Reputation-Destroying Lawsuit Against Swami Kriyananda
Was SRF Involved?
SRF filed its lawsuit against Ananda in 1990 in order to strengthen its control over Yogananda’s mission. It didn’t work. By 1994, SRF saw control slipping away. Instead of enforcing SRF’s trademarks on “Self-Realization” and “Paramhansa Yogananda,” the court canceled them.
There was still one way for SRF to have the benefit of trademarks without actually owning them. If the public were confused as to the relationship between SRF and Ananda, and if such confusion in some way “tarnished” SRF’s reputation, then the court could order Ananda to cease doing anything that might add to the confusion. At the top of the list would be Ananda’s use of the term “Self-Realization” and the name “Paramhansa Yogananda.”
Ananda knew that “tarnishment” was the only option SRF had left. Sooner or later we assumed they would try to prove it.
A consensual love affair with a married man
While living at Ananda Village in 1993, Anne-Marie Bertolucci, a single woman, had a consensual affair with Danny Levin, a married man with an autistic daughter. Both Bertolucci and Danny counseled with Swami Kriyananda about their relationship. He encouraged them strongly to break it off, but did not insist they break it off until Danny himself had decided he definitely wanted to stay with his wife and child. When Bertolucci refused to agree to give Danny up, Kriyananda told her she would have to move to another Ananda community.
Bertolucci appeared cooperative, but inside she was furious. She lived at the Ananda Community in Palo Alto for a few months, then left Ananda altogether. By then she had connected with a couple who had lived at Ananda Village a decade earlier, but were now staunch SRF members. For this couple, criticizing Swami Kriyananda and Ananda seems to be a kind of holy crusade.
Escorted by this couple, Bertolucci went to SRF headquarters in Southern California where she was given the red carpet treatment—lunch with Daya Mata, meditation time in Yogananda’s rooms, meetings with SRF board members and senior monastics, including Uma Mata, Mukti Mata, Brother Anandamoy, and Sister Savitri.
Now she says its sexual harassment
A few weeks later, again with the help of this couple, Bertolucci filed a lawsuit against Danny Levin, Ananda, and Swami Kriyananda. Her consensual love affair had now become sexual harassment, made possible, she claimed, by the cult-like brainwashing she had been subjected to ever since she got involved with Ananda. She named both devotional chanting and Yogananda’s meditation techniques as key elements in the alleged brainwashing process.
SRF’s role in the Bertolucci lawsuit
SRF’s fingerprints were all over the Bertolucci lawsuit. SRF members even acted as process servers and legal assistants. Bertolucci started with just the one attorney the couple found for her. Soon after, however, another firm joined, Flynn, Sheridan, and Tabb. Michael Flynn soon became the lead attorney. According to an SRF board member, Flynn has had a long association with SRF, starting years before the Bertolucci lawsuit.
In an article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, February 9, 1998, Flynn is quoted as saying, “I believe in spirituality and God when it is practiced correctly.” Apparently Ananda does not fall within what Flynn considers the correct practice of religion. It soon became clear that Flynn’s true objective was to destroy the reputation of Swami Kriyananda. Bertolucci’s accusations, formerly focused on Danny Levin, now shifted more and more to Swami Kriyananda and Ananda as a whole.
Meanwhile, back at the SRF lawsuit
A few months later, in its lawsuit against Ananda, SRF asked the judge to consider whether SRF was already being “tarnished” by association with Ananda. The Bertolucci lawsuit had been filed, SRF said, and was being reported in the newspapers.
Ananda responded by accusing SRF of having “unclean hands” in the matter. SRF could not both create the tarnishment and then benefit from it. Ananda demanded to take the deposition of Daya Mata to explore SRF’s involvement in the Bertolucci lawsuit. Ananda based its case on the following facts:
(1) Just weeks before she filed her lawsuit, Bertolucci was escorted to SRF headquarters by long-time SRF members, where met with Daya Mata and other SRF board members.
(2) SRF members helped instigate the lawsuit by supporting and encouraging Bertolucci and helping her find an attorney to take her case.
(3) Additional accusations against Swami Kriyananda were brought by SRF members or followers.
(4) Bertolucci’s attorney Michael Flynn, brought Paul Friedman, a major SRF donor with close ties to Daya Mata, to Kriyananda’s sealed deposition, under the false pretense that Friedman was a paralegal with Flynn’s firm.
(5) Shortly after that deposition, SRF transferred to Paul Friedman an apparently valuable piece of land for $1 and “other considerations.”
(6) Friedman boasted to a new Ananda member that he had attended Kriyananda’s deposition, and that even though most SRF members did not know anything about the Bertolucci lawsuit, Friedman did because he was so well-connected with people at the higher levels of SRF, and knew Daya Mata well.
Judge orders Daya Mata to answer questions
SRF put up a vigorous fight. But Magistrate Judge Nowinski ruled in Ananda’s favor and ordered Daya Mata to appear for a deposition. The judge said, “By asserting its imaginary ‘litigation privilege’ [as a reason why the deposition of Daya Mata should not be taken] plaintiff [SRF] has effectively admitted it has some connection with the Bertolucci litigation worth hiding and that is enough basis to allow [Ananda] to proceed.”
Ananda tried to schedule Daya Mata’s deposition. SRF absolutely refused to cooperate, even though the court had ordered Daya Mata to have her deposition taken. Finally, after six months of futile effort, Ananda filed another motion, asking Magistrate Judge Nowinsky to enforce the order he had previously issued that Daya Mata had to appear for a deposition.
Daya Mata avoids answering questions
At this point, Daya Mata accepted Kriyananda’s suggestion that both sides sit down together and try to settle the case.
A meeting was set for June 12,1997, at the Doubletree Hotel in Pasadena. The whole SRF board of directors was there to meet with Swami Kriyananda and Ananda leaders.
Daya Mata appeared to have had a complete change of heart. “No more lawsuits!” Daya Mata emphatically declared. Kriyananda and the Ananda leaders were treated by SRF with unprecedented consideration and respect. All over the world, Ananda members cheered when they heard the news. A new era of harmony and cooperation had begun—or so we thought.
One of the first concessions Daya Mata asked was that Ananda not take her deposition. As a gesture of goodwill, we agreed.
A few months later, settlement broke down when once again it became clear that SRF and Ananda had radically different ideas of what settlement meant. SRF resumed it’s former attitude toward Ananda. And the window of opportunity to take Daya Mata’s deposition had passed and could not be opened again.
Meanwhile, back at the Bertolucci lawsuit
In November, 1997, the Bertolucci trial began. It was a mockery of justice and the verdict went against Ananda and Swami Kriyananda. Informed observers were stunned by the courtroom proceedings, and strongly felt the verdict should easily be overturned on appeal. But Ananda had run out of resources to continue the fight.
To put further pressure on Ananda, even before the Bertolucci trial was over, Flynn filed two new lawsuits against Ananda, Kriyananda, a number of Ananda members, several Ananda communities, and bookstores; even Ananda’s attorneys were named.
The SRF lawsuit was inactive for the moment, waiting for the Appeals Court to make a decision. But with Flynn’s new lawsuits, there was no break in the legal pressure on Ananda.
Finally, Ananda Village, the largest and oldest of the Ananda communities, had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, just to get a break from the litigation. Bertolucci was a major creditor because of the verdict she had won, so Flynn was actively engaged in the bankruptcy proceedings as well.
Kriyananda’s life work threatened
In bankruptcy court, Flynn adopted a strategy to try to force the sale of the copyrights to Swami Kriyananda’s books.
Kriyananda has written some seventy books which have been translated into twenty-two languages. His gift is to show how Yogananda’s teachings can be applied to all areas of life—work, marriage, money management, creativity, education, leadership, to name just a few. Kriyananda’s writing is defining the future of Yogananda’s mission. Still, Self-realization is not yet a mass movement. Kriyananda’s books are the foundation of Ananda’s work, but their significance is more spiritual than financial.
So when Flynn announced to the bankruptcy judge that he had an anonymous buyer for all of Kriyananda’s copyrights, willing to pay several times their market value, it was self-evident to Ananda that the buyer had to be SRF or someone acting on their behalf. Certainly the buyer wasn’t planning to publish the books. The obvious intent was to bury them.
But the bankruptcy judge had the power to force Ananda to sell the copyrights in order to get money to pay it’s debts, no matter what might happen to the books afterward.
Ananda had to agree
Bertolucci’s lawyers then offered a global settlement. Ananda could pay a huge sum of money to resolve all the issues. It would take years to pay it off, but then the whole thing would then be over.
It was odious to accept what amounted to legalized extortion. But Swami Kriyananda’s life work was at stake and neither Ananda, nor Kriyananda himself, had the resources to protect it. Ananda had to accept the settlement terms. Shortly after, Ananda Village emerged from Chapter 11.
On March 23, 2000, the Appeals Court made a decision that reactivated the SRF lawsuit, which brings us to the present day.
A blessing for Ananda
All of this may sound like a rather grim tale, and on one level it is. But on another level, it has been the best thing that ever happened to Ananda. The more SRF and its minions have tried to take away Ananda’s right to serve our guru, the more dynamic and steadfast we have become in that service.
The way SRF has behaved makes it crystal clear that Ananda has a vital role to play in Yogananda’s divine mission. Clearly the job can’t be left to SRF! Yogananda is depending on Ananda.
Swami Kriyananda told Daya Mata, “The more you assert untruth about Ananda, the more truth has to come out somewhere.” Maybe this explains why, despite the enormous financial burden of these lawsuits, this has been the most expansive and successful decade in Ananda’s history. All six of Ananda’s branch communities and churches have been established since SRF started suing Ananda.
All over the world now, Swami Kriyananda is recognized as one of the foremost disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda. Ananda, clearly, is one aspect of the “great work” Yogananda predicted Kriyananda would do.
Just about the only group of people who have nothing good to say about Ananda and Swami Kriyananda are SRF’s leaders and those they influence.
“Lila” is a Sanskrit word which means “the play of God.”
Looking at this drama from a divine perspective all one can say is, “What a wonderful lila! Who can fathom the ways of the Lord?”