Chapter Eight: SRF’s Treatment of Others

An astonishing feature of SRF’s official treatment of others, especially as it has developed over recent decades, is its lack of both kindness and sympathy. This indifference to the feelings of others may even be deliberate, as if to demonstrate non-attachment to outer realities. Were the organization a bank or a court of law, such an attitude might be understandable even if it weren’t approved of. But Yogananda, before his passing, declared, “Only love can take my place.” Does SRF think he meant, Only love for him? or, Only love for God? God is in everyone! The Bible says we should love our neighbor as ourselves. When Yogananda said “only love can take my place,” he cannot possibly have meant, “Love for God alone, but indifference to other people’s feelings.” It is one thing to be non-attached, but surely quite another to be callous. I am reminded of a sentence in a book by Karen Armstrong, Through the Narrow Gate, about her former life as a nun: “She (the mother superior) stood there, a pillar of unloving righteousness.”

a)  Meera Ghosh was the daughter-in-law of Yogananda’s older brother, Ananta. Yogananda himself, during the year he spent in India from 1935 to ’36, selected Meera as the bride for his nephew, Ananta’s son. Years later, Meera became widowed. Master then wrote her from America and gave her the home in which she and her husband had been living (formerly, Ananta’s home). The Master promised her an allowance of sixty rupees a month, which in those days was quite adequate for her maintenance.

Gradually, however, owing to inflation, the rupee lost its value and fell to the point where that sixty-rupee allowance reached the equivalent in value of about U.S. $2.00 a month.

When Meera became old and dependent on medical assistance, she wrote to Daya Mata requesting that her monthly stipend be increased. Daya herself (not SRF, but Daya Mata) wrote back to say that the organization would continue to honor Master’s pledge of sixty rupees a month and would give no more. (Master himself sometimes said, “Faye is a Scotchman,” meaning, tight-fisted in regard to finances.)

Not long thereafter, Daya wrote Meera to say that the building in which this relative of Master’s lived was the property of YSS (SRF’s Indian branch), and was now needed for use as an ashram. She asked Meera to move into the “carriage house”—a fancy name for the garage. The new quarters consisted of a single room, windowless, with an open drain in the floor.

Meera had been settled here for some time, with her grown family, when YSS changed its mind about having an ashram there. The building was now to become a rental property. Meera was not asked to move back into it. Her home, still, was to be the “carriage house.”

Several years later, a group of Ananda representatives on a tour of India paid Meera a visit. Appalled by her living conditions, they decided it was simply out of the question for a relative of our own Guru’s to live in such privation. We were in a position as a community to ease her burden, and decided to contribute $100 a month toward her maintenance. For the rest of her life she lived comfortably, and was able also to get the medical assistance she required. We spent an additional U.S. $13,000 to buy her and her family a large flat.

Could even the most hardened cynic sneer that we’d performed this simple act of charity for selfish gain? It would have been almost an insult to our Guru for us to do otherwise.

During the 1990s I visited Calcutta, and there had an opportunity to meet Meera personally. I was horrified to see with my own eyes this sweet, humble relative of my Guru’s and to contemplate how she had been treated by the organization he himself had founded.

b) Yogananda’s younger brother, Sananda Lal Ghosh, wrote to Daya Mata in his old age, informing her that he had been diagnosed with cancer. The disease seemed terminal, but he said his doctors had informed him that in America, with its advanced technology, his life might at least be prolonged. Would Daya Mata (Sananda asked) pay his way to America and assist with his medical needs?

Months passed. At last he received a reply—not from Daya Mata, but from SRF’s lawyers, stating that SRF would accede to his request on the condition that he deed his home (which had also been Yogananda’s boyhood home) to YSS. Sananda, heartbroken, died a few weeks later.

I know there is a story concerning Sananda and his own treatment of Master (Master himself told it to me), but people can change. Sananda had changed. Master, who never held grudges, would certainly have forgiven him. As a point worthy of further consideration: Sananda had written a book, Mejda, about his own recollections of Yogananda’s boyhood. SRF had published it, and was (presumably) absorbing at least some of the income from its sales.

c)  The home of Tulsi Bose, a close spiritual friend of our Guru’s during their boyhood years, was inherited by Tulsi’s daughter, Hassi, who lives there still. Hassi’s husband, Devi, died recently. While he was alive, SRF/YSS offered to buy their home. This was a natural offer to make, considering Paramhansa Yogananda’s sentimental associations with that house. What was very unnatural, however, was YSS’s reaction to the couple’s decision not to sell. Devi and Hassi were cut off from further communication with YSS, and their free subscription to Yogoda Magazine was canceled; their names were removed from the YSS mailing list.

d) Kamala Silva had been a close disciple of Master’s since the mid-1920s, when she was a child. At the time I knew her, she headed the SRF meditation center in Oakland, California. I was then the head of the SRF center department, and was responsible for guiding SRF’s centers and meditation groups throughout the world. Oakland is situated relatively near to Los Angeles, and I often visited and lectured there, particularly after Kamala’s health became fragile. In my opinion, this center was the best SRF center in the world. It owed its excellence entirely to Kamala’s spirit of humility, devotion, and attunement with Master.

Kamala had lived for some years at Mt. Washington as a nun. She had left to get married. Master told me himself that it had been his will for her to marry. He also told me, “I selected her husband personally.” On another occasion, Master, speaking of Kamala’s husband, said to a group of us monks, “He is a true sannyasi [renunciate].”

Kamala became impoverished in her old age. She also, I am sad to say, became a little senile (for women, the actual word is anile). In consequence of both conditions, she was no longer able to take care of herself. Friends of hers appealed to SRF for the assistance she needed. Daya Mata refused to take responsibility in the matter.

Ananda, on learning of Kamala’s predicament, took her in and cared for her. This was my own personal decision. I was happy to overlook a fact that might have influenced me against her: Years earlier, Kamala had actually spoken against me to Daya Mata in what appeared to me a pathetic attempt to win Daya’s acceptance and approval. From what I was able to learn, Daya was displeased with Kamala for writing an autobiographical book about her life with Master. Evidently, Daya felt that only she herself had a right to represent our Guru! But why this callous rejection of Kamala’s book? It is heartfelt, genuine, and (for devotees) deeply inspiring.

I gladly assigned to Kamala the permanent use of my own guesthouse. I also gave her several hundred dollars a month out of the money I occasionally received from Ananda members and friends who have supported me over the years (I get no salary or royalties from my books, music, and recordings). Several Ananda members also contributed directly toward Kamala’s upkeep. Others went to her house daily to cook, clean, and attend to her personal needs.

At this time, I apprised Daya Mata of the situation, and asked if she would like to help out. Another board member responded to say that they, as renunciates, were unable to give money to any individual. Also, the letter stated that since SRF was a nonprofit religious corporation, it could not extend help personally to individuals. The letter added, however, that after consulting with their lawyers they’d decided that SRF might send Kamala a contribution of $250 a month—a pittance compared to her real needs—with the single provision that the money never be sent directly to me, Kriyananda.

In the end, unfortunately, Kamala’s condition worsened, and at last required more specialized care than we were able to provide. Relatives of hers came and took her to an elder care facility in Castro Valley, California. There, a few years later, she died.

e)  Ananda has received numerous complaints from people in prison to the effect that Self-Realization Fellowship has refused to help them with lessons, teachings, or guidance. The excuse given has always been that no one was available for the “special assistance” required by prisoners. Our correspondents in prison have also written that the reason given for refusing to send them the lessons was that these might end up being shared with other prisoners.

Such explanations seem makeshift, uncharitable, and in fact inexcusable. Ananda, when appealed to for help, has always done its best to help wherever it possibly could, regardless of anyone’s personal situation. We have corresponded with prisoners, and have even visited them. In some cases, Ananda ministers have actually gone in person to a prison to initiate into Kriya Yoga inmates who were considered worthy. To our way of thinking, those persons are human beings in desperate need of improving their lives, beings who can benefit from our help. Whatever help we’ve extended to them has been free of charge, in a spirit of kindness and charity.

f)  In my opinion, SRF is not representing Master in the noble role of unconditional love that he lived. Many of its members have told us that they have felt put off not only by the chill they feel from SRF ministers and other representatives, but by the picture those representatives paint of Master as a disciplinarian, lacking in warmth, humor, and any genuine human feeling.

I have no wish to hurt anybody, but I do intensely want to see my Guru well served, and it hurts me to see him presented, and represented, and misrepresented, as harsh, callous, and domineering.

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