Did Yogananda “Change His Mind” About Colonies Late in Life?

Since Yogananda’s passing, SRF has removed references to colonies in the Autobiography of a Yogi and Yogananda’s Aims and Ideals. It is not surprising, therefore, that many SRF members believe what SRF officials tell them: that Yogananda abandoned his dream of World Brotherhood Colonies at the end of his life. Below is the response of a direct disciple who lived with Yogananda, and served as Vice President of the SRF board for years after the great yogi’s death—and therefore is in a position to know the evolution of this drastic change in one of Yogananda’s cherished ideals.

Swami Kriyananda writes:

Yogananda’s enthusiasm for colonies throughout his life

The truth is, Yogananda never changed his mind. This is one of the “organizational myths” SRF has invented and perpetuated. Four months before his passing, Yogananda spoke enthusiastically to Kamala Silva, a close disciple of his, about the need for communities. She relates their conversation in The Flawless Mirror, which details the experiences she’d had him. Indeed, throughout his life he spoke enthusiastically about communities. During the three and a half years I was with him, he would frequently digress from his announced topic to urge people to band together in little communities. At a large garden party in Beverly Hills in 1949, he spoke so fervently on the subject that I felt I’d never in my life been so inspired to action.

Go North! South! East and West! Thousands of youths must go forth to spread this idea!” After such an exhortation, merely to have dropped the subject as though it were an embarrassment ought surely to be considered itself an intense embarrassment.

Master’s words on the occasion of that garden party fired not only my imagination, but my resolution. Years later, I asked Daya Mata when SRF would be in a position to start communities. Her reply was, “Frankly, I’m not interested.”

Daya Mata’s change, not Yogananda’s

No, it was Daya Mata who changed. And it was not Master’s mind she changed, but her own version of his wishes. She made them correspond with her own. After my separation from SRF, however, and not wanting to interfere with anything SRF was doing in its service to Master, I saw communities as a non-competitive avenue for my own continued service to him. I founded Ananda not in a spirit of rivalry or reproach, but simply because it was there to be done; because SRF wasn’t interested in the idea; and because I was deeply convinced of the need for communities in Master’s over-all mission.

In light of Yogananda’s own zeal on the subject, I cannot but feel that Daya Mata did more than ignore his wishes: She betrayed them. In the 1950s, indeed, she actually removed, or countenanced the removal of, mention of communities from his stated “Aims and Ideals.”

The explanation for this change, and for many others that have been introduced into his books and organization since his passing, is that, “Master changed his mind toward the end of his life.” I know for a fact that he did not change his mind on those communitarian ideas.

Yogananda’s mission to establish colonies
His words, his dream removed from his Writings

All his life he campaigned for this idea. Master’s Autobiography, in its first two editions, ended with a stirring call to form such intentional spiritual communities. His book was changed in its Third Edition, dated 1951, which was the last to come out during his lifetime. This edition described such communities as already existing: “A Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) World Brotherhood Colony in Encinitas…serves as a model for several smaller SRF colonies.” It goes on to insist on the universal need for such colonies: “An urgent need on this war-torn earth is the founding, on a spiritual basis, of numerous world-brotherhood colonies.” These statements continued to appear through the Seventh Edition, which announced that it included changes made by Master himself during his lifetime. It was not until the Eighth Edition, which appeared, I believe, in 1958, that Master’s statements about world-brotherhood colonies were omitted from the book altogether.

It was at this time also, that Master’s basic “Aims and Ideals of Self-Realization Fellowship” were changed. Master had originally written one of these eleven “Aims and Ideals” to read, “To spread a spirit of world brotherhood among all peoples and to aid in the establishment, in many countries, of self-sustaining world-brotherhood colonies for plain living and high thinking.”

For the Eighth Edition of the Autobiography, and in all subsequent editions, this “aim and ideal” was changed to read: “To encourage ‘plain living and high thinking’; and to spread a spirit of brotherhood among all peoples by teaching the eternal basis of their unity: kinship with God.”

All mention of world-brotherhood colonies was omitted; nor has it appeared in any other SRF literature for the past thirty or more years. It was SRF, not Master, who changed this statement concerning one of the basic aims and ideals of his world mission.

Spiritual communities suppressed by the early Christian Church

The early Christians are known to have gathered into small, spiritual communities—”intentional” in the sense that their members shared the same beliefs, practices, and ideals. Why does history tell us so little about those communities? From all indications, they were successful. The inevitable conclusion, surely, is that they were suppressed along with the gnostics. Indeed, autonomous communities can only have been considered a threat by the Church in its determination to impose control on its members.

Communities also being suppressed by SRF?

It is for similar reasons, surely, that SRF is not happy with Ananda’s concept of communities. Since communities would certainly have been inconvenient to the newly organized Christian Church; even references to those early communities were suppressed, along with the gnostic writings. Yet what could have been more natural than for Jesus to want people to live together in communities, practicing together the teachings he had given them?

Paramhansa Yogananda himself urged people all his life to form communities. And SRF, like the early Church, has set itself against this idea. In 1988, to celebrate our twentieth anniversary, a group of 200 members went from Ananda to visit SRF’s main centers in southern California. On the Encinitas grounds, the nun in charge, Sister Shanti, stated to a group of us, “Oh, I know, many people have tried to start communities, but none of them have succeeded.” Two hundred people, celebrating twenty years of successful existence, and she could say that to us!

Her very statement makes it clear, however, that SRF appears to have no serious intention of ever starting the world brotherhood colonies for which Master campaigned so ardently. Yogananda himself tried to start a community in Encinitas. His hopes were not destined to be fulfilled during his lifetime, and I cannot help thinking that one reason the venture was abandoned was owing to resistance by some of his monastic disciples.

Monasticism is not the only branch of Yogananda’s tree

There is a growing insistence within SRF that the strictly monastic life is the only way to serve and spread Yogananda’s teachings. Many of his close disciples, however, were, or had been, married. Suppression of non-monastic communities is another indication of a historic karmic pattern. The struggle between inner spirituality and “churchified” spirituality is being repeated in the struggle between SRF and Ananda. I myself deeply believe in the monastic ideal. I too am a monk, and, despite many attempts by SRF and its members to deride my monastic calling, I am firmly committed to it. Monasticism sets an example to devotees everywhere that the spiritual life must be founded at least on inner renunciation.

Colonies dream being fulfilled at Ananda

It has been my own lot to fulfill Yogananda’s communitarian dream. Ananda now consists of six communities: five in America and one in Italy, with a seventh under way in Rhode Island. An ancient karmic pattern is re-emerging through Ananda’s striking success story: a repetition of the trend begun long ago among the early Christians.

What Ananda stands for is an attempt, paralleling that of the Gnostics and the early Christians, to simplify matters, and to center the teachings in the individual’s own Self-realization.


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