Behind the Scenes of the “Rescuing Yogananda” Website
This blog post is about Swami Kriyananda’s book, Rescuing Yogananda, which, along with its website, was discontinued in early January, 2010.
Several days before the release of Rescuing Yogananda, a friend emailed me a copy. I read the book through that same evening.
It was… well, the book was not like any other book that Swami Kriyananda has written. I didn’t know what to make of it. Initially, I felt uneasy.
Laziness was partly to blame. “This is going to cause a stir,” I realized. “That probably means more work.” (This suspicion was well founded, as you’ll see in a moment.)
In addition, the uneasiness came from not clearly understanding the book’s purpose. “I believe the facts,” I thought, “but is writing them in this way a good idea?”
But my personal experience of Swami Kriyananda gave me faith in him. His countless examples of kindness and adherence to true principles, observed directly and heard of from others, gave me some confidence.
“I don’t yet know what I think about the book,” I concluded, “but I believe in Swami Kriyananda. He must feel this will be helpful, and that he’s doing what God wants him to do. I’d be glad to support the book, because it would be my joy to support him, as a friend.”
The chance to do so came quickly!
A Book Launch in Five Days
The next morning, I came into work and started reading the day’s emails. One that stood out immediately was from Jyotish, to a group, asking for ideas about how to promote Rescuing Yogananda for a book launch in… five days.
Unresolved questions went on hold for a bit, while a team of us worked around the clock to get the book published in print and online.
Nayaswami Maria and I work on web sites for Ananda Worldwide (at Ananda Village), and because Crystal Clarity Publishers has only a part-time web staff, the task of creating the book’s site fell onto our shoulders. To accomplish this, we coordinated with Crystal Clarity, and with Swami Kriyananda’s secretary, Lakshman, who sent corrections from proof-readers. We also talked with Jyotish, Devi, and Swami Kriyananda, who, like Lakshman, were in Los Angeles.
The site went up in three days — a new record for Ananda, and certainly for our little web team! (Last year we put www.nayaswami.org online in two weeks, and I was impressed then.)
Late Friday evening, after the website launch, Maria and I were still at work when Swami Kriyananda called with congratulations. We all talked for a moment, and Maria shared with Swamiji how everyone had worked so harmoniously on this project: Crystal Clarity, Swamiji’s staff, and the website crew. In fact, it had been remarkable.
I expected him to reply along the lines of, “That’s great,” or something similar. Instead, he responded simply and humbly, “I could feel it.”
The home page of the website describes some of Ananda’s attributes: cooperation, decentralization, not taking one’s self too seriously, along with the two principles integral to Ananda’s success: “People are more important than things,” and “Where there is adherence to right action, there is victory.”
We experienced all these things in the creation of the site, but especially noteworthy, I thought, were cooperation and decentralization. How so? Part of our working process will give you an idea:
- Late at night, Lakshman makes proofreading corrections in LA, based off suggestions of Ananda members at Ananda Village or anywhere in the world, and revisions, made earlier in the day by Swami Kriyananda
- Lakshman sends the corrections to Crystal Clarity and the web team.
- The next morning, Maria makes the web site corrections, while…
- Madhavi, working in Crystal Clarity, makes corrections to the printed version and sends me a new PDF.
- I put the new PDF online.
We weren’t reporting to each other. Instead, working in our different departments, locations, and with a high-pressure timeline, we were all cooperating to serve a higher purpose. As Maria mentioned to Swami Kriyananda, it was a very harmonious process.
Working with Swami Kriyananda
Another interesting experience for me was working this closely to Swamiji, the first time I’ve done so. Over the following weeks, while I continued to process comments and make small upgrades, I felt his involvement in the project deepen my attunement with Yogananda.
How to explain this? Swami Kriyananda is one of the channels of our Guru in this world; to me, one of the clearest. I’ll share an example of what I mean.
On the first or second day of project, there was a short conference call between a few of us at Ananda Village and Nayaswami Devi. We had a question, and Devi walked into Swami Kriyananda’s apartment to ask him. As she did so, I felt a wave of divine energy — Swami Kriyananda’s awareness directed towards us. I recognized that feeling, one of uplifted consciousness, from being in his physical presence at public gatherings and smaller events.
He’s so much more than a body, I see now, as a write this. I look back at that moment in wonder.
We could go on in this vein, but I thought it might be more helpful if I talked about the issues in the book and how I’ve handled them. So that you know where I’m coming from I’ll also share my personal experiences with Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), since the organization is a major topic of Rescuing Yogananda.
If you’re not sure what to make of this new book, perhaps these thoughts will help.
Why This Book?
If I wasn’t familiar with Swami Kriyananda, Ananda, and SRF’s history with Ananda, it would be easy to think, “Oh, this is someone who was hurt by another organization, and now he’s striking back. Isn’t honey better than vinegar? Where’s the love, my friend?”
But if I thought that, it would be wise for me to consider these points:
- Swami Kriyananda had over 40 years to do something like this, but hasn’t.
- He’s repeatedly tried to work with SRF, even to the point of offering Ananda to them.
- There have been many times throughout Ananda’s history when Swami Kriyananda could have sacrificed the importance of the individual to the (seeming) importance of the organization. (High profile examples include the fire of 1976, the young man who could have offered Ananda $200,000, and others.) But I don’t know of a time when he’s ever done so. He doesn’t act from selfish motive.
I thought about all this, and realized that the book isn’t titled Rescuing the Relationship Between Ananda and SRF or Rescuing SRF, though we certainly hope that these things will happen (and it does indeed seem that SRF’s present direction brings it closer to eventual failure every month).
The book title is Rescuing Yogananda — rescuing his image from misinterpretation based on realities present in Self-Realization Fellowship, and rescuing devotees who have, because of those realities, become disenchanted with Yogananda.
Could Swami Kriyananda have written a book like this without pointing out mistakes, in the hope of correcting them? Even if possible, such a book would lack clarity, and could not provoke change.
For the Ages
There are centuries yet to come, during which (we expect!) Yogananda’s mission will be brought into the world in ever greater and more complete ways.
Yogananda said that Jesus Christ was crucified once, but that Christians have crucified his teachings every day for the past 2,000 years! While we can, it’s important to correct any mistakes that come up in Yogananda’s teachings as well.
Swami Kriyananda, having lived with Yogananda, is in an ideal position to do this. Who else could have written this book, with such authority?
Questions and Answers
Has SRF Responded?
I don’t know of any public response.
But, the decision of at least one SRF member — appalled at the facts presented in the book — was to leave SRF and take Kriya Yoga initiation through Ananda.
Who Is Against Rescuing Yogananda, and Why?
The comments we’ve received online have been exceedingly positive. Because of this, people might wonder if we’ve been suppressing any that disagreed with the book. In fact, about 90 percent of all comments have been positive.
We’ve received four kinds of comments:
- Positive responses
- Responses that are basically supportive, but not entirely
- Respectful disagreement
- Fiery cauldrons of emotion
We generally post comments, and follow the comment guidelines on the Rescuing Yogananda comment page. This last kind (#4), we of course aren’t able to share online.
Strong emotions confuse, rather than clarify. An important duty that Ananda has online is to share things that inspire — or that at least lead towards inspiration, instead of away from it. I can’t think of anyone who would really be served by posting emotional reactions in the comments. (But if you feel differently, we’d like to know!)
It’s too bad, in fact! If the people who were against the book could have got centered enough in their hearts to write more respectful comments, the ensuing discussion might have clarified things for everyone.
In response to some of these comments, Swami Kriyananda did write a short letter, which I thought answered them well. You can read it here. (PDF)
Interestingly, I recall only one critical comment, out of over 150 positive and negative comments that I read, which actually tried to point out errors in the facts. Most of the rest of the negative comments were reactions to the very public nature of Swamiji’s chosen mode of expression. (One imagines that they felt Swamiji’s points were correct.)
My Own History with SRF, So You Know Where I’m Coming From
My limited experience of SRF devotees has been largely positive. However, my direct experience with SRF as an organization, or with devotees in their role of serving the organization, has not always been positive.
Similarly, I can’t for the life of me imagine that, through this book, Swamiji is attacking SRF devotees! This seems like an important point to clarify. However, there have been serious failings in the organization — and, of course, that’s what the book is about.
One of the critical commenters mentioned above said that everyone he knew was happy with SRF, and, over the years, he had experienced nothing but positive connections with SRF ministers, and monks and nuns. (We didn’t post the comment publicly because, in it’s entirety, it didn’t feel respectful enough.)
I’ve tried to take his experience into account, along with that of others. I think it’s important for us to do that.
But I also realized: his experience may be true for him, but that doesn’t mean it is balanced: aware of other experiences and viewpoints.
Though the commenter mentioned specifically that he had never visited Ananda, for example, he assumed that those who had felt neglected or coldly-treated by SRF had brought it on themselves with wrong attitudes. I happen to have a close connection to one case where this was certainly not true! — my own.
Why I Left SRF
This story illustrates one way that SRF was not able to “do Master’s work” — the work of truly serving individuals.
On April 22, 2003, I woke up with a strong desire to find God through meditation. For me, at the time, that was extremely unusual. Still, I recognized this desire as having the potential to improve my life more than anything else.
Unfortunately, I immediately encountered trouble. Fortunately, I realized I needed to ask for help! From my home in the Seattle area, I called SRF’s Mother Center in Los Angeles. I was put through to one of the Brahmacharis (younger monks).
We talked for half an hour. I appreciated what felt like genuine concern on his part, but he wasn’t able to help. (It was, admittedly, a tricky problem.) He finally suggested that I start over with the printed SRF Lessons, which I had neglected for a year and a half, and see if the problem would go away.
“Call back in a couple of months,” he suggested.
Desperate to find God, I searched online for solutions — while following the Brahmachari’s suggestion, and going at what felt like a snail’s pace through SRF Lessons I’d already read.
Persistence finally led me to www.ananda.org, and through it I emailed to Ananda’s meditation support hotline.
Nayaswami Bharat replied. (Whoa! A spiritual organization that answers email! This was a first for me.) Bharat is one of the most experienced meditation teachers within Ananda, and over a year later was the one to initiate me into Kriya Yoga.
He complimented me on my sincerity and, after writing to Dr. Peter, an Ananda minister and physician, suggested I talk with Nayaswami Hriman, who lived close by to me. As I remember, Bharat and Dr. Peter were both optimistic that there was a solution.
During our first meeting, Hriman taught me how to meditate, and made suggestions that worked very well. (I’ve been meditating every day for the seven years since.) Over the following months, and without asking for anything in return, Hriman gave me an incredible amount of energy, attention, and kindness.
What if I hadn’t found Ananda? In time I think I would simply have drifted away, perhaps returning to Yogananda’s teachings later in life — or perhaps not. For the intervening time, my life would have remained simply what it was: a life lived for me, not for God. Hardly a life at all!
What I Take Away from All This
In a recent letter to everyone, Swamiji said that “[writing the book] didn’t really take courage so much as commitment to doing what I sincerely felt (and feel) my Guru wanted of me.”
One of his main purposes in writing this book was to help people reclaim faith in Yogananda, which some have lost because of their experiences with Self-Realization Fellowship.
Swami Kriyananda, and Ananda members, are simply not vindictive. If you haven’t spent time with any, do! You’ll discover this, as I did.
When I learned about the SRF board’s attempt during the 1990s to destroy Ananda, I grew more and more impressed when months went by and I never heard an Ananda member say anything unkind about SRF. My impression is that, in addition to listening to their inner guidance, they were following Swami Kriyananda’s example.
How can we reconcile such an attitude with Rescuing Yogananda?
To me, it now seems obvious that this book is meant to help. It’s mainly up to SRF members, though, to determine whether or not it will help SRF.
More Options for the Reader
Anyone still confused, bewildered, or distressed, about all this and what it means could:
- Do individual research into the issues; including even past court transcripts and judgments (see below)
- Fall back on their experience, but also include the experiences of others, since those can (sometimes, not always) have validity for us as well
- Share their thoughts with God; pray about it
- Talk with a long-time Ananda member
- Be calm; this brings true insight nearer
Books and articles:
- A Place Called Ananda, Swami Kriyananda’s book about the years following Master’s passing
- One Devotee’s Story, an article by Rambhakta Beinhorn, looking back at his time with SRF and Ananda. A balanced and inspiring piece
Serious researchers could continue with these court case files:
- Judgment on SRF’s appeal by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals — this discusses the SRF board’s claim that Yogananda’s book were “works for hire”
- U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, Case Number: Civ. No. S-90-0846 EJG PAN. See this for comparing SRF’s legal attacks with Ananda’s response (I haven’t read this myself, only heard of it). I couldn’t find a copy online
Follow Your Heart
In the end, we have to do what we think is right; this involves, most often, being true to our own experience. Even if we err at times, I’m sure that this attitude helps us in the long run to be closer to God.
May our lives give us ever more opportunities to grow and learn.
Joy to you!