Swami Vivekananda

Ananda Village: a lesson learned

Let me start by saying I don’t want to pick on Ananda Village exclusively. My point is that you have to be discriminating. Meditation and hatha yoga are good practices, but when idolatry comes into the picture, things can go wrong. I have had personal experience at what’s now called Ananda Village and learned the hard way.

Look at the Ananda Village website and you might be led to believe it is the pinnacle of spiritual living. “Fulfilling Yogananda’s Vision of World Brotherhood Colonies” is printed just below the title and logo. Scroll down and you’ll see a Photoshopped image of Swami Kriyananda behind Yogananda. It has to be Photoshopped (or another photo editing program) because Yogananda passed away long before Kriyananda reached the age he is in the photo.

I joined Self Realization Fellowship (Yogananda’s organization) in about 1969. I started meditating and doing their simple pre-meditation exercise routine. Meditation changed my life and I lost interest in worldly pursuits. I was young then and couldn’t relate to the people I met at the SRF center. At the end of the summer, I moved to Santa Cruz and attended college. For a time, I worked in a bookshop in town. While cleaning the shelves one day I ran across a slender book called Cooperative Communities: How to Start Them and Why. I bought the book and discovered it was written by a direct disciple of Yogananda’s, Swami Kriyananda.

In June of 1970 (I think), I paid a visit to the Ananda Retreat. I learned hatha yoga there and within a month I became their hatha yoga instructor. I stayed until the retreat closed in October and went back to L.A. where I had an ongoing job at another bookshop. I thought I had found the perfect place to live at Ananda and returned the following year. That was when everything unraveled.

In about July, a beautiful young woman arrived at the retreat. At the time, I was meditating about three hours a day and teaching morning and afternoon hatha yoga. Celibacy was easy for me at the time because the energy was rising up my spine and I was lost in bliss most of the time. Lynn (her real name was Lorelei, but she changed it because of the connotations) wanted to be celibate, too, but we were as close to a couple as you could get without sex. We hung out together in our spare time. One day she was all excited.

“Swamiji has invited me to his house for a personal darshan,” she told me.

I was never overly impressed with Kriyananda, but many people believed he was doing Yogananda’s work. They had even placed his photograph on the altar next to Yogananda, Sri Yukteswar, Lahiri Mahasaya and Babaji (Yogananda’s lineage). I was there to meditate and do hatha yoga. It was perfect for me until Lorelei returned from her “darshan.”

I could see something was wrong even from a distance. Her face was downcast and she was visibly upset. She took me to a quiet spot and told me what happened.

“As soon as I sat down, he reached over and grabbed my breasts,” she told me. She rebuffed him and at least he didn’t rape her, but what he did was wrong.

That ended my sojourn at Ananda. I kept working until the end of the summer because I didn’t know what else to do, but vowed to find somewhere else to live. I decided to go to India to find a “real guru.” It didn’t work out quite as expected, but I had some remarkable experiences there.

The Swami Kriyananda (J Donald Walters) Sex Scandal

Swami VivekanandaSwami Vivekananda was invited to attend the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. A disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, he was perhaps the first yogi to come to the United States. When he spoke to the Parliament, he said, “Of one hundred persons who take up the spiritual life, eighty turn out to be charlatans, fifteen insane, and only five, maybe, get a glimpse of the real truth. Therefore beware.” We should take heed of his words even today.

I had always wondered what the truth about Kriyananda’s expulsion from SRF was really about. He said it was because he was “too popular.” Years later, I learned the real truth. Aside from having sexual relations with one of the nuns (and maybe more), there were financial scandals and he was even kicked out of India and not allowed to return for 10 years over a bribery allegation.

When Kriyananda’s sexual exploits were uncovered, I was not surprised. I had seen for myself what he was capable of. In 1994, he was sued for sexual misconduct. Seven women offered declarations in support of the lawsuit. They had nothing to gain because the statute of limitations was one year, but they wanted their stories to be told.

It’s also worth noting that Kriyananda married a woman in 1981. They married in Hawaii. He returned to Ananda with her and within a few weeks, his wife left him. He had told his disciples she was his “soul mate and heir to his spiritual mantel.” He didn’t have an explanation for why she left him.

Again, I’m not writing this to pick on Kriyananda or Ananda Village exclusively. It’s an example of how right Vivekananda was. Sex scandals abound in every religion. Yoga is no exception. Those who get hurt are those who idolize a leader and are betrayed by them. By all means, learn how to meditate and do yoga if you want to. Just be wary. Those who wear the mantel of spirituality aren’t always who they say they are. For another example, read this article about a sex scandal at a Mt. Eliza ashram in Australia.