The purpose of this book is to clarify what I, the author, consider to be Paramhansa Yogananda’s true life and legacy. These pages are less a protest than a statement of what may prove to be two utterly irreconcilable positions. My concern is less with individuals than with the validity of the positions themselves. Self-Realization Fellowship (hereafter referred to by the initials, SRF) defines one of the positions. Ananda Church of Self-Realization (hereafter referred to as Ananda) defines the other one. SRF has interpreted the Guru’s legacy in the narrowest way possible. (In their lawsuit, they tried to make the words, actions, name, and every public reference to Yogananda their own personal property. Ananda, by contrast, claimed, and after twelve years of bitter litigation won its point, that Yogananda belongs to the world.)
This book will point out ways in which SRF has claimed narrowly to possess every right concerning Yogananda’s legacy. Among those ways are the following:
a) Paramhansa Yogananda wrote throughout his life, and spoke often in public, of his vision for what he called “world-brotherhood colonies.” To the best of my knowledge, only four months before he left his body he was still doing so. Self-Realization Fellowship has rejected that vision, actually declaring that, at the end of his life, he changed his mind on this important point. To support their claim, they have gone so far as to change one of the basic “aims and ideals” of Yogananda’s mission to the world.
I know for a fact that he not only recommended cooperative communities: he was fervent in their support. I was myself present on several occasions when he spoke eloquently on the point. I both heard and saw him. On one occasion, the power with which he declared his belief in this ideal was enough to shake the heavens!
SRF has rejected this important aspect of his legacy. Why? The only reason I can imagine is that they do not feel they could sufficiently control it.
b) This next point may seem trivial, but it shows the lengths to which SRF has been willing to change Yogananda’s teachings to anything they think he ought to have wanted and done.
Yogananda always wrote his name: Paramhansa. SRF, willing to believe that he didn’t even know how to spell his own title, rewrote it Paramahansa, with an extra a in the middle, making five a’s in all. This addition came as a result of a scholarly suggestion by some pundit in India. SRF advances a supportive argument for why they added that a, but their reasoning is specious.
It is important here for Westerners to understand that Sanskrit contains two letters which correspond, each in its way, to the English letter a. The short a in that language is pronounced like the a in our word, account; the long a is pronounced as we do in our word, barter. (I leave out other pronunciations of that letter in our impossibly complex English language: take, for example, and bask, and anomalies like can’t, which is pronounced differently in America and in England—including, in America, regional touches such as cayan’t.) Often, the short a in Sanskrit isn’t pronounced at all, though scholars like to insert it even when Indians never pronounce it. In India, no one ever says, Paramaahansa, with an exaggerated middle a. Yet that is how the title is always pronounced when that word is spoken by non-Indians. In India, what one hears universally is Paramhansa—or, also frequently, Paramhans—but never on any account accenting any one syllable more than another.
Yogananda once spoke to me complainingly about the way scholars have transliterated Sanskrit into Roman characters. He said, “They write jnana, for example, instead of gyana (wisdom), and ajna, instead of agya (the point between the eyebrows—or, sometimes, the medulla oblongata) when there is no ‘j’ sound in those words at all, and still less a ‘jn.’ The words are correctly pronounced ‘gyana’ and ‘yagya,’ each with a slightly nasal sound that doesn’t exist in English, but ‘j-nana’ and ‘yaj-na’ are simply, and laughably, wrong.”
The change in Paramhansa, here, suggests a readiness on SRF’s part to correct the Master on just about anything he ever said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do, if it doesn’t correspond to their own notions of what they think he ought to have said and done.
In countries outside of India, that middle a usually becomes so exaggerated, as I said, that people pause there, like hawks before making their final swoop.
SRF actually went to the length of forging Master’s written signature. To add that fifth letter in the middle, they copied it from another part of the name. The change is obvious to anyone who studies the signature as it appears in their more recent editions of his books (which, to conceal their own further, and innumerable, changes, they call reprints). Two of the a’s are identical.
c) They have also made many changes in his already-printed words, as the reader will see—changes that are not only stylistic but that alter his very meaning and intent. The clear purpose for these changes has been to change, or to redirect, his very legacy.
1. SRF’s editor-in-chief, albeit able at clarifying ideas, was not a poet. She “edited” his beautiful book of prayer-poems, Whispers from Eternity, producing thereby a shriveled corpse: grammatically impeccable, but dry, sterile, and lacking in poetic feeling. After making these changes, she actually dared to forge a message from Yogananda purporting to thank her for the work she’d done on this edition. She herself wrote that letter to get anticipated critics off her back. As the following pages will show, Yogananda never even saw the work she’d done on his book. Had he read it, I am certain he would have been appalled.
2. Yogananda often said he had been sent to the West in response to the wish of Jesus Christ, expressed to Babaji during a meeting between the two of them in the high Himalaya. In recognition of this fact, Yogananda often wore a little cross pendant. This pendant was carefully brushed out of photographs later published by SRF, concerned that Hindus in India might object to it. On the cover of this book, the cross appears as he originally wore it.
3. He also established the way he wanted his altars to look. SRF later changed that arrangement, even adding Krishna—unjustifiably, as I’ll explain later, since Yogananda said that Babaji is an incarnation of Krishna.
Some people may object (and have objected), “The wrongs done are in the past. Nothing can be done about them now.” True. Much of what was done, however, can be undone. The acts of unkindness that I present here can no longer be corrected, but any present tendency toward unkindness can be removed. Wrong directions can be set right. Past lies can be erased by now telling the truth. Narrowness can be exploded by expansiveness.
d) The greatest of all the errors committed by Self-Realization Fellowship is that it has tried to confine Yogananda, his teachings, and his mission within the high, narrow walls of an organization. He himself stated repeatedly, “We are not a sect.” What he had brought to the world was a teaching, a principle, a new way of living for God. Self-Realization, to him, was an ideal which needs to be embraced universally for people’s own highest fulfillment. Fellowship, to him, was (again) an ideal for all mankind: a concept that would enable all people to live together as brothers and sisters—children together, equally, of our one Father/Mother God.
The leaders of the organization Yogananda founded have disagreed with him, confining his legacy to only one example of the truth he left and thereby betraying the principle itself. Laurie Pratt (Tara Mata), his chief editor, once said to me, “I know Master [the name by which we all called Yogananda] said we aren’t a sect. Well, we are a sect!” Her peremptory declaration permitted no qualification; she didn’t even bother to justify it.
During SRF’s lawsuit against Ananda (about which I’ll write later), I said to Daya Mata (the president of SRF), “Master said ‘Self-realization’ would someday become the religion of the entire world. He can’t possibly have meant, ‘Self-Realization, Inc.’!”
“That,” Daya replied, “is your opinion.” Obviously, she believed that Self-Realization Fellowship would evolve in time to become a sort of super Roman Catholic Church, with a massive hierarchy and all the trappings of orthodox Churchianity.
This, to my mind, has constituted SRF’s greatest betrayal of Yogananda’s true legacy, which he had intended to change the way people approached everything—schooling, family life, business, politics—indeed, the entire structure of society!