Election Section

Followers claim DNA clears guru in paternity dispute

The Associated Press
Friday July 12, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Followers of a late yoga guru say DNA testing has cleared the man of accusations that he broke his vow of celibacy and fathered a child. 

But the man who claims to be the son of Paramahansa Yogananda, one of the first Indian masters to introduce yoga philosophy to the West 80 years ago, disputes the results. 

Yogananda’s organization, the Self-Realization Fellowship, released the results to followers on Wednesday. It was the latest development in a seven-year paternity dispute over whether the guru, who died at age 59 in 1952, fathered Ben Erskine during an affair with a married disciple. 

“For members who revere Paramahansa Yogananda as their profound spiritual guide and guru, the claims were very hurtful and very sad,” fellowship spokeswoman Lauren Landress said. “But these results conclusively show there is no truth to them.” 

Erskine, informed of the results, told the Los Angeles Times he still believed “Yogananda is my father.” 

His attorney, Shane Reed, said they would review the results to decide whether to continue with a court request to disinter Yogananda’s body, which was buried in Glendale, for further testing. 

The Self-Realization Fellowship operates more than 500 temples and meditation centers in 178 countries. Its members have ranged from late Beatle George Harrison to famous botanist Luther Burbank. 

Yogananda introduced Mahatma Gandhi to kriya yoga and authored “Autobiography of a Yogi.” 

The paternity dispute first surfaced in 1995 when Erskine’s daughter approached the fellowship with the paternity claim and financial demands. Erskine said his mother, Adelaide, had been a disciple and photographer of Yogananda in the late 1920s. 

Erskine, now a 69-year-old Oregon miner, acknowledged his mother never told him he was Yogananda’s son or that she had been physically intimate with the famed guru. But he said his mother hinted at the “wonderful blood” in his veins. 

An initial round of DNA testing on hair samples was found inconclusive. A second round of testing on blood samples last July showed no apparent relationship. But Reed and Erskine rejected the results as biased because the blood specimens were collected and sent to labs by a fellowship monk. 

Last year, the fellowship hired former San Diego criminal prosecutor G. Michael Still to establish an independent testing process to compare the DNA of Erskine to samples taken from three of Yogananda’s male relatives in India. 

Results from two separate labs both showed no relationship between Erskine and Yogananda, said Still, who added he was not a fellowship member. 

At stake was more than the guru’s integrity. Any successful paternity action could have led to claims on the assets of Yogananda’s spiritual organization. 

Fellowship members said they were satisfied with the latest DNA results. 

“As far as I’m concerned, this whole thing was kind of a nonevent,” said Mike Baake, marketing manager for the group’s publication center. “Anyone with any awareness of who Paramahansa Yogananda was knew that story wasn’t true. When someone in the world tries to do something good, someone else always wants to pull them down.”