“You don’t need rules, if your self-definition is clear,” Swamiji said. His paper, Ananda’s Directions, settled any confusion that might still linger: There is no Ananda without Swami Kriyananda. The most vocal critics had already left. Now there was another smaller wave of departures by those who couldn’t embrace Swamiji’s role as he defined it.
Community life offers unlimited opportunities to serve—too many opportunities! “Is it all right sometimes to say ‘no’?” Swamiji was asked.
“There are many factors to consider in addition to service,” he said. “It is important also to have time to be with God, to meditate, and to be with friends.
“One of the purposes of Ananda, is to show the world true friendship, and to show that cooperation doesn’t have to be coerced, but comes naturally as a result of that friendship. In a community where everyone is there to grow spiritually, we understand that we all have things to overcome. This leads to compassion, not judgment.”
A man in the community was denied a speaking role he craved because he was not as competent as many others were to represent Ananda. He appealed to Swamiji, who called in the decision-makers—who were highly competent, but still, Swamiji felt, needed some correction.
“The damage to him spiritually of being denied is far greater than any damage he will do by being allowed to speak,” Swamiji said. Then he added, “If you are too busy to take care of individual people, you should change the way you do your job.”
In one of the depositions, Swamiji was asked to define his role as spiritual director. “To protect the rights of the individual. Sometimes, in the exigencies of an institution, decisions are made that aren’t in the best interests of individuals. When I see that happening, I step in.”
When Swamiji had a misunderstanding with a long-time friend, he wrote to the friend, “Nothing is so important to me as the love and friendship we have for one another. For that soul bond, I am grateful in eternity. Ananda would hold no meaning for me were it not for your, and many others, soul-friendship.”
A man came to Swamiji and spoke of his hope to marry a certain woman. Swamiji had to tell him that it wasn’t going to happen; she was in love with someone else. “Why then, when I look into her eyes, do I feel such a deep soul connection?” the man asked.
“This is a very old spiritual family,” Swamiji said. “We have had so many lifetimes together, we have been all things to one another. Even our desire to have a community is to recreate on the material plane the perfect harmony we had together in the astral world.”
In The Path, Swamiji explains how each soul, as it increases in spiritual understanding, “develops the gravitational power to form meaningful and lasting relationships with other souls. Gradually, in its outer life, it, and others who are spiritually compatible with it, form great families of souls that return to earth, or to other planets, to work out their salvation, not only inwardly on themselves, but through interaction with one another. For divine emancipation it is necessary to spiritualize one’s relations with the objective world, and with other human beings, as well as with God.”
In his litigation against cults, X had started with one or two plaintiffs; then, once the silence was broken, many others came forward. He assumed the same would happen with Ananda.
He held meetings in Nevada City, and other places where we had centers. The shadow people worked their contacts at the Village and in the other Ananda communities. In Southern California, just before the SRF convocation, there was a “healing session for all abused victims of Ananda.” X even dropped leaflets from an airplane onto the Village, telling those “trapped inside the compound” that help was at hand! None of it worked, because there were no abused victims. The Bertolucci lawsuit started and ended in the same way: one woman scorned taking her revenge, and a handful of SRF members trying to prove their loyalty by attacking Swamiji.
He was not the only spiritual teacher targeted by negative forces. In all other cases, though, the attack came from inside, and ultimately split those communities apart, or left them greatly changed. In one case, the guru walked away from his own ashram; in another, the leader went into seclusion. A few went to India and never returned, or died soon after.
Not only was Swamiji the only one to stand and fight; Ananda was the only ashram that emerged, not merely intact, but larger and stronger. Yes, many people left, but many new people came, and the core never wavered. Despite the enormous financial burden, Ananda worldwide flourished. The lawsuit years were the most expansive in Ananda’s history.
In March, Swamiji wrote his Last Will, Testament, and Spiritual Legacy. For his Will, as a monk, he had already given everything to God. But since God is not a legal entity in human courts, Ananda Church of Self-Realization would be His representative.
For his Testament, Swamiji began by saying, Ananda has never been “my own work, personally.” It was done for Master and our line of Gurus; and if anyone should consider Swamiji as their spiritual teacher, let it be “as a representative of our line of Gurus, and not as a guru in my own separate right.”
Among other guidelines, he says that if, in future, any dispute arises as to the correct interpretation of the will and teachings of Master, they should ask “What would Kriyananda have done or decided in these circumstances?” rather than referring to what his fellow-disciples might have done, since “Ananda is, itself, a particular ray of my Guru’s mission and teachings.”
An important part of his life work, Swamiji wrote, has been to “carry to its logical conclusion Paramhansa Yogananda’s endeavors to show how his spiritual teachings may be applied in more mundane avenues of life.” He references his own books and classes on subjects such as leadership, education, marriage, and material success, to give a few examples.
He then puts into writing something he had suggested many times over the years, but the idea was too far ahead of our ability to implement it. “It is natural, and indeed desirable, that departments be formed and dedicated to the spreading of each of these aspects of our work.”
What he himself did “was never intended to be comprehensive, but was meant to be seminal in order that others might pursue further in other lines of development the ideas I expressed.” He requests, however, that further development continue what he has already set into motion, rather than being “initiated in an entirely new or in different ways from those initiated by me and our line of Gurus”—again, referring to the particular ray that is Ananda.
Any future directions, Swamiji said, should always be to further Ananda as a spiritual mission, not to seek monetary profit or worldly recognition, or measure success in terms of the sheer number of people involved. He states that we must always work for universal spiritual harmony and unity, and that “Ananda must work for the well-being of all, and never give greater importance to its own perceived well-being and prosperity” if those “must be obtained at the cost of the needs and well-being of anyone else.”
Self-Realization Fellowship “must always be considered part of Ananda’s broader spiritual family.” If any occasion arises where the two organizations can work cooperatively, “Ananda ought to make every reasonable effort to do so.”
He describes the primary considerations for positions of leadership, ministry, and membership as devotion, selfless service, impersonal dedication to truth and justice, and attunement to the will of God, among other qualities.
As for his Legacy: “My legacy to Ananda is spiritual in nature, primarily, and consists of the teachings, ideals, and vibrations that I have received from my Guru. My wish is that Ananda always remain true to these principles, and remain faithful to” the two ideals that have always defined it:
“People are more important than things.” Especially in their spiritual needs. And, “Where there is adherence to right attitude and action, there is victory.
“It is my hope, finally, that Ananda will always remain faithful to the following priorities: Our primary goal is to find God, and to unite our souls with Him in divine love. Our secondary goal is to serve God above all, free from the influence of passing fads and opinions.”
“In America,” Swamiji said, “my presence at The Expanding Light doesn’t seem to make much difference. The same number come to Spiritual Renewal Week whether I am there or not.” In Europe, people flocked to see him. Every weekend when he was scheduled, the retreat was full. Italians have a tradition of saints and understood intuitively what they had in him.
When Swamiji wasn’t teaching or occasionally giving seminars in other cities, he worked on a comparative study of verses from the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. He followed the same sequence as Rays of the One Light, our Sunday service readings, but brought in other verses as well, and went much deeper than a reading would allow. Showing the unity between these two scriptures was a fundamental part of Master’s mission. Swamiji labored over Promise of Immortality for almost two years.
It had been a lifelong habit with Swamiji to override with willpower any physical limitations his body imposed on his creative output. Now that was no longer possible. His heart especially was vulnerable. Twice in three months, atrial fibrillation was so severe, Swamiji had to be hospitalized, and an electric shock administered, to normalize the heart rhythm.
During that procedure, the patient is unconscious, but his arms and legs are strapped down, because the shock causes the limbs to flail. In Swamiji’s case, both times he was so relaxed, even while unconscious, that his limbs didn’t move. In gratitude for his care, Swamiji gave his cardiologist a CD of some of his songs in Italian.
Atrial fibrillation continued intermittently, but not to the same degree—which was fortunate, because it was not advisable to do the procedure a third time. Swamiji accepted that he had to pay attention to the fatigue in his heart, and not just override it, as he had always done before.
The heart surgery made possible for Swamiji many more years of service to his Guru. There were, however, side effects. The heart is the center of feeling in the body, and his heart had been cut open and permanently changed by the insertion of an artificial valve.
“Inwardly, I feel deeply calm, just as I did before the operation,” Swamiji said. “But since the surgery, my body, especially my heart, remains nervous.” It was a distraction, above all, for meditation. And when the heartbeat was irregular, Swamiji said, it was like having a washing machine inside his chest. He lamented the loss of physical stillness, but accepted it as the will of God.
After the Bertolucci trial, Swamiji saw that the inclination of the community was to go home, shut the gate, and enjoy the wonderful life we had together. It was natural to want to rest for a time, but to continue in that direction, he felt, would not be good for us, for Ananda, or for Master’s mission.
Swamiji sent a video to America, followed by a letter, suggesting that we set ourselves the goal of drawing a million members—not in the usual sense of signed up and pledged, but a million people who are open to Ananda, happy to hear from us, and appreciate what we are doing. This is not something, he said, to leave to Ananda’s “official representatives.” Bringing people into our spiritual family is a movement everyone can be part of, simply by sharing our enthusiasm.
Whenever you are with someone, he said, even in casual encounters, think in terms of what that person might need, what would be helpful to him. Stress positive values, like inner happiness, peace of mind, kindness. Don’t keep Ananda a secret, but don’t push it, either. You don’t have to sell books or get them to The Expanding Light. Emphasize principles, not form. If they want to take the next step, they will.
“Think of everyone you meet as a friend. Like him, or her. Concentrate more on sharing friendship, kindness, and joy with them, than on the impression you are making,” Swamiji said. In this he was describing himself, and explaining how he built Ananda.
“Even though I’m saying a million members, it is a mistake to think of numbers at all. It’s direction that is important. We tend to think too small. We need to have attitudes like, ‘This is for everybody!’ One reason I’ve suggested a million is to offer a figure that seems so unrealistic that people simply won’t be able to think numerically any more, and will concentrate on flow.
“Sure, ten thousand members would be a great beginning, but visualizing ten thousand, which I grant you is more realistic, would hypnotize us with numbers again. I know it helps to visualize definite goals, but I’ve found it more helpful not to draw mental lines at the end of those goals, and instead let God flood us, if He wants to, with people who need our help, and would reach out to us if only they knew!
“You aren’t trying to sell anything; you have no thought in your mind of expectation from others. You are part of a great tide of loving, joyful energy that wants to give, and give, as long as people are happy to receive it.”
Swamiji asked the leaders of all five American communities to come to Assisi in May. On the first day, we made a list of all the items we wanted to discuss. The list was long, and over the next two weeks we slowly worked our way through it. Discussions were wide-ranging, filled with laughter, and in the end we had a wonderfully shared understanding of where we were at that moment, and how to go forward in unity. Dharmacracy at its best.
We also had lots of time just to be together as friends. “Our real bond,” Swamiji wrote in Ananda’s Directions, “is the love and divine friendship we feel for one another, and not our institutional structure. Should our bonds of friendship ever require strengthening by outward uniformity, Ananda itself would have ceased to serve the spiritual purpose for which it was created.”
Later in the year, almost a hundred devotees from America came for a special Spiritual Renewal Week in Assisi. Swamiji had no plans to return to the Village, so this was the only way people could see him. The classes were in English, but Swamiji spoke to others in Italian, French, German, Spanish, occasionally Rumanian, and once in a while, Bengali. Many who had known him, even for decades, had never been with him outside the United States. For the first time, they were seeing Swamiji as a citizen of the world.
The melodies for the chants and songs were familiar, but the words were in languages most American devotees didn’t understand. We had heard about Kriya Initiations in Russia and Croatia; now we were meeting the souls who had been blessed on those sacred occasions. The lawsuit had strengthened our commitment to Master’s mission; coming to Assisi opened many eyes to what that mission might be. We called our fundraising effort for the lawsuits Master for the World. Now Master for the World took on a whole new meaning.
Meanwhile, back in bankruptcy court, things had taken an unpleasant turn. Punitive damages in a lawsuit are based on the net worth of the defendant. Swamiji’s only asset was the copyrights to his books and music—a considerable body of work. He had devoted readers, people loved the music; but in the world’s terms, sales were modest. During the trial, to make the damages as high as possible, Bertolucci’s hired “expert” gave the copyrights a hugely inflated value.
Now, in bankruptcy court, the value of the copyrights became a central issue. X, representing Ananda’s biggest, and only hostile, creditor, demanded that Ananda liquidate whatever assets it had so Bertolucci could be paid in full. X told the court he had an anonymous buyer willing to pay $1,000,000 for Swamiji’s copyrights. The judge had the power to force the sale, unless we could meet our financial obligation in another way.
Of course, no one but SRF would pay that much for the copyrights. Their obvious intention was to bury Swamiji’s life’s work. When he heard about it, he was heartsick, not only at the potential loss, but that the SRF leaders would stoop so low. “They still have my love,” he said, “but they no longer have my respect.”
X had us over a barrel, and was devilishly pleased to hold us there. By the grace of God, money was found, and the copyrights were saved. In fact, not only did we meet our obligation to Bertolucci—unjust though it was—we were able, eventually, to pay one hundred percent of what we owed to all our other creditors.
On December 29, 1999, just in time for the new millennium, Ananda emerged from Chapter 11. Finally, it seemed, the lawsuit years were over.