Helen Erba-Tissot’s Story
Helen Erba-Tissot was a prominent Swiss attorney, and sister of the owner of the Tissot watch company. Starting in 1952, she was also SRF’s main center leader in Europe. Single-handedly she developed the SRF work there, where she brought Yogananda’s teachings to groups in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, and France.
Renounce all other church affiliations, says SRF
It was around 1960 when SRF announced a new policy that was quite startling to Mrs. Erba-Tissot. Applicants for Kriya Yoga initiation were now required to sign a pledge renouncing all other church affiliation, and accept exclusive membership in Self-Realization Fellowship Church.
Yogananda, himself, never asked this of Kriya applicants
This pledge was created by the SRF Board of Directors years after his death, to strengthen the organization in the eyes of its members.
Mrs. Erba-Tissot contacted the SRF Board to express concern about this new policy. From a lifetime of experience, she knew that Europeans could not simply abandon their church affiliation—it represented spiritual and social connections that could not easily be severed. Additionally, “church” in Europe means buildings. Mrs. Erba Tissot asked, “Where is the church? We haven’t a single building.” Mrs. Erba-Tissot urged the Board to reconsider the policy, sharing that this pledge was unacceptable to the SRF members in Europe—not in any sense because they lacked devotion and loyalty to Self-Realization Fellowship, but because the word “church” had these problematic connotations for Europeans.
The SRF Board in Los Angeles insisted that she abide by their policy. It should be noted that the Board was primarily run by a small group of women who had spent their lives serving Yogananda, within the confines of a relatively cloistered environment.
Mrs. Erba-Tissot finally offered to resign, in an attempt to convince them of the importance of this policy change to the work in Europe. A cablegram went to her the following day, stating, “Your resignation accepted.” Nothing else.
Disciple cast aside; SRF work in Europe crippled for years
Suddenly, Mrs. Erba-Tissot, found herself without a work to which she’d wholeheartedly dedicated her life, with no sense of future direction, and without desperately needed income. SRF’s assessment, stated in inter-office memos at the time, was, “She’s only in this for the money.” However, she had been a highly successful lawyer before joining SRF, had renounced that work, spent a great deal of her own money to serve Yogananda’s mission, and devoted all of her time to SRF. It took her many years after her dismissal to put her life in order again. The disaster that struck her, personally, struck the work of SRF in Europe also. It was many years before that work was able to function effectively again.