In such waters, such caution. Proficiency next.
In much unknown waters, keep a good lookout and be vigilant. In calm, known waters the fare may get much laxer.
There are fables and proverbs to tell us that if the wolf changes his skin he does not change his nature. A guru who wrote praise of Mussolini and dictatorship in the first half of the 1930s, did he change his nature afterwards?
And why should his fellowship (SRF) hide his utterances for dictatorship, if they think his guidelines are without flaw, as they write? The fellowship may be considered a cult (sect) for other reasons anyway. According to a former vice-president in SRF, an SRF editor called Tara Mata (Laurie Pratt) said so, and many former SRF monastics (monks and nuns) have said so too, on a public discussion board that folded in toward the end of 2011. But a backup-site of it up to 2006 exists.
The trouble with cults is that there are so many of them, and that the bigger they get, the more esteem they seem to hanker after in their societies.
This collection of short and long essays offers glimpses into minds of members and former members of Self-Realization Fellowship. One third of the SRF monastics - about fifty in all - left the SRF premises between 2000 and 2005 (Cf. Williamson, 2010:76; Parsons 2012:170). Many of them have since tried to get their lives in order and perhaps sort out what to go for. Accordingly, updated psychological knowledge may be a boon, as it may help considerably.
There is evidence that some of the guru-founder's views changed as he accommodated along in life, and evidence of how some consistency evaporated. In the first issue of his bimonthly magazine, East-West, and SRF emended a fair share of its original, Yogananda-written aims quite soon after his death. The bird had flown, and its tunes with it. (Emended SRF church articles of 5 Dec 1954).
I give examples of what has taken place in and around the fellowship after one third of its monastics left its premises.
Some who discovered they had been taken in somehow and had become goofy, got severe problems. Exactly how many and what detailed problems we should take into account, I cannot tell. Against depressions of former monastics and other members, there may be several general steps to try, and why not homeopathic remedies and flower essences when they work? Every little helps, they say, and placebos tend to help too, perhaps as well as anti-depressants, for that matter. Some things could be found worth trying in a case - for example acupuncture, homeopathy, herbs, maybe along with medical treatment, for example.
One should encourage candid, even sceptical inquiry, politely done, against being taken in and goofed further from there. There are essentials of Tibetan Buddhism to adjust to as well, among other helpful means:
Essential Truths derive from a realm (level) beyond ordinary thinking
In Tibetan Buddhism, an attitude of critical skepticism is encouraged to promote analytic abilities in meditation and otherwise. Tibetans say one should test also the Buddha's words as one would the quality of gold.
Do not accept my Dharma [teachings, etc.] merely out of respect for me, but analyse and check it the way a goldsmith analyses gold, by rubbing, cutting and melting it. [Buddha, The Sutra on (Pure Realms) Spread Out in Dense Array]
Still, in the Pali Canon and many Mahayana sutras, Buddha stresses that Dharma [teachings of Truth] cannot truly be understood with the ordinary rational mind or logic. Up to a point or level words carry ideas that may help, and on finer levels one relinquishes fixation on words and letters, one transcends them. The Kunjed Gyalpo Tantra (The All-Creating King), a scripture of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, likewise emphasises how Truth lies beyond the range of thought. Samantabhadra states in it: "The mind of perfect purity . . . is beyond thinking and inexplicable."
Buddhist schools differ in that some schools discourage doctrinal study, but most regard it as having a place, at least for some people at some stages. Helpful Mahayana doctrine in the matter: Hold on to what is spiritually beneficial. What is helpful may in part depend on one's level of understanding.
Back to Yogananda
Scepticism and devotion to a guru may be combined. Scrutinise a prospective guru first, and his key teachings also, and accept him or her later if nothing alarming turns up. Hope to grasp ideas he lands in your mind, such as "Non-essentials are not to be clung to." Many ideas may help little, and may also mar the mind and hinder finer attainments in deeper meditation. (WP "Tibetan Buddhism"; "Buddhist philosophy") [◦Berzin Archives]
Thus, it could be good not to rely wholesale on any teacher, but focus on the better teachings that are found or given. And as to doctrine, it is fit not to rely wholly on words (literal or low-level meanings of expressions grasped on the ordinary level of mind), but also take into account central meanings that may stand out in exalted states - allow for both of these. To find out how reliable and well-working a set of teachings are or can be, it may or may not be wise to depend on who taught them, and maybe investigate the teachings fairly and to one's ability, and successively finding outlet for them.
Uncritical faith has it limits, and may endanger the poor victims of bad and unfulfilling teachings. Such a faith could even hinder or oust out better studies. The early Yogananda said much about the value of rational handling against blind faith in where the boons are. It is not enough just to invoke charmer words like "scientific" and "science". Maharishi encouraged research for real, and research he got. [◦TM Findings]
Some years ago I made an impromptu study of a censored discussion board for Yogananda devotees. It showed up that significant functions that SRF-related discussion boards appear to be:
A next page looks into delicate problems of leaving the Yogananda-hailing society SRF (Self-Realization Fellowship). The theme "moving on" surfaces time and again. Move on to what? That is a formidable question. Few grope their way to Babylon, few to Bethlehem, and some find their way to Mahayana Buddhism, for example. The lots of a lot of former SRF monastics are otherwise unclear or little known at large. Those who know all of the survivors among them and get them to anwer a well-constructed, pertinent questionaire, might find out much.
The last page in the series revolves around the theme "past incarnations of Yogananda" and problems connected with assertions in that street. There are some, as the SRF kriya pledge has a sad dimension:
Frankly, if you want to believe that Yogananda will now be a good and decent chap to be tied up with in future lives, consider his "memories" of having been the mutilating William Conqueror, a vicious, murderous desert marauder and a lawyer - Safety first; you could keep sanity and freedom enough to be able to choose your company - better be with decent, good persons than being dragged as a goat of sacrifice to a murderous goddess, such as Kali. Bloodthirsty Kali was Yogananda's favourite goddess, Sailendra Dasgupta's Yogananda biography reveals. He seems to have had natural inclinations toward her and some of her ways. He is portrayed as a sort of Kali guy thus: "From very early childhood, [he] was devoted to Mother Kali as his Divine Supreme Goddess." (Dasgupta 2006:26)
In short, the SRF kriya yoga pledge hardly looks good if the guru falls in future lives and drag poor life-after-life disciples with him downwards - or it could be the other way round.
Prepare for the worst so that it is unlikely to ever happen.
Yogananda's decrees about the guru-disciple relationship go against Human Rights laws in many countries, and is more severe than any other guru-disciple relationship I have heard of - stricter by far than similar and corresponding guru-disciple deals of India.
It could be better not to become a member of a narrow society than to succumb and then try to extract oneself from it later, struggling against many ties for some years or lives later, including the rest of one's life. Still, it seems good to allow for exceptions to that scenario. Some could perhaps like it in SRF, if they don't have normal sex drives, like to sleep less than average, work hard, and do not mind obeying a lot - submitting to many hundred don'ts, for example. They are teeming in three books of Yogananda talks and other SRF works too. How much such followers are helped onwards and upwards in SRF, is another interesting discussion. Swami Satyeswarananda in San Diego shows that Yogananda made many monastic devotees work hard and forgo Enlightenment for his cause. However, these counsels of Tibet's great yogi Milarepa reveal the good attitude:
The worthiest one is engaged in turning a blessed human life to the best account [cf Tm 225].
Could SRF be a place for human sacrifices?
There are many kinds of sacrifice, but there is something low or even cruel in all of them, one can ascertain from the wonderful Apannaka Sutta, where Buddha reveals that the highest do not sacrifice themselves or others.
Swami Satyeswarananda writes that Yogananda, as opposed to the Apannaka Sutta teachings, cut a deal with his inner circle of devotees that none of his followers would attain self-realization in this life. They had to set aside their salvations. A slow sacrifice is still a sacrifice. He offers a handwritten letter by a monastic of Yogananda's organisation:
A high official of the order once told me that probably none of us (in SRF) would achieve Self realization in this life - that we are . . . meant to sacrifice our salvation or set it aside in this life, in order to devote ourselves to bringing the Master's teaching - missionary like - to the world.
The quotation and a digital photo-copy of the handwritten letter have since been removed from the Sanskrit Classic site - but it remains in the source file of the page link below -. The original page with the photo-copied letter was on the Internet Wayback Machine until it was removed quite recently [For all that, the photo-copy exists anyway; there is a copy.] A quite comprehensive Yogananda page at the Sanskrit Classics is there still (February 2017). In it, there is a glimpse into the SRF history that Yogananda for some reason also came to admit it was a big blunder to start SRF. [◦Find some revised evidence here]
"Yogananda's "great blunder" (his organisation, SRF, as he writes), will it be fit for strongly devoted members? Or is taking up jogging so much more worthwhile?" Be prepared: There could be several opinions about that. But before forming one, try to get many relevant cards on the table.
Dasgupta, Sailendra. Paramhansa Swami Yogananda: Life-portrait and Reminiscences. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2006. Also: Google Books, partial view.
Parsons, Jon. A Fight For Religious Freedom: A Lawyer's Personal Account of Copyrights, Karma and Dharmic Litigation. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 2012.
Williamson, Lola. Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion. London: New York University Press, 2010.
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