Letters from Ananda members, Part 43

Only Love
Richard Salva

As a long-time Ananda devotee, I thought I would write in response to the charges made against Swamiji and our community and church by those who list their writings under the Ananda Awareness Network, and now, the Friends of SRF.

I have lived at one or another of the Ananda Communities continuously for twenty-five years. I have been associated with Ananda for twenty-seven years. On a daily basis, I have been in contact with the people these charges are leveled against.

I have known Swami Kriyananda since 1976, and though I haven’t spent as much time with him as some, know him as well as many of my friends.

In all that time, I have never seen a glimmer or hint of anything approaching the accusations laid at his doorstep. Quite frankly, I’ve seen just the opposite: a marvelously mature spiritual teacher and leader who is also a deeply devoted disciple of a great master. I have also seen in Ananda a healthy, loving spiritual family doing their guru Yogananda’s work.

In fact, when I read those charges it brings a sense of disorientation. What they write in no way describes the Ananda and Kriyananda I know.

The latest charge is that Swami has for years touted the story recently printed in the L.A. New Times that Paramhansa Yogananda had a child. In twenty-seven years at Ananda, the most talkative and open community in the world, that newspaper article was the first I had heard of that story.

I reacted to the story as I think any disciple of Yogananda would: with disgust, revulsion, and the utter certainty that it was a lie.

Swami Kriyananda’s written response to that article was in line with the way he always speaks of his guru: with utter reverence, loyalty, and devotion. Swami speaks of Yogananda in such a way as to help others see what constitutes spiritual greatness. There is no greater service a disciple can provide.

We see now, though, from what has been said about Yogananda, that everyone who tries to do a good work, even spiritual masters, can be attacked. I have heard how, during his day, Yogananda and his work were smeared by those who wished him ill. Today, the same thing is happening to Kriyananda and Ananda.

Ananda is in a strange predicament. It is difficult to know what to do when someone manufactures an elaborate and detailed falsehood and accuses you of it publicly. For some reason, those who accuse others of a great wrong automatically assume a halo of goodness and courage, while the accused have everything they can do to make you believe they are decent, what to say, good people.

This device is known historically as the “Big Lie.” It has been used by political entities over the centuries to destroy the reputations of those whom those entities were afraid of. And it is being applied to Ananda and Kriyananda right now via the Ananda Awareness Network and the Friends of SRF.

The difficulty for the accused lies in the fact that, if you say nothing, people assume you are guilty by default. If you try to deny every part of a multi-faceted lie, it sounds as if you’re just making excuses. “But I never did A, B, C, D,” going down the list. After a while the answers sound weak. The only thing one can do is strongly state the truth. And that is what we are doing.

I have met some amazing people in my life, but I can say without reservation that Swami Kriyananda is the greatest man I know. It is difficult to convey his sterling qualities in a letter. He has an amazing and beautiful consciousness that manifests even in how he holds himself. He keeps his spine erect and his body relaxed while walking, sitting, or standing. In this minor detail, one sees how fully he has incorporated his guru’s teachings into his being. Multiply that by the thousand-and-one little things one does every day, and you get some idea of what kind of man Swamiji is.

Swami talks about how good Yogananda was to people. I have to say that I only really understood what he meant by, over time, watching how Swami relates to people. Swami is uniformly open and kind, giving and concerned. You never find him speaking glibly about something important to you. He treats everyone he meets like some long-lost friend.

And that friendship is lasting, even to those who have behaved hatefully to him over the years. Once your friend, Swamiji is forever your friend. He is truly remarkable.

And Swami is humble, in the deepest sense of the word. He never takes credit for the incredible work he has accomplished. When he says “God is the doer,” he means it. And, because of this, he is not limited or bound by what he has done. He asks Master to work through him in his writing, composing, speaking, and counseling. Then he gives it all to God. He candidly recognizes that the ego cannot be the author of spiritual help. And he gives credit to the divine, as we all should.

This is just to say what a wonderful example he has been to me, and the many thousands who have come to know him. He is such a good and great man. If you’ve never met him, and then read the lies people have written about him, you have no idea what he is like. The only way I can think to explain him is to ask you to visualize the best person you know. Swami is like that person in superabundance. And he doesn’t change in that goodness, except as everyone changes as they grow spiritually. I have never seen him moody or self-involved. He lives his life selflessly, always giving.

I am reminded of a time when I wrote Swamiji a letter regarding something entirely un-earth-shattering. He receives so many letters and e-mails. One can hardly expect him to remember, what to say respond to everything that comes his way. And yet, the next time I saw him, he remembered what I had written and answered it in such a way that I could see he had deeply thought about my question. His answers and counsel are always gently given, leaving it up to you to accept or reject. Yet, I have always seen that his answers are supremely helpful, and that by following his advice, I feel more deeply in tune with my guru, Yogananda.

I think of all that Swami went through to start Ananda. Getting kicked out of the organization to which he had dedicated his life. Betrayed by those he had trusted. And given, at the same time, a severe blow to his self-image by Tara Mata. Swami understandably went through a period of grief and hurt and self-examination. Then he dusted off his hands and started serving Master’s children again. Outside of the protective walls of a monastery, and isolated from brother and sister monastics, Swami remained a monk while facing the myriad temptations of American life in the latter half of the twentieth century, with only a few slips to show that he was human. And he brought into being a beautiful manifestation of Yogananda’s ideal for World Brotherhood Colonies.

I think of the monks and nuns in SRF and wonder how they would have done in Swami’s place. How would they have handled his test?

Would they have accomplished what Swamiji has, all by themselves, and in spite of constant discouragement and opposition from brother and sister disciples? Somehow, I doubt it.

But then, Swami has a courage I don’t see in the SRF monks and nuns. The courage, for instance, to walk again on SRF property and lovingly greet those who had denigrated him. By contrast, SRF monastics have not stepped through Ananda’s doors, even with many open and loving invitations over the years.

What are they afraid of?

I think they are afraid they will see what they have been opposing.

I think they are afraid they will feel what all of us here feel: Yogananda’s presence and blessing. I think they are afraid they will see Master changing people, and people growing in our mutual guru’s light. For, if such a thing were to be made clear to them, all their carefully worded dogmas of sole proprietorship of Master’s teaching and grace would come tumbling down. And they would be forced to see how wrong they have been.

That’s the trouble with dogmas like the ones SRF promulgates; they rest on shaky foundations. Assertions of Master’s words and attitudes that are terribly out of character. Assertions of perfect personal attunement that fly in the face of the humility and respect for one’s capacity to misunderstand that every devotee should maintain, no matter how long on the path. Assertions of personal infallibility when, as Master recounted in Autobiography of a Yogi, even avatars make mistakes.

I can’t help contrasting Swami’s spirit with those who are trying to destroy his reputation. They keep trying to pull him down, while he worries about what their efforts are doing to their consciousness.

[I see the labels they are trying to paste on him—every single loathsome image of mis-leadership they think people might believe—that provoke a knee-jerk response of revulsion. But the labels can’t stick. There’s nothing there to cling to.]

One of the main people involved in the Anti-Swami and Ananda effort is an artist who used to live at Ananda Village. I recall once commenting to this man that I would like to try my hand at painting some day. He looked at me with what I can only describe as pity and condescension. I immediately lost enthusiasm for the idea.

And then I remember another occasion when I was visiting a part of the world that had only a minor Ananda presence, and happened to run into Swamiji there. At the time, I thought I might move to that area to see if I could stir more interest in Master’s teachings. Doing, in other words, a little of what Swami has spent his life doing. I mentioned this idea to Swami. His reaction was to go very still. His eyes became very withdrawn. From one moment to the next, he entered a state of meditation. He gave me this profound look and said, with deep sincerity, “I’ll think about it.” I could feel him asking Master for guidance. He didn’t assume that I couldn’t act as an instrument for Master to bless others.

But on important questions, and even unimportant ones, he wanted to know Master’s will before proceeding. Swami’s reaction left me feeling inspired and hopeful.

I can look at any of the Ananda communities and see hundreds of beautiful souls and true devotees of Master. And I know that virtually all of them have had at least some experience of SRF and have not felt drawn to make that organization their spiritual home. But we all have felt Master touching us deeply through Swamiji and our Ananda Sangha.

If not for what Swami has created—or rather, Master through him—our lives would have been bleak by comparison. The gains of living in a spiritual community and serving the guru directly have been incalculable. I thank God for Swami and Ananda, as I know we all do.

I recall once, many years ago, returning to my parent’s home after spending a summer at Ananda Village. I was soaring on wings of inspiration and meditating four hours a day. Feeling the need for satsang, I tried attending the weekly services of an SRF group in the area.

After little less than a year, my meditation time was reduced to a painful hour-and-a-half, and I was in sad shape, spiritually. SRF had not given me what my soul needed.

In due course I moved back to Ananda, this time to stay. And it wasn’t long before my spirit found healing. I consider that, had I not moved back, it would have been difficult to remain on the spiritual path.

I shudder when I think of what my life would have been like without Swami and Ananda. SRF monastics enjoy daily satsang (fellowship) in their monasteries, and lay disciples need that just as much, or more. That is why Master encouraged the founding of World Brotherhood Colonies. And that is what you find at the Ananda communities if you come to visit us.

Ananda is just as important to Master’s work as SRF.

SRF has made the claim that Master does not work through Ananda and Swamiji, but I have seen SRF devotees belie that claim. After I moved to Ananda Village, I visited my family once a year. At those times I also visited the SRF friends I had made through my former attendance at their services. One of my SRF friends had married while I was gone and he told me his wife said, after hearing negative things about Ananda and Kriyananda, that even though she hadn’t met me, she was sure she wouldn’t like me.

It turned out that we got along very well. She and her husband and I enjoyed a happy friendship. For my part, it was a joy to connect with other devotees of Master. And they told me they looked forward to my visit every year. I know it wasn’t me they enjoyed so much as what Ananda had given me: a stronger attunement with Master.

The fact is—and I have heard this from other Ananda devotees whose experiences have mirrored mine—that once Ananda and SRF people get together, there is a wonderful harmony. A great sense of brother and sister disciples meeting and sharing. It is marvelous.

We Ananda members who came to the SRF Convocation in L.A. this year experienced this. (We came to demonstrate outside the hotel where it was being held, rather than to attend the SRF activities.)

At mealtimes, when we put down our guitars and placards and went inside the Bonaventure where SRF devotees were also eating, a great deal of sharing went on over the dinner table.

I recall one occasion when a group of us Ananda folk sat at a table with an SRF devotee. We had the greatest time talking and laughing with him. We enjoyed immensely what he had to say, and vice-versa. I consider this a harbinger of Master’s future work: SRF and Ananda devotees sharing harmony and good-will; each encouraging each in their meditative and serviceful efforts. This, I think, would be a true manifestation of Yogananda’s words: “Only love can take my place.”

Richard is a writer and a minister with Ananda.