A barrage of very direct attacks on me have been made: on my moral character, my loyalty to Master, my supposedly “luxurious” lifestyle, my supposedly insensitive and dictatorial style of leadership — none of which match the realities people experience at Ananda. I’ve always suggested that our critics, if they’re interested in the truth, make it a point to visit Ananda personally — any Ananda community — and draw their own conclusions. For myself, I take those charges lightly, though my friends seem a little shocked at my levity, for what harm is there in being insulted? Anything that belittles the ego may encourage the soul to expand. I say, offer joyfully up to God any insults you receive, then try — again joyfully — to be better.
If anyone tells you he hates you — let us say, because you have green feet — why not simply look down and see whether they are, in fact, green? If they are, and you think they shouldn’t be, why worry about anyone’s mere opinion in the matter? Go to a doctor, perhaps, and see what, if anything, can be done about it!
If someone accuses you of a moral flaw, why grieve over that mere opinion? Opinions, after all, are very often wrong. The issue before you is only one: whether the statement is true. As a friend of mine likes to reply to her critics: “Your opinion of me is none of my business!” If indeed you find truth in an accusation, be grateful, and try to correct yourself. Why fret over people’s judgment of you? Turn whatever hurt you receive to positive ends. In such a case, the “doctor” you need is a guru. Deepen your attunement with him. For he alone, with God’s grace, can free you. How simple it all is!
My critics have said that I molest women. Why not check out their accusation, first by spending a little time at Ananda? At Ananda you will find that everyone holds others in respect as children of God. Respect for others is not compatible with molesting them. General attitudes, such as this one, in a community spring from a central source. Were I the type of leader who imposes himself on others, that attitude would have spread. Were I a dictator, the leaders under me would manifest at least a bossy tendency. Ananda isn’t like that at all. As for my behavior toward women, talk to those who have known me well for many years. Talk to the women, especially.
Several years ago at Ananda Village, a young woman, Anne Marie Bertolucci, got involved with one of the Ananda ministers, who was a married man. The daughter of this man compounded the difficulty, for she was autistic, which — for those not familiar with the word — is a form of developmental impairment. Anne Marie, and afterward this man, came to me for advice. I strongly advised both of them to break it off. She was reluctant. “He’s very magnetic,” she remarked wistfully.
“There’s no future in it,” I told her. Even this discouragement, however, was something I felt to give only after I’d first sounded out the man to see how he stood on the matter. For I consider that people’s delusions, too, need to be treated with respect. I knew what he ought to do, but I couldn’t tell him what he must do until my knowledge of right coincided with his own understanding. Naturally, for him to leave a good wife and autistic child for a romantic fling would have been a spiritual error. The important thing was to get him to see it as such.
Well, the man finally recognized and accepted what he must do, and told me he had determined to be faithful to his wife and child. I then asked Anne Marie, in order to cool off her attachment, to move to another Ananda community. She cried out, “But I would make a good mother to that child!” Hearing those words, I had no choice but to insist that she move. She strongly resisted. I then said firmly, “I will not allow you to remain here and break up that marriage. You must go live in another Ananda community.” The moment I’d uttered those words, I knew intuitively that Anne Marie would subject me to a great test. Even so, I held my ground.
In fact, while pretending to accept my decision, she gathered around her whatever negative voices she could find. She then protested because I refused to give her the higher Kriya Yoga initiations. Soon afterward, she left Ananda.
I won’t go further into the details except to say that I was stunned, later, to learn that she had visited Mt. Washington, and had been received personally by Daya Mata as the presumed bearer of glad tidings. Anne Marie then proceeded to sue the man at Ananda she had claimed to love. She sued Ananda itself. And she sued me. She accused the man of sexually molesting her. She accused me of aiding and abetting that molestation, and of conspiring to share his sexual fantasy by “swapping” her between the two of us. Ananda she accused of not looking after her interests. The case was a fabric of lies. During the trial, however, her lawyer was allowed to drag out the testimony against us for many weeks, leaving us helpless even to answer by protesting, “Wait a minute! That just isn’t true!” It was, in short, a hanging trial. We, the accused, were kept helpless to defend ourselves.
Anne Marie won — by default. For us, however, this was no moral defeat. As I sat there through weeks of accusations, my constant thought was, “If God wills it, they are welcome to take everything away from me, but they can never take away the only thing I prize: my love for God.”
Virtually everyone in the court among those ranged against us was an SRF member. Anne Marie’s lawyers brought in women who claimed to have been molested and harassed by me more than fifteen years earlier. Many studies show that implanted memory is a common fact. Those women had nothing even to do with the case, except to discredit me and condition the jury to believe me capable of anything. The judge, however, refused — this was an incredible example of blind “justice”! — to allow us even to cross-examine those women. I, who knew them, knew they were acting out various frustrated fantasies. Truth meant nothing in their testimony. Or maybe they convinced themselves that it did; such is the risk of implanted memory. I, however, who have an unusually clear memory, knew what they said as not true.
Can anyone defend himself against this kind of attack? I doubt it. I don’t say I was immune to sexual desire, though I am grateful to that lawsuit for at least one thing: It created in me an utter repugnance for human sexuality — especially in any connection with me, personally. Sexual desire was never deep in me in the first place; Master himself told me so. It took only this harsh experience to uproot it from my heart altogether. Since that time, I no longer even embrace others in greeting. It seems to me too shallow a way of demonstrating friendship, which I feel should be between soul and soul. As I say to people, “My love for you is increased, not diminished, by my preference not to grasp you to me!”
Nevertheless, SRF and its supporters have had, through the Internet, a “feeding frenzy” on my supposed moral depravity. I only hope their own fantasies don’t drag them down into a mud of personal delusion.
Charges that came out also at the trial concerned the supposed luxury of my style of living; my reputedly “secret” Swiss bank account; my “treachery” (as some people claimed) to our Guru’s work; my “ruthlessly dictatorial” nature. It was stated, and has been believed by some who have never seen my home, that I live in a “castle” in Italy; that I’ve siphoned off Ananda’s funds to build a villa for myself in California; that I’ve misused Ananda’s funds to inflate that “secret” Swiss bank account; that no Ananda member can act without my absolute supervision and command. Again I say it: Please visit Ananda and see for yourself!
First, as regards that reputed “castle”: If you come to Ananda Assisi in Italy, you will see that my home there is a simple wooden residence of pre-cut planks. It has one bedroom — not a large one. The house is not even registered in my own name.
Second, as regards the claimed luxury of my lifestyle: Three years ago, tired of dealing with all this nonsense, I renounced my $1,000-or-so monthly salary and said I would no longer receive compensation for any of my services. As for the royalties from my books, I’d renounced them many years before. Now, even the copyrights no longer belong to me: I’ve signed them all away. I did not make these decisions under duress. It is a joy to have rid myself of those burdens. Nothing I write brings me personal income. I receive only a small allowance, like everyone else at our Assisi center: It amounts in lire to about $120 a month. People do sometimes give me money for my personal use, but no one is asked to do so. Most of what I’ve received has always, in fact, gone toward helping our work. It has also gone toward other works, such as a Catholic school and convent in Sri Lanka. I’ve never cared to have money for myself, and was equally disinterested in money as a boy. A criticism my father once leveled at me was, “You’ve just got to stop giving all your money away!”
When my parents died, I received an inheritance. I knew my father would not rest in his soul if I gave that money to Ananda, though he’d certainly known I would want to do so. I decided, therefore, to spend that money in such a way as to benefit both me and Ananda. Thus, I built my home and garden, Crystal Hermitage, as a spiritual center for the community, and since then everyone has enjoyed it as such. On my visits to America, I stay in a downstairs apartment at the hermitage, which is registered in Ananda’s name, not in my own. Indeed, nothing anywhere is in my own name; even the money I receive as gifts belongs not to me, personally; I consider myself merely its custodian, and use it often to meet community needs. The development of the house and garden at Crystal Hermitage has been a great blessing to both members and visitors. It has also been a blessing to me.
In Europe during the mid-eighties, not wanting to become a financial burden on anyone, I put $10,000 from my father’s estate in a Swiss bank account — not a numbered account, and not a secret one. I never increased it. Gradually, over the years, the account dwindled until, when it was a little over $3,000, I closed it.
One of the women at the Bertolucci trial testified that she’d seen one of my Swiss bank statements at the Ananda office, and that it ran to six figures. As a matter of fact, she could never have seen any personal bank statement of mine, for I kept my accounts at home, not at the office. I assumed, however, that she was simply telling one more lie, among many. Then, some time later, an Ananda accountant told me he himself had opened a Swiss bank account in Ananda’s name, years earlier, and had kept it active for several months. The account was in Italian lire. Those “six figures” — hundreds of thousands — were the equivalent of a few hundred U.S. dollars! In a trial such as Anne Marie Bertolucci’s, however, the facts don’t really matter: It is enough to level charges. As Yogananda often said, “Give a lie a twenty-four-hour start, and it becomes immortal.”
Another woman testified that she’d seen me driving a Cadillac. Daya Mata herself rides in a Cadillac, so some people may have considered this charge believable. However, I’m not sure I’ve ever been inside a Cadillac. My car, when that woman lived at Ananda, was a Chevrolet. The one before that had been bought from the U.S. Air Force for $75. People called it “Air Force One,” because it had faint lettering on the side that, though painted over, still said, “U.S. Air Force.”
I have found it an infallible rule in life that when people condemn others, they themselves have the very fault they condemn. People who condemn others for sexual weakness are themselves sexually weak. People who accuse others of being dictatorial are themselves insensitive in the way they treat others. People who declaim against the luxurious tastes of others merely show an inclination to live in luxury themselves. This principle may rightly be applied, in one way or another, to each of my accusers. For me, it has been painful to see their resentment carried so far as to attempt my actual destruction (an intention put in actual words by their lawyer after a deposition), but the pain has been transmuted now by a deepened longing for God alone.
SRF disclaims having had anything to do with that Bertolucci trial. Ananda, however, has excellent reasons for believing that SRF was deeply involved in the case.
I bless all my fellow disciples, in any case. We all serve the same Guru, in our own ways. May whatever errors either party has committed be corrected in divine love.
Meanwhile, do please read my book, A Place Called Ananda! You’ll see how, through these and other “trials by fire,” the principles and attitudes were forged that built the communities jointly called Ananda.