A Meaningful Life, Helpful to Others
I met Swami Kriyananda in San Francisco in the 60’s. He gave a series of classes on yoga and meditation at the apartment complex where I lived in North Point. He was very different from anyone else I had ever met. Most men would approach me for what they could get from me. With Swami, it was all about what he could give. The joy that came from him was infectious. It was so refreshing. He was so enthusiastic about what he was doing. He drew you in, and soon you felt enthusiastic too. He treated me like a dear, respected friend, whose thoughts and feelings really mattered to him. I had never been treated so respectfully before.
Whatever he had, he wanted others to enjoy also. He brought to me an awareness of what life could really be like: full of calm joy, deep wisdom and an understanding of life and people.
The life I had been leading was one of work and then outward play. Many men, many parties, then many deep mood swings. The life Swami presented was an inward one, drawing on vibrations of faith and trust in something more than just other people, something deeper than oneself. He made me feel that I was a person of worth, someone who could have a meaningful life that could be of help to others. This was a startling revelation. It saved my life. I left my job and moved to Ananda to deepen my understanding of this life for God.
Many times during those early years, Swami would talk about his past relationship with Self-Realization Fellowship and with Daya Mata. The stories he told always had a point—usually to illustrate some spiritual principle he was discussing. As a result, it was a long time—years, in fact—before I began to understand the magnitude of the pain that the separation from SRF had caused him. He wrote them many letters, trying to get them to work out whatever it was they were holding against him. SRF fostered the impression that it wasn’t only Daya who was displeased with Swami, but that Yogananda, too, was displeased, In many ways, Swami was just crushed by their attitude towards him—so harsh, so unreasonable, so determined to be against him.
It was incomprehensible to all of us why SRF felt this way toward him. Swami encouraged us to take the SRF lessons and to go to their yearly convocations. He spoke highly of Daya Mata. He always wanted harmony with SRF and worked as best he could for it, in spite of their continued denunciation of him.
Early in the 70’s, Daya Mata finally agreed to meet with him. He took a few of us, including me, down to Los Angeles with him. We waited at a hotel while he visited with Daya and others from SRF. We had dinner with him afterward.
He came into dinner full of energy and joy. He told us he had felt great love for Daya and the others from SRF. Eagerly he told us all about it. Swami was talking about the honest, open conversation they had, but the more he talked, the more it seemed to us that Daya was actually trying to box him in. She wanted to keep him from teaching certain things, to limit what he put into his yoga lessons. They did not want him to explain the Hong Sau technique of meditation in his lessons. They did not want him to put in any of Yogananda’s techniques. We were shocked, and because of our reaction, Swami realized what had really happened. It was a very painful experience for him. He had been so full of love for them, he hadn’t noticed that they were giving him something quite different in return. They were completely closed to him.
Swamiji knew, though, that Master was not displeased with him, that Master wanted him to give the teachings of Self-realization to all and not to leave the job to SRF alone. SRF’s way, with its monastic focus, could not reach the many spiritually thirsty souls calling to God. As the years passed, and SRF saw that Swami was going on with his work for Master, they sued to gain ownership of Yogananda and his teachings. SRF wanted to be the only ones giving these universal teachings to the world.
Although it was painful for Swami to be in such conflict with SRF, he felt that these teachings were for everyone. There shouldn’t be just one organization telling everyone else what to do. SRF feels they are right and have gone to great lengths to win their case, including encouraging a legal action taken by Anne Marie Bertolucci against Danny Levin, Ananda, and Swami Kriyananda.
This was a sexual harassment suit. Swami was not really charged with any sexual misconduct, but a few women still denounced Swami as being abusive, manipulative and aggressive in his attentions. These accusations were a big shock to me. Not because I believed them. Just the opposite. I knew the women and I’d seen their interactions with Swami. They were drawn to him spiritually, but they also made it clear they wanted his attention in a very personal way, too.
I have known Swami since the 60’s, before Ananda even started. He was just living in San Francisco in an apartment then. Never, in all these years, have I seen in him any aggressive or abusive behavior. It is not his nature. It could not happen.
A couple of the women who accused Swami were part of the monastic order and I was the mother superior. So I had a chance to get to know them.
One in particular, Kamala Wiley, was very aggressive toward men, including the monks. She didn’t have any respect or regard for what the monks—or for that matter what she, supposedly—was trying to do. Kamala and her friend, Denise Peterson (who also testified against Swami), would go to the monks’ area—out of bounds to the nuns, of course. They would crash in on the men and create parties with them. The monks were young, and just getting established themselves in the monastic life. They didn’t how to deal with these aggressive “nuns.”
Kamala and Denise both told me about their behavior with the monks. They boasted about it, in fact. Of course, I had to ask them to leave the monastery. This was not the behavior of girls who wanted to be nuns.
They were equally aggressive with Swami. Even when he was in seclusion, they would just burst into his house and insist on being there even when he asked them to leave. Kamala, especially, was totally presumptuous. Swami is very considerate. They were aggressive and rude to him, but he didn’t want to be aggressive and rude in return. This may sound funny to people who don’t know Swami, given all that happened since, but it was a real problem for him.
It was a very hard time in Swami’s life, which made it all the worse. And, as it turned out, Kamala, and later Denise, did get from Swami personal attention—sexual attention. That was not wise. Swami freely admits that. But whatever happened, it was not because Swami was aggressive or abusive! As I said, it is just not in his nature to be that way.
When Kamala finally decided to leave, I was very happy about it. I started to tell Swami how glad I was to see her go, but he wouldn’t let me speak negatively about her. He just cut me off. He is always supportive of people, no matter what they do. He keeps a vision of their highest potential.
Swamiji is almost always energetic and cheerful. His awareness of all levels of life astonishes me. Especially as I become more aware myself and am able to appreciate even more how he has been all these years. He has love for all beings, even those who hurt him. He chooses to be kind towards those who criticize him, to pray for them and help them when he can. His example of discipleship to Yogananda is a great inspiration to for all of us on the spiritual path.
Seva is a founding member of Ananda. She has lived in the Ananda Portland community, in Assisi, Italy, and now lives at Ananda Village and works for Crystal Clarity Publishing.