1962: A Step Back in Time — Swami Kriyananda’s Dismissal by SRF

Swamiji (back view, with beard) at SRF Lake Shrine. L-R: Rev. Bernard, Unknown, Dr. M. W. Lewis, Paramhansa Yogananda

In 1962, two of Swamiji’s sister-disciples, Daya Mata and Tara Mata, expelled him from Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), the organization Master founded, where Swamiji served for the first fourteen years of his discipleship. When I learned the story, almost a decade had passed since his expulsion, but the breach was far from healed. SRF’s opposition to Swamiji continued unabated.

He rarely talked about it in public, but many Sunday afternoons, SRF was a topic of conversation. Being expelled by his own gurubhais was a defining event in Swamiji’s life. To understand his story, you need to know what happened.

Swamiji was twenty-two in 1948 when he read Autobiography of a Yogi. He had dropped out of college to be a playwright, then gave up writing when he realized he had nothing meaningful to say. Soon after, walking alone on the beach, he had a revelation about the nature of God. This led him first to the Bhagavad Gita, then to Autobiography of a Yogi. Master was living in Los Angeles; Swamiji was in New York City. As soon as he finished reading the book, Swamiji took the bus to California. The first words he spoke to Master were, “I want to be your disciple.”

“As far back as I can remember,” Swamiji said, “from earliest childhood, I felt I was living in a world of my own, which no one else shared. When I read his book, I could see that Master and I were in the same world.” The day he met Master, and was initiated by him as a disciple, Swamiji moved into the monks’ quarters at Mount Washington, SRF’s main center in Los Angeles.

When Master went to his desert retreat to finish writing his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, he took Swamiji with him. “From the beginning, Master trained me to be a teacher,” Swamiji said. “When I was with him in the desert, he asked me to help him with the editing. Given my complete inexperience, he knew I wouldn’t be able to do much. But in making the effort, I had to read the whole manuscript of the Gita commentary very carefully.

“SRF had a four-year series of lessons, which all the members studied. Everybody else got one lesson a week; Master gave me the whole course at once. Then he made me the examiner for students taking the lessons. I had to review their quizzes and answer their questions. I was immersed in his teachings.”

Master ordained Swamiji as a minister, had him speak regularly in the SRF churches, authorized him to initiate others into Kriya Yoga, and, in 1950, put him in charge of the monks.

“You have a great work to do,” Master told Swamiji, a statement he repeated often, but only when they were alone. It was not a compliment—it was a sacred commission. “Your life will be one of intense activity and meditation,” Master said: writing, lecturing, editing.

For three years in a row, Master made plans to go to India and take Swamiji with him. Swamiji would travel around the country, giving lectures and stirring up interest in Master and his teachings. Each year, the trip was cancelled—the last time by Master’s Mahasamadhi (a great yogi’s final, conscious exit from the body) on March 7, 1952.

Master bestowed his spiritual mantle on his most advanced male disciple, James J. Lynn, whom he had christened Rajarshi Janakananda, after a well-known sage and king of ancient India. Rajarshi was a self-made millionaire. He appreciated Swamiji’s expansive, creative energy and supported his ideas for improving SRF’s service to the public.

Alas, within a year, Rajarshi was ill with a brain tumor. In 1955, he died. Master had given no instructions about who should be president after Rajarshi. It was left to the Board of Directors to decide. Out of respect for their seniority in the work, the position was first offered to Durga Mata, then to Tara Mata. Both declined: Durga for reasons of health, Tara because she had to work on editing Master’s writings. Also, she was unsuited for the role, being a hermit by nature. She didn’t even live at Mount Washington, but in a house nearby. Most of her interactions with people were over the telephone.

The Board then chose Daya Mata. She was not a minister or a teacher; she ran the office at Mount Washington. She was very close to Master and the monastics knew her to be a great disciple. But she was not well known to the members. Swamiji said, “She was the only possible choice,” but many of the church members thought other, better-known candidates were more qualified. When the decision was announced, not everyone was pleased.

Daya Mata had grown up as a Mormon in Utah. In 1932, when she was seventeen, she became a nun at Mount Washington, where she had lived ever since. Soon her mother, sister, (Ananda Mata), and brother (Richard Wright) also joined. Richard went with Master to India in 1936, and is mentioned in Autobiography of a Yogi. Later he left the work.

Daya Mata was overwhelmed by the sudden responsibility. Those at the center of SRF deemed it essential to rally round and support her. Swamiji often said,  “As things begin, so they continue.” Gradually, “supporting Daya Mata” became so integral to the SRF culture, that no one dared question her decisions.

The only exception was Tara Mata, who decided Daya Mata couldn’t be trusted to run SRF on her own. Tara abandoned her editing duties, and, even though Daya Mata remained president, Tara behaved as if she were the one in charge. Master had told Daya, “Keep Tara away from people.” But the force of her personality was more than Daya could control. Swamiji said, “For those of you who never met Tara, you simply cannot imagine the power of her will!”

Swamiji had great respect for Tara Mata’s intelligence, dedication, and will power. “In many ways,” he said, “she was a genius. But I knew a clash was inevitable. We had diametrically opposed ideas about Master’s work.”

The purpose of SRF, as Swamiji saw it, was to serve and inspire. The guiding principle should be, “How can we help people?” He wanted SRF to share Master’s teachings with everyone who would listen.

Tara Mata saw people as a threat to Master’s work, diluting the teachings with their shallow understanding. The purpose of SRF was to protect the teachings from the polluting influence of the world. Her guiding principle was, “In every situation, think first, ‘What is best for the organization?’”

Swamiji’s relationship with Daya Mata was of the heart. She was his spiritual sister. He felt closer to her than anyone else in the world. He soon became her right-hand man, hoping with his expansive energy to balance Tara Mata’s contractive influence. It was an uphill battle. All the main SRF leaders were women. Many had become nuns at a young age; most had never traveled or gone to college. Several, like Daya and her sister, had been raised Mormon.

Swamiji was American, but because of his father’s work as an oil geologist for Esso, he was born in Rumania and raised in Europe. By the age of ten, he spoke four languages and had crossed the Atlantic six times. He was gifted in writing and music, and attended school in three countries, including two, top-tier, American colleges.

Swamiji described himself as sitting on a volcano of creative ideas—almost none of which were accepted by the women. “Why doesn’t he just wait until we tell him what to do?” It was equally frustrating for Swamiji to have his ideas rejected and his work undermined. But he was a fully professed monk, dedicated to serving Master. SRF was the vehicle through which it had to be done, so “I resigned myself to living with ulcers,” he said.

One of Master’s original Aims and Ideals of Self-Realization Fellowship was to start spiritual communities, not only for monks and nuns, but also for couples and families who wanted to dedicate their lives to God. Swamiji, too, was interested in communities and was thrilled to learn that his Guru had the same idea.

When World War II began, Swamiji was a teenager, living in Europe. He had traveled in Germany, was fluent in the language, and knew many Germans who were good people. He was heartsick at the hatred and violence he saw growing around him. Perhaps, he thought, like-minded people from all countries could band together in small, cooperative communities, creating an ideal life for themselves and setting an example for others. At the age of fifteen, he actually tried to start such a community—but when his friends realized he was serious, they lost interest.

A few years after his Guru’s passing, Swamiji asked Daya Mata, “When are we going to start the communities Master wanted?” She replied, “Frankly, I’m not interested.”

Two of the Gurus in our line, and several of Master’s most advanced disciples, were, or had been, married. Many of the SRF center leaders, and the majority of church members were married. But Daya Mata was the president of SRF, and her preference for the monastic life gradually came to define SRF itself. Eventually the Aims and Ideals were amended accordingly; all references to spiritual communities were removed.

In the first edition of Autobiography of a Yogi, Master gives householders superior status. “To fulfill one’s earthly responsibilities is indeed the higher path,” he wrote, “provided the yogi, maintaining a mental uninvolvement with egotistical desires, plays his part as a willing instrument of God.” When the monastics tried to assert their authority over the householder members, this passage was a problem. So Tara Mata rewrote it to say, “Fulfilling one’s earthly responsibilities need not separate man from God. . .” In subsequent editions, her words are presented as Master’s own.

Daya Mata was also president of Yogoda Satsanga Society (YSS), the Indian branch of SRF. In 1958, when she went to India for the first time, she took with her Ananda Mata, one other nun, and Swamiji—because Master had planned to take him there. The nuns would return after one year; Swamiji would stay on as SRF’s representative.

“It was a relief to get away from Mount Washington,” he later admitted. “It no longer felt like home. Master had said, ‘Don’t make too many rules, it destroys the spirit.’ Now rules had become a way of life. Every week, new ones appeared on the bulletin board.”

When Daya Mata arrived in India, she was dismayed to see how little YSS had accomplished. In Kolkata, where YSS had its headquarters, twelve people came to the Sunday service—which was mostly Hindu rituals and commentary on the scriptures. Even those in charge showed little understanding of Master’s teachings.

When it was time for Daya Mata to go back to the United States, Swamiji obtained her permission to go to New Delhi to see what he could accomplish there. Astonishing success came almost immediately. Kishan, an Indian friend from that time said, “Thousands of people came to Swamiji’s weekly discourses. He was still a young man but already it was obvious that he was a great soul. Very few are so devoted to their Guru and so in love with the Almighty. We spent as much time with Swamiji as we could. He was a Christ-like figure.”

In India, Swamiji learned more about Sanaatan Dharma, the ancient tradition behind what Master taught. Usually translated as the Eternal Religion, Sanaatan Dharma also means That Which Is. When Swamiji asked Master, “Are your teachings a new religion?” he replied, “It is a new expression.”

All true masters teach Sanaatan Dharma. Apparent differences are only because each teaches in the way appropriate for the time and place of his incarnation. Or later generations of disciples reduce the Guru’s teachings to what they are capable of understanding. This is how Christianity, Master said, gradually became Churchianity.

Swamiji realized that SRF was following Daya Mata’s interpretation of Master’s teachings, not the new expression he intended. “India ruined you,” she said to Swamiji. In a sense she was right, for India gave credence to intuitions and doubts that he had suppressed during his years at Mount Washington, out of loyalty and monastic obedience.

In 1960, Dr. Lewis died. He was Master’s first disciple in the United States, vice-president of SRF, and on the Board of Directors. Swamiji was called back to Los Angeles and given both of the positions Dr. Lewis had held. “They were kicking me upstairs,” Swamiji said later, thinking they could control his behavior better if they kept him “inside the tent.”

While he was at Mount Washington, Swamiji talked with Daya Mata about his hope to build a temple in New Delhi, dedicated to Master. “The whole country looks to their capital,” he said. “If Master becomes well known there, it will influence all of India, cutting years off our efforts to build the work everywhere.” She agreed, and gave him permission to proceed.

Land use in New Delhi was strictly controlled by the government; Prime Minister Nehru himself had the final say. Ashrams had the lowest priority. Seventeen hundred societies had tried to get land in New Delhi, and all had failed. Swamiji alone succeeded. It was a miracle.

He hadn’t kept SRF abreast of his progress, because there was no progress to report. The situation seemed hopeless—until the moment when Nehru said, “Yes.” In jubilation, Swamiji now wrote a full report. The response was a phone call from Tara Mata. Shouting over the static of the long distance connection, she had to repeat herself several times before Swamiji understood her words: “WE DO NOT WANT THAT PROPERTY!”

Swamiji replied simply, “If you don’t want it, we won’t take it.”

Tara Mata had used Swamiji’s absence to strengthen her own position. In her mind, it was no longer just different points of view about the direction of Master’s work. She now distrusted Swamiji’s motives. He was trying take the work in India away from SRF, she declared, and set himself up as the new Guru. He posed a serious threat to the future of Master’s work.

Tara Mata practiced astrology, even though Master had told her to give it up. On the basis of Swamiji’s horoscope, she insisted, “We have to get rid of him now. In fifteen years he will be strong enough to divide the work.” Swamiji had acted with Daya Mata’s permission, but instead of defending him, Daya remained silent—allowing the Board of Directors to conclude that he had acted secretly, all on his own.

In July 1962, Swamiji was summoned to New York City. “Why New York,” he thought, “three thousand miles from Los Angeles?” Tara Mata and Daya Mata came to meet him. The next morning, Tara pushed a thirty-page letter under the door of his hotel room: Swamiji was expelled from SRF and forbidden to set foot on any SRF property or to contact any SRF member. Accusations of having the basest of motives were followed by a long list of his vile qualities.

“Tara Mata never did anything by halfway measures,” Swamiji said in a tone evenly divided between admiration and exasperation.

For two hours, Swamiji met alone with the two women, kneeling before them, arms crossed over his heart, virtually in silence. There was nothing to say against the tirade launched against him.

When Swamiji told us this story, it was obvious how painful the memory was for him. Still, he was able to say, “I needed to be free to do the work Master intended for me. I never would have left on my own; I’m too loyal. Nothing less drastic would have worked.”

The next day, the two women returned to Los Angeles, leaving Swamiji alone in New York with $1500 to start a new life. By divine coincidence, his parents had just arrived in the city, after a holiday in Europe. In a few days, they were driving back to their home in Atherton, California, just south of San Francisco. Swamiji rode with them then moved into their spare bedroom. “I lay on my bed and prayed to die,” he said.

Swamiji resolved to spend the rest of his life in seclusion. Outside of Christian monasteries, though, there is no tradition in the United States to support a hermit’s life. It might have been possible in India, but SRF had told the Indian government that Swamiji was a CIA agent and a Christian missionary in disguise. As a result, they refused to issue him a visa, so India was not an option.

“Without SRF’s name and money,” Swamiji said, “They assumed I would never accomplish anything.” Gradually, though, he was drawn back into serving Master in a public way—in Northern California, just a few hundred miles from Mount Washington. “Practically at our back door,” Daya Mata said in dismay.

Only the two women knew the circumstances of his dismissal. It was unconscionable that a fully professed monk would be dismissed without a hearing or a chance to do penance. They couldn’t reveal the facts, so they defended themselves with innuendo. “If you only knew!” implying that their reticence was to protect Swamiji’s reputation rather than their own. In the absence of facts, people imagined the worst. A whisper campaign began that soon gained a life of its own. If anyone inquired, SRF made it clear that Swamiji was not a true disciple, but an interloper, using the name of Master for his own ends.

SRF had declared itself the sole, authorized channel for the dissemination of Master’s teachings. Daya Mata, as president, was his sole, authorized representative. All of this, they said, was according to “the blueprint Master left in the ether” to guide his work.

Tara Mata said, “No one in the organization has a right even to think except for the Board of Directors.” When Swamiji, who at the time was a member of the Board, disagreed with one of their decisions, Daya Mata said, “The Board feels differently. Don’t you think you ought to go along with the Board?” further narrowing the definition of who had a right to think.

Swamiji followed the Indian tradition in which every disciple has not only a right, but a duty to serve his Guru according to his own inner guidance. No single disciple could ever encompass the whole of a guru’s teachings, especially that of a world-changing avatar like Master.

No matter how SRF felt about him, Swamiji was committed to reconciliation. “The one thing I was not willing to do, though, was nothing. My life was dedicated to serving Master.” He carefully chose ways to serve that would complement, rather than compete, with SRF. He made it a requirement that every Ananda member also be a member of SRF. He went so far as to describe Ananda as, “the secular branch of Master’s work; SRF is our church.”

Daya Mata rarely appeared in public, and when she did, it was carefully staged. Even within SRF, access to her was controlled. She never spoke about the separation, and wanted Swamiji to do the same.

But his life was completely different. He taught many public classes, and within the Ananda community, mixed freely with residents and guests.

He didn’t bring up the separation, but if he was asked a direct question, it would have been rude to refuse to answer; it wasn’t in his nature to treat people that way. And if someone wanted to move to Ananda, but hesitated because of SRF’s condemnation, Swamiji felt they had a right to know why SRF felt that way. He was always scrupulously fair. Avoiding unnecessary details, he described the simple facts in a calm, impartial way. If others became indignant on his behalf, he tried to calm their feelings. “You don’t know the SRF leaders the way I do. They are great souls.”

I didn’t know why Swamiji even cared about SRF. “We get along fine without them,” I told him. “SRF is irrelevant.”

“I’m not thinking of the present,” Swamiji said. “I’m thinking of the ages. Christianity didn’t divide until three hundred years after Jesus died, and look at the horrors that resulted from that. Master’s work is in danger of splitting in the first generation. As his disciple, I must do everything in my power to keep that from happening.”