A Mixed Harvest
The season of failure is the best time for sowing the seeds of success.
How is one to understand the turn of events that led to Swami Kriyananda’s preemptive dismissal? He had been SRF’s principal public speaker and minister, sharing the Master’s teachings and giving Kriya Initiation to thousands around the world. He had created a new and more efficient approach to almost every aspect of his Guru’s organization. He’d been unanimously elected to the Vice-Presidency and to the Board of Directors.
At the time of his election, SRF had publicly announced, “He was very close to Yoganandaji, who showered much love on him.” A scarce two years later Tara was telling others, “He was never a disciple!” She’d dismissed him in disgrace for something he could see only as having been a miraculous contribution to their Guru’s mission.
There are reasons, both human and divine, that may provide us with insight into why all this happened. On the human level, Tara was the major influence — indeed, the sole instigator — in Swamiji’s ouster. Though intellectually brilliant, she often showed irrational fanaticism in her behavior to others. Once, when Yogananda was talking with her on the phone, Kriyananda, whom the Master had left in the next room with the door open, heard him say to her, “Yes, your brain was affected.” Kriyananda had concluded at the time that perhaps she’d become unbalanced from over-work and from the over-use of her brain.
There is an interesting sidelight that adds further insight into Tara’s behavior. In 1935 she’d had a “past life reading” with the renowned American psychic, Edgar Cayce, during which she asked him many questions concerning her past and future. In the transcript of the reading, published later by the Cayce society — and rendered supposedly unrecognizable, but easily recognizable by those who know the facts — Tara had asked what her greatest weakness was. Cayce had replied: “As to the weakness, this is along the lines of misunderstanding others with respect to their intent and purpose, whether they are friend or foe.”
Tara replied, “I do not understand this meaning.”
Cayce answered, “As indicated, whether with friends, foes, or acquaintances, there has been and is that within your manner which causes or produces misunderstandings.” For all her mental brilliance, Tara lacked an understanding heart to recognize others’ true motives.
Owing both to her seniority in the work and to her forceful personality, the SRF Board of Directors would have had no choice but to support her determination to throw Swami Kriyananda out, though perhaps they volunteered support to varying degrees. Daya herself made three revealing statements to Swamiji after his dismissal. First she said to him, “Tara was capable of destroying the work if I refused to go along with her.” Second, she said of Tara, “She kept insisting, ‘If we don’t get rid of him now, fifteen years from now he will have the power to split the work.’” And thirdly, she said, “She became so insistent that I realized my very presidency was at stake.”
“Years later,” Swamiji says, “she told me in the presence of Ananda Mata and Mrinalini, ‘I never agreed with the things Tara said against you.’” Daya made other statements to him also, strongly suggestive that, in fact, he had her support. In India, however, in 1961, she told him, “When your letter [of May 14] came, I passed it on to the others without comment.” What were they to think, if she left them with the impression that he’d pursued the “Delhi Project” without her authorization? This was by no means the first time she had left him “high and dry” after first giving him her approval.
Since then, the lines have hardened. Kriyananda has been “demonized.” SRF’s monks have been known actually to declare publicly that Kriyananda is the “anti-Christ.”
With the exception of Kriyananda, the Board at the time of his dismissal consisted entirely, as I have written, of women, and was dominated wholly by their feminine perspective. Interestingly, four of these women — Daya, her sister Ananda, Tara, and Mrinalini — who formed the central core of power in the organization — all shared a common background: Mormonism. The Mormon Church demands unquestioning obedience by its members to the presiding bishop. This core of directors had also — with the exception of Tara — come to the Master during their adolescence. Tara was some fifteen years Daya’s senior, having met Yogananda just after her graduation from the University of California at Berkeley.
These four women made a powerful clique. To a greater or lesser extent, they viewed all others as outsiders. Swami Kriyananda, with his dynamic creativity and zeal for spreading their Master’s work, didn’t fit into their little self-defined world.
One might say, on a human level, that what happened was inevitable. There was also, however, a divine purpose behind it all. For even while he was still in SRF Swamiji had wondered about instructions he had received from his Guru, which seemed to him incompatible with the obedience demanded by the organization to its present directions. For one important example, his Guru had insisted (over Kriyananda’s expressed doubts) that he write books. (“Much more is needed!”)
Kriyananda had already begun to think, “I’ll never be given the freedom to write any serious books. Even were I to write one, the organization would never publish it.” How was he to serve his Guru in ways that seemed so clearly outside the organization’s priorities? Following Yogananda’s example, he wanted to reach out creatively with his Guru’s message: not only by writing books, but by founding spiritual communities, which Yogananda during his lifetime had repeatedly and ardently espoused.
He could see, in his mind’s eye, many schools, colleges, and communities, all based on his Guru’s teachings, all demonstrating the common-sense value of spiritual living. He felt inwardly that, through joyful outreach and by writing books and giving lectures and classes, he could fulfill what his Guru had told him he must do. He had been urged by Yogananda to help cultivate the spiritual “soil” of the times by making people more receptive to God-realization through Kriya Yoga.
Though at first he had assumed that his work lay within the over-all framework of Self-Realization Fellowship, he had found this assumption subtly changing as he asked himself, “How will I ever serve Master as he said I must?” It wasn’t that Kriyananda disagreed with the official policies and directions. Rather, he felt an increasing inner urgency to make people’s personal spiritual needs his first priority. How could he reconcile this desire with the organization’s constant demand that he do only the work its leaders, but not Yogananda, wanted him to do?
Perhaps we can best understand the origin of the schism between SRF and what Swami Kriyananda has accomplished since his separation from SRF by focusing on Yogananda’s simple statement to him, “Much more is needed.” SRF felt that, with the Master’s passing, everything necessary had been written and done. SRF’s self-perceived job was only to maintain Yogananda’s already-established legacy. Swamiji, on the other hand, knew for a certainty that his Guru had given him a responsibility to amplify and develop his mission. Swamiji’s sincere, humble efforts to follow his Guru’s instructions were viewed by the leadership in SRF with mistrust, suspicion, and finally with deep anger and condemnation.
During Swami Kriyananda’s early years in India, he had often visited the ashram of the great woman saint, Ananda Moyi Ma. She, perhaps foreseeing the sad events that awaited him in his life, and wanting to suggest to him the possibility of a life outside SRF, had once asked him, “What would you say if I asked you to remain here [with me]?”
“My life,” replied Swamiji, “is service to my Guru.”
Years later, when Ananda Moyi Ma heard about what had befallen him, she sent him the message, “Take these events as your Guru’s grace.” His Guru’s grace? A period of unimaginable suffering followed upon his dismissal. During this time, Kriyananda contemplated those words incredulously. “My Guru’s grace?” he asked himself repeatedly. “Impossible!”
Yet her statement proved valid, in time. The will of God and Guru for Swami Kriyananda was more far-reaching than he was able to see at the time. Through divine grace, what had first seemed a future of ruin and spiritual emptiness blossomed to become a garden of great spiritual blessings.
Kriyananda drew from his tragic experience the strength and the understanding he would need to do the “great work” his guru had given him. In his book, A Place Called Ananda, he states: “Out of my anguished soul-searching came the insights that made Ananda, and the books I have written, and the music, and all the things Master has inspired me to do since. It was not easy, but good things don’t ever come easily. They must be earned. Those early years were necessary, for they gave me the experience I would need for everything I did in the future. I bless the experience, now, more than I can say.”
Meanwhile, he resolved not to base his attitudes or actions on anything that anyone else said or did to him. “I realized I was happier in loving people than in turning against them. For my own sake, then, if for no other reason, I resolved to love them as I always had. It takes two people to make a divorce. In my heart, I refused to divorce myself from them.”
His attitude, it may be noted, seems to have driven SRF wild! For them, however, the seeds sown by the circumstance of Swami Kriyananda’s ouster have produced bitter fruit. When the aftershock of the news swept through the monasteries, there ensued a wave of fear. “If this could happen to someone like him,” they thought, “the only safe course for us in future will be never in any way to rock the boat.” Since then, few have ever dared to step forward with innovative ideas.
For the SRF leadership, these events carved in stone a mentality that condones the ruthless use of power to further a purely organizational convenience, while ignoring people’s need for support and loyalty. Unquestioning loyalty was demanded of others. No loyalty was given in return.
Interestingly, in 1968 — the year that Swamiji founded Ananda — Tara suffered a massive stroke, which left her incapacitated until her death two years later.
As news of Kriyananda’s “fall from grace” filtered out to the general membership, people began to ask questions. SRF felt it had to justify its actions at any cost. A “whisper” campaign against Swamiji, filled with innuendos and outright lies, began to circulate. It continues to the present day. Whenever anyone has asked someone in SRF what he actually did to deserve such treatment, the answer has always been, “Oh, if you only knew!” People have been left to imagine the worst.
As the years passed and it became obvious that Kriyananda was not only spiritually unbroken but was actually successful in spreading his Guru’s work in new ways, SRF took further steps. In 1990 they instigated a sweeping lawsuit against him in an effort to stop him from using Paramhansa Yogananda’s name, words, image, or likeness. After twelve years of intense effort and tens of millions of dollars spent — ten million for Ananda; an estimated fifty million for SRF — the lawsuit ended with Swamiji’s and Ananda’s vindication on every important point. Truly, the blessings have been great, though they’ve also brought a mixed harvest.
A farmer, when plowing the soil for a new crop, knows that he must first clear his fields of impediments such as stones and tree stumps. Sometimes he must even use dynamite to blast out a stump. The explosion that blew Kriyananda’s life apart in 1962 removed the obstacles of organizational constraint and misunderstanding that had been obstructing his path. It gave Swamiji a clear field in which to sow seeds of dynamic energy, attunement, and creativity. These have, indeed, produced an abundant harvest for God and his Guru.