“Oh, to have been a fly on the wall . . .” I had that pleasure once. During the years of hammer-and-tongs litigation between the Self-Realization Fellowship (“SRF”) and the Ananda Church of Self-Realization lasting from 1990 to 2002, I was the principal outside legal counsel for Ananda and Swami Kriyananda. From that vantage point, I witnessed the events unfold, played some role in the developing drama, came to understand a bit about Yogananda, Kriyananda, and their mission, and saw SRF in action. Because a story about a heroic struggle for religious freedom is usually worth a telling, let me share with you some of what I remember from those exciting days.
It was a battle for Ananda’s very survival. After years of effort and anxious uncertainty, and at great cost, we turned back SRF’s attempt to “put Ananda out of business,” as Judge Garcia once succinctly described it. That “business” was Ananda’s mission to spread worldwide the writings and teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda (1893-1952), and to found “World Brotherhood Colonies” as Yogananda had urged. We did much more than defeat SRF’s plans. In the process of preparing a defense we revealed SRF’s feet of legal clay, and obtained court rulings and appellate opinions that placed numerous publications and photographs in the public domain. We stripped away SRF’s registered trademarks of “Paramahansa Yogananda” and “Self-Realization,” and reclaimed the ability of all followers to use Yogananda’s name, voice, signature, photograph, and likeness in expressing his teachings.
The litigation morphed over the years into four lawsuits and two appeals, together with writ petitions to both the California Court of Appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court. Its web embraced the two churches and Swami Kriyananda, as well as a former Ananda member, and the minister who spurned her. Ultimately, everyone who touched the case got named as a defendant in one lawsuit or another, and SRF found itself a defendant in its own sexual harassment suit. Our cosmic drama also spawned at least three other satellite lawsuits and two appeals involving star-crossed strangers, who inadvertently ventured too close to the litigation. When the dust settled, Ananda was a spiritually richer community internationally recognized as a legitimate successor to Yogananda’s legacy. Kriyananda had deepened a lifetime commitment to his Master, and reinvented ways of expressing that discipleship. Along the way, we freed up a large body of Yogananda’s original writings and teachings for the world’s edification and enjoyment. Ananda had weathered another crisis and come out stronger, and through that struggle laid the foundation for the florescence that followed. In these pages we revisit those days of struggle, doubt, commitment, and victory. I tell the tale, but the story is not mine. This story belongs to Kriyananda, the Ananda community he founded, and its many residents and members.