In the Midst of Tests, God’s Grace Is There

From Jyotish and Devi Novak

Co-spiritual directors of Ananda

July 20, 1998

Dear Friend,

Ananda has passed through the worst of a major storm. It was a bit like being hit by a hurricane—a lot of sound and fury, some damage, and a big cleanup task ahead. But, we’re alive and well, and Swami Kriyananda is doing just fine. A little further on we’ll give you and update on the winding down of our “courtroom drama.” But first, we would like to explain why you’re receiving this CD of beautiful music called Some of My Favorites: Windows on the World. We’d also like to let you know about some of the wonderful things happening at Ananda.

Over this last year, Kriyananda’s response to the darkness of the Bertolucci trial has been to create beauty. He has recorded several new albums, including Some of My Favorites, the deeply devotional Kriyananda Chants Yogananda, and an album of his songs in Italian. Most importantly, he has given us a pivotal new book, Hindu Way of Awakening, which makes Hindu symbolism come alive with universal and personal meaning.

Kriyananda asked us to enclose this gift to you with this legal update because he feels that his music, more than anything else, communicates the essence of his spirit. He tells the story of the ancient emperors of China, who would travel from province to province, to “take the pulse” of the people and their local rulers. Rather than requesting reports and holding hearings, these great rulers of old would ask instead for a concert. They could tell instantly, from the vibration of the music being played, the state of consciousness of the people, and therefore the morality and integrity of day-to-day affairs.

Many written pages have been shared with you, dear friend, over these years of the lawsuits. Surely by hearing the music of Kriyananda enclosed here you can feel for yourself Ananda’s changelessly fresh and untouched ideals. The passing experiences of success, failure, tragedy or glory can never diminish the love of God in our hearts, nor our commitment to the goal of Self-realization.

Ananda: A Miraculous Past, a Glorious Future

Many at Ananda feel that these lawsuits have been God’s way of giving us the strength to move to a higher level of service to Him. Just two weeks ago, amidst this continuing play of light and darkness, we marked the 30th anniversary of Ananda’s founding. Nearly 500 people came together at The Expanding Light to celebrate three decades of living according to Paramhansa Yogananda’s ideals. We had great fun. Founding members told stories of Ananda’s development. There were in-depth tours of the community, and a deeply moving concert of Kriyananda’s music along with original Ananda “temple dance.” Especially moving was an evening where group leaders from around the world shared their experiences. The leader of the Moscow group told us that spiritual books have only recently been legal in his country. Just ten years ago his best friend was jailed for practicing religion. Ananda has been a spiritual oasis in Russia, and we (Jyotish and Devi) will be visiting in September to give classes and a Kriya initiation to the rapidly growing numbers of Russian disciples of Yogananda. (If you’d like to read the story of Ananda’s early years as told through the personal stories of many founding members, order Crystal Clarity Publishers latest offering: Reflections on Living: 30 Years in a Spiritual Community. Audio tapes from the 30th Anniversary events are also available.)

Our summer “Village Intern” program just ended with the 50 participants, aged 16 to 25, nearly unanimous in feeling that it was the most pivotal experience of their lives. Each one set new, “soul-affirming” directions for their futures. We are now hosting another program for children and parents called, “Families Welcome.”

The Expanding Light guest facility has been nearly full all summer. Especially popular are retreats for first-time visitors and any program which teaches meditation and yoga. Our new guest facility, Harmony House, just completed in June finally offers rooms with private baths and expands our facilities for handicapped devotees. The building of this new guesthouse during such financially trying times was an important affirmation of priorities for us at Ananda. No matter how loudly storms of trials howl around us, we will still put first our effort to serve others.

This year has shown us that God’s grace never deserts us, even if tests are strong. And there is no denying that this test was a powerful one. During the darkest days, residents here at the Village had to face the very real possibility that we could lose our homes and our community. But this experience has only deepened our gratitude to God and Guru. You, too, have been part of the demonstration of God’s grace, through your steadfastness, financial support, and the prayers you’ve offered.

We waited longer than we would have liked to write you this legal update, hoping to be able to tell you the “bottom line” financial impact of the Bertolucci lawsuit. Many of you have expressed deep concern over that, and rightfully so. But, before we will know the final results, the judge must decide our “motion to reduce” the financial awards assessed against us, and this may take some months. But, we can already see that Ananda has passed safely through some very crucial post-trial hurdles.

Judge Stevens Rules in Ananda’s Favor on Alter Ego

First, and very importantly, Judge Stevens decided resoundingly in Ananda’s favor on the alter ego issue. This was Bertolucci’s claim that Kriyananda’s authority over Ananda is so absolute as to blur any distinction between him as an individual and Ananda as an organization. If the ruling had gone against us, Ananda Church would have been liable for the $1,265,000 in damage assessed against Kriyananda personally. Instead, of the eight points or “markers” by which alter ego is determined, the judge found in favor of Ananda. Because of this decision, Ananda is liable only for the $330,000 in compensatory damages that the jury assessed against the Church.

Ananda’s Motion to Reduce the Damages

Sometime soon Judge Stevens will enter a “final judgment,” and then Ananda will immediately file a motion to reduce the damages assessed against both Ananda Church and Swami Kriyananda. The “motion to reduce” the compensatory damages is based on the fact that several awards overlap, and therefore, we were penalized twice for essentially the same claim.

In regard to the punitive damages (assessed against only Kriyananda) standards set by the courts suggest that this type of award not exceed 10% of an individual’s net worth. The one million dollars assessed against Kriyananda is ludicrously beyond the value of his few personal possessions. The judge, when hearing our motion, should drastically reduce the award against Kriyananda. If not, Swami may be forced into bankruptcy.

What About the “Second” Bertolucci lawsuit?

As you know, Bertolucci has filed a second lawsuit. Our attorneys have characterized this as a “harassment lawsuit,” since it is mainly a recasting of issues in the first lawsuit. Furthermore, it seems to be particularly vindictive against Kriyananda—while many dozens of defendants were named, only Swami has actually been served. In May Ananda asked that the case be moved to Nevada County, near Ananda Village. Bertolucci’s attorneys did not oppose this move, and consequently the case will be assigned to a judge in Nevada County. Since there has been no other activity in this lawsuit, it is difficult to assess their real intentions especially since the favorable ruling on alter ego should remove most of the money motive. We hope to have more definite information soon, after the new judge holds a status conference with all the principals.

SRF’s Appeal of the Lower Federal Court’s Decision

Many of you have asked if the Self-Realization Fellowship lawsuit is completely finished, or if SRF intends to appeal. Self-Realization Fellowship has, in fact, appealed some of the decisions to the Ninth Circuit Appellate Court. However, the scope of their motion was quite limited. They are not appealing the central issue, Ananda’s use of the term Self-Realization in our name, since the Appellate Court has already upheld the ruling that “self-realization” is a generic term and not vulnerable to being trademarked.

Of the remaining issues in the lower court’s decisions, SRF is appealing only the judge’s ruling on nine photos of Yogananda, to which they still claim ownership by virtue of the fact that they are in possession of the original negatives. SRF also claims ownership of the few audio recordings of Yogananda’s voice which Ananda makes available to the public through Crystal Clarity Publishers. Significantly, their claim of ownership of the copyrights of most of Yogananda’s original writings, and their claim to the exclusive right to use Yogananda’s name, image and likeness for sale and publicity purposes are not part of their appeal. Both sides have now submitted written arguments in the case. At some point, over the next six months or so, the appellate court will schedule a hearing, and then give us a written decision.

Thus, we are now essentially just in a waiting process at the very end of what has been a painful and costly nine-year legal battle with SRF. It is worth saying again—the decisions we won are crucial to the spread of Yogananda’ s mission in the decades to come. Dharma demanded that we respond to their legal challenge, but we still hope for a more harmonious future with SRF.

Harassment of Ananda continues

Ananda received some heavy blows through the Bertolucci trial. We have never claimed to be flawless, nor has Kriyananda ever presented himself as more than a completely sincere disciple of Yogananda, still aspiring toward the ultimate goal, and earnestly seeking to serve his guru in others.

However, a handful of people seem to have made Ananda’s destruction their life’s work. Virtually all of them are staunch “SRF supporters” and have been denouncing Ananda for fifteen years or more. They are still at it. Recently they have published two letters in the Yoga Journal warning people against visiting or associating with Ananda. They called the national offices of Elderhostel, an educational forum for seniors that has scheduled three or four very popular week-long programs each year at the Expanding Light, and tried to convince them we were disreputable. Fortunately, the northern California Elderhostel chapter proved to be staunch supporters of Ananda. This small group, a dozen or so, also does their best to create negative publicity against Ananda over the Internet and through the press. During the trial, one Palo Alto paper seemed to be a virtual propaganda machine for Bertolucci’s lawyers. The growth of the Ananda church and school in Palo Alto was slowed over the winter by the continuing controversy but, fortunately, it is already beginning to recover.

What has our response been? As one Ananda member put it in her letter to the Yoga Journal, “I thank those of you who are apparently making a life-work of criticizing us. When you call into question everything to which I have dedicated my life, you inspire me to review my experiences and the faith they have given me.”

Even in responding to our detractors, and those who seem to be ready to jump on any “bandwagon of negativity,” Ananda has been more concerned about the yoga movement in the world today than our own fate within our smaller drama. From the beginning, Kriyananda has seen Ananda’s legal challenges and persecution as part of a pattern of growing cynicism and negativity. Those who dare to offer spiritual leadership, inspiring others to high ideals, though still imperfect themselves, will inescapably to become targets of attack.

Still Needed: Your Financial Help!

Lastly, we ask you to help Ananda with the considerable debt we’ve brought forward over the last nine years. As, in the aftermath of a hurricane, we have a huge cleanup effort ahead of us. We’ve paid off nearly two thirds of the staggering amount the SRF and Bertolucci lawsuits cost, but the remaining debt will impede our ability to move into fresh areas of service. We need the help of our friends. We need your help.

Ananda community residents, core members, and Ananda departments make heroic monthly pledges to meet old and new legal expenses. Happily, we are now at a point for the first time in many, many months when the pledged income stream exceeds new legal expenses. And we have designed a financial plan that allows us to pay off all legal debt over the next four years and kecp the outreach ministry strong at the same time.

All the evidence now points to the fact that we are in the final stages of a test of many years duration. The end may well be in sight. With your help now Ananda could receive the “psychic boost” we need to shake off the tentacles of a force that could hold us back from a vital outreach ministry.

You’ll find enclosed a pledge card, which we hope you’ll take to heart, and into prayer. A gift from you now, especially as an expression of your friendship and support, means more to Ananda than we can say. Of course, as you know, your questions are always welcome, and we’re available to you here in the ministry office at (530) 478-7560.

Thank you, dear friend, for all the support and prayers you’ve given so readily over the years. We’ve also enclosed a copy of our response to Yoga Journal concerning those two letters they printed. In our letter we express the need of all who love the light to stand firm before the forces of negativity. As Yogananda said, “When I am gone, only love will take my place.”

In divine love and friendship,

Jyotish and Devi Novak
Directors
Ananda Church of Self-Realization