Letters from Ananda members, Part 1

I Know This Man
Vijay Girard

Dear Truth Seekers,

The spiritual life, according to the saints of all religions, is a challenge to experience God within our own selves. As a teenager I read Autobiography of a Yogi and recognized that Yogananda was my Guru and that his teachings and the Kriya technique were my path. I started to follow this path in 1969 by taking the SRF lessons. I found it difficult to meditate in the beginning but I kept at it. In July of 1971 I took Kriya initiation at the end of the SRF Convocation at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. I was just 19 years old at that time and felt very alone in my attempts to improve my life. On the Monday after convocation I had a private interview with Brother Anandamoy at Mount Washington. I told him that I wanted to be a monk and live with other devotees. He told me there was a two year waiting list.

During the next year I went to college, practiced kriya as best I could and tried to wait out the two years. During that year I felt desperate to find more spiritual support and friendship than weekly lessons from SRF could provide. My inward pleas were answered in June of 1972 when a series of “coincidental circumstances” brought me to Ananda. Since that time it has been my good fortune to be associated with Swami Kriyananda and many other devotees at Ananda who have dedicated their lives to knowing God through the teachings and inspiration of Paramhansa Yogananda.

Shortly after arriving at Ananda it became my job to tape record all of Swami Kriyananda’s talks. This allowed me to be in his presence on a regular basis. I found that just being around him was incredibly beneficial to my connection to God and Yogananda. I was so thirsty for growing my inner life that I found as many excuses as possible to be with him in both public and private settings.(In retrospect, the fact that Kriyananda put up with me during those years is proof enough that he wasn’t simply seeking his own pleasure!)

I have traveled around the world with Kriyananda. I have been with him in intimate settings where he shared many of his personal views of life, of the spiritual life and of Yogananda’s teachings. I have seen him relate to princes and paupers from many different countries and cultures. Over these years I have seen thousands of people who have been positively influenced by his life and efforts to share Yogananda’s message. I have also known personally many of the people who now are his detractors.

I tell you these things because I believe they point out that I am in a position to comment on him as a man and as a spiritual leader. My knowledge of him comes through personal experience over a period of three decades. It is true that my thoughts on these subjects are only my view. But if there is any truth to my words: this is a man worth knowing, not persecuting.

I am going to cover just a few of the main areas of attack that have come from SRF and their supporters. If there is an area of concern that I have not covered that you would like to discuss, please contact me through Ananda.

Accusation: Kriyananda is a control freak and he unfairly uses his position to force people to do what he wants.

My Experience: I can’t help laughing at this. I spent many, many years trying to get him to tell me what to do and he wouldn’t tell me! So this accusation goes directly against my personal experience.

I am not saying that Kriyananda never makes suggestions to people about what they should do. You have to realize that people are constantly asking him what they should do. If you met someone who you felt was truly wise wouldn’t you want to hear their guidance? Should he never respond? Is that the only way he could avoid being accused of controlling others? The fact that so many people have come to him for help time and time again should speak that he is in some way being helpful. Many people write to SRF for help. Do you think everyone likes the response they receive? Not likely. The most consistent guidance that I have heard Kriyananda share over the years is that people should learn to stand on their own two feet. This has never sounded to me like the advice of a person who wants to control others.

Isn’t it true that one of the signs of a person of wisdom is that they do not impose their view on others? If that should be true for Kriyananda it should be true for SRF as well. The fact is that SRF and some of their followers (not all) are acting in a way that is consistent with the very accusation they make towards Kriyananda. They are trying to impose their view on others. If the people connected with Kriyananda and Ananda are happy why would they want to destroy that happiness? If they were just trying to get people to question their lives and the influences of Kriyananda that would be one thing, but they are trying to impose their view on others by actively trying to destroy Ananda.

SRF has been living in the past for so long they simply can’t see that people today don’t want to be controlled by their spiritual leaders they want to be inspired by them. Kriyananda has been inspiring people to improve their lives for a long time. Why is SRF having such a difficult time in their efforts to destroy Kriyananda and Ananda? Because Kriyananda’s efforts to help people have been incredibly successful.

SRF claims that they are suing Ananda to “ Keep the teachings pure.” This is so patently false that it shows the height of their arrogance that they would even say such a thing. SRF has edited Yogananda’s writings extensively since his passing. What is one of the most consistent messages of those changes? The insertion of their name and the claim that they are the only authorized place to receive the teachings of Yogananda.

Hasn’t 2000 years of Christianity taught us anything? Do the Catholics and the Protestants need to go to war again? These are just the kind of squabbles that support those who turn away from the spiritual life. No group or individual can or will ever—including a Master—be able to fully express for all time the multifaceted truth of Spirit. When groups try to claim sole proprietorship of universal realities intelligent people have to simultaneously laugh at their immature childishness and cry for the pain that their ignorance will inevitably cause to many people.

While Yogananda was alive there were other great saints doing good works all over the world. Did Yogananda claim that he was the only source for truth? No. So how can SRF make such a ridiculous claim. They claim that they are the only reliable place to get the teachings and blessings of the Self-Realization line of Gurus. Can a group of people that consciously set out to destroy the lives of hundreds of people who are doing their best to live in harmony with the inspiration of Yogananda’s teachings be a place where the teachings are being kept “pure”. Common sense tells us no.

If you take the time to meet some of the people who have benefited by the inspiration and positive way of life that has been made possible by Kriyananda’s efforts I believe you will find an experience very different than those described by a few detractors. Also take the time to find out how the relentless and dishonest attack from SRF and their “unofficial” representatives has caused untold anguish and financial hardship to hundreds of disciples of Yogananda.

Most importantly, you should base your own evaluation on personal experience and not the opinions of others. (Including mine!) The accusations against Kriyananda and Ananda are purely and simply yellow journalism. When people with a negative cause have no truth on their side they fling lies in the hopes that the sparks of sensationalism will distract people from what is really going on.

Accusation: Kriyananda is a sexual predator.

My Experience: When I first came to Ananda I was 20 years old. As a young man I was certainly interested in sex. I had just spent a year in college where the sexual revolution was in full force. In college, sex and partying are often more important to students then studies. That was certainly the case with me. The only difference for myself was that I desperately wanted to be a devotee of God and Guru; not wine, women and song. I just needed to find an environment that would support me in those positive directions.

One of the interesting things that I noted when I arrived at Ananda was that sex was not really an issue. It isn’t that people weren’t doing it. It is just that it was very secondary to the place that most people were putting their attention. Meditation, service and satsang (spiritual fellowship), these are the staples of motivated devotees. What I found at Ananda was a group of devotees who were putting all of their energy into growing their spiritual lives. Those who were having sex were doing so in private with the same mix of reasons that people all over the world have.

Since non-sensuality is one of the tenants of our teaching we were all aware that the goal is to draw our awareness in and up the spine rather then out towards the world through the senses. Each of us wrestled with these energies on our own. Yogananda taught that it is often better to put lots of positive energy into the good things that we can do rather than fighting constantly with our failings. This doesn’t mean that we don’t get bad karma when we do wrong, it just means that if we wallow in our imperfections we will never raise ourselves up out of them.

In all of my years around Kriyananda I have never heard him impose the teaching of celibacy on anyone. He never claimed that he was celibate. It is true that his vow as a Swami gave the impression that he was celibate. But that was our definition not his stated one. Swami never claimed to be perfect in any way at any time that I was present. He never told others they had to be celibate. He spoke of the principles involved and encouraged people to face these challenges with patience and humility.

Are we so naive as to think that every priest and nun that takes a vow of celibacy and living only for God is successful in that vow. The rarity of saints among the thousands of vowed renunciates in the world should tell us that there is a distance between trying to live up to a vow and actually succeeding. Are the millions of aspirants through the generations that have failed to be perfect in their vows all evil? Of course not.

Swami never encouraged us to hold him up on a pedestal. He has always turned people towards God and Yogananda, never towards himself. This is something that he has done consistently through all of the years that I have known him. I struggled for many years to put my relationship with him into a perspective that honored all that I appreciate and love about him with the fact that he is not perfect and never claimed to be. This process was made difficult not by Swami, but by the lack of context that our society has on people who inspire us. We don’t know how to relate to them. We are also trying to translate teachings from India—a very different culture—into our American perspective. These challenges are not Kriyananda’s fault. They have made his life more difficult as well as our own, but he did not create these issues.

When we elevate someone to a status above us we are the ones putting demands and expectations on them much of the time, not the reverse. Why should we expect our spiritual leaders to be perfect in every way? It might be nice if they were. But personally, given all of the failings that I have, it gives me hope that someone as great as Kriyananda could still have challenges like the ones that I face. That tells me that I can focus on the good and be hopeful about the areas that aren’t yet perfected.

Do we really believe that a person who isn’t perfect shouldn’t try to help others? I don’t think so. If that were true then very little helping would get done in this world. The reality is that we are all improved as we try to help others. This is the way that life works. Imperfect people must help others in order to perfect themselves. In so doing goodness and light is brought into the world and all are benefited.

I have noticed over the years that Kriyananda is not really gender oriented. He treats everyone the same. His interactions with people are based on a loving, compassionate interest in helping others. He is incredibly patient. While he is very discriminating, he is not judgmental about the opinions or actions of others. He takes a humorous approach to the foibles of human life—including sexuality—not to raise himself above others, but to keep a humble, honest and healthy view of the world we live in. This openness manifests in spontaneous acts of matter-of-factness about life.

One day I came to his house unannounced with a woman friend and walked in on him while he was not fully dressed. He was lying on a couch in an Indian style loin cloth reading a book. Rather than being offended by our intrusion or embarrassed by his lack of attire he simply got up and moved to his bedroom where he quickly dressed and returned as if nothing at all had happened. He did this in the most natural and unassuming way. All of the immature ideas of modesty and propriety that I had been brought up with were dissolved by his calm presence of mind. He was totally unaffected by the unexpected turn of events.

We all have to face our sexuality. If we can accept it and work with it without shame or self-deception we will find that these issues can often be put into a larger perspective that removes them from the negative view that our Judeo-Christian upbringing has imposed upon us.

I don’t believe that every choice that Kriyananda made in dealing with his sexuality was perfect. I believe that he struggled in the same realm that we all struggle in: trying to reconcile our humanity with an ideal view of our divinity. I am reminded of Jesus’s admonition: “Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone.”

It is my belief that Kriyananda did not force himself on anyone. That is so inconsistent with the totality of his life as I have known him that I am simply not able to see it. I have seen him interact with literally thousands of women in public and certainly many hundreds in more private settings. I have never known anyone so consistently respectful of the wishes of others. I personally know most of the women that he was accused of treating inappropriately. These were not young innocents who were sexually ignorant. Nor would I consider them timid people who would give in to a sexual involvement that they didn’t want. These were consenting adults.

The idea that Kriyananda would rape a woman would be laughable except that it is such a serious charge. The American judicial system is not always about truth and justice, it is often about deception and innuendo. The fact that falsely accused people are found guilty in courts of law is well documented. The ultimate truth is that only those personally involved actually know for sure what took place. All I can say is that if you were able to inspect the totality of the lives of the people involved I believe you would find Kriyananda to be a much more credible speaker of truth than his accusers.

The bottom line is that having sex doesn’t make Kriyananda evil. It also doesn’t negate the incredible good that he has done for thousands of people.

The current day facts are that this is a dead issue. Kriyananda is in his mid-seventies. Did he make some mistakes? Yes! Is he perfect? No! Did he ever claim to be perfect? No. Is he likely to sexually influence anyone in the future? No. The only reason this is still being discussed is that it is flashy and it distracts people from the real issues that need to be looked at today. SRF and their supporters in the effort to destroy Ananda are no longer really concerned with Kriyananda. They are actually worried about the scores of ministers that Kriyananda has trained to carry on Yogananda’s work without SRF control.

The incredible irony of all this is that in their very attempts to destroy Ananda, SRF has made Ananda stronger. History now repeats itself. Like the early Christians the disciples fought amongst themselves while they were being persecuted by the people in power that could see their powers slipping away. What was the end result? The teachings spread all around the world and no one group could control it. That has happened in pretty much the same way with every world religion. That is what will happen again.

Accusation: Kriyananda allows no dissention or self-direction.

My Experience: As it happens, I am what some would call a free thinker and others might describe at times as a loud mouth. I was a teenager in the 1960’s. I cut my teeth on going against the establishment. So when I came to Ananda I was up front with my thoughts and questions. There were some at Ananda that thought I didn’t belong, even Swami. He once said that he only accepted me because I was friends with one of the solid members of the group.

It is important to understand that people who are seeking harmony in their lives do not like to be around people who cause disharmony. While it is true that we can become strong inwardly by learning to deal with the restless or negative energies of others, why go looking for trouble? We certainly are not likely to want to live in close proximity to troublemakers while we are trying to develop our peaceful nature.

What I found over the years at Ananda is that I often voiced the thoughts of others who were too timid to speak up themselves. I also found that my style of communication was so caustic that it distracted people from seeing the issues that I was trying to discuss. In spite of my brash outspokenness the group did put up with me. I was accepted into the group of people that spent the most time with Kriyananda. Kriyananda invested his efforts in helping me to improve myself. And apparently those efforts held some success because he took me around the world with him for 71/2 months. That was not the act of a person who can’t stand to be around people who think for themselves.

The truth is that I have never met a person more able and willing to hear truth no matter where it comes from. I have heard newcomers lecture Kriyananda on what he should or shouldn’t do and watch him listen attentively like an earnest student. He is amazingly willing to receive new information and change his views.

Some years ago I had what appeared to be a disagreement with him at a large gathering. At the time, he thought that I was speaking against him and he was very disappointed. He scolded me in public. Later we had a talk and he realized that he had misunderstood what I was trying to say. At the time I was a little concerned that people in the community would get the wrong impression of the situation. He told me not to worry but didn’t tell me why. The next day there was a letter from him in the mailbox of every community resident. He started the letter by apologizing to me and then went on to say that he agreed fully with what I was trying to say. That was not the act of an egomaniac or a person that can not abide the views of others. It was the act of a person that is self-integrated enough to admit a mistake publicly.

I was deeply touched by Kriyananda’s letter. Not only for myself, but for the incredible example that he showed about how to get beyond misunderstandings without holding grudges or hard feelings. This seems particularly appropriate for the current situation with SRF and Ananda. The real issue is: can we all rise up to the table and find harmony in our commonalities rather than animosities in our differences.

Once I was at a conference in Vancouver, BC with Kriyananda. He was one of the main speakers at the conference. He also led a morning meditation that was open to the public. The room we had on the first morning was too small so he asked me to see if a larger room could be made available. Knowing that I would probably insist on a larger room when talking to the program coordinators Kriyananda looked me right in the eyes with a smile and said, “Don’t insist, offer.” This advice that he gave me was true advice, not only because it helped me to interact with others more respectfully and successfully, but because I have seen him live it for all of the years that I have known him.

There is a very real difference between nagging negativity and sincere critical thinking. What always amazes me about Kriyananda is that he treats both the same way. He respects the right for others to seek and express their own truth. The only times I have ever seen him go against negative people is when their energies are causing undo damage to others. He never seeks to save himself the aggravation, but he does try to protect others when he thinks it is appropriate. To people who are grappling with thoughts that they don’t yet fully understand he is ever patient and respectful. I know, because that is the way he has treated me.

In 1980 I was the first of Ananda’s “inner circle” to be married not by Kriyananda, but by other Ananda Ministers. This was unheard of at the time. I made this bold move because I believed that it was the right thing to do. I didn’t ask anyone for permission, I just posted a general invitation to all in the Ananda Newsletter making no special invitation to Kriyananda. I was deeply touched when he arrived at the wedding to sit humbly with the rest of the group. He took no offense at my actions. Had I known that he would attend I certainly would have prepared a special seat for him. Truthfully, I didn’t think he would come. I found that I was the one that ended up being small-minded in not trusting our friendship fully, not him. We also had dancing at the wedding. That too had never been done. But he nor any other Ananda member took any kind of offense to my self generated choices. In fact, I remember that Kriyananda danced a waltz and we were all amazed at his stylish footsteps.

Those who say that Kriyananda is against individuals thinking for themselves and speaking the truth as they understand it are simply wrong. They either have never met him or they have some other agenda that keeps them from seeing the truth.

Issue: Who are the people speaking against Kriyananda and Ananda?

My Experience: As I mentioned, I personally know most of the people who are speaking against Kriyananda and Ananda. These are not bad people. But they are doing a bad thing. One of the saddest parts of this is that these people are still loved by many at Ananda. We wish them well. We not only want to be their friends, we are their friends. But we can no longer stand by and let them destroy a way of life that we cherish.

On one occasion I was driving in a car with Kriyananda and he was talking to me about a man who had expressed deep anger towards him. Kriyananda was shaking his head back and forth with sincere regret. He was telling me how he had tried everything that he could think of to accommodate this man and create harmony, but the man just didn’t want to give up his anger. I could easily see in Kriyananda’s face that he was not angry with this man, but genuinely concerned about the man’s well-being. This has been Kriyananda’s consistent attitude towards those that speak against him. I have never seen Kriyananda feel sorry for himself at the cost of respect for others.

I can’t say the same thing about those who once lived at Ananda and are now trying to destroy it. They are on what they have deluded themselves into believing is a holy crusade. They are not interested in the welfare of others, they are simply using this crusade as an excuse to avoid facing their own life challenges. I am not saying that life at Ananda is perfect. I have often pointed out things that I disagree with. But to destroy a way of life because it isn’t perfect is not a holy cause but a foolish one.

These people claim that they are standing up for themselves and truth because they experienced pain and suffering. How do they righteously accomplish that “noble” goal? They cause pain and suffering to others without any regard to a positive potential. They have no plan to build something good out of all this. They only seek to destroy.

As we all know, it often happens when people get emotionally wound up that they will begin to exaggerate the injustices they feel were unfairly heaped upon them. They rationalize these expansions on the truth as being true because they support what they want to believe. Fact and fiction soon loose meaning and truth is replaced by anything that will support their point of view. Are these people intentionally lying? I don’t know. All I know is that their claims are false. And even if they were true, this isn’t the way to make things better.

I have seen thousands of people come and go from Ananda over the years. Most of the people that come leave at some point. Some leave with a positive attitude and some leave with a negative attitude. Considering the volume of people that have been to Ananda it is amazing that very few people have been asked to leave. Most people leave on their own when they recognize that it is time. The interesting thing is that no matter why people leave, if they ever return they are invariably met with smiles and welcomes.

I myself have come and gone many times over a period of thirty years. I have lived in almost every area of Ananda Village. I helped start the Sacramento Center which is now a community. I led a meditation group in Santa Barbara for a year. I lived on my own in Roseville, California for some years. I was a monk and I was married. Most recently I have been living in Las Vegas, Nevada for almost four years now. I write books and have started a group with a different name. Anandagiri instead of Ananda. It is the same as Ananda, but I am experimenting with ideas that have been rolling around in my head for a long time. Have I asked Kriyananda or anyone at Ananda for permission to do these things? No. Do my friends or Kriyananda think I am out of my mind and fallen off the path? I don’t think so. They have fully supported me in following the inspiration that leads my life. Do they agree with everything that I do? No. Actually, they don’t know most of what I do. I am a private person and I don’t advertise what I am up to. But I believe that they respect that I am doing what I believe is right for my life. I visit Ananda as often as possible. I stay in touch with those that I am personally close with. Even with all of the changes that I have gone through and my independent approach to life, I have always found the door to Ananda open. I know that I could show up any day of the week and find people happy to see me and ready to make room for me in their lives.

Throughout recorded history feuds of all kinds have have burned through the hearts and lives of many souls. This current circumstance is not about Kriyananda and his mistakes. It is not about Ananda trying to infringe on SRF’s Territory. It is about taking the next step in expressing the timeless truths of Spirit in a way that reflect the expanding consciousness that is a part of the times in which we live. Each of us must take the time to reflect on how we can express the insights that Paramhansa Yogananda has brought into the world at this time and place. Yogananda emphasized the need for each person to have a direct experience of God. The science of Kriya Yoga is not about a church or an organization. It is about the transforming power of Spirit. It is about the blessings that God has sent into this world through our line of Gurus. It is about each individual soul growing into the direct perception of oneness with God.

As a group—led by Kriyananda’s example—Ananda has an incredible capacity to forgive the past and embrace a positive future. Even after over ten years of lawsuits and millions of dollars spent, Ananda and Kriyananda seek harmony and would instantly turn away from the past with no recriminations should the opportunity present itself.

While I love all the good that is at the roots of SRF I know that Yogananda has come to me most through Swami Kriyananda and my Ananda spiritual family. No court or dissenting group of people can take that from me. This is not an outward place, but an inward haven that fills my heart daily. If you can get this kind of support through SRF then I bless them in their efforts to help you and you in your efforts to receive that help. I can only hope that your growth in the love of Spirit will allow you to know that those who find inspiration through Swami Kriyananda and Ananda are also lovers of God and sincere disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda.

I invite you to investigate Ananda for yourself by visiting any of our meditation groups, centers, communities or the Expanding Light our public retreat. It is through your own personal experience that you can find out what place Ananda or any other group should hold in your life.

In Divine Friendship,
Vijay Girard

Vijay, a writer and an Ananda minister, lives in Las Vegas Nevada.

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