Does Ananda Financially Exploit its Members?
My name is Greg Dyal. I have been involved with Ananda since 1979 and active for the last twelve years in Ananda Palo Alto where I live in the community. I am employed as an Electrical Engineering Manager and have been working in Silicon Valley for the past 12 years. I read all of the posted letters on the Ananda Awareness website and want to respond to the accusation that Ananda engages in financial exploitation of members.
Accusation: Ananda engages in financial exploitation
My Experience: Ananda ministers and teachers, including Swami Kriyananda, endorse tithing; to donate money to your personal sources of spiritual inspiration as a spiritual practice. One of the laws of success taught by Yogananda is to be generous with your money rather than hoard it. He said one of the best ways to sow seeds of good success karma is to use it wisely to benefit others. I have heard Swami Kriyananda, Ananda ministers and teachers speak on the topic of tithing several times. In every instance, Swami Kriyananda, or whoever was addressing the topic, spoke of tithing as a spiritual principle which, when practiced properly, had positive benefits. In some of the talks, Ananda Church of Self-Realization was mentioned as an option for some or all of one’s tithe, but it was never presented as mandatory or the only option.
I am a member of Ananda and draw much of my spiritual inspiration from Yoganada’s teaching as expressed by Swami Kriyananda and other Ananda members. I also draw considerable inspiration from Yogananda’s original, unedited, writings, some of which are available through Ananda and other publishers. I enjoy the support of living in a spiritual community and my friendships with other seekers. As such, I have tithed money to Ananda off and on over the last 22 years. I also donate regularly to the Sierra Club to support an organization dedicated to environmental issues. My first practice of tithing was to give 5-10% of my very modest income to Ananda Village, Nevada City, when I lived there in the early 1980’s. I noticed as a result, an almost immediate appreciation for Yogananda’s teachings and for the people of Ananda that I had not felt before. This was my first validation of the practice of tithing. I also felt this was one way I could contribute to Ananda since I was new to the spiritual life and did not have the insight or personality yet to do something more direct like teach or write about spiritual truths.
I made very little money during that time. So little in fact that it was a strain at times to even pay the $50 monthly rent. The community manager at the time was understanding and allowed me to be late and get behind in rent for periods of time. And so my donating to Ananda began in fits and starts under these very modest circumstances.
I moved to the bay area in 1982 and continued going to Ananda social functions and Sunday Services at the Ananda Center in Atherton. I continued to tithe what I could afford. From 1985 to 1989 I went to school to earn a BS in Electrical Engineering. When I graduated I moved into the Ananda Community in Mountain View, CA and have lived there ever since. Not surprisingly, my financial condition has improved considerably over the last 12 years. I was positioned during those 12 years in a Silicon Valley chip manufacturing company that enjoyed great success through the technology boom of the late 1990’s. My tithing to Ananda has increased in proportion to my earnings.
My general financial condition is known to some of the Ananda members running the Palo Alto Community and Mandir. Over the 22 years of considerable change in my financial situation, I have not noticed any change, based on my ability to donate money, in the way my Ananda friends, the Ananda Ministry, or the Ananda staff have treated me. In the twelve years I have been “gainfully employed” I have been approached twice privately about donating or loaning money to specific Ananda projects. In the time prior to my education and gainful employment, I can remember being approached once privately about donating to Ananda. So I guess if you want to put the worst-case spin on this, Ananda has doubled its efforts to take my money since I’ve been making a living wage! Humor aside, when I have been approached, it was not with hard sell tactics or pressure but with the intention of finding out whether I had interest enough in a project to donate. On one occasion I requested, and received, a personal interview with a minister to discuss the merits of the cause in detail before I decided to give a donation to a project.
I can’t say whether this is characteristic of everyone’s experience or that some over-zealous Ananda member never rubbed anyone the wrong way in asking for a donation. But I always felt in control of my purse strings and have a hard time imagining others don’t. The only way for one’s money to get from his bank account to an account of Ananda’s is voluntarily.
The more interesting question might be about how one is treated based on their ability to finance Ananda. My experience is that the predominant influence on how I am treated by others at Ananda is based on how I treat them. Not much different than everyday life. It’s the age-old “do unto others” formula. When I am helpful, it is appreciated. When I consistently behave like a true friend, I have friends around me. I have seen Ananda’s leaders always to be very understanding of the variance in people’s ability to give financially. Therefore there are many ways that people donate: time, skills, and non-monetary assets. All are equally appreciated. I know this from experience because for many years almost all I had to donate was time and sweat. Ananda has been quite reasonable to work with in the area of finances and donations.
To close with a bit of irony, the more recent solicitations from Ananda for my money occurred only because of the lawsuits initiated by SRF and SRF members against Ananda and Ananda members, which put Ananda under substantial financial hardship. If I chose to childishly hold someone other than myself responsible for my own financial donations it would be SRF I would blame. This would, of course, be absurd, just as it is absurd for someone to claim unfair treatment by Ananda for having donated money to our organization at one time. If I stop believing in the Sierra Club I will quit donating to them. But I’m not going to add up all the money I ever gave them so I can look at the sum and resent them for it for the rest of my life. That would be foolish and unproductive. Please keep this in mind if you read such accounts on the Ananda Awareness website.
Greg lives in the Palo Alto Ananda community with his wife Sidny, and works as a manager/engineer in a Silicon Valley company.