Letters from Ananda members, Part 18

Held in the Light
Lila Devi

“What is wrong with this picture” is the first thought that comes to mind while writing this article refuting the charges against Swami Kriyananda. The claims leveled against him in no way resemble the person I have known during my twenty-five years at Ananda. I have seen no overlap of the two profiles—the steadfast disciple of a great avatar, versus the unconscionable monster portrayed by his detractors. No resemblance whatsoever. The truth remains that Kriyananda has been seriously miscast in the roles assigned to him by his accusers. Egomaniacal? Womanizing? Arrogant? Avaricious? I think not, and here’s why.

Any great work, as history reveals, has to struggle through great opposition in its birthing stage. Yogananda, the avatar for this age, told Swami repeatedly during their three years together at the Mt.Washington headquarters that the young monk had a great work to do. Never did two plus two so clearly equal four, i.e., that Ananda World Brotherhood Colonies are the great work to which he was referring. Or at least a part of it.

End of story? Not quite. We—meaning the people of Ananda—are struggling for our continued existence in the face of the lawsuits explained on this website. And a good struggle it’s been. Although I would never wish this battle on anyone, I am grateful for the fortitude and joy that have ensued as a result.

There are many areas of dispute by Swami Kriyananda’s detractors where I could voice my experiences in his defense. I consider it an honor to defend him because in doing so, I am also defending the spiritual principles to which he has committed his life: humility, compassion, courage, and forgiveness. I have never known Swami to define himself on the merits of his many accomplishments, but only by the quality of his discipleship to his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda.

What I have seen, time and time again, is that the flaws people project onto Swami Kriyananda are the very issues with which they themselves are struggling. I believe that people who call him a sexual predator have their own unresolved sexual issues. His detractors’ claims have been disproved repeatedly to my satisfaction. I’ve seen Swami treat women, myself included, with dignified respect. Consistently and without exception.

Years ago during the most painful period of Swami’s degenerative arthritis, I gave him occasional massage treatments prior to his hip replacement surgeries. He always treated me graciously and appropriately. In fact, those times saw some of our best chats together. The hip bones had deteriorated so severely that he could hardly bear to walk across the room. His case was the worst his surgeon reported seeing.

As an example of projected sexual imbalances, I refer you to my earlier letter about Eric Estep who spearheaded this lawsuit. I was married to Eric. This man has serious personal conflicts and disturbances on the issues of women and sexuality—the very claims he encouraged Bertolucci to file against Swami and Ananda.

Being a sexual predator and having a consensual sexual relationship are not the same thing. People who confuse the two where Swami is concerned have been seriously misinformed by the outrageous propaganda against him. Or they are victims of severe memory distortion. Kriyananda has denied all allegations of sexual harassment and I believe him. I note in passing that most, if not all, of his handful of accusers have close ties to SRF, which has persecuted Ananda for years.

I personally don’t have a problem that Swami Kriyananda had several consensual relationships at Ananda. I never heard him make claims of celibacy or of being someone or something that he wasn’t. Some people say the title swami means celibacy; to others like myself, it simply means teacher and is not an issue.

Another point often overlooked is that Ananda began during the height of California’s hippie era in the late 1960s. Picture the make-love-not-war era, a consciousness that made its own limited way into Ananda. This was the cultural climate that confronted Swami in the early days of the community. Women reflected these attitudes in their manner of dress. Clothing, often without undergarments, was revealing and suggestive, symbolic of the pseudo-freedom of the times.

Remembering that Yogananda has said that environment is stronger than will power, just imagine anyone trying to be monastic in those days. Swami’s support in the form of the SRF monastery was taken from him through his forced removal from the organization. It is common knowledge that women seeking to gain a vicarious sense of power are known to “come on” to leaders of organizations, even religious leaders. Given these circumstances, it is not surprising that Swami had relationships. To twist this fact into calling him a sexual predator, however, is an outright lie.

There was also Swami Kriyananda’s relationship with Kimberly Moore in the early 80s. I saw with my own eyes the tenderness and respect with which he treated her, and the affectionate way she responded back to him. That an emotionally healthy person can act differently in public than in private is not a credible concept—ask any competent psychologist. The loving respect between Swami and Kimberly was mutual, no matter what she has since decided to claim were her feelings for him at that time.

One scenario in particular stands out in my memory. Community members and guests had just enjoyed the weekly Sunday Service at our Meditation Retreat. Lunch in the Common Dome followed. Swami and Kimberly were dining together side by side. I happened to look over just at the time he fed her a spoonful of the meal. That one gesture, both received and reciprocated with her own kindness, seemed symbolic of the nurturance between them.

Kimberly was indeed a beautiful person, both inwardly and outwardly. She and I had a distant, but nonetheless special, friendship that continued through infrequent letters and Christmas cards for a time after she left Ananda. From her behavior some years later, I learned that people are indeed capable of anything. Choosing to play the victim, her betrayal of Swami in her sworn legal statement against him reflected pure treachery; I was sickened to read it.

And on the subject of greed: those who have accused Swami Kriyananda of avarice, I’ve noticed, are projecting onto him their own tendencies toward selfish motives. I have observed Swami receiving checks and monetary gifts at Christmastime and at his birthday parties. He graciously thanks people and then never even looks at the amounts. I know I would, at least out of curiosity! I have seen that he uses these monetary gifts as contributions to projects for the benefit of others: books, music, community centers, gardens, museums, etc.

I have never, even once, seen him throw his spiritual weight around or express a holier-than-thou attitude toward anyone, regardless of age, color, gender, or even IQ level. He exhibits neither an air of superiority nor inferiority—both attributes of egoism. I have never seen him talk down to anyone, myself included. Rather, he talks up to people, in the sense of holding them in the Light, reflecting back to them their highest potential. It is irrelevant to him whether they express it or not.

Paramhansa Yogananda has said that Christ was crucified once but his teachings have been crucified daily for two thousand years. And since Ananda is bringing forth what Yogananda called a new expression of original Christianity, it is not surprising that Swami Kriyananda and Ananda are being crucified by those who—to put it kindly—wish we didn’t exist.

Lila Devi lives at Ananda Village. She is the developer of a line of healing products call Master’s Flower Essences. She is the author of two books about using these essences to help people and animals.