In an article that appeared on Wednesday’s page A1, titled “Nevada County Ananda Village mourns founder” about the death of Swami Kriyananda, The Union failed to note the religious figure was the subject of a sexual assault lawsuit and involved in other controversies.
Kriyananda (born J. Donald Walters) was a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, the first yoga master from India to make his home in the West. Depending on who is giving the account, Kriyananda was either forced out of Self-Realization Fellowship, which follows the teachings of that same Indian guru who founded that group in 1920, or Kriyananda left on his own accord 10 years after Yogananda’s 1952 death, according to The Union archives.
In 1968, Kriyananda founded Ananda. In the late 1990s, the Fellowship and Ananda engaged in legal disputes centered on the use images, writings and the Yogananda’s name. Ananda members claimed Yogananda’s teachings did not belong to any organization, but that his teachings belong to the world, like the Christian Bible and its diversity of followers. Their seven-year legal battle ended in 1997 when the Fellowship’s suit was dismissed, according to The Union archives.
However as that battle wrapped up, the opening statements in a sexual harassment case against Walters/Kriyananda were just beginning.
The San Juan Ridge religious community was found liable in 1998 by a jury in San Mateo County for fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision by Walters, according to The Union’s archives. The case centered on Anne-Marie Bertolucci’s testimony, who alleged that senior minister Dan Levin forced himself on her sexually several times.
Walters was accused of condoning what occurred. Additionally, Bertolucci’s lawyers also contended, Ananda allowed an environment that permitted Walters and other church leaders to sexually prey on women. During the civil trial in San Mateo County Superior Court, seven other women testified that Walters had either sexually exploited or propositioned them. Bertolucci was awarded $1 million in punitive damages and $625,000 in actual damages, divided between Walters and Ananda, according to The Union archives.
In 1998, The Union reported the church’s legal costs alone approached $4 million between both legal battles, forcing Ananda to file for bankruptcy.
Kriyananda returned to face the sexual civil case from Ananda’s campus in Assisi, Italy, where he was living at the time and where he passed away on Sunday. That location was also not immune to controversy. In 2004, Italian prosecutors dropped arrest orders against Kriyananda stemming from an investigation into, among other charges, alleged fraud, usury and labor law violations.
The Union regrets the unintentional omission of these past incidents.