1996: SRF’ “Tarnishment” Strategy Backfires

Kiya and Ariel enjoy the contra dancing during a 4th of July celebration at Ananda Village.


In a recent talk, Swamiji had said we must learn to love heroically. At his open house on New Year’s Day, he was asked to elaborate.

 “When suffering comes, the temptation is to withdraw from the world, and shrink in on oneself. If, at such a time, you reach out to help others, that is heroic loving.

“When others hate you, and life gives you cause for bitterness, to return hatred with love, to accept disappointment without wavering in your love for God, that is heroic loving.

“When you love without condition, thinking not of what you can get, but only of what you can give, when you understand that to love is to be happy, that is heroic loving.”


Swamiji saw the Crystal Clarity debt as Divine Mother’s way of getting him to go out and lecture. It would boost book sales, and also put him in direct contact with SRF members. He was concerned for the many sincere devotees whose only understanding of Master was through SRF. He wanted to show them an alternative. His efforts to influence SRF’s leaders had come to nothing; maybe his recent paper, and personal contact with him, would inspire some of the members to act.

He started in Southern California. Many SRF members came to his lectures, although some admitted to feeling nervous at first, because of SRF’s condemnation. Often, with tears in their eyes, they thanked Swamiji afterward for sharing so beautifully the spirit of Master in a way they hadn’t experienced before.

The Mystic Harp, the album Derek Bell recorded, was a bestseller for Crystal Clarity. He happened to be in Los Angeles, so Derek and Swamiji did some media engagements together, which boosted sales even more.

On Master’s Mahasamadhi, Swamiji led a big event at the Biltmore Hotel. “There is a tendency for Master’s disciples to define him in terms of what he said or did, to think of the time when he was living in his body as his true reality. Even when he was on earth, Master was not his outer expression. In his presence, we felt him as a divine emanation that came through him. ‘I killed Yogananda long ago,’ he said. ‘No one dwells in this temple now but God.’

“A few years ago, the mother of one of the residents was visiting Ananda Village. She was walking through a meadow when suddenly she had a vision of Master. He spoke with her for a long time, and answered many questions she put to him. Finally she asked him, ‘Do you come here often?’ He answered, ‘I am here all the time.’ She was so uplifted; it was many hours before she could speak.

“Don’t think, ‘How lucky those people were who lived with Master.’ You are with him now. Master is here all the time—at Ananda, in this room; you can feel him. He is omnipresent. His love is a constant presence. Wherever you are, when you sincerely call to him, he is there with you. You are the focus for his presence. All you need to do is make his love more dynamic to your awareness.

“It is a mistake, though, to define Master’s love as the nice things he does for you. He will provide for you, he does smooth the way, but he also wants you to grow—which means giving you difficult experiences, too, for that is how we learn. Treasure those experiences even more than the sweet things he does for you. Yes, there will be temporary pain; but in the end, a power of divine love more blissful than you can imagine.

 “If you want to be free in this lifetime, be a warrior, not a beggar grasping for a penny at the gates of heaven. See everything that happens as a gift from Master. It is always the right thing for you. Have faith in this truth.

“In building Ananda, I have never said, ‘I lived with Master. Don’t you think I should know what he wants?’ I did live with him and I should know. But it doesn’t help anyone to put it that way. You must recognize truth within yourself. If you don’t, what does it matter what I say? That is what Master taught, and that is how we must live.

“Don’t think about Master in terms of then. Think of him as now, in this room—and most important of all, as Master in your heart.”

From the beginning of the year, until his birthday in May, Swamiji was mostly on tour away from the Village. The new age conferences had run their course and been replaced by gatherings focused on yoga—mostly hatha yoga, but still a receptive audience for what Swamiji had to offer. He went up and down the West Coast, then across the country to Denver, Dallas, Chicago, and on into Canada. By the end of his tour, he had spoken to thousands of people, and Crystal Clarity sales were up more than twenty-five percent.

The Path was going to be reprinted. After his birthday, Swamiji rewrote the chapter about his separation from SRF, making the story simpler, and more as he understood it now: It was Master’s will from the start.

Using the sayings in Do It NOW! he recorded 366 radio programs called New Dawn, fifteen minutes each, that could air daily for a year.


Ananda Assisi had just finished building the first Self-realization temple in Europe. It was an exquisite design, created by a Swiss architect named Ramatou, and built by Arjuna and a crew of Ananda carpenters. It sat well off the road, in a small valley, surrounded by soft, rolling hills. The double-curved roof was covered in cobalt blue tiles, topped by an elegant, transparent cupola. At night, the cupola glowed with a golden light. They called it Tempio di Luce—Temple of Light.

The dedication would be a ten-day celebration, set around September 12, Swamiji’s 48th anniversary of discipleship. Right after Spiritual Renewal Week in August, Swamiji planned to go to Europe—without a return ticket.

Several years earlier, he had officially withdrawn from running Ananda. In fact, he had already given most of his responsibilities to others. The leaders, though, had worked with him for decades and it was hard to break the habit of consulting Swamiji on matters of importance. His home was at Crystal Hermitage—the center of community life.

Ananda Assisi had grown up differently. Swamiji visited only occasionally, so it had to develop mostly without his input. When he was there, people looked to him for inspiration rather than solutions to the problems they faced. But he didn’t have his own home in Assisi; when he visited, one had to be rented, or someone had to move out of their house to give him a place to live.

Now a friend, eager for him settle in Europe, gave Swamiji a generous loan to buy land and build a house of his own. A perfect piece of land was found, isolated, at the end of a road, near the community, but not too near. Swamiji would be free there to follow his own flow.

To make construction fast and simple, he bought one of the “Swedish houses” he had recommended for the Village: one-bedroom, with an office downstairs. Everything would be new: house, land, and furnishings. “No vibrations,” Swamiji said, “except my own. Ananda is part of the great work Master commissioned me to do, but not the definition of it. To tune in to the magnitude of that mission, I need to free myself of all preconceptions. Even the vibrations of Ananda now are a limitation.”


In July, Swamiji went to Yosemite for a month of seclusion. Before he left, he wrote to the community, “I’ve reached a point in my life where it is important to define my own future directions. How better to do it than in a new location? I feel free to leave at this time, because I know you have the strength to stand up to whatever trials Ananda may face here. The love you expressed at my birthday, and the positive will to serve God and Guru are inspiring to me. I have confidence in you all, that you can continue perfectly well without me standing next to you on the front lines.

“Thank God the great majority of you know that the niggling criticisms and foolish advice coming from our own ranks aren’t even worth addressing. Nonetheless, the carping of those few feels like a tangle of strings around my ankles. I have no patience with them. It will be easier to change my inner direction if I don’t have to keep dealing with it.

“I’ve devoted this year to promoting Ananda and the new Crystal Clarity products. I think I’ve done all I can in this regard. My body, in any case, won’t let me go on this way indefinitely.

“I’m not leaving here. I’ll come back, probably for months at a time. It is all Ananda; the point is to be where we are most needed. My unceasing love and blessings to all of you.”

While he was in seclusion in Yosemite, Swamiji made an audio book of Autobiography of a Yogi. Then he decided, since Ananda was under attack, it would be a good time to write the story of the community’s founding. He called the book A Place Called Ananda.

Click cover to order.

He started by explaining how he came to be working on his own—yet another take on his separation from SRF. This time, though, he wasn’t talking to the SRF leaders, or trying to persuade anyone of anything. It was right from the heart—“the most personal book I have ever written,” he said, “more personal even than my autobiography.” The book ends when Ananda has barely begun, so he added to the title Volume 1.

“My tests have made me strong; they have not made me hard,” he wrote to a friend. “They’ve made me realize to my core that God is my only Reality, my only Love, my only Truth.

“Yes, I have been hurt. But I have not clutched that hurt to my breast. Since many years now I have given it to God. Ananda was not built on my pain; it was built on my love for God and Guru—which I have refused to let anyone, let alone my critics, define for me.

“Most painful has been the betrayal by those to whom I had given my sincere love and friendship. But this pain has made me realize all the more clearly that only God’s love never disappoints, never betrays.”


In September, the same week that Swamiji was dedicating the Temple of Light in Assisi, we found the “smoking gun” that proved SRF’s involvement in the Bertolucci lawsuit. Swamiji had been right about the SRF member being at his deposition; he was the key.

A new member of the Palo Alto church, who worked in the food industry, was attending a trade show. She got into a conversation with a business acquaintance whom she knew had some interest in spiritual matters. She told him she had recently joined the Ananda Church of Self-Realization.

“You don’t want to be involved with them!” he exclaimed forcefully. “They are a terrible organization with a big lawsuit against them. I belong to Self-Realization Fellowship. Most of the SRF members don’t know anything about the Bertolucci lawsuit, but I know all about it, because I am very close with Daya Mata, and I attended Swami Kriyananda’s deposition.

At the deposition, he had lied about his profession, but he gave his real name. He was the CEO of an herb company that operated on land owned by SRF. He had been an SRF member for many years and was a big donor. When his company was sued by the Environmental Protection Agency for polluting the water, he hired X to defend him—because X was also a long time member of SRF, well known to Daya Mata, and other members of the Board of Directors.

A search of public records turned up a quitclaim deed filed by SRF right after Swamiji’s deposition. It transferred to this man—“for one dollar and other considerations”—an extremely valuable piece of property. An established client of X, a valuable asset turned over for free, equals an ideal conduit for SRF’s money to pay Bertolucci’s legal costs.

In the SRF lawsuit, through a series of motions, Jon and Naidhruva had whittled the case down to a small handful of issues. We tried the same strategy with the Bertolucci lawsuit, but it didn’t work. X wanted a trial, the longer and more sensational the better. The judge set a trial date for March 1997.

 SRF decided that now was the time to bring the tarnishment issue to Judge Garcia in federal court. News of the Bertolucci case appeared regularly in the media; X made sure of that. SRF claimed its reputation was already tarnished, and when the trial started, it would get much worse. It was imperative, they said, to separate SRF from Ananda in the minds of the public. They demanded that Judge Garcia restore to SRF exclusive rights to the term Self-realization, the name Paramhansa Yogananda, his image, and his teachings.

Backed by our newly discovered evidence, we accused SRF of having “unclean hands.” We asked Judge Garcia, “Can SRF both create the tarnishment and then benefit from it?” We demanded the right to take Daya Mata’s deposition about SRF’s involvement in the Bertolucci lawsuit.

SRF resisted mightily, so mightily the judge decided that, by the very intensity of their resistance, “Plaintiff SRF has effectively admitted it has some connection with the Bertolucci litigation worth hiding. That is enough basis to allow Ananda to proceed with the deposition of Daya Mata.”


After the Temple dedication in Assisi, Swamiji decided to spend a few weeks in India. The trip started well, with visits to many old friends, but then he became ill with pneumonia, and had to return to Italy. Later he said, “I had wondered whether now was the time to go to India, but when I got sick, I felt it was Master saying, ‘Not yet.’”

He recovered quickly, and began to tour around Europe. There were now twenty-nine editions of his books published outside the United States, representing sixteen different languages.

In December in Palo Alto, our Christmas concert would be the Oratorio. The director sent Swamiji a recording of a recent performance, which included the narration, asking for suggestions about how it could be done better.

“For the first time ever,” Swamiji said, “I listened critically, especially to the blend of music and spoken words. I realized that after each spoken section the listener had to get back into the mood of the music. And just when he was getting into the music, he was interrupted again by the spoken word. The two mediums were incompatible, at least in this context.

“The readings were from the Bible, as is traditional. They weren’t sung, because most Bible passages don’t translate easily into melodies. Even Bach’s oratorios have this problem. You wait through the recitatives until you can get back to the arias. It was time to write words that could be sung, and that would be more in keeping with Master’s interpretation of the Bible.

“I was leading a weekend retreat in Holland when I heard the recording, but during the time I wasn’t teaching, I wrote words for the recitatives. I tried to write the music, but as I had no keyboard, I had to wait until I returned to Assisi. The singers had twenty-two new songs to learn for the performance just days away! I faxed the last one on the afternoon of the concert itself. The choir director had already left for the hall. Fortunately our soloists could learn quickly, and the music was within their capacity.”

It went beautifully, although one of the singers remarked afterward, “It was unnerving, having learned so much new music so recently, to walk up to the microphone for a solo without having any idea what the song sounded like! Only after the accompaniment started and I could look at the score did I remember.”

Among many beautiful additions to the Oratorio were these words about John the Baptist.

John, renouncing all,

Left his home.

Wrapped in solitude,

Far from men’s ways,

Roaming across desert sands,

Seeking God’s truth.

Long years he spoke only with God,

’Til, silent of soul,

Wisdom did fill the ache of his heart:

Then he did see God alone.


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