1995: God Tests Ananda’s Mettle: A Year of Crisis & Triumph

Retreat guests prepare to do Paramhansa Yogananda’s Energization Exercises, The Expanding Light, Ananda Village, early 1990s.

The doctors wanted Swamiji to take a full year of rest. But he had already committed to two lecture tours—plans had been made, people were counting on him—and to two publishing contracts: a book for Warner called Meditation for Starters, and a twelve-month calendar of daily aphorisms for a company called Workman. Swamiji had already spent the advances on recording equipment.

Derek Bell, the harpist for the Grammy-award winning Celtic band The Chieftains, was a disciple of Master. He had offered to record an album of Celtic music for Crystal Clarity—if Swamiji would write the music. The Chieftains toured constantly; the only time Derek could record was two weeks in August.

And there was the SRF lawsuit, and now also the Bertolucci one. A year was impossible, but Swamiji agreed to spend three months convalescing.

Two years earlier, he had offered Workman a year’s worth of aphorisms in a collection called Do It NOW! But for their calendar, they wanted something more like the Secrets. In February, though, Swamiji went back to Do It NOW!, polishing it as a book. “This is not hard work, I’m still resting!” he said, when others reminded him that he was supposed to be convalescing.

Ananda was under attack, and strapped for money, but instead of selling the book, Swamiji decided to give it away. He said, “So many predictions for dire events say these sufferings needn’t come, or can be greatly mitigated, if there is a shift in people’s consciousness. We must do everything we can to help create that shift.”

It is a war of ideas, as Swamiji’s vision after the surgery confirmed. Do It NOW! was 366 of just the kind of ideas people needed. We printed an inexpensive edition, and over the next year gave away thousands of copies.

During his convalescence, Swamiji received many letters of heartfelt love and support. He also received some bitter denunciations, not only from outsiders, but a few from people in the community—mostly unsigned, but he could tell who sent them.

Some of the negative letters were from relatively new members, mostly householders who had come to Ananda for the lifestyle; it was a good place to raise children. They had always held Swamiji at a distance. It was safer, they felt, given SRF’s attitude toward him.

Other letters, though, were from people who had lived in the community for years and knew Swamiji well. Under the pressure of the Bertolucci lawsuit, they had fallen into negativity. Both new and old members had been goaded on by the shadow people in the local SRF group.

       Then came more devastating news. The partnership with Warner, so promising at the start, had turned into a financial disaster. We had borrowed money for large print runs, anticipating a huge upswing in sales that never materialized. Even with their large distribution network, Warner sold fewer books than we had sold on our own — and at a steeper discount. For us, it was a catastrophe. For Warner, we were just one of many lines they carried. If our sales went down, they would make it up somewhere else.

       Crystal Clarity was now $750,000 in debt.

       “Frankly, it was more than I could face,” Swamiji said. He went to Hawaii, saying it was for a month, but later confessed, “I didn’t know if I would ever come back. I wasn’t afraid of the challenge, but because of the surgery, I had never been weaker, or less able to defend myself.”

Before he left, he wrote a letter to the community. “Ananda is a ‘great work’, as Master foretold, destined to play a significant role in giving people hope for a better way of life. There are not many such communities around; there may not be any others of Ananda’s caliber. It is natural that this caliber be tested.

“We have shown ourselves open-hearted, open-minded, charitable toward others and forgiving toward all. Satan is bound to want to test these qualities, to see if we can be tempted away from our high ideals.

“In the statements of our accusers, I find lie after lie. In our loyal members, I see a firm commitment to truth and to God’s service. Can lies win? Surely that is not possible, so long as we cling to the truth.

“I have been accused of lying. There is no way I can convince my detractors of their error. It is human nature for people, in their determination to accuse others, to remain convinced no matter what is said or even proved to the contrary.

“All that matters is Divine Mother’s will. Much good—great good—has come out of these tests. I am saddened by the betrayal of those who I thought of as friends, but on the other hand, their very betrayal convinces me to my core that life will never give us, except superficially and briefly, the comfort and satisfaction we seek. Maya is a condition from which we need to escape to God.”

Alone in Hawaii, in hours of solitary meditation, Swamiji asked Divine Mother, “What do You want? Is it Your will that Ananda fail, that my life work be destroyed?” He asked Divine Mother to give him a sign.

Warner had decided that Meditation for Beginners was not a good title for the book Swamiji had contracted to write. Now they wanted to call it Superconsciousness: A Guide to Meditation. “You can’t just paste a new title on a book,” Swamiji said. “The first title I could write easily; this one I will have to think through from the start.” He had promised to have it done by the end of April, but since Warner had changed the title, he asked them to extend the deadline to the end of June. In Hawaii, he began writing.

He also meditated on the lesson of Crystal Clarity. “When Warner approached us two years ago with the suggestion that we work together,” he wrote in a letter, “it seemed to us an opportunity to reach many thousands of readers with our message that otherwise wouldn’t hear of it. We didn’t at first recognize how deep the difference was between Warner’s philosophy and ours.”

To publishers, books are a commodity. They produce many every year. When the sales of one book begins to wane, they replace it with a new one. Old books are put on the backlist, and soon forgotten. Salesmen give all their energy to the new releases; that’s where the money is. We don’t have a backlist. Every book to us has lasting value. We aren’t here to make money, except insofar as it is needed to continue our work of serving Master.

       “With Warner in the picture, there came this pull ‘to make it happen’ in competition with other publishing houses. Certain attitudes entered Crystal Clarity that were incompatible with our spiritual ideals. Compromises were made.

“Crystal Clarity is, and always has been, a branch of our ministerial activities. It isn’t our dharma to become a commercial entity. To compete in that world on their terms offers too constant a challenge to our ideals.” From now on, Crystal Clarity would function as an extension of Ananda Church of Self-Realization, with the restrictions, and the focus, that this self-definition gives.

“Out of good intentions—I wanted to make Master known—I made a mistake in trying to be big in a worldly way, which is what Warner was trying to do. The president said he wanted to make me ‘The Jane Fonda of meditation’! [A movie star who gained fame also as a yoga teacher because of videos Warner published.] Not that I was interested, or even knew what that meant, but that’s how he talked. Better to be ourselves, and let those come who are drawn to who we are. We should be big in the sense of prepared, and willing, to serve thousands.”

Swamiji never got the clear sign he was hoping for, but he did return to Ananda. “I couldn’t in good conscience leave the community to handle that debt.” He also realized, “It isn’t enough to accept your tests; you must also love them.”


Swamiji’s pamphlet, Gurus, Celibacy and Spiritual Authority, appeared as an article in the magazine Yoga International. “The editor, Deborah Willoughby, is a friend,” Swamiji said. “She didn’t think the article would be of interest, and printed it only because I asked her to. But I knew it was an important topic.”

In the next issue, Deborah wrote, “We rarely get more than four or five letters about a single article. So we were startled when the trickle in praise of Sri Kriyananda’s article turned into a flood. When it was obvious the article was generating a lot of interest, we braced ourselves for an onslaught of negative comments. It never came. Every letter supported our position that an understanding of the teacher-student relationship is integral to any meaningful practice of yoga, and unless this relationship is honored, yoga will lose its heart.

“There have been so many books and newspaper and magazine articles recently attacking not only individual teachers but also the concept of teaching itself, that we assumed we were taking an unpopular stand. It looks as if we were wrong.”

In May, Swamiji went on the first of his two promised tours. At the International Unity in Yoga Conference in Aspen, Colorado, he spoke on the same subject as the article—Spiritual Teaching, Teachers, and the Inner Quest. The audience of six hundred gave him a standing ovation.

When he returned to Ananda, he disconnected his phone and refused to accept mail, so he could concentrate on finishing the book, Superconsciousness. “The only way to write it was to put myself in a superconscious state. I wrote in two months what should have taken two years. Master wrote it through me.” He finished at 9:00 p.m. the day before it was due at the publisher.

During his absence on tour, then writing the book, a vocal minority had continued to insist, “Ananda must change!” They had bought into the premise of the Bertolucci lawsuit: “I am not responsible for my own life. Someone else is to blame.” Swamiji was the main target, but other Ananda leaders were also criticized for “not listening.” One of the leaders responded wryly, “I am listening. I just don’t agree.”

Swamiji was concerned, not only for Ananda, but for the whole yoga movement. Too many people were adopting the attitudes of psychology, rather than those of Self-realization. “Maya is subtle. Even good people sometimes get caught up in negative thoughts, without realizing that they are negative,” he said.

The day after the book was finished, he called a community meeting. He began by saying, “This is not a forum. We’ve had a number of those already. Tonight I am here to tell you my point of view: This lawsuit is an outrageous lie written by those who wish to destroy me and to destroy Ananda.”

He lamented the fact that he couldn’t be as explicit as he would like to be. There were people in the community, some of them in the room, who felt it was their duty to help Bertolucci. They reported everything to her lawyers, and, in distorted form, it was thrown back at us in their legal papers and depositions.

Swamiji expressed gratitude for the many letters of support. Master defined humility as self-honesty. In that spirit, Swamiji said simply, “What you have written is true.” He had always been our friend in God.

To those inclined to believe Bertolucci’s claims, he said, “Many of you have known me for years, in some cases, decades. I am nonviolent; I would never hurt anyone or impose my will. I’m shocked that you would believe the word of people you don’t even know, over your own experience of me, whom you do know. Many of you have not even read our own papers, but only the charges against us.

“As for deciding the truth of these allegations, here is a clue: No libertine could have accomplished all that I have accomplished. Not one of you here could do it; you don’t have the energy.”

To those seeking a more psychological approach, he said, “Some of you are advocating a change in the way Ananda operates, to have more psychological counseling, more support groups where people can talk through their traumas. That is not the direction for Ananda. This is not “a nice place to live.” This is an ashram for people who are seeking God.”

Swamiji was full of compassion for the sufferings people go through, but this was not the time for sympathy. Stern measures were needed. “I am sure everyone here has had their share of traumas. To that I will say two things: it was your karma, and it is the only way you can grow. Rather than lamenting about what you had to suffer in the past, rejoice that now you have found a place where you can love God.”

It is time to choose, he said. “It is not enough to be nice people. Divine Mother is molding us into warriors, so we can stand strong against persecution, like the early Christians. It will come. If you are looking for a nice village life, Ananda is not your home. Divine Mother wants dedicated devotees.

 “I love you all, and support you as my dearest friends—but in God. We are not here to reassure each other in a human way. We are here to love God together, and to love God in one another. Nothing else lasts.”

Afterward, Swamiji said, “I said exactly what needed to be said. It is time for a housecleaning”—which did happen. Over the next months there was another exodus from Ananda. The vibration had shifted again, and you were either drawn in or spun out.


Swamiji had hoped that some of his existing music would be suitable for the Derek Bell album and asked one of the musicians to give him a recording of possible choices. But when he listened to it, he felt only one or two were appropriate. He had three days before he was scheduled to leave on his second tour. “I was already in a superconscious state from writing the book,” he said, “so was able to write thirteen melodies in two days.” After the tour, he wrote lyrics for many of them.

Despite all the activity, Swamiji was recovering well. Before surgery, his heart was operating at thirty percent efficiency and had enlarged to twice its normal size. Now it was operating at seventy percent efficiency, the top of the scale for a healthy heart. The doctor had said his heart would always be enlarged, but now it had shrunk back to normal. It was another miracle.


The SRF lawsuit was filed in federal court in Sacramento. The system there was to have one judge preside over each case from start to finish. The Bertolucci lawsuit was filed in state court in Redwood City—just a few miles north of Palo Alto. In that court, only when you went to trial, did one judge take over. Until then, every time you went to court you faced a different judge; motions were decided by whoever happened to be presiding that day.

In the Bertolucci lawsuit, we had filed a cross-complaint for defamation, supported by many declarations attesting to  Swamiji’s character, and refuting the charges against him. The whole lawsuit, we said, was an effort by SRF to save their failing case in federal court. SRF wasn’t part of the Bertolucci lawsuit, but were allowed to respond to our cross-complaint with declarations and exhibits of their own.

The presiding judge, seeing fifteen volumes of legal documents—a staggering amount of paper for a case less than a year old —asked the obvious question, “Why? Why is so much money being spent on this case? No one is going to get that kind of money back!”

In July, we took Anne-Marie’s deposition. I attended for the legal team, along with our two lawyers, Jon and Naidhruva. Anne-Marie came with just her lawyer. He was an odd man, alternately energetic to the point of frenzy, then falling into a near stupor. Much later, a friend offered an explanation that had never occurred to us: perhaps he took cocaine! We were just grateful that, as a consequence, he was fairly ineffective.

But halfway through her deposition, two other lawyers came and joined her side. It was soon obvious that they were far more astute than the lawyer she had. Anne-Marie had made no sexual allegations against Swamiji. In answer to Jon’s questions, she specifically said that nothing of a sexual nature had ever happened between them.

Now, during a brief break, one of her new lawyers took her out of the room. When she came back she had just remembered something of a sexual nature that happened with Swamiji. Even that was only a presumption on her part as to his intentions, but it was enough. Everything else was forgotten. From then on, Swamiji was the only target.

Anne-Marie claimed that in the first thirty minutes of her first Ananda meditation class at the Palo Alto teaching center—when she was still living on her own with her husband—she had been brainwashed by the cult and was never herself again until she escaped from the cult. Therefore she was not responsible for anything that happened during her time at Ananda.

This claim made our spiritual practices the core of her case. Her deposition went on for ten days; after day seven, I wrote to Daya Mata:

“Anne-Marie Bertolucci has insulted and mocked Master’s teachings, with the encouragement and support of her lawyers. Not Ananda merely, but Master’s teachings—meditation, Kriya, Hong-Sau, AUM, the Guru’s love for his children, superconsciousness, renunciation, devotion. Nothing is sacred. Eagerly, gleefully she scorns, laughs, mocks, and attacks the teachings. It is a party atmosphere for her and her lawyers.

“Have you ever been witness to blasphemy? Before this deposition I never had, so I didn’t understand what the Bible meant by the ‘sin of blasphemy.’ Now I know. Blasphemy is a terrifying evil. In supporting this lawsuit you are supporting blasphemy. How ironic.”

Of course, I received no reply.


Except for affirming his absolute commitment to ahimsa, Swamiji had never responded to any of the sexual allegations against him. Now his deposition had been scheduled for the second week of September. Privately, he told Jon and Naidhruva something he had never spoken about before.

“Master told me never to talk to anyone about sexual matters,” Swamiji said. “‘It isn’t deep in you,’ Master said. ‘You have a great work to do. No one must know.’ He was reluctant for me even to counsel with my monastic superiors in SRF. ‘You have a great work to do, and no one must be given an opportunity to interfere.’ Master told me, ‘You have to do my will. I know what your life holds. You don’t.’”

It was one thing to ignore an anonymous letter, even if the writer demanded an answer. It was quite another to refuse to answer questions in a deposition. Carried to its extreme, Swamiji could be charged with contempt of court and sent to prison.

 “If I were the only one concerned,” he said, “I would go to prison rather than disobey my Guru. But many others have also given their lives to Ananda. I am not sure what to do.”

Jon assured Swamiji that whatever he felt was right, Jon would support him.

Noon meditation during a community volunteer workday at Ananda Village after the forest fire in 1976. L-R: Vairagi, Vijay, Jyotish, Ganesha, Keshava, Lakshman. The woman in the white head wrap is a member of a Sikh group that came to help us.

The most astute of Anne-Marie’s three attorneys had now taken charge of the case. “X” was also a “cult-buster.” He said, “I approve of religion as long as it is practiced correctly.” X came to national prominence when he won a large settlement for a dozen clients who claimed to have been abused by an international, quasi-spiritual group. X had his office in Massachusetts, but building on that success, he opened a branch in Southern California. His ruthless, outside the box tactics, soon attracted a bevy of clients who weren’t too particular about how he won, as long as he did.

In addition to winning a lot of lawsuits, X also won a lot of antagonism from judges who presided over his cases and lawyers who litigated against him. Rather than being ashamed of the opprobrium heaped upon his head, X wore it like a badge of honor. Jon called him, “The kind of lawyer who gives our whole profession a bad name. One way he wins is that people will pay whatever he demands just to get him out of their lives.” X was not an admirable person, but he was a formidable foe.

Only those directly involved in the case could attend Swamiji’s deposition. Fortunately, that included the legal team, and most of us were there. On Bertolucci’s side of the table, a man Swamiji had never seen before was sitting near X. “That man is an SRF member,” Swamiji said quietly to Jon. “What is he doing here?” When Jon inquired, X said, “He is my paralegal.” Swamiji knew that was a lie, but in the moment there was nothing we could do about it.

X set up a video camera, which he gradually moved closer and closer to Swamiji until it was nearly touching his face. He hoped to push Swamiji to the breaking point and get the whole thing on film.

The deposition was about the Bertolucci lawsuit, but all the questions were about SRFvows Swamiji had taken, authorization to give Kriya, years in India, relations with his monastic superiors. X had been thoroughly briefed down to the last detail. He pretended complete ignorance of SRF, even asking whether Daya Mata was a man or a woman. Eventually, though, he realized he had tipped his hand. His information, he then claimed, came from records he had subpoenaed from SRF. But when the court issues a subpoena, both sides are notified. X did subpoena SRF records—after the deposition.

“Much of what X said was known only to Daya Mata, Ananda Mata, and me,” Swamiji said. “The only way he could have found out, is if they told him.”

X rarely spoke in a civil manner. If a crude word could be substituted for a refined one, he made sure to use it. He was vulgar, denigrating, and insulting to Swamiji. When Jon objected, X would clean up his act for a while, then gradually the verbal abuse would start all over again. Finally we walked out. Jon told X that there would be no more deposition without a referee in the room.

It was Friday, and Swamiji wanted to go back to the Village for the weekend. Monday was September 12, the anniversary of the day he met Master. Jon told X that Swamiji would continue the deposition on September 13, if there was a referee.

Just as Swamiji was about to leave for the Village, Jon called. A referee had been arranged and the court had ordered Swamiji to appear on September 12. Usually lawyers cooperate with each other, but X knew it was Swamiji’s anniversary, so deliberately scheduled the deposition for that day.

The referee was a retired judge. In his presence, X was more restrained. Once again, it was all about SRF, until the very end of the day when Swamiji was obviously exhausted. Parameshwari was now a member of SRF. Given her unique relationship to Swamiji, she had to work harder to prove her loyalty. Not only had she filed her own declaration—the worst one of all—she had helped pull the whole Bertolucci lawsuit together, persuading other SRF women also to file declarations. X knew she was Swamiji’s most vulnerable point, so he started there.

Swamiji refused to answer on the grounds of privacy; Jon had told him he could do that. When X objected, the referee agreed and ordered Swamiji to answer. Now if he refused, he would be in contempt of court. We decided to adjourn for the day. As we were walking out, X mimed Swamiji being handcuffed and led off to prison.

We went to a nearby cafe and settled into a large circular booth. Swamiji repeated to the rest of us what he had already told Jon and Naidhruva about Master’s instructions to him. He then leaned back against the padded seat and said, “You decide what I should do.”

We talked about all the possible ways he might avoid answering the questions, and the consequences of each. Finally I said, “We are behaving just like SRF—unwilling to face reality! Swamiji is not going to jail. He has long since proved his obedience to Master. Now he has to answer.”

Later, someone asked Swamiji, “How could you turn such an important decision over to us?”

“I felt Master wanted me to answer,” Swamiji said. “I wasn’t really turning it over to you, just testing my own intuition, to see if you could come up with something I hadn’t thought of.”

Swamiji had never read the declarations against him. That night he realized he had to. About 9:30 p.m., I went to his room to see if he needed anything. The lights were dim, he was sitting cross-legged on the bed with his arms folded across his chest.

“I tried to read the declarations, but I just couldn’t,” he said. “Master must be very displeased with me, otherwise he would have protected me from these wolves.” I listened, offered him as much kindness as I could, but we both knew nothing I said would make any difference, so I left him alone. Then I called Ananda around the world: “Swamiji is having a dark night of the soul. Pray for him.”

The next morning, his mood was still dark. He was in the kitchen, fixing a cup of tea. “If Master is displeased with me,” he said in a sad, flat tone. “I don’t want to live. When I went to Hawaii, I asked Divine Mother for a sign. I still haven’t gotten one, at least not one I understand.” I listened in silence, and when he went back to his room, I went outside and cried.

In the car, on the way to the deposition, Swamiji finally read the declarations. X spent hours that day, in his crude manner, voice dripping with contempt, going line by line through each declaration.

“It was not really questioning,” Swamiji said later. “It was more like brainwashing. Coming back again and again to the same points from a different angle, trying to break me.”

Calmly, simply, directly, honestly Swamiji answered each question. Almost everything in the declarations was false. The few facts that were correct were so distorted as to no longer express the truth.

Swamiji was doing well, but the dark night of the soul was not over. After the morning break, though, the atmosphere began to change.

“You all felt it before I did,” Swamiji said later.

Just before Master’s passing, he said to Swamiji, “You have pleased me very much. I want you to know that.” Now it seemed Master was in the room, saying those words again to his much-loved disciple. At the end of the day, Swamiji said, “I feel Master’s blessing in my heart.”

The deposition went on for several more days; most of the questions were about SRF. When it was finally over, Swamiji said, “We are being driven to do the one thing I have tried so hard to avoid all these years: to create a schism with SRF. Once it divides, it will never come back together again. But I think this is what Master is forcing us to do. It is time to go on the offensive, to do battle with SRF.”

That night he called all the colony leaders, and asked them to come to the Village for a meeting. “This is a decision we all have to make together.” The next morning, though, he was deeply dejected. “I am absolutely heartsick over the depths to which SRF has sunk, and now having to take a stand against my own gurubhais.” His heavy mood lasted for several hours, then, “Suddenly I felt a karmic weight lifted off of me,” he said.

By the time the colony leaders arrived at the Village a few days later, Swamiji had already written eight pages of what became Truth is Impersonal: Has SRF Lost Its Way? It was a hard-hitting indictment of SRF, with specific examples of how he felt they were betraying Master’s fundamental principles.

“I’m hoping that when their own members read these stories about SRF’s self-serving lack of charity,” Swamiji said, “they will say, ‘Yes, I’ve experienced that, too,’ and demand that SRF change.” He wanted to distribute the paper as widely as possible, especially in Southern California and other places where SRF had temples.

The colony leaders listened attentively while Swamiji read the document aloud. When he saw how uncomfortable many were with such an aggressive stance, he said, “To defend SRF has been so deeply felt, and so often stated by me, that many of you think of it as dharma. Now I am splitting Ananda from SRF. They did it long ago. I’m just offering the other hand to clap. I have to defend Master’s work. I feel they are destroying it.”

He described the situation with SRF as a “rajasic problem”—meaning an active issue, happening in the material world. “If you have a rajasic problem you have to solve it on the rajasic level, he said. “You can’t just sit and chant AUM.”

A day later, he held a larger meeting, inviting about one hundred community residents. Again he read the paper aloud, now several pages longer. When he finished, there was silence. Then a few supportive remarks.

“Does anyone here not approve?” Swamiji asked.

From the back of the room, a woman exclaimed, “I don’t like this! Can’t we just let it be, and it will gradually sort itself out?”

Swamiji smiled at her and said, “I invited you specifically because I knew you couldn’t care less about SRF, and wouldn’t be in tune with this.” He wasn’t looking for yes-men; he wanted the community to be honest and involved. Now that the ice was broken, several others expressed serious concern about what he was writing.

Nearly in tears, a woman said, “It hurts me deeply to do this.”

“I know just how you feel,” Swamiji said. “I feel the same way.”

Over the next few days, Swamiji finished the paper, never softening the tone. Then he began to vacillate. For several weeks he went back and forth about whether or not to release it.

“Master was usually so forbearing,” Swamiji said, as a reason not to do it. “But once, when he was in a segregated area of the country, a waiter in a restaurant refused to serve him: ‘We don’t serve Negroes.’ Master explained that even though he had dark skin, Indians are Caucasians, not Negroes. He then ordered the waiter to bring him food. When the plate arrived, Master threw it in the man’s face! That is not a story I tell often, but it is something to think about.”

Swamiji said, “Saint John of the Cross was imprisoned by his own brothers, but he never spoke against them.” Then suddenly, Swamiji exclaimed, “But Saint John founded a whole reform order! He openly repudiated their entire way of life! He must have explained why. The same with Saint Teresa of Avila. She, too, created a reform order. The church stirred up so much opposition against her that she had to sneak her nuns into their new convents in the middle of the night.”

Then he began to laugh. “I’ll have to rethink this,” he said with a chuckle. “I was counting heavily on Saint John of the Cross!”

He was still trying to figure out how to start the paper. Then, on September 30, the anniversary of Lahiri Mahasaya’s birth, Swamiji woke up early with this idea in his mind:

We accuse Self-Realization Fellowship of … acting with contempt for the American tradition of religious freedom; deliberately prolonging their litigation in an attempt to bankrupt Ananda; resorting to slander when their legal efforts failed; willfully disregarding Master’s statement, When I am gone, only love can take my place.

Then came the dozen or so examples of SRF’s egregious behavior toward individuals, including Master’s family in India. Then SRF’s lies about their actions, justifying everything by saying, “Master told us to do it this way.” Swamiji was at the heart of SRF when many of those decisions were made, and he knew that wasn’t true.

Swamiji had made up his mind. We printed thousands of copies and distributed them everywhere we thought SRF members would see them.


In the last week of September, Swamiji sent three letters to the Ananda mailing list worldwide: The Bertolucci Case: Its Meaning.

In the first letter, Swamiji asked the simple question, “Is Master displeased?” Inwardly, he said, he felt Master’s reassurance, “But that might be purely subjective.” So he considered the question also in terms of objective reason. Who is opposing us? What qualifies them to judge? What are their tactics? Anne-Marie had three lawyers and two paralegals on her case. She herself had no money. Who but SRF would be motivated to mount such an attack on Ananda?

Speaking of Ananda, he said, By their fruits, ye shall know them. He described all the good Ananda was doing for the world, how many people had been helped, all the miracles needed for us to succeed at all.

After sharing his reasoning and intuitive process, he offered three conclusions:

“Master wants us to become stronger, not weaker, in our commitment to him. He wants us to become warriors for the light, and not merely to live in the self-image of many people here: that of sweet devotees.

“Master must want us to be stronger in our self-existence, apart from SRF. We must more clearly define in our own minds that Master’s work is not the organization he founded, but the message he brought to the West.

“Inasmuch as the attack seems virtually to have bypassed the issues at stake in the Bertolucci case, while focusing on me and my relation to Master’s work, it is obvious that I must consider what Master is asking of me, personally, and how this will affect the work we are all doing in his name.”

The second letter was to answer that question; it was extremely personal. Swamiji had decided Master wanted him to speak, so he did, starting with the first time he met Master, including parts of the story he had never shared before.

After Master gave Swamiji his unconditional love, he asked, “Are you troubled by any of the three main delusions: sex, wine, and money?”

“Sex has been troublesome,” Swamiji said.

Still, at that first meeting, Master initiated him as a disciple and a monk. Swamiji took that to mean Master had confidence that he would be able to overcome whatever lingering desires he still had.

Swamiji’s final vows in 1955 made him a member of the Swami Order of Shankaracharya. In 1962, SRF expelled him from their monastic order, but they had no authority to remove him from the Swami Order itself. He continued to live as a monk. “My vow was not a garment that I wore to impress others,” Swamiji said. “It was my self-definition before God: my intention was not to give up, ever, even if it took me a lifetime to achieve inner freedom from delusion.”

But now he had neither the protection of a monastery, nor the company and support of other renunciates. When he started Ananda, he had to mix freely with both men and women. Rarely, he said, did he break his vow of celibacy, but it did happen. Despite this, the women of Ananda attested to the fact that Swamiji never had the vibration of a man troubled by desire; many filed declarations on that point. Whatever level he was working on was more subtle than we could perceive.

Swamiji wrote, “Master told me more than once, ‘Don’t worry about this tendency; it isn’t deep in you.’ I myself always knew it wasn’t deep. It would be erroneous to give the impression that this problem ever obsessed me, for it never did. My distress was due simply to the fact that it existed at all. I’d dedicated my life to serving God, but I couldn’t dismiss, or wish into nonexistence, my desire for human consolation and support—especially in light of the great hurt I felt in being abandoned by own gurubhais.”

Swamiji’s self-control was legendary. He told us appalling tales of dental procedures he went through without Novocain. “I just thought of something else, composing music in my mind, or working out a problem in my writing. If the pain became too much, I thought, ‘I’ve had a good life. A little pain won’t hurt me.’” Then there was the hip operation where the anesthesia wore off while they were still sewing him up. He endured so stoically, the doctors never knew he could feel what they were doing.

Still, Swamiji wrote, “I was not perfectly celibate, though I did my best, and was determined not to hoist the white flag of surrender, ever. To be a swami means many things besides being celibate. It means devoting oneself to becoming complete in oneself; to living centered in oneself; to teaching and sharing with others those truths with which one has become deeply familiar and conversant. The truth is, I have fought nobly on all fronts. I have fought well.”

To a few of us, he said, “Am I proud of my weaknesses? No, never! I am not proud of the fact that I have not been able always to live by all of my ideals. Nor am I happy in the fact that this lack of ability has given you a lesser model of spiritual perfection.

“I know you love me, respect me, and appreciate the good I’ve done, and the goodness I’ve manifested in my life. You are loyal to me, as I’ve been loyal to you. Nonetheless, it has to have been a cause of regret for you, too, that I couldn’t be more like Master, rather than less like him. It would not even be spiritually right for you to feel otherwise. I don’t want your love for me, nor mine for you, to be based on mere human sentiments. You have a karmic bond with me. I recognize and accept that, humbly. But the fact is, Master is far greater than I. You are really following him, through me.”

Although some people insisted that Swamiji owed the community more of an explanation, he responded, “My life is between me and God. Master himself told us, ‘Tell your faults to no one.’ Now I see with renewed understanding why he said that. My enemies want to define me in terms of my weaknesses. In my service to all of you, I have always defined you in terms of your strengths. I know the faults of many of you, yet I hold before you those qualities that will help you to rise, and not those that would cause you to sink, spiritually.”

About himself, he said, “That attraction simply doesn’t exist for me anymore, despite the fact that almost all my closest friends are themselves married. It is just as Master told me, ‘Once the delusion is overcome, you won’t be able to understand why it ever attracted you in the first place.’”

He talked of the decision he made years before to set the example of a spiritually dedicated householder. That side of the community, he said, is now well established, but what will happen from here? Nothing in this world ever stays the same. On one side is the downward pull toward a more worldly definition of the householder life. The seeds of that direction exist in the present controversy. The other choice is an upward movement toward increasing dedication to God. Obviously, we want to take the upward path.

“This means, again, I must set the example,” Swamiji wrote. “I feel to embrace once again my swami calling. We’ve gone a long way toward establishing the householder ideal. What is needed now is to include in our way of life a purely monastic ideal.

“This is important. Not for me, so much. My dedication is there with or without any kind of title. But I think that for me not to take a step into swamihood again would be to dilute, from now on, what we are—not I or you only, but the yoga community in America. Instead of saying, ‘Well, who’s perfect?’ we need to declare, ‘If we die trying, that is what we intend to become!’”

The third letter simply introduced the paper, Truth is Impersonal: Has SRF Lost Its Way? which was enclosed.


Swamiji still had to face more days of deposition, but not until December. He decided to take seclusion in India. A friend arranged a house for him in Rishikesh. We were leading a pilgrimage at the same time, and our group of thirty-five met him there. We knew his cottage was on the Ganges, but assumed it would be away from the populated area. We were surprised that it was right next to the ferry boat dock.

Still, it was a charming cottage, perched on the edge of the steep river bank, with a wide balcony overlooking the water. Our hotel was on the opposite side of the river, so we took the ferry across. When we landed, we started chanting as we processed the short distance to Swamiji’s front door.

In India, outward expressions of devotion are looked upon with favor, so it was our joy to honor him in this way. He had been trying to keep a low profile, he said later, and we really blew his cover!

He intended to resume his status as a swami, but hadn’t done it yet, so was still wearing white. From my diary at the time: “White shirt, white pants, white hair, silver glasses, light eyes and skin. His aura was so expanded, his body seemed only a translucent outline of a man in front of a beam of pure, white light. All the Western, outward moving, accomplishment oriented energy that usually accompanies him was gone. He was utterly relaxed, completely approachable, sitting quietly while we settled ourselves into his living room, which was barely large enough to hold the group.

“He had bought some sweets, arranged them on a tray, cut into small pieces, and asked that they be passed around. He wanted us to eat in his presence. Sharing food in the company of a holy person is a way of absorbing his vibrations.

“He offered to answer questions. Someone asked about traveling in India. He said, ‘The best way is with your eyes closed.’ He meant it two ways: to take the ancient vibrations deep inside, and not to be distracted—or dismayed—by the present conditions.

“‘Many of those who have incarnated in India now are not really “Indian souls” in the way we are,’ Swamiji said. ‘Even though they were born here, they are not in tune with the deeper values of this culture. That is why there is so much confusion in India right now; so many of its citizens are just temporary visitors, tourists traveling through the dimension of time.

“‘We, too, are temporary visitors, tourists traveling through the dimension of space—ten thousand miles of it, half-way around the world. For many of us, though, India is our true home.

“‘Last night, when I was out for a walk, I thought, “In America, we would keep the streets cleaner.” But then I asked myself, “Then what would you have? The answer: clean streets.” Is it really worthwhile to devote so much energy and attention merely to making the world the way we want it? One good thing about travel is that it shows you there is no criterion of how things ought to be. There are many ways of being.’”

We talked, meditated, then went out on the balcony to take pictures and enjoy the view. When we left for the boat dock, Swamiji stood on the balcony, watching us.

From my diary: “As long as I live, and for incarnations beyond, the image of Swamiji standing on the balcony of his house will be imprinted on my soul like the image of the sun on an exposed negative. While the usual Indian confusion reigned around me, I sat perfectly still at the very front of the boat staring at Swamiji. The dock keepers filled our boat, added even more people, took people off, then put them in again.

“Swamiji smiled joyously, clearly enjoying the scene. At one point he called out, ‘A lot of people in the boat!’ Then suddenly he exited and returned with his camera. He took a few photos, then continued quietly watching.

“Swamiji’s house was painted bright yellow-orange, with darker orange trim, and a big AUM symbol on the roof, right above his head. The whiteness of his being was intensified by the colors behind. Everything else in the scene—boats, people, buildings, even the Ganges itself—was just the backdrop for the white figure on the balcony. I wondered why everyone was not staring at him. A river of joy and love flowed from him into my heart. The scriptures say, ‘One moment in the company of a saint will be your raft over the ocean of delusion.’

“I was wearing a big sun hat, and dark sunglasses, which intensified the feeling of living in a world where only Swamiji and I existed, united by a beam of divine friendship. Never had I seen him more openly show his true, divine self. I remember him saying, ‘Italians live in the heart, so in Italy I can give more of who I am than I can in America. In India, though, they understand. There I can give everything.’”

We met Swamiji again a few weeks later in Delhi, at the end of the tour. He was still wearing white, so we asked him about resuming his status as a swami. He had thought, he said, to ask Swami Chidananda, president of the Divine Life Society, to re-initiate him. He was a friend, and Swamiji held him in high regard. “But he had to leave town, and I didn’t want to take it from just anyone.”

Later he talked to others who could speak with authority about the Indian tradition. An organization, they said, can absolve you of your vow to them, but being a swami is between you and God. He didn’t need to be re-initiated.

“I only relinquished my vow as a sacrifice for Ananda,” Swamiji said. “In my heart I never gave it up.” So when he was in Kolkata, he went to Master’s home at 4 Garpar Road. “I prayed in Master’s meditation room. There was a noisy fan blowing my hair all around. It wasn’t quite the ceremony I might have imagined…” his voice trailed off. Ceremony or not, in his heart, it was done.

Later he told us, “In many ways, it was a difficult seclusion. I was plunged into states of depression and despair. I felt Satan was trying to get to me. I didn’t mind. I just clung to Master, meditated, and little by little the dark feeling would go away.”

On another occasion, he said, “The way of Satan is to make you feel totally discouraged. A master can criticize and correct you, even scold you fiercely, but he leaves you with hope. Satan leaves you feeling hopeless. That’s how you can tell you are being influenced by the dark force.”


SRF answered our question, Has SRF Lost Its Way? with a seventeen-page rebuttal, filled with half-truths and careful omissions. If you didn’t know the facts, it had a persuasive aura of authority, enhanced by photographs of six direct disciples of Master living at Mount Washington, and two others who had died years before.

Swamiji wrote a two-page response. “Dialogue on these issues is not presently possible, and we no longer expect it. Our purpose in writing what SRF defines as attacks has been to inspire a right direction for the future of our mutually beloved Guru’s mission.” He responded to a few of their worst misrepresentations, then said, “I could continue with a point-by-point rebuttal, but I see no purpose in getting into what might imaginably degenerate into a shouting match. Ananda’s and my aim has never been to be right at all costs, but simply to try to get some semblance of real kindness active again among those serving our Guru with, we believe, sincere devotion.”

Has SRF Lost Its Way? was published almost three years to the day after the Open Letter to the SRF Board of Directors. It was many years before Swamiji again made a public effort to communicate with SRF.


When the depositions resumed in December—for a total of eighty hours—X was just the same, but Swamiji was different. The karma was over. They had done their worst and he was stronger than ever. In one of his letters, Swamiji had described Bertolucci’s lawyers as “the closest thing to the personification of evil we are likely to encounter in this lifetime.” X reveled in the insult, and asked him to elaborate.

Swamiji gazed sternly into his eyes, then replied forcefully, “I don’t know what you are like in your personal life, but in your professional life, you are a sadist. I think that is why you became a lawyer. You enjoy hurting people. If that isn’t the definition of evil, I don’t know what is.” X tried to deflect Swamiji’s words with mockery and insult, but a tremendous force poured through him as he continued to excoriate X for his evil way of life. Later Swamiji said, “I felt that God was not only guiding me, He was using me. I couldn’t have done anything else, even if I had tried.”


During his time in Hawaii, Swamiji had prayed to Babaji, “I am not attached to anything I have done. It has all been in service to Master. If you wish to destroy it, I accept your will without hesitation. But why have you used as your instrument such evil people? Why have you allowed such people, who have no dharma, to have power over me?”

Babaji answered, “They are all my children.


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