Swami Kriyananda’s book, Yogananda for the World, seeks to correct certain serious errors in the way that the life, mission, and legacy of Paramhansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi) have been presented.
Yogananda gave the world a revolutionary teaching. He showed how people can make their religion practical by experiencing inner communion with God. He taught Self-realization, a timeless ideal that all can embrace for their highest fulfillment.
Since Yogananda’s passing, so many changes have been made to his writings, teachings, and his stated mission, aims, and ideals, that his legacy is threatened. Even his signature has been altered, and a new signature forged in its place. Yogananda for the World explains the changes and suggests a course of action to prevent the great master’s work and its original spirit from being lost forever.
The purpose of this book is to clarify what I, the author, consider to be Paramhansa Yogananda’s true life and legacy. These pages are less a protest than a statement of what may prove to be two utterly irreconcilable positions. My concern is less with individuals than with the validity of the positions themselves. Self-Realization Fellowship (hereafter referred to by the initials, SRF) defines one of the positions. Ananda Church of Self-Realization (hereafter referred to as Ananda) defines the other one. SRF has interpreted the Guru’s legacy in the narrowest way possible. (In their lawsuit, they tried to make the words, actions, name, and every public reference to Yogananda their own personal property. Ananda, by contrast, claimed, and after twelve years of bitter litigation won its point, that Yogananda belongs to the world.)
This book will point out ways in which SRF has claimed narrowly to possess every right concerning Yogananda’s legacy.
Among those ways are the following:
a) Paramhansa Yogananda wrote throughout his life, and spoke often in public, of his vision for what he called “world-brotherhood colonies.” To the best of my knowledge, only four months before he left his body he was still doing so. Self-Realization Fellowship has rejected that vision, actually declaring that, at the end of his life, he changed his mind on this important point. To support their claim, they have gone so far as to change one of the basic “aims and ideals” of Yogananda’s mission to the world.
I know for a fact that he not only recommended cooperative communities: he was fervent in their support. I was myself present on several occasions when he spoke eloquently on the point. I both heard and saw him. On one occasion, the power with which he declared his belief in this ideal was enough to shake the heavens!
SRF has rejected this important aspect of his legacy.
Why? The only reason I can imagine is that they do not feel they could sufficiently control it.
b) This next point may seem trivial, but it shows the lengths to which SRF has been willing to change Yogananda’s teachings to anything they think he ought to have wanted and done.
Yogananda always wrote his name: Paramhansa. SRF, willing to believe that he didn’t even know how to spell his own title, rewrote it Paramahansa, with an extra a in the middle, making five a’s in all. This addition came as a result of a scholarly suggestion by some pundit in India.
SRF advances a supportive argument for why they added that a, but their reasoning is specious. It is important here for Westerners to understand that Sanskrit contains two letters which correspond, each in its way, to the English letter a. The short a in that language is pronounced like the a in our word, account; the long a is pronounced as we do in our word, barter. (I leave out other pronunciations of that letter in our impossibly complex English language: take, for example, and bask, and anomalies like can’t, which is pronounced differently in America and in England—including, in America, regional touches such as cayan’t.) Often, the short a in Sanskrit isn’t pronounced at all, though scholars like to insert it even when Indians never pronounce it. In India, no one ever says, Paramaahansa, with an exaggerated middle a. Yet that is how the title is always pronounced when that word is spoken by non-Indians. In India, what one hears universally is Paramhansa—or, also frequently, Paramhans—but never on any account accenting any one syllable more than another.
Yogananda once spoke to me complainingly about the way scholars have transliterated Sanskrit into Roman characters. He said, “They write jnana, for example, instead of gyana (wisdom), and ajna, instead of agya (the point between the eyebrows—or, sometimes, the medulla oblongata) when there is no ‘j’ sound in those words at all, and still less a ‘jn.’ The words are correctly pronounced ‘gyana’ and ‘yagya,’ each with a slightly nasal sound that doesn’t exist in English, but ‘j-nana’ and ‘yaj-na’ are simply, and laughably, wrong.”
The change in Paramhansa, here, suggests a readiness on SRF’s part to correct the Master on just about anything he ever said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do, if it doesn’t correspond to their own notions of what they think he ought to have said and done.
In countries outside of India, that middle a usually becomes so exaggerated, as I said, that people pause there, like hawks before making their final swoop.
SRF actually went to the length of forging Master’s written signature. To add that fifth letter in the middle, they copied it from another part of the name. The change is obvious to anyone who studies the signature as it appears in their more recent editions of his books (which, to conceal their own further, and innumerable, changes, they call reprints). Two of the a’s are identical.
c) They have also made many changes in his already-printed words, as the reader will see—changes that are not only stylistic but that alter his very meaning and intent. The clear purpose for these changes has been to change, or to redirect, his very legacy.
1. SRF’s editor-in-chief, albeit able at clarifying ideas, was not a poet. She “edited” his beautiful book of prayerpoems, Whispers from Eternity, producing thereby a shriveled corpse: grammatically impeccable, but dry, sterile, and lacking in poetic feeling. After making these changes, she actually dared to forge a message from Yogananda purporting to thank her for the work she’d done on this edition. She herself wrote that letter to get anticipated critics off her back. As the following pages will show, Yogananda never even saw the work she’d done on his book. Had he read it, I am certain he would have been appalled.
2. Yogananda often said he had been sent to the West in response to the wish of Jesus Christ, expressed to Babaji during a meeting between the two of them in the high Himalaya. In recognition of this fact, Yogananda often wore a little cross pendant. This pendant was carefully brushed out of photographs later published by SRF, concerned that Hindus in India might object to it. On the cover of this book, the cross appears as he originally wore it.
3. He also established the way he wanted his altars to look. SRF later changed that arrangement, even adding Krishna—unjustifiably, as I’ll explain later, since Yogananda said that Babaji is an incarnation of Krishna.
Some people may object (and have objected), “The wrongs done are in the past. Nothing can be done about them now.” True. Much of what was done, however, can be undone. The acts of unkindness that I present here can no longer be corrected, but any present tendency toward unkindness can be removed. Wrong directions can be set right. Past lies can be erased by now telling the truth. Narrowness can be exploded by expansiveness.
d) The greatest of all the errors committed by Self-Realization
Fellowship is that it has tried to confine Yogananda, his teachings, and his mission within the high, narrow walls of an organization. He himself stated repeatedly, “We are not a sect.” What he had brought to the world was a teaching, a principle, a new way of living for God. Self-Realization, to him, was an ideal which needs to be embraced universally for people’s own highest fulfillment. Fellowship, to him, was (again) an ideal for all mankind: a concept that would enable all people to live together as brothers and sisters—children together, equally, of our one Father/ Mother God.
The leaders of the organization Yogananda founded have disagreed with him, confining his legacy to only one example of the truth he left and thereby betraying the principle itself. Laurie Pratt (Tara Mata), his chief editor, once said to me, “I know Master [the name by which we all called Yogananda] said we aren’t a sect. Well, we are a sect!” Her peremptory declaration permitted no qualification; she didn’t even bother to justify it.
During SRF’s lawsuit against Ananda (about which I’ll write later), I said to Daya Mata (the president of SRF), “Master said ‘Self-realization’ would someday become the religion of the entire world. He can’t possibly have meant, ‘Self-Realization, Inc.’!”
“That,” Daya replied, “is your opinion.” Obviously, she believed that Self-Realization Fellowship would evolve in time to become a sort of super Roman Catholic Church, with a massive hierarchy and all the trappings of orthodox Churchianity.
This, to my mind, has constituted SRF’s greatest betrayal of Yogananda’s true legacy, which he had intended to change the way people approached everything—schooling, family life, business, politics—indeed, the entire structure of society!
Chapter 2: Two Directions
Yogananda’s mission has taken two divergent directions: the one, toward narrow institutionalism; the other, toward universality. I represent the expansive interpretation of his mission. SRF represents the narrower view. Which of the two is correct? Are they even compatible? If SRF’s interpretation is right, then is mine wrong? And if mine is correct, then is theirs, albeit understandable, unlikely to prevail for long?
They have seniority on their side. On mine, I have common sense. I also have backing me Master’s own words—not to me only; I also have his oft-reiterated public statements. I stated in the Introduction that Yogananda spoke fervently throughout his public life of the need for spiritually minded people to join together in cooperative, harmonious, self-sustaining communities.
a) In article after article, and in lecture after lecture, he emphasized his deep conviction that such communities were needed. On numerous occasions I heard him express himself with great enthusiasm on this issue. It was a basic theme of his long before I arrived on the scene—as long ago, indeed, as the early 1930s.
b) In 1949, a woman named Mrs. Myers gave a garden party in Master’s honor in Beverly Hills, a wealthy section of Los Angeles. About eight hundred guests attended, among them many famous Hollywood figures. At the end of the party, Mrs. Myers invited her special guest to address the gathering.
What would have been an honored guest’s usual response to such an invitation? Under the circumstances, surely, he would have offered a few gracious words of thanks and appreciation to his hostess; a few pleasant words of welcome to the guests themselves; and perhaps—in Yogananda’s case—a few kindly and thoughtful insights on life in general.
What actually happened? It could not have been more different from such a tame expectation! Virtually, what he delivered that day was a verbal explosion!
Speaking in a voice of thunder, his words filled with divine power, the Master shouted: “This day marks the beginning of a new era! My spoken words are registered in the ether, in the Spirit of God, and they SHALL MOVE THE WEST! . . . We must go on—not only those who are here, but thousands of youths must go north, south, east, and west to cover the earth with little colonies, demonstrating that simple living plus high thinking produce the greatest happiness.”
Years later, those words were read during a Sunday service at Ananda Village. Gently and devotionally the speaker whispered, “Thousands of youths must go north, south,” etc. At this point I cried out, “Give me that book!” I thereupon read the words as I had myself heard them delivered that day by the Master. Everyone present that day was shocked by their power.
c) Virtually all of his monastic disciples were present on that occasion. I cannot believe that Daya, his personal secretary, would have been absent. But even if she was, she had certainly heard him address this subject on many other occasions, and with only slightly less fervor.
Yet when I asked her, in 1958, “When are we going to start creating Master’s world-brotherhood communities?” she replied casually, and much to my amazement: “Frankly, I’m not interested.”
d) The party line now being offered by SRF is: “Master changed his mind toward the end of his life. He lost interest in the idea of communities.” Mrinalini Mata herself, whom I used to consider truthful, was the one responsible for making this incredible misstatement to me. Evidently, in her mind, loyalty to the “party line” claimed the highest priority.
I state categorically therefore, in absolute contradiction to her words, that Master never changed his mind on this issue, or indeed on any other important one—least of all, certainly, on this one. He was, after all, a spiritual master! For him to have stated with so much power, “My spoken words are registered in the ether, in the Spirit of God . . . and they shall move the West! . . .” and then, years later, simply to “change his mind” would have been completely— and laughably!—unthinkable.
In fact, Kamala Silva, in her book, The Flawless Mirror, wrote that only four months before his death Master had spoken to her with great enthusiasm about the need for spiritual communities. (This fact, too, may have been one reason for Daya’s displeasure with Kamala—which, toward the end of Kamala’s life, became painfully evident.)
e) In the original “Aims and Ideals of SRF,” Master wrote (as I stated earlier) that one of his mission’s main purposes was “To spread a spirit of brotherhood among all peoples; and to aid in establishing, in many countries, self-sustaining world-brotherhood colonies for plain living and high thinking.”
After his death, SRF changed that basic mission statement to read: “To encourage ‘plain living and high thinking’; and to spread a spirit of brotherhood among all peoples. . . .” The new wording omits all reference to the founding of communities.
Today,”as I said, there is no reference in any SRF publication to world brotherhood communities, and to this concept as being one of the basic “aims and ideals” of Self- Realization Fellowship.
f) Ananda, for its twentieth anniversary in 1988, organized a pilgrimage to Encinitas and to the other SRF colonies. In Encinitas, SRF’s Sister Shanti announced to a little group of us in my presence, “Oh yes, I know many people have tried to start cooperative communities, but none have succeeded.” And this was Ananda’s twentieth anniversary!
Ananda Village, near Nevada City, has in this year, 2011, completed its forty-third year of thriving existence.
What SRF has done is try to change at least this one basic aspect of Yogananda’s legacy for the world. There are others, as I shall explain in the following pages. But this basic change alone, and Daya’s words to me (“Frankly, I’m not interested”), show a readiness to betray his entire legacy. Indeed, what is this if not betrayal?
Such is my point of view, and it is morally justifiable for me to say so if only to answer their charge of my treachery. Yet, in all fairness I must add that the pathway to truth has many ramifications. Daya’s love for Master was very personal— indeed one might say, feminine. Mine has been more impersonal and, perhaps, masculine. Her loyalty has been to him as a human being. Mine has been to him, as he himself urged me to see him, as a “bulge of the Ocean”—that is, as a manifestation of Infinite God. Master himself counseled this kind of loyalty. On leaving Boston for the West Coast, he said to Dr. Lewis, “Never mind what happens to me, Doctor. Just don’t forget God.”
My loyalty to him was personal also. Once in India I visited Morarji Desai (who later became India’s prime minister) to solicit his support for my Delhi project. He spoke deprecatingly of my guru and, indeed, of all gurus. Turning to the person who’d come with me, I said, “Let us leave.” Not another word did I address to Mr. Desai. He phoned later and apologized, but from then on I was never able to hold him in the high esteem his high position demanded. Daya’s loyalty to Master, however, was personal in a way that I could never share. She seemed to feel almost as though she owned him. His writings, his recordings: these were, to her, personal possessions to be kept precious, protected from others. This attitude was one that I could never hold.