Monday, October 19, 2015

Ananda & SRF: Part 5 - What the Future May Hold

Since these posts appear in reverse order, scroll down the blog page and at the very bottom is a link that says "Older posts" on that to find the first two articles. Sorry for the inconvenience. Next time I'll post last first.

Part 5 - Conclusion: What the Future May Hold

I cannot separate my Ananda life experience from my thoughts here, but I do feel that my visit to the SRF shrines gave me some deeper insight and appreciation for our fellow SRF gurubhais and for the differences between SRF and Ananda.

The SRF shrines need to be stewarded, preserved and protected. Ananda members need, in our communities, to support ourselves as we share the teachings and serve our guru’s nonsectarian work. To do this, we must build meditation and yoga centers, residential communities, retreat centers, publish books, create schools for children, and much more. All of this must, by the necessity of our material circumstances and by the necessity of our own ideals, must come from the efforts and support of our own members. We have never had, nor would it have been good or right for us to have had, an endowment.

So naturally, and without regard to our past differences, we express and share PY's teachings with different styles. Yet, when I think of those monastics who are truly living the life, I see the same twinkle of joy and vibration of wisdom that we were blessed to have in Swami Kriyananda. 

Even in his will and written legacy, Swami Kriyananda enjoins Ananda members to hold in respect and love SRF: its leaders, members, and monastics. He wants us to be open to cooperate with SRF, if ever the opportunity is found, as equals and with mutual love and respect. Each will remain independent and separate; each must be focused on our respective dharma and special manner of expression, forged in and by the crucible of our own history and training.

It is not easy for those of the conflict generation to forget, forgive and reconcile. Like a grease stain on a white shirt, it will never entirely be the same. Time may heal by the anesthesia of forgetfulness or the ignorance of future generations, but for those who experienced the years of conflict, it is difficult to erase the scars of wounds forged and incurred on the battlefield of the past.

And yet, it will happen. It IS happening. We ARE devotees of a great master. "Only love will take my place," PY told us. There is no other way. Ironically, this phase may be the real spiritual test, greater even than the battles of the past (where black and white were crystal clear, each according to his point of view)! But it must and will take place. It takes place, however, person to person. Institutional memories are long and, well, “institutionalized.” The hard shell of past portrayal will only be cracked by softened, attuned individual hearts and souls, warmed by the sunshine of the guru’s grace and wisdom.

This pilgrimage showed me the truth that this forgiveness and reconciliation will come and is taking place. The pace or form of it is certainly not mine to know, but of its progress, even if halting or taking two steps back before progressing again, I have no doubt. This, I feel, is a blessing I have received from our pilgrimage, and it is a grace at least as great as the spiritual vibrations of my guru felt at the SRF, sacred shrines, for, in fact, there is no difference.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda

Ananda & SRF: Part 4 - Swami Kriyananda & Ananda

Part 4 – Swami Kriyananda & Ananda

Not only was Swamiji very young when he came to Master, but the guru was in his final and more withdrawn years of life. Swami himself was inspired by the expansive universality and power of these teachings. But on a personal level he stood, he often told us, in “awe” of his guru. The thought of any form of familiarity was unthinkable. (This did not, apparently, stop the young “Walter” from pestering his guru with many questions.)

Added to this, was the fact that Swamiji’s own dharma and inspiration was to share these teachings. Yogananda had no need, at least from Swamiji, for personal service; others held those roles. Yogananda, in turn, focused his training of the young monk, Walter, who later took the spiritual name, Swami Kriyananda, on the teachings themselves. Within months, the Master appointed Walter in charge of the other, older (and longer term) monks; he soon gave a kriya initiation; began teaching, editing, and writing. He wasn’t even 25 years old!

Thus we find, here also, a difference between SRF and Ananda. The one inclines to view Yogananda more personally with the teachings standing in the (now absent) guru’s stead (in the form of those impersonal, bi-weekly printed lessons); and the other, Ananda, inclined to emphasize the teachings as universal and as having personal and creative application in each person’s daily life. The first generation of SRF leaders seem to have established and accepted the fact that their guru was gone and what remained was for the organization to take on a caretaker role of sharing the teachings of the Master bereft of his magnetic and transforming presence.

The latter, Ananda, by contrast, was conceived and born after the guru was gone and with the mission to experiment and see how to apply those teachings to daily life. This was to be done through the dynamic and very personal vehicle of the “world brotherhood colonies” that Yogananda sowed “into the ether” by his “spoken word” at the garden party in Beverly Hills in 1949. The difference is understandable and not noticeably different in the beginning, but over time, like non-parallel lines, becomes widely divergent. SRF’s removal, after Yogananda’s passing, from the “Aims and Ideals” of SRF of the goal to establish and support world brotherhood colonies follows this distinction just as much as Ananda’s dedication to this ideal supports this divergence.

Yogananda’s many efforts to reach out past the monastic life — establishing a school for children at Mt. Washington, a Yoga University, a world brotherhood colony in Encinitas, a farm, a cafĂ©, etc. etc. — all were ultimately abandoned. It would be natural for those monastics to consider that he also abandoned the ideals that inspired him to try. (Swami Kriyananda taught us that while it wasn’t the right time in American history for these projects to succeed, Yogananda’s efforts signaled his guidance for future disciples. In part, Kriyananda’s view is based on the simple fact that until his guru’s death in 1952 Yogananda spoke forcefully and frequently about the ideal of communities.)

Returning to my original point, it seems to me that from the very beginning, the SRF monastic experience contained the seeds of "us and them." When many years later SRF became financially endowed, they could at last afford to remain apart from the need to depend upon public acceptance. PY's autobiography has immortalized him in the public mind. This is the Master’s legacy. It also has minimize the need for his SRF children to do more than mostly hold up the “Autobiography” and continue to offer the lessons. (There’s the annual convocation, and travel by the monastics to various centers worldwide, as well. Both of these are primarily offered to its own members.)

The world, like Elvis Presley or the Beatles, would simply have to come to them.

In quite a contrast, Swami Kriyananda founded the first Ananda community in the hectic heyday and backyard of the San Francisco-based hippy movement with its "back-to-the-land" and anti-establishment culture. It was communal in spirit and it was communitarian in form. Though a magnetic spiritual leader, Swami's ("SK") intention was to manifest PY's ideal of intentional communities. It was not simply to create another monastery.

This required a more participatory and involved approach rather than a traditionally hierarchical one. SK never had a financial endowment and from the beginning needed and welcomed the support, commitment and creative contributions of others. I won't go further to describe his enlightened, supportive leadership and wisdom, but suffice to say, by contrast, Ananda's very communitarian mission  required fostering an openness and inclusivity markedly different than that of SRF.

Next article is Part 5 - Conclusion: What the Future May Hold

Ananda & SRF: Part 3 - Our Respective Narratives

Part 3 – Our Respective Narratives

Setting aside any residual feelings between Ananda members and SRF monastics for the battles we once waged against each other, I can understand how card-carrying SRF members might be treated differently from the general public. Members would be disciples; disciples would come on pilgrimage, treating these places as sacred ground, attuning themselves to the vibrations of the guru. Thus the impulse to create and validate membership credentials would arise naturally. And, once a visitor presented his credentials, he might be welcomed more warmly than the many casual visitors.

Even if there had not been a long, drawn out lawsuit or preceding years of SRF displeasure, Ananda members would occupy some kind of middle ground between SRF members and the general public. But given the simple fact of Ananda not being a part of SRF and the reality that Swamiji and Ananda were viewed akin to apostates, it is not surprising that for decades Ananda members who visited these shrines encountered from the hosting monastics mixed and confused signals ranging from welcome to disdain.

Most younger monastics, having little knowledge of or interest in Ananda, or any personal animus toward Swami Kriyananda (whom they never knew), were at least cordial if not welcoming. (If they knew anything at all it would have been presumably negative.)

So, you see: quite apart from our particular and specific challenges with each other, we would have been grouped primarily with the general and unknowing (and “heathen”) general public! Polite, yes…..but….

This idea of Ananda members being “neither fish nor fowl” played itself out in our recent visit. Our hosts were friendly and warm and, as is natural and their training as docents, shared stories of the history of the property we were visiting and stories of Master and his disciples. What they presumably did not know was that the stories (even some of the historical anecdotes) were as well known to us (from Swami Kriyananda) as to them. In some cases they were likely repeating stories told them by others who were much more distant in time from the occurrence of those stories than Kriyananda was (who personally knew Master and heard many stories from him, first hand).

The experience was both surreal and disconnecting. We of course appreciated their sincerity and presumed their innocence but whereas other visitors would be naturally appreciative of the effort, we couldn’t help feel distanced for it made our discipleship invisible (or, worse case, considered of no value).

Another facet of these stories is a distinction we have found commonplace between SRF monastics and Swamiji over many years, many visits, recordings, and publications. Swami rarely told a story of Paramhansa Yogananda that didn’t convey a spiritual lesson applicable not only to himself but to his audience.

By contrast, the stories we heard on our tour, apart from the merely historical ones, portrayed the guru as sweet, charming or otherwise being very human or relating in a human way to his close disciples. The lesson of such stories was at least as much the message that those direct disciples were greatly blessed as how charming or sweet the Master was. But no lesson — useful to us — accompanied the story.

This, too, hints at an even deeper distinction (though not an absolute one) between SRF and Ananda. It has to do with the extent each has inherited a view of Yogananda as either unique or as timeless; as personal or as universal.

The narrative goes something like this: Swami Kriyananda came to Paramhansa Yogananda as a young man, age 22. The other close disciples had, in the case of SRF’s leaders, been with the Master many more years, meeting him not only when they, too, were young but when Master himself was much younger and in a different phase of life. Charming, gracious, a powerful orator, and mixing affably with the low and the high of society…...

It is not surprising that the early and close disciples related to their guru in a more personal manner. Think what they went through together; how small was their group; how personal and particular was the form of service they rendered to him (cooking, cleaning, paying bills, etc.) living in close quarters. None of these were appointed as public teachers as Master was the guru. (Who could possibly represent him adequately!) With few exceptions, he appointed men to public roles and with few exceptions these men betrayed him by taking pride in their roles and even competing with their guru for attention.

Next article is Part 4 – Swami Kriyananda & Ananda

Ananda & SRF - Part 2 - Yogananda comes to America

Part 2 – Paramhansa Yogananda comes to America

So, let's roll back the film of our vision to the early days of Yogananda's life in America. When I look at old photographs of Yogananda ("PY") taken during the 20's and 30's I observe among the many faces that surrounded him people who seem clueless as to the true nature and consciousness of the “Swami” (and avatar) standing beside or in front of them. Not only clueless but many seem positively worldly, even skeptical.

It must have been difficult for him in America. What a "great work" PY had to do to overcome prejudice and to dig deep to find fertile, intuitive souls from the midst of the frenetic and materialistic American culture. There's an oft repeated story that at one lecture, attended by thousands (as most of his lectures were during his "barnstorming" days touring the cities of America), PY was congratulated by a student on the size of the crowd. PY replied, perhaps wryly, "Yes, but........only a handful will take up this teaching."

And, sure enough it was true. PY had to struggle against great odds and crushing indifference and ignorance, to share his message of Self-realization to Americans. Only a small handful became disciples committed to serving his work with him. This small band included those who lived with him at Mt. Washington during those first two decades and a half. During the Depression of the 30’s, he said they grew tomatoes and other vegetables there simply to have enough to eat.

But even during Paramhansa Yogananda’s final years and after his acclaimed autobiography had been published, Swami Kriyananda described Mt. Washington headquarters as a “hotel,” with students checking in and out, as if the guru there didn’t meet their standards! Swamiji quotes Master describing the final days (or years) as including a housecleaning, “many heads will roll,” he stated. And indeed, as Swamiji recounts in his own autobiography (“The New Path”), many monks left. In his lectures, Swamiji would sometimes make the comparison to Jesus’ life when, near the end of his ministry, the Bible says “and many walked with him no more.”

In the book, “American Veda,” by Phillip Goldberg, he describes Paramhansa Yogananda’s innovation to send out mail-order lessons in meditation and philosophy as revolutionary in his generation as was the Sears Roebuck catalog in a prior generation. It made accessible to people at great distances Paramhansa Yogananda’s high spiritual teachings, even kriya yoga  – people who would never, otherwise, have had access to them.

But, it also created a gulf of time and distance between the Master’s close disciples (who printed and sent them out) and the faceless students they served. The very format of the printed lessons, impersonal by necessity, only contributed to the gulf between them.

Thus, it seems to me that from the very beginning of Paramhansa Yogananda’s ministry, there was a chasm between the public and the close disciples. Jesus, too spoke to large crowds, but few, perhaps only the 12, shared his life and served his ministry full-time. While this was presumably no surprise to Paramhansa Yogananda, it could have only engendered confusion, insecurity, fear and doubt, even, perchance, resentment among the close disciples.

Swami Kriyananda, in both writings and lectures, would sometimes explain the many hardships, and, yes, even lawsuits, PY had to endure during his life. Those hardships and betrayals were experienced therefore also by the close-knit spiritual family of the monastic disciples who surrounded and served him, and, who would naturally want to protect him, feeling also the hurts of betrayal and apparently failed ventures.

This gap, then is what I perceived visiting these shrines. The worldly consciousness of those thousands of visitors (at least suggested by their perfect tans and figures and their up-to-date, chic fashions) contrasted with the ego transcendent aspirations of the monastics create a climate not unlike a zoo where each species observes the other with curiosity or indifference (but certainly not understanding or warmth). The monastics who live at these places serve as ushers and docents, greeters and hosts, to the curious general public who appear, day after day, wanting to take from these shrines their beauty but who do not stay, who make no commitment, offer no (or little) support and who may never come back again. The monastics are not unlike museum guards and might easily inclined to be mute and withdrawn.

And, what I know from visiting temples and shrines elsewhere in the world, curiosity seekers (and even lesser devotees) will sometimes pinch items to take home for their collections or private devotions. Relics and furniture must thus be protected in such places. (There were security guards at the Encinitas grounds.)

Next article is Part 3 – Our Respective Narratives

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