Letters from Ananda members, Part 9

Ananda’s Real Motives — An insider’s personal perspective
David Steinmetz

While I am a volunteer minister for the Ananda Church of Self-realization, and have been deeply involved with Ananda since 1973, I have not been part of the decision-making, policy-setting leadership of the organization, but have observed this process closely over my nearly 30 years of experience with Ananda.

The apparent goals of Ananda
It seems to me that Ananda has consistently pursued certain goals that I will attempt to describe here. I have never seen them set down in quite this way by the leadership, so what follows is largely based on empirical observation. There are forces threatening to obstruct each of these, and Ananda is responding accordingly. Here I list the goals as I see them, the current manifestation of each, the threat to its realization, and the actions being taken to overcome the threatened obstruction. You can decide for yourself if these are worthy goals, if the attempts to thwart them are justified, and if Ananda’s response to those attempts has been appropriate (i.e. dharmic).

1. To serve the spiritual needs of the Ananda church congregation of Yogananda devotees.
2. To spread the wisdom of Yogananda in ways that are clear, accurate and understandable beyond just a circle of devoted followers to the culture at large.
3. To demonstrate the concept of “World Brotherhood Colony” that was envisioned by Yogananda as an ideal way of life for the present age.
4. To keep Yogananda’s original writings, relics and pilgrimage spots available to all of his devotees equally, regardless of their organizational affiliation.

Now let us consider each of these in turn:

(1) Serving the Ananda church congregation.

The Manifestation:
Ananda has established churches in several U.S. cities, and supports meditation groups in many more. Retreats are operated in Nevada City CA, Rhode Island, and Assisi Italy.

The threat:
Self Realization Fellowship (SRF) began legal proceedings in 1990 to block Ananda from using Yogananda’s name or picture or in any way identifying Ananda with Yogananda. Ananda couldn’t very well serve Yogananda devotees if we can’t tell anyone who our guru is.

The response:
The courts ruled against SRF in this regard, but they continue to try to get the courts to reverse their rulings, and Ananda continues to spend lots of money on lawyers so as not to lose by default what has been gained.

(2) Spreading Yogananda’s wisdom with clarity and depth

The Manifestation:
Let me tell you my own experience with Yogananda’s teachings. I was a student of Self-Realization Fellowship, and attended the SRF church in Phoenix for six years before moving to Ananda Village in Nevada City. I took all the SRF lessons, bought all the SRF books, and attended SRF lectures, classes, convocations and retreats. I thought I had a good idea of what Yogananda’s teachings were, having reached something of a plateau in understanding. When I exhausted SRF’s offerings I looked to other spiritual teachings for inspiration and deeper understanding. This led, of course, to some confusion because when one has a false idea the accuracy of his own comprehension of a truth, then an independent expression of that same truth will appear inconsistent. One naturally supposes that the teachings are different, when it is one’s own understanding that is at fault.

When I began to listen to some tapes of lectures by Swami Kriyananda, I began to see Yogananda’s teachings in a much clearer light, and the confusion started to dissolve. I realized that there were un-dreamed-of depths to Yogananda’s teachings yet to explore. Through Kriyananda’s books and lectures I began to see how the principles that Yogananda brought to the West were applicable across the entire culture, not just for his disciples alone. I believe that it will be primarily through Kriyananda’s writings that Western culture will receive and embrace the essence of Yogananda’s spiritual teachings. In some areas, for example principles good management, or education of young people, many need not even be aware of the Eastern roots of those principles to enjoy the benefits of their application.

Some might think that the “much clearer light” in which I saw Yogananda’s teaching through Kriyananda’s writings and lectures represents a change in those teachings rather than a clarification. Over the years I have had ample occasion to compare in detail the published works of Yogananda with Kriyananda’s own writings or lectures on the same topic. Time after time I have seen that some point that Kriyananda has made fresh and clear had all the time lain hidden in something Yogananda had said. My eyes had passed over Yogananda’s words, perhaps many times, without ever noticing their deeper significance.

I remember in the early 1970’s receiving weekly installments of Swami Kriyananda’s 14 Steps to Higher Awareness. He was actually revising them at the time, but not quite keeping up, so the nominal 2 weeks between lessons stretched out to 3 and even 4 weeks. Finally came a letter from Kriyananda with an apology for the delay. He writes:

“Very often I found that I had to stop in mid-paragraph, and devote a day, a week, or even longer to meditating on some subtle point that I wanted to carry deeper than I ever had before, or to explain it more simply, so that no one could fail to understand it. This lesson (#12) and the next, for example, forced me to abandon writing altogether for a whole month. I wanted as much as possible to “live” each thought before expressing it.”

It is this insistence on living the teachings before expressing them that will keep Yogananda’s teachings pure. It is, after all, exactly what has kept the spiritual teachings of India alive for thousands of years. Anytime more weight is given to the letter of a teaching than to the realization of that teaching it will be a step backward to the dogmatism of the dark ages.

Ananda publishes Kriyananda’s books and tapes through Crystal Clarity, Publishers and through foreign publishers versions translated into many languages.

The threat:
There are those who strongly feel that Kriyananda’s books and recordings should not be published at all! In the course of settling one long drawn out lawsuit brought by an ex-Ananda person with the support of some SRF members for the purpose to destroying Kriyananda’s reputation, there was a concerted legal effort to obtain all of Kriyananda’s copyrights—obviously for the purpose of preventing their publication.

The response:
Somehow Ananda’s lawyers managed to preserve those copyrights. They have now been placed in a trust so that they do not belong to Ananda, Kriyananda, or Crystal Clarity, and will eventually find their way into the public domain.

(3) World Brotherhood Colonies
The Manifestation

The Ananda Cooperative Village began about 1968 in rural Nevada County California. In the three decades of its existence it has grown to include 250 residents, with all the normal infrastructure of a small village, including a market, recreation facilities, school system, and businesses providing jobs. On the 700 acre property are natural areas including a pond and forest. A retreat called The Expanding Light accommodates guests year round who come to learn about yoga and the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda.

Under the guidance of Kriyananda the Village has gradually learned how to apply Yogananda’s teachings practically to implement his ideals of a community of householders and single people who earn their living, have their schools and practice their religion all in the same environment. There has been no model to build on, so Ananda has had to learn as it developed, making mistakes and gleaning lessons from each one. (I have worked in research laboratories most of my life, attempting things never before done, and well know that, regardless of how an experiment turns out, it is in fact successful if something is learned from it. In that sense, we don’t have mistakes, but rather “learning opportunities”). When I first went to Ananda Village to live I had no idea what it would mean to live in a cooperative community modeled on Yogananda’s teachings. I only knew that I was joining other Yogananda devotees in an experiment to find out. I didn’t find it easy then to distinguish between what was in tune with Yogananda’s ideas and what was not, and I think others had the same difficulty, but Swami Kriyananda constantly, with tremendous patience, has guided and trained and inspired people for over 30 years to bring Ananda to its present reasonable approximation to Yogananda’s ideals.

Today Ananda Village serves as a model of cooperative living and inspiration to several urban Ananda communities, and is studied as a model for cooperative communities having no connection at all with Ananda.

The Threat:
The mounting legal costs and expensive settlement of the lawsuit I mentioned above has put the assets of Ananda at risk. If Ananda fails to meet its financial obligations it could lose the Village that has taken three decades to build. There are forces that would like very much to see us fail in that, and are doing their best to keep our legal expenses as high as possible.

The Response:
Ananda has undergone Chapter 11 Reorganization in order to spread legal costs over six years, and has several years of payments still to make. Meanwhile current legal costs continue to mount. It is through the continued contributions of a widening group of supporters that these expenses are being met.

(4) Keeping Yogananda available to all
The Manifestation:

Over the years Yogananda’s books have undergone various editorial changes. This seems to be the fate of spiritual teachings throughout history. Today scholars seek out the earliest versions of the various books of the Bible or of Buddha’s teachings, or of the Sanskrit scriptures of India. It is important that the earliest versions of Yogananda’s works also be available to all. If we don’t take steps now to preserve by wide duplication the original writings of Yogananda, some could easily be lost—in a major earthquake for example. As a consequence of SRF’s lawsuit of Ananda, Yogananda’s early writings entered the public domain.

Another aspect of a great spiritual teacher’s legacy is an assortment of places saturated with his vibrations that become pilgrimage spots for devotees. The importance of keeping such spots freely accessible to all can be seen in the daily newspaper as Israelis and Arabs, Hindus and Muslims battle over such issues. Today in India, Yogananda’s boyhood home in Calcutta and the nearby home of Tulsi Das where Yogananda and other saints have spent much time, remain free of connection to any organization in spite of concerted efforts by SRF to obtain ownership of them. Ananda has contributed to the support of these pilgrimage spots to help keep them free for all devotees.

Other pilgrimage spots that are available to all include the Forest Lawn crypt where Yogananda’s body remains. Another is the site where Yogananda left his body—it is now the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

The Threat:
Even though the courts decided that Yogananda’s early writings published during his lifetime are in the public domain, SRF continues by the appeal process to get the courts to reverse their decision.

SRF is trying to get approval to relocate Yogananda’s body to their headquarters at Mount Washington. It seems inevitable that access to that pilgrimage spot would be limited in some way—practical matters of space limitations on the site would dictate that, even if policy didn’t.

The Response:
Ananda continues to fight in court to keep the writings Yogananda published during his lifetime in the public domain. Ananda is also speaking out at public hearings regarding SRF’s plans to expand the facilities at their headquarters at Mt. Washington and move Yogananda’s body there.

[Ananda’s efforts and those of the neighborhood association CANDER were at least temporarily successful; SRF withdrew its expansion plans in the summer of 2001].

I’ve been reading a little history lately, and I can’t help noticing that the followers of every important spiritual teacher develop groups with different ways of expressing their teacher’s message. There are many different traditions in Buddhism, countless Christian churches, and Krishna is venerated by many Hindu sects. Today anyone can start a new Christian church, and have an image or symbol of Jesus on their altar. Anyone can write a new translation of the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita based on whatever ancient source they choose and publish it. Nobody has exclusive ownership of the Koran or the Bible. It seems to me only proper that any devotee of Paramhansa Yogananda should have equal access to his original writings and pilgrimage spots.

During the time I was living in Tucson, Arizona, I participated in a little mediation group. We gathered together regularly to practice Yogananda’s meditation techniques and chant Yogananda’s chants. One time a newcomer proposed that we apply to SRF to be an official meditation group. OH NO—NO WAY—NO ORGANIZATION! was the unanimous response. How many Yogananda devotees there must be scattered around the globe who by choice or necessity have no connection with SRF, Ananda, or any other Yogananda organization? It is for all those devotees and many to come in the future that Ananda is fighting for the freedom to openly practice and share Yogananda with others and freely visit the holy spots associated with his life.

In ages past, as in the history of Christianity, much blood has been shed when one church claims exclusive validity. Today’s battles are fought in the courtroom shedding money instead of blood, feeding lawyers instead of lions—but is this all the progress we have made in the many centuries?

Concluding thoughts:
If it were really God’s will for SRF to extinguish Ananda they should have embraced Ananda early on, and smothered it in protective custody. But they missed their chance, and Ananda has grown stronger in the battle for survival. Yogananda teaches us to use every trial as an opportunity to grow stronger; he uses the illustration that a wrestler who does not fight with a stronger opponent will not become stronger himself. I have watched Ananda’s strength grow in every way over the last decade of legal battles. That strength is based on truth and wisdom, not money. I think that only when both opponents develop that truth-based strength, they will cease to see each other as a threat. Perhaps when that day comes, there can be cooperation between SRF and Ananda. We may well find someday that the present battles were only a strengthening exercise arranged by the Masters to prepare for future challenges.