My Separation from Self-Realization Fellowship
by Swami Kriyananda
(J. Donald Walters)
People have often asked me the reason for my separation from Self-Realization Fellowship. It has never been easy for me to share this story-not because it embarrasses me to tell it, but because it presents my Guru’s work misleadingly: in a political context, rather than in its true, spiritual light. Ideally, the way to handle this subject would be to maintain silence about it.
Yet I have learned that on this issue the dictum of science applies, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” For lack of a satisfactory explanation, people have invented explanations of their own. And the rumors they’ve spread have done mischief, whereas the facts, presented impersonally, can shed light on certain trends that are, by now, in obvious need of clarification.
Sometimes I’ve confided to people, as fairly as I could, what really happened between me and SRF. Whenever I’ve done so, I’ve found that, far from turning them against Yogananda or the organization he founded, I’ve removed what had long been a hurt in their hearts, and a point of confusion. Thus, clarification has actually strengthened them in their loyalty.
In 1982 I put this account in writing and made it available to people. I later withdrew it, both at SRF’s request and because, for the time being, it had served its purpose.
Lately, however, the question has come up again, consequent upon a lawsuit that SRF initiated against me and Ananda over two years ago. Because the lawsuit was an attempt to prevent us from serving others in Master’s name, I feel that it is time people knew what actually happened between me and Self-Realization Fellowship.
Ananda Church members, especially, need to know why it happened, since those events in the early 1960s led to the founding, eventually, of Ananda.
I should begin by pointing out that there are two aspects to the story: an outer and an inner. Often, when we take an outward view of the things that happen in all our lives, we are not able to see any good reason for them. When, however, we look at them with inward vision, and from a standpoint of our own and of others’ spiritual development, we find cause for gratitude where, first, we may have discerned only tragedy.
Outwardly speaking, the protagonists in this piece were myself and another SRF director named Tara Mata. Tara was senior to me in the work-senior, in fact, to everyone at Mt. Washington, having come to Paramhansa Yogananda in 1924. She was also a woman of exceptionally strong personality. I always loved and admired her, and in many ways do so still. We represented, however, two opposite views of how the work should be developed. Each of us was, moreover, the leading proponent in SRF of his particular point of view.
To me, Master’s work meant reaching out to people with his message. It meant sharing his teachings with truth-thirsty souls everywhere; offering people the blessings of Kriya Yoga; displaying the relevancy of his message to the needs of this age; placing his mission within the larger context of religious history and the history of human thought. To me, the organization was a vehicle for this work; it did not define it.
Tara Mata took a more particular view of Master’s mission. It wasn’t that she didn’t see that he’d come with a universal message. For her, however, the people toward whom this message was directed were an abstraction. The message itself was what mattered. Moreover, since the teachings themselves are eternal, what commanded her immediate allegiance was the organization, Self-Realization Fellowship, as the vehicle for their promulgation.
Deeply devoted to Master, she sought, after his passing, to express her devotion by protecting Self-Realization Fellowship from what appeared in her eyes as people’s threat to the purity of his teachings. Tara was by nature, as Master described her, a complete hermit. Given her hermit’s lack of concern for human contact, it didn’t really matter to her whether people benefited from the teachings or not. What she cared about was how authoritatively the teachings were expressed, and how powerful a vehicle the organization could be made for their expression. She saw SRF’s priorities as centripetal-as demanding energy at the center; not as centrifugal-or, giving energy outward in service to others.
The job Master gave Tara to do was editing his writings. He never bestowed on her the responsibility for organizing his work; in fact, he urged that she be kept out of organizational activities, and away from involvement with people. The only aspect of the work that he placed in her charge was the Editorial Department.
Tara once said to me, referring to her procrastination in getting out Master’s unpublished works, “People have all the books they need anyway. It’s only their curiosity that makes them want more of his writings.” Thus, a number of his major works remained unedited during her lifetime, and have not been published to this day: his commentaries on the on the New Testament; on the Book of Revelation; on the Book of Genesis; and on the Yoga Sutras (the yoga aphorisms) of Patanjali. Forty years have passed since Paramhansa Yogananda left his body. The question naturally arises: When will these works ever appear?
Tara’s ability, then, to impose her will on the others derived not from any position she held in the organization (though she was a vice-president and on the Board of Directors), but from her years of seniority in the work, and above all from the sheer force of her personality. Though holding no formal position except over the Editorial Department, she behaved as though Master had given her the task of overseeing the entire work. She once wrote to me: “Salutations to the first vice-president of SRF, from the second SRF president.” It took me several readings of that note to realize that she hadn’t written, “from the second SRF vice-president.”
One of the policies she foisted on the organization was stated by her in these words: “We need a basic guideline for the work. In every decision before us, we must ask ourselves, “What is best for the work?’” This dictum might have worked, had her definition of “the work” been focused on the spiritual needs and well-being of its members. In her eyes, however, and therefore in the influence she exercised over others, it did not.
Again, Tara once said to me, “In an organization, no one has a right even to think except the members of the Board of Directors.” This concept also can be justified under certain circumstances-in army maneuvers, for instance, once the troops have been committed to a line of action. Even in armies, however, if they are run competently, initiative is encouraged.
By stressing unthinking obedience, Tara managed, over time, to direct SRF’s policies toward a spirit of contraction and control, and away from that expansive, charitable spirit which one normally expects from any spiritual organization, and especially from Master’s work. Paramhansa Yogananda, after all, had dedicated his life to expanding people’s hearts and consciousness.
Contraction vs. Expansion
It is not that a contractive spirit is always bad. In certain contexts, indeed, it is necessary, especially when there is danger of an organization’s losing its center-poise. No organization can survive if it is weak at its center. SRF, for example, must have the power to declare, “This is what Master taught, and that other is not.”
At the same time, SRF has no need for the power to turn such declarations into mandates. It is sufficient for any organization to be prepared to defend its statements reasonably. Disagreement, after all, is not always heretical; sometimes it is salutary. Where disagreement is not tolerated, there develops a tendency to treat one’s opponents in debate condescendingly. This is a sure sign of inner weakness, not of strength. Dogmatism betrays doubt; it is not a symptom of true faith.
Today we are living in the spring days of Master’s work. It is the hour in its history-with its new, vital, and vitally needed message-to emphasize expansion, and to support those who would help it toward this end. This is not the time to stamp into the ground the green shoots of new enthusiasm with excessive zeal for self-protection and control. The joy of new discovery needs to be accepted as one of the greatest assets Yogananda’s mission can have.
In this, SRF and Ananda, dedicated as they both are to serving Master’s mission, might be compared to the apostles Peter and Paul. Both were committed to serving their Master’s work. Peter, however, and all those who supported him, were anxious to protect the mission from interpretations that, according to Jewish tradition, were unorthodox. Paul, on the other hand, though himself a Jew, insisted that certain Jewish traditions were superficial, and didn’t represent Christ’s universal message. Those traditions, Paul argued, needed to be adapted to the cultures and the preconditioning of non-Jews, who, though receptive to the message of Jesus, had been raised in quite different traditions. In many ways there are strong similarities between the conflict that arose between Peter and Paul and that which exists between SRF and Ananda.
SRF’s is a missionary work, in the sense that it sends out ministers to lecture, mails lessons to students around the world, and seeks to acquaint people with its teachings. At the same time, it is not a missionary work in the sense that it genuinely ministers to people’s needs. Under Tara’s tutelage, SRF’s mind-set became to declare, “This is what we have to offer; take it or leave it.” Less and less, since Tara’s day, do its representatives listen sensitively to the questions of others, and address people’s doubts sympathetically and with respect. Disrespect for the opinions and perplexities of others is the most salient characteristic of a contractive outlook. Over time, it can harden into condescension, even contempt, toward anyone who fails to embrace the official line.
SRF-again, under Tara’s influence-has become contractive in the sense that it discourages thoughtful application of the teachings. All individual interpretation, indeed, is frowned upon lest it lead to the development of personality cults.
Ananda is expansive-not in the sense that it endorses egoic self-expression, as SRF claims, but rather in its concern for others. It is expansive in the sense that it encourages intelligent application of the teachings, as opposed to merely quoting from official texts.
Ananda is expansive in the respect its members are encouraged to show toward people on all levels of spiritual development. Its ministers seek to understand and appreciate where others are coming from, to address their special needs rather than state, “These are our teachings and our policies; adjust to them if you care to.”
The most salient characteristic of an expansive attitude is the attempt to relate to other people’s realities, while at the same time never forgetting to remain centered in one’s own.
The Christian Church owed its early growth partly to the willingness of its missionaries to adapt the outward expression of Christ’s teachings to their listeners. Thus we have in Christianity numerous traditions of non-Judaic origin: the Christmas tree; the crèche, which originated in the Thirteenth Century with St. Francis of Assisi; more amusingly, the Easter Bunny; even, probably, Christmas itself. All of these customs helped, in varying degrees, to make the teachings of Jesus more meaningful to people of different cultures. At the same time, the early missionaries maintained their fidelity to the essential teachings of Jesus, at least as they were able to understand them.
An expansive philosophy need not concern itself with hustling, or with proselytizing. Ideally, it should concern itself primarily with serving people, with reaching them where they are, as opposed to pontificating to them. An expansive philosophy inspires a person happily to sacrifice his own convenience, even himself, for the spiritual benefit of others. It makes him willing even to delay his own salvation in this cause. An expansive philosophy was what Ramanuja, the great Indian saint, displayed when he risked hell itself to bring salvation to thousands.
The Need for Balance
There is, I imagine, in every sincere seeker a conflict between the desire for solitude in God, and the desire to serve and help others. I myself faced this dilemma during the early years of my discipleship. Finally I accepted the fact that, since Master had told me to balance meditation with outward service (he added, “Your life is one of intense activity, and meditation”), the right path for me in this lifetime must be to embrace expansion outwardly, through service to others, as well as inwardly, in consciousness.
Paramhansa Yogananda, too, faced this dilemma in his youth. From early childhood he had had a persistent desire to run away to the Himalayas. But his guru, Sri Yukteswar, insisted that he prepare himself to be sent to the West as India’s spiritual ambassador.
Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswar’s guru, faced this dilemma also, after his initiation into Kriya Yoga in the Himalayas. He had assumed that he would be spending the rest of his life with his guru, Babaji, meditating. Babaji told him, instead, to resume his householder life in Benares and there, through his disciples, to reach out to the world with the Kriya Yoga message.
Churches are often faced with the problem that they might forget God as they become absorbed in outward activities. A world-wide church, if it is to remain spiritually strong, needs, in addition to places of outward activity, to create places where those who so desire can follow a reclusive way of life.
The Roman Catholic Church is generally identified in the public mind with churches, schools, and other outward activities. At the same time, it also has cloistered orders-the Trappists, for example, and the Carmelites-where monks and nuns live more inwardly focused lives, where prayer is more strongly emphasized, and where self-effacement is practiced through perfect obedience to one’s superior.
The Catholic Church itself, however, could never have become a worldwide organization, had the responsibility for spreading its message been left to its reclusive orders. This doesn’t mean that a cloistered order is not, in its own way, a wonderful thing. It only means that a centripetal emphasis would never have inspired the vision necessary to build a global organization, responsible for guiding men and women everywhere in the spiritual life.
SRF Resembles a Cloistered Order
SRF, despite its missionary activities, resembles a cloistered order in the sense that the prevailing “mood,” or mind-set, at its center is one of withdrawal from the world. There is a strong focus on the rule, and on self-effacement through strict obedience. Obedience is seen as the path to self-transcendence, as opposed to joyous affirmation of the divine Self within-that Self which dwells in the hearts of all creatures. Emphasis in the SRF monasteries is placed on surrendering personal will to one’s superior, as though projecting onto him (or her) one’s own sense of selfhood. Inevitably, such an atmosphere stifles individual initiative. And without initiative, a world-wide mission will never get off the ground.
I should emphasize once again that my own view is not exclusive. It is not “either … or.” I do not hold that SRF’s view is wrong; merely that it is one-sided, and that much more is needed than this centripetal, or cloistered-order, approach if Master’s message is to get out to the world.
The Pros and Cons of Obedience
Obedience to a wise superior is good for a person’s spiritual development. It is also necessary, to a degree, for the smooth functioning of any organization. Master said, however, that total obedience, unless given to an enlightened guru, can also weaken the will power. Obedience should be seen as an apprenticeship in wisdom. A true guru’s primary concern is for the disciple’s welfare. Only secondarily is it for the welfare of his organization.
The typical concern of the average superior in a monastery, on the other hand, is for the organization’s well-being, and only secondarily for the well-being of the individual. Obedience to an unenlightened superior, when it conflicts with the spiritual needs of the individual, and prevents him from developing his own inner strength and discrimination, has a weakening effect on his will power.
In this context, obedience tends also to foster a climate of fear: fear of disapproval from above; fear of “getting out of tune”; fear of expressing any opinion or making any suggestion that is not certain to reflect the prevailing policy.
Humility, in such a setting-partly because it is forced instead of being allowed to flower naturally-generates all too easily a sense of personal unworthiness, even of guilt. Spirituality becomes defined, then, in terms of position in the organization. The higher the position, the more spiritual one is assumed to be. Thus, the monks and nuns in subordinate positions tend to think, “I am unworthy compared to my superiors. They alone know what is right.” Because such extreme emphasis is placed on humility, those most likely to rise in the organization are not the humble ones (who, if possible, shrink from outward advancement), but the egotists (who embrace it).
It is second nature for the egotist to rise by obedience. Lacking true humility, he lacks also its corollary: perfect self-honesty. The typical superior in a contractive organization is attracted to such subordinates for this very lack, because his own authority, being total, tends sometimes to be burdensome to him; he cannot always exercise it with complete self-assurance. Insecure in himself, therefore, he feels uneasy when confronted with too much candid self-honesty in those below him. It is tempting for him to be gratified when a subordinate gives him enthusiastic and unquestioning support. He may prefer not to question the sincerity of this support, for he needs it to bolster his own self-confidence. The monk or nun who gives it to him, and to the other superiors, will rise in the organization like gas to the surface of a pond.
These trends are encountered far less in organizations where the spirit is expansive. For true humility means not only negative self-effacement, nor only neutral self-honesty, but also positive absorption of the little self in a greater reality. When the spirit of any group is expansive-in the right, non-egoic sense-people’s energy becomes focused on the things that are being done rather than on the individuals who are doing them. Self-promotion, in such an environment, stands out like a badly tuned instrument in a chamber orchestra, lacking as it does the support of others’ insecurity, which might cause them to wonder whether this is not some superior being before whom they ought to tremble.
Master’s Commissions to Me
Who am I (the reader may ask) to state my opinions in these matters so boldly? I think the point, rather, is whether the opinions themselves have any merit. There can be no question of presumption, if a person states the truth honestly as he sees it. Certainly I am willing to be proved wrong, and will gladly admit the error if it can be demonstrated against me. Who I am doesn’t really enter the picture.
Nevertheless, for those who feel a need to know a person’s credentials before they’ll consent to listen to him, I think I may claim a certain objective right to my own views. Master himself made me a minister, and appointed me to initiate people into Kriya Yoga. He put me in charge of the other monks when I was twenty-three. (Never, I might add, did I demand obedience of anyone under me. All I ever asked of my subordinates was their cooperation.) Master also told me on several occasions, speaking personally and with considerable emphasis, “You have a great work to do.” (Obviously, his intention was not to flatter me, but to get me to take seriously my share of the responsibility for spreading his work.) For years I was also the director of SRF center activities, and in time became the chief minister in SRF. Later, I was appointed to the Board of Directors and was made SRF’s first vice-president. Thus, it may be said that I have as much right as most others to voice my views on the best ways to spread Master’s work.
SRF now claims that I never even spent time with Master, except as part of a group of disciples or of a church congregation. My book, The Path, certainly tells a different story. In fact, I spent a fair amount of time with him privately, and lived with him as a disciple longer than the disciples of Jesus got to live with their Master. Very few of those among Master’s disciples who are still living today were with him longer than I. Indeed, among his present-day followers only a very small minority knew him at all. (Not that this lack of outward contact has deprived the others, spiritually. St. Paul, remember, never knew Jesus, either.)
SRF now speaks of Master’s “blueprint for the work.” In fact, Master himself referred to it as God’s blueprint. It was written, he said, “in the ether, in the spirit of God.” He gave us verbal guidelines, but from their general lack of detail it was obvious that he intended for us to exercise our own intuition in implementing them. During the years that I was in SRF after Master’s passing, various disciples offered suggestions for the growth of the work. Never did I hear those suggestions denounced by anyone in charge as being “out of tune with the blueprint,” or discouraged with the reply, “We have Master’s blueprint in our keeping; your suggestions are not needed.” The only objection I myself encountered had to do with the sheer number of my ideas, and with certain people’s judgment of them as impractical. (The judgment was not so much of the ideas themselves as it was in favor of a less expansive philosophy.)
Tara’s and My Conflicting Beliefs for the Work
I always knew that Tara and I would clash someday. Our beliefs regarding what was best for the work were incompatible. To her, the mere suggestion that anyone could possibly know more than she in organizational matters was, simply, presumptuous. To me, any claim that understanding in such matters can be absolute represented the very sort of thought-suppression that must lead, eventually, to paralysis in the work.
The clash, when it came, took place while I was in India-a safe twelve thousand miles from California! Distance constrained me, and left me powerless to defend myself.
Surely there was some divine reason why things turned out as they did. Was it because Master wanted to preserve the work from my heretical influence? I prefer, naturally, to think things turned out as they did because he wanted to free me for the work he had planned for me. In fact, subsequent developments support this point of view. I’ve been able to serve his mission as I was convinced it needed to be served, along lines necessary for reaching people on all levels of understanding with his liberating message.
SRF, defining his mission in a narrow, organizational sense, sees me as a traitor to that mission. I, on the other hand, see myself as totally committed to it. I also feel deeply loyal to my brother and sister disciples. Indeed, this loyalty seems amply demonstrated by the fact that it hasn’t wavered through thirty years of determined effort on their part to discredit me.
The Steps Leading to My Separation
I went to India in 1958 with Daya Mata and two others (Ananda Mata, who is Daya’s real sister, and Sister Revati, an elderly nun). After we’d been in India only a little while, we found, to our utter dismay, that the leaders of our work in India had no conception of the vital importance to the world, or even to individual seekers, of Master’s mission. For forty years-not to put too fine a point on it-they’d been asleep at their oars, and didn’t seem notably overjoyed at our attempts to waken them.
I’d been sent to India to help develop the work there. In its main centers-Calcutta and Ranchi-however, I found that, owing partly to my youth, but partly also to the fact that I was not Indian, my suggestions went pretty much ignored. My attempts, besides, to lecture in our centers and in nearby areas were received within our society with shining apathy.
After I’d been in India a year, I traveled north to Simla, Patiala, and New Delhi, and lectured in those cities as Master had wanted me to do, years earlier. He himself had intended to go to India, and had planned to take me with him. He’d told me I would be sent out to speak around the country. Each year, from 1950 to 1952, these travel plans were made, but then, owing to a combination of circumstances, abandoned. The last year they were canceled by his earthly passing.
In northern India, the response I met was enormous. As many as 2,000 people at a time flocked to my lectures and classes. In Patiala, so I was informed, no speaker had ever awakened such great interest in the public. Soon, there was a dedicated following for Master’s work.
Meanwhile, the newly appointed Secretary of our society in India, Sri Binay N. Dubey (later to become Swami Shyamananda), began urging me to return to headquarters, where he wanted me to assume responsibility for running the head office.
Sri Dubey had been given the over-all responsibility for directing our work in India. A born organization man (he had founded Niramoy, a well-respected hospital near Santiniketan, West Bengal), Binay Dubey looked upon lecture campaigns as rather low on our list of priorities compared to the need for directing the work at its center.
“Binay,” I said, “if I accept that job it will take me another twenty years to see the light of day again!”
“Quite true,” he replied matter-of-factly.
I knew Master had not wanted me to devote my life to office administration. “Your job,” he had said, “is writing and lecturing.” That I had a certain ability for organization I couldn’t deny, since I’d already organized the monks at Mt. Washington, the main office, the centers, the lay-disciple order, and, to some extent, the churches. I knew, however, that I must not continue in this type of work if I was to develop my service according to his wishes.
Perhaps, I thought, if I satisfied Binay by organizing something elsewhere-something that really worked-instead of devoting useless years to coaxing a tired donkey merely to stagger to its feet, he’d consent to go there, where the energy was. I hoped, in this case, that I’d be left free to tour India as Master had wanted me to do. (Sri Dubey himself deplored the dearth of creative energy at our Indian headquarters.)
In 1960 I returned to America. Daya Mata had already returned there six months previously. During our talks at Mt. Washington, I recommended to her that we build a new center in New Delhi. “In some years,” I said, “when the work is strong there, we’ll be able to return to Calcutta with, perhaps, twenty-five new devotees imbued with vision and fresh energy. Thus, we’ll be able to flush out the clogged drains at the present headquarters with a bucket of fresh water.” Daya Mata, agreeing with me that this project was worthwhile, gave it her blessing.
It was, admittedly, a bold scheme. Yet there were a number of people already who wanted to participate in such a center. And I was certain we’d never be able to build the work if we didn’t accept the need for moving creatively in a new direction.
New Delhi held promise for another reason also. In India, since Independence, the whole country looked to its capital for leadership in every phase of national development. I was certain we could do a good thing there, and that soon we’d be making Master’s name and mission universally known and respected. (At that time, and even today, his name is not to be found in anthologies of modern saints.)
The problem was, how to proceed.
The Quest for Land
For funding, we had prospects of one million rupees-at that time this was a lot of money-through a promised donation and through the expected sale of a property we no longer used in Baranagar, near Calcutta. The usual approach for ashrams in India was to buy land and build on it.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, the only open land in New Delhi was the so-called “green belt” area surrounding the city. Within the city, ashrams were given no priority. Buildings of other types were encouraged: schools, hospitals, factories, businesses, housing developments-virtually anything, was my impression. It was felt, however, that India had quite enough ashrams already. Unfortunately, in the green belt area the land was not open for development of any kind.
My friends advised me, “Try for land in the green belt area. You’ll find nothing available in the city.”
Well, advice is easily given, but it isn’t always so easily followed. The officials laughed at me. “Two thousand societies have tried to get land in that area,” they informed me. “All of them have been turned down. The decision to keep that land undeveloped,” they continued, “is to provide lungs for the city. This decision has come down from the very top levels of government.”
Well, since no other property was available, either, my friends urged, “Why not at least try for the green belt?” Master, I decided, would have to help me. All I had to do was put out positive energy from my side.
“By my will power,” I vowed-inspired by his teaching, “Use your own, but God-given, will”-”I will make it happen!”
I visited city officials, government ministries, ambassadors. I got testimonials from any official I could reach, endorsing my idea.
At first, friends had urged me to try to get land in an area of the green belt about fourteen miles out of town. On being assured that even this distant area would be denied me, I decided to try to get the very best land in all the “impossible” green belt zone. This land was situated in a section that loops in close to the city’s center. At first, I hoped that the government, while refusing us this location, might be willing to compromise and let us have land in the green belt farther out of town.
The loop I’d been shown touches the property of a famous temple, Birla (better known now as Lakshmi Narayan) Mandir. Here I found just the type of land I’d been hoping for. Unlike other parts of the green belt, it was actually green-somewhat-and contained a few malnourished trees. In fact, it was beautiful in its own way, and, despite its central location, surprisingly quiet and serene. I decided to “shoot for the moon” and apply for twenty-five acres here.
At about this time a rich student, a businessman, came and informed me that a yoga ashram already existed in that area. It had been constructed before the enactment of the green belt zoning act. This ashram was, as it turned out, located right across the road from the property that had caught my fancy.
The student told me that, according to the ashram bylaws, decisions were made by a majority vote of the members. He offered to purchase enough new memberships to control the voting, after which he would turn the ashram over to me.
I demurred. “I can’t accept that way of doing things. What right have we to come in and take over a place that belongs to other people?” To him, however, as a bania (a certain class of businessmen), the proposal seemed a perfectly normal way of doing things. He departed, confident that I would never turn down his offer once he’d actually won control of the ashram.
A few weeks later he returned. “Swamiji,” he announced jubilantly, “the ashram is yours!”
“Friend,” I replied, “you’ve obtained it by trickery. How can it serve a spiritual purpose? Even if we find no other way to get what we want, I simply cannot accept your offer.”
Meanwhile, wherever I went, doors kept closing, as if mockingly, in my face. I wasn’t discouraged. Having faith in the power of mind, I held a very strong thought, now, that the land we wanted would be ours.
All my efforts at this time were being directed toward convincing the Indian Government to accept our proposal. It never occurred to me that the SRF Directors might reject it. From them, all I feared was to be told, “You’ve tried long enough. Resign yourself now to working in Calcutta.” The unspoken corollary to this decision would have been for me to become, after all, the manager of a determinedly dormant head office.
Later, the SRF Directors complained that I had kept them in the dark about the whole thing. Why, I wondered, had Daya Mata not told them she’d bestowed her blessings on the project? Was it Tara’s influence? Perhaps she feared a split in the work. Indeed, she hinted as much to me, later on. During the months I devoted to the project, I sent her what news I could-namely, that I hadn’t yet obtained the land we needed for an ashram, but that I was still trying. I couldn’t really say more. There seemed little likelihood of success, except for my own faith that we’d be successful. To anyone else, my faith would have seemed the stuff of which failures are made.
The Sky Clears
Finally, certain basic aspects of the picture began to come clear to me. I saw that what we wanted could actually advance the Indian government’s scheme for developing the green belt. For most of that area wasn’t really a green belt at all, but a mere jumble of rocks and sand, interspersed here and there with scraggly bushes and trees. It was used by the public as an outdoor latrine.
I wrote to Bhagawan Sahaya, the Chief Commissioner of Delhi State, explaining that it would actually be in the city’s interest to allow societies like ours to develop portions of the green belt into parks. Such institutions, I continued, would need to be able to construct a few buildings for their activities. These buildings, however, would be a minor sacrifice for a major gain of cultivated greenery as lungs for the city.
Sri Sahaya telephoned me the next day and invited me to his home. Over the customary tea he informed me, “I like your proposal, and think I can swing the other commissioners in its favor.”
“However,” he continued, “since the green belt policy has come down from the highest levels of government, I can do nothing without the blessings of Prime Minister Nehru.”
“In that case,” I replied, greatly encouraged, “would you please speak to him?”
“I’m afraid I can’t. That is for you to do.” (If he’d had a buck in his hand, he’d have passed it to me!) This was like giving me one of those impossible tasks one finds appointed to hapless princes in fairy tales. After all, why should Prime Minister Nehru agree to see me on such a trivial issue? No doubt its very triviality had prompted Bhagawan Sahaya to opt for not sticking his own neck out.
Mrs. Gandhi and Nehru
Fortunately, a friend of mine was acquainted with a cousin of Nehru’s. With this friend’s help, I visited the cousin, who agreed to request an appointment for me with Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister’s daughter. Even this was far from actually seeing Nehru himself. Still, it was a step-one more in a long series of tiny paces. (The way I was stepping those days, I might have been a Japanese lady in a kimono.) Soon, word came that I’d been granted the appointment.
Mrs. Gandhi informed me on the day I visited her that she was extremely pressed for time. She’d agreed to see me only as a favor to an elderly cousin. To her, obviously, the interview was a nuisance.
“Speak quickly,” she said. “I’m preparing to fly to Paris tomorrow for a conference.”
“Oh,” I said, “do you speak French?”
“Yes,” she replied coolly.
“Where did you learn it?” I asked, speaking in French.
“In a small village in Switzerland,” she replied in the same language. “I’m sure you’ve never heard of it. It’s called Villars.” We both continued speaking in French.
“Why, I went to school there myself!” I cried. “That was where I learned French, too. What was the name of your school?”
“L’École Beau Soleil,” she replied, warming noticeably.
“Why, we walked past it often!”
By now we were like old friends. After further conversation, Mrs. Gandhi agreed to tell her father about me. “I can’t guarantee he’ll see you, however. He’s very busy.” She invited me to accompany her into their large garden, explaining, “I’d like to show you a pair of tiger cubs we’ve just received as a present.”
To nudge matters along, I arranged also to see Nehru’s secretary. He was well impressed with the project, and promised to speak to Nehru about it. (Secretaries can be more important than their bosses, in matters of this kind!)
At this time, also, I learned that Jay Prakash Narayan, the former number two man of India, was visiting New Delhi. Sri Narayan had retired from politics, but still wielded considerable influence. I had happened to meet him a year earlier. We’d shared the same compartment on a train ride from Calcutta to Varanasi. On that journey I hadn’t been aware who he was, but we’d gotten onto the subject of cooperative communities (a lifelong fascination of mine), and he’d been favorably impressed with my ideas. Now I visited him, hoping he’d put in a good word for me with Nehru.
“I’ll be glad to do so,” he replied. “If he’s as well impressed with you as I am, I am sure you will encounter no difficulties.”
Nehru did agree to see me. On the day of our appointment, he received word that a close friend of his had just died. Thus, he was unusually introspective at our meeting, and not at all the impatient autocrat that so many considered him to be. He listened to me closely, asked probing questions, laughed appreciatively at a few of my replies, at others, gazed thoughtfully into the middle distance.
In all, he gave me forty minutes of his time. This was more than he usually allotted to ambassadors. At the close of our meeting, he announced, “It seems a worthy project. I shall go have a look at the land. If all looks right then, you will have my blessings.”
And so-suddenly-the miracle! What had still appeared an impossibility that very morning was now all but an accomplished fact.
Mt. Washington’s Response
I wrote joyfully to Mt. Washington, explaining the extent of the difficulties we’d faced, and the full extent of our triumph.
The Directors were stunned. “Why on earth didn’t he tell us what he was up to? Why, he’s got the whole Indian government in an uproar!” And then, after long, outraged discussion, the verdict: “He’s mad!”
This time, they decided, I’d gone too far. For years I’d appeared in their eyes as a sort of human volcano, erupting endlessly-and, to some of them, needlessly-with new projects for spreading the work. Generally, they’d tolerated my enthusiasm because at least I had managed to get a few things accomplished. Always, however, I’d been rather too much the missionary for the tastes of some of them-or, at any rate, for the increasingly prevailing atmosphere of a top-downwards control. Already, more than once (as I’ve said earlier), they’d condemned my ideas as impractical.
Next came the question: Why had I gone too far? Obviously, insisted Tara, this could only be taken as proof that I wanted to build a work of my own-”with SRF’s money and SRF’s reputation!” she exclaimed indignantly-and to secede from the organization when I could. I’d deliberately duped them all, she stated, into thinking I was working for SRF while my real goal had been to get the organization so committed with the Indian government that they simply wouldn’t dare do anything but support my insane scheme. Obviously too, then (she assured the other Board members), I was, and always had been, scheming for power. Furthermore, my suggestion that I could accomplish things on my own, if only given a chance, was unpardonably rude and insulting.
I was resting in Darjeeling, exhausted but happy, when I received a telephone call from Tara.
“We do not want that property!” she shouted. It was a bad connection.
“Yes,” I shouted back, “with Master’s blessings we have it! I just got word that Nehru has actually walked the land. He approves our project!”
“We do not want that property!” she shouted again, louder and more distinctly this time.
Immediately I accepted the possibility that my efforts in New Delhi had been in vain. “Fine,” I replied. “If you don’t want it, we won’t get it. But I think you might like to know all the facts first.”
“We do not want that property!” she shouted a third time. The mere suggestion that she re-think anything only demonstrated, for her, my rebelliousness. (So strong did this notion become in her mind that she later dubbed me an “angry young man.”)
A letter from her was already in the mail, and arrived two or three days later. The letter consisted of a long diatribe against what she termed my “atrocious personality.” She denounced me as a traitor, and accused me of lying, duplicity, megalomania, and of an array of so many other faults besides that I was completely stunned. No one had ever so much as breathed accusations of this kind against me before. The Delhi property itself had seemed to me a good thing, but if it wasn’t wanted, well, that was that. That my integrity should be condemned, however, and so utterly-this was quite beyond my powers of comprehension.
I replied at length, accepting willingly whatever they decided regarding the property, but pleading with them not so drastically to misunderstand my motives.
In response, I was accused of merely trying to justify myself. I ought, the Board claimed, to have accepted Tara’s “wise” judgment of me in silence (presumably with my gaze fixed penitently on the ground).
The End of the Story
This all happened in the summer of 1961. It took me a year longer to complete my downhill slide into total disfavor. Nothing I could do from then on stood any chance of being judged otherwise than adversely. “The duplicity he has shown,” Tara wrote to our fellow Board members, “does not permit me ever to trust him again.”
A certain American monk in India, prone to seek his own advantage in the disgrace of others, took it upon himself to draw me out, whenever possible, on topics that might add spice to the reports he’d begun writing against me to Mt. Washington. One day, still unaware that this man was not at all my friend, I wept before him at the complete hopelessness of my situation. He promptly reported this fresh evidence of my “rebelliousness” to the Directors in America. (Tara later sent me a copy of this letter, among others, as further “proof” of what she had already denounced as a “nature disobedient beyond human comprehension.”)
I’ve only mentioned a few highlights here. I learned later, from Daya Mata, that Tara had spent that year trying for hours every day to convince her that I must be ousted “for the good of the work.” “In another fifteen years,” she insisted, “he’ll be strong enough to divide the work. We must get rid of him now!” Finally, in a very emotional scene, Daya Mata capitulated.
A cablegram in July, 1962, summoned me to New York City. There, at Idylwild (now John F. Kennedy) airport the two of them met me. We took a taxi to the Hilton (now the Penta) Hotel, opposite Penn Station. The following morning I found thrust under my door a thick envelope containing a letter from Tara some thirty pages long, together with supportive statements by others, denouncing me as a Judas. The letter informed me categorically that I was forever finished in SRF.
Later that morning I got to speak to the two of them. Clearly, they had not summoned me to a meeting nearly 3,000 miles from Los Angeles for the mere purpose of granting me a hearing. The judgment had been reached; there was no hearing. (As Tara told me, “I don’t want your opinions!”) They gave me a letter to sign, stating that I resigned from the vice-presidency of SRF and from the Board of Directors. In a final act of obedience, I signed it.
Since then, SRF has claimed that I resigned from the organization itself. This is not true. I would never have done so under any circumstance. It is, I imagine, the very fact that I have clung tenaciously to Master’s work through the years that has proved such an embarrassment for them. At the same time, my continued loyalty in the face of treatment that would have made many, I think, their enemies has never stopped them from calling me a traitor.
In response to people’s inquiries about why I left, their reply has always been, “Oh, if you only knew what he did!” When pressed further, they repeat, “If you only knew!” When I myself have pressed them to tell the story, they’ve responded, “Oh, you know!” Thus, for the past thirty years, I’ve been condemned-not by truth, but by innuendo.
Fortunately, Master never abandoned me. My parents had been traveling in Europe that summer, and happened to have just landed in New York en route back to California. That day, they were visiting friends upstate, in Scarsdale. I telephoned them, and Dad and I lunched together in the city. He suggested I drive back with them to California and live at their home in Atherton, south of San Francisco, while I set about the task of rebuilding my life.
Forty years have passed since I was dismissed from SRF. Tara wrote the other Directors, after the Delhi project was abandoned, “My common sense tells me that we should develop our schools in India, as Master wanted.” This appeal to our Guru’s wishes was intended to persuade the others to her point of view, but in fact it was not founded on common sense, nor did it reflect his wishes. (Master had shared his thoughts with me on this subject. He no longer wanted to give priority to the schools.)
Forty years have passed, and the work in India hasn’t yet emerged into the light of day. Ananda pilgrims to that country have been as distressed as we were, thirty-four years ago, at the general lack of awareness in India of Master’s life, work, and teachings. SRF’s work there today remains virtually moribund, just as it was in 1962. No amount of money and effort poured into boosting the organization there will ever change things significantly, unless and until a more expansive outlook is adopted.
SRF has not grown much elsewhere in the world, either. When, a couple of years ago, I challenged its claim to have a million members, a Board member replied, “A million people have read Autobiography of a Yogi.” Well, I’ve read the lives of a number of Catholic saints. That doesn’t make me a Catholic. As a statement of plain fact, the mandatory information on circulation that is printed once a year in “Self-Realization Magazine” suggests that the actual membership figure is considerably under 40,000, and is quite possibly closer to 15,000.
The number of monastics is, perhaps, twice what it was during Master’s time. The attrition in the monasteries, however, is high, and the number of new applicants is dwindling.
No new churches have been developed for many years. The last one was acquired in 1974.
This unimpressive picture is the inevitable consequence of the philosophy of contraction that Tara imposed on the work.
Tara Mata suffered a massive stroke in 1968. (Interestingly, that was the year I founded Ananda.) Two years later, she died. Unfortunately, her influence was well established long before her death. In this sense, indeed, Tara Mata remains still very much alive today.
I mentioned in my book, The Path, that I had already begun to feel the guidance from within, shortly before my dismissal, to write books that would show the relevance of Master’s teachings to some of the problems people face in modern times. My first book, Crises in Modern Thought, addressed the sense of meaninglessness that many consider the logical consequence of discoveries in physics and biology. Others of my books address a broad spectrum of issues, all of them relevant in our times, including education, community, the arts, marriage, and leadership, giving insights that are at least implicit in Master’s teachings.
My dismissal from SRF seemed to me, at first, an unmitigated disaster. Gradually over the years, however, I have come to realize that it was in fact a wonderful blessing. For this was the only way in which I could ever have been freed to do those things which Master had wanted me to do, and thereby to develop an aspect of his work that would, by its very expansiveness, provide a needed balance within his mission.
At the same time, to work separately from SRF has not been easy for me. Among the most difficult things to take has been SRF’s refusal to accept that Ananda and I are even following the same path as they. Nowadays, giving my supposed apostasy as their reason, they actually refuse to grant Kriya Yoga initiation to Ananda members. Yet, this total rejection, too, has proved in its own way a blessing.
Had I not been dismissed without the remotest possibility of readmittance, I would have sought-uselessly-through the years for ways to adjust my activities to their demands. Loyalty is a fundamental part of my nature.
The energy that I represented could no more have been acceptable to SRF, after the ascendancy of Tara’s contractive philosophy, than a philosophy of states’ rights has been acceptable to those in America who believed that all control should emanate straight out of Washington, D.C. The only way Master himself could provide the work with the balance it needed was for things to turn out as they did.
The result has been Ananda, and the expansive, caring energy that it represents. SRF and Ananda represent the same opposite poles in the development of Master’s work that Tara and I represented thirty and more years ago, while I still worked as part of Self-Realization Fellowship.
Earlier in this paper I mentioned the lawsuit that SRF initiated against us in 1990. This is further evidence, merely, of SRF’s contractive philosophy: an attempt to build the work not by strengthening it from within, but by destroying its self-perceived rivals, without.
If this paper has a further purpose, beyond explaining as clearly and truthfully as I can the story of, and the reasons for, my separation from SRF, it is to bring understanding and healing to a situation that for too long has caused people confusion and pain. My constant prayer is that the rift between SRF and Ananda be healed-not necessarily in the blending of our two works, but in mutual love, respect, and cooperation.