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A Perspective by Former Member M.S.

When I first arrived at Ananda in June of 1992, one of my initial impressions was of the friendliness and cheerfulness of its residents. Over time, however, and with my increased involvement in the community, I became aware that most of the people who exhibited these qualities were new arrivals, like myself. The people who had been there for a number of years and most
especially, Ananda's "ministers," seemed for the most part, aloof and unapproachable.

There was a great deal of talk at Ananda regarding willingness and enthusiasm as being virtuous spiritual attributes. I couldn't agree more with this. However, again as time went on, I observed more and more that it was the newcomers who possessed these positive traits. While Ananda ministers actually demanded willingness and enthusiasm from us, they as group, seemed to be lacking in them. On the contrary, they usually seemed quite morose. I would even say that they seemed to be jealous and resentful that we were more willing and enthusiastic than they were. Most seemed not only cold and unapproachable, but to me, many of them seemed to be in a trance; a cold aloof trance.

There was a lot of pretension amongst Ananda ministers. Although they were supposedly trained in counseling by Mr. Walters, himself, for me they were always too busy with their own personal affairs and jobs to have the time or interest to deal with other peoples' problems. It struck me that they didn't relate to people in a broad spiritual manner but in terms of how much that person was capable of contributing to the physical aspects of the community.

The main reason I came to Ananda was because I felt that the community's leadership were qualified representatives of Paramahansa Yogananda, a spiritual teacher from India, and capable of disseminating his precepts. In July of 1993, I undertook a program which was a prerequisite at Ananda. Looking back, I realize that the name, "Monastic Training Program" was a misnomer. How could it be referred to as "monastic" when just about everyone in the program including its directors were either married, in a relationship, or wanting to be in one. I feel that there's nothing wrong with not being monk or nun but isn't being one usually indicative of a higher level of commitment due to the austere and selfless nature of that lifestyle? Wasn't this a frivolous redefining of an ancient and sacred way of life in order to accommodate a lifestyle with a lesser standard of self-discipline? On the same subject, Ananda residents still call Mr. Walters, "Swami", even though he was "married" twice.

There was a great deal of mystery enshrouding Kriyananda's marriages. Mr. Walters and his (then) wife were, at that time, not living together, yet no one at Ananda, especially those in positions of leadership, dared to admit or concede that they might be separated due to conflict. Instead they intimated that the actions of someone of such high spiritual stature as Mr. Walters were beyond questions.

In his writings, Mr. Walters talks a great deal about loyalty; to causes, to organizations and to people. In practice, however, I felt that there was something amiss. Shortly after my period of employment at Crystal Clarity (Ananda's publishing company) ended because of lack of work, the position of shipping department manager became open. Instead of promoting someone from the inside, it was filled by a newcomer who happened to be related to Mr. Walters. When Crystal Clarity merged with Time-Warner Books, several people there lost their jobs. It seems to me that if Mr. Walters was truly loyal to those who had served him faithfully, it would have been fair to make provisions for those people to maintain their employment. Yet again, it seemed that decisions and actions were beyond questions and reproach.

I was also employed at another Ananda owned business, a local restaurant. This turned out to be the most trying, degrading job I've ever experienced. The working conditions and scheduling procedures made it so. Even though we always worked in a shorthanded state, the manager literally spent hours on creating a new schedule, thus precluding the possibility of him helping the staff in their effort to serve the patrons. The scheduling of my shifts, one day working mornings, the next evenings, and (often) the following morning kept my life chaotic. Aside from our lunch break there were no breaks and we would work long shifts. If, for example, you were there for the morning shift, this meant working through two periods of peak activity (breakfast and lunch) without any respite. During this we were expected to remain cheerful and provide efficient service to the public. We were exhorted to "stretch ourselves past our limits". In fairness, some of the former managers who enforced these policies, worked as hard as anyone else and were trying to do what they believed was the right and good thing to do. I don't doubt that in their minds they believed that working under those conditions was beneficial to one's spiritual growth. I feel, though, that in their overzealousness to make the business successful (as well as to please Mr. Walters), they ignored some of the most fundamental needs and rights of their subordinates. When spiritual principles are consistently employed to control people and to sway them to the desired effect of higher ups these principles can and do become tools of manipulation and exploitation. A true ideal should never abuse its members in the pursuit of some noble "higher "purpose.

I had been employed at Crystal Clarity at the same time that the plaintiff worked there and lived at Ananda's Seclusion Retreat for 15 months, during which time the plaintiff was living there as well. Far from the picture Ananda painted of her in their rebuttal papers, she was an intelligent, diligent, and mature worker appreciated by her supervisors. She was sincere and kind in dealing with others both at work as well as at the Seclusion Retreat. Not someone who would make up "wild and baseless charges" as Ananda called them.

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