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A Former Ananda Monk Describes the Exploitation of His Idealism

"Lady, I don't know or care what they do up there or how they do it...but I can tell you one thing: I've taken hundreds of them up there, and I've taken hundreds of them back...they go up there happy, but when they leave they're a wreck."

                                       -Nevada City cab driver to prospective Ananda member, 1997.-


I first decided to follow the "spiritual path" at age 17. By 20 I was looking for the best system of teachings that I could find. I found Paramahansa Yogananda's Yoga science to be very coherent: "Scientific techniques for the direct personal experience of God". I visited an *** temple, part of the organization he founded in 1929. I was thinking of moving to Seattle, to finish college.

Then I read about Ananda in the "spiritual community guide". They then advertised themselves to be a "Cooperative Spiritual Village". They claimed to also follow the "teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda". On the surface, the format of meditation, study, and worship seemed to be very similar to the organization Yogananda founded. Best of all, Ananda advertised and claimed that they had been founded by a great "direct disciple" of Yogananda, "Swami Kriyananda".

He wore the ochre robe of the Yogi Renunciate, lived at Ayhodya, the " Monastery" at Ananda, where the monks and nuns lived. He was treated with great reverence and adulation by everyone, particularly the older members, who, I learned were the "core group" at Ananda, the leaders who were most respected.

When I visited Ananda, we were taught to include Swami Kriyananda's name in group and private prayers to various deities, like Jesus Christ and Krishna. "Wow, I thought, this guy must be really up there!"

I decided to become a member of Ananda. I thought I was incredibly lucky to have found such a place. In awe of the supposedly great spiritual stature of Ananda's leaders and members, I surrendered myself to fitting in, and being the best member that I could be.

Unwritten Rules:

The teachings at Ananda, as espoused through classes, their written material, worship services, and the culture, held that the ideal member was someone totally dedicated to the "spiritual path" being a
"renunciate"; eventually giving up everything, physically and mentally, to "find God".

Swami Kriyananda was held up as the perfect role model for this. People were in great awe of him,
everyone prayed to him, many had his pictures on their meditation altars, next to deities like Krishna and Jesus. The leaders who were "renunciates", monks and nuns, were seen as more "spiritually advanced" than those with families or in relationships.

I joined Ananda's "monastery" and took vows of renunciation in a group ceremony led by Swami
Kriyananda. I was given a tiny shack made of old log mill-ends to live in, about 6 feet wide, 8 feet long, and 5 feet high. You could see the leaves and dirt through the cracks in the floorboards. The "monks" all lived and meditated together in one area. In the monks temple we kept a pair of Swami Kriyananda's slippers on the altar, as sacred objects. Sometimes we would go up, kneel on the floor, and reverently touch these slippers out of awe and respect for Swamiji's spiritual greatness. I remember, how, late at night, I would sometimes pray to Swami Kriyananda for help in "overcoming" my sexual desire, seen as an obstacle on the spiritual path. His house was just a couple of hundred feet up the hill from my little log shack. Swami Kriyananda's home ( by the way) was the nicest house at Ananda and filled with expensive objects he collected from his around the world tours to recruit others to Ananda.

Ananda was a sacred place with a special mission to teach the world by its lofty example about meditation, and "simple living and high thinking" as directly ordained by God himself.

To work for Ananda was the same as working for God. Thus, a missionary zeal, total dedication, were in order. Personal growth, education, money, human relationships, sleep, food, health, to think of these was to be "lower" spiritually. To be trapped in "ego consciousness". Those outside the community (the whole rest of the world) were seen as "worldly people", those not "ready", not yet "evolved" enough to understand the "spiritual path", to know and work for God at Ananda. They were silently looked down upon and pitied. It was our God given mission to go out into "the world" and help them to see the light.

Heady stuff indeed for a 21 one year old idealist. I thought I had won the lottery, and I too felt sorry for the poor "worldly people".

Trouble in Paradise: Warning Signs, Lies and Rationalizations:

After I was at Ananda for few months, I found out that "Swami Kriyananda" had actually been booted out of Yogananda's organization in 1962. I was told this was a result of a "misunderstanding". Later it came out that *** wasn't able to handle the type of brilliant, dynamic saint we had in Swamiji. Besides, Yogananda himself arranged for him to be "separated" from ***, so he could fulfill his personal, God given mission of starting Ananda.

After I was at Ananda for about six months, I heard a rumor that Swamiji had once had a sexual liaison with a woman. This would have been shattering, as we all understood Swami to be a God realized saint of historical proportions, far above such worldly activity. Only ordinary people under the sway of "maya", or cosmic illusion, engaged in such stuff. An older member I asked about this became embarrassed, and said, "Oh, no, swamiji would never do that!"

More Hints, Secrets And Warnings:

Once, when helping to plaster all of San Francisco with 3 foot high tall pictures of "Swami Kriyananda", as advertising for his new "Super conscious Living Seminars", I asked another member why we had Swamiji's picture on the poster, instead of Yogananda's, wasn't he the teacher? "Because Swamiji's the channel" he replied.

"Yeah", I thought to myself, "But then why don't Christians worship Paul or Peter?"

The "Super conscious Living Seminars" billed as a new dispensation that "came to Swamiji in meditation" were a flop. They lost money, the public didn't respond, and I remember thinking to myself, listening to the grand debut of this new God inspired dispensation, "This sounds like gobbledygook; I didn't come here for this". But where would I go? The "world" was a dangerous place, full of evil temptations that might lure one from "the path". Losing your way, one would descend into darkness, subject to repeated incarnations filled with suffering and delusion. Besides, didn't Swamiji, this God realized saint, know better than I?

I saw Ananda's "first sister community" at Ocean Song fail. The Ananda leaders blamed it on the person who had donated the land, but my brain was screaming that it sure looked just like incompetence, arrogance and downright stupidity on the part of the leadership, and....Swamiji.

A few months later, I saw our whole community sent into an uproar over Swamiji's latest "dispensation": registering Ananda as an incorporated city. I was at the meetings where I heard the leaders say we had to lie about the true nature of Ananda's internal politics and social structure so the county agency would grant in our favor. After all, they were only worldly people, how could they understand the greatness of Swamiji's vision.

I saw dedicated members, gently and respectfully questioning this idea, told finally that since this idea
came from Swamiji, they were being "negative" and "out of tune" to even question it. If they didn't
unquestioningly accept it and work enthusiastically for it, they should get out, leave the community.
Notwithstanding how many years or decades of time, energy and money they had selflessly given the
community; some of them did. These were good people who any real community would have been glad to keep.

I saw Swamiji stand up at the final incorporation meeting, and grandiosely shout that the county
commission "owed it not only to Nevada County, but to the world!" to pass the resolution in Ananda's favor. They rejected it. A few weeks later Swamiji wrote a strange letter rambling on about how maybe the whole incorporation thing wasn't such a great idea after all, or not the right time....or something. Meanwhile, my brain was screaming that this was all simply bullshit. But who was I to question a great enlightened soul like Swamiji? My doubts must be the whisperings of Maya, illusion.

Even More Bizarre:

I still remember coming into the Ananda Sacramento Ashram, and the look of shock on the ministers face. "What's the matter, what's going on?" I queried. "We picked up Swamiji at the airport today...and he brought this young girl back from Hawaii with him!"

"Oh? Well, who is she? What is he doing with her?

"He's outrageously flirting with her!" the minister replied.

Swamiji's latest dispensation was the grandest of all. Now, it appeared, God wanted him to become a "householder", to have a wife, to get married. All those things that we had been taught were the product of delusion, Maya. But Swamiji said it wasn't what it appeared to be: This was not an ordinary relationship based on personal desire and sexual attraction. No, this was God's will. Swamiji didn't see any good examples of real spiritual marriages in the community (some couples had been married for 20 years) so God had ordained that he must get married to set the example to the community and the whole world. In any case, he had now come to believe that monasticism was obsolete in this New Age. In the past, "higher", Golden Ages, all the great saints were married.

Wow! Lucky for Swami, it was God's will she was a very attractive 26 year old. (He was over 50) I guess God didn't care she was still legally married at the time, either. But such primitive rules were a product of the dark ages, and Swamiji wasn't going to question God's will in such things?

So Swamiji "got married," as then did many of the other monks and nuns. (Monkey see, Monkey do")

His God-ordained wife left him within six months. Of course, according to community leaders it was her fault: she couldn't handle Swamiji's greatness....she was jealous, immature.... and Swami's final most bizarre rationalization "Egyptian dark entities had swayed her" Whatever the case, it was her fault. Years later she filed legal papers alleging Swamiji raped her, she didn't know they were "married", she had been deceived and manipulated. Even though I didn't know these things at the time, my "crap-o-meter" was beginning to swing off the scale.

The Last Straw:

Finally it became overwhelming. For years I had overlooked things because "who was I to know",
"Swamiji knows better", "Where would I go anyway, the world is evil", "These doubts or thoughts are Maya, or Satan trying to make me fall off the path", etc. All the things I had accepted as the truth as taught by Swami Kriyananda.

One day I asked an older ex-member who had just left about my doubts: "The community just doesn't feel right anymore; it seems more like Swamiji's little kingdom, than the "Cooperative Spiritual Community" that they advertised". And their ad said they followed Yogananda scientific Yoga system, but now after four years, it's obvious that that Swamiji is seen as the real "guru", who seems to make it up as he goes along. It's Swamiji's books, Swamiji's latest weird ideas that always seem to not work out the way he said...despite their being "divine revelations".

Then he told me about the women. "Swamiji" had been having sex with many women for years...decades....he's in delusion about who he is..he's not a great saint...he's confused...there is someone I could confirm this with, someone who just asked "Swamiji" about the rumors of sexual behavior,
"Swamiji" evidently admitted to him that "some of the stories were true".

I was absolutely stunned. In shock. We talked for two hours, and then I walked home, my brain numb.

Over the next few weeks I and a friend investigated the charges. Talked to witnesses. Talked it out. The evidence piled up. The conclusion was irrefutable. What my brain had been telling me for years was true. The "Divine Revelations" that looked like mistakes, or arrogant delusions, were exactly that. No more, no less. "Swamiji" was not a great saint, or even a real swami, just a man. Like me. Like you. He had desires, he made mistakes, he was in delusion. But he evidently didn't know it. Did he actually believe that his latest desire or subconscious whim were the actual directives of God? Or did he know it was all lies, or some of both? After a few weeks of agony, still thinking that maybe Satan was pulling me away from the path....I finally concluded that for anyone to LOOK so holy, but BE so corrupt, THEY must be the ones acting for "Satan"....It was time to GET OUT. I was, after all, not leaving "the path" just Ananda.

Down The Road: Deeper Revelations:

It wasn't until almost 15 years later that I realized just how bad the situation really was. The 1994 trial of Ananda and "Swamiji" was like a breaking dam of revelations. He wasn't just a deluded but sincere human being, but seemed to me a deeply disturbed one. His actions with women were not healthy "relationships", or even the normal "flings" of consenting adults, for mutual pleasure. The testimony of witness after witness put the pieces of the puzzle together in horrible, glaring detail. He seemed to exhibit symptoms from a mental disorder called the "Narcissistic Personality Disorder". An expert witness stated under oath that he was on the "most destructive, predatory end of the spectrum as a clergy sex offender: a personality who repeatedly hunted and preyed upon vulnerable women to exploit for his own sexual pleasure. He even twisted young nuns into becoming his sex partners": they came, serviced him, left. (even prostitutes are paid). He had them convinced this was part of their "divine service" to him as a "channel for God". Some of the older community members, who I had once stood in such awe of, knew about it for years, did nothing, condoned it, covered it up. This behavior had gone on for decades. I realized, at one point, as I read the testimony, that the very nights I had once prayed to him for help in overcoming my sexual desire as a sincere, idealistic young monk, might easily have been one of those same nights he was having one of the young nuns service him sexually.

Now in my forties, my mind flashed back across the years to a memory of a young man, bursting with enthusiasm, belief and trust. He had been so happy, so sure of his path. Instead of college, a family, a career, money, he had chosen to live in utter poverty in a log shack, for the joy of mystical adventure and a chance to make the world a better place. Living for this cause amongst his beloved and trusted "spiritual family" was all that he had asked. Every day he awoke with a desire to work his hardest, to do his best to serve his community and cause. He had given the best of himself, everything that he had.

But it was all based on a lie, a lie woven by a man unbelievably sick and empty, a man who hid his
darkness behind sweet smiles and lofty phrases. Now I knew what it was like for a child to be molested by a trusted adult. I had been spiritually raped.

After realizing this, though it was now many years since I had left, I felt physically ill for several days.

I learned more about cults, and was amazed to find that Ananda was not at all unique. It was, in fact, a "cookie cutter" cult. Reading about other people's stories from other such groups, I was astounded to see how identical they all were.

Hidden under the veil of smiling faces, disarming sweetness, and idealistic advertising, was a powerful cult dynamic, whose ultimate result was to psychically disembowel the endless stream of idealists coming in response to their slick marketing, drawn to the promise of love, community and spiritual joy. Ananda's "World Brotherhood Colony", was ultimately just a facade, a lure, a trap: underneath was the black void of "Kriyananda's Kreepy Kult".

When I left Ananda in the early 1980's, after about 5 years living in all parts of the community, I was
emotionally devastated. Overnight I lost what I had considered my "family" and "friends". My whole life had been dedicated to the serving Ananda. Yet when I left, only one person from Ananda bothered to even ask why. Once I knew "the secret", I was a non-person, someone dangerous, to be shunned. Strange, though, even though ex-members are shunned, the community makes such a huge effort to "save" new people among the "worldly". Don't their old buddies rate an attempt to save them from "falling"?

I was also financially devastated, having given up college or a real job to "serve the community". I know someone who was told by a top Ananda minister not to take flying lessons, because, "Why? You have Ananda". (He luckily got out and is now is a pilot for a major airline)

People leave Ananda feeling ripped off, deceived, betrayed, lied to, exploited, sucked dry, their lives
shattered on many levels. Money gone, marriage broken up, years behind in abandoned careers.

Even today, almost 15 years later, I still discover little hidden behaviors or traits which are hurtful or
destructive, still left over from the intensive cult training. I feel like a huge part of my life was irreplaceably ripped out.

My Prayer:

I am writing this so that perhaps others might be spared this experience. Go ahead, be idealistic, follow the "spiritual path", or any other path...but don't give your power away to anybody, even if they perform miracles in front of you. Don't give up your brain, your discrimination. Listen to it. God put it there for a good reason. God is where you are now, not in some compound, listening to others who are supposedly "spiritually superior". Don't be in awe of anybody else. Find and be in awe of your own power, your own soul. Anybody who says they're a teacher probably isn't one. If you meet really sweet, loving, humble people, and their gentle, charming teacher, who welcome you into their "spiritual family", turn around and run! Nothing on this earth is that perfect, except a trap. Find your own power, be you own teacher...find real joy and love in all of life's difficult challenges. Be a conqueror. Don't listen to the slick talkers...It could be decades before you figure it out, by then the damage to your life may be irreversible. Achieve true "spiritual liberation" by making your own way. Don't wreck your life by giving it away to those who don't deserve it. Don't join a cult. Don't join Ananda.

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