Swami Kriyananda answers: Who has made changes to Yogananda’s teachings? Part 1

(For more information about the changes made by SRF since Yogananda’s passing, see Yogananda for the World.)

1. Who Has Made Changes to Paramhansa Yogananda’s Teachings?

I’m a direct disciple of the great Indian yoga-master, Paramhansa Yogananda. And in the way I’ve spelled his title you may have noticed a difference already between Ananda and Self- Realization Fellowship (SRF), the organization Paramhansa Yogananda founded in 1925. At Ananda we spell “Paramhansa” with only four ‘a’s’. SRF inserts another ‘a’ in the middle, thus: Paramahansa. Whenever you see his name spelled without that fifth “a,” it will be a clear indication that the document you’re reading was not put out by SRF and may have been published by Ananda. You may then wonder, Why this difference? SRF members sometimes ask, “Why did Ananda remove the middle ‘a’ from Yogananda’s title?”

Other Questions

2. Another question people ask is, “Why did Ananda remove Krishna from its altars?” SRF places him at the center, beside Jesus Christ and flanked on both sides by our other gurus.

I’ll answer both questions shortly. Meanwhile, here are a few others that people commonly ask:

3. Why does Ananda allow people to receive the blessing at Kriya Yoga initiation repeatedly, when SRF claims that initiation should be once, for all time?

4. Why does Ananda have a separate discipleship initiation, when SRF offers Kriya Yoga as its discipleship initiation also?

5. Why does Ananda make an issue of the changes made by SRF in Master’s books, when Master himself requested those changes?

6. Why does Ananda allow householders to give Kriya Yoga initiation, when Master stated he wanted only monastic ministers to give initiation?

7. Why have you, Kriyananda, founded a community—several of them, in fact—when Master changed his mind on this aspect of his mission toward the end of his life? Admittedly, he did suggest at one time that people form communities, but shouldn’t his last wishes be your first priority?

8. Why do you, Kriyananda, quote Master as saying things that SRF neither quotes nor recognizes?

9. What right have you, Kriyananda—speaking, you claim, on behalf of your Guru—to contradict things his disciples of many years have said?

10. Why have you made changes in Yogananda’s meditation techniques and energization exercises?

11. Why have you presumed to create an organization separate from SRF, when Master himself founded SRF? As his disciple shouldn’t your first loyalty be to his organization?

12. Why did you publish another version, different from SRF’s, of Yogananda’s commentaries on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam?

13. How can you presume to hold views of Master’s work that differ from Daya Mata’s? Are you unaware that Master transferred his spiritual mantle to her at his death? And have you no respect for the fact that she is God-realized?

14. Isn’t it true that Master gave Daya Mata and the board of directors the “blueprint” for the future of the work?

Beyond the charges listed so far, others have been made also, a number of them directed very personally against me, their intensity increasing over the years. Several years ago, these charges were placed on an Internet website, and since then have been expanded to other websites. The charges serve no other purpose than to encompass my own and Ananda’s destruction.

I have addressed these charges elsewhere on this site. Suffice it for now to say that I’m not resentful of them, but grateful. The sword of discrimination cannot be sharpened on ocean foam. The level of joy at Ananda has risen notably in response to the attacks against us. Indeed, anyone who aspires to a true understanding of life needs the challenge of enemies, or at least of obstacles and opposition, to grow spiritually. The important thing is never to be, oneself, an enemy to anyone.

Differences Between SRF and Ananda

If there is one outstanding difference between SRF and Ananda, it is this: SRF is secretive, whereas Ananda is open in all its dealings. SRF representatives have never visited Ananda, nor have they shown a willingness to experience any aspect of it for themselves. Ananda members, by contrast, have always been given the freedom to visit Self-Realization Fellowship centers. I have always said, “Go see for yourselves. Make any comparisons you like, and draw your own conclusions.”

The Title, Paramhansa

1. “Why did Ananda remove the middle ‘a’ from Yogananda’s title?” “Paramhansa” is how Yogananda himself wrote and signed it. It was not Ananda who removed that “a”: It was SRF who added it. They did so on the advice of a pundit in India. This title, however, is written both ways in that country (and not only in Bengal, as SRF claims, though Bengali is itself a language and not a dialect). In any case, it must be understood that the English transliteration is into our relatively restricted Roman alphabet, and must necessarily represent an attempt, therefore, to approximate the sounds of the spoken word.

To me, two factors are decisive here: first, that Yogananda himself spelled his title without the “a”; and second, that the people of India don’t pronounce that middle “a.” Westerners, finding themselves saddled with so many “a”s, generally linger on that middle one, thus: “Paramaahansa,” as if gathering strength for the final assault. SRF, in its later editions of Autobiography of a Yogi, has added the “a” to his signature on the frontispiece; it has obviously been copied from elsewhere in the same signature. Apart from the obvious objection that this is forgery, the additional “a” changes the vibration of his signature.

Paramhansa Yogananda - original signature

Yogananda’s Original Signature

Actual signature
Here is a sample of his signature, taken from the first edition of Autobiography of a Yogi. Every edition of Autobiography from 1946 until 1956 had this exact signature.

Paramhansa Yogananda’s signature, as altered by SRF

Paramhansa Yogananda’s signature, as altered by SRF

Altered signature

In the July-August, 1958 issue of Self-Realization Magazine, for the first time Yogananda signs his name in a new way. “Paramhansa” has now become “Paramahansa.” From then on, every edition of Autobiography had the new signature.

Incidentally, speaking of vibrations, notice how different Sri Yukteswar looks in Autobiography of a Yogi from his picture on SRF’s altars, where he is shown facing toward the center, which is to say, left. In the book he faces right. It may be more esthetically pleasing for him to face Jesus Christ and Krishna on the altar, but the vibration in having him look left is changed. This point is understood easily nowadays, since much research has been done on the differences between the right and left brain activities. Yogis have long known of the magnetic asymmetry between the two sides of the body.


Sri Yukteswar - actual photo

Sri Yukteswar - actual photo

Sri Yukteswar’s photo, as changed by SRF

Sri Yukteswar’s photo, as changed by SRF

Swami Sri Yukteswar, as originally shown in Autobiography of a Yogi (left) and reversed (right)

Krishna on the Altar

2. “Why did Ananda remove Krishna’s picture from its altars?”

The answer is, Ananda didn’t. SRF added the picture.

In this case, then, why did SRF make the alteration? It was to forestall possible rejection of Master’s mission in India. SRF leaders felt a concern lest Jesus alone at the center might give Hindus the impression of a Christian work.

One reason for the change is suggested in a recent book by Devi Mukherjee, Shaped by Saints. The author describes a certain Indian who came to SRF/YSS (YSS, or Yogoda Satsanga Society, is SRF’s sister organization in India), and changed many things with the claim that this was how things are done in India. This man, Binay N. Dubey, receives no compliments in the book for his influence on the YSS work. Daya Mata, however, appears to have accepted his judgments wholeheartedly.

Shortly after she appointed Dubey to head the YSS work in India, he became ill with cancer, and, soon thereafter, died. Nevertheless, his influence lingers on in both YSS and SRF. Adding Krishna to the altar was done on his insistence.

Master was himself, of course, an Indian. He did not need Dubey’s advice on how things should be done in that country. SRF, however, after accepting scholarly advice on how the title Paramhansa should be written, developed—unconsciously to itself—a tendency to question the accuracy of Yogananda’s knowledge of Sanskrit, and thereby opened itself to other scholarly quibbles. SRF’s caution in these matters was motivated by loyalty and by a desire to protect his name from criticism by what they imagined to be more knowledgeable persons.

I cannot support this attitude. I remember Master telling me after he’d finished his Bhagavad Gita commentaries, “I realize now why my Master didn’t want me to study other people’s commentaries. As I wrote my own, I didn’t have their ideas to refer to, so could tune in directly to Byasa, the author of the Gita.”

I myself, when editing Yogananda’s commentaries on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, experienced how clearly he had tuned in to Omar Khayyam himself, and not to the mere words of Edward Fitzgerald’s English translation. In Sydney, Australia, in 1997 I was lecturing on this book to an audience at the Theosophical Society. Someone objected that Yogananda’s commentary on a particular quatrain didn’t seem directly based on the quatrain itself. I answered, “I understand what you mean, but if you think more deeply about it

I think you’ll find, as I did, that it does follow—intuitively first, and then on that basis logically.”

At that point a lady raised her hand to announce, “I come from Persia, and can read the original script. Although the link between the commentary and Fitzgerald’s translation may seem tenuous, I assure everyone that it is clear as crystal in reference to the original.”

The leaders of SRF, in their very devotion to our Guru—but being unable, for lack of scholarship, to protect him from supposedly informed critics—tended to accept criticisms as valid. In fact, their devotion caused them involuntarily to betray him for lack of recognition of the full depth of his wisdom. He was so natural in everything he did, and so humble, that those who saw him daily, and who out of affection referred to him as “Little Master,” tended to measure him by the yardstick of their own experience of him. “Little Master” became, for them, an appellation not of affection only, but also of unwarranted familiarity. In truth, he was far more than that lovable human being: He was the Infinite Lord, merely veiled behind that outer form.

I myself lived and taught in India for four years, and never once encountered a serious objection to Jesus in the center of our altar. What Master established is, in my opinion (and I don’t consider this opinion uneducated), something his disciples ought to abide by unquestioningly.

Indeed, there were many Indian traditions that Master rejected for his own work. For example, he was, as a yogi, little attracted to outward ceremonial worship. Master endeavored tirelessly to build his work in India. He also had deep devotion to Krishna. It was not because of prejudice, then, that he didn’t include that great master’s picture on his altars. He told us—and Lahiri Mahasaya said the same thing—that Babaji (Lahiri Mahasaya’s guru) was himself Krishna in a former incarnation. Thus, toward the end of our Master’s life, leading us in prayer he prayed to “Babaji-Krishna.”

He put Jesus on the altar, then, not in diplomatic deference to Jesus Christ as the savior of Christians, but because Babaji had stated it was Jesus Christ who had requested him to send someone to the West with the Kriya Yoga science of meditation. Jesus Christ and Babaji-Krishna together planned the spiritual re-awakening of East and West. Lahiri Mahasaya, particularly, was their emissary to the East. Swami Sri Yukteswar and Paramhansa Yogananda, particularly, were their emissaries for the West. All the above masters cooperated in the task of awakening humanity to a deeper awareness of God’s presence in their lives.

Kriya Yoga Initiation as Church Baptism

3. “Why does Ananda allow people to take the blessing at Kriya Yoga initiation repeatedly, when SRF claims that it should be given only once?”

SRF’s higher-ups, who brought with them into this life strongly religious karmic tendencies (samskaras) from the past, focused on something Master had said about getting people to recognize his mission as a spiritual path, and not as merely an organization that sent out printed lessons. “They take Kriya initiation,” he said, “then wander off to other teachers and teachings. They should understand that ours is a path to God, and not merely an intellectual study.” The directors, therefore, after Yogananda’s death began arguing that Kriya initiation was SRF’s church baptism. Since one can be baptized in a church only once, it seemed reasonable to them that one receive that baptism at initiation only once. I suspect Dubey also had an influence on this decision.

Yogananda himself, however, received initiation from his guru, complete with blessing, as often as his master gave it. We ourselves, when we lived with Master, did likewise. After all, why not get as many blessings as possible? I see no spiritual gain from dropping this beneficial practice.

Ananda’s Discipleship Initiation

4. “Why does Ananda have a discipleship initiation separate from Kriya initiation itself?”

This was what Master himself did. Often he initiated people as disciples before they got Kriya. As a personal example, he initiated me into discipleship on September 12, 1948. He didn’t initiate me into Kriya Yoga until December 26th of that year.

Was Kriya at any time his discipleship initiation also? I’m not really sure. For those who were students only, not disciples—that is, people who hadn’t asked him to guide and discipline them—I suppose Kriya initiation was their closest outward link with the gurus anyway. In fact, discipleship initiation was generally a more intimate exchange than Kriya initiation.

The question, then, is, Why did SRF change this practice? The change came about because, after his death, several of the nuns wanted to emphasize SRF as a church. Having decided on Kriya Yoga as the SRF church baptism ceremony, there seemed no other place for a separate discipleship initiation. Indeed, apart from Master SRF had never contemplated such a thing. Ananda, however, which emphasizes more the member’s attunement with the guru inwardly, and gives less importance to affiliation with an organization, has remained faithful to Master’s practice by stressing this as a spiritual path above formal membership enrollment. SRF is preoccupied with building and strengthening the organization. Ananda is concerned with serving the spiritual needs of the individual members on the assumption that the better those needs are met, the more heartfelt the devotees’ efforts will be. Care for their welfare, rather than attempting to establish control over them and fit them into a system, has proved an effective way of uniting them together in a common spirit. Ananda has a whole ministry devoted to helping people with their Kriyas. SRF has no such special ministry.

Changes in Yogananda’s Books

5. “Why has Ananda made an issue of changes made by SRF in Master’s books, when Master himself requested those changes?”

That he requested more than a handful of them is a myth. SRF has effective control over his material, and can make changes in it with impunity, with the claim that he authorized them. I was there at the time myself, however, and was actively involved in editorial activities. I know that the greater part of those changes were not authorized by Master.

I was present on one occasion when he complained about the change made by Tara (his editor-in-chief) of a single word in his poem “God! God! God!” in Whispers from Eternity. The line was, “I will drown their noises by loudly chanting, ‘God! God! God!’” Master’s remark was, “Laurie (Tara Mata) keeps changing ‘noises’ to ‘clamor.’ Every time I change it back, she makes it ‘clamor’ again.”

I piped up at this point, to my subsequent embarrassment, and said, “But, Sir, I have to admit I like ‘clamor’ better!”

“Split infinitive!” he rejoined with mock scorn, referring to a comment I’d made to him when we first met. (I’d hoped by mentioning that I’d found two or three split infinitives in his book, that he might consider me acceptable as a disciple if only for my usefulness as an editor, despite my other shortcomings.) He was not altogether pleased that I supported Tara on this point, for he realized, and I later saw he was right, that the question was one of vibration. “Clamor” may be more literary, but “noises” in this line is colorful, whereas “clamor” is vibrationally flat.

Tara Mata proceeded, after Yogananda’s passing, to change Whispers from Eternity so drastically that it became almost unrecognizable as the beautiful book he had authored. She even dared to forge a letter, as if written by him, commending her for her editorial labors on the book. The letter was predated to before his death.

Master himself had told me this book was the only one he’d edited personally, and in its entirety. The results of his labor were inspiring. Tara’s supposed “improvements” were, by contrast, like that change from “noises” to “clamor.” Her edition lacked beauty, simplicity, and inspiration. In a word, it lacked the right vibrations. Tara herself was growing in pride, a fact I’ve discussed in a book of mine named A Place Called Ananda. This defect caused the poetry of Whispers to seem heavy-handed. It lacked the flowing grace expressed instinctively by a true poet.

Other, even shocking, changes were made by Tara in Autobiography of a Yogi and were accepted by SRF: so many of them, indeed, that I leave to others the task of presenting them in detail lest the present paper become impossibly long. Suffice it here to say that they number over 140, some of them in the teachings themselves, whereas many others are intended simply to drive home the claim that Yogananda’s mission to the world and his organization are one and the same thing. SRF representatives have stated that his main purpose in coming to the West was to found an organization. I disagree. I believe he came primarily to bring a teaching, and a divine message. SRF monks, however, have actually declared publicly, “His mission was to start a monastery.”

On this last point, incidentally, it was only in 1949 that he placed me in charge of the monks. He did so again more formally in the summer of 1950. He later expressed approval of what I’d done in organizing them. Indeed, the monks hadn’t been formed as a group until he put me in charge of them, though he’d obtained the Mt. Washington headquarters twenty-five years earlier. If his coming to the West had been primarily to found a monastery, he wouldn’t have left it to me—a latecomer, relatively speaking—to organize it; nor would he have let matters ride for so many years. (It was on the example of my own work in organizing the monks, incidentally, that the nuns soon afterward organized themselves also.)

Who Gives Kriya?

6. “Why does Ananda allow householders to give Kriya Yoga initiation? Didn’t Master himself state that only monastic ministers should give it?”

Master expressed the wish that this be a pattern for his organization after he’d left his body. This wish did not apply to all of his disciples, many of whom were married: Rajarsi Janakananda, Dr. Lewis, Yogacharya Oliver Black, Kamala Silva, Peggy Deitz, to name only a few.

Lahiri Mahasaya, who reintroduced Kriya Yoga to the world in the modern age, was a householder. So also were many of his chief disciples, notably Panchanon Bhattacharya in Calcutta. When he asked Peggy Deitz, a close disciple but ex-nun who later married, to give Kriya to those she considered fit, she remonstrated, “But Master, what will the organization say?” His reply was, “Are you following the organization? Or are you following me?”

God has sent many wonderful devotees of Master to me, personally. They are renunciates in the true sense. It isn’t that I’ve made a virtue of necessity in allowing some of them, although householders, to give Kriya. Not only are those I’ve appointed highly qualified, but I’ve never made these appointments until I felt strongly from within that this was what Master wanted me to do.

As for continuing to initiate people myself since my separation from SRF, this too was only after I felt inwardly guided by Master to do so. Of course, while he was alive he had already authorized me to give Kriya. I was also free to give it to those whom I myself selected.

That the policies on giving Kriya were changed, later, may be attributed—along with many other changes—to Dubey. He told Daya Mata, for example, about a policy in the Ramakrishna Order which he recommended she consider for keeping control over who was allowed to give Kriya in SRF. “Only the president of the Ramakrishna Order,” he said, “is empowered to give initiation. This should be SRF’s policy also. Others who give initiation should do so in your name.” Daya Mata liked his suggestion, and seems to have endorsed it.

Why Communities?

7. “Why have you founded a community, when Master himself changed his mind about creating communities toward the end of his life?”

The truth is, he never did change his mind. This is one of the organizational myths SRF has invented and perpetuated. Four months before his mahasamadhi (his earthly release into divine oneness), he spoke enthusiastically to Kamala Silva, a close disciple of his, about the need for communities. She relates their conversation in her book The Flawless Mirror, which details her experiences with him. Indeed, throughout his life he spoke ardently about the need for communities. During the three and a half years I myself was with him he would frequently digress from an announced topic to urge people to band together into little communities. At a large garden party in Beverly Hills in 1949, he spoke so fervently on the subject that I felt I’d never in my life been so inspired to action. [See Chapter 26 of The Path.]

“Go North! South! East and West! Thousands of youths must go forth to spread this idea!” After such an exhortation, merely to have dropped the subject as embarrassing ought surely itself to be considered an intense embarrassment.

I myself, at the age of fifteen, had decided I’d someday start a community. Needless to say, Master’s words on the occasion of that garden party fired not only my imagination, but my resolution. Years later, I asked Daya Mata when SRF would be in a position to start communities. She replied, “Frankly, I’m not interested.” Her lack of interest contrasted strongly with my own lifelong enthusiasm.

No, it was Daya Mata who changed the community concept in SRF. It was not Master’s mind she changed, but her own version of his wishes, which she made correspond with her own.

Later, after my separation from SRF, and not wanting to interfere with anything SRF was doing to serve Master, I saw communities as a non-competitive way of continuing to serve him myself, also. I founded Ananda not in a spirit of rivalry or reproach, but simply because it was there to be done; because SRF wasn’t interested in the idea; and because I was deeply convinced of the need for communities in Master’s overall mission. In light of his own zeal for them, I cannot but feel that Daya Mata did more than ignore his wishes: She betrayed them. In the 1950s, indeed, she actually removed, or countenanced the removal of, the very mention of communities from his stated aims and ideals.