The Third Presidency
Rajarsi’s untimely death in 1955 came as a sad disappointment to all of us-to me particularly so, for one special reason. I had hoped that the monks, in close association with him, would be able to deepen their spiritual life.
Daya Mata was elected president shortly afterward. She was the natural and obvious choice. Durga Mata states in her book that the presidency was offered first to her, and that she declined it. This offer can only have been made out of respect for her seniority. All of us, including Durga herself, knew Daya to be the natural successor to Rajarsi. Daya had, for one thing, the necessary tact for that position. She also had the best grasp of the over-all needs of the work. There were people who thought Dr. Lewis would be made president after Rajarsi, but Doctor, who had been a dentist all his working years, had little experience in leadership, and none in the actual running of SRF even though he was in charge at Encinitas.
Daya had been in effect running things already during Rajarsi’s illness. Some years earlier, Master had placed her in charge of the main office. Since the office was the main activity at Mt. Washington, this meant in effect that she was responsible for Mt. Washington itself. And since Mt. Washington was the headquarters from which directives went to the other colonies and centers, Daya was also the person de facto directing everything, under Master’s supervision. In addition, she was already SRF’s treasurer.
I will never forget how pleased Master was by a Christmas card Daya received one year from the staff in the main office: “To our boss who never bosses.”
People have recently asked me if I didn’t want to change the things I wrote about Daya Mata in my book, The Path, considering the harsh stand she has taken against me, in recent years especially. My answer is, “No. I meant every word I wrote there, and still mean it. Daya Mata’s recent actions against me introduce a new chapter into the story, but they don’t change my friendship for her, nor my appreciation for those early years. I cannot support everything she has said and done; nor did I fully support everything she said and did even then. But I knew she did her sincere best always, and what she has done more recently God surely sees in a broader light than we can, with our limited comprehension. That she loves God and Guru unconditionally I have always been completely convinced.”
I consider Daya Mata still, in fact, one of my dearest friends of this lifetime. And in my heart I believe that she holds the same feelings toward me. It is our paths that are, not diverse only, but in her opinion at least irreconcilable. As she said to me in 1985, “It isn’t the good people of Ananda I’m against. It’s Kriyananda.” I’m sorry for it. And I hope that someday, if only after both of us have left this world, the division between the two of us, and between Ananda and SRF, will end, and that there will be harmony once again. For indeed I have never felt that I was serving any other work than Master’s mission. His work has simply taken on for me a much broader scope than the buildings and the structure he established.
My relation with Daya always seemed to both of us based on mutually shared ideals. We served the work with kindred zeal, both of us convinced that in so doing we served the same goal. But our goals were not the same. Each of us came later to believe that the other had betrayed the true goal. The truth is, our ideals had never been identical. We served the same guru. We served his work. But we held different concepts of the purpose his work was intended to serve.
What right had I to hold a different view of the work than the president had? None, surely. I see that now. As Tara Mata said to me years later at the time that she engineered my dismissal, “You have no right to come in and change other people’s organizations.” Of course, I considered SRF my organization, too. My presumption, if such it was, was due to my intense zeal for SRF’s growth. I didn’t realize that growth was not my fellow Board members’ priority. (By then I was also on the Board of Directors, and was the SRF first vice president as well.)
Daya Mata came to Mt. Washington in 1931, long before me. She lived through the years of repeated betrayal by false representatives, of defections more numerous than even she could count, of members who subscribed to the lessons and then casually dropped them, as though dropping stitches in a sweater. She was one of the few who had remained firmly loyal to Master, proving her steadfastness through innumerable tests, both institutional and personal. She had, moreover, worked always behind the scenes, and not, as it were, on the front lines teaching and lecturing to the public. Her job now, as she saw it, was to buttress Mt. Washington and the colonies against further betrayals, and to make SRF financially strong enough to weather future storms. As president she still kept also the position that she’d held already as treasurer, remembering how Master had praised her for her tight-fisted way of handling the finances. (Smiling, she would tell us, “Master used to say, ‘Faye is a Scotchman!’”) Her job, as she now saw it, was to “run a tight ship,” to hold the reins of every aspect of the work in her own hands, and to control matters in such a way that nothing was done anywhere in the work without her knowledge and direction. (“Keep the reins in your hands,” Master had told her.)
When, in my position as head of the Center Department, I said to her, referring to the utter lack of direction heretofore among our centers around the world, “I would like to see a strong Center Department,” she agreed with me completely. But my view of the Center Dept. was as a strong fountainhead of inspiration for the centers; her view of it was as a center of strong control. Each thought he was agreeing with the other. Neither saw how different our premises really were.
For though I wanted to do only what she wanted, it was always with the conviction that our mutual goal was to expand the work. Her goal, obvious to her, was consolidation. To me, consolidation was only a necessary means to an end: It was the end that fired my imagination. To her, consolidation was virtually an end in itself. She saw the conversion of as many as came in terms of an extension of Self-Realization Fellowship.
In any differences that surfaced on these issues I had, as I saw it, to be guided by Master’s instructions to me, personally. He, after all, not Daya Mata, was my guru. I tried constantly to bring what looked like two opposite priorities into alignment with one another.
Daya herself never understood my predicament. Increasingly, she demonstrated an attitude of frustration over my unceasing enthusiasm for expansion.
For some years we had a good working relationship. My ideas for office reorganization met with her approval once Rajarsi himself had given his consent to them. She liked my enthusiasm for the work, and saw me, as indeed I saw myself, as her trusty lieutenant, creative in tasks that others so far had carried out perhaps willingly enough, but with more-or-less automatic obedience. Daya was glad to see the monks being organized at last. Later, she approved my work with the centers. Most of all, I think, she treasured our friendship, and the sense that we were fellow warriors for Master. The few occasions when the two of us meditated together, we both went deep into the inner silence. There was a soul bond between us.
We both felt that we had been brother and sister in a past life. Master had told Daya that she was one of his daughters when he was William the Conqueror. One couldn’t help feeling that there was a certain regal quality about Daya Mata, as also about Virginia, her sister, who now bears the name Ananda Mata, and who also was closely related to Master during that lifetime. I came to believe, though Master had never told me so, that I was Daya’s youngest brother, Master’s son, in that incarnation. Many other disciples had asked Master if they were with him then, and what role they had played. He was pleased to answer them. But even during the time when many monks were asking him this question, it never occurred to me to do so, though I felt I must have been close to him, and had always felt an affinity with that period of English history. In retrospect I wonder whether he didn’t prevent the question from arising in my mind. At any rate, once the thought of having been his youngest son entered my mind, I went to the Los Angeles public library and did a little research. That library contains a vast amount of information that is of insufficient general interest to appear in books sold in the retail market. I discovered there many facts that went far towards supporting my theory-characteristics and episodes that were subtly reminiscent of similar ones in my present life.
Daya as Peacemaker
Daya was by nature a peacemaker, a trait for which Master praised her. One example may suffice:
In 1955 I visited our centers in Europe. Alice Bryan, a lady who worked in the office, expressed deep concern to Daya Mata regarding my visit. Miss Bryan had been carefully-far too carefully, in my opinion-babying the European members along, explaining to them at extraordinary length, in letters that took her days to write, the need for certain policy changes and for accepting Mt. Washington’s guidance regarding them. (This has always been the weak point in the separation of the Center Dept. from the Correspondence Dept., which is concerned with the individual members. The strength of this arrangement, on the other hand, lies in the balance it provides.) Miss Bryan’s distress over the dangers inherent in my impending visit impelled her to request Daya earnestly to cancel the trip.
Daya replied, as she later told me, “Do you think his going there will do more harm than good?”
Well, given this perspective, Miss Bryan had no alternative but to agree that of course my visit wouldn’t be that harmful.
I’ve always remembered Daya’s answer to Miss Bryan as a classic example of tact. Yet in that case Daya hadn’t come to my defense. She had left open the question of my possibly doing harm, even though I don’t imagine she saw that as a likelihood. In her very tact, in other words, there was a tendency also to appease both sides, if possible. Anyone with this tendency would be resistant to startling innovations.
Unfortunately I was nothing if not prone by nature to proposing innovations, some of them probably startling. Daya Mata’s answer to Miss Bryan, memorable though it was, foreshadowed her answer to mounting objections on the part of others to my innovative ways. Her way of defending me was never to declare boldly, “He’s right,” but to say instead, “You’re both right, but don’t you think we ought to give him a chance?” Hostility to my ideas, which had begun during my efforts to reorganize the monks and, later, the office, increased in intensity until it began to appear that what threatened the fulfillment of Master’s mission was not adherence to old and familiar ways, but my efforts to find new and better ways of doing things. Many times I would find Daya Mata withdrawing her support for an idea after objections to it had been raised. Finally, I found her actually withholding her support.
“It just isn’t practical!” she responded repeatedly to my enthusiastically expressed ideas. Gradually I began to experience a deep sense of frustration. Didn’t she want my help in building the work? Didn’t she want to see the work itself expand? I simply couldn’t understand. I very much wanted to work in cooperation with her. At the same time, I knew in my bones that my ideas were good. I recall writing to her once from India, “I guess I’m going to have to resign myself to living with ulcers the rest of my life.” Was that tactless of me? Of course it was. But then, tact was something I needed to learn from her. Her example was invaluable to me, and has proved so many times during later years, especially in the founding and development of Ananda.
My fantasy, which I believe she shared, was that I, as her right-hand man, would bring Master’s message out to the world, while she deepened and broadened the wellspring to which souls came to slake their spiritual thirst. I was trying, you see, to bring into harmony Master’s instructions to me with her belief, and with what appear to have been his instructions to her, in consolidating the work.
But there were other influences at work at Mt. Washington, and these were growing steadily stronger. I represented the outgoing, progressive element in the work. Others in the monastery argued, not expansively for the needs of truth-seekers everywhere, but more narrowly for protecting the teachings from dilution. Dilution, moreover, somehow became equated in many minds with any but the tamest innovations in the organizational structure. Increasingly, these other disciples-nuns, all-began viewing me as a threat to the work, which, they believed, needed careful supervision and control. Daya came to feel that, in the name of peace and harmony, she had a duty to give this swelling chorus of voices top consideration.
“It isn’t practical!” This dismissal of my ideas came with increasing frequency. Yet she appreciated my enthusiasm. She couldn’t see why I didn’t simply submit to her guidance; more and more the thought grew in her mind that I really ought to do nothing that I wasn’t asked to do in the first place.
The point came when she actually proposed that I go to work in the print shop. I, reflecting that this was very far from what Master had told me to do, cautioned her quite seriously, “If I do go to work there, the machinery will almost certainly break down! I’m afraid my relationship with machines is not what might be described as compatible.”
Daya’s exasperation found expression one day in these words: “Let’s face it, you have no taste!” I had been proposing alterations at the monks’ desert retreat-which was architecturally unprepossessing anyway-that would make it possible for more monks to stay there. Her words brought to the surface my own frustration, particularly since good taste was important to me, personally, though secondary to more spiritual qualities such as devotion.
As part of Daya’s endeavor to carry out Master’s instructions to her to “keep the reins in your hands,” she decided to give more time to the monks. I approved heartily, and was glad when she encouraged them also to come to her for counseling. More and more, however, I found my own position with the monks being ignored by her. Consequently, it began to be ignored also by some of the newer monks.
I tried to suggest to Daya Mata that, were it possible for her to be with us all the time, my position would become superfluous, but as long as I remained the continuous presence there, whereas her presence was sporadic, group discipline would diminish. Things might even revert to the haphazard situation we had had before Master put me in charge. Daya’s focus, however, was on strengthening her own position as president. It was a post in which she never felt secure. It seemed too exalted for her; she didn’t feel worthy of it. Thus, my need for support from her was not something to which she felt to give much, if any, attention. Gradually, indeed, she seemed to be treating me as others seemed to feel I deserved to be treated: as a young upstart, insufficiently experienced to make mature decisions, and, moreover, one (as they thought) who lacked Master’s endorsement for building his work. (The fact that he never shared with any of them the instructions he’d given me left me with no standing in their eyes.) Thus, others of the directors, too, began singling out monks for various duties about which they never consulted me.
One evening a certain monk missed the group meditation. I made it a point to ask him where he’d been. “Ask Sister Shraddha,” was his reply.
The next day I did ask her. She answered matter-of-factly that she had sent him on an errand. When I tried to explain that, in doing so without consulting me, she made it impossible for me to ask that monk ever again why he hadn’t followed our rule, my explanation only aroused her indignation. Evidently she considered it presumptuous of me to imagine I had any right to interfere in her affairs. The upshot was that my hold on the monks gradually lessened, until it all but disappeared. The newer monks, especially, began reacting to anything I said with barely concealed condescension, as though they anticipated no problem, in the event they disagreed, in simply appealing over my head.
Worse still, there developed a tendency among some of the directors to accept uncritically negative reports on any subject that were submitted to them.
My reaction to these difficulties was to ask inwardly, “What do you want of me, Master? I only want to do your will. I believe in cooperating with my superiors, and with Daya above all. But I find doors being shut one by one against me. All the enthusiasm I feel for building your work is being treated as if it demonstrated personal ambition. Why, then, did you encourage me in it? I want your will, but what am I to do when I find the instructions you gave me dismissed as though I were only motivated by self-interest? You know that isn’t the case. Why don’t they know it, who are far more in tune with you, and far more spiritually advanced, than I am?”
A Monks Ashram
At some point-I don’t remember the year-the cottage in which most of the monks lived was getting far too crowded. Additional space was sorely needed. I approached Daya Mata and asked her if we couldn’t construct an ashram for the monks.
She agreed with me as to the need. “But,” she continued, “we haven’t the money.”
Well, I thought, if money is the only obstacle, then I must do what I can to earn it myself. My “solution” was seen by others as yet another of my “harebrained” schemes. I have always found, however, that if I put my will to accomplish something I can bring it into manifestation. What looked like madness to them was a certainty to me.
I started an import business, importing items for resale to our members, primarily: harmoniums, Indian gift items, even hammocks from Yucatan, Mexico. “How,” some of our people with business experience inquired, “do you expect in that way to earn the money to build a whole ashram?” In fact, I was no businessman, and had never had the slightest wish to be one. I would earn $500 or $1000 in one month with my imports, then lose most of that amount in expenses the next month. My focus, however, was not on the money earned: It was on the positive energy I was directing toward making the ashram an eventual reality. That energy, I was convinced, would stir things up “in the ether” and bring success in the end. My thought was, why simply rest and hope the money would appear someday, out of thin air?
One day Daya Mata announced to me happily that Doris Duke, the tobacco heiress, had offered to give SRF $80,000. “We’ll use it for the monks’ ashram,” she said. Her feeling was, quite naturally, that it was she herself, through her friendship with Miss Duke, who had attracted the money. I felt the money had come as a consequence of the positive energy I had been putting out. At least, I thought, my zeal for the project had put into Daya Mata’s head the thought that the money should be used for the monks’ ashram. (There were other needs in the work, after all, many of them pressing.) Both Daya and I were probably right. What did it matter? It was divine grace, ultimately, that had made the gift possible.
But the conviction that I’d had nothing to do with it had unfortunate consequences, for me. I had gone, as part of my affirmative campaign, to a devotee architect and persuaded him to draw up, without charge, a beautiful preliminary sketch for the ashram. I was thrilled by its simplicity and beauty. When the time came to consider the actual construction, however, that architect’s sketch was not even considered. A motel construction company was approached and offered the job. The proposed design looked identical to countless two-storey motels in America: an L-shape with iron-work balustrades and two staircases leading up the outside to the second floor. Modifications on the design for rooms were kept minimal, though quite adequate, it was felt, to the monks’ needs. An attempt at beautification was made in an attempt to appease the outrage I couldn’t help expressing: The “L” angle would be truncated on the outside and adorned with a lotus design.
As part of my campaign to materialize my dream for an ashram, I had purchased a little, attractive painting and had had it framed. I couldn’t afford much on my allowance of $20 a month, but my purchase had helped me in my efforts to bolster the visualization of the completed project that I was working to make a reality. My painting was now dismissed casually with the statement, “The directors will decide how to decorate the building.”
My supportive willingness longed for outward sustenance. It was a flower wilting for lack of water. Surely, I thought, support ought to be a two-way proposition. Master himself had supported me in my efforts to work with the monks. To Vance Milligan, a newcomer, he had said, “You should mix more with Walter. You don’t know what you have in him.” In the new arrangement, however, I got the growing impression that no matter what I did, it would be viewed only as a presumption.
I and the other monks were brought in after the construction, to help decide on furnishings for the rooms. By this time I had little interest left in the project. It was only reluctantly, at last, that I moved into my new quarters.
Well, I consoled myself, I still had the church to develop as an arm of service to the work. There, if I concentrated on developing our lay disciple order, I might yet accomplish something, at least, for the spread of Master’s work. There were obstacles here, too, of course. Sister Meera was in residence at the church. Though Daya assured me several times that Meera and I were in charge equally, Meera was my senior in both age and discipleship. She and her family had come to Master two years before me.
Nevertheless, Meera and I had a good working relationship. She was the only one who continued to come and have lunch with me-at the Hollywood restaurant, the Brown Derby-years after my ouster from SRF, whenever I visited Los Angeles.
The good that I could accomplish through the lay disciple order was minimal, but it was at least something. Meanwhile, in the Center Dept., the rules still had not been approved, but the fact that change was in the air, and the uncertainty surrounding that change, won me hostility from certain of the center leaders. There wasn’t much I could do about it except write friendly letters and try to assure them that we would all be able to do much more, working together, towards the spreading of Master’s teachings than we could accomplish, each one working apart.
For myself, I was concerned also that our centers all work from Master’s teachings. Some of the center leaders didn’t seem to know the teachings all that well, and introduced variations they’d gleaned from miscellaneous reading. Their concern, on the other hand, sprang from a fear of too much regimentation. Heretofore they’d been given virtual freedom to do what they wanted. With the new outline of services I’d developed, few of them caught onto the fact that the outlines were optional. Fewer still understood that these outlines were only guidelines to help make their talks more instructive and interesting.
Since the time I left the Center Department, these service outlines have been cast into the form of service readings to be read exactly as printed. Such was not the case during my time. On the other hand, as far as I know, the Center Department has now established full control, and the centers don’t seem to demur. I was concerned at first, when I heard of the shift toward required readings, that a committee of ministers meeting to prepare fifty-two service readings for a year would be likely to approach their task somewhat uncreatively. I could imagine them thinking in terms more of the numbers of weeks than of content: “Well, that’s ten readings out of the way. Forty-two to go.”
I remember a talk I was invited to give at an SRF meditation group in the late ‘sixties, when I was no longer in SRF. The subject of that week’s service reading was “Meditation in Daily Life.” I thought to follow at least the outline of that reading. Before looking at the reading, I tried to “second guess” it. “There are two ways,” I thought, “to approach this topic. One is to convince the listener that he should include meditation in his daily routine. The other is to give him helpful suggestions for how to include meditation in his busy life. The first approach would hardly be necessary for the members of an SRF meditation group, all of whom are presumably already meditating daily. Rather, the question in these people’s minds must be ‘how?’ not ‘whether?’ But the question ‘whether’ is much easier to answer. A committee faced with fifty-two sermon readings to prepare would, I suspect, be inclined to take this easy way out.” Sure enough, this was the approach taken in the reading.
I was satisfied that my work at the Hollywood church, and my sporadic tours of the centers, were accomplishing something, at least, of what Master wanted of me.
Three salutary experiences, well remembered, came from my tours.
The first happened prior to a lecture I was scheduled to give at the SRF center in Vancouver, Canada. I had written to Signa Schulz in Bremerton, Washington. Miss Schulz was the leader of our meditation group there. I’d said I’d be happy to meditate with her and the other members on my way to Vancouver. Signa Schulz thought, “Well, if he’s going to Vancouver to lecture, why not lecture also here?” She wrote me an enthusiastic letter announcing that she’d arranged for a hall for me to lecture in. I knew Signa had had no experience in arranging public activities of any kind. I could foresee an empty hall.
I telephoned her to share my dismay. “Miss Schulz, all I really wanted was to visit your little group. I know there are only three of you. Let us just meditate together quietly.”
“Oh, no,” she shouted back reassuringly (telephones were not as good then as they are now). “I have it all arranged. The hall is quite big enough to hold fifty people.”
Ah well, I thought resignedly, it’s all a cosmic dream anyway. I was certain the evening would prove a fiasco; nor were my expectations disappointed.
Miss Schultz met me at the ferry and drove me to the place I was staying. I inquired what she’d done to promote the lecture. Proudly she held out, for me to feast my eyes on, an ad that had appeared that day in the local newspaper. It was a tiny one-column-by-one-inch announcement: “Special meeting, SRF members,” followed by the date, the time, and the location of the event. I already knew, of course, how many members we had: three. The announcement that this was to be a special meeting for SRF members automatically warned non-SRF-members not to come.
“Have you done anything more?”
“Oh, yes!” she replied cheerfully, as though to reassure me that there had been more than one arrow in her quiver.
She proudly produced a sheet of paper that contained the same announcement. “I gave this to the local radio station,” she assured me.
“Did you give it to any person in particular?”
“Well, no, the announcer wasn’t available, so I left it at the desk with the receptionist.”
I had no great hopes for the coming evening.
As the hour of the lecture approached, it began to rain heavily. I arrived at the hall with Brother Bimalananda, my companion on the trip. Signa Schulz had managed to coerce an impressive troupe of her own relatives into coming: cousins, brothers and sisters, about twelve children who squirmed restlessly in the two front rows. In addition to Signa Schultz and the other two SRF members, there was actually one “outsider”: a lady who sometimes attended their meditations, and who, perhaps, hoped to find something of interest in my lecture.
I don’t believe I have ever tried so hard to interest an audience. Perhaps in an effort to rise above the discouraging influence of heavy rain and the lightest possible attendance, I told stories that would ordinarily have had everyone laughing uproariously. I tried my best to make every point in my dissertation not only convincing, but interesting. I sought to touch on what I hoped were the audience’s points of interest, and to build on those points.
The children squirmed, whispered to one another, and giggled. A lady seated by herself two rows further back (the seats around her were all empty) was surreptitiously turning the pages of a little book she tried to conceal in the palm of her hand. A man still further back kept looking at his watch, shaking it, then studying it again more closely. My best jokes fell on ears that had, to all appearances, lost their power of hearing; no one even pretended to think them funny. Meanwhile, throughout this fiasco, Signa Schulz kept smiling bravely and nodding brightly, as if to show me that she considered my every word a shining pearl of wisdom. Even she, however, failed to laugh at my jokes-meaning, I assumed, that she probably wasn’t really listening at all: She was only exerting her will to make her relatives sit up and take notice. For my part, I was thoroughly enjoying the whole show.
“Never again,” I told myself, “will I have a less responsive audience. As a speaker I can sink to no lower depths. What this means is that the future is full of promise of better things!”
As it turned out, however, I still had one notch lower to sink. After the lecture, Signa Schulz assured me with a bright smile, “Oh, I’m sure many more people would have come this evening if Gaylord Hauser [a popular health lecturer] had not happened to be speaking in town this evening.” The lone “outsider,” that woman who had come to my talk not in the capacity of relative, and not as an SRF member, but presumably out of some mild curiosity of her own, overheard Miss Schulz’s remark.
“Oh, dear!” she cried. “You mean Gaylord Hauser was tonight?”
Bimalananda and I exulted later in the sheer comedy of it all.
Another salutary experience I had was during a lecture at our meditation group in Denver, Colorado. During my talk I made the statement, “I promise that you will find inner joy if you practice these teachings.”
Dora Hirth, our meditation group leader there, said to me afterward, “When you said those words, ‘I promise,’ an electric thrill went through my entire body.” Suddenly I thought, What right had I to make such a promise? A speaker, I reflected, must be very careful to speak from his own experience of the truth. But then I reasoned, yes, I had had that experience, and I did know what I was talking about. Yet her statement lingered in memory as a reminder never to make statements lightly. Indeed, I had not done so on that occasion.
Another useful experience came not from a tour to our centers, but from one arranged to set up lectures for a visitor from India, Swami Bharati Krishna Tirth, the Shankaracharya of Gowardhan Math, and the one person in India who might legitimately be regarded as holding a position of authority comparable to that of the pope in Rome. The swami had offered to lecture in the West, and had appealed to Self-Realization Fellowship to arrange lecture engagements for him, preferably at universities. Unfortunately, the notice he’d given was short. Universities are accustomed to prepare for such matters at least a year in advance.
I was told by my superiors to travel around the country to visit various university campuses and do what I could do to book lectures for him. My first attempts were in Los Angeles. There the answer was uniformly negative. The notice was too short; SRF was local, and probably obliged to concentrate locally because it was unknown elsewhere.
San Francisco had another angle, also negative: What event of any serious value could come out of Los Angeles?
At last, a Los Angeles university reconsidered. Their acceptance of the swami sparked interest in a campus in northern California. These two acceptances gave one or two other universities the incentive they needed to invite the distinguished swami from India to address their students also. Very soon, campuses across the country were phoning and begging to be included in his itinerary.
Success, I mused, breeds success. An old adage, but never before had I seen it so dramatically demonstrated.
When Bharati Krishna Tirth arrived, SRF set up two public appearances for him. One of these was, I believe, at the University of Southern California, and another (again, if memory serves) was sponsored by SRF itself at an auditorium on Wilshire Blvd.
At the USC lecture, which many SRF monks and nuns attended, a young woman in the audience, unaware that she was surrounded by SRF disciples, exclaimed loudly to her companion, “I don’t understand why this important person had the misfortune to select SRF as his sponsor. He can’t have realized what a low-class outfit they are!” Her criticism continued at length.
I waited in ambush for her afterward. Other monks and nuns passed me on their way out, no doubt wondering why I was there waiting. When the young woman appeared, I asked her if she would please stop a moment.
“Have you had any direct experience of SRF?” I inquired.
“No,” she replied, taken aback. “But I know what I’ve heard about them.”
“Do you realize you were surrounded by SRF members, who were gracious enough (I didn’t say ‘timid’) not to answer you as you deserved?” She was taken aback.
“I’m afraid I had no idea. But that doesn’t make what I said less true.”
“No, but since you’ve had no personal experience of SRF, that makes your words doubly offensive. I would like to invite you to visit one of the SRF churches and base your opinions on your own experience. As it happens, I myself have lived at the SRF headquarters for ten years. I personally knew and lived with SRF’s founder, Paramhansa Yogananda, for three years and a half. I have never in my life known a greater man, nor have I been fortunate to encounter a finer group of people. I do not mean to convince you with mere words. All I ask is that you take the opportunity to come and see for yourself. Meanwhile, have the generosity and the honesty not to speak boldly on a subject about which you yourself admit virtual ignorance.”
Definitely chastened, the woman apologized, then departed with lowered gaze.
For the other SRF-arranged event, I was selected to introduce the swami. Sister Tara, our chief editor and the person behind promoting this event, insisted that I write out my speech and present it to the Board for approval. I explained that I didn’t know how to lecture in that way. Tara tried to insist. I replied, “When it comes to lecturing, let me do it my way.” At last, since time was running out anyway, Tara capitulated.
A cannon shot had been fired, however, in what was eventually to become an outright war between us.