A Rebuttal to the Los Angeles New Times

A Rebuttal to the Los Angeles New Times

Reply to SRF’s charge that Ananda was behind the article: Nothing could be further from the truth.

Summary: SRF seeks scapegoat—misses the mark

On July 6, 2001, a newspaper called Los Angeles New Times ran a 12-page article about the claim of a man in Oregon to be Paramhansa Yogananda’s son. The article was based on gossip and rumor, and was a profound insult to the great master. His disciples world-wide were deeply saddened to see such an article.

Startlingly, Self-Realization Fellowship has now published a statement that Kriyananda was behind the whole article, and, furthermore, that Kriyananda has long endorsed the claim that this man is Yogananda’s son.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

When the reporter first expressed interest in writing about Yogananda’s son, Swami Kriyananda and others from Ananda spoke strongly to him about the falseness of this rumor and the gross inappropriateness of pursuing it further.

When the article appeared, Kriyananda immediately wrote the editors—not the “tepid” response SRF describes—but a vigorous and adamant defense of Yogananda. His letter is an extraordinary tribute to Yogananda—to a great yogi and a great saint. You may read the full text below.

And why was Ananda speaking to this reporter? We were led to believe that he was writing about the lawsuit SRF has been pursuing against Ananda for the past eleven years, a story we would like to have heard by the public. We provided many details to this reporter about the legal battle, and we also
placed an ad in that issue, all with this understanding.

SRF, however, has decided to use the situation to cast further aspersions on Swami Kriyananda’s character. SRF has spent millions of dollars on their eleven year lawsuit against Ananda, trying to deprive Ananda of its right to disseminate the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. Despite the fact that SRF has lost virtually every issue in the courts, SRF continues to pursue the lawsuit with unabated zeal. Ananda has spoken out publicly about the lawsuit, SRF’s treatment of its members, and changes to Yogananda’s original teachings. SRF is retaliating. But they are not responding to the content of these claims; they are mounting an escalating attack on Swami Kriyananda’s character.

Swami Kriyananda’s defense of Yogananda speaks volumes about his character. Let the reader judge for himself.

A REBUTTAL TO THE LOS ANGELES NEW TIMES

Paramhansa Yogananda, in Grateful Appreciation, by J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda)

Paramhansa Yogananda was without a doubt the greatest man I ever knew. Generous, kind, wise, loving, humble: He blended in himself all the human virtues, and—amazingly—demonstrated none of the flaws one is so accustomed to associate even with those who are in most ways great.

Little minds like to belittle such people. It’s as if they wanted to say, “Ha! you think he’s so wonderful? Why, he’s no better than all the rest of us. Take me, for example. I’m pretty hot stuff, myself!”

Yogananda never belittled anyone. Dr. Haridas Chaudhuri, the founder of Cultural Integration Fellowship in San Francisco, told me, “Before I met Swamiji (Yogananda), I was warned by some of his enemies to have nothing to do with him. You would not imagine the flaws they described in him. But when I got to meet him, I found he had nothing but good to say about them. Then I knew on whose foot the shoe fit!”

One man, a fellow Indian, devoted years to spreading slanderous tales about Yogananda. I happened to be present on an occasion, just four days before Yogananda’s death (which he had been telling us was imminent), when this man and Yogananda happened to meet. Yogananda looked lovingly into this man’s eyes and said, “Remember, I will always love you.” There is a photograph of that moment. The guilt in the man’s expression tells a story in itself.

Such was the master. Little people cannot abide true greatness. Worse still, in their eyes, is truly selfless love and concern for others. To such people they do what the Jews did to Jesus Christ. It is, as people say, “the name of the game.” It is the pathetic plea people make to their own souls, “Please don’t tell me I have to become that good!” But didn’t Jesus say, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Yogananda had divine love even for the complete stranger. A friend of mine told me he’d been in the car with Yogananda when the Master said, “Stop the car!” He led them back to a little, shabby variety store, where Yogananda picked out a number of items that were for sale. My friend marveled that the Master could want what, to him, seemed little better than junk. When the Master went to the cash register to pay for his purchases, the old woman who owned the store added up the amount, then burst into tears.

“I badly needed just this amount,” she cried. “I had to have it today, but was about to give up hope of getting it. God bless you, sir! You’ve saved me in my hour of need.”

Yogananda said nothing about the episode, though he left with a quiet, inward smile. The things he’d bought never, to my knowledge, proved useful to him.

This ability to know the heartfelt needs of a perfect stranger, owner of a shop that he’d merely been passing in the car, must be classed as extraordinary. I myself experienced this amazing sensitivity of his to the slightest needs of others. On many occasions he repeated to me things I had thought or said while distant from him, that he wanted me to correct or understand more deeply. There was no guesswork involved. There was no way he could have known those things, for they had nothing to do with anything that had been under discussion.

I lived with Yogananda as a disciple for three and a half years. I saw him frequently, and spent many hours with him both alone and in the company of some of my fellow disciples. I had many opportunities to observe him in widely diverse circumstances, with his students, with those who showed no interest in his work or his teachings, and with people in normal pursuit of worldly interests. I found him unvaryingly noble, kind, magnanimous, and dignified, without in any way ever condescending to anyone. (I remember a drunk once putting an arm around him familiarly. A fellow-disciple of mine said something slighting, a few moments later, about the man’s inebriated condition, but Yogananda shook his head reprovingly. “Don’t,” he said to him quietly. To him, all men equally were children of God.

My life has not been narrowly circumscribed. I’ve traveled far and wide in the world, and have met, in many lands, some of the world’s great and famous people. (To list them all would require a very lengthy paragraph.) I have had the blessing of meeting some of the saints and spiritual masters of our age. They spoke highly of Yogananda, though some of them also, to my surprise, tried to win me as their disciple. This very attempt on their part forced a comparison I had not wanted to make. Yogananda stood head and shoulders above all of them.

I don’t mean he did so in his spiritual greatness. There is a level of spiritual realization when, in the state of oneness with God, there is (as Jesus said) no great or small: All are equal in Him. What I’m referring to, then, is Yogananda’s greatness not only as a saint, but as a human being. Where most saints need to hold the world somewhat at a distance, to keep its temptations from even brushing against their clothes, so to speak, Yogananda was a true “paramhansa,” one who could with equal ease swim in the waters of Spirit or walk confidently upon the solid-seeming earth of worldly desires. I never saw him affected in the slightest way by worldly attitudes. Even when he scolded—and sometimes, like a loving father, he had to do that for his disciples’ spiritual welfare—I saw in his eyes no anger, no emotion, only occasional regret that he had to speak sternly, when to him they were his eternal friends in God.

One way to test the greatness of a human being is to look at those who were closest to him or her. The saying, “No man is great in the eyes of his valet,” could never be applied to Paramhansa Yogananda. Those who knew him best, at least in the sense of being close to him physically, honored him the most highly.

I knew those people. Before organizational policies intervened in our relationship, they were my friends. They are still my friends, though it saddens me to have to acknowledge that a few of them consider themselves my enemies. They have done their best, through lawsuits, to destroy me and the Ananda communities I have founded in our Guru’s name. Thus, I have been forced, in self-defense, to stand up to them. My deep feeling of soul-friendship for them, however, remains unchanged.

Daya Mata (Faye Wright), Ananda Mata (Virginia Wright), Mrinalini Mata (Merna Loy Brown), Mukti Mata (Corinne Forshee), Durga Mata (Florina Darling), Shraddha Mata (Orpha Sahly): These are among many people who worked with him closely. Tara Mata (Laurie Pratt), who was to become my prime nemesis, was nevertheless another who knew him closely and well. I worked personally with Daya Mata for many years. I worked personally also with Laurie Pratt, though over the telephone. I worked with Mukti Mata in office matters.

I am not interested in excusing them in what I consider to have been the serious mistakes they have made in guiding his organization, though I may say that if anyone had a motive for belittling them as disciples it would be myself. I do not do so. I found them to be always deeply devoted to our Guru, deeply respectful toward him, deeply humble before him without ever relinquishing their own personalities. I myself stood always in awe of him, but I was also impressed that they, many of whom had known him far more years than I, were in awe of him also. It was not an awe of fear, but of admiration, of recognition that here was a man of such towering greatness that he could bow before the veriest reprobate in the same spirit of soul-equality that he demonstrated for saints. For myself, I can say that I felt in awe of him because he stood so far above every expectation of greatness I was capable of holding.

Now then, when I was sent a print-out from the Los Angeles New Times containing an egregious attempt to slander this great man—never declaring boldly the personal opinions of the writer, but always from a place of “safety,” quoting other people—I couldn’t help feeling some sort of reply was indicated.

How would you, who read this paper, feel if someone accused your mother of being a whore? Well, of course one assumes that some whores have children, and that therefore a certain number of children’s mothers are whores, whether the offspring like it or not. Emotional denial would have little effect. Some people simply are; others are not. Reason, not anger, is the only way to answer an article like this. For if one splutters in outrage, though in one’s heart one may feel outrage, it will only make some people turn away and declare with a cynical smirk, “Oh, yeah, sure!” The greater the anger aroused, the more people are likely to think something is being concealed.

In fact, that is what first aroused suspicion in the mind of Ron Russell, the author of that article. He told me on the telephone, after requesting an interview, “When someone goes to so much effort to deny something, how can you help feeling he’s got something to hide?” I replied, “The leaders of SRF live too much in their own world, and think they can command everyone else to think just as they do. That is a difficulty I have faced in dealing with them for many, many years!”

The article, however, was an example of yellow journalism at its worst. I don’t mean it made its own accusations and allegations. It was careful to quote other people. Ron Russell himself told me over the telephone, “It isn’t that I believe any of these things. They’re just what people have told me. How can I, as a responsible journalist, ignore a good story when it is given to me?” I replied, “I see your point. Given your premise, you’ll naturally do what you feel you have to do.” (After all, I couldn’t stop him.)

But yes, I know what a responsible journalist ought to do: Give the story a miss! What was Russell’s premise, however? Here is what yellow journalism does: It smells out any hint of slander with which to splatter people who are deserving of serious respect. It then shows them, as much as possible, to be unworthy of any respect. It is one-sided. It quotes only opinions favorable to “the story,” and ignores everything that might depict fairly the one it intends to slander; anything that might show him in even the faintest of good light. It is a dirty game, for it tries to smear mud on every concept of human greatness.

I wrote to Ron Russell, “During all these years of contemptuous attacks by SRF, my polestar has been the greatness I perceived personally in [Yogananda]. Even were such slander true, it would not change me, for I know what I received from him. I came to him for one reason only: He inspired me. Should you write such a baseless story, I certainly will refuse to have anything to do with you or your paper ever again. At the same time, I know this ‘threat’ must be meaningless to you if you are capable of printing such a thing about a much greater man than you or I will ever be in this life.”

Yogananda himself expressed his displeasure with journalistic dishonesty. He told me two stories about his own experiences with yellow journalism. In one of those stories, which he related to me in a private discussion, “In a New York hotel, two young women came to me for a newspaper interview. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but their paper was a ‘yellow journal’—a scandal sheet. The women wanted to come into my room, but I felt inwardly guided not to receive them there, so I let them ask their questions in the hallway outside my door. They were wearing very low-cut blouses, as if seeking to tempt me to gaze downward. I gazed straight into their eyes. Their editor said to me later, ‘If you had even glanced down at their cleavage, I would have splashed your ‘despicable behavior’ across the front page of my paper!’ Just imagine such an attitude,” Yogananda finished.

In another story he told me of the way English newspaper reporters in India had followed him about the country, hoping to get something on him to diminish whatever impact he might have on the freedom movement Mahatma Gandhi was developing in India. “Once,” he said, “on the occasion of my visit to the Maharajah of Mysore, they hired an English woman to come up to me before a lecture, throw her arms around my neck, and kiss me fully on the mouth. There were cameramen standing nearby, waiting for the ‘big moment.’ When this woman approached me, and as she opened her arms wide to give me that embrace, I grabbed her by the waist and lifted her high above my head. I then turned to the cameramen and cried out, ‘There, gentlemen! There’s your photograph!’ Sensationalism, that is what so many reporters, and so much of the press, are after.”

Reading that article in the New Times, one quickly notices that the entire piece is based on rumor. There are rumors and rumors, however. This piece is based on malicious rumor and—it is here the author shows his absence of scruples—quotes only one side of the story. I know Ron Russell heard both sides of it, for I myself spoke to him in Yogananda’s defense. His article filtered out everything I’d said, and misquoted me in what he did include.

On the subject of Laurie Pratt’s daughter, Mr. Russell said, misquoting me, “I [always] assumed that she was [Dhirananda’s] daughter.” No, I never assumed any such thing. Ron Russell asked me, in fact, when I had first heard of this as a possibility. I told him it was relatively recently—not more than a year ago. It had been reported to me as gossip, and I had no reason either to believe or disbelieve it. I told Mr. Russell, however, that I had once met Mona Pratt, the daughter, and had seen nothing in her features or skin coloring that impressed me as being other than Caucasian. Of course, the question of her paternity would not have arisen in my mind, but in any case one would think a brownish skin coloring would at least have made some impression on my mind.

Russell omitted all the things I said to indicate, not an emotional rejection of the data he’d received, but a reasonable rebuttal to his thesis. The simple statement attributed in his article to Dhirananda’s offspring, “Yogananda was screwing everything in sight” is so utterly the opposite of the man I knew well as to be ridiculous. They themselves never even met him.

Russell’s article affected me as a gnat might at a picnic: a nuisance, not a concern. Nevertheless, when a friend wrote me and said she found the article “convincing,” though she hadn’t been affected by it, I decided I must say something for the sake of others who, unlike her, might have been left with that impression and been shaken by it. The article was well written, and for someone who isn’t familiar with the facts it might indeed seem “convincing.”

Russell had to include, however, the statement of Ben Erskine, who thinks Yogananda may have been his father, to the effect that his own mother never made that claim to him. He himself merely assumed it. She continued to come to Mt. Washington in later years. Would she have done so if Yogananda had indeed been her erstwhile paramour? Or, again, would she not, in coming to Mt. Washington, have been seeking some personal gain for herself? I was there for some of the time she is supposed to have visited Mt. Washington. Nothing suggested itself to my mind as even remotely hinting at such a relationship.

The New Times printed a photograph which I have not seen, since I live in Italy, but one supposed to show a similarity in the features of Ben Erskine and Yogananda. Friends of mine who have seen the photo see no similarity. I myself was sent several photos of Ben by his wife. In none of them did I, who knew Yogananda personally, see any resemblance, except perhaps racial.

Shall I be accused by skeptics of being myself partial—and so much so that I’d deny a resemblance even if I saw one? Well, of course I am partial! I’m his devoted disciple, and exchanged with him a pledge of unconditional love. All I can do is ask Russell, “Would you have published my disclaimer?” I doubt it! He didn’t want anything that might weaken the case he was making. I told Mr. Russell, however, that even if it were proved to be true, it wouldn’t affect my love and loyalty for my Guru. I know his greatness. As for the outrageous statement, “He was screwing everything in sight,” I can only thank Mr. Russell for including that allegation. For when an accusation is truly outrageous it only condemns itself, and points back at the accuser.

Dhirananda seems to have claimed to be the author of several of Yogananda’s books. I myself had occasion to interview Swami Satyananda, a man who had no reason to love Yogananda (against whom he did considerable mischief during his lifetime—motivated, one assumes, by envy). I wanted to get from Satyananda stories he could remember about his boyhood years with Yogananda, and, speaking to me as the Master’s disciple, Satyananda told me stories that were supportive of Yogananda’s mission. He said, in substantially the following words, “When Yogananda returned from his trip to Japan, he did so with the inspiration for what he knew would be his central message to the world: the universal desire of all human beings to escape pain and find happiness—a happiness they could find only in God. He didn’t know English well, so he asked Dhirananda, who was fluent in it, to write this thesis for him, using the ideas he’d proposed.” Dhirananda did so, in the widely accepted capacity of ghost writer. Thus was written a short, early work of Yogananda’s, The Science of Religion.

Laurie Pratt once told me—this was during the fifties—that she wanted to omit that book from SRF’s publications, because it had too much of Dhirananda’s “vibrations” in it. “He was such a pedant,” she declared. “His style was professorial, pompous, and dry.” The thoughts, however, were Yogananda’s, as even his enemy Satyananda had said.

The New Times article made the attempt typical of articles of this type to boost Dhirananda, to Yogananda’s detriment. I never knew that man, but I heard, and I also believe, that Yogananda behaved toward him always with honor, perfect candor, and dignity. If Dhirananda won against him in court, I have some reason from my own experience in these matters to deprecate the supposed merit of such decisions. Dhirananda’s mind was distorted by envy and jealousy. I have heard that estimate of his character from many, including people who knew him as a young man in India. I’ve no reason to form a personal opinion of the man, but I had an opportunity in India to meet a number of people who knew him well. I heard nothing to suggest a better picture. That he was brilliant I have no reason to doubt. His brilliance is not the issue here. Deep-seated, personal antipathy is and always has been very much the issue.

Did he ever display a nobility of character, a magnanimity, a disposition to understand and forgive, even slightly comparable to Yogananda’s treatment of him? Yogananda—an example, only—would send him a box of mangoes year after year, long after his betrayal. Dhirananda invariably returned the box unopened. Even so, Yogananda continued to extend this gesture. Petty-minded people may think the gesture a proof of weakness and hidden guilt. If so, they are incapable of seeing that no one with a guilty conscience could ever be so magnanimous. I, however, who knew Yogananda, know also from frequent, direct experience the greatness behind that gracious gesture.

The New Times article quoted one Anil Nerode, of whose existence I learned only recently. Nerode, claiming the gift of total recall, made further slanderous allegations against Yogananda. All I know is that, under examination, he fumbled repeatedly in his ability to remember things I don’t think most people would have forgotten. I cannot help thinking his self-praise as a mnemonic genius is spurious.

To Ron Russell I say, “Sir, you have tried, unsuccessfully, to besmirch a man far greater than yourself. You have, in effect, called him, whom I have every right to look upon as my own spiritual mother, a whore. What shall I call a man, please tell me, who sells his integrity for a bit of drummed up sensationalism?”

In fairness to Mr. Russell, however, I must say in conclusion that SRF’s over-reaction to these charges did open the door to his scurrilous suspicions. I myself, and Ananda, have had much experience with the bullying tactics SRF has used for many years against those of whom they disapproved. Daya wrote a letter to Antonia Brico, the conductor, about even so close a fellow disciple as Dr. Lewis, describing him as a “rascal.” She deserved this article. Yogananda did not.

 

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