Letters from Ananda members, Part 8

Accept What Is
Wayne Palmer

Dear Ones,

I wanted to tell you a little about why the accusations against Swami Kriyananda never caused any disruption in my loyalty to him, nor to the vision that Swami holds out for all of us.

I am a 17-year member of Ananda, but I don’t put Swami on a pedestal. I never did. I do, however, thank him every day for the influence he has had on my life. He is the one who taught me to love Yogananda and the teachings of the East. He is the one who taught me how to believe again in the validity of Jesus and His teachings. And he is the one who taught me to open my heart in meditation to the all purifying love of God who is beyond all forms.

But it never surprised me to find out that Swami was a man, who would do normal man-like things. People who accused him of betraying his attempt to live a celibate life should inspect their own lives. It’s true that Swami admitted, under oath, to having consensual sexual relations with a few women during the 70’s and early 80’s. Most took place after he renounced his vow of celibacy, before the time of his marriage to his wife Rosanna.

Swami’s accusers have done their best to give the impression that there was much more going on than these few liaisons. But every other woman they have named as one of Swami’s lovers, says the allegations are ridiculous. As does Swamiji himself.

And it is also important to remember the context – this was the era in our country’s history that sexual liberation was “in”. Open sexuality was no longer taboo, but was actually flaunted. It was the zeitgeist – the assumptions people carried in those times of new, revolutionary ways of thinking.

Women’s Liberation was king, and women felt newly in control of their own dating behavior, and of what they did with their own bodies. Women could finally be as aggressive and outgoing as men, and were proud of their freedom in the bedroom. That era, remember, was pre-AIDS. We didn’t yet worry about sexually transmitted diseases. Nor was anyone at all educating us about sexual harassment in the workplace. Everyone was still having too much fun experimenting with their new-found freedom to worry about such concepts.

Sure, society was setting itself up for a needed correction – for needing a more appropriate balance. But no one knew it yet. Maybe the Reagan conservatives did, or the Christian Right. But the youth culture laughed at those attitudes. The Summer of Love of ‘69, and Woodstock, deeply affected a whole generation. This sense of free love was the way all of us in the younger, hippy influenced generation related to each other, even those of us who never took drugs nor grew our hair long. This was how an entire subculture was acting, those who had responded in the later 60’s to the Beatles, to Maharishi, to Alan Watts, and to Swami Kriyananda himself.

And this was just the time that Swamiji was thrown out of the monastery. Suddenly, he had no protection at all for his vow of celibacy in a society where all the rules were down. Yet he refused to give up his ideal.

So to hear that Swami had slipped from his vows (vows taken in 1948 to do his best at the arduous spiritual practice of celibacy) once in 1969, and a few times in 1982 and ‘83, somehow never shocked me. He had done a lot better over his 50 years as an adult than I had in terms of sexual morality . Had he been perfect? He never claimed he had.

Some years before the testimony he gave under oath in court, I vividly remember him standing before our entire community of 250 adults at Ananda Village and stating without shame “90% of the accusations leveled against me are false, but that still leaves 10% that are true.” He didn’t deny his sexuality back then, nor in the first version of the book now titled The Place Called Ananda, printed in the early 90’s. He has always taught us, and showed through his own example, to fearlessly accept what is, most especially about oneself.

But, at the same time, he has always helped us to remember that we miss the point if we judge any spiritual teacher by a particular quirk of personality that they might have. The point is not whether they are perfect, but whether they can actually help us in our own attempt to find God. If the teacher were perfected, he probably wouldn’t even need to incarnate on earth. So that he is here on earth, almost guarantees that he still has a few kinks to work out on his own road to sainthood. That’s the direction in which Master urged us all to head, each in our own timing.

Why get excited about the inevitable fact that the teacher is still not yet perfect? What else is new? Yogananda, Jesus, Buddha, Moses – these were fairly unique examples of the highest human potential. Unless you were lucky enough, as Swami himself was, to be alive during the lifetime of one of these rare saviors of the planet, the rest of us have to find someone who can at best point us in the direction the savior, or avatar, showed. The one who points will not yet have the same level of perfection as the avatar. Of course not. But nevertheless, they are the helper that God has individually sent us, to help show us the way back toward God.

I never had the privilege of meeting Yogananda in person. He passed from this earth the year I was born. Nevertheless, I am a disciple of Yogananda. He is my guru. But this only happened because Swami Kriyananda was my Wayshower. I had already read the Autobiography of a Yogi, but it didn’t move me on first reading, until after I had read Swami’s The Path, filled as it is with fresh new stories about Yogananda’s life that weren’t included in his own Autobiography. Only then did I feel I knew Yogananda, and truly wanted to call him “Master” for my life. So I know that Kriyananda can help me stay in tune with Master, and thereby to find God, and inner sanctity, if only I can stay receptive and attune myself to his guidance.

Here is another more personal example of why I have decided to keep in tune with Swami. Since I was 19 years old, I had been afflicted with an addiction. Not a mere habit, but a true addiction, that seemed unbeatable and unresponsive to all the efforts at therapy, 12 Step groups, affirmation and willpower that I could throw at it.

I had read everything Master had ever written about the subject and tried every activity he suggested. Nothing seemed to work. I had written Swami about my struggles a few times, and had always known that he was praying for me. Nothing worked. I had practically given up hope of ever defeating it in this lifetime. Then a friend asked me, “Have you prayed to be rid of this?” I replied, “Of course, but it didn’t work, so I stopped praying about it years ago.” My friend exclaimed, “Well there’s hope, then. Here’s a tool you haven’t finished using.”

I took up the challenge, went back home and prayed like I had never prayed before. I guess you could say that I finally “prayed believing”, like Jesus counsels. The prayer I chose was a peculiar one. I can’t say why I chose it. It’s more like it began to pray me.

It stunned me. It was simple. It was short. It was intense. “Dear Swamiji, I can’t do this alone, but I know that you can. I need your help.” That’s all. Seemed an odd prayer, and much too simplistic!

But it worked. I can’t say why. I don’t need to know. All I know is that a 29-year addiction went away. I have not had a single symptom since that night. Not even an urge. Not even a temptation.

I prayed that prayer many times with great intensity for many days, but still, what could possibly change a habit of 29 years into NOTHING overnight? Only a miracle. That seems a big word for just a regular guy like me. But I have no other explanation than this: a simple prayer to Swamiji produced a miracle in my life.

I will spend the rest of my days trying to live in such a way as to be worthy of the blessing he bestowed on me that night.

Swamiji has been accused of “sexual” wrongdoing because of a few romantic liaisons 20 years ago. Be that as it may, all I know is, he has worked mightily to help balance the score on the planet.

Thank you, my dearest Swamiji. You don’t have to be perfect for me. Your love for me is sufficient. I am a new man because of your influence. I am one tangible step closer to spiritual freedom. And I am eternally grateful.

Wayne lives at the Ananda Retreat in Hopkinton, Rhode Island, where he is a minister.