Founder: Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters)
Date of Birth: 1926
Birth Place: Northern California
Year Founded: 1968 (Nevada City, CA)
Sacred or Revered Texts: Bhagavad Gita, The Bible
Size of Group: Approximately 5,000 members Worldwide
The history of the Ananda Church of Self-Realization, founded by J. Donald Walters in 1968, is heavily rooted in the teachings of Swami Paramahansa Yogananda and the Self-Realization Fellowship, which he established. Yogananda, born in 1893 and raised in a well-to-do family, grew up with an immense fascination for spirituality 1. . By 1914, he had graduated from college and taken the necessary vows to become a member of the Swami order. Once a member, he began teaching a small group of individuals the fundamentals of, among other things, Yoga. This group would come to be the nucleus of the Self-Realization Fellowship 2.3. .
In 1920, Yogananda received the opportunity to bring his teachings of Self-Realization West, to the United States, for a speaking engagement in Boston 4. . He accepted and was very well received, consequently leading to additional speeches. The following lectures received rave reviews and large crowds came to listen to him. "The crowds soon united to found the Self-Realization Fellowship, with strong beliefs in mediation and Kriya Yoga practices, which [they believe] lead to the direct perception of God." 5
Over the next two decades, Yogananda greatly decreased his amount of speaking engagements and focused rather, on writing books. His most popular work, "Autobiography of a Yogi" (1946), became internationally recognized and in the process, greatly aided the membersh.ip of the Self-Realization Fellowship, most notably acquiring J. Donald Walters 6. .
After speaking in depth with Yogananda in September of 1948, Walters felt that there was something about the teachings of the SRF and Yogananda in particular, that "filled his whole being." He immediately left for Mount Washington, CA (headquarters for the SRF) to become a monk 7. . Over the following four years, Walters lived and studied at Mount Washington with his teacher, being ordained into the Swami order (gaining the name: Swami Kriyananda) and commencing to give services along the way.
What most intrigued Kriyananda during his time at Mount Washington though, was Yogananda's repeated mentioning of Self-Realization Cooperative Communities in his teachings.
"In the words of Swami Kriyananda, his guru, Swami Yogananda, towards the end of his life "repeatedly and urgently spoke of a plan that he said was destined to become a basic social pattern for the new age: the formation of Self-Realization cooperative communities, or 'World Brotherhood Colonies.'" Swami Kriyananda continues quoting his guru as saying:
"The day will come, [...] when this idea will spread through the world like wildfire. Gather together, those of you who share high ideals. Pool your resources. Buy land in the country. A simple life will bring you inner freedom. Harmony with nature will bring you a happiness known to few city dwellers. In the company of other truth seekers it will be easier for you to meditate and to think of God. What is the need for all he luxury with which people surround themselves? Most of what they have they are paying for on the installment plan. Their debts are a source of unending worry to them. Even people whose luxuries have been paid for are not free. Attachment makes them slaves. They consider themselves freer for their possessions, and don't see how their possessions in turn have possessed them."
According to Kriyananda, there was more to this message than simply presenting people with an attractive idea. There was an urgency in Yogananda's plea: "The time is short [...]. You have no idea of the sufferings that await mankind. In addition to wars there will be a depression the like of which has not been known in a very long time. Money will not be worth the paper it's printed on. Millions will die 8. ."
Yogananda's dream would not be realized during his lifetime though, as he died in 1952. Kriyananda however, continued teaching and following the lessons of his master, and of the SRF. Despite his strong feelings toward the establishment of the "World Brotherhood Colonies" at the time, he understood that his current duties with the Self-Realization Fellowship were of paramount importance and therefore, temporarily gave up on the idea. He traveled a couple of time to India over the next decade to spread Yogananda's teachings. He came to be rather successful and popular in his efforts when suddenly, in 1962, he was brought back to the United States and effectively dismissed by the Self-Realization Fellowship for what fellow members felt were ideas of separatism being brought about in his teachings 9. .
Kriyananda was deeply hurt by this, as he solely wanted to carry on his master's teachings. For the next five years (1962-1967), he taught Yoga classes and spread the teachings of his master out of his home as a source of income. In the process of this, he slowly began to attract new friends through his teachings 10. . This increase in numbers (and the feelings of success that came with them) once again sparked the thought of the "Spiritual Communities" that he had to abandon while actively participating in the SRF 11. . With Yogananda's original vision of "World Brotherhood Colonies" now firmly re-established in his mind, Kriyananda set out to find the land for his future community. Shortly thereafter, he learned of a large parcel of property near Nevada City, CA. He felt this would suit his needs perfectly upon viewing it, so he and three other men came together, each purchasing a separate portion of the land 12. .
Over the following year, in 1968, Kriyananda began the construction of a house and meditation retreat center for his lectures and classes. The enrollment in these Classes and lectures continued to increase throughout the construction process and the extra income as a result, made it possible for Kriyananda to pay off his portion of the land and offset some of the construction costs. By the end of 1968, his home and the meditation retreat center were completed and Ananda was officially born.
With the rising number of people desiring to live in the Ananda community to better follow Kriyananda's teachings more fully, the Swami felt more land was needed so that the members could have adequate room to raise their families. In 1969, he purchased a farm and 285 acres of land approximately five miles away from the retreat center to alleviate the problem.
Within just a few years after its inception in 1969, the Ananda farm had become almost completely self-sufficient. A school was started in the community and the farm was producing plenty for the residents 13.14. . In order to keep up payments on the land and to purchase the goods that they couldn't produce themselves though, some members worked outside of the community and Kriyananda lectured extensively during the week (outside of the community) to raise money. Despite their efforts, at certain points during Ananda's first few years, financial problems did abound. As a result, it was decided in 1970 that a membership fee had to be paid upon moving into the community in order to help take care of the group's financial obligations 15.16. .
With their finances in order for the most part, the Ananda Church of Self-Realization has continued to expand over the past couple of decades, purchasing additional land and opening new schools, stores, farms, and even full communities worldwide, while maintaining Swami Kriyananda's vision and continuing to follow Yogananda's teachings.
The basis of the Ananda belief system and overall manner in which they view the world comes from the teachings of Swami Paramahansa Yogananda (made up of a conglomeration of Indian, Christian, and Yoga beliefs from both the East and West) 17. . All members of the Ananda Church are expected to study his teachings in great detail and additionally study both the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. The central idea upon which Yogananda based his teachings though was Self-Realization. "This term in and of itself implies two things: One, that the self is in essence 'non-different' from God and that this fundamental fact of existence can be realized in an experience termed samadhi. Samadhi is a superconscious state 'in which a yogi perceives the identity of individualized soul and Cosmic Spirit;' secondly, Self-Realization implies that there is a means of attaining the state of samadhi 18. ." The means by which the Ananda Church of Self-Realization achieve this is Kriya Yoga. Kriya Yoga is a meditative, breath controlling technique, which when practiced properly, is believed to lead to a balanced mind, body, and soul, and to direct, personal experiences with God 19. ." If this is accomplished, the individual utilizing the Yoga is said to be immune to physical and mental disease, as well as to spiritual ignorance.
In order for one to achieve Self-Realization through Kriya Yoga, a series of eight steps must be completed. The entire process can take many years. Each step has been listed and briefly explained below, with the help of the Institute for Personal Development 20. .
Yama (Abstentions)- Religious restrictions and standards to live by defined as non-injury, non-lying, non-theft, non-greed and non-sensuality.
Niyama (Religious Observances)- The observances defined as purification, contentment, austerity, sacred study, and attunement to the Absolute, which are designed to distill, strengthen, and cultivate a person's ability to control psychic energy through the development of the Will as a psychological function.
Asana (Postures)- Asanas are the physical postures of yoga which help establish the proper relationship between one's body and mind.
Pranayama (Science of Prana)- Pranayama is the science of Prana (the life force) and its correlation to the breathing process. Purpose: Pranayama is the control of Prana. Yoga recognizes that Prana follows the path of thought. How we think is what we become. There is a direct relationship between how we breathe and how we think. Through the control of breath we can control the thought process. By the control of thought we can shape our reality.
Pratyahara (Sense Withdrawal)- Pratyahara is a series of breathing exercises and techniques geared toward separating consciousness from sensual perception.
Dharana (Concentration)- Dharana is a series of breathing techniques and exercises, including mantra, designed to develop endurance through conscious effort. This is strenuous and effortful.
Dhyana (Meditation)- Dhyana is a series of breathing techniques and exercises experienced from a different level of consciousness. Purpose: Dhyana marks the shift from the effortful work of concentration to the effortless flow state of meditation.
Samadhi (Contemplation)- Samadhi is a continuation of the same breathing exercises and techniques experienced as the expansion of consciousness into the causal body. Purpose: Samadhi is when consciousness returns to perfect divine unity. The point of simultaneous observation where one sees themselves as a separate entity, and at the same time, universal.
Despite the immense significance and magnitude of Kriya Yoga within the Ananda Church, Yogananda also taught that the Christian approach when explaining God, in that he conveyed to his followers the idea of the trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), as well as the idea of creationism.
With the belief structure of the Ananda Church now laid out, one might ask what the difference is between Ananda and the Self-Realization Fellowship that Swami Yogananda founded, or if there is indeed any difference at all. Well, despite the fact that both religions are grounded in the same basic principles (so much so that Kriyananda has been known to have his members join the SRF first to properly learn the Yoga techniques 21. ), there is indeed a fundamental difference between them. Swami Kriyananda took very seriously his master's teachings regarding cooperative colonies and ended up using the idea as one of Ananda's founding principles. Those who remained with the SRF upon Kriyananda's departure did not interpret his teachings in the same manner and subsequently never embraced the idea. Additionally, after the split between the two religions, the relationship that exists between them is rather odd. On one hand, Kriyananda and the members of the Ananda Church maintain the upmost amount of respect for the teachings of Yogananda and for the SRF. Despite being dismissed from the SRF, Kriyananda harbors no ill feelings toward the group. On the other hand however, the SRF wants little or nothing to do with the Ananda Church of Self-Realization. They do not recognize Kriyananda as a legitimate preacher of Yogananda's teachings and have actually taken Ananada to court saying that, by using Yogananda's books, etc. to teach, they are effectively ignoring the copyright rules the SRF holds on the materials.
Current Issues and Controversies
In recent years, Ananda has found itself in the courtroom much more than they would like for two major reasons. First, as was just mentioned above, there is an ongoing legal dispute between Ananda and the the Self Realization Fellowship. Ananda has been sued for publishing and distributing Yogananda's original 1946 literary work, Autobiography of a Yogi, among other works he has produced. The SRF has always held the rights to Yogananda's works but failed to renew it's copyright of the material. In neglecting to renew in a timely manner, the SRF feels a bit threatened that they might lose potential new followers of Yogananda's teachings to the Ananda Church of Self Realization. Both sides obviously then have strongly vested interests in this case's outcome, which is why it isn't surprising that the relationship between the groups has greatly deteriorated, and that a few million dollars have been spent on legal fees thus far. There is no clear end to this dispute in sight at this time 22. .
The second major issue that the church has had to deal with of late is the scattering of sexual misconduct cases that have been brought against both Swami Kriyananda, as well as the church. Most notably of these cases was the 1997 sex scandal involving Ann Marie Bertalucci, a 31 year old senior Ananda official from Palo Alto, CA, and 6 other women devotees who charged Kriyananda with persuading them to perform regular sexual acts upon the supposedly celibate Swami as part of their spiritual advancement. The jury found in the womens' favor, giving them a large settlement, and roughly one year late, Kriyananda stepped down as their spiritual leader. Kriyananda currently resides in the Ananda community of Assisi, Italy but does still play a major role in the church 23. .
Kryananda, Swami [J. Donald Walters]. 1968. Cooperative Communities, How to Start Them and Why. Nevada City, CA: Ananda Publications.
Kryananda, Swami [J. Donald Walters]. 1972. Crises in Modern Thought. Nevada City, CA: Ananda Publications.
Kryananda, Swami [J. Donald Walters]. 1977. The Path: Autobiography of a Western Yogi. Nevada City, CA: Ananda Publications.
Melton, J. Gordon. 1996. "Ananda" in Encyclopedia of American Religions. Fifth Edition. p. 843
Nordquist, Ted A. 1978. Ananda Cooperative Village: A Study in the Beliefs, Values, and Attitudes of a New Age Religious Community. Upsala, Sweden: Uppsala University. Religionhistoriska Institutionen Monography Series.
Richardson, James T. 1985. "Psychological and Psychiatric Studies of New Religions," in Lawrence Brown, ed. Advances in the Psychology of Religion. New York: Pergamon Press. 209-233.
Rosen, Ann Sophia and Ted Nordquist. 1980. "Ego Development Levels and Values in a Yogic Community," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 39: 1152-1160.
Walters, J. Donald [Swami Kryananda]. 2001. Out of the Labyrinth. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity Publishers
Walters, J. Donald [Swami Kryananda]. 2001. The Promise of Immortality: The True Teaching of the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity Publishers
Yogananda, Paramahansa 1972. Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles: Self Realization Fellowship. Frist published 1946. "Online Edition
Created by Ryan Rosebush
For Soc 452: Sociology of Religious Behavior
University of Virginia
Spring Term, 2000
Last modified: 12/04/01