SRF (Self-Realization Fellowship) Reaps What It Sows

The following is an excerpt from attorney Jon Parsons’ entertaining book about the SRF and Bertolucci cases, A Fight For Religious Freedom: A Lawyer’s Personal Account of Copyrights, Karma and Dharmic Litigation.

Throughout its 12-year lawsuit, SRF steadfastly tried to destroy Ananda and Swami Kriyananda. It not only failed, losing more than 95 percent of the rulings in the case. It created a karma that would bring unavoidable consequences.

Karma Kicks Back | Dec 2002 and beyond

The lawsuit hurt SRF with bad press and defections from its ranks. I never thought karma could kick back so quickly. Reporters started snooping around SRF and uncovering more inconvenient facts. In July 1999, for example, Ron Russell broke the story in the Los Angeles New Times that the Wright sisters, Daya Mata and Ananda Mata, were no longer living on Mt. Washington. Tobacco heiress Doris Duke had made it possible for the sisters to move to a nice house on the 200 block of South Canon Avenue in Sierra Madre—with enough money to buy a place next door to house the monastic help. SRF’s litigious energy attracted new lawsuits. In 1994 SRF was sued in Kern County, California and in New York by decedents’ es­tates over bequests made to the organization, and a similar federal lawsuit followed in 2000. In 1998 an SRF member named Patricia Lyons sued the organization for sexual harassment, and garnered a settlement rumored to be $333,000. The next year Sunset Palisades filed suit, followed by several injury and employment claims, as SRF continued to reap what it had sowed. These years took a terrible internal toll on SRF as well. Between 2000 and 2005 more than fifty monks and nuns are reported to have left the organization.

During the lawsuit, with Ananda’s assistance, Joan Wight published a three-part memoir written by Durga Mata, a nun who joined Yogananda in December 1929. SRF tried to stop the publication of this Trilogy of Divine Love, and claimed that Dur­ga Mata’s writings also belonged to the corporation. But Joan produced a 1975 Con­firmation of Gift in which Durga Mata specifically included her writings as part of her gift to Joan. Following a pointed letter from Joan’s lawyers, SRF backed down.

The struggle may have stirred SRF to some action. In response to Ananda’s release of audio recordings, SRF also published those same recordings, and a few more as well. Even so, the recordings released by SRF are nothing compared with the wealth of material still withheld. One might expect SRF eager to share its Mas­ter’s vocal vibrations with the world, to get the real deal out there in the cosmos. Yet SRF has released only ten CDs of Yogananda’s talks, this small number reflecting, perhaps, that it is harder to edit audio recordings than writings. SRF also spiffed up the magazine and, after half a century of delay, published a version of Yoga­nanda’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, called Arjuna Talks With God. As SRF learned that Ananda was about to release a work, like the Rubaiyat, it would rush its own version to press and grab shelf space in the bookstores. Thus, the lawsuit urged SRF’s discipleship on to greater, if spiteful, zeal, resulting in the completion of works that had languished for years. Perhaps the real beneficiary of the lawsuits is the public at large, who now has access to these materials concerning Yogananda and his teachings.