HOPKINTON - He called himself a swami and wore the
robes of a Hindu holy man. He took sacred lifelong vows of
celibacy and eventually amassed a group of followers, but
all was not as it seemed with the founder of the Ananda
Church of Self-Realization.
James Donald Walters - Kriyananda as he dubbed himself -
was charged and found guilty in 1998 of using his
spiritual authority to exploit women. And last week
Walters visited one of the sites of his Ananda Church,
this one on Tomoquag Road in Hopkinton.
In 2000, the Ananda Rhode Island community was established
on a wooded piece of property in the village of Ashaway.
Walters, who now resides in Italy, visited the church
there on Tuesday and Wednesday. Several devotees attended
the $75 per day event, to hear their "Swami" speak.
"Cults are created by narcissists," said former Ananda
Church member Donald Price of California during a
telephone interview. "Hitler was a narcissist. They only
see themselves through the eyes of others so they convince
people to see them as something more powerful than they
really are. And the people who follow Walters are so
desperate to believe that they blind themselves completely
to the facts. First they deny, then they rationalize, then
they become enraged if you don't agree with them."
Expert witness Pamela Cooper White told a California court
in 1998 that Walters clearly fell within the profile of a
clergy sex offender. She added that he was on the "most
destructive, predatory end of that spectrum, that of the
multiple repeat offender who deliberately seeks vulnerable
women to exploit for his own sexual gratification."
Repeated attempts to contact Walters, at both the church
and his hotel, for comment on this story were unsuccessful.
Follower Ann-Marie Berttolucci accused him of making her
into his sexual slave.
Marilyn Stuart says he exposed himself to her.
Sunny Plant and Denise Peterson say that he asked them to
perform erotic massages on him.
Kamala Wiley says she had physical relations with him on
eight different occasions.
Thora McDonnel says she has swum in the nude with him.
Deborah Donie-Seligson claims Walters insisted he was
married to her.
Chandra Slavonic claims she had sexual relations with him
which he told her to keep secret.
All these women were his followers, convinced that being
close to him meant being close to God.
Both Walters and members of his church were found by the
court to have committed "constructive fraud", "intentional
infliction of emotional distress" and "malice and
fraudulent conduct" in a 1998 California court trial.
Yet, many continue to follow him. To defend him, even
"[Walters] was always very respectful toward both men and
women," said Karen Rider, who runs the Ananda Church in
Hopkinton with her husband, Larry, in a January interview.
"The testimony in court didn't describe the person I had
known. When I moved to Ananda in 1988, it was the only
place in my life I'd ever felt safe. I feel heartsick over
James Donald Walters, a former minister of the
Self-Realization Fellowhip, went on to create his Ananda
Church of Self-Realization in 1968, after being dismissed
from SRF. The Ananda Church in California was supposedly
based on the teachings and principals of Paramhansa
Yogananda, an Indian Master. Ananda Churches eventually
sprang up in Nevada, Palo Alto, Portland, Ore.,
Sacramento, Seattle, Europe and Rhode Island.
Walters, also known as Swami Kriyananda, was the church
leader. However, controversy surrounding Ananda, in the
form of fraud, trespassing and sexual abuse has been
documented in court transcripts and witness depositions
since 1994. Although many members eventually turned away
from the group due to these situations, there are hundreds
of others who remain dedicated to Walters and leave some
to wonder just whom the Ananda Church is really
"When Walters began Ananda, he started using all the same
books that the Self-Realization Fellowship used," said
former member Price. Eventually, according to Price, "He
started changing those teachings to his own and claiming
they were the teachings of Yogananda."
Price said this situation at Ananda became "weirder and
weirder" before he decided to leave the church.
"Everything has Walter's name on it. The books, the music.
It stopped being a cooperative village. It was all about
Walters," he said.
Price said he no longer follows any outward form of
"Groups like Ananda ultimately destroy people's religious
faith," he said. "Their bizarre and hypocritical behavior
make you begin to doubt God. But you eventually learn
that's not what God is about. God and real spirituality
are much deeper than groups or personalities."
Chariho Times original article