Chapter Eleven: India — and My Dismissal From SRF

When I went to India in 1958 with Daya Mata and two other nuns, my frustration continued also in that land. For there too, “ingrownitis” ruled supreme. (And this time it was ancient tradition, rather than femininity, that did the damage.) Yogananda’s work was seen by the directors there as merely the work of another saint, among the many thousands in India’s long history. We “pilgrims” from America were appalled to see how little the Indian devotees understood the importance of Master’s mission.

The members in Calcutta (one of the largest cities in the world) met together on Sunday mornings, about twelve of them; performed traditional puja (worship) ceremonies; gave endless, banal discourses; sang one or two chants listlessly in Sanskrit or in Bengali; then dispersed. They didn’t seem to have even a clue to the freshness, depth, and universality of Master’s teachings. Nor was any serious effort being made to promote his teachings.

Daya Mata returned to America after a year in India, leaving me behind with instructions to travel around the country giving lectures. After a period of seclusion near the Himalayan village of Lohaghat, I gave lectures and taught in Simla, Patiala, Chandigarh, and New Delhi. The response, everywhere I went, was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Thousands attended. I became known across northern India as the “American Yogi.”

In a book of mine, A Place Called Ananda, I have told the story of what happened then. It was dramatic, but I’ll only encapsulate it here. The drama revolved around the fact that I endeavored strenuously for many months to make Paramhansa Yogananda’s name and mission known in India. After great effort I got Prime Minister Nehru personally to endorse my plan for a center in the so-called “green belt” of New Delhi, very near Birla Temple and near the center of the city. My success in this regard has to be classed as a miracle. 1,700 other societies had tried to get land there; all of them had been refused.

When I announced my truly amazing success to the Board of Directors in America, they were the opposite of thrilled. Indeed, they were outraged. While resting in Darjeeling, exhausted after my long labors, I received a long-distance phone call from Tara.

“We do not want that property!” she shouted down the line. I said, “Fine, if you don’t like what I’ve done, we’ll abandon it.” I was disappointed, but at the same time I was willing to obey. A letter followed. It was filled with condemnation. Not only had everything I’d done been “outrageous”; my presumption in doing it was “unbelievable.”

From then on it was, for me, a long downhill slide. Nothing I did could compensate for my supreme sin of not having waited to do what I was told.

Had I done wrong? I cannot for the life of me believe so. Rather, I had acted in complete accordance with what my own Guru had told me to do. The women directors’ point of view regarding the very essence of his mission, and my own view of what he wanted of me, could not have been more divergent.

In July 1962, I was summoned from India to New York.

“New York!” I thought. “Why New York, of all places?” Three thousand miles from our Los Angeles headquarters! Something, obviously, was in the air—something ominous!

I landed in that city on Saturday, July 28; the day is branded forever on my memory. Tara and Daya met me at the airport. Little was said in the taxi on the way to our hotel—the Penta. Tara looked out the back window of the taxi and commented with evident relish on the relative positions of Saturn and Jupiter. Apparently, the placement in the heavens of those two planets held  special significance for her. Apparently, too, she considered whatever was “in the air” to be of great importance. (I should perhaps mention that both Daya and Tara—Laurie Pratt—were ex-Mormons. So also is Mrinalini Mata, SRF’s fourth president. Tara was related to one of the Mormon founders, Orson Pratt. In the Mormon Church, the bishop is considered, in everything, the supreme and absolute authority.)

a)  The next morning, I found a long letter from Tara shoved under my door. The letter was a document of about thirty pages, single spaced, filled with vitriolic accusations regarding my countless alleged misdeeds. Its final message contained the appalling news that I was no longer a member of Self-Realization Fellowship, and would never again be welcome on any SRF property.

b) Later that morning I met Daya and Tara in person. At this meeting, Tara, who did most of the speaking, repeated much of what she’d said already in her letter. She accused me again of unbelievable presumption, deceitfulness, lying, treachery, and egotism; of being a megalomaniac; of trying to set myself up as the new guru of SRF/YSS; of plotting to take over the leadership from Daya Mata; and of behaving in a manner so utterly vile that I was no longer fit to represent SRF or Master in any capacity whatsoever.

My dismissal was absolute; there was no hope of appeal.

c)  At this meeting, Tara underscored the message of her letter by the denunciatory tone of her voice. So fixed was she in her opinions, and so forceful in their expression, that there was simply nothing I could say in reply.

These were the two persons in the world whom I had held in the highest love and esteem. For most of that one-and-a-half-hour tirade I knelt before them, my arms crossed over my chest in an attitude of unbearable anguish. Surely, I thought, this meeting could not be happening!

But it was. I was being thrown to the wolves.

d) One time some years later—I think it was in 1970—Daya Mata said to me, “I recently called all the monks and nuns together and said to them, ‘I know some of you have heard that Kriyananda was dismissed. He was NOT DISMISSED, he RESIGNED!’”

She demanded that I endorse this statement. I replied in amazement, “I can’t say that. It isn’t true, and you know it isn’t true!”

She paused a moment in frustration, then stated with deep feeling, “Well, you SHOULD have resigned!”

e)  This demand that I change my story to her version made one thing clear to me: The true purpose for the tone of that meeting in New York had been to force my resignation: to make me storm out of the room shouting angrily, “You can’t dismiss me: I resign!” How little they knew me! I had given Master my unconditional love and loyalty. Nothing could—not even possibly—make me resign.

Since I had not behaved as they’d expected, they were determined to say anyway that I’d resigned. They couldn’t let people know they’d been so heartless as simply to dismiss me, after so many years of loyal service! Therefore, they lied.

f)  For myself, I simply could not believe that these (to me) dear sisters could be heaping me with such abuse. Tara’s personality was forceful and caustic to an unnatural degree, but I’d never realized she could be ruthless. Daya was much younger than she, and deferred to her habitually. Indeed, although Daya was the president, it may be said that Tara was the real “power behind the throne.” Both of them, however, were disciples of a great saint of love!

g)  Tara warned me sternly never again to contact any SRF member. She added, “If you do, we’ll expose you for your countless lies and treacheries!”

“From now on,” she concluded, “we want to forget that you ever lived!”

I was thirty-six at the time. The only people in the world whom I could regard as my friends were members of SRF. Now I was never again to contact any of them! This fact did not seem to weigh on them either lightly or heavily in any way. They told me to keep whatever money I had with me. And then I was free to wander the streets of New York until I found a job. As Tara said to me, “Just take any job that comes along.”

She also proclaimed, “You are never again to tell anyone that Master is your guru. We don’t want anyone to know that he had such a despicable disciple!”

The deliberate purpose of her tirade was to reduce me forever, from that day on, to the status of a “non-person”—not only in the eyes of SRF and its members, but in my own eyes. Worse still, perhaps, she did her utmost to obliterate my very discipleship to Master.

h) One memorable statement Tara made to me at that meeting was, “Before I die, I’ll make sure that no one will ever admit you back into Master’s organization.”

i)   Was there anything else she told me at that meeting? It is not pleasant to recall, certainly, but here are a few things:

1.  “Never again will we have to deal with all the suggestions hatched in that fertile brain of yours!” As she made this statement, she heaved an exaggerated sigh of relief.

2.  “You are deceitful, dishonest, an utter liar, a hypocrite!”

In fact, there was hardly a fault possible to human nature of which she did not find me as guilty as if I’d been caught holding the bloodstained weapon in my hand.

I have never recognized any of these shortcomings in myself. When I told my mother some of what Tara had said, she exclaimed indignantly, “Why, you’ve never told a lie in your life!” I knew she was right. But what could I say?

3.  At a certain point in the proceedings, Tara, looking at me with an expression of triumph, demanded, “Can you tell me why every single thing you’ve ever tried to accomplish has ended in DISASTER?”

Nonplussed, I inquired, “Can you give me an example?” I could remember any number of considerable victories, but not a single real failure—unless, indeed, their own continual rejection of my ideas constituted failure on my part.

Tara appeared stumped for a moment by my demand. Then she grabbed the upper hand again, retorting, “That’s your style, see? Asking questions to get the other person confused!”

Is there anything that anyone, anywhere, might possibly have said to her in reply? I might have shouted back emotionally, but it is simply not in my nature to shout, and in any case when it came to lung power she was an athlete.

j)  At one point in the proceedings I exclaimed in utter bewilderment, “But none of the things you’ve been saying are true!”

Tara declared contemptuously, “I don’t want your opinions!”

Was my own certain knowledge of events, then, only an “opinion”?

k) At the end of the meeting she gave me a letter to sign. It stated that I resigned from the Board of Directors and from the vice presidency. I signed the document willingly. What had those positions mattered to me? Nothing! I never resigned from anything else.

And there lay Daya’s only possible justification for telling people that I’d resigned.

l)   The next morning, the telephone in my hotel room rang. Tara was on the other end, having returned to Los Angeles immediately following our little “get-together.” Brightly she inquired, “Were you able to get the check cashed yet?”

“What check?” I asked.

“Daya and I agreed after our meeting that we should give you five hundred dollars for being cooperative.”

I told her I’d received nothing so far. Privately, however, I decided that when I did get the check I would never cash it.

Later that morning I revisited Daya briefly in her room. She gave me the check. When I told her that I had already paid my room bill, she replied, “You shouldn’t have done that.” She made no offer to reimburse me, however.

m)            By seeming coincidence (but surely by divine providence), my parents, who had been vacationing in Europe, returned that very day to America, landing in New York. I was able to contact them in Scarsdale—a suburb of the city, located to the north, in Westchester County—where they were staying. We had lived there as a family, years earlier.

I mentioned this fact to Tara during her telephone call to me.

“Isn’t it wonderful,” she exclaimed exuberantly, “how Master has worked this whole thing out!”

“What can I possibly say in reply?”

Tara: “Why won’t you answer? Don’t you think it’s wonderful?”

Kriyananda: “I’d rather not say anything.”

She was uncomprehending.

Together, my parents and I drove across the country to their home in Atherton, south of San Francisco. Several days later, Daya and I spoke by telephone. When she learned where I now lived, she exploded in anger. “You’ve actually had the temerity to land right in our back yard!” Her intention, as much so as Tara’s, had been to leave me stranded in New York, nearly three thousand miles away from SRF’s headquarters, and “safely” out of their hair.

At about this time I also asked Daya, “Where can I go? What can I do? My life is completely dedicated to serving Master. There is nothing else for me to do with it.”

“I seem to recall,” she replied, “that you had a good response in the Fiji islands.”

Anything, just to get me off their scene forever!

n) Is there any point in my recounting the entire tale? Well, Tara did say a few more things that might deserve mention here, if only to underscore the hopelessness of my position. Here is one of them:

At one point in our “discussion” I said to them, “Put it in writing, if you like, that I will never do anything more in Master’s work than wash dishes. I came to him to find God. It was he who gave me whatever position I’ve held in his work. Position, in itself, has never meant anything to me. I’ll be willing to sign any document you give me, stating that I will do nothing for the rest of my life but wash dishes. All I ask is to be allowed to stay in my Guru’s organization and serve him.”

“Never!” replied Tara with grim determination. “The slightest toehold you get and you’ll only worm your way to the top again.” My years of loving service, dismissed as merely “worming my way to the top.” It was too painful to contemplate.

For a time, I wondered seriously whether Master himself hadn’t abandoned me. Indeed, Tara at that meeting said to me, “If Master hadn’t endorsed your dismissal, do you imagine for a moment that he wouldn’t be able to prevent it from happening? You have disappointed him greatly!” By these words, Tara struck at the very roots of my spiritual tree of life. I said to him in prayer, “Even if you abandon me, I will never abandon you!”

 

o) I was denied a re-entry visa into India on the grounds that I had been reported to be a CIA agent, and a Christian missionary in disguise. When I was finally able to clear myself of these ridiculous charges, an Indian friend of mine who worked in the Indian high court discovered that the report about my supposedly covert activities had come from someone in YSS—SRF’s affiliate in that country.

p) For several months after my dismissal, I sent SRF donations as a means of expressing my continued devotion to Master, as well as my support for his work. My checks were never cashed. On one occasion I sent my donation in cash. This time, Daya returned the money to me in person, explaining, “People might ask questions.” From then on, I withheld my monetary support.

q) In 1968, when I started Ananda, I made it a point to require that all Ananda members become members also of SRF; that they take the SRF lessons and, when possible, attend SRF services. I knew that anyone who went to SRF and made his affiliation with me known would receive a stern warning to avoid all further contact with me. (This happened, indeed, repeatedly; I might even say, infallibly.) Nevertheless, I determined to be as dharmic (devoted to right action) as possible. When anyone asked an SRF representative why I was no longer with the organization, he was told, with an eyes-heavenward expression, “Oh, if you only knew what he did!” No further explanation was ever given. I doubt that those who answered this way had any notion, themselves, of the facts.

r)  Two or three times over the years I personally offered to give Ananda to Daya and SRF. In my heart, I felt that everything I had done was for Master. On one such occasion I actually said to her, “I would be willing even to leave Ananda after giving it to you, if that were your will.” Daya’s only response was, “We wouldn’t want to inherit your debts.” (As if my only possible motive for making this generous offer could have been that we were in imminent danger of bankruptcy. As a matter of fact, we were thriving!) In this case, as in most others, my quotations are exact.

Daya’s incapacity to imagine that there might have been an unselfish motive behind my offer, and also the way in which she worded her reply, left me with no other alternative than to respond, “And I would not give you Ananda, if I thought you would only run it into the ground.”

That was the last time I made that offer. Always, however, I have done my best to promote harmony between our two organizations. And always, their response has been condescending, contemptuous, and wholly negative.

s)  Is Daya Mata a Self-realized being, as is widely claimed? Let me repeat here a story that may have a bearing on this question. One evening, Master, in speaking to us monks, listed his most advanced disciples in the order of their spiritual development. “First in Self-realization,” he said, “comes Saint Lynn; second, Mr. Black; and third, Sister Gyanamata.”

Faye Wright (Daya Mata) was at that time in charge of the office at Mt. Washington. Naturally, the question popped into our minds: “What about Faye?” Master answered that thought. “And Faye?” he asked rhetorically. “Well, Faye still has her life to live.”

t)  I should repeat that Daya was never appointed to or proposed for the presidency of SRF by our Guru himself. She was simply elected to that position by the Board of Directors, after Rajarshi Janakananda’s passing. In fact, the appointment came after two other candidates had been offered that post, and had rejected it.

u) Tara once announced at a Christmas banquet, “Master predicted that no future president would ever fall short of his ideals.” This was at a function for the nuns; the monks were having their own Christmas banquet in Encinitas. I had been obliged to attend the nuns’ banquet because I’d just given the service that morning at our Hollywood church, and wouldn’t have been able to reach Encinitas in time for the monks’ meal.

v)  I had grave doubts at the time about the veracity of Tara’s statement. It seemed an awfully large claim to make considering that I, a complete insider, had never heard it before. I’d also learned by then that Tara was not above occasionally stating the “convenient untruth.”

w) Years later, to my astonishment, I learned that the rumor mill had exaggerated Tara’s statement to a claim that Master had predicted that every future president of SRF would be Self-realized. I am absolutely certain he never made any such prediction. How, indeed, could a mere organizational appointment accomplish such a miracle? It ranks up there, among institutional conveniences, with the dogma of papal infallibility. Ridiculous! Indeed, organizational prominence is something the sincere truth-seeker usually avoids like the plague. And the future covers a very long span of time: human nature is notoriously fallible.

x)  When I met Sri Rama Yogi, the fully liberated saint mentioned earlier, he asked me, “What are Daya Mata’s responsibilities?” He explained that she had written him once or twice. I described her responsibilities, in part.

“Oof! What a burden!” he exclaimed sympathetically.

“Is it only that?” I asked in reply. “If so, one would have to attribute her high position only to bad karma!”

“Of course I didn’t mean that!” the great yogi answered with a smile. “It is her good karma which has placed her in a position where she can work out her karma more quickly. But that doesn’t mean that everyone would be helped karmically by holding such a high position. For others, it might be an unfortunate burden, indeed.”

Finally, as I’ve said, how could anyone be raised to a state of Self-realization by mere human election? The claim is preposterous!

y)  What is my own attitude towards everything that happened to me? Am I bitter? Is there in my heart any desire for vengeance? Astonishingly, perhaps, I bear those people only good will. Their work is my work; their aims, my aims. The truth is, I am happier loving them than I would be if I permitted hatred a place in my heart. With God’s grace, I have never in my life experienced that darker emotion. I can’t say that I even really understand it.

I think the only possible way to regard everything that happened to me is to view it as the result of my own karma. There must have been something in me that attracted so much opposition, and such fierce retribution. Assuming this to be true, I must, and fortunately do, feel deep gratitude. At least I can say, “Well, that’s one more debt paid!” Or maybe this was the tapasya (penance) necessary to do the “great work” my guru predicted for me.

1.  A reading I received in India, early in 2010—it was purported to have been written some 5,000 years ago (during descending Treta Yuga), and then copied 400 years ago into “modern” Tamil—gave many facts that cause me to believe it true. It stated that, owing to my doubts in past lives, I have faced countless obstacles in my present efforts to serve my Guru. (Master himself told me, “You were eaten up with doubts.”) The reading also said that this bad karma has now been expiated; everything I attempt from now on will flourish. The worst period of that bad karma, obviously, was during the years I spent in SRF and immediately afterward. Since then, I have indeed encountered unusual success in my life. If still more success is to attend my efforts, well, it will enable me to serve my Guru all the better!

2.  The best way to look upon our past karma is not to grieve over its blows, but simply to smile, keep a sense of humor, absorb those blows willingly into ourselves, and then offer them up to God in the knowledge that He will help us, finally, to reach the highest bliss in Him.

My case, however—though tragic enough to me at the time—was by no means unique. If it had been, it might be explained away entirely in terms of my own bad karma. The sad truth is that others have been dismissed similarly since then, without compunction—though perhaps not so harshly. (Some of them may have been less stubborn in their loyalty than I.) Always, SRF’s reasoning has been taken from Tara: “Ask yourselves in every situation: What is best for the work?” And, to her, “the work” meant not Yogananda’s legacy of truth, but his SRF organization.

Were anyone to challenge an SRF member on this point, I think that member might answer, wide-eyed, “Why, what’s the difference?”

A good leader is more concerned with the spirit in which people do things than with what they do.

I thank God that my experience has ended up giving me our two basic guiding principles at Ananda: “People are more important than things”; and, “Where there is right action, there lie success, true fulfillment, happiness, and victory.”

Even so one can’t help asking, How has it been possible for spiritual people to treat others so unkindly? I have felt the incentive, certainly, in my own life to ponder this question many times.

In 1972 I flew to the south of India to meet Sathya Sai Baba, a well-known saint. When he emerged from his quarters to meet the gathered crowd, he came right over and greeted me. Shortly afterward, he invited me indoors for a private talk. At one point during this conversation his expression suddenly became indignant. “Very, very bad!” he exclaimed. “So many people have tried to hurt you. But don’t care for them. It’s just selfishness and jealousy!” He said more that was supportive of my years of service to my Guru. I have told this story in my book, Visits to Saints of India.

Well, it seems to be what happens when religious faith becomes encrusted with rules and self-interest, forgetful of love. This is a dark-age (Kali-Yuga) way of thinking. During that dark period form was considered more real than its infusing energy.

Look at how St. John of the Cross’s fellow monks treated him, imprisoning, punishing, and abusing him. The history of religion is littered with such bleak examples.

When the Italian distributor of my books confided to me once at a meeting, “I’m not a particularly religious man,” I answered (much to his amusement), “Neither am I.”

Spiritual? Yes! Religious? No.

̆̈Therefore did Swami Vivekananda say, “It is no doubt a good fortune to be born into a religion, but it is a misfortune to die in one.”

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