2000: Preparing for Trial on SRF’s Remaining Copyright Claims

Guests enjoy a farm tour during an open house at Ananda Village, early 1990s. Click image to enlarge

Before the SRF lawsuit, any advertisement that included Master—his name, picture, even Autobiography of a Yogi—was either from SRF or Ananda. You could tell by the spelling—Paramhansa (Ananda) or Paramahansa (SRF)—who it was. Now, in every new age or yoga magazine, there were advertisements featuring not only Master, but all our line of Gurus. You had to read the small print to see who had put them there.

In the colony leaders’ discussions with Swamiji, we agreed that when communicating with the public, it was appropriate—and before long it would be essential—to identify Ananda’s particular ray of Master’s work. Whenever we used a picture of Master, we decided we would also use one of Swamiji—less prominent, but always there. The Annual Appeal, which always had a large picture of Master on the cover, now included a smaller one of Swamiji placed off to the side. Even the masthead of the Village newsletter now had photos of both.

When Swamiji returned to the Village in March, after an absence of two years, he received a hero’s welcome. He stayed one month, mostly at the Village, but giving a satsang in Palo Alto when he arrived and one in Seattle when he left. Many people who were now dedicated to Ananda had never even met him. He spent almost all his time with people: large public events, satsangs, dinners, informal gatherings.

While he was away, there had been, for the first time, a full stage production of The Peace Treaty. No small accomplishment—it was over three hours long, with two dozen in the cast, plus crew. The first performance was at Spiritual Renewal Week; the second in Palo Alto. Both were filmed, and the videos sent to Swamiji. “I just loved it!” he wrote, followed by specific comments on the performances, and ways to make the next ones even better. Now he invited the whole cast over to Crystal Hermitage to celebrate in person, talk about acting, and go over some of their parts.

In Salzburg, Germany, Swamiji had attended a unique musical event: in a beautiful setting, an elegant multi-course dinner was served. Before, after, and between each course, a small orchestra played pieces by Mozart, not as background for conversation, but a concert, with the full attention of the audience. The leisurely pace, and the time between the music when food was served and you could relax and talk with friends, made it one of the nicest concerts Swamiji had ever attended. He suggested we could do something like it at the Village.

The first Evening of Enchantment was held at The Expanding Light. Life at Ananda is informal, especially in the rural setting of the Village. For this occasion, though, we dressed up. Some had to dig deep into their closets, or the closets of their friends; but all three hundred attendees, including the waiters and waitresses, were elegantly attired. There were songs, instrumentals, and a few scenes from The Peace Treaty. The food was ambrosial, the performances divine; the decorations turned the dining room into an astral palace. Most enchanting of all was the look of bliss on Swamiji’s face.

Next was the Oratorio. Devotees came from all over the country to see Swamiji and to sing in the choir—150 voices. No place at the Village was large enough for the performance, so we rented a hall in town.

Afterward, Swamiji told the choir, “You were so beautiful with all your different personalities and ways of expressing—like the panes in a stained glass window, illuminated by the same sun, but each shining with its own color. You were one spirit in many different forms.

The Ananda Assisi choir performs at a church in Italy. click image to enlarge.

“Someone told me that he could always recognize a person from Ananda. I know we are all unique—even eccentric! One of our theme songs is Go on Alone! I was surprised, therefore, to hear we could be reduced to a single image. I asked him, ‘What do you mean?’

“‘All of you,’ he said, ‘are kind, have a good sense of humor, and don’t hammer people with your opinions, but are open to other points of view.’ I had to agree. These are Master’s qualities; it is his power. He said to his chief disciple, Rajarshi, ‘Never forget where your power comes from.’ Rajarshi said, ‘I won’t, Master. It comes from you.’

“The reason you all sing so beautifully is you know this; you know it is Master’s power through you. I didn’t feel you as individuals, but as points of divine light. I can’t tell you how blessed I feel that so many have come together in the light that Master brought to the world.

“In the future, people might be tempted to think the songs would be better if they were more complex artistically. That wouldn’t be the right way to take them. Make the music your sadhana, and your voices will express your sincere love for God. That will make the music beautiful.”

When Swamiji left, it was a tearful farewell. We extracted a promise from him that this time he would not stay away so long.


Occasionally a choir from Ananda Assisi would go on tour, but the choir was also the retreat staff, so they couldn’t do it very often. In May, about fifty singers and musicians from America, joined Swamiji, and those singers who could be spared from the retreat, for a six-city Oratorio tour of Italy. Almost all the concerts were in churches, varying in size from one hundred to three hundred seats. We sang about Christ in places consecrated to his worship. Every performance was a full house, ending with a standing ovation.

Swamiji sang all the solos that were the voice of Christ, plus a few others. He wasn’t strong enough also to sing with the choir, so he sat in the front row of the audience, stepping forward when it was his turn. Often he listens to the music with his eyes closed, but this time he mostly watched the choir. Afterward, he sometimes asked me about certain ones, or shared something he felt while they were singing. Of one rather shy, self-effacing older woman, he said, “She doesn’t have the temperament to express her inspiration in an outward way, but I could see how deeply the music touched her.”

The person who organized the tour wrote a long program, telling the story of Swamiji’s pilgrimage to Israel, how he felt the vibrations of each shrine, then turned what he felt into music. When he read it, Swamiji said, “There is no need any more to justify the music. It speaks for itself.” He then wrote a simple one-page description.

Once we start in a direction, we tend to keep going in the same way. Swamiji lives in the now. He doesn’t ask, “How did we do this before?” but tunes in to the inspiration of the moment.

Members of the Ananda Assisi choir.

A woman in the audience said to one of the sopranos, “You sing so beautifully together. You must rehearse all the time.”

“We’ve hardly rehearsed at all,” she replied. “We just came together for this tour.”

Later Swamiji corrected her. “Choirs have to rehearse long hours in order to get in tune with each other. Our rehearsal is our meditation. When we come together to sing, we are already in tune. It would be more true to say, ‘We spend a lot of time in rehearsal.’”

Many of the Oratorio songs had been translated into Italian, but since most of the choir was American, we sang in English. After one performance, a man came up to Swamiji and said in French, “I don’t speak a word of English, but I understood the meaning of every song.”

For the first recording of the Oratorio, many years earlier, Swamiji asked an excellent soprano to sing Mother of Wisdom. She sang beautifully, as she always did; but when Swamiji heard it, he decided to record it again himself, even though the song was more in her range. “When you sang it,” he told her, “the note values were the same as any other song. When I sing, it could only be that song. I give my whole heart to it.”

My place in the front row of the alto section put me right behind Swamiji when he stood up to sing, often so close I could touch the back of the white linen jacket he wore. His voice seemed to come from both sides of his body. The audience heard him through his mouth and the microphone. I received his voice directly from his heart to mine.

When he sang as Jesus going through the Passion and the Crucifixion, enduring insult, scorn, and betrayal with absolute faith and trust in God, I thought, “The story of Jesus is also Swamiji’s life of discipleship to Master.”

After the tour, Swamiji said, “I don’t feel personally identified as the composer of this music, even though I was introduced that way. But there must be some identification, for I felt so deeply gratified to see it performed so beautifully, with so much devotion.”


We had emerged from Chapter 11, but our financial situation was far from rosy. The Village consisted of 1000 acres, but selling any part of it was not an option. After the fire in 1976, we carefully kept clear the acres near the roads and around the houses. The rest of land, though, was virtually untouched. A community leader was walking through the forest one day, talking inwardly to Master about our dire financial condition, when he suddenly realized he was looking at tens of thousands of dollars of timber!

Logging is a bad word to many ecologically minded people, but forest management is altogether different. We could solve the immediate financial problem, reduce our debts, and still have money leftover to replant in an ecologically sound way, creating a healthier forest for generations to come.

We hired a professional forester who made a careful plan, sparing as much as possible the trees marked by residents as “special friends.” Relations with our neighbors were still strained, and, of course, they got the story wrong. Petitions were circulated and letters to the editor appeared in the local paper protesting Ananda’s plans “to clearcut their land and spray weed killer on what was left.” Gradually we sorted it out; but even within the community, many were unsure about taking down so many trees.

One woman, who had a strong preference for wilderness, was particularly upset. Finally she decided to ask those most directly involved: the trees themselves. “During several long intuitive walks through the hidden paths of Ananda,” she wrote to Swamiji, “the trees reassured me that all is well.”

Swamiji replied, “I very much appreciated your letter about the tree cutting. That is the way we need to find the truth of every matter: not only by obedience (though that, too, may be necessary sometimes, if we don’t see a better alternative), but by sincere questioning. You took your questions to the right source. Wonderful!

“I feel the guidance you received was right. Lower forms of life don’t work from ego, and are not deeply concerned about themselves individually. Their karma, as Master said, is a group karma. I loved your thought also that if we are willing to sacrifice, why shouldn’t the trees be willing also, in order to save the land they grow on, and from which (through us) they receive so much love? In the long run, if we lost Ananda, the trees would probably end up being cut down anyway.

“Trees do have feeling, as Master indicated, but their feelings—much more than most people’s—are for the general rightness of things, and not for themselves, particularly, or for personal likes and dislikes. Life or death are, for them, more or less meaningless; they are not a cause of suffering.

“Wildness alone, especially unkempt wildness, attracts rakshashas [demons] and lower astral entities. Think how in fairy tales, the wicked witch always lives in the center of an unkempt forest. Angels are attracted to places on earth that resemble the higher regions where they live. I’m sure you’ve experienced how the vibrations at Crystal Hermitage have risen spectacularly since the time when it was completely undeveloped.

“The Hermitage was cultivated not with a view to destroying trees, but to making a place beautiful and cared-for. The very devas are attracted to places where there is pure, devotional energy. God put man in charge of the earth that he might bring divine consciousness to whatever he touches.”


It took more than two years for SRF’s appeal of the copyright decision to make its way through the justice system. In February, the appellate court heard oral arguments from both sides One of the judges asked SRF’s lawyer, “Is this about money or religious doctrine?”

“I don’t know,” the lawyer replied.

Self-Realization Fellowship had four arguments as to why the copyrights belonged to them. All of them had been rejected by Judge Garcia; they hoped the higher court would rule differently. The arguments were mutually exclusive, but the way the legal system works, you present all options and hope at least one will be accepted. The phrase, “in the alternative,” cancels out what came before.

The four arguments were:

(1) Work for hire. Master was an employee of SRF and all his work belonged to them. (Judge Garcia responded, “Are you actually saying the Guru was not in charge of his own organization, but was an employee of the Board of Directors?”)

(2) We all did it together. Master’s writing came from a corporate body, not one individual.

(3) He gave them to us. In 1935, before going to India, Master drew up an assignment, giving all his earthly possessions to SRF, which also meant writings he hadn’t yet written.

(4) He wanted us to have them. Even if there was no valid written assignment, Master intended for SRF to have everything.

On the first three arguments, the appellate court agreed with Judge Garcia. On the fourth, they ruled differently. Judge Garcia had settled the issue on the basis of our motion for summary judgment. The appellate court said he had acted wrongly—not that SRF had a valid argument, but that the question couldn’t be settled by a motion. The evidence warranted a jury trial.

SRF asked for reconsideration of the three rejected arguments, which took until August to resolve. The appellate court stood by its original ruling, remanding only the fourth argument about Master’s intent.

Judge Garcia said frankly that the appellate court was wrong; the evidence for the fourth argument was inherently weak and lacked integrity. Furthermore, copyright law is complicated; it was folly to ask a jury to decide. But his hands were tied. Once again, he urged both sides to settle the case.

Swamiji was alarmed to hear that we were even thinking about talking settlement with SRF. “We’ve won. They’ve lost. It is more or less that simple,” he wrote from Assisi. “Three years ago I offered SRF a means of saving face. They went from there to demand everything from us, taking unfeeling advantage of our generosity.

“We don’t feel ill will toward them, but I don’t at all agree with the idea of seeing what we can do together. There can be no togetherness on this. Let them propose anything they like, if they like, but let’s not try to make it work. They’ll only take advantage of that attitude.

“Just say no. Give them reasons if you like, but then drop the matter. To do more would be ceding, in the useless hope of reaching a constructive agreement. There is no such hope, as they’ve shown again and again.”

The question of Master’s intent applied only to a handful of items; everything else had been decided on a different basis and would not be part of the trial. Forever in the public domain were the first edition of Autobiography of a Yogi, The Rubaiyat, early versions of Cosmic Chants and Whispers from Eternity, the original lessons, and all the small books Master wrote. The only thing at issue were four photographs, six recordings, and articles published in the SRF magazine after 1943.

We wanted to win everything, but the photographs and recordings were less important than the magazine articles, which included large portions of Master’s commentary on the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita.

In 1995, SRF had finally published Master’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita—forty-five years after he finished writing it. It was two volumes called God Talks to Arjuna. Swamiji was deeply disappointed about the way it was edited. “They’ve turned it into a dense, scholarly work,” he said, “adding hundreds of footnotes, when Master had almost none. Master’s manuscript was a delight to read; this is not.” The Bible commentary was still unpublished.

Swamiji didn’t trust the magazine articles, especially those printed after Master’s passing in 1952; the later articles were very different from Master’s original writing. And Swamiji remembered large portions of the commentaries that were not included in the magazine.                    

Considering how SRF had edited the Gita, though, Swamiji felt he still had a responsibility to edit the commentaries in the way it should be done. Since there was no hope of getting the manuscripts, he wanted to keep his other options open.

Another reason we had to present a vigorous defense was that SRF was asking for $33,000,000 in damages for violating their copyrights on the Bible and Gita commentaries. All the other copyright violations, now resolved, had been comparatively minor; these, however, were hundreds of pages.

Shivani Lucki, an enterprising, founding member of Ananda, had been eager to read Master’s commentaries. Seeing no other way to get them, she copied the articles from the SRF magazines. For many years, starting in the early seventies, she sold spiral bound copies of the articles for what it cost her to make them.

As both sides began to prepare for trial, SRF dropped any pretense of separation between themselves and Bertolucci: X was now one of their attorneys.


By the end of the year, Swamiji had finished The Promise of Immortality: The True Teachings of the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. As a companion to our Sunday Service readings, it was only half of what he intended to write, covering the first twenty-six weeks of the year. In this volume, he gave more emphasis to the Bible; in the second volume, he intended to emphasize the Gita.

He also made audiobooks of The Path and Money Magnetism. He’d written Money Magnetism years before and hadn’t looked at it since. When he finished recording, he said, “This a very good book! Everyone should read it.”

He began revising Crises in Modern Thought. As a Christmas gift to the community, he made a pamphlet of one chapter. Eventually he completely rewrote the book, and gave it a new title: Out of the Labyrinth: For Those Who Want to Believe, But Can’t.

He also went back to A Place Called Ananda, thinking to write the second volume. “It could be helpful for the SRF lawsuit,” he said. Instead, he added fourteen chapters to what he’d already written. Some of it was the story of Ananda; the rest was the dilemma of the individual vs the institution. The dispute over Master’s mission, he said, was a karmic pattern that started in the early centuries of Christianity.

“The Church in those days,” he explained, “pitted itself against the Gnostics, whose intention was to preserve the mystical element of Christ’s mission, as opposed to the Church’s institutionalism. Master said many times that he’d been sent to bring back original Christianity, in which the emphasis was on Self-realization. Might the drama between SRF and Ananda be simply a repetition of that early struggle?”

In Christianity, the Church won. This time, to save Master’s legacy, the Gnostics—the mystical tradition—must win. Most of us naively thought, “Of course we will”—as if God’s plan always agrees with our own. Swamiji was more thoughtful: When you consider human nature and look at the history of religion, you realize that the outcome is far from certain.


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