what Divine Mother wants from me through the humiliation of the present lawsuit, and the condemnation I have received for so many years, the question has come to me, “Does She want me to give up?” Why should She want that? I’ve done my very best. I am proud of the way I’ve lived my life! But—am I proud of my weaknesses? No, never! I am not proud of the fact that I have not been able always to live by all of my ideals. Nor am I happy in the fact that this lack of ability has given you a lesser model of spiritual perfection.

I know you love me, respect me, and appreciate the goodness I’ve done, and the goodness I’ve manifested in my life. You are loyal to me, as I’ve been loyal to you. Nonetheless, it has to have been a cause of regret for you, too, that I couldn’t be more like Master rather than less like him. It would not even be spiritually right for you to feel otherwise. I don’t want your love for me, nor mine for you, to be based on mere human sentiments.

You have a karmic bond with me. I recognize and accept that, humbly. But the fact is, Master is far greater than I. You are really following him, through me.

When my critics question me about my “honesty”—meaning my openness, my truthfulness—I have to reply to them that I have always been scrupulously truthful with others. My life, however, is between me and God. I do not feel that I owe others anything; certainly not more than I’ve given them already, with a full heart. Master himself told us, “Tell your faults to no one.” Now I see with renewed understanding why he said that. My enemies want to define me in terms of my weaknesses. What I have done in my service to you all has been always to define you in terms of your strengths. Even though I know the faults of many of you, I hold up before you those qualities you possess that will help you to rise, and not cause you to sink, spiritually.

In my own evolution, I reached the point several years ago when I no longer felt to be open to people in the way that I had been, previously. I wanted to say, “This is what I stand for. Take it or leave it.” I’ve found, somewhat to my surprise, that many more people have been helped by this attitude. What I say now is, simply, “If you don’t feel the truth of what I am saying, then don’t follow it. The choice is yours. I don’t owe it to you to convince you.”

In the matter of celibacy, I am proud to say that I have become very strong. My marriage to Rosanna was helpful to me in this respect also. For I maintained throughout the attitude of a yogi, according to the teachings of Lahiri Mahasaya, constantly keeping myself inwardly detached while conscientiously doing my duty outwardly as a householder. Why, in fact, is this test of a lawsuit being given me now? The thought comes to me that the reason is that I, and we, are ready to take a new step in our communal evolution.

I have observed in myself during these depositions, not the crushed sense of weakness and hopelessness that they have been trying to project onto me, but a growing sense of inner power. I am not what my enemies claim. I am complete in myself. I am centered in myself, no matter how fierce the storms raging around me. The lawyers have tried to shake my faith in myself. Instead, they have only deepened my faith.

They have inspired me to feel that I am enclosed in a monastic shawl, protected by my conviction that my entire reality is within. SRF challenges my swamihood: I throw that challenge back in their faces. In my heart I have always been a swami. I am a swami in my heart, in my ideals, in my deeds, in my life’s dedication. I care not what anybody says. This is my reality, and this is what I will and shall live by.

I have always believed in formal renunciation, and have felt that spiritualizing the householder path was a step toward what God wanted for mankind, rather than being an entirely new direction for mankind. After all, Master himself founded a monastic order. He wouldn’t have done so had this direction been wrong for this age. All I could say was that, at present, monasticism seems to have taken a back seat in the order of importance on the spiritual path. But now that we have a monastic householder order at Ananda, I see only two directions for it to go. One is downward, into worldly definitions of the householder calling. The other is upward, toward an increasing dedication to God. The right way to take is the upward direction. And this, again, means that I must set the example. That means, I feel, to embrace once again my swami calling.

I would not at all want to take such a step in response to any outward exigency (in reaction, for example, to what others are saying about me or trying to do to me). If I take this step, it must come from within. This letter, then, is not so much an announcement of a new direction as a simple statement of what I am thinking in my own mind. I will have to meditate on it, before acting. I have not even taken the time to express myself in depth or at length. It is an idea, merely, presented in an effort to prepare you for what may be an important new direction for us all.

What does it mean, to me, to be a swami? I mentioned to someone the other day that the negative side of renunciation doesn’t greatly attract me. I don’t care to define my spirituality in terms of the things I don’t do, but rather in terms of my positive dedication. Nor do I feel to be a swami in the sense of abiding by restrictions and rules that were written for another time and another culture. To me, a swami means one who is, or who aspires to be, one with himself. It means, as I said earlier, to be centered in oneself, complete in oneself. It means to be wrapped always, mentally, in a shawl of inner completeness.

Those who are really dedicated to living at Ananda want to live close to the monastic ideal as I am defining it. Ours is not the Shankara tradition, although basically all high traditions meet in the Truth. But our tradition is really a new concept—a new expression of Truth. I think it is best defined by what the word swami really means: one who is self-contained, who is one with himself.

This is how I have always done my best to live, though with that one weakness which I resisted to the best of my ability. Once when I was with Master I asked for his blessing on my efforts to overcome this weakness. He reassured me, “It isn’t deep.” Those words have proved true. Celibacy, with his grace, has ceased to be a problem for me: I no longer feel sex as a temptation.

Now that we’ve gone a long way toward establishing the householder ideal for our community on spiritual grounds, what is needed, I feel, is again to include in our way of life at Ananda a more purely monastic ideal. I think this is important. Not for me, so much. My dedication is there with or without any kind of title. But I think that for me not to take a step into swamihood again would be to dilute from now on what we are—not I or you only, but the yoga community in America. Instead of saying, “Well, who’s perfect?” we need to declare, “If we die trying, that is what we intend to become!”

Master wrote in his autobiography that a swami “may be a yogi or not.” In our case, however, the kind of model we need is that of a yogi, of one dedicated to Patanjali’s ashtanga, or eightfold, path. Increasing centeredness within, with samadhi as the goal, and not only service to others and teaching in schools or whatever it is many swamis do, but divine centeredness in the Self.

In the ceaseless quest for inner union,

Swami Kriyananda