One thing is facade (surface) and another is content. Setting up your own church with a great-looking facade to cover tyranny might bring tax benefits, money in the bank and status in its wake. But . . .
Go to Horses for Neighs
The guru Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) was a Hindu emissary who came by boat to Boston in September 1920 and got a Rosicrucian for a follower there that year, on Christmas Eve into Christmas night.
Some say the yogi founded his Self-Realization Fellowship, SRF (earlier known by several names, such as Sat-Sanga) in 1920. But is that so? We are told God* got a disciple in Boston that year, and founding papers from the early 20's could be missing.
* "Master, Dr. Lewis was your first disciple in this country, wasn't he?" The Master answered, "That's what they say."
Churchlike formalism came later on. In 1925 Yogananda bought a run-down hotel with eighteen rooms on a hilltop in Los Angeles, with the help of friends, and made it his headquarters. However, since Yogananda was not a US citizen, he did not own the place.
Yogananda got quite a following over the years. Then, in lat March 1935, Yogananda had his formerly nonregistered fellowship registered as a church in California, and then left the States for India. In this way he avoided paying back money he owed the former co-worker Dhirananda, who had got severely displeased with Yogananda's behaviour in New York. The hotel remained the headquarters of the fellowship (and church), now with new owners. In the autumn of 1936 Yogananda returned to the States and wanted a world university, a Golden World City in Encinitas, and to publish a book about yogi-christs too. He managed to get the book published as his autobiography. It was written with the help of disciples. They were adapted to Americans in the early half of the 20th century. One of the disciples, the late Daya Mata, after several decades,
signed a declaration, under oath, that Autobiography of a Yogi had not been written by Yogananda himself, but by a committee! [and, further, that] he had written Autobiography of a Yogi as a "work for hire."
The fellowship became the publisher of later Yogananda books. Some are lectures put together. Others are commentaries on old books. [Examples]
What is at stake if we get awed by smooth, gilded facades and get glimpses into what lies behind them only after you have been enrolled in what former members describe as a cult - an American cult among thousands more cults. In Margaret Singer's estimate there are about 5000 cults in the United States (Cults in Our Midst, 2003, xvii). Estimates range between 1000 and 5000, depending in part on what is called 'cult', or 'sect'.
Cults seem to attract only modest followings in eras when a society is functioning in a way that conveys structure and a sense of social solidarity (Ibid., 29). Otherwise, a cult may attract or lure potential followers by touting a special mission and special knowledge, or a supposedly "secret" learning, whether the lure is warmed-over ancient lore or the most avant-garde secrets of the universe. Beginners are led to believe that by joining a cult they enter an elite sphere, susceptible to the cults' lure and/or victims of con artists. (Ibid., 29-30)
As for Yogananda's society, SRF, don't you think these points are severe?
* SRF's 1952 version of how it happened illustrates that the company one keeps means a lot:
Every Christmas, disciples and students gathered with the Master at Mount Washington for a long meditation, which usually lasts all day and into the night. During the Christmas meditation in 1948 the Divine Mother appeared to the Master, and the devotees heard him conversing with Her. Many times he said, with a deep sigh, "Oh, You are so beautiful!" He told many of the devotees present Her wishes concerning their lives. Then suddenly he said, "Don't go! You say the material desires of these people are driving you away? Oh, come back! Don't go away!" (p. 19-20)
Thanks to two swamis and former SRF monastics, many of the points above are documented, and still others too. Links to such evidence and other references are further down. A special thank goes to an encouraging SRF nun I talked with in Paris on SRF issues, and another one to the one who saved and put online again the first years of the SRF Walrus discussion board.
Yogananda was a bhakti swami. Swami Satyeswarananda has laid bare how he erred - in Satyeswarananda's kriya-grounded opinion.
The swami also exposes how Yogananda once wrote that starting an organization was an "absolutely foolish act" - a great blunder. This is a great admittance: ◦ "I have committed a great blunder by starting an organization.". Satyananda lays bare details as well: According to the swami, Yogananda wrote in a hand-written letter that it was a great blunder to start SRF. A copy of the letter in the Bengali version of Babaji and His Legacy, Chapter 40, "Learning from the living lips of a Guru", page 821: [◦More]
The Yogananda admission of a big blunder does not have to mean much for others: theoretically, SRF might be good for some others if not for him. It depends on what he meant by big blunder - did he refer only to himself? For him and some others involved, or all involved, perhaps?
Also, how true was his admission at the time he made it; and then later on, for many or all involved in the foreseeable future in the light of "many things change" and "the times, they are a-changing"? Could SRF work for good for Yogananda lay followers even if it was a blunder for him, or because it was blunder for him and monastics, and so on? If so, helping others to one's loss is an issue too.
Beneath the tip of the iceberg is about ten times more ice to consider. Beneath Yogananda's confession of a big blunder is more to be alert to as well. So why did he write what he did? What did he think was wrong with his founding of SRF? Questions are queuing. If a topic is worth exploring, one cannot escape considering it from different angles and also considering there are different people around, at least. Here is one: "He regretted starting something that was good for members who were otherwise in for getting too fond of beer, but were SRF-discouraged from drinking it. His guidelines against alcohol might have stopped many from becoming drunks." Hence, there might be no reason to paint everything utterly black!
Swami Satyeswarananda, who has written thirty books and served as a professor of law, voices his critique based on a handed-over tradition. This is his main angling in the matter. [◦Link]
The Great Whistleblower Yogananda found he had been very foolish in starting his fellowship. A question arises: Why did he not close down his organisation when he regretted having started it? Or why did he not change it to something he could accept better than eating faeces, as he tells in the letter? (If he was all infallible as SRF tells)? Yogananda could have tucked in his fellowship to avoid getting more members and let those he had got. Or he could have helped his secretaries and the others to better ways than editing Yogananda suggestions and even the Autobiography of a Yogi for long. However, non-violent and fair newcomers were not dissuaded from entering to their own future benefit . . .
As for wicked and cruel persons, a cult that makes them drop having sex and procreate, may not be mad.
Make no mistake due to the efforts of SRF editors, Yogananda was capable of doing unsuccessful and foolish things he too. Maybe he got "third thoughts" after getting second thoughts, supposing that SRF might be good for something, good for many others, some others, or just one other human, or cattle, and so on. For he advocated a vegetarian diet.
Granted all that, one had better go for making lots of good karma, as Buddha and many others teach. Great good karma could outweigh many evils that have spread or may be about to spread. Being wise and able to count well - and great skilfulness -, can help too. However, "Don't believe, make sure," a proverb says - [◦Meditation research findings]
In short, the guru found he had started an organisation he repented having started, did not seem to remedy a lot and did not shut down Self-Realization Fellowship. He complained and in time got much disinterested in it for some reasons or others. In his later years he retired to a hut on the desert fringe in Twenty-Nine Palms. There he spent a large part of his last years, writes his biographer (Dasgupta 2006, 104).
As has been suggested above, a founder's repentance may not mean that all organisations work for bad, or that Self-Realization Fellowship is bad for everyone. "One man's meat, another man's burden," we may suggest.
The organisation he left - SRF might have become a thorn in the flesh for Yogananda, but the fellowship goes on. A bit organisational psychology, professional counselling and management theory might perhaps have helped it - However, during a few years after 2000, one third of the SRF members left the premises (Parsons 2012, 170). They found the organisation climate was not good enough for them. The organisation kept on anyway. Lola Williamson writes how former, disgruntled members of SRF credit [its] top-down mentality with creating an unhealthy organisation. (Williamson 2010, 75)
A labyrinth of difficulties beset the organization. Some people could not even sit in the same room with others because there was so much bad feeling. . . . SRF hire[d] outside communication and organizational consultants to offer advice on how to handle the situation. They also suggested that SRF hire counselors and psychologists to deal with the festering psychological problems that some of the monastics seemed to be experiencing. Two new committees . . . were formed to execute the suggestions made by the consultants. This was the beginning of a split among the monks and nuns who resided at the Mother Center. . . . The end result was that a large number of monastics left SRF from about 2000 to 2001. Due to the entrenched resistance to change, the communication consultants were let go, the existing committee members replaced by others content with the status quo, and the psychologists relieved of their duties. It may be that so many people needed to talk to the counselors that the leadership became fearful of losing control. They reverted to the old style of dealing with problems (Williamson 2010:76).
A word of warning: "Fair play is a jewel". If it is a jewel, suspect it is rare.
In SRF they formed committees in vain. Underlying problems remained, she writes.
It is not that all group living is bad, but some forms of groups are. If a group, an organisation or a church shield tender sprouts and saplings to help them grow well and stand erect on a good basis too, it might work for good.
Starting an organisation or more is hardly what is bad, but how it is like, how it works, and what fruits it yield. If your own organisation dragged you or others downward into dogmatic cermonialism, rituals and other lower outlets for humans, it could be fit to repent having joined, deaf to warning voices. Many voices: [◦SRF Walrus Backup Site].
Margaret Bowen Dietz
Yogananda told his follower Margaret (1914–2016) to feel free to give Kriya (an advanced meditation practice) or any other part of his teachings
to whomever I thought I should. Truth is free.
This was difficult! She was the guru's follower, lived in his surroundings, and yet an "SRF office" loomed that much in her mind. Forgery. After Yogananda's passing, "the office" forged his guru's signature from Paramhansa - which he wrote -, to Paramahansa, by inserting one more 'a' in it. A clear sign of editorial cheating. It is commented on by Jon Parsons in his book A Fight for Religious Freedom, chap. 7:
In the summer of 1958, after Sister Daya's trip to India, SRF suddenly changed the spelling of Yogananda's title from "Paramhansa" to "Paramahansa." Without announcement or explanation, an extraneous "a" mysteriously appeared in Yogananda's title beginning with the July-August 1958 issue of Self-Realization [the SRF magazine]. I have a copy of the 1958 seventh edition of Whispers From Eternity where the book cover is still printed "Paramhansa" but the title page and dust jacket have the "new and improved" spelling.
The lawyer wonders. What else? [More, much more]
Some things crystallise over time:
Dr Geza Vermes sums up something that appears to put to shame Yogananda's so-called "original Christianity of Jesus Christ" - and his commentary work The Second Coming of Christ, for example. Dr Vermes:
During his days of preaching, Jesus of Nazareth addressed only Jews, "the lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 10:5; 15:24). His disciples were expressly instructed not to approach gentiles or Samaritans (Matthew 10:5). On the few occasions that Jesus ventured beyond the boundaries of his homeland, he never proclaimed his gospel to pagans, nor did his disciples do so during his lifetime. The mission of the 11 apostles to "all the nations" (Matthew 28:19) is a "post-Resurrection" idea. It appears to be of Pauline inspiration and is nowhere else found in the Gospels (apart from the spurious longer ending of Mark [Mark 16:15], which is missing from all the older manuscripts). Jesus' own perspective was exclusively Jewish; he was concerned only with Jews. (Vermes 2012)
To clarify these matters still further:
Jesus reserve his teachings and salvation for Jews (Matthew 15:24; 10:5-8; Vermes 2012), but only depraved Jews: those of sound moral and spirit are not called by him, and the healthy do not need him (Mark 2:17; Matthew 9:12-13; 12.11). Jesus further puts his sheep on a path to perdition in that he teaches his sheep what is opposed to sound self-preservation. Thereby eyes, limbs, property, fit living-conditions and life itself soon enough are at risk (Matthew 5: 29-30; 39-42). Finally, marring losses come to those who call him 'Lord, Lord' without doing as he tells. (Luke 6:46)
The Law of Moses. It is in the five books of Moses, the Torah. There are 613 commandments (Mitzvah) that Jews have counted. This also means Jesus vouches for slavery, which is regulated in the Law too. What is more, in that Law, in Leviticus 16, atonement for the whole people of Israel is said to be had by two goats, the original scapegoats. Jesus getting sacrificed was totally unnecessary according to the Law he guaranteed for. And the vicarious sacrifice by two goats was to be stuck to religiously on a yearly basis for all time, it says.
This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites. (Leviticus 16:34)
Getting free from guilt by letting innocents suffer is a dangerous practice, and easily corruptive. Further, it could be a great-looking carrot for the infirm, a bait to catch those sorts of persons who go for gains over the dead bodies of others, and want to draw advantages of the unnecessary sacrifice of Jesus - unnecessary because two goat would be able to replace him each year, according to the Law that Jesus vouched for (Lev 16). Conforming to rascal demagogy and idiocy indicates the calibre, since healthy, upright persons do not need Jesus, and corrupt "righteousness" that is equal to sinning and breaking the law far and wide.
Buddha's thoughts go largely against bizarre vileness. Buddhism is a way to end suffering, dukka and get happy. Buddha further shows what marks four types of people, and describes each roughly. May I add: inherent needs for punishment may be directed to oneself or others, or both ways - Thereby we have Buddha's three types of tormenters. The good and non-tormening type is described in the Apannaka Sutta: [Four types of men]
Dasgupta, Sailendra. Paramhansa Swami Yogananda: Life-portrait and Reminiscences. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2006.
Dietz, Margaret Bowen Dietz. Thank You, Master. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 1998. -- On-line.
Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. Paperback ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Mata, Daya: "Only Love" Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1976.
Parsons, Jon R. A Fight For Religious Freedom: A Lawyer's Personal Account of Copyrights, Karma and Dharmic Litigation. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 2012.
Satyeswarananda Swami. Babaji O Tnar Parampara (Bengali Version of Babaji and His Legacy). Kolkata: Swami Satyeswarananda Trust, 2004.
Singer, Margaret Thaler. Cults in Our Midst. Rev ed. San Franscisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.
Vermes, Geza. The Authentic Gospel of Jesus. London: Penguin, 2005.
Vermes, Geza. The Real Jesus: Then and Now. Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 2010.
Vermes, Geza. From Jewish to Gentile: How the Jesus Movement Became Christianity. Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) 38:06, Nov/Dec 2012.
Williamson, Lola. Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion. London: New York University Press, 2010.
Yogananda, Paramahansa. Man's Eternal Quest. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1982.
Yogananda, Paramahansa. The Divine Romance. New ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1993.
Yogananda, Paramhansa. The Master Said: A Collection of Paramhansa Yogananda's Sayings and Wise Counsel to Various Disciples. Los Angeles, CA: Self-Realization, 1952.
Harvesting the hay
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