Paramahansa Yogananda (1893 - 1952) arrived in West: 1920
Mukunda Lal Ghosh was born in 1893 to the family of an Indian railways executive. In 1910, at the age of 17, he met and became a disciple of Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri. He graduated from Calcutta University in 1915 and took formal vows as a monk, Swami Yogananda (bliss (ananda) through yoga).
Yogananda's lineage myth: Lahiri Mahasaya, a devout government accountant is initiated in a cave in the Himalayas by his guru, the deathless and ageless Babaji who materializes "a vast palace of dazzling gold" and instructs Lahiri in the ancient science of Kriya Yoga which had somehow been forgotten even though Babaji was immortal and could have reminded anyone, anytime. Babaji had a pretty poor view of family life: "The millions who are encumbered by family ties and heavy worldly duties will take new heart from you, a householder like themselves. You should guide them to understand that the highest yogic attainments are not barred to the family man."
Lahiri instructed students in Kriya Yoga and taught that the life of the wandering ascetic was no longer appropriate. Instead, the Yogis of the New Age should earn their own living, not be dependent on society for their support. Naturally this commandment was quickly ignored.
That disciple, no surprise, was Yogananda (1893-1952). In October 1920 Yogananda was invited to address the International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston, Massachusetts. He spent the 1920s proselytising in the USA and founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) in Los Angeles. SRF does not publicise it's membership but it was unable to use the astonishing sales of the Autobiography in the 1960s and later to grow into a large organisation. It's annual Convocation attracts no more then 6,000 participants despite the incredible claims made for it's methods. "Kriya yoga is an instrument through which human evolution can be quickened", explained Yukteswar. "A half-minute of kriya equals one year of natural spiritual unfoldment."
One thousand Kriya practiced in eight hours gives the yogi, in one day, the equivalent of one thousand years of natural evolution: 365,000 years of evolution in one year. In three years, a Kriya Yogi can thus accomplish by intelligent self-effort the same result which nature brings to pass in a million years.
Yogananda emphasized his idiosyncratic interpretation of the underlying unity of the world's great religions, and taught meditation methods he said would allow direct personal experience of God. He was the epitome of an Anericanised Indian yogi. He had a very un-Hindu optimism and the American can-do spirit. He turned the guru-disciple relationship into a weekly, mail-order religion. To initiates he taught secret techniques of "Kriya Yoga", which he claimed were ancient mystical techniques that had been lost in the Dark Ages (they weren't) but reintroduced by his "Masters."
In the late 1960's possession of a copy of 'Autobiography of a Yogi' was de rigeur amongs "hippies" or those in the "counter-culture" (though there were a lot less of them then than their media presence now suggests) the Self Realisation Fellowship's membership did not increase to reflect the interest in the book. It's hierarchy had lived too long and it appeared old-fashioned. It has a pseudo-oriental centre at the aptly named "Swamis" surfing beach in Encinitas, Southern California and temples and meditation centres throughout the West.
Yogananda could and did believe anything as a selection of Autobiography chapter headings shows. Yogananda, himself, could produce no miracles in the West. He certainly couldn't emulate the yogi who never eats and his premature death was caused by his obesity.
- The Saint with Two Bodies (Swami Pranabananda)
- A "Perfume Saint" Performs his Wonders
- The Sleepless Saint (Ram Gopal Muzumdar)
- Materializing a Palace in the Himalayas
- The Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar
- The Woman Yogi who Never Eats (Giri Bala)
Yogananda's teachings and life as related in his books are a combination of bodlerised Hinduism, a lowbrow "perennial philosophy" and many tales of magic, divine miracles and sadhus who live without eating, Catholic stigmatists, levitation, "deathless" gurus, tiger fighting swamis, saints who can manifest more than one body and so on that may either inspire with awe or derision. His own life appears to be singularly free of scandal though he was terribly obese for a man epitomising the Essence of Self-Realization and it's no surprise he died at the relatively early age of 59.
After the death of Yogananda in 1952 control passed to a "realised" American James J. Lynn (Rajasi Janakananda pictured right in "samadhi" in 1937), who had provided the financial backing to establish his guru's organisation and purchase real estate, until his death from pneumonia in 1955. He was succeeded by Ms Faye Wright (Daya Mata pictured above left in 1980) who had become a follower at 17 and whose brother was Yogananda's secretary.
Once Yogananda died dissension and disagreement and dissatisfaction arose amongst his close disciples. Its part of the American way that if you know something that others might want to know then you immediately begin to think about selling it. Not content to be cogs in the very straight-laced and boring SRF wheel other disciples of Yogananda began to set up shop on their own. Shelly Trimmer's parents were "students of Western mystery teachings." He became a student of Yogananda's and claimed Yogananda transmitted "the deeper, more esoteric, aspects of the teachings to" him and empowered him "to carry on the lineage, to teach - but in a more hidden and less 'institutional' manner." Trimmer moved to the north woods of Minnesota, where he lived with his wife and children. One of his students became the self-titled Goswami Kriyananda. He began teaching kriya yoga, and by 1983 his Temple of Kriya Yoga in Chicago was offering instruction for students outside his inner circle. Roy Eugene Davis, ordained by Yogananda in 1951 and a kriya teacher since 1954, founded the Center for Spiritual Awareness in Lakemont, Georgia. Davis has written or published some 20 books and is still very active leading retreats and seminars in the 1990s.
J. Donald Walters, as Swami Kriyananda, was a close disciple of Yogananda in the late 40s and early 50s. He took vows of final renunciation in 1955 and was vice president of SRF from 1960 to 1962. He left the Self-Realization Fellowship in 1962 and worked for many years to set up the Ananda World-Brotherhood Village whose main center is in California. The Ananda community is a "spiritual community combining Mystical Christianity with the meditation tradition of the East." He has written many books that cover the same topics and compete with those of the SRF. The village has moved from a "back to the land" orientation in the 1960's to a "spiritual resort" Ananda Expanding Light, which provides mail-order programs and workshops and meditation retreats to believers in Yogananda who has now been granted the status of avatar and whose puja rituals have taken on a semi-Christian, semi-Hindu flavour at the Ananda Church of God-Realization.
Ananda Church of God-Realization and the Self Realization Fellowship were involved in litigation for years. According to Ananda, $1,000,000 was spent by them on this lawsuit and $4,000,000 by SRF. SRF countered that their expenses had been a "fraction" of that amount. But the stakes in this lawsuit were indisputably high. At issue was the use of the term "Self-Realization", plus the rights to the entire collection of life writings by Paramahansa Yogananda. Presently these are mostly held by SRF, though the copyrights are gradually expiring, allowing, for example, Ananda to publish its own edition of Autobiography of a Yogi. As of 1995 the courts had ruled in favor of Ananda. SRF's third appeal was then under review in Fresno, California. The suit was sparked, said SRF, by Ananda's changing its corporate name to "Church of Self-Realization." SRF sued, saying this was too close to their full legal name, "Self-Realization Fellowship Church," and that the public would confuse the two organizations.
They are not attempting to claim, according to an SRF spokesperson, what is called "service mark" rights to the term "Self-Realization", which would restrict other's use of the term in advertising (and other situations). "The injunction we seek in this litigation in federal court," SRF told Hinduism Today, "is specifically to disallow Ananda - and Ananda only - from using Self-Realization in their new corporate name. Our concern, is only with the use of the term by individuals or organizations in a way that is likely to mislead the public, creating the false impression that they represent, or are in some way connected with, our Guru's society." Up until 1995 the courts hadn't agreed with them.
Yogananda was unusual amongst gurus in claiming that at least one of his followers had attained "samadhi". SRF claims that it's members retain their religious beliefs but the "Christianity" of SRF would be classified by virtually any Christian denomination as heretical. It's difficult to see how SRF members would have time to remain involve in Christian church. Indian gurus are typically worshipped by their followers and SRF is no exception. The initial conclusion to this page that I wrote stated that here at least was a guru and his followers untouched by major scandal apart from the expensive litigation that they had fought for control of Yogananda's name and this may still be true for SRF, however … Unfortunately this power often leads to abuse, especially when leaders abuse their power over their followers for their own sexual and financial gain. Even worse, members who have joined hoping to transcend their human desires and "failings" can be abused or become party to the abuse as their loyalty to the organisation and their position and it's rewards transcend their initial idealistic dream of self transcendence. However, these abuses now come up against the fruits of the feminist movement and litigatiousness of modern society.
This is exactly what has happened with Swami Kriyananda and the Ananda church. The full details of the case are available at The Ananda Info Network. They are as sordid as usual but among the less salacious details are:
- Walters and Ananda tried to blame SRF for the court case saying it was further harassment by them.
- Walters blamed the women who accused him of sexual abuse, saying they 'thrust their company' on him and interrupted his meditations by taking advantage of his sexual 'weaknesses.' Court depositions came from many different women from different areas over a twenty year period whose only point of contact had been the Ananda church.
- Walters had formulated a spiritual doctrine, either deliberately or to excuse himself that the swallowing of his sperm conferred a spiritual blessing on his sexual partners. From court depositions it seems he was usually masturbated or fellatioed. Indian and Chinese religion has always attached an extraordinary, if not bizaare, benefit on the retention of sperm in men but it has been considered necessary not to ejaculate.
- Walters and the Ananda organisation attempted to use all their wealth and their lawyers' chicanery to defend the law suits and attempted to destroy the plaintiffs by malicious prosecution for defamation rather than freely admitting their mistakes and crimes as they would have if truth and ethical norms (the ethical system preached by Yogananda was much higher than societal norms) were being adhered to.
- The inability of many of his followers to accept that Walters has committed any impropriety. Walters's influence on them had always been positive and uplifting and they could not accept the cognitive dissonance of realising he lied and cheated like everybody else.
- Evidence from former members suggest that the "world brotherhood village" became essentially a cult of personality. The church hierarchy became more formal, members began taking formal pledges of "cooperative obedience and loyalty" to Walters, and the reverence of Walters became more unconditional. This is the usualy pattern in cults formed by charismatic leaders.
- In 1981, Walters returned from a trip with a 26-year-old woman named Kimberly Moore. As Walters described it in an article that appeared in "Yoga Journal," he met her in Hawaii. He announced plans to marry the young woman, proclaiming his love for her in the article. "In the magnetic influence of her presence, I soon found a vibrant joy rising from my heart chakra to the Christ Center (the seat of spiritual vision between the eyebrows)," he wrote. Most older men infatuated by young women feel these influences a little lower. This farcical affair did not last long but this about face in his public teachings caused a minor exodus of believers.
- Walters formally dissolved his lifetime nonmarriage and celibacy vows in 1985 to marry a woman named Rosanna Golia. The marriage did not endure.
- A guilty verdict against Walters and Ananda was declared in February, 1998 at which time Walters resigned from the organisation. Legal manouveurs to protect Ananda church property from the damages claims against Walters and it continued.
Celibacy is very difficult, if not impossible, for the great majority of humans. Yogananda claimed that the sincere practice of Kriya Yoga was enough to eradicate sexual urges in his followers. Walters's autobiography shows a very unhappy and disturbed young man who immediately travelled across the US by bus to become a follower of Yogananda on reading 'Autobiography of a Yogi' in 1948, was immediately accepted as a monk, and followed his "Master's" teachings for decades. In Walters's case, at least, his master's teachings failed. If he had weaker sexual urges that he could keep under control, would that have validated the practice of 'Kriya Yoga'?
Walters used his credibility as 'Swami Kriyananda', a direct disciple of Yogananda to gather followers and implement his vision of co-operative spiritual communities. However, it was not necessary, especially after his organisation had reached a certain level of success, to claim that he was celibate or attempt to live a celibate life. This unnecessary deception has been the cause of his life's work ending in scandal and shame. Only an open and honest explanation from Walters could explain the motives that caused him to destroy his aspirations.
- Autobiography of a Yogi, 1946
- The Shortened Path, Autobiography of a Western Yogi, 1977
- Heaven on Earth, 1992
- Ghosh, Sananda Lal (1980), Mejda: The Family and the Early Life of Paramahansa Yogananda (Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship).
- Arya, Rohit (2004), "Paramahansa Yogananda--Reports from the Inside of Indian Spirituality" (http://www.indiayogi.com/conten/indsaints/yogananda.asp).
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