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After becoming a member, one is required to live by the "Rules of Conduct for Members," written by Walters. This handbook spells out the often patently paternalistic rules that govern almost every aspect of life in the community, from marriage to work to money.
For example, if an Anandan wants to get married, he or she needs to get approval from the church's marriage committee -- or suffer the ire of the church hierarchy.
"If any couple, influenced by personal desire, decide to marry in opposition to the community's decision and advice, they may not be married by an Ananda minister," the handbook warns. "Let them, instead, be married outside the community, and not burden their spiritual family, who have their highest welfare sincerely at heart, with the request that it go against its own conscience in the matter."
Similarly, should a member want to start a business, change jobs, or build a home, he or she must ask for church permission.
In addition to conforming their lifestyles to the church's dictates, members are strongly encouraged to also offer themselves for church service -- and to give up significant amounts of their financial resources.
About half of Ananda's members in Nevada County work in church-related businesses, which often pay minimum wage. All members tithe at least 10 percent of their income every month. They are also constantly asked to donate for various church projects and funds.
"As soon as I [got] my check, I'd give it all back to the church," says Victoria Kelly, who left Ananda in 1995, after living there for 17 years. "My ex-husband and I came out of the church $30,000 in debt."
As a condition of lifetime membership, church members sign an agreement to give the house they built on Ananda land to the church. (Since 1995, the agreement has become optional.)
Those who join Ananda with substantial savings are solicited by church fund-raisers who seek to obtain large unsecured loans to the church -- backed only by the members' faith in the organization.
"It's built off the backs of people who come on board," Scott says.
Within days of the judgment in the Bertolucci case, Ananda filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code, effectively preventing Bertolucci from collecting the judgment against the church.
In the local paper, the Grass Valley Union, an Ananda longtimer wrote publicly about the church's bankruptcy filing.
"For nearly everyone of us living at Ananda, mostly small families, the houses people live in are our only asset, and the land itself is owned by Ananda," he wrote, relating his fear of losing his home because of the judgment against the church. "We wonder what we will do if our homes are taken."
Actually, the church lists nearly $10 million in assets in its bankruptcy filing, which would appear to be more than enough to pay the court awards without selling people's homes. In fact, Bertolucci's attorneys have filed a motion with the bankruptcy court that seeks to dismiss Ananda's bankruptcy filing, alleging it was filed in bad faith, as a way of avoiding payment of court judgments against the church.
The motion contends, among other things, that the church fabricated $5 million in debts it "owes" to its own members, in an apparent attempt to make Ananda seem to be in severe financial trouble, and unable to pay Bertolucci and her lawyers. The motion quotes a letter sent by Ananda's own lawyer that appears to admit the Chapter 11 filing is, primarily, an attempt to frustrate -- or, at least, greatly delay -- Bertolucci and her lawyers from collecting their court awards.
Ananda is currently in settlement discussions with Bertolucci's lawyers. The bankruptcy court was scheduled to hear arguments on whether to dismiss the church's bankruptcy filing shortly after this article went to press.
Members of the Ananda Awareness Network, an informal group of disgruntled ex-Ananda members centered in Nevada City, and their allies have vigorously supported the Bertolucci case, monitoring it almost daily. They have even set up a Web site to warn people about what they say is the dark side of the church.
In recent interviews, the anti-Ananda camp expressed amazement at the lack of change at Ananda in the wake of the Bertolucci case. "The same people who have been in power at Ananda for the last few decades are still in power," said David Reed, a longtime Ridge resident who supports the Network.
In the middle of the Bertolucci trial, Walters did retire as spiritual director of Ananda. But since then, he has lived comfortably in an Ananda community in Assisi, Italy, in a brand-new home Ananda members bought and furnished for him. He keeps in touch with Ananda communities in the U.S. via monthly videotapes. Senior Ananda members fly to Italy to see him.
"Their whole key is their addiction to Swami Kriyananda, and the illusion of who he is," a former Ananda member says. "They are still dangerous for people, as long as they deny the whole thing.