Letters from Ananda members, Part 25

What Is a Devotee?
Dave Bingham

Dear friends:

I have lived at Ananda Village or one of the many Ananda colonies for the past twenty-one years. I am not a minister. I am your average “Joe Devotee.”

In 1994 I was in placed in charge of the newly formed Clarity Sound and Light. This new branch of our publishing company would focus on music and video products. This was the first time I had worked closely with Swami Kriyananda. It was an inspiring and thrilling time. I remember one day he wrote thirty melodies. The new music was pouring out of our new studio. The music was immensely uplifting.

We needed new equipment for the music studio. All the equipment we had at the time was ancient. Our audio engineer, as well as the man who orchestrates Swami’s music and I had a meeting. We decided we needed all new digital equipment so we went on a shopping spree in San Francisco. We committed to purchase about $11,000 in equipment. In the back of my mind I knew Swami had received a royalty payment of $75,000 from Warner Books for his book Secrets of Life. I called Swami and told him we were going to need $11,000 for the music equipment just to get started. He agreed to pay for the equipment on the spot. Over the course of our first year or so he paid for another $20,000 to $30,000 worth of equipment. When we began marketing the new music products more expenses came in. I remember calling Swami one day and told him I needed $10,000 to pay for expenses. He told me to tell Lila (his secretary) to give me a check. He didn’t even ask what the money was for. I did this more than once. I was deeply touched by his level of trust in me. I bet I spent most of his $75,000 royalty payment over the first year that Clarity Sound and Light was in business.

At one point I had a disagreement with Swami over something to do with the design of a CD cover. I can’t even remember the specifics of the situation. I ended up angry with Swami and wrote him a letter voicing my opinion. He called me that evening and he tried to resolve the situation, but I was still mad. A couple days later he called me and asked if I was still angry. I told him “yes.” He said, “I’ll be right over.” He immediately drove over to my house and we spoke at length about the situation and completely resolved it. I was touched at how important the way I felt was to him. He dropped what ever he was doing at the time to help me.

Even though at the time I was angry with Swami, I’ve come to realize that at that stage in my life, I was angry with anyone who pushed certain of my “buttons.” I realize now that I had nothing to be angry about with Swami. I just reacted the way I always did when faced with a certain situation. Swami has shown me both through words and his example how to respond with love instead of anger or resentment. I have never seen him angry, unkind or off-balance in the 21 years I have known him. I have never met anyone who has such respect for each individual.

A miracle has happened in my life over these past few years. I can’t believe the person I have become or that I would ever be so happy. When I was going through a particularly rough period a few years back, I tried to keep my heart open no matter how bad things got. I remembered how Swami walked, with his chest out in front and very open. When things got very hard I emulated Swami’s style of walking.

When the test was over, I remember talking to Swami in Italy. I told him what I had done and how much grace I had felt from Master. He said, “That’s right Dave. Otherwise you only hurt twice.” What he meant was that you hurt during the time of the test, and you hurt a second time if you continue to re-live the initial hurt, build resentments around it and blame someone else for the hurt.

Swami has shown us all how to avoid this process and to live in Master’s light and love. He has always offered these insights as coming from his Guru, and with tremendous respect for each individual. He has never forced his insights or ideas on anyone.

A man named Eric Estep used to live here at Ananda. He was angry with Swami for reasons only known to him. After many years, he left Ananda and was very vocal in his distain for Swami. Even as far back as the early 1980’s he was gathering together a group of women that had left Ananda. It seems his goal was to have the women bolster his claim that Swami was some kind of sexual predator. I know this because before we were married, Eric invited my wife (now deceased) to his room at the Biltmore Hotel during an SRF Convocation in the early 1980’s. Eric seemingly was asking every woman he knew from Ananda to serve as a weapon for attacking Swami. My wife never had or claimed to have had any relations with Swami and she left the meeting in disgust.

In 1994, suit was filed against Swami by one of Eric’s women friends for sexual harassment. A group of women that Eric had been recruiting for over a decade testified against Swami in court. Eric was there to witness the fruits of his actions. Swami was publicly humiliated when the string of women lied or distorted the truth during testimony at the trial.

Now the question is, how did Swami react? He was deeply hurt and knew that 90 percent of the accusations against him were lies. How does a true devotee act when confronted with such a situation?

My new wife and I visited Swami in Assisi, Italy a few years ago. We spoke some about the trial. He was about three feet away from me, looking me directly in the eyes. He said, “You know, Eric Estep is my best friend.” As he said these words I knew he sincerely meant them. There was such joy and light in his eyes.

I was filled with awe that Swami was able to say that about a man who had tried to destroy him. I knew instantly what he meant. The tremendous test that Eric had engineered for Swami was massive. The energy, love and joy that Swami put out to overcome the hurt he received was even more massive. In that process he became an even greater channel of Master’s light. I could see the light in his eyes and feel his expanded love and joy in my heart. That is how a true devotee acts.

Everyone at Ananda was hurt by this lawsuit. But how did we choose to react? We chose to respond as Swami has always demonstrated in his own life. We responded with love. I’m not saying we were never angry. I certainly was angry for a time at the injustice done to my friend. Many people left Ananda in anger during this time.. But those who have stayed loyal and tried to tune into the truth deep within themselves have flourished. The level of joy and spiritual maturity that has developed at Ananda as a result of these tests amazes me. I am deeply grateful to be a part of this work of our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda. I am deeply thankful for what I have been able to become through the past few years.

As a devotee of this path I have often asked the question, “What is a devotee?” From my experience here at Ananda, I feel a devotee is simply an individual that has dedicated their life to realizing God. I also ask the question, “How does a devotee act?” Does a devotee have to be perfect and never make mistakes? If a devotee had to be perfect, virtually all of us adorning this planet would never qualify. I don’t think God so much minds our mistakes as much as what we become through them. Do we take responsibility for our actions and not blame others? When difficult times come to us, how do we break? Do we break towards being victims, thereby avoiding responsibility and becoming increasingly bitter and resentful. Or do we break towards love becoming more expansive and learning to give more to others by becoming more compassionate and forgiving of others, by lending a hand to someone who might have stumbled rather than judging them harshly. The choice is ours.

What Swami Kriyananda has taught by his own example, is how to break towards love no matter what happens. When he learned Ananda’s publishing company was in a financially difficult position he wrote a new book with inspiring sayings, paid for it himself and gave the book away. When we were in the midst of the sexual harassment lawsuit he began a campaign to raise money for earthquake victims in Italy. A great devotee of Paramhansa Yogananda’s once stated that, “One’s spirituality is tested in the cold light of day.” By his own example, Swami Kriyananda has taught us that a true devotee knows how to love and give in his or her worst moments.

Dave lives at Ananda Village where he runs the video recording studio for Crystal Clarity Publishers.