What is song?
Where is dawn?
Were it not for men’s woes,
Who would smile at a rose?
—Lyrics from a song by Swami Kriyananda
The reaction, when it came, was very different from what he’d confidently expected. It hit him with the speed and devastating power of a tsunami. First came a phone call from Tara, a member of the SRF Board of Directors. Tara (Laurie Pratt), gifted with a brilliant mind, was a talented editor who had helped the Master with many of his books, including Autobiography of a Yogi. She was, however, opinionated to the point of refusing, often, to accept that any opinion but her own could have any merit.
Domineering, almost gleefully caustic, Tara often treated others with a disrespect that bordered on contempt. “Keep her away from people,” Yogananda had urged Daya. Unfortunately, Tara never allowed Daya to do so. She was senior in discipleship and also in age (Tara had come to the work in 1924, compared to Daya’s arrival in 1931), and was forceful enough to impose her will on the younger disciple, even though Daya was now the president.
Tara described herself as “the power behind the throne.” After Daya’s election to the presidency, Tara once remarked to Kriyananda over the phone, “People say that Daya and I run the organization. Well, it’s true. We do.”
The influence of Tara on Daya, and consequently on the other board members, was considerable. To her, the needs of the organization had to be given top priority; the needs of people, to her mind, were inconsequential. She had once remarked to Kriyananda after his appointment to the Board, “In a corporation, no one has a right even to think except members of the Board of Directors.”
On that morning in June 1961, it was Tara’s voice that greeted Swamiji on the phone in Darjeeling, responding to what he’d believed was his wonderful news about the success of the Delhi project.
“We — do — not — want — that — property!” she shouted, punctuating every word.
It was a bad phone connection. Swamiji at first could not understand her words. “Yes!” he shouted back. “With God’s grace we have Nehru’s permission at last.”
“We — do — not — want — that — property!” Tara thundered again, furiously, at the top of her voice.
Kriyananda didn’t stop to think. Without even pausing to take breath, he replied, “All right. If that’s your decision, I’ll abide by it willingly.”
“We — do — not — want — that — property!” she raged a third time. Concluding, she shouted, “You’ll be getting our letter shortly,” and hung up.
In a state of shock, Swamiji tried to make sense of what had just occurred. The ramifications of that decision for many Indian friends, officials, and even for leaders in India’s government were staggering to contemplate. Feeling more numb than sad, Kriyananda held firmly to the thought, “All I want is to do the will of God and Guru. If my superiors veto the idea, my first duty is to obey them.” He had never deluded himself with the thought that the vice-presidency gave him any actual power. He was the one “token male” (as he calls it) on a Board of Directors which contained eight women.
The next day the aftershock was worse than the initial blow. Tara’s letter arrived. In it she accused him of treachery, deceitfulness, “crafty guile,” and ruthless ambition in deliberately concealing from them the work he’d been doing. “You wanted to get us so compromised with the Indian government that we’d have no choice but to go along with you,” she wrote. Later she said to him, “You told Nehru we aren’t a sect. Well, I know Master said we aren’t a sect, but the fact is, we are a sect!”
Tara further accused him of trying to split the work and to set himself up as the new guru in India. As far as she and the other directors were concerned, the Delhi project was Kriyananda’s bid for personal power, driven by unbridled, “maniacal” ambition.
Swami Kriyananda couldn’t believe what he had read. After his first reading, he took a long walk during which he wept broken-heartedly. When he returned, he wrote back pleadingly, “You can do what you like with the Delhi proposal. I’m not attached to it. But please, please, don’t misjudge my motives.” His heart-felt entreaty fell on ears that were determinedly deaf.
The next year was, for him, one of almost unbearable pain. It marked his slow, inexorable descent into total disgrace. Everything he tried to do to serve his Guru was condemned by central headquarters. For months he could feel Tara’s thoughts hurled at him in anger from America. She was demanding that he be ousted from the work. “Unless we get rid of him,” she kept on insisting, “fifteen years from now he’ll be strong enough to divide the work.”
In July 1962, Kriyananda received a cablegram from Mt. Washington summoning him to New York. (Why, he wondered, so distant from Los Angeles?) In his heart he knew what was about to happen. Landing at New York’s Idyllwild airport in New York on Saturday, July 28, 1962, Swamiji was met by Tara and Daya. Little was said in the taxi ride to the hotel where they were all staying, though at one point Tara, who practiced astrology, made some comment on the relative positions that day of Jupiter and Saturn.
The following morning Kriyananda woke to find that a large manila envelope had been thrust under his door. Inside the envelope he found a thirty-page document typed, single space, from Tara. Included were a number of denunciatory letters by others, the gist of it all being that he was out of SRF forever. He requested to see the two directors later. At that meeting, kneeling throughout the interview with his arms crossed over his chest in unspeakable anguish, he beseeched them to reconsider their decision.
“I’ll do anything,” he pleaded. “Write it down and I’ll sign it, that I’ll never do anything but wash dishes. I came here to find God by serving my Guru. Position has never interested me. I’ll gladly do anything to continue my service to him!”
“Never!” was Tara’s reply. “The least toehold you get, you’ll only worm your way to the top again. From now on, we want to forget that you ever lived!
“You must never again lecture in public,” she continued. “You must never tell anyone you are Master’s disciple. We don’t want anyone to know that he had someone so despicable as his follower. You are never again to set foot on any SRF property. And you are never again to contact any SRF member.
“Never again,” she added, “will we have to listen to the projects concocted in that fertile brain of yours.”
She continued, “Your things will be forwarded to you, once you send us your address.”
“But I don’t want anything!” pleaded Kriyananda. “Everything I own I’ve given to Master.”
“Oh!” Tara sneered. “How dramatic! Well I’ll tell you what you do. If there’s anything you don’t want, throw it in the trash can in the corridor of this hotel.”
She went on, “Unless you do something to improve that atrocious personality of yours, you’ll attract set-back after set-back in life.
“Can you tell me,” she continued, “why every single thing you’ve ever tried to do has ended in disaster?”
Kriyananda cast back hastily over his life. He could remember quite a few stunning successes, but not a single failure. “Would you please give me an example?” he asked.
Tara, momentarily stumped, then replied dismissively, “That’s your technique, see? confusing the other person with questions!”
Daya interjected a few comments from time to time, supportive of Tara’s position.
After two hours of this devastating confrontation, Tara produced a letter for Swamiji to sign, stating that he resigned from the Board of Directors and from the vice-presidency. Kriyananda signed the letter unhesitatingly. What had those positions meant to him? Nothing! Tara took the letter with a smug smile. They’d gotten what they’d come for. Tara returned to Los Angeles that same afternoon.
It was all over. Broken-hearted and bereft of hope, Kriyananda watched as everything he had believed in and loved, everything to which he’d dedicated his life, was cruelly stripped away. He was left with only the clothes he was wearing, what was in his suitcase (minus many gifts he’d brought for all the monks at Mt. Washington), and $1,000 in cash.
Early the next morning the phone rang in his hotel room. Tara, on the other end, inquired breezily, “Were ya able to get the check cashed?” It seemed they’d decided to give him an additional $500 for not storming out of the room (as she’d said he would do, and would have done eventually with their Guru), “hurling insults as you left!” She seemed to be saying, “We’ve dismissed you, but at least we’ve had the decency to pay you for any inconvenience.”
Swamiji hadn’t realized there would be a check. The news of this “beneficence,” which meant nothing to him, had yet to reach him.
Not knowing where to turn next, he discovered that his parents, coincidently, had just landed in New York from a trip to Europe. He gave Tara this news.
“Isn’t it wonderful,” she exclaimed, “how Master has worked this whole thing out!”
Kriyananda, too stunned to think of a reply to this further example of her insensitivity, said nothing.
“Don’t you think it’s wonderful?” she repeated.
“I prefer to say nothing,” was his reply.
“That’s your trouble, see?” she persevered. “You keep your thoughts to yourself.”
“I thought your complaint was that I spoke my mind too freely,” was his answer.
“You speak freely when you shouldn’t, and are secretive when you ought to communicate.” With Tara, there was no way of winning. Swamiji simply remained silent.
He was able to contact his parents later on that day. A few days later they drove back together across the country to their home in Atherton, California, south of San Francisco.
Daya phoned him in Atherton later on, to express her outrage. “You’ve settled right in our back yard!” she expostulated. They had thought to leave him stranded on the other side of the American continent.
It was agonizing for Kriyananda to find himself now living, not in an ashram, but in a worldly environment, able to serve only his parents, and with no opportunity of ever again serving his Guru.
A lesser man, and a less dedicated disciple, would have been utterly destroyed by these events. The divine power, however, that Paramhansa Yogananda had planted in Swamiji’s heart at their very first meeting enabled him not only to survive, but ultimately to go on to build, without help from any of his gurubhais, a worldwide work for his Guru.