peeling back layers through many tears reveals its core

Friday, December 16, 2011

Yogananda and company

by K.D.

Early in his career as a 'Yogi Christ', Yogananda had several business associates.

At one point he did magic and spiritualist shows with Hamid Bey. These types of vaudeville shows were popular at this time.
 Hamid Bey did fakir tricks of the Mystic East such as piercing himself with needles ( this is done by piercing the body in specific areas) and 'buried alive' tricks like Houdini. Yogananda did some traditional Yogi fakir tricks such as stopping the pulse. This is accomplished by putting a ball in the armpit to stop bloodflow. He also did a trick of pushing a group of men off stage by himself. This is a street magician trick performed by pushing up on the first mans arm as he pushes on the magicians shoulders. No matter how many men line up behind the first man they can't get any push. If you want to see how it is done youtube has some great examples. Try googling Chris Angel superhuman. James Randi also shows how these tricks are done on his website. I don't know if Yogananda learned these tricks in India or while working the  Vaudeville circuit.
Eventually Yoganada and Bey parted ways. Apparently Religion pays better than Vaudeville. Bey started the Coptic Fellowship. which continues today.

Later Yogananda partnered with a yogic peer of his named Dhirananda. (He reportedly was the other penniless boy of the Autobiography). Together they wrote the 'Praecepta book' (an early version of the SRF lessons) and Dhirananda allegedly wrote the 'Science of Religion' though SRF has since scrubbed Dhirananda's name from his work. In 1933 they split and Dhirananda sued Yogananda for $8,000 dollars. At the time Dhirananda claimed Yogananda was sexually involved with the young women in the order. It is widely rumored that Dhirananda found Yogananda in a romantic relationship with Tara Mata (Laurie Pratt).

Dhirananda renounced his Swami title and became a professor of encephlamology at the University of Michigan.  He was a pioneer of cerebral research. Later he married and had two children.  His son, Vanu Bagchi, reportedly said "That's what repulsed him about his dear friend Yogananda. The impression he left with us was that Yogananda was screwing everything in sight."

Later Yogananda partnered with another yoga master Sri Nerode. Nerode and his wife lived at Mount Washington and he ran the operations there. He wrote many articles for the East-West magazine and also contributed heavily to the books and SRF lessons. His son Anil Nerode is the well known Math professor at Cornell University. Eventually scandal again reared its ugly head. The two men parted under ugly allegations that Yogananda was sexually involved with the young women at the ashram.

Nerode sued Yogananda for $500,000 dollars based on a claim that they had a verbal business agreement. At the time Yogananda did not cooperate with authorities and they had difficulty serving the subpoena. Nerode had no papers to prove he was a partner so the courts found for Yogananda in the financial case.

Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, October 25, 1939:

Determined that he shall not become a vanishing Hindu, process servers were conducting a far-flung search yesterday for Swami Yogananda, Indian cultist accused in a sensational $500,000 damage suit, of amazing goings on with feminine followers.

Aiding in the search was the plaintiff, Nirad Ranjan Chowdbury, also known as Sir Nerode, former associate of Yogananda, who maintains a palatial abode on Mount Washington and also boasts a high class hideaway at Encinitas.

Chowdbury's charges took on a spice not generally associated with the spiritual repose of Yogism as the swami was sought by minions of the plaintiffs attorneys, Harold E. Krowech and Theodorn E. Bowen.

After pointing out that Yogananda teaches that he is God, or Paramahansa, Chowdbury, Calcutta-born, Harvard educated student of East Indian religious philosophy, alleged that the swami has been for the past year trying to break up the marriage between the plaintiff and his wife, and that Yogananda prevented the plaintiff's wife from having proper care during the pregnancy of her child.
Moreover, Chowdbury alleges that the swami teaches that:

The members of the congregation must not get married because their first love must be to God through Swami Yogananda and that if they should be married that their first loyalties are to Swami Yogananda and not to their spouse.


Picturing highly irregular practices in the cult quarters on Mount Washington, the plaintiff declared that the swami has young girls in the immediate vicinity of his room going in and out all hours of the night.

The younger girls are kept segregated from older women, Chowdbury charges, adding:

Young girls have free access to the rooms of said Swami Yognanda and that said Swami Yogananda forbids said young girls who attend him from going out with other men and forbids them to go out at all except with him.

At his Encinitas palace, Chowdbury charges, Yogananda maintains caves and rooms for meditation that are not in keeping with the standard of religious meditation... and that the places of mediation are too secretive and ornate of construction to be used for the purpose of spiritual mediation, all of which is contrary to spiritual practices, contrary to Hindu philosophy and contrary to the purposes and objectives of the partnership.

Changing from the romantic to the mercenary tack, Chowdbury declared that the swami has used contributions from his cultists to foster his ambitious and private ends.
The plaintiff accused the swami of using the teachings of Yogoda and Hindu Philosophy for the sole purpose of creating a personalized interpretation of defendant Swami Yogananda as a as to force upon the members of the congregation and others the interpretations that God talks only through Swami Yogananda.
Chowdbury said yesterday that while a graduate student at Harvard he met Yogananda, who then was lecturing in the East, became interested in the swami's teachings, and was made a partner with the swami in the cult only to be frozen out last January, after the long-haired cult leader had transferred his interests from the East to Los Angeles, where he is said to have attracted as followers scores of Los Angeles women and girls.
After the freeze out, Chowdbury said he became convinced that Swami Yogananda was engaged at all times in a purely commercial venture for the purpose of his own personal gain, and that his activities had no connection with the true Hindu Self-realization philosophy.
At the cult headquarters, a crisp young woman attache reported that the swami is due back today. He lectured in San Diego Monday night, she said.
Newspaper clipping from another Los Angeles newspaper.

Wednesday, October 25th, 1939
Even the benign and almost imperturbable calm of a swami has its limits. Last night as Swami Yogananda returned here to find himself facing a $500,000 damage suit filed by Rihad Ranjan Chowdhury [Sri Nerode], who claims a partnership in this Mount Washington cult of Self Realization headed by the swami, that limit was reached.
The dirty chiseler, the swami exploded.
The Hindu mystic who returned here from a lecture engagement in San Diego where he had expounded the benefits of self denial and self control, regained some of his composure and went on.

The charges made against me are scurrilous and without foundation, the result of an underhand attempt to discredit me in the eyes of my followers, he said.
Chowdhury had been driven out of the flock because he was insincere and because he violated our rules. He married a white woman, which is directly forbidden in our laws.
In his suit however, Chowdhury makes it clear he wants to dissolve the partnership because, he said, the swami isn't exactly practicing what he preaches.
He alleged that in a luxurious suite on the third floor of the Temple of Self Realization, the swami keeps himself surrounded by a bevy of likable young ladies who have free access to his boudoir at all times---but aren't allowed to go out with other men at all.

Furthermore, while his flock exists dutifully on substandard diets in line with the self denial theory---the swami dines on the most luxurious foods, he charged.

Chowdhury said sadly that he wants no more partnership with Yogananda, and wants the $500,000 as compensation for the work he has put into the movement.

A. Brigham Rose, attorney for the swami, said he would go into court today and ask to have the sensational charges stricken from the complaint.
 This account was taken from Professor Nerodes autobiography:

My father and mother were married by Yogananda in 1941 in an elaborate pseudo ceremony Wedded by Yogananda on the palatial lawns of the Center on Mount Washington. This was filmed by Fox Movietone News and played on week in all the newsreels in all the movie houses in the country. It was also news in the great papers of India. The Bombay Chronicle, April 26, 1931. There were almost no Hindu-American marriages in that period, although they are common now. I say pseudo ceremony because the Asian Exclusion Act in force in California at the time prohibited marriages between Caucasians and East Indians. The existence of such exclusion laws seems almost unknown to present day America. I have had people deny that this could have been true in the twentieth century! We were not that much ahead of South Africa at that time. The binding ceremony was a civil marriage by a judge in Gallup, New Mexico, which had no such alien exclusion law. Announcement via Associated Press LA Times Wedding Announcement. A careful reading of the news clipping above shows that Yogananda staged and blessed the marriage of my parents as a union of East and West, which he explicitly states he had approved of in advance

In January 1939 Yogananda and my father had a great falling out over a specific incident in Yoganandas unending relationships with young women in the fellowship. He always had them living in quarters directly adjacent to his and away from everybody elses. I remember these young women well, and still have group snapshots of them in the family archives, some of which I have included. But they would never remember a ubiquitous small person wandering the halls.

Yogananda liked to dress them in gauze-like material and exotic scents and nothing else, and with a recorded Indian musical accompaniment, have them strip and enter a perfumed bubble bath, after which he performed various supposedly traditional religious ceremonies. This was very Californian, but definitely not part of any Yoga tradition, and the foundation Yogis were scandalized. Yogis then were usually straitlaced Easterners, not liberal Westerners.

What is funny is the changing reaction to this story over the six decades that have passed since. In 1939 it was a scandal, in the 1960s the younger people thought that it was natural and appropriate that the spiritual and they were integrated, in the 1990s it has been perceived as an abuse of power. Peoples attitudes do change! As the senior Yogi there, my father spoke to Yogananda. He did not take to remonstrance from my father or any fellow Yogis. The impression was that he believed by this time that he was so annointed that, whatever his conduct; it had automatic approval by Divine Providence. To me, it sounded just like the Catholic Papa; indulgences, or the infallibility of the Pope in doctrinal matters.

The prospect of this aquatic initiation ceremony by the great man so terrified one eighteen year old that she asked my mother to ferry her home by car off the hill. There was no public transportation, and it was quite a hike. My mother did, and Yogananda was apoplectic. Sixty hears later my mother called on the womans family while visiting Los Angeles. They still expressed gratitude for the removal. The incident was the cause of my fathers split from Yogananda in January 1939. I am probably the only one alive under 90 who would attest by eyesight and ear to the truth of such stories about Yogananda. But who cares about the ancient memories of small children when they conflict with religious canon?

My father was a completely impractical and otherworldly Yogi. He had been told by Yogananda from the beginning that the whole Center was a partnership with him, so he sued to dissolve the partnership and recover $500,000 in assets so that he could found a new Yoga fellowship based on equality and without questionable practices. This suit made no sense whatsoever. He did not know what a partnership is a legal entity. The foundation was a non-profit corporation. There are not partners. Asking for a cash settlement made my father look venal, rather than principled, thought his conscious choice of a life as an itinerant Yogi refutes this.

Yogananda hired a famous and very expensive California criminal attorney anyway, A. Brigham Rose Rose and Allegations for the case, so he was certainly worried. My fathers lawyer put the source of the split, the allegations of sexual misconduct, into papers filed for the suit. If these papers had been held private, this would have constituted pressure to force Yogananda back onto a true path, since Yoganandsa would not want them made public in court. My fathers lawyer was so incompetent that the did not realize that court reporters routinely read all filed papers. They saw their chance for a scoop. The allegations of sexual misconduct with a bevy of very young girl disciples were front-page news in the Los Angeles papers "Dodging a Subpoena". My father confirmed the details when interviewed; having no other choice if he wanted to remain credible.

Yogananda concluded from the publicity that my father was out to destroy him, and the breach between Yogananda and my father changed the relation from brotherhood to lifelong animosity.

Yogananda now announced that it was against the rules of his order for Hindus to marry white women. So much for racial tolerance dirty chiseler. This, even though eight years earlier he said he gave prior approval and had married my parents himself in a Fox Movietone newsreel orchestrated by him and shown in all the movie theatres in the country! So much for principles.

That was the end of our connection with Yogananda. There was no one in the Center willing to corroborate for the Newspaper reporters either my fathers assertion of an oral partnership, or of the indiscretions. The young women involved did not want publicity. Many others needed to protect a comfortable life style threatened by public spectacle. The suit was summarily dismissed, and the scandal dropped out of the newspapers. Putting that stuff in papers available to the press was a lawyers mistake, not an attempt to destroy the Center. The sexual misconduct was irrelevant to the case at hand.

Sexual misconduct would have been relevant if the courts had been asked to remove Yogananda as unfit to run a non-profit religious Foundation, but my father had no intention of filing such a suit. He hoped Yogananda would straighten up. He was his former best friend. Although Yogananda and his lawyers accused my father of libel and slander for accusations of sexual misconduct in several published interviews, they never made any attempt to clear Yoganandas name by filing a suit for defamation of character against my father. This is probably because the headline-making allegations, while irrelevant to the case at hand, did have corroborating witnesses, former students of Yogananda who had eventually fled the Center, and would have been forced to testify. My father clammed up after that. Some of these women are now elderly but still alive and still angry.

My father felt that the publicity he had generated had damaged the reputation of the few East Indians in the country at the time, particularly the other Yogis he knew, and he wanted the publicity to go away."

After this Yogananda had no more partners.

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