Monday, October 19, 2015
Ananda & SRF: Why so Different?
This begins a five-part series inspired by a recent visit of Ananda members from Seattle to southern California where Paramhansa Yogananda had his home and headquarters from 1925 to 1952. Each segment will be posted separately to be read at one's leisure. (Reminder: my views are entirely my own.)
Part 1 – We Visit SRF Locations in Southern California
I and 30 other members of the Seattle Ananda Sangha spent nearly a week in the greater Los Angeles area visiting the places where Paramhansa Yogananda lived and taught. Swami Kriyananda also lived and taught in most of these same places during the last 3.5 years of Yogananda's life and, between there and India, for another roughly 8 or 9 years following Yogananda's passing in 1952. During this time and before being ousted from Yogananda's organization, Swami Kriyananda was Vice-President and a member of the Board of Directors for some of those years in "SRF."
As most readers of this blog are keenly aware, Ananda was sued by SRF and it took some 12 years for the suit to be put to rest. It cost both parties millions of dollars. Though Ananda was assessed with minor monetary damages for duplicating and selling two audio recordings of Yogananda's voice, Ananda's rights to represent Yogananda's teachings, name, image, etc. were upheld. A book, "Fight for Religious Freedom," authored by Ananda's main attorney, Jon Parsons, details some of the history and issues. But today I am not writing about that long and difficult struggle that has so shaped and focused Ananda's work ever since. This is not an apologist effort, for either side, nor am I focused on any other aspects of Ananda or SRF beyond the topic I describe below.
Last week, then, as we toured the SRF places, I could not help but ask: "Why are we (SRF and Ananda) so different?" This wasn't a “good vs. bad” question. It is a curious and inquiring one. Members of SRF, especially referring now to its monastic members who are the stewards of these shrines, are obviously devoted to Yogananda, practicing the kriya yoga meditation techniques, and sincere in every possible way. Yogananda's living spirit and grace surely brings to them, as much as anyone, and possibly more than to most, the soul awakening and personal transformation that disciples of a great guru seek.
And, in fact, those whom we met, our hosts, were gracious, kind, centered and indeed everything one naturally expects from devotees who are deeply committed.
What, then, do I mean by "different?" To keep my thoughts focused, clear and simple, I would say the differences are typically described as follows: the one (SRF) is more reserved and the other (Ananda) is considered more “open.” The one, SRF, is run by monastics (monks and nuns) and the other (Ananda) includes families, singles, and couples as well as a small contingent of monks and nuns. So the simplified “reserved” vs. “open” fits the picture well enough for my purposes today.
But why? Aren’t we both followers of the same spiritual teacher? Yes, but here’s my theme for this article: I believe that the circumstances of the founding and early history of each organization has influenced the character of each.
As we toured the beautiful gardens at the Encinitas Hermitage on what was a typical weekday, I observed many other visitors besides our tour group. Most visitors did not look especially like disciples. It is the same at the Lake Shrine in Los Angeles, which is better known to the general public and which sits on the outskirts of one of the world’s most populace cities. At both of these wonderful places, one more or less observes a wide range of visitors attracted simply to the beauty, serenity and peace of the place. Based on the testimony of people I’ve met over many years, I believe that many visitors have no idea who Paramhansa Yogananda was (or, if so, only generally), or his teachings or organization.
It was in observing the steady flow of casual visitors that the seed of my thinking was planted.
Before I begin let me say that most of what I learned about the life of Paramhansa Yogananda and the history of SRF was from Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda. Other sources include Yogananda’s own writings and voice recordings, the writings of other direct disciples, my own, personal observations, and the testimony of other Ananda members. I am not going to constantly give resource quotes for the statements I am about to make, as it is a mixture of all of these sources. Beyond these sources I will admit out front that I have very little personal experience or personal contacts with SRF and its members. In my years at Ananda since the late 70’s I’ve had little interest in the personalities, activities, opinions, writings or ministry of SRF leaders or any particular interest in SRF’s organizational activities or policies.
Part 2 – Paramhansa Yogananda comes to America - next article