Chapter Thirteen: SRF’s Second Lawsuit

The second suit was a sordid case of alleged sexual harassment. The cast of characters included:

Anne-Marie Bertolucci, a somewhat attractive young woman from New Zealand who had been for a time a member of Ananda.

Danny Levin, a married Ananda minister whose marriage had resulted in a special-needs child.

Eric Estep, a former Ananda member, but now Ananda’s self-declared enemy.

Daya Mata, acting from behind the scenes.

Daya’s lawyer, whom I won’t dignify by naming him. To us he seemed a veritable incarnation of evil. To Daya Mata he was a friend, though in his own profession he had earned himself the telling nickname: “The Assassin.”

A handful of women, assembled by SRF through this lawyer with a view to channeling all possible venom during the trial in my direction.

And, finally: me, bound and blindfolded (so to speak) before the firing squad.

What happened was that Anne-Marie got involved in an affair with Danny Levin. She wanted to marry him. I asked Danny how he felt about it, and he replied that he wanted to save his marriage.

I then told her, “I am going to have to ask you to move to another Ananda community. I won’t have you living here, destroying that marriage—especially since it involves a child so greatly in need of support and affection.”

“But I would make a good mother to her!” protested Anne-Marie, whose first and only real interest, always, was herself.

I remained firm. As she left the room I saw a fire of rage in her eyes, accompanied by the thought, “Am I going to get you!”

She moved to our community in Palo Alto. While pretending friendship to me she learned about, and then contacted, Eric Estep.

He, too, was a “case.” I had allowed Eric, as an early Ananda member, to live in the community for twelve years, never paying the dues that were normally required of all Ananda members to meet our land taxes and pay for utilities. Through all these years, Eric had been a deliberate irritant: sneering at everything we did, disagreeing with almost every decision, and trying constantly to embarrass me, especially, at group meetings.

Finally, a new general manager was appointed at Ananda. This man, Joseph Selbie, called Eric into his office. “Why do you remain here?” he asked. “All you seem capable of doing is find fault with us for everything.”

“It seems to me a good thing for the community to have a gadfly,” was Eric’s response.

“Well, I can accept that,” replied Joseph. “But please tell me: What is it doing for you?”

Joseph finally gave Eric an ultimatum: “You’ve been living here for twelve years, accepting no community responsibility. It is time you participated in the normal duties of every Ananda member. I’m going to have to ask you from now on to pay your normal membership fees.”

“What’s my alternative?” Eric asked.

“Your alternative is that you will be asked to leave Ananda.”

Eric opted for immediate departure. Before leaving, however, he came to my house and devoted more than one hour to bringing me up to date on my innumerable failings. “Your life,” he announced to me as if simply making a statement of fact, “has been a complete washout. You’ve done nothing worthwhile, ever. Your books are shallow and foolish. Your music is intolerable. Your. . . .” He continued this calm recital, as I said, for over an hour. During that whole time I listened quietly, not responding even by gesture or facial expression. When he ended, I thanked him calmly. Inwardly I told myself simply, “I don’t know whether what he’s saying is right, but at least I know this: I have always sincerely done my best. But if he’s wrong, it isn’t for me to tell him so.”

The Bhagavad Gita counsels even-mindedness under all circumstances.

Eric left. As the the door closed behind him, I went to my piano, sat down, and composed the melody and lyrics of a new song which was to be one of my very best. Its lyrics are as follows:

Though green summer fade,

And winter draw near,

My Lord, in Your presence

I live without fear.

Through tempest, through snows,

Through turbulent tide,

The touch of Your hand

Is my strength, and my guide.

I ask for no riches

That death can destroy.

I crave only Thee:

Your love, and Your joy.

The dancers will pass;

The singing must end.

I welcome the darkness

With You for my Friend!

Eric remained on the outskirts of our Ananda community in Palo Alto, prowling about like Shere Khan (the lame tiger in Kipling’s The Jungle Book), growling and snarling with rage as he repeated, “The man cub is mine!” In this case, the “man cub” was my unremarkable self.

Anne-Marie, as I said, discovered Eric. Eric promptly bore her in triumph to Los Angeles, where he introduced her to Daya Mata. Daya Mata invited Anne-Marie to have lunch with her and the Board of Directors. After lunch, Daya asked her starry-eyed guest to meditate in what had been Master’s private quarters.

Anne-Marie’s first choice of a lawyer was not up to the task of defending her as she desired. Daya suggested another lawyer, the one I’ve called “The Assassin,” who was a friend of SRF. “The Assassin’s” real duty was not to prosecute Anne-Marie’s case (which didn’t really exist), but to destroy me.

He found a small group of women, SRF members, who were happy to accuse me of sexual harassment. The lawyer proceeded to try, by public meetings in Nevada City (near Ananda), to find others who would be willing to support his cause. He found none; at the end he was left with the same small handful of women.

The women members of Ananda gave me their wholehearted support, writing many long testimonials to my character as they knew it to be from personal experience.

The Bhagavad Gita states: “Of what avail would be mere suppression?” (3:33) What our own nature forces on us, we can at least resist mentally. Such is the path to final freedom. Such was my own path.

“The Assassin,” however, placed great emphasis on the fact of my being a swami, while never troubling himself to understand the word. A swami is, in fact, one who is fully dedicated to realizing his oneness with the Swa, or universal Self—the Divine Consciousness beneath all outward manifestation. A swami’s renunciation is of ego-consciousness, primarily. To this ideal I have been ever true. The aspects of the struggle on which I have focused primarily have been my commitment to truth, the feeling of universal kindness and good will to all, an attitude of humility, and a resolute attempt to banish every vestige of ego-consciousness. I think it is true to say that I have by now succeeded also in overcoming every other desire and attachment. “The Assassin’s” efforts to destroy me were smoke rings. Certainly I have never willingly hurt anyone.

Throughout this lawsuit, I approached all my limitations as I had done, many years earlier, the smoking habit. Every time I’d succumbed to that habit, I’d refused to lament, “I’ve failed!” Instead, I told myself firmly and repeatedly, “I haven’t yet succeeded.” In the end, the desire to smoke simply disappeared from my mind as though it had never been.

SRF’s second case was a blatant attempt to humiliate me utterly—indeed, to ruin forever my chances of rendering any further service to my Guru. The judge in our case may have been looking for a promotion to the appeals court. At any rate, he did receive that promotion soon afterward. To ensure a clear victory, he denied our attorney the right even to cross-examine the witnesses ranged against me. We were not allowed to inform the jury that our normal rights had thus been denied us; the jury members were left with the impression that we simply had no questions to ask.

I have often reflected on a possible explanation. Yogananda once described God as “the One Unbribable Judge.” And I have sometimes wondered, Could our judge . . . ? Certainly, his attitudes throughout the case seemed open to serious question.

Our attorney, on the other hand—a new one hired only for this case—was a defense lawyer. He was accustomed to having clients who were clearly in the wrong. In fact, he had earned what reputation he had by getting clients off with the lightest possible sentences.

To our legal team, once I’d finally met this man, I insisted, “This is not at all the right man for us!” He had addressed me from the moment of our first meeting as though I were guilty of everything of which I’d been accused. Some defender!

“But,” protested our team, “we’ve already paid him $50,000 in advance.”

I mentally prayed, “It’s all right, Divine Mother. If it is Your will that I be destroyed, I’ll accept that outcome unflinchingly. Everything I’ve done has been for You. I am Yours alone! Do with me as You will. I know You want only my ultimate good.”

What else could I do? I simply would not allow myself to be affected inwardly. Therefore, through repeated and fierce depositions (prolonged, as I said, for eighty difficult hours); through accusation after humiliating public accusation in the courtroom, accompanied by unceasing ridicule from Anne-Marie’s lawyers; and through gleeful trumpet blasts against me in the press (to which our lawyer would not allow us even to respond), I kept repeating mentally: “Divine Mother, whatever be Your will, I accept it willingly.”

Indeed, it is not really in my nature to get upset. I may feel deeply about things, but the waves of emotion never actually touch me. I determined that whatever happened would be Divine Mother’s will, and would therefore be for my ultimate best.

And so, in the end, it proved to be. They won their case, but it was, for them, a hollow victory.

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