It was litigation larger than life, in which we wrestled with the angels of religious freedom and with karma, while greater events spun about us. We were sometimes confused, if not disheartened, but pushed as duty called, always toward the light as best we could see it. The litigation spanned more than a decade and proved a transforming experience for everyone involved. Ananda tore away the veil of secrecy around SRF, and made Yogananda’s teachings available for the world. In its attempt to present a single manicured image of Yogananda, SRF triggered an explosion of books, articles, and blogs that revealed the original teachings and started open discussions about Yogananda and his organizations.
Every story is a personal one, with victories and defeats, and going on regardless. I thought all along that the litigation was about the freedom of religion under the law, and the freedom of churches, teachers, and followers to express their truth as they understood it. It was about the personal trials and spiritual growth of a devoted disciple doing his Master’s work, who might be more like his Master than he imagined. It was about the bright-eyed, earnest souls at Ananda whose many hands made miracles. It was certainly about all that. And much more, beyond my ability to take the measure of such things, or know what they might mean.
I had hoped that we were holding up a mirror to SRF, giving the Matas a chance to see what they were doing, and an opportunity to change. But it was too late for that. Daya Mata was a loyal devoted administrator who had been given more than she could manage. Concerned about the spelling of Paramhansa she abruptly changed it, which meant that Yogananda’s signature had to be altered as well. She fretted about photos showing Yogananda wearing a cross, and airbrushed out the Christianity. She doubted herself, and manipulated Yogananda’s writings to buttress the power of her position. Unsure of the teachings’ direction, she withheld works that Yogananda had readied for the press before his passing. To preclude other teachers outshining her, she changed who could teach Kriya, give lessons, and publish writings. Fearing some other organization might supplant SRF, she threatened or sued them, asserting questionable claims through troublesome actions. I guess it worked for her. Now that she has passed we will see what direction SRF takes.
I thought we were making a difference. And maybe we did. For Ananda no longer stands in the shadow of SRF. SRF’s attempt to control everything about Yogananda, his teachings, his writings, and his mission, was rebuffed and religious freedom won a round. But all I really know is that for a while we struggled together as brothers and sisters in arms, did our best, and did some good. That’s enough for me.
Everyone who played a part in the litigation helped shape Ananda into what it is today. Those twelve years of lawsuits and appeals were traumatic at the time, but have borne fruit in an expanded and invigorated community. As special as those years were, the litigation was just another of the many challenges and crises that have shaped the direction of Ananda’s mission. As treasured as those memories are, Ananda’s most exciting days are still to come.
On January 3, 2003, Ananda sent out the last case update to Ananda’s supporters announcing the end of the lawsuit. There were still bills to pay but the bleeding had stopped, and it was time to mend. Its concluding comments expressed a sentiment I heard from many at Ananda during the lawsuit, and from everyone since the judgment:
Now that the long, costly lawsuit has finally ended, we at Ananda hope that there can be increasing harmony between the two organizations in the years to some, and that we can, in time, become friends. We . . . extend our sincere love and friendship to all our gurubhais (fellow disciples) in Self-Realization Fellowship, and everywhere.