"Thus, in explaining the absoluteness of the Brahman and the relativity of the world, the phenomenality of objects, the analogy of the snake and the rope plus two equally simple analogies, have been used without modification, from the Upanisads down to to the present day.
"A man sees what he thinks is a snake, and he acts accordingly--he hits it, or he gets afraid, he may even die with terror; but if a clever man directs a light toward the object and makes the man realize it was only a piece of rope, this particular illusion disappears, and questions like when and where did the snake originate? are no longer asked or are asked in a factitious manner. The snake is (in this analogy) the phenomenal world, the 'rope' the absolute, the Brahman.
"I cannot say whether the tedious repetitiveness of these analogies derives from naivete in the Indian scholastic, or whether it is deliberate--in which latter case, it may be well be a formidable instrument of indoctrination.
"I have found among all strata of Hindu laity in pursuit of some religious problem that a persuasive analogy tends to have a greater effect than even a well reasoned argument when unsupported by a simile or an analogue.
"'The 'snake' and the 'rope' seemed to convince the Police Inspector and his guests* just as they have been convincing learned (Indian) pundits for many centuries.
*(The Police Inspector sponsored a religious gathering to which Bharati was invited to speak.)
I just remembered that I wrote a review on this book, and it is posted on thetrouserman's blog called TheSRFOnion:
Review of Paramhansa Swami Yogananda Life-Portrait and Reminiscences by Sri Sailendra Bejoy Dasgupta
This book starts out much like the book, Mejeda, beginning with the young years of Yogananda's life. Then it takes us to India where the author spends time with him and exposes some of his faults.
Some of the most disturbing things in the book, at least to me, are in relation to his playing tricks on others, and for this reason I think of him as a trickster, not a reverend guru. There are worse things than this that are mentioned in the book, and so much more that I had learned on my own, but I am sticking to the book.
One trick he used was a hand trick that I had heard about when I was in the Vedanta Society and am not sure if it was in the book, "Mejda." It disturbed me when I learned of it in Vedanta, but it is more disturbing now than how Vedanta presented it to me. This book speaks of how Yogananda would stick someone's hand on the wall and tell them that they could not move it. He called it the "power of the mind"; it is hypnosis. One time when he was in India he gave a talk and asked a young child who lived in his ashram to come forward. The boy was asked to place his hand on the wall and was told that he could not free himself. This is not the first time he has played this trick; he used it as punishment on his cook, who had threatened to tell on him. In the occasion with the boy, he couldn't move his hand, much less his body, until Yogananda came over and said, "Now the hand is free!" What was the result of this action by Yogananda? The author said that the boy became very afraid of Yogananda, and so would run away and sit in the field whenever he came to the ashram. Doesn't this seem unloving? It does to me, and there is more:
On another occasion he asked the audience to clasp their own palms tightly together and then told them that they could not pull their hands apart. When he finally told them that they were free, one man became paralyzed from the nervousness. And no matter how much Yogananda tried to free his hands, they would not open and the more he tried, the more his upper appendages became stiff and twisted. It took someone else to help him, a man who caressed his back and talked him out of it. So Yogananda had the power to do harm and actually does, but he didn't have the power to undo this harm, as revealed here and in this next incident:
Yogananda overheard a brahmachari make an unflattering comment about the physical form of Sri Lahiri Mahasaya when viewing a photo of him. Yogananda became angry and said "Your face will become twisted!" and "immediately the boy's face, head and neck turned to a crippled and twisted position, " so evenutally he had to leave the ashram. When he later asked for Yogananda's forgiveness, Yogananda could not help him. He remained crippled. Is this how a loving guru acts? Does the punishment fit the crime? Should he even have been punished?
I remember when reading "Mejda" how Yogananda's sister had a boil on her hand, and in this book he explains it, maybe in the same manner as in "Mejda." He came into the room where she was and started rubbing his own hand in the same spot as hers and said, "Look sister. Tomorrow this boil you have will grow twice its size and a boil will appear on my hand here." The next day her boil had grown twice its size, and he had a boil on his hand. His mother tried to explain to him that you don't cause people pain. It is obvious that what his own mother was trying to teach him did not take hold.
Back when I read of this incident in "Mejda," I just thought, "Well, he was a child, and his parents corrected him, so now as a man he has learned compassion." Then I read in Daya Mata's book how he made her stand in a corner on one leg because he was making fun of her in front of others, and he had asked her to come over to him so he could put a dunce hat on her head, but she wouldn't come to him. At another time, for no apparent reason, he took her and a group of others to see a movie. But instead of her seeing the movie he had her stand on the street corner and wait for him to return. I felt these things abusive back then and had a hard time explaining them away. Daya just called it "training." I only knew that had he been alive then, I would have left him. I left shortly thereafter upon learning even more about him.
All of these things are all very abusive and controlling just as a friend said to me: "Those aren't just tricks, they're abuse, and they're the supreme power trip, when you can demonstrate complete power over others."
How did Sriyukteshvarji feel about these tricks Yogqnanda played? He said, "What is this that Yogananda showed? There is nothing spiritual at all in this. These are nothing but tricks!"
Or how about his conversation with Eastman of Eastman-Kodac and how he committed suicide shortly thereafter? How about his claim at being able to stop his heart, a claim that William Broad disproves in book, "The Science of Yoga." Then there is his crooked business dealings with his friends in India, then his disobeying his own parents and master, and next Daya Mata's taking over as president and how she made serious changes to the organization, causing many to leave or to be kicked out. Then there is the statement of how the advanced Kriya techniques won't work unless you are practicing a certain technique that Yogananda did not teach his disciples because we were not able to do it.
If you should get into discussions with SRF followers, the references may be worth gold. For example, there was one "PY is love" who made a lot of disapproving remarks about my comments on the Autobiography on Amazon, until I showed here that her love guru had talked for dictatorship in his own magazine.
And why keep your findings to yourself? Fair comments may be published on Amazon.com.
Each one of the SRF line of leaders/gurus—their “popes”—from Daya Mata back to Krishna, are regarded by obedient SRF devotees as being infallible, and simply “working in mysterious ways” when it comes to any seemingly questionable actions on their parts. I, too, once foolishly viewed them thusly. For, such regard is simply what I had been taught was correct, by persons who I assumed would never deliberately mislead me, as I would never have lied to them.
As Margery Wakefield (1993) noted of her own and others’ involvement in Scientology:
I had made the fatal unconscious assumption that since I was honest and had good motives, then others must be too
James J. Lynn, personally chosen by Yogananda to be SRF’s second president, was a married man. That is, married before, during and after Yogananda gave him the title of Rajasi Janakananda. (His wife, however, was “both mentally and physically unwell,” and was not supportive of his connection with Self-Realization Fellowship [Mata, 1992].) That fact, however, is conspicuously absent from the relevant literature, e.g., from the SRF-published biography of Lynn’s life.
That anomaly was brought up by one of the HV residents in a satsanga period. The justification which the ashram administrator provided for the lack of publication of that information was simply, and predictably, that “that’s the way the Board of Directors and Daya Mata want it done”
The degree to which one is expected to “respect one’s elders” as a good and obedient devotee of SRF was underscored by the following (real) exchange, quoted during a sermon at Hidden Valley:
Elder: “How are you?”
Youthful Inferior: “I’m fine. How are you?”
Elder (disgusted at the impudence): “Are you a doctor?”
Or, consider the changes made to the proffered definitions of pronam/pranam over the years, in Chapter 40 of the Autobiography:
[pronam:] Literally, “holy name,” a word of greeting among Hindus, accompanied by palm-folded hands lifted from the heart to the forehead in salutation. A pronam in India takes the place of the Western greeting by handshaking (Yogananda, 1946).
More recently, however, the meaning of the (substituted) word has shifted to something more indicative of the respect due the ochre robe:
[pranam:] Lit., “complete salutation,” from Sanskrit root nam, to salute or bow down; and the prefix pra, completely. A pranam salutation is made chiefly before monks and other respected persons (Yogananda, 1998)
Further, the extent to which questioning is discouraged in the ashrams is demonstrated by the following example: Early in my own stay at Hidden Valley, our Thanksgiving meal centered on a soy-based turkey substitute. Following that feast, one resident pointed out in a written satsanga question that that food was loaded with MSG, which many people are allergic to, or develop headaches from. He also informed us that non-MSG turkey substitutes are readily available, and requested that the ashram use those instead in the future.
The ashram administrator’s response to that request was to relate the story of how, in the early days of SRF, the nuns used to work “all night” (in shifts), manually preparing gluten-based meat substitutes for their festive occasions. He concluded by saying that he didn’t want the kitchen at HV to have to work all night in similar preparations (not that they would have had to, but anyway). Thus, the ashram would continue serving the MSG-laced products.
And all assembled smiled knowingly, that anyone would so foolishly try to improve the ashram, and “resist what God and Guru had given us” there
At other times, the HV administrator related his own experience of having entered the ashrams in the 1950s as a “health nut,” and of being concerned with the poor food being served there. Upon bringing that up with a senior monk, the latter’s response was simply, “What Master gives, you take.” That advice sounds relatively fine, until one considers that over Easter (in 1996, when I first spent a month at Hidden Valley), “Master/God gave us”—a group of steadfast vegetarians—a box of donuts containing lard.
Amazingly, although Yogananda very explicitly taught that the consumption of white flour and white sugar is unhealthy, both of those are staples in the ashram diet. Indeed, sugar was sometimes even added to freshly squeezed orange juice, and whole wheat flour was all but entirely absent. The explanation which the ashram administrator gave regarding that discrepancy was that Yogananda’s advice on diet was allegedly meant to apply only to the specific group of people to which he had been speaking at the time. Personally, I think that’s nonsense: Yogananda regularly encouraged his followers to eat only “unsulphured” fruit, for example. Today, that would equate to it being certified organic. Yet one will find (to my knowledge) no examples of that in the HV cafeteria (other than the produce which they grow themselves, which is close to being organic).
The Hidden Valley menu, inconsistent with Yogananda’s teachings, is just the product of a cultural lowest common denominator among their kitchen staff. It is not “what Master gives them,” nor did Yogananda’s dietary advice apply only to “meat and potatoes” people fifty years ago
One of SRF’s respected monastic brothers will typically put up to eighty hours of rehearsal into a Convocation speech—even to the point of practicing facial expressions and hand gestures, according to the head monk at Hidden Valley. There is nothing wrong with such preparedness, of course. The majority of the audience at those events, however, undoubtedly assumes that those lectures are given “from intuition,” with little or no preparation—on the basis of the monk’s fifty-plus years of meditation—as Yogananda explicitly taught and practiced. SRF’s questionable billing (in their Convocation literature and tapes) of those as “informal talks,” when in reality they are highly scripted, does nothing to discourage that perception