Religious Freedom Threatened
“Sectarianism is anathema to religion. Only shallow people think, ‘Mine is the one, true way. All other ways are false.’“
The Essence of Self-Realization
Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) believes that they are the sole authorized channel for the dissemination of Paramhansa Yogananda’s teachings to the world. Responsibility for Yogananda’s mission, they say, rests in their hands, and their hands alone.
This claim, however, is inconsistent with Yogananda teachings. It is contrary to Yogananda’s expansive spirit and the tradition of Yoga from which Self-realization springs. According to ancient tradition, each disciple has a right and a divine duty to share his guru’s teachings as he feels inwardly inspired.
SRF seeks to suppress the rights of others
SRF’s eleven year lawsuit against Ananda Church of Self-Realization is an effort to deprive fellow devotees of the right to practice their religion.
SRF denies they are trying to interfere with Ananda’s freedom of worship, and draws a distinction between personal worship and what it calls “commercial” enterprises. In fact, no such distinction is possible. To share the teachings of one’s guru, and to declare publicly that that is what one is doing, is a spiritual, not a commercial act.
The courts have not favored SRF’s attempts to gain a religious monopoly. Virtually every issue has been decided in Ananda’s favor. Still, the case goes on.
Why do you fight?
People sometimes ask, “Why doesn’t Ananda just ‘turn the other cheek’ and refuse to fight? Conflict among disciples of the same master is odious.”
The problem is, SRF has taken what is really a theological disagreement and made it a legal battle. In the American system, if you don’t defend yourself you lose by default. SRF’s claims against Ananda were so massive, that if we hadn’t defended ourselves as vigorously as we have, Ananda would have ceased to exist. Hundreds of Ananda devotees would have lost homes, schools, jobs, churches—our very way of life. SRF’s intention seems to be to destroy Ananda.
Judge Garcia, who has overseen this case from the beginning, agrees. On October 12, 1990, in denying one of SRF’s motions, he said, “If I grant your motion and order defendant [Ananda] to stop using these materials, I effectively put that religion out of business and that bothers me.”
Can’t you settle?
Ironically, instead of strengthening their position, SRF’s lawsuit has revealed that their legal hold on Yogananda’s legacy is weak. Piece by piece, writings, photographs, and other key elements of Yogananda’s mission have been liberated by the court from what SRF claimed to be exclusive ownership. The fight Ananda has waged and the victories we’ve won have not been for Ananda’s sake alone, but in service to the ideal of “Paramhansa Yogananda for the World.”
“What about settlement?” people also ask, a natural question in an eleven year lawsuit. “Isn’t there some compromise you both can live with?” Many times over the years settlement has been attempted, sometimes under court supervision, sometimes meeting on our own—the entire SRF board of directors sitting across the table from Swami Kriyananda and other Ananda leaders. Each time, it became clear that SRF’s idea of settlement was for Ananda to give back to them nearly everything we had won in this lawsuit! Naturally, we refused.
Self-realization is a principle
Paramhansa Yogananda said “Self-realization has come to unite all religions.” (The Path) To us it seems self-evident that Yogananda meant the principle of Self-realization, not the institution Self-Realization Fellowship Church, Inc. The name Yogananda chose to describe his message—Self-realization—makes the heart of his teaching the relationship between the devotee and God.
“Your religion is not the garb you wear outwardly, but the garment of light you weave around your heart,” said Yogananda in The Essence of Self-Realization.
SRF wants to destroy Ananda
From the beginning, SRF has repeatedly tried to complicate and prolong this litigation, vastly increasing the cost. SRF has spent many millions of dollars. Ananda, too, has been forced to spend millions on its defense, money raised dollar by dollar from members and friends. SRF is a wealthy organization; Ananda is not. Unfortunately, bankrupting your opponent is another way to obtain a monopoly.
A senior SRF monk recently declared to an Ananda member, “In three years you won’t even exist!”
SRF has never seen Ananda
There is a rumor that in 1971, SRF’s Brother Ramananda spent one hour at the Ananda Meditation Retreat. Except for that unconfirmed hour, we believe no monastic member, no board member, no SRF official representative of any kind has ever visited any Ananda Church or on any Ananda property. Many times over the years we have invited SRF to come and visit. Always they decline.
It is not surprising, therefore, that SRF doesn’t know that the years since SRF began suing Ananda have been the most expansive and successful in Ananda’s thirty year history. All six of Ananda’s branch communities and churches have been established during this decade. Considering what a financial burden this lawsuit has been—Ananda Village, our founding community, had to go into Chapter 11 for a time, to gain some relief—our growth this decade has been astonishing.
There is room for everyone
Out of loyalty to Paramhansa Yogananda, Ananda has been reluctant all these years to publicize what SRF is doing. Now, out of that same loyalty, we feel we must speak up.
SRF should never have sued Ananda in the first place. This lawsuit, and the many other examples of SRF’s conduct described in this website, force us to ask the question, “Has SRF lost its way?”
Nonetheless, we are the first to admit that all disciples have a right to share the guru’s teachings as they understand them. We may think SRF is in error, but we would not interfere with their right as disciples to do as they think best. It is a big world. There is room for all of us.
“If this work be of God…..”
SRF has complete freedom to do whatever they want with Yogananda’s teachings and to make whatever claims they choose. They’ve always had this freedom. SRF didn’t have to sue Ananda to achieve it. And no matter what happens in this lawsuit, SRF will still have that same complete freedom.
What SRF is seeking, pure and simple, is not freedom for themselves, but the freedom to curtail the freedoms of others.
In the Bible, speaking of the persecution of the early Christians, Rabbi Gamaliel says, “Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught. But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”
Judge Garcia also put it bluntly, in a footnote to his May 14, 1997 ruling in favor of Ananda:
“Avarice has entered the equation. Since both parties espouse Yogananda’s teachings, it seems self-defeating to spend countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees enmeshed in a fight over property rights. Certainly time and money could be better spent working with instead of against each other, or working separately toward the same goal, to proclaim, as well as practice, the virtues and values of the religion.”