Many people have been writing letters about their personal experiences with Swami Kriyananda in order to share the truth about this remarkable man. There have been many false rumors and innuendos spread about him over the years, but during the recent Bertolucci lawsuit, these have become increasingly vitriolic in an effort to discredit him in the public eye. It’s been very heartening to read the letters that Swamiji’s friends are now writing in his defense, because truth needs to be given a voice.
I, too, wanted to write a letter denouncing the false charges and presenting Kriyananda as I have known him for the past 32 years. Yet I felt some reluctance to talk with others about what happened during the lawsuit.
Why? Not because I believed any of the charges: dictator, sexual predator, spiritual charlatan. I knew these accusations to be false and ridiculous beyond words—born of the desire to discredit him. Nor was it even because I had become disheartened by seeing individuals I knew and another spiritual organization—SRF—tell lies in an effort to destroy Kriyananda’s life.
Why then? Throughout my life I’ve struggled to reconcile myself to being in a world where dishonesty seemed to triumph over honesty, injustice over justice, and cruelty over kindness. Once again I found myself in the middle of such a situation: the Bertolucci trial was one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced. Despite the best efforts of Kriyananda’s friends and supporters, we watched helplessly as the humblest, noblest person we’ve ever known was publicly disgraced and humiliated by devious lawyers and dishonest witnesses. For me it was like watching Christ be crucified.
It was a tremendous test of faith to try to understand how God could allow this to happen. The thought arose in my mind, “Why expect anything from this world? Darkness always wins. Forget about what other people say or do, and just seek God within yourself.”
But I’ve come to realize how important it is to tell the world about the Swami Kriyananda I know. It affirms the truth that, though the world may prove false and full of treachery, God’s will is always being expressed, and in the end good does triumph over evil. In fact, though Kriyananda’s detractors won their day in court, he has emerged the winner in the eyes of God, because he has unequivocally returned love for hatred and forgiveness for revenge.
Who is Swami Kriyananda? First and foremost in my mind Kriyananda is a disciple of Yogananda. His detractors say that he’s been disloyal to Master, and holds himself out as the guru. How far from reality these charges are! Over the years some of my most cherished memories are the times when he would talk to us about Yogananda. Given life by Kriyananda’s words, Yogananda would almost seem to appear before us in radiant spiritual wisdom and love. Year after year, he spoke and wrote about his guru—of his teachings, of the training he gave his disciples, of his humor, his joy, his boundless energy and enthusiasm for bringing people to God.
When Kriyananda speaks about Yogananda, there is so little self-focus that it took me many years to fully appreciate that he’d actually been there and lived with him. Swamiji never made us feel shut out or deprived because we hadn’t met Master, but brought us the sense that we, too, were there with him.
Yogananda told Kriyananda that his work in this life was to lecture and to write, and this he did to the full extent that he was capable. Always challenging his service to Master were his detractors from SRF, who said he was teaching and writing merely for his own self-aggrandizement. Despite their persecution, he continued to serve as his guru had instructed him.
Over the years I’ve seen him lecture all over the world to crowds of hundreds or to empty halls with one or two people. We were with him one night in Paris when, because of poor publicity, only one person showed up for his lecture. He could easily have walked away. Any spiritual teacher filled with his own self-importance would have said, “This isn’t worth my time,” and simply walked out. Instead Kriyananda sat down next to that man, and talked with him for an hour about how he came on to the spiritual path and met his guru.
Another night in Minneapolis after having given dozens of talks in different cities, he was suffering from a high fever and could scarcely get out of bed. Strongly resisting our suggestion that someone else give the talk that night, he finally accepted that he really was too sick to give a public lecture. He quietly said, “I’m like an old war-horse tired out in the service of his master.” But the next day, he was feeling better, and picked up with his lecture tour.
Throughout all the years my husband and I have been with him and experienced the blessings he has brought into so many lives, he’s always maintained the attitude that he was just another fellow seeker. Now that he lives in Italy we see him less frequently, but last March when he was visiting America, we invited him to our home for dinner. We asked him to come see our meditation room, and when he entered he immediately said, “Why do you have my picture on your altar?” Then he looked again and saw that we also had some photos of friends and family that we were praying for, and added, “Oh, you have others there. Then it’s all right.”
There was never a question about who was the guru—it was Yogananda. When people asked him directly if he was their guru, he unfailingly replied, “I’m not the guru. Master is our guru.” When people would praise him for an inspiring talk, he’d often reply, “God is the Doer,” or “Thank Master.”
Next there is Kriyananda as a spiritual leader. His detractors say that he’s an arrogant dictator who puts himself above others. But in truth, his greatest strength as a leader is his ability to bring out the best in others, and give them faith in their own ability to accomplish things.
I have joyous memories of many community meetings over the years when Swamiji would inspire the group and awaken our enthusiasm for some project at hand. I remember the meeting that took place the first year of Ananda when we had no homes to live in, and winter was fast approaching. With joy and a magnetic energy that made you feel that anything was possible, he led us in a brainstorming session where we came up with the idea of putting up teepees. One person said they knew where to get the teepee poles, another how to sew the canvas skins, another how to seal them against the rains. All this was done, and we indeed lived in teepees for the first few years of Ananda.
This was my first experience of watching Kriyananda awaken energy and enthusiasm in others so that they could accomplish their goals. This process was repeated many times over the years as we met one challenge after another and built not one, but many communities around the world.
Once when my husband and I were walking with Kriyananda the day he got out of the hospital after heart surgery, he quietly commented, “I recently received a letter from someone who said, ‘You’re so talented and have been able to accomplish things so easily in your life.’ He needs to understand that I’m not any more capable than anyone else—it’s just that I’ve been at it longer.” From this I understood him to mean both in this and in other lifetimes.
Kriyananda likes to tell the story of when he was a young boy growing up in Romania and had received a new bicycle from his parents. He taught all his friends how to ride his bicycle by holding the back of the seat and running along beside them. Then he’d drop his grip on the seat, but continue running along. Finally, as they got their confidence going, he’d stop running and let them ride alone. This is the kind of leadership he exemplifies: giving others confidence in themselves by his presence, then gradually withdrawing so that they realize they can do it on their own.
In my own life Swamiji has encouraged me in the areas of teaching and writing. I vividly remember the first time he asked me to help with a Sunday Service. It was part of a large weekend program that he’d been giving in San Francisco at the Palace of Fine Arts to which over five hundred people had come. On Saturday afternoon, he asked, “Will you and Jyotish give a brief commentary on a passage from the Bible and the Gita tomorrow morning at the Service?” I’d never done anything like that before, and I was reeling at the thought. I began praying to God and Guru to give me the calmness and clarity not to make a complete fool of myself. But all the while I deeply felt Swamiji’s blessings, his confidence in me, and his love.
As I sat in the front row of the large auditorium as Swamiji led the chanting and meditation, my mind was in turmoil. Part of me was feeling Swamiji’s presence clarifying and inspiring my thoughts, but another part was churning with the thought, “This is impossible! You can’t do this.”
Finally the time came for me to walk up on the stage, and what happened was one of the most life-changing moments of my life. Like a tangible force, I could feel Swamiji’s mental hand reaching out to me, wiping away all self-doubt and fear, and guiding my thoughts as I spoke. I could do it! I did do it! The event took place more than twenty years ago, and my husband and I have given many classes and Sunday Services over the years, but that moment has always remained with me throughout them all.
David Frawley, a highly respected Vedic astrologer and author of many popular spiritual books, has traveled all over the world and visited ashrams in many countries. Mr. Frawley was recently asked, “What would you say are the most impressive ashrams you’ve visited?” His answer was, “Ananda, Ananda, and Ananda, because Kriyananda has trained a group of leaders who will successfully lead it after he passes.” This is not the approach of an arrogant dictator, but a wise leader who understands how to delegate authority and to draw the best out of others.
And finally, there is Kriyananda the friend. For me, this is how God shines through him most beautifully for he gives living embodiment to the words “divine friendship.” Yes, he is my divine friend, but he is also the soul friend of thousands of people throughout the world. Why? Because he lives to serve the Divine in each of us, and helps us to believe that that is who we really are.
His detractors charge him with being a womanizer and a sexual predator. How would you describe a person guilty of such deeds? Someone who uses people for his own needs, and is callously indifferent to the needs of others. In short, it’s someone who lives only for himself.
Kriyananda’s whole life demonstrates his desire to serve others, to tune in to their needs, and to help them regardless of the cost to himself. Stories abound, but I’ll share one that a close friend told me. I had mentioned to her that Kriyananda had recently phoned us to discuss something. She said, “Gosh, he’s never called us.” Then her voice got very quiet, and she said, “No, that’s not true. He called once.” She told me how she and her husband had been going through a rough period in their marriage, and one evening they had a terrible argument—the worst they’d ever had. They weren’t speaking to each other, and really didn’t know if they wanted to stay together.
Then the phone rang, and it was Swamiji. All he said was, “I just wanted to call and thank you both for your wonderful spirit.” They looked at each other, and in that moment the negativity was gone. She said that no words were even necessary, but Kriyananda’s simple words had totally changed the energy between them.
I remember when another friend, Happy Winningham, was critically ill in the hospital. Happy had AIDS and with the support of Swamiji and other close friends, she’d survived for ten years longer than the doctors had expected. Happy had another friend with AIDS, and they’d made a pact to survive until a cure for their disease was found.
At the time this story took place, Happy had been rushed to the hospital and was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. Though the doctors didn’t expect her to live, amazingly she pulled through the worst of it and was starting to improve.
Just at that time, word arrived that Happy’s friend had suddenly died. Though a number of us tried to tell her the news of his death, none of us could find the courage or wisdom to do it. A short time later, Swamiji came to the hospital and asked us, “Have you told Happy yet?” We admitted that we couldn’t find the courage. He quietly said, “Then I’ll do it.”
Watching what he did for Happy that day in the hospital was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen. Filling himself with divine energy and power, he walked into her room and held her in the light of God. “Happy,” he said, “Calvin has died, and you haven’t, so you must get well now.” And she did. These stories do not portray a man who lives only for himself, but one whose sensitivity to the needs of others is rare in this world.
During the Bertolucci trial several women testified that Swamiji had taken advantage of them sexually. I listened to their stories and knew from personal experience that some of the events and circumstances they were describing were totally misrepresented. The Kriyananda they presented was a fabrication of their own minds. The women telling the lies were confused and ungrounded people, and were encouraged to distort their experiences by those seeking to destroy Kriyananda.
One of the most painful parts of the courtroom drama was the testimony of Kimberly Moore, or Parmeshwari, as she was known at Ananda. She was a woman that Swamiji had met during a vacation in Hawaii, and with whom he felt a deep soul connection. Before going to Hawaii, Kriyananda had told us, “I feel that a big change is about to happen in my life, but I don’t know what it is.” After he returned, he said that he felt God wanted him to share his life with Kimberly, and that he hoped she would help him in his spiritual work. There was nothing secretive or clandestine about their relationship: he openly shared with everyone at Ananda about her
Then one night shortly before she arrived from Hawaii, something very unexpected happened. My husband, Jyotish, and I were leading an Ananda ashram in San Francisco at that time, and Swamiji was staying with us before he met her at the airport. That night Swamiji called the thirty or so people who were living in the ashram into the temple, and said, “I’ve given all of you blessings over the years on different occasions, but now I have a favor to ask of you. Could you come up individually and bless me that God and Guru guide me in this new stage of my life?” Are these the words of a sexual predator? What utter humility and child-like openness I felt from Swamiji as I offered him my blessings that night.
Kimberly did arrive, and they tried to create a life together, giving each other mutual love and respect, but the relationship didn’t work out. After she left, Swamiji always spoke of her with great kindness and admiration for who she was. Years later during the Bertolucci trial, she spoke of their relationship in the ugliest, most degrading ways possible. The years, or unscrupulous people, had tragically changed her memory of what was a beautiful episode for all of us who observed it.
Finally I want to share that the lies and humiliation of the Bertolucci trial have become a blessing for Kriyananda and for all of us involved. We’ve walked through darkness together, and have found only greater light shining there. In watching Swamiji during the past few years, one can see in him a new kind of transcendence. Very little of himself remains, but only greater love for God and the guru to whom he has given his life. Seeing him now as he shares that love with others and transforms their lives is a testimony to the ultimate triumph in this world of God’s light.
Devi lives at Ananda Village. She and her husband Jyotish serve as Spiritual Directors of Ananda.