1990: Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) Files a Massive Lawsuit Against Ananda

The members of the choir of Ananda Europa come from many countries; here they sing before the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

For every important decision, Swamiji relied on intuitive guidance from Master. But he never presumed, especially when a decision would affect not only him, but all of Ananda. Any new idea he would usually discuss first with a small group of leaders. If they confirmed his intuition, and the consensus was to go forward, then he would introduce the idea to a larger group, or to the whole community.

Even then, he never presented his ideas as a fait accompli, but carefully explained what he was thinking and why, then invited everyone to comment. Having a few key leaders aware of what he intended, and giving them time in advance thoughtfully to consider new ideas, made for better discussions. Swamiji was strong-minded, but also open-minded, easily changing direction when presented with new information, or after seeing how others responded.

There were now 140 members of the Yoga Fellowship. Legally, the name had changed, but within Ananda that is what we still called it. At the January meeting, ninety-nine were present. Swamiji said, “We don’t have a lot to go over today, but what we do have to discuss is important: a new name for the Fellowship. A few years ago, in order to reach out to the churches, we became the Fellowship of Inner Communion. But that name was never quite right. We want to go beyond communion to a state of union with God. Yoga Fellowship was better—yoga means union—but now more is needed.

“Because we have defined ourselves as a community, people support us in doing something they consider worthwhile. But the fact that we live in community is hardly central to their lives. Besides, with centers now in Sacramento, Portland, and Seattle, and communities forming in Palo Alto and Assisi, we have become more than just a social experiment.

“Ananda is known as a place, but it is not one place, or even many places. Ananda is a pathway to God. Community is only an example of what we are doing. It is not the definition of it.

“Even many who practice Kriya think of it only as a technique. People need to understand that this is their religion; that wherever they live, we are all equally members together, meditating and living for God.

“Master had a name for this religion: Self-Realization. As his disciples, it is the name we, too, should use. I suggest we call ourselves Church of Self-Realization.

“Some have raised the obvious question: Is this too close to the name Self-Realization Fellowship? In America, many churches have similar names for the same reason we would: We follow the same path and have the same beliefs. A similar name to SRF will affirm our unity with them, rather than emphasizing our differences.

“If we continue to call ourselves Ananda, with its association as a community, we do people a disservice. They will think, ‘Unless I’m ready to join your community, I can’t be on your path.’ As Church of Self-Realization, people will see they can be members wherever they live.”

Someone asked, “Why not call ourselves Ananda Church of Self-Realization? Then we would have both the place and the religion.”

Swamiji said, “Ananda means bliss, and, in that sense, is a definition of God. It is appropriate, but cumbersome.” He didn’t say more, but it was clear he did not favor the idea. Later he said, “Adding Ananda to Master’s idea of Self-Realization would increase the distance between us and SRF. I would rather present us as two branches of the same tree.”

In the past, though, whenever we tried to de-emphasize Ananda as our name, it always asserted itself eventually. So those who favored it, didn’t insist. They assumed the same thing would happen again.

Finally came the question on everyone’s mind, “If we change our name, will SRF sue us?” A few times in the past SRF had threatened to sue, but had never followed through.

“I don’t think they would have a case,” Swamiji said. “Many churches in America have similar names. But we’ll have to look into it.” Regardless of how SRF responded, Swamiji felt it wasn’t right for “Ananda to remain stooped over so SRF would look taller. Our own ministers need to become deeper in their understanding of Ananda’s role in Master’s mission.”

There was a long—and lively!—discussion, eventually resolving into a clear consensus: We would change our name to Church of Self-Realization.

This was more than just a different name for the Yoga Fellowship. It was a whole new concept. The Fellowship was an exclusive group; the whole point of the church was that it would be open to everyone. The role of senior council for Ananda would now be filled by the Life Members of the Monastic Order.

When it was time to choose a theme for the year, we all agreed that we’d taken “The greater the will, the greater the flow of energy” as far as we wanted to go! Amid a great deal of laughter, we decided to concentrate on something else.

Swamiji suggested, “I am center everywhere, circumference nowhere. I seek God at my own center in myself.” Plus Master’s words, “Self-realization is the knowing in all parts of body, mind, and soul that I am now in possession of the kingdom of God; that I do not have to pray that it come to me; that God’s omnipresence is my omnipresence, and that all I need to do is improve my knowing.”

Swamiji then brought up the issue of coming hard times. His every prediction that “this is the year” had proved false, so some people no longer took the threat seriously—even though everyone had heard Swamiji’s powerful imitation of Master thundering, “You don’t know what a TERRIBLE CATACLYSM is coming!”

“If you had been there,” Swamiji said, “you wouldn’t doubt.”

Around the world, people were jubilant that the cold war had just ended. Swamiji was less optimistic. “Russia’s new way of relating seems too good to be true. People with power don’t just give it up. It is hardly credible, after decades of negative energy, suddenly to say, ‘Pardon me, I guess we made a mistake.’ Karma doesn’t work that way. I think the world is poised on the edge of a precipice.

“But I don’t want to talk politics. That’s not the point. The question is, how should we relate to what is going on? Ever since the fire, we have been putting out energy to build the community and become financially stable. Things are going well. But what has it cost us in terms of peace of mind?

“When you live in a country, you tend to get caught up in the dominant energy there. When you cross the border from Mexico into the United States, you immediately feel the change in vibration. When I lived in Scarsdale and would visit New York City, I resolved every time to walk at a normal pace, instead of rushing down the sidewalk as everyone else did. But five minutes after I reached Fifth Avenue, I would be running along with all the others. Where we were going in such a hurry, I didn’t know!

“Once momentum gets going it is hard to stop. People follow the line of least resistance, which is usually whatever direction is already set. To an extent, that has happened even here at Ananda. America is a very materialistic country, inclined to accumulate debt. What is the biggest problem at Ananda? Debt. If we didn’t have debt, we wouldn’t have to work so hard to keep up.

“But we’ve had no choice. We couldn’t stay a teepee village. We can’t go back to primitive living. No one would be inspired by that example. We need to build the community, and the Retreat, and we need to make it all beautiful—but in such a way that it doesn’t take us away from our center. No matter how busy we are, we need to be able, always, to withdraw into our own center of calmness.

“The day will come when we can set an example for this country, not of primitive but of simple living. There was a time when almost no one here had a car. To go from place to place in the community, we walked. Now everyone has a car; some have more than one. And as long as we have cars, we’ll drive them. But if hard times come, I think we’ll all happily go back to walking. We are not attached to what we have.

“The country as a whole has lost touch with its own center. People’s attention is focused outside themselves. Let us set a different example. One deep meditator can affect a whole nation.”

***

After the meeting, Swamiji and Rosanna went on the road again, first to Southern California, where a conference with several new age teachers drew almost three thousand people; then to Seattle, to give programs for our center there. In February, they went into seclusion. Rosanna stayed at the Hermitage; Swamiji went to the same house where he wrote the Oratorio, now a guest house for Crystal Hermitage.

As early as 1960, Swamiji had tried to make a book of collected sayings of Master. The only way he could think to present them was in random order, the way the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna had published his words. Ramakrishna was a famous Indian avatar who died a few years before Master was born.

“The role of the disciple is to present the teachings the way the Guru himself would do it,” Swamiji said. “A random series of Master’s sayings felt like having him pop out from behind a screen, deliver a line or two, then hastily disappear again.” In creative matters, Swamiji said, one needs to be original, meaning “to act from one’s point of origin in God.” Master was “original, not imitative. If I had to borrow from what others had done, I knew I wasn’t ready to write the book.”

Years later, he wrote The Path, which included hundreds of stories and sayings of Master, but he still had enough left for at least one more volume, perhaps two. In the thirteen years since The Path, Swamiji had written dozens of books, but hadn’t felt the time was right for another book of Master’s words. Now a title had come to him: The Essence of Self-Realization: The Wisdom of Paramhansa Yogananda; and the format: a full chapter on each subject, giving Master’s essential teachings on that point. This book could help expand the definition of Ananda, from a community to a full expression of Master’s ray.

Whenever possible when he was with Master, Swamiji took notes of what he said. Sometimes in the middle of a conversation, Master would stop and say to him, “Write that down! I’ve never said that before.” Swamiji didn’t know shorthand; sometimes it was impossible to keep up, or even to take notes at all. But Swamiji found that Master had gifted him with the ability to remember afterward exactly what he had said. “I could hear his voice speaking the words in my mind.”

Even though he had “stacks of notes,” Swamiji thought he would have to write a lot of commentary to tie Master’s ideas together, or to fill in where essential ideas were missing. But when he started writing, “Whenever I needed more than my notes could provide, I had the same experience as forty years ago. When I meditated, tuned into Master, and asked him to tell me what I needed to know, I would hear his voice—not as a memory, but in the moment.

“I wrote straight through from the beginning to the end of the book without even an outline. It came so quickly, as if Master were dictating the book to me. Sometimes I missed a point, or he spoke so fast that I couldn’t keep up with him, so I would say, ‘Master, please repeat that,’ and he would.

“Usually I write on a computer. It is easier to maintain the flow of inspiration when I can write quickly. Soon after I started this book, there was a huge snowstorm, and for a long time I was without electricity. Crystal Hermitage has a generator, but at the guest house there was nothing. So I sat on the couch and wrote longhand. It turned out to be a great blessing. In complete silence it was easier to hear Master’s voice.

“I was careful not to over-edit, the way SRF does. They tone Master down, taking out all the color and humor, so as not to offend anyone, or cause even a ripple in anyone’s mind. How can a great man, what to speak of an avatar, not cause ripples? He came to start a spiritual revolution!

“They try so hard to make his meaning exact that it no longer sounds like him. For example, Master said, ‘To the dreamer, the dream is real as a dream.’ It was edited to read, ‘The dreamer is not conscious of the hallucinatory nature of the dream.’ No one talks like that! Least of all Master.

“They present him in the way they think he ought to be presented. In explaining the vision of a certain saint who appeared to him at Encinitas, Master said, ‘Where God is, His saints come.’ I myself submitted that particular quote, but they couldn’t accept that he could speak so impersonally. They thought it made Master sound egotistical, so they edited it to say, ‘Where a devotee of God is, His saints come.’ But that isn’t what he said.

“This book, The Essence of Self-Realization, sounds like Master, just the way it was to be with him.”

***

On January 17, we officially changed our name to Church of Self-Realization. On February 12, we received a special delivery letter from SRF’s lawyers, threatening legal action if we didn’t cease and desist within fifteen days. They put the whole thing in business terms: exclusive rights to a trade name, unfair competition, trading on the goodwill and reputation of another, dilution, disparagement, and bad faith because we knew SRF was already using a similar name. Swamiji was in seclusion and we were reluctant to disturb him, but the letter was addressed to him and he needed to know.

“At first,” he said, “I felt the same nervousness and anguish I’ve always felt in their constant animosity. Then I thought of Master and felt complete peace. It was lovely to receive such a letter from them and feel only kindly in return. We have Master’s blessings. We know that. Nothing else matters.”

Ananda’s need for legal help was so infrequent, we had no established relationship with any lawyer. Recently, though, in Palo Alto, a group of friendly investors had purchased an apartment complex that they then leased to Ananda to use as a community. It was a complicated transaction, and we had hired a local attorney, Jon Parsons, to help sort it out. Perhaps he could also help us with SRF.

“Jon is a good man, absolutely honest,” we told Swamiji. “He is intelligent, capable, and has both imagination and sensitivity. He understood not only the facts, but also the spirit behind what we are doing. And he is lots of fun—a quick wit and a great sense of humor.”

Swamiji talked to him on the phone and had the same positive impression. Jon’s first specialty was tenant-landlord issues; his second was trademarks, copyright, and corporate names. SRF was represented by one of the largest law firms in the world with a reputation for no holds barred legal practice. Jon was a sole practitioner without even a full-time secretary.

As Jon described it later, “I got a call from this kindly man who said, ‘We have a little problem over the name of our church.’ Seemed simple enough. ‘Sure,’ I said, ‘I can help you.’ I had no idea what I was getting into!”

***

We had hoped to dedicate the Temple of Divine Inspiration at Spiritual Renewal Week. Rosanna’s design, however, was so unusual, we didn’t know how to build it. Even to get it engineered to California specifications proved a challenge. Eventually a professor of architecture agreed to help us draw up plans and choose materials. There was no chance it would be done by August. Available funds and energy were directed toward a new guest building, which could be finished in time.

In March, Swamiji was able to buy new, high quality, video equipment. The first recording he did was of the Oratorio, illustrated with his photographs. Then he started recording courses on a variety of subjects, including Kriya, meditation, leadership, actualizing your ideas, overcoming negative emotions, and secrets of inner peace.

He spoke at the Whole Life Expo in San Francisco and the booksellers convention in Las Vegas. With Rosanna, he led a pilgrimage to Italy, and celebrated Easter there. In between, he finished editing The Essence of Self-Realization and recorded it as an audio book. And he helped Jon Parsons answer SRF’s legal threats.

Even though there had been several exchanges of letters with SRF’s lawyers, Swamiji thought it was nothing more than saber-rattling and saw no point in involving everyone. Only a few leaders knew about the letters. At the end of June, there was a special Kriya weekend at the Village, and afterward a meeting of the Life Members. We hadn’t heard from SRF in a while; it seemed the whole thing had blown over. At the meeting on June 25, Swamiji decided to bring everyone up to date.

The meeting began with an initiation of new Life Members. “In the Ananda Monastic Order we are following the tradition of Lahiri Mahasaya, the ancient Order of the Essenes, and the great rishis (saints and sages) of times past, in making no distinction between being married or single. Lifestyle is not the defining factor; it is the inner spirit of renunciation. We live in community, but our lives are centered in God. We could give up the Village and everything in it, but we could never give up God.”

Swamiji led the new members through the Life Vow, which includes these words of absolute commitment: “Henceforth, I relinquish all sense of I and mine. I offer all that I own and all that I am at the feet of Infinity. I dedicate myself to finding Thee, my God, and to serving Thee in a spirit of love through my fellow man.”

Then came the only item on the agenda: the correspondence with SRF starting with their cease and desist letter of February 9. Jon Parson’s answer a month later laid out our essential points:

This is a religious, not a legal question and is not amenable to solution by formalistic legal principles.

Swami Kriyananda is a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda and was, for many years, a member of SRF, serving as vice-president and a member of the Board of Directors. Self- Realization Fellowship eventually terminated his relationship with their organization, but Kriyananda never rejected the teachings and philosophy of his Guru. He has expressed those teachings outside of SRF and in a different manner, but he has done so legitimately, both as a direct disciple and as one who has made his position clear with respect to SRF.

Kriyananda is not an interloper seeking profits by trading on SRF’s name; he is a sincere and faithful disciple.

Most important, from the legal perspective, the term Self-realization is generic, and cannot be owned by any one group or individual. Self-realization is widely accepted as the goal of Hinduism and has been used in countless books, ancient and modern. Yogananda used it, not only for the name of his organization, but to describe the spiritual path he taught, his new expression of religion.

It is comparable to Martin Luther and the Catholic Church. Both followed the teachings of Jesus; both called themselves Christians. Self-realization is the religion of Yogananda’s disciples, just as Christianity is for those who follow Jesus. Not only is it appropriate for all of Yogananda’s disciples to use the term, it would be unfaithful to the Guru not to. Ananda’s use of Self-realization is an act of devotion to Yogananda, not a hostile act toward SRF.

It is established practice for reform groups within a church to maintain the original name with only minor variations, to affirm their commitment on a spiritual level, but their separation in other ways. For example, the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church. Both do God’s work according to their convictions without the need for judicial intervention.

We then offered a compromise: Ananda Church of Self-Realization to further distinguish us from SRF.

On March 30, we received SRF’s answer “re SRF vs Walters.” He had been Kriyananda for decades, but they refused to use his monastic name.

Self-Realization Fellowship and its members, their lawyers asserted, would be irreparably harmed if Walters were allowed to use the name Self-Realization when SRF has no ability to exercise control over his teachings and practices. Walters claims to have presented the same teachings in a different manner; SRF sees his work as a distortion of those teachings.

Irreparable, pecuniary injury would also result since “No religion can be supported by faith alone.” It would be “unfair competition and would mislead and confuse the public as to which church was rightfully entitled to their contributions.”

Walters is an “interloper seeking to capitalize on SRF’s name and goodwill. If SRF had not experienced such widespread acceptance and growth,” Walters would not have changed his organization’s name.

Self-Realization is not generic because the words are associated with one organization: Self-Realization Fellowship. “Numerous cases” have resulted in “injunctions in favor of the established church and against the interloper.” No name that includes Self-Realization is acceptable.

Swamiji said, “It is all toward me, as if none of you even existed. Master said, ‘Only love can take my place,’ but SRF’s first response was through their lawyers. When Jon asked for the numerous cases to which they referred, there were none. So it may all be bluffing on their part.

“But whether or not they are bluffing, we have to stand by what we believe. To abandon the name would be to say that only SRF can represent Master; that we are not disciples, but are only presuming.”

Jon’s response, dated April 20, said, “Our commitment to the religious teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, and SRF’s denial of our right to that commitment, outweigh the concerns of becoming embroiled in a lawsuit.”

Swamiji didn’t want to hide behind his lawyer, as SRF was doing, so on April 16 he wrote to the Board of Directors, mailing a separate copy to each member.

“My dear ones,” he said, “What is at stake is serious and has nothing to do with the points on which you insist. It concerns my, and Ananda’s, discipleship to Master. I affirm that discipleship. You deny it. It is a point on which I will not be moved. I shall regret the scandal, and of course the expense, but I will not shrink from either to protect what amounts to my very reason for being.

“You tell me I am trying to trade on your ‘good name.’ The truth is, I, and also Ananda, have a perfectly good name of our own. Any affiliation with you, as long as you yourselves reject that affiliation, is a liability to us, not an asset. Surely this point is obvious.

“Master gave me the strength and the blessings to bring this work to fulfillment. Without those blessings, nothing would have worked. Certainly my greatest hardship all these years has been your unrelenting opposition to me. I cannot imagine that the divine law will forever support such total lack of generosity.

“I regret the necessity for fighting. There is, of course, a simple solution. It is to say, ‘We serve the same master. Let us serve him together—if not in active cooperation, then at least in spiritual harmony.’”

Even as a child, Swamiji never started a fight, but when one came to him, he didn’t back down. “Bullies do not respect cowards,” he said.

Five Ananda leaders also sent letters, describing the scope of Ananda, life in the communities, the sincerity of our discipleship, and the quality of the members. Neither SRF nor its lawyers responded to any of these letters, including the final one from Jon. Swamiji took their silence to mean nothing more would come of it.

“Still, it is good for all of you to know,” Swamiji said. “If we must be further involved, let us act charitably, with love and dignity. We know our dedication to Master and have seen the fruits of it. That is all that matters.”

***

Four days later, on June 29, SRF filed a massive lawsuit. Using the laws of intellectual property, copyright, trademark, and “publicity rights of a deceased personality,” SRF claimed to own everything relating to Paramhansa Yogananda: not only “Self-realization,” but his name, image, likeness, and every written or spoken word. Walters, they said, was nothing but an “interloper” whose egregious behavior led to his separation from SRF, which they described as “his resignation.”

Later, the judge said SRF’s clear intent was “To put Ananda out of business.” It wasn’t just our rights that were at stake. If SRF won, they would be the only ones who could publicly share Master’s teachings, display his photograph, or call themselves his disciples. SRF claimed to be protecting their commercial rights, not preventing others from practicing their religion. But fundamental to the spiritual life of all disciples of Master is sharing his teachings and giving credit to the Guru.

In the American legal system, if you don’t defend yourself, you lose by default—no matter how preposterous the charges against you. As the plaintiff, SRF now held Ananda captive until the case was resolved in court or they chose to drop it. Self-Realization Fellowship is wealthy; Ananda is not. Bankrupting your opponent is another way to win.

The entire future of Master’s mission, its very definition was at stake. Commercial rights had nothing to do with it. The dispute was theological. It was a war of ideas, the material manifestation of a subtler battle happening on astral and causal levels.

Swamiji wasted no time being surprised or outraged. When we expressed concern for his feelings, he said, “I feel surrounded by blessings.” That didn’t blind him, however, to SRF’s intention. “They are going for complete character assassination. They say I resigned, which means they are willing to lie under oath.”

He wrote a series of position papers to define and guide our side of the litigation. In themselves, they did not constitute a legal defense, but they clarified the issues and enabled us to craft our legal arguments around the high truths we were called upon to defend.

In Dismissal vs Resignation, Swamiji wrote, “Why should I insist that I was dismissed? The normal face-saving gesture would be to say I resigned. It would make me look better in the eyes of the world, and better for SRF, too—and I’ve no wish to make them look bad.

“Had I resigned, however, it would mean that I renounced, of my own volition, my role as a disciple, which I have never done. I cannot accept a false version that goes to the heart of my very reason for being. How could I claim loyalty to my Guru’s work if I’d left that work of my own free will? Still, I wonder if the issue is really vital. Isn’t a person’s life a greater testimony to his integrity than events that took place so many years ago?”

In My Activities Since Leaving SRF, Swamiji described his efforts to build Ananda to complement, rather than compete with, SRF. In Harassment, Swamiji described SRF’s past and on-going efforts to thwart his work and undermine his legitimacy as a disciple.

In Religious Monopoly, Swamiji said, “For many years, SRF’s energy has been devoted to gaining total control over the spread of Yogananda’s mission. Of all the disciples, I represent the greatest threat to that monopoly.

“Yogananda wanted to build his organization, but only as a vehicle for the teachings, not as the definition of his mission. He made it clear that the truths he espoused were universal and not particular to himself or his mission. No organization has a right to claim exclusive ownership of the principles on which it is based. ‘Self-Realization Fellowship is not a sect,’ Master declared.

“In the very name of his organization he deliberately embraced what he himself clearly stated was an already-existent and widely recognized concept, with the stated purpose of making it even more widely recognized and accepted as a concept.

“The present lawsuit is a means by which God can break what I perceive as a tightening stranglehold on a teaching that was meant to be expansive, generous, filled with charity for all, tolerant and accepting; serving others, rather than exerting over them excessive control.”

Returning to the subject of his dismissal, Swamiji rewrote the document My Separation from Self-Realization Fellowship, this time adding the subtitle, The Unembellished Story. The original, written in 1980, was twenty-five pages; this one was only nine. In the first paragraph, Swamiji said, “The earlier version was intended to help people understand my position while at the same time minimizing or eliminating any blame on SRF’s part. The present version offers the story unembellished as it actually happened from my point of view, with the purpose of clarifying matters in the face of SRF’s continued and persistently personal statements against me.”

About the lawsuit, he said, “I welcome it as a means of rescuing the principle of expansiveness in Yogananda’s work from the contraction and protectiveness that is the ascendant philosophy in SRF at this time. They treat Yogananda as their personal property, to be defended against outsiders at all costs. They warn of people ‘borrowing the name of this beloved teacher to further their own interests,’ instead of realizing that, as a world teacher, he in fact belongs to the world.

Strategy for the Trial starts by saying we must correct the misimpression that this is between SRF and one individual, “J. Donald Walters,” as if Ananda itself were of no consequence. The name we use is not the issue. What is at stake is the right for anyone outside of SRF to call himself a disciple of Yogananda, and to act in the name of the Guru. Self-realization is a generic term and cannot be copyrighted. Ancient scripture, modern teachings, and countless statements by Yogananda himself prove this point.

Calling ourselves Church of Self-Realization was a natural progression as Ananda developed over the decades. At the beginning, Swamiji held out hope for reconciliation and was determined not to compete with SRF. He focused on community, using the corporate name Yoga Fellowship. Twenty years later, when Ananda expanded from one rural site into several urban centers, a more universal name with Western appeal was needed: Fellowship of Inner Communion.

The answer to the question, though, “What is your religion?” has always been “Self-realization.”

Through all these years, SRF was unrelenting in its opposition. Finally Swamiji realized that there was little possibility of reconciliation and therefore no reason to hold back from the fullness of what Master had given him to do. The obvious next step was to openly embrace the church aspect of Master’s work, so people everywhere would see this path as their own. To call ourselves Church of Self-Realization is the obvious, in fact, the only choice. To use any other name would be unfaithful to Master.

Far from trading on SRF’s good name, Ananda has always made it clear that the two organizations are not affiliated. In fact, to be mistaken for SRF works against Ananda. Their dogmatism and control is contrary to Ananda’s way, and contrary to the spirit of the times.

Furthermore, SRF’s claims about its size and the scope of its influence are not supported by any objective facts such as book sales, magazine distribution, annual mailings, etc.

In a short poetic essay, What Is Truth? Swamiji advised, “If people claim exclusive possession of a truth, gaze up into the vast heavens. For truth is…all-embracing…ever expansive…it destroys all barriers of human thought…Truth is uplifting to the soul, though we strive to shield our delusions from the brilliance of its rays.”

In Points of Disagreement with SRF, Swamiji again stated that the issue is theological, not legal: “matters of deep-seated religious belief on the part of both parties.” SRF believes in and practices rigid control within its own organization and claims the right to exercise such control even outside the organization. Virtually nothing can be done in SRF without express permission from the Board of Directors.

By contrast, Ananda is decentralized and committed to grass-roots decision making whenever possible. Ananda has a minimum of rules; SRF has a multiplicity.

SRF justifies every action with the claim that “Master left exact instructions for how he wanted everything done.” This claim is contradicted by Swamiji’s own training from Master, his subsequent years in SRF, and the very nature of most of the Guru’s instructions.

“Self-Realization Fellowship claims Master trained certain disciples to carry on his work and no one has a right to question any statement, decision, or action because each carries the stamp of Paramhansa Yogananda’s full approval.” The result within SRF is that reason and common sense are stifled.

Self-Realization Fellowship believes that whoever holds the office of president is the sole spokesman for Master and his line of Gurus and is infallible in his or her judgments. Ananda recognizes authority in religious matters, but it is the authority of wisdom, not place in the organization. “A saint is a saint because God has blessed him and not because man has elevated him to a high, church position.”

Self-Realization Fellowship defines its responsibility as “protecting the purity of Master’s teachings.” The greatest threat to that purity, they feel, is the diluting influence of those who follow the teachings. Thus the need for control. Monastics are not encouraged to air their own opinions. In the SRF centers, interaction among the members is limited. Those who lead services don’t speak their own thoughts, but read talks sent to them from headquarters.

At Ananda, we encourage interaction among our members, openly share thoughts, opinions, and discoveries, and strive to give everyone a fair hearing. “It is vitally important—especially in a teaching based on Self-realization—to encourage individual intuition and initiative. Faith cannot be imposed from without; it must be developed through a person’s inner recognition and acceptance of the truth.” Master urged people to experiment and find out for themselves, “like scientists in a laboratory,” whether these truths work in their lives.

This openness, however, does not make Ananda eclectic. We are orthodox in our adherence to Master’s teachings, and make that our constant reference point and the deciding factor in any decision.

Master expressed the truth; he did not create it. He taught eternal realities revealed to him by God. Such truths can never be the exclusive property of one organization!

Whenever Swamiji was targeted by negative energy, he always put out an equal or greater positive force, either directed back to the source of the negativity, or as a balancing action in another direction. For example, after the fire, instead of sitting home thinking about all we had lost, Swamiji took a large group on two national tours.

To counter any inclination on our part to leave it to the lawyers, Swamiji wrote a petition for all of us to sign, expressing our devotion to Yogananda’s teachings, appreciation for Ananda, respect for SRF, and full awareness of the differences between the two. This was not just his fight; we were all involved.

He suggested we write letters of support describing what Ananda and Master’s path have meant in our lives, and why we could only have come to this path through Ananda. Self-Realization Fellowship has its work and we have ours.

The lawsuit challenged not only Swamiji’s rights as a disciple, it challenged the validity of Ananda itself. If he were a mere interloper and the path we followed a distortion of Master’s teachings, then we were all in grave danger spiritually. We either had to repudiate Ananda—or defend it.

***

Ananda Mata was the head of the SRF legal department. On the day Swamiji received their papers, he called her. She refused to talk to him, and asked her secretary to take his message. It was unthinkable, Swamiji said, that disciples of Master would carry on in this way; he urged them to give up the lawsuit. When he suggested they come to Ananda and see for themselves, the secretary responded dismissively, “Nothing will be gained by transporting ourselves geographically. The issue is narrow and clear cut.”

“On the contrary,” Swamiji said, “It is very broad.”

A week later, Swamiji phoned again. This time he had written out his message. Self-Realization Fellowship always recorded important calls and he knew Ananda Mata would hear it.

“This lawsuit will perpetuate lasting animosity between two groups of devotees dedicated to the same Guru. It is wrong. Devotees will be hurt, their loyalty to Master will be shaken… The press is likely to pick up this quarrel… Disciples of Master are widely looked up to and respected. That respect will be lost after this lawsuit. The public will say, ‘See, these so-called spiritual people are no better than the rest of us.’

“I am not coming from a position of weakness. I believe we’d win the case. But who could win, really? I earnestly suggest we arrange a meeting soon to discuss matters.”

Eventually, SRF agreed to meet—at Mount Washington. “The invitation came from us,” Swamiji said. “You should come to Ananda.” We decided to meet halfway, in Fresno, California, on September 5.

***

In August, Swamiji came to Palo Alto to dedicate the community we had started there. In his talk, he said, “The real conflict going on in the world today is not about politics or economic systems; it is between those who live under the delusion that matter is the ultimate reality and those who understand that the underlying truth is consciousness.

“New rays of energy are coming to this planet. People see the material advancement that has come as a result, but most haven’t yet understood how much is happening on mental and spiritual levels as well. God is trying to bring mankind closer to Him. That is the real change.

“This community is a vital, historic step in that direction. If we can make a community happen here as we are doing, people everywhere will take heart. They will see that they don’t have to leave their jobs and families, but can turn the life they have in a spiritual direction.

“Community is like the sounding board of a guitar. A single guitar string is barely audible, but in front of the sounding board, the note rings out. Meditating together creates a sounding board of peace which makes each one stronger. A group like this has far more impact than you would have as individuals living alone. People around you will feel the power of your consciousness together and believe that they, too, can have what you have.

“We have a commission from Babaji to make these communities happen. The most important thing going on today is creating places like this—places of beauty, wisdom, power, and love, where people can live in the Light, expand the Light, and give the Light to all.”

After the dedication, as a break from the pressure of the lawsuit, Swamiji went with Rosanna on a cruise to Alaska. “Man seems the intruder here,” he wrote on a postcard. “The vibrations are all of nature, and full of joy.”

For Spiritual Renewal Week, he started every class by reading a chapter from The Essence of Self-Realization. “Writing this book has been a turning point in my life as a disciple,” Swamiji said. “I can no longer tell where my thoughts end and Master’s begin. I don’t want to have any thoughts that are not Master’s thoughts.”

***

Ananda had no group comparable to the SRF Board of Directors, so for the meeting in Fresno, one was appointed. It became the legal team for the duration of the lawsuit—Swamiji, Rosanna, Jyotish, Devi, Durga, Vidura, David, and me, plus Latika Parojinog as a paralegal, and Naidhruva Rush and Jon as attorneys.

The SRF Board of Directors was represented by four Matas—Daya, Ananda, Mrinalini, and Uma—and two Brothers—Anandamoy and Paramananda—plus one secretary and a lawyer. Before the meeting started, we insisted that Swamiji be addressed by his monastic name. After some private discussion, SRF reluctantly agreed.

We proposed that the meeting should start with a prayer by Daya Mata, then a chant by Swamiji. SRF accepted the prayer but firmly rejected the chant. We were determined not to tolerate insults to Swamiji, but we had to go along or abort the meeting before it started.

Daya Mata prayed, we meditated a few minutes, then Swamiji started reading a list he’d prepared of points for discussion. About thirty seconds into it came the suggestion that litigation was not an option; we would be judge and jury to ourselves. Daya Mata interrupted, absolutely refused to agree, and Swamiji was never able to read a word more of his prepared list.

It was soon apparent that we had completely different agendas for the meeting. We came looking for common ground with the hope of compromise. They came to declare Master’s will and give us one last chance to accept it. They didn’t expect Swamiji to change his mind, but perhaps some of us could be persuaded and then influence him; or, as an alternative, abandon him and join their side.

It was a total impasse. But we had come so far and had such high hopes, we persevered for several hours. All of SRF’s assumptions about Ananda were wrong, but no matter how carefully we tried to correct their misunderstandings, they merely repeated what they had already said, as if we hadn’t spoken.

Daya Mata wasn’t used to being contradicted. She listened impatiently, usually interrupting before we finished. If we didn’t immediately yield, she would keep talking over whoever was speaking until that person had to give up. Daya Mata felt she had the truth from Master and didn’t want to waste time on our mere opinions. This was our first prolonged interaction with the SRF leaders. They behaved exactly as Swamiji described in his paper, Points of Disagreement with SRF.

They accused us of harassment. We had many examples of SRF harassing us: telling people that the Kriya given at Ananda doesn’t have the blessings of the Gurus, asking bookstores not to carry our books, warning people against visiting Ananda. SRF had no comparable examples, because there were none. Gradually it came out that our very existence was harassment, because it forced SRF constantly to deal with the problem of Ananda. The whole controversy was our fault.

“I’ve always wondered,” I said to Swamiji later, “how Tara Mata could persuade them to throw you out…” Swamiji finished my sentence, “…unless they already wanted to throw me out.”

“You must have been a constant thorn in their side,” I said. “Without you, they could run SRF exactly as they wanted. The wonder is not that they threw you out, but that they waited so long to do it!”

“When Tara expelled me she said gleefully, “Never again will we have to listen to the projects concocted in that fertile brain of yours.” Mrinalini wrote that I was ‘the most egotistical person she had ever known.’”

“I can’t imagine Master ever intended for you to work with them.” I said. “You would never have accomplished anything! You have trained us so differently, I don’t see how we could ever work with them either. Maybe after you, Daya Mata, and all of them are dead. Maybe after I’m dead, too. But not before!”

“I’ve always thought the work would be stronger together” Swamiji said, “but maybe it would be stronger for being diverse.”

In an effort to stop the lawsuit, we offered to call ourselves the Ananda Church of God-Realization. “Still too close,” SRF declared. Their counter-proposal simply reiterated all the demands of their lawsuit.

Self-Realization Fellowship filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop us from using Self-realization in our name until the matter was decided in court, claiming irreparable harm if we were allowed to continue. They also asked the court to prohibit us from using Master’s name or his teachings in any public way until a judgment had been rendered.

At the hearing in November, the judge said that since we had been sharing Master’s teachings for years, no harm would accrue to SRF from letting it go on a little longer. As for the name, he agreed with SRF, and granted the injunction. We’d only been using Church of Self-Realization for a few months; we could wait until the lawsuit ran its course. As an alternative, we again offered the name Ananda Church of God-Realization. SRF objected, calling it confusingly similar, but the judge approved the name despite their objections. So for the second time in less than a year, we changed our name.

In federal court, each case is assigned to one judge who presides from beginning to end. For our case it was Judge Edward J. Garcia. Even though, at our first hearing, he partially agreed with SRF, we were impressed by how intelligent, conscientious, and fair-minded he seemed. But a judge only grants a preliminary injunction when he feels there is a good chance the whole case will be decided in the same way. It was going to be an uphill battle to persuade him to our point of view.

Before the hearing, Swamiji said to Jon, “We want you to know we are not the kind of clients who are only pleased if we win. Most of your clients are probably not on top of their own cases the way we are, and therefore may not appreciate the fine quality of your skill and logic. But we are, and we do. No matter what happens, we are very pleased to be working with you. You are a man of honor, and a gentleman. That’s why we want you to represent us.”

***

The stressful atmosphere created by the lawsuit, and the way it consumed Swamiji’s time and attention, was wearing on Rosanna. In November, she decided to go see her family in Italy. The decision was divinely guided: three weeks after she arrived, her much-loved father died suddenly. Swamiji and Rosanna had planned to spend Christmas together in Assisi, but now she needed to stay in Sorrento to comfort her mother and sort out legal matters. Swamiji decided not to travel, but to stay at the Village in semi-seclusion.

Years before, he had bought a computer system for writing music. It proved far too complicated, even for our resident techies. Now there was a new model that turned what you played on the keyboard into a printed score. Melodies came to Swamiji effortlessly; writing them down was the stumbling block, especially since he had recently developed a slight tremor in his hand. It didn’t interfere with typing, or playing the piano, but the fine motion of holding a pencil to write down notes was difficult. This new equipment solved the problem.

Swamiji wrote arrangements for many more of his songs, greatly expanding the choir’s repertoire. Then he began a project he had long considered: turning some of his Shakespeare melodies into a string quartet.

“Usually quartets favor the first violinist,” Swamiji said. “The others are there mainly to support him. I had too much respect for the other instruments to write that way. I had to give them all equal stature.” He had the same attitude toward some of his melodies. The song Who Is Silvia? was the theme for one movement of the quartet. “Musically, that movement is too simple. I really should have done more with it, but I had too much respect for the melody to obscure it!”

Referring to the song Thy Will Be Done in the Oratorio, Swamiji said, “The violin, cello, and voice all have equal melodies. It is very unusual to write that way. The point of this music is to present the vibration of Ananda. Working together in harmonious equality is the essence of who we are.”

Most of his writing was devoted to the lawsuit, but he found time to revise an earlier book, now retitled Money Magnetism: How to Attract What You Need When You Need It. He continued to make video study courses, and also began a series of thirty-minute shows for cable TV, Joy to You from Ananda. He wanted to make a year of weekly programs that our members could place with local stations.

He had agreed to be part of a series of conferences to be held around the country the following year, Visions of the Future. He would share the platform with four of the best-known, new age teachers; the audiences would number in the thousands.

Swamiji’s heart was strained, often beating erratically or extremely fast. “I can overcome it with will power,” he said, “but the effort is exhausting. I need to be well rested before these conferences begin.”

He was concerned that if the lawsuit went on for a long time, it would prove an insurmountable obstacle for Rosanna; that she would find it impossible to live with him at Ananda and still be faithful to her own spiritual calling. It didn’t help that the leaders of PEKI were convinced she belonged in Sorrento, and didn’t hesitate to tell her so.

Rosanna just isn’t constituted to go at life the way we do,” Swamiji said, “one crisis after another. I, too, would welome a less stressful way of life. I’m less involved than I was when Ananda started, but sooner or later, anything of importance eventually finds its way to me.” Seclusion would give Swamiji time to meditate deeply; and to be certain any decisions he made regarding SRF or his personal life had Master’s full approval.

 

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.