Letters from Ananda members, Part 17

My Spiritual Family
Leslie Ghirla

I have been associated with Ananda for a relatively short time. There is a quote from Jesus that goes something like; “judge a tree by it’s fruits,” which I believe applies to Swami Kriyananda completely.

I Find Ananda

I came to Ananda in 1997 by way of the Palo Alto Community. My relationship with Yogananda was very strong long before I arrived at Ananda. I had previously lived in Southern California and lived a few miles from SRF’s Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades. I had read the Autobiography of A Yogi in 1987. I even attended a Sunday service at SRF Lake Shrine but found it to be dry of spiritual inspiration. I far preferred my weekly, sometimes daily pilgrimages to the little “Windmill Chapel” at Lake Shrine to sit in Master’s presence. I always felt the joy of Yogananda fill my heart on those visits.

In 1996 I had moved to Northern California. One year later, without my spiritual friends in Southern California, I made what I later learned was a “prayer demand”. One morning I asked Master to give me a spiritual family because I didn’t feel life worth living without one. That same morning I found Ananda. I visited The East West Bookstore and found a program guide for the Ananda Palo Alto church. Upon opening the first page I saw a picture of Master’s face looking back at me. I was overcome with his speedy reply and wept for joy. I had no idea what Ananda was but I knew I was led by Yogananda. Within weeks I was living in its Palo Alto Community.

I later learned that a man named Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Yogananda, had founded the community and that it was a part of a much bigger group. My first thought was, if anyone can create this vibration in today’s world he must be an amazing person. I know how difficult it is to start a community because of the efforts that a handful of us made in Southern California. People are not so easily separated from their possessions! We did not succeed. At Ananda there were souls that had done it very successfully for 30 years!

As the months sped by and my involvement increased, I would hear Swami’s name come up in reference to a piece of music sung in service or a book he had written. My respect for him increased exponentially as time passed. This admiration grew not blindly but by the behavior of not only the spiritual leaders but also the residents and members of the community and church. I was blessed daily with their warmth, genuine caring for each other and intense devotion to God and Guru. I never was given the impression that Swami was the Guru. I understood him to be the spiritual father or the example of discipleship to follow.

Ananda is Being Sued

In the fall of 1997, I heard that a woman was suing Ananda. I was shocked. It made no sense. I further learned that a trial was about to start.

In a nutshell, a woman that was once part of Ananda community felt Ananda and Swami Kriyananda wronged her. Upon further questioning and research I discovered that this women had an affair with one of the married ministers. When this minister tried to cut the affair short she determined to continue the affair. At that point, Swami Kriyananda asked her to move to a different Ananda community and start anew. She did leave the one community and took up residence in another for a time and then left. A few months later she filed this lawsuit. There seemed to be a cross-pollination of information flowing from this woman to SRF. Because she “coincidentally” had hired the same lawyer SRF uses in their lawsuit against Ananda. This lawyer that she just happened to retain was very high priced and had the nickname and reputation of “the assassin.” I found it amazing that in all my questioning to the Ananda leadership regarding this case, I was never given the impression that they were angry with this woman, the lawyer or even SRF. A bit frustrated yes. Angry? No. A testimony of the integrity of the leadership at Ananda.

When the trial started, all hell broke loose. Quite literally.

  • The lawyer’s son decided to fly a private plane over Ananda Village and drop leaflets over our school children portraying Kriyananda as sexual pervert.
  • The judge of this trial, overnight, turned from a reasonable man to a biased angry person against Kriyananda. A bailiff who was present during part of the trial said it was far from a fair one.
  • The woman’s lawyer created a media circus by focusing on not the facts but by creating a shocking and a sensational atmosphere in the courtroom.
  • Daily we got pounded in court. Our right to cross-examine certain key witnesses on the stand was taken away. In other words, what ever our opposition said in court stood as fact because our right to disprove or even question the truth of their statements was eliminated.

I watched this in disbelief! Here I knew I had found my spiritual home and yet the courts were trying to destroy it. The amazing and unfounded rulings against us were evidence that another power was controlling the destiny of this case. I carefully watched the leadership during this time. I looked for signs of “cracking” but found “only love.” Many of Ananda’s leadership including Swamiji himself were coming to Ananda Palo Alto to stay for extended periods. I had the opportunity to see them all in the “worst of times.”

I was shown that even in the face of evil itself one does not have to stoop to the lows of your enemy. I quickly came to the conclusion, win or lose, my loyalty went with Ananda because of the way they faced their possible demise at the hands of a master manipulator, this woman’s lawyer, SRF’s lawyer.

Swamiji’s Legacy

Swami Kriyananda says, “ If you want to get to know me, the best way is through my music.” I wanted to know this man and put his statement to the test. I joined the choir. Swami has composed over 400 pieces of music from a superconscious state. His music is divinely inspired, simple melodies that uplift the spirit. I worked to learn his music and could feel my consciousness lift the more I sang it. The interesting thing that changed on an obvious level was my singing voice. It got sweeter so a friend commented.

In spring 1999, I had the opportunity to go to Italy and sing with the Ananda Choir. We toured Italy for three weeks and sang in 6 concerts to standing ovations at every performance. The Italians could not understand the words but were clearly moved (out of their seats) by the music. I was spiritually changed from the tour. Singing Swamiji’s music took my love for God to a much deeper place in my heart. My conviction for this path of “Self-realization” deepens with every note. I am eternally thankful.

In the summer of 1999 I was blessed again by the opportunity to serve in our Ananda Assisi center for 3 months. Swami Kriyananda’s home is nearby. One day in the retreat’s dining room there was a birthday celebration planned for several residents. 30 of us were there, all enjoying each other’s company. I didn’t know Swami was going to stop by. I looked up because I felt something entering the room and saw Swamiji coming. My heart burst opened automatically and I heard myself say “Swami’s here!” I cannot explain the joy I felt when he entered the room. A very brilliant light preceded him; I could not take my eyes off of this man. I recall that moment as one I will cherish deeply. I found it difficult to determine whether the vibration he was emanating was Master’s or his own. His joy and loving presence were the same that I experienced in the windmill chapel at Lake Shrine so many years ago with Master.

Even now, when I am referring to Swamiji in conversation to someone, I have to consciously think to say his name because I automatically want to say Master. Not because I don’t know the difference but because there is so little left of Kriyananda, only Master’s divine ray.

I have seen Swamiji on many occasions; I have even had the honor of small interactions with him in social occasions. He is always the same: wise, loving, kind, courteous, patient, generous, sometimes really funny and so much more. The first generation of disciples that he has nurtured are the ones that built this community by his side. They share these same qualities. I am very blessed to have the good karma to share my life with these great souls! I see Swami Kriyananda as the example I am to follow. I pray to be such a divine channel a he is.

Leslie lives at Ananda Village and works in the promotions department of the Expanding Light Retreat.