Charges of Sexual Misconduct — part III

Part III – A difficult time in Kriyananda’s life, after the marriage to Kimberly Moore ended in 1981

For information about the accusers in the case, including Denise Petersen, Kamala Willey, and Deborah Donie-Seligson, continue reading (also see The Eight Women).

These declarations were written in the context of the Bertolucci lawsuit and were carefully crafted by Bertolucci’s lawyers to be crude and shocking and to create a feeling of revulsion toward Ananda and Swami Kriyananda. They were the main evidence in support of their allegation that Swamiji is an abusive leader.

Victims of a cult?

The women are portrayed as victims, not merely of Swami Kriyananda, but of the Ananda “cult” as well. Many other people, however, lived at Ananda during that time, and knew these women well. We have to agree with Swami Kriyananda when he says that these declarations are “almost entirely false. Where there is truth in them, the facts are so greatly distorted as to be almost unrecognizable.”

Swami Kriyananda did have sexual contact with each of these women, but it was consensual and natural, not perverse or coercive as they would have you believe.

Early years building community

The picture of Ananda, too, is entirely distorted. Yes, these women lived simply, worked long hours, often at relatively menial jobs, and didn’t get paid very much. But that was the condition of life at Ananda for all of us at that time.

Those were the start-up years. We built Ananda ourselves—twice, since many houses were destroyed in the forest fire of 1976. We lived in just about anything that could be heated and would keep the rain out—trailers, tipis, tiny cabins—this is all we had.

And money was scarce. We were paid what we needed to live on, and nothing more. For the most part, jobs were simple. It was all just getting underway. Many people with advanced degrees from prestigious universities were gardening, cooking, doing carpentry, or milking cows.

The fact is, we loved it! No one made us do it. Least of all, Swami Kriyananda. He worked harder and gave more than any of us. It was a glorious, inspiring adventure: to build the first world brotherhood colony based on Paramhansa Yogananda’s ideals.

It wasn’t for everyone. What we saw as a joyous adventure, many people saw as hardship. They came, they went. There was nothing coercive about it. Many people tried out Ananda, didn’t like it, and left. It was an open door, even a revolving door, at times.

What is also false about these declarations is the passive innocence the women ascribe to themselves. Suffice it to say, they were well known to many people, and “passive” and “innocent” are not the first words that spring to mind.

Nonetheless, Swami Kriyananda takes full responsibility for his involvement with these women. It all happened in the months right after Kimberly left, a very difficult time for him.

* * * * *

A note about Swami’s physical condition and a medical prescription for massage for chronic pain relief:

In 1968, at the same time he started Ananda, Swami began developing arthritis in both hips. The disease advanced rapidly. The pain made walking, and often sleeping, difficult. Everyone knew of his condition. It was obvious. He had a distinctive limping gait and sometimes needed help getting up from a chair.

Massage was medically prescribed as one of the few things that could ease the pain. Wherever he was, people volunteered to massage his hips. Because of the pain, it had to be done with oil, so he had to remove his clothes. Usually those who volunteered were trained professionals, or at least experienced masseuses, accustomed to being with naked people of either sex.

Ananda’s detractors make it seem as if massage was just a technique for taking advantage of women. In fact, for Swami, it was a medical necessity.

Finally, in the late 80s, Swami had both his hips replaced. The surgeon said he had never seen such extreme degeneration. He could not believe Swami was walking around. “With hips like that,” the surgeon said, “he should have been in a wheelchair, or even bedridden.” The fact that Swami was walking around on “hips like that” shows the power of his will over the demands of his body. One more reason to doubt the “Big Lie” that Swami Kriyananda was constantly at the mercy of his sexual appetite.

* * * * *

Kamala Willey (Woman #2)

The differences between the Kamala in the courtroom and the Kamala many of us knew during her time at Ananda

In his deposition, Swami describes Kamala Wiley as a “force of nature.” Whatever she felt like doing, she did. No one could influence her.

Although supposedly living as a nun at Ananda, Kamala continued to interact with men in a very flirtatious way. Sometimes in the evening she would go visit men she was interested in. She even went disco dancing in town. These are not terrible things in themselves, but they are inconsistent with the picture of outraged innocence Kamala puts forth in her declaration.

One man said that late one night Kamala walked right into his house and got into bed with him!

Asked to leave the monastery

Seva, who was in charge of the nuns at the time, tried to get Kamala to understand that her behavior was inappropriate for someone who wanted to be a nun. But nothing got through to Kamala, and finally Seva had to ask her to leave the monastery.

Aggressive

Kamala related to Swami in a very aggressive way. Most people respected his privacy, but Kamala ignored the most basic courtesies. She went into Swami’s house whenever she felt like it, at any hour of the day or night. She says she was his cook, housekeeper, and laundress, describing herself almost as his slave, as if Swamiji forced her to serve him in that way. In fact, Swami never asked her to do anything. Kamala simply walked in and started doing things.

It was a dilemma for Swamiji. Just because Kamala was rude to Swamiji did not make him feel justified in being rude to her. Many of us were quite impatient with Kamala’s intrusive ways, but Swami always treated her as kindly as he did everyone else, and encouraged us to treat her kindly as well.

After Kimberly left, Swami wanted to spend most of his time in seclusion. Kamala knew Swami wanted to be alone, but she continued to go into his house whenever she wanted to.

Kamala boasted of trying to seduce Swami

In her declaration, Kamala says Swami was a “father figure” to her. In his deposition, Swami said that’s not the way it was, ever. “Kamala Wiley came on strong to me.” [page 1225] “I did not in any way notice at the time that she was being upset, hostile, or resistant. Rather, quite the contrary, she was thrusting herself on me.” [page 486] “Her present ‘holier than thou’ and sanctimonious declaration doesn’t bear any relation to the facts. She was extremely aggressive in her relationship toward me.” [page 1375] Long-time Ananda resident, Mary Kretzmann, heard Kamala tell a group of people that she was trying to seduce Swami.

In his deposition, Swami says that one night Kamala—accompanied by her friend Denise—came into his bedroom and climbed into bed with him. They were like exuberant teenagers, Swami says, laughing like it was all a big joke. Kamala was behaving in an aggressively sexual manner, calling him a “hunk”! But it never actually turned into a sexual encounter.

Swami asked them to leave, but they simply ignored him. In their declarations, both Kamala and Denise describe Swami as being very authoritarian. In fact, he was very kind. Even when they invaded his bed, he wasn’t willing to exert the kind of verbal or physical force needed to eject them. If they wouldn’t willingly cooperate with his request, he just had to wait until they ran out of steam on their own.

Still, Swami takes responsibility for his interactions with Kamala. “It was Kamala who pushed this, not me. I felt very resentful of that fact. But the fact that I couldn’t resist that was certainly my weakness.” [1373] He says he had eight occasions of sexual contact with her, in the context of massages, in January and February of 1982.

Departure for India, continuing cordial contact with Ananda

Then Kamala got the inspiration to go to India and she asked Swami what he thought of it. In his deposition Swami says, “I remember Kamala asking me what I thought of her going to study in India. I nearly cheered, but I had to try to think sincerely what was good for her. And, fortunately, I could say sincerely for her welfare, that I thought it was a good idea for her to go.” [page 489-490]

There was no hint in her departure of anger or resentment against Swami or Ananda. From time to time she would write Swami or others at Ananda. We heard she was living on the East Coast.

Years later, an anguished tale from Kamala’s husband

Swami testified in his deposition that years later he received a letter and one or two phone calls from the man Kamala married. The man told an anguishing tale of woe. Others of us also saw his letters. They were shocking. Time had not mellowed Kamala. They had two children, and now Kamala was systematically turning the children against their own father. She even accused him of molesting them, a charge he absolutely denied. He was in danger of never being able to see his own children again.

He knew that Swami Kriyananda had known Kamala, and he was hoping that in some way Swami could advise him. But Kamala is a “force of nature.” Beyond offering a little comfort, there was nothing Swami could do.

Contact with SRF

Around the time the Bertolucci lawsuit was filed, Kamala got in touch with Daya Mata. They corresponded for a time and Daya Mata invited Kamala to come visit her if she was ever in California.

Denise Petersen (Woman #1): A consensual relationship

On her own, Denise Petersen was soft-spoken and kind. But Kamala was her best friend, and with Kamala, Denise became a different person. Whatever madcap adventure Kamala proposed, Denise would go right along—visiting men, disco dancing, climbing into bed with Swami—Denise was all for it.

Denise describes herself as a nun, but fails to mention that she was asked to leave the monastery at Ananda because her antics with Kamala showed her to be unsuited for the monastic lifestyle.

Denise was a trained masseuse and offered to help Swamiji with the pain of his arthritic hips. In February 1982, Denise started giving him massages which sometimes also involved sexual stimulation.

In spring of 1982 Denise moved to Southern California. Once or twice, while she was living there, Swami traveled to Los Angeles to give public programs. Denise heard he was coming, called him, and offered to come to where he was staying and give him a massage. Later in 1982, Denise moved into the Ananda House in San Francisco. Swamiji occasionally visited there, and Denise again offered him massage treatments.

Their interactions were always consensual. By the end of the year it was over. Swami says he was acting from weakness, not from strength. In his deposition he says, “I would not and did not blame her for our relationship. I take that blame on myself.” [page 552]

So cordial was their friendship that at one point Denise talked with Swami, asking his advice about whether she should become involved with a young man in the community she was attracted to. Swami spoke highly of the young man, and she decided to begin a relationship with him, one that lasted a few years. She maintained cordial contact with Swami by letter or in person, long after her consensual relationship with him had ended. She never spoke of being coerced until the Bertolucci case began, years later.

Contact with SRF

Denise left Ananda sometime in 1985. She went back to Southern California, became active in SRF, and decided she wanted to be an SRF nun. She began to live in a special SRF house for women who aspired to be nuns. She was still living in that SRF house and still waiting to be a nun in 1994 when she filed this declaration.

Deborah Donie-Seligson (Woman #3): Truth distorted

The last woman is Deborah Landonie, now called Deborah Donie-Seligson. After she left Ananda, Deborah moved to Southern California. She, too, decided she wanted to be an SRF nun, and went to live near the Encinitas Hermitage. There she became close with a man who was planning to be an SRF monk. Instead of becoming monastics, they decided to get married. At the time of the Bertolucci lawsuit, Deborah was active in SRF, living with her husband across the street from the Encinitas Hermitage.

Deborah lived at Ananda for a couple of years. She was an emotional woman, but not uncommonly so. She told her girlfriend that she was having dreams of being in bed with Swami and making love with him. Deborah told her girlfriend she was physically attracted to Swamiji and the dreams were “really kind of neat.” Deborah asked her girlfriend if she had ever been sexually attracted to Swami. Her girlfriend said no, never. It never occurred to her to think of her spiritual teacher in that way. According to her girlfriend, Deborah seemed excited about the possibility of having a sexual relationship with Swami.

Swami was involved with Deborah for a brief period of time right after Kimberly left. In his deposition testimony he says, “I thought she was expressing just the kind of friendship that I was longing for because of the pain of separation from Kimberly. That was my foolishness. But [as for] abusing her, using her, manipulating her, none of that.” [page 1242]

He also says, “I didn’t ask for her to have sex with me. I never wanted it.…But that intimacy I did want…holding each other is what I remember.” [page 1251] Deborah herself says that Swami thought of the relationship in a “non-sexual” way.

When Swami read Deborah’s declaration for the first time, he remarked, “But everything she says is so self-serving. The facts are so greatly distorted as to be almost unrecognizable.”

Here are a few examples.

Deborah refers to the “monastic vows [Swamiji] had given her” to make Swami’s so-called “abuse” of her seem all the more egregious. It is difficult to know what Deborah is referring to. Neither Swamiji, nor anyone else, ever gave monastic initiation at that time. It was all very informal. There were no vows. Any woman who was sincere in her interest could move to the monastery and try out the lifestyle. If she wasn’t suited for it, she could just as easily move away.

Deborah also refers to the “monastic vows [Swamiji] had taken for himself years before.” This is a very cleverly written sentence, to give an impression without actually telling a lie. In fact, Swamiji had taken monastic vows “years before”—1948, to be exact. He had also publicly renounced those vows in 1981 when Deborah was living at Ananda. Deborah says she has a B.A. from Purdue University. Suffice it to say that anyone living at Ananda at that time, and smart enough to graduate from Purdue, could not have been unaware that Swamiji had renounced his monastic vows.

Deborah says she was “selected” to give Swamiji a foot rub, as if he solicited it from her. In fact, she offered it to him. Given the personal interest she had in Swamiji as she expressed to her girlfriend, it would be natural for her to seek out a more intimate and private contact with him.

Deborah also speaks of being “led up the back stairs” giving the impression that she was just a servant or was being sneaked into Swamiji’s room by “the nun” who “led” her.” Deborah doesn’t explain that the five story house Ananda rented at that time in San Francisco had been cut into two flats. About twelve people, including Swamiji, had their rooms on the top floor. The only access to that floor was up the “back stairs.”

Deborah speaks also of having to work for a year at a “side job” in order to be able to leave Ananda. The obvious implication is that she was trapped in her low-paying Ananda job. The point is to make Ananda look like an abusive cult. The fact is, you can live at Ananda, work anywhere you want, and keep all the money you earn. Deborah is a smart, well-educated lady. She could have quit her Ananda job, gotten full-time work at a regular salary, and left in a week.

Truth distorted to the point where it becomes unrecognizable.