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Title Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) Yogananda

Yogada Satsanga Society of India Splinter organizations founded by Yogananda's disciples (and offering the Kriya Yoga meditation technique) include: Center for Spiritual Awareness Self-Revelation church Song of the Morning Sunburst

Founder Paramahansa Yogananda
Leader Mrinalini Mata

Global spiritual organization founded by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1920, with headquarters at Mount Washington in Los Angeles, California. Yogananda was the first Indian yogi to spend the greater part of his life in North America his book Autobiography of a Yogi has sold more than 4 million copies since its initial publication in 1946.

1. Regulation of individual's physical reality
  a. Where, how and with whom the member lives and associates with
  b. What clothes, colors, hairstyles the person wears
  c. What food the person eats, drinks, adopts, and rejects
  d. How much sleep the person is able to have
  e. Financial dependence
  f. Little or no time spent on leisure, entertainment, vacations

2. Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals

3. Need to ask permission for major decisions

4. Need to report thoughts, feelings and activities to superiors

5. Rewards and punishments (behavior modification techniques- positive and negative).

6. Individualism discouraged; group think prevails

7. Rigid rules and regulations

8. Need for obedience and dependency.

Yogananda tells a supposedly true story in his Autobiography, regarding a man who threw himself off a Himalayan precipice at the command of the SRF guru Babaji, to show his obedience. When subsequently brought back to life after passing that "test," he became one of Babaji's "immortal" band of disciples. Clearly, that was the ideal to which Yogananda's own followers should aspire. In their Service Reading #39, SRF teaches: "To such a God-sent Guru [e.g., Yogananda] the disciple must always be loyal throughout his lifetime and through future incarnations until he finds redemption." "On the second page of Lesson One the newbie is told that he should look to the Gurus as perfect examples to follow" (SRF Glass Onion). Disciples (e.g., Premananda) who had been praised in early versions of the Autobiography, and then allegedly committed "disloyal" acts against SRF, have had all mention of their existence erased from subsequent editions of that book, even to the point of being airbrushed out of photos of themselves with Yogananda. SRF members were told that their now-late president, Daya Mata (d. 2010), clairvoyantly scanned the mind of every monastic and SRF member nightly while they were sleeping. She then supposedly knew everything they were thinking and doing. Before being accepted to live at the SRF Hidden Valley (HV) ashram as a resident volunteer, the applicant is required to sign a pledge affirming that he will regard his supervisors at the ashram as vehicles of God and Guru, and obey their instructions accordingly. Long hair on men is not allowed in the ashrams, except for monks in India. Beards require permission to be sought before they are grown, unless you entered the ashrams with one. Midway through my own nine-month stay at Hidden Valley, a fellow devotee left the ashram to join the Peace Corps. Within a few weeks of that departure, the head monk led a satsanga (question-and-answer period). There, we were told that anyone who leaves the ashram to work for world peace would have been doing more good if he had stayed and done "Gurudeva's work" at the monastery. 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." The same ashram administrator asserted in a satsanga that SRF members shouldn't even live together before marriage, as it would "set a bad example" for others' perceptions of persons on the spiritual path. When the monk who runs the SRF postulant (i.e., "new monk") ashram graced HV as a guest speaker, one of the points he brought up was that "the people most likely to leave the ashram after taking some degree of monastic vows are those who are the most independent." While that is undoubtedly true, the clear implication was that independence and the ability to think for oneself are bad things. At another satsanga, the HV head monk praised the devotional "receptivity" or "absorptive listening" of audiences in India, in contrast to the "intellectual inquisitiveness/weighing" and analysis which Western audiences give to the words of saints and sages. Lola Williamson describes the effects of those teachings well, in her book Transcendent in America: "Creating a bifurcation between the God-realized, perfect guru and the disciple whose ego must be subjugated can hamper the disciples' ability for self-determination and render the organization unwilling to solve or even examine problems. Creativity is sometimes quashed in the disciple and self-confidence weakened. Many, upon leaving the SRF monastic order, complain of having little aptitude to deal with the problems of living in the world. This, however, is not true of those who participate in SRF from a distance."

1. Use of deception
  a. Deliberately holding back information
  b. Distorting information to make it acceptable
  c. Outright lying

2. Access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged
  a. Books, articles, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio
  b. Critical information
  c. Former members
  d. Keep members so busy they don’t have time to think

3. Compartmentalization of information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
  a. Information is not freely accessible
  b. Information varies at different levels and missions within pyramid
  c. Leadership decides who “needs to know” what

4. Spying on other members is encouraged
  a. Pairing up with “buddy” system to monitor and control
  b. Reporting deviant thoughts, feelings, and actions to leadership

5. Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda
  a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes, etc.
  b. Misquotations, statements taken out of context from non-cult sources

6. Unethical use of confession
  a. Information about “sins” used to abolish identity boundaries
  b. Past “sins” used to manipulate and control; no forgiveness or absolution

The SRF Lessons, where Yogananda's techniques of meditation are taught, can be taken only after one promises to not share the information in them with others, especially the meditation techniques. Yet, both of the preliminary techniques leading up to kriya yoga proper are widely known. Yogananda himself actually learned the Aum technique from the Radhasoami movement in India, while the Hong-Sau technique can be easily learned from yoga/gym instructors in America, unrelated to SRF. "According to SRF tradition, these techniques, other than the Energization Exercises, were known in ancient India but were forgotten. In actuality, the techniques have been used continually in many yoga and tantra traditions throughout India" (Williamson, Transcendent in America). Further, the equally "secret" Energization Exercises, taught in the same Lessons, are strikingly similar to exercises taught by the strongmen Sandow and Tom Inch. Yogananda and the editors of the SRF Lessons, however, give no attribution of those ideas to their likely original sources. Yogananda published numerous creative interpretations of Bible verses (esp. from the Gospels, and Revelation) which purport to harmonize those Christian teachings with yoga. That harmonization, however, was accomplished largely by cherry-picking verses, and/or taking the Bible verses out of context. He also published yogic interpretations of the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. SRF devotees are taught that those interpretations were dictated extemporaneously by Yogananda, while he gazed upward raptly at the spiritual eye, receiving divine inspiration. However, it turns out that Yogananda "copied the main points of Sri Yukteswar's presentation including Sri Yukteswar's references to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. What was added was the aspect of devotion. Unfortunately, Yogananda somehow forgot to mention Sri Yukteswar's name even though much of his writing is but a verbatim translation of Sri Yukteswar's original" ( In recounting his first meeting with his guru Sri Yukteswar, in the Autobiography, Yogananda attributes Yukteswar's detailed knowledge of him to clairvoyance, omitting the fact that Yogananda's parents had previously written to Yukteswar, to arrange that very meeting (Williamson, Transcendent in America). Yogananda claimed that he knew how to walk on fire, and could go without eating indefinitely. Walking on fire, however, is wholly explicable in terms of the known laws of physics and the inedia which Yogananda vouched for in the case of the Catholic stigmatist Therese Neumann was shown to be a false claim in her case, by skeptical investigators. Yogananda wrote, in his Autobiography, of a "Perfume Saint" who could cause the fragrance of any type of flower to rise from a person's hand. The trick is accomplished by the magician/yogi keeping wax-encased drops of perfume under his fingernails, only rupturing the one for the requested scent, and then surreptitiously touching the person's hand. Yogananda also wowed his audiences with the ability to stop the pulse in one of his arms, while it was still racing in the other. That magician's trick is accomplished simply by placing a soft rubber ball in one's armpit, and squeezing down on it with the same arm.

1. Need to internalize the group's doctrine as "Truth"
  a. Map = Reality
  b. Black and White thinking
  c. Good vs. evil
  d. Us vs. them (inside vs. outside)

2. Adopt "loaded" language (characterized by "thought-terminating clichés"). Words are the tools we use to think with. These "special" words constrict rather than expand understanding. They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous "buzz words".

3. Only "good" and "proper" thoughts are encouraged.

4. Thought-stopping techniques (to shut down "reality testing" by stopping "negative" thoughts and allowing only "good" thoughts); rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism.
  a. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
  b. Chanting
  c. Meditating
  d. Praying
  e. Speaking in "tongues"
  f. Singing or humming

5. No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate

6. No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, or useful

Yogananda, who claimed to be a spiritual master himself, wrote that "A master's word cannot be falsified it is not lightly given." The highly evolved monastics on the SRF Board of Directors are similarly regarded as being enlightened siddhas, by loyal disciples of Yogananda. SRF defines a siddha as one who is "unconditionally one with God, partaking of all God's attributes, including those of omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence." The implication being, of course, that Yogananda and his highly advanced disciples running SRF today are all-knowing and infallible, so their decisions cannot be questioned. When one of the artists and SRF members working on the illustrations for a new book of Yogananda's scriptural interpretations in the 1990s experienced relevant health problems as the publication date drew near, SRF explicitly regarded those difficulties as being the work of Satan trying to thwart the spread of truth through Self-Realization Fellowship. Thus, as a general principle, resistance to the work of SRF is a product of the cosmic delusive force: Satan, or Maya. In the early 1950s, Yogananda explicitly told his foremost disciple and future second president of SRF, James J. Lynn, that he was worried about the latter's health because "Satan [was] trying to destroy" Lynn's body, and therefore Lynn should not put off his work--and his vital financial support--for SRF.

1. Manipulate and narrow the range of a person's feelings.

2. Make the person feel like if there are ever any problems it is always their fault, never the leader's or the group's.

3. Feeling-stopping. Like thought-stopping, this is the automatic suppression or blocking of feelings that are not acceptable by the cult identity- such as feeling "homesick" or feeling "depressed" or feeling "resentful".

4. Excessive use of guilt
  a. Identity guilt
    1. Who you are (not living up to your potential)
    2. Your family
    3. Your past
    4. Your affiliations
    5. Your thoughts, feelings, actions
    6. Social guilt
    7. Historical guilt

5. Excessive use of fear
  a. Fear of thinking independently
  b. Fear of the "outside" world
  c. Fear of enemies
  d. Fear of losing one's "salvation"
  e. Fear of leaving the group or being shunned by group
  f. Fear of disapproval

6. Extremes of emotional highs and lows.

7. Ritual and often public confession of "sins".

8. Phobia indoctrination: programming of irrational fears of ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader's authority. The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group.
  a. No happiness or fulfillment "outside"of the group
  b. Terrible consequences will take place if you leave: "hell"; "demon possession"; "incurable diseases"; "accidents"; "suicide"; "insanity"; "10,000 reincarnations"; etc.
  c. Shunning of leave takers. Fear of being rejected by friends, peers, and family.
  d. Never a legitimate reason to leave. From the group's perspective, people who leave are: "weak"; "undisciplined"; "unspiritual"; "worldly"; "brainwashed by family, counselors"; seduced by money, sex, rock and roll.

Yogananda said (in SRF magazine, Spring 1974): "There is only one guru uniquely the devotee's own. But if you turn away from the emissary of God, He silently asks: 'What is wrong with you...?' ... He who cannot learn through the wisdom and love of his God-ordained guru will not find God in this life. Several incarnations at least must pass before he will have another such opportunity." SRF has stated their position regarding the importance of their particular line of gurus in effecting the spiritual progress of the disciple, as: "Some take kriya yoga and become fully satisfied and forget about the link of masters--they will never reach God." "SRF tells you that the practice of Kriya without a 'true' Guru will burn you up like a million gigawatts through a 75 watt bulb" (SRF Glass Onion). The above cautions obviously apply both to lay-members of SRF and to monastics. Regarding life specifically inside the ashrams: In the mid-�s, the president of SRF created a middle-management committee at the Mother Center, which recommended that SRF hire outside communication and organizational consultants, along with counselors and psychologists to deal with the severe psychological problems that some of the monks and nuns seemed to be experiencing. "Two new committees ... were formed to execute the suggestions made by the consultants. This was the beginning of a split among the monks and nuns who resided at the Mother Center. Some viewed the promise of change with exhilaration and hope and some viewed it with fear. The end result was that a large number of monastics [i.e., approximately one-third of the order] left SRF from about 2000 to 2001. Due to the entrenched resistance to change, the communication consultants were let go, the existing committee members replaced by others content with the status quo, and the psychologists relieved of their duties" (Williamson, Transcendent in America).


Self-Realization Fellowship Home Page


SRF Glass Onion SRF Walrus ... To a Nunnery (excerpted from "Stripping the Gurus" by Geoffrey D. Falk)