Relations with Neighbors
Ananda is an open community. Guests and visitors are welcome every day of the year. Children from the local area attend the Ananda schools and use the community playground; neighbors shop at the community market and thrift shop; and Ananda’s religious services draw people from the surrounding area and from as far away as Auburn. Most years Ananda has hosted a countywide “open house,” which attracts hundreds of visitors.
People are often astonished at how little friction there is at Ananda. But there is really no mystery about that. Inner peace, like oil, keeps the machinery of life flowing smoothly, all its parts working together harmoniously.
During its more than 30-year existence, Ananda has done its best to promote harmonious relations with its neighbors-cooperation and harmony are expressions of our key ideals. If disagreements arise, Ananda members look for solutions that promote harmony and make it possible for those involved to work together again in a spirit of good will. Of vital importance to this process is the ability to transcend any need to “win” or to be “right.”
Kriyananda’s response to the opposition directed at our Meditation Retreat early in Ananda’s history is a good example. Kriyananda faced the challenge of accommodating the concerns of neighbors who opposed all but minimal development of the area, without abandoning his commitment to providing a place where people could devote themselves to spiritual goals.
The Meditation Retreat was originally part of a larger undivided parcel acquired in 1967 by a group of people that included Swami Kriyananda. Initially, there were four buyers, each of whom acquired a 24-acre parcel. The expectation was that, before the deadline for finalizing the sale, two more buyers would be found for the two remaining parcels. Kriyananda, who planned to use his parcel as a private retreat for himself and a few like-minded “hermits,” attempted to build a home on his parcel even before the deal closed.
After several failed attempts to build a home, Kriyananda concluded that a spiritual community of the type repeatedly encouraged by his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, “was trying to happen.” When the deadline for closing the deal was imminent, and no new buyers had been found, Kriyananda offered to buy the two remaining parcels on the condition that with that much land, he could start a community and then move it, at the latest in five years.
The other buyers agreed, the deal closed on schedule in April 1967, and Kriyananda now owned a total of 72 acres. In August 1968, Kriyananda dedicated the Meditation Retreat and the first guests arrived.
In June 1969, one of the buyers, Richard Baker demanded that Kriyananda not accept any more people at the Meditation Retreat. He argued that the existence of a small community at the retreat violated the agreement signed by the buyers the year before.
In September 1968, the buyers had formed the Bald Mountain Association, transferred title to that entity, and signed an agreement that allowed no more than one hermitage or 2 persons per acre. The agreement made no mention of the Ananda Meditation Retreat or the future community.
Kriyananda signed the agreement knowing that in a few years he would move the community. Also, since he owned 72 acres, the provisions allowing one hermitage or two persons per acre seemed to allow for the development that was taking place at the retreat.
There were, however, different points of view on the meaning of the written agreement. Also, despite his promise, the other buyers also doubted that Kriyananda would later move the community.
While disagreeing with their interpretation of the spirit and letter of the agreement, in the interest of harmony, Kriyananda acquiesced. He found property six miles away, and that same year moved the young community to its new location at Ananda Village. This decision forced Kriyananda to live away from Ananda for two years, except for weekends, while he gave classes in San Francisco, Sacramento, and other cities to pay for the newly acquired land.
In 1973 there was another demand from the Bald Mountain Association, no less serious in its potential impact on Ananda. In order to reduce traffic on the roads, the Association now asked that Ananda move the Meditation Retreat altogether.
This request posed a dilemma. The retreat was integral to Ananda’s spiritual mission. In his book, A Place Called Ananda, Swami Kriyananda describes his reaction to a suggestion from certain members that Ananda temporarily close down the retreat and concentrate on developing the community:
“No,” I said. “We need to direct our energies outward in service to others, and not inwardly only. Otherwise God will cease to pour out blessings on us. If no one else wants to serve at the retreat, I’ll do it myself-all of it, if necessary.”
Nevertheless, in the interest of harmony, Ananda again acquiesced, and in 1974 purchased property adjacent to Ananda Village as a site for a new retreat. Construction proceeded slowly, however, stalled by county red tape and lack of funds. But by the early 1980s, The Expanding Light, the new guest retreat at Ananda Village, was hosting guests.
Thereafter, the Meditation Retreat served mainly as a church training center and private retreat. It is currently the home of the Ananda College for Living Wisdom.
In 1994, Ananda again encountered opposition from retreat neighbors when it circulated, for their comments, a plan to increase and upgrade Meditation Retreat buildings to allow for more residents and private retreatants. By then, the original parcel of land, purchased in common, had been partitioned and Ananda held legal title to its portion.
In the interest of harmony, Ananda again made major concessions by agreeing to keep the retreat population and buildings well below the proposed number. Ananda also agreed to move its monastic training program, then housed at the retreat, to Ananda Village.
A 1992 letter from Meditation Retreat staff member, Karen Gamow, to Gary Snyder, the only remaining Association member, reflects Ananda’s day-to-day approach to neighbors’ concerns about noise and traffic:
I wanted to be in touch with you about our summer plans. The annual nature conference runs June 22 – 27. There will be 33 guests in tents, mostly nature educators, studying with Joseph. You’ll see some cars parked in the lower lot, probably 10 at most. We’ll be going there to trim the grass next week.
Also, we’ll be rebuilding the Temple this summer. [It collapsed in 1991] It will be a dome kit, with 4′ riser walls, so actual construction noise will be much less than normal for a project of this type. We’ll begin around July 15 or August 1, and hope to be finished with any outdoor construction noise in about 6 weeks. We’ll be using the quietest generator possible for supplying power to tools, and we’ll be concentrating our power tools as much as possible to specific periods of the day. Construction will take place between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Do call me directly if you are impacted negatively, and we’ll do everything we can to find alternative ways to work.
A neighbor comments:
I’ve been living next to the Ananda Retreat for the last ten years! We’ve had contact with the leadership of the retreat and have had a very good working relationship. The leaders of the retreat have been cooperative in any way possible.
—Sheelo Bohm, letter, December 5, 1994
Ananda Village Timber Harvest
The type of accommodation reached with our Meditation Retreat neighbors wasn’t possible with critics of Ananda’s 2001 timber harvest. Rumors and newspaper stories created the impression that Ananda intended to engage in “clear-cutting,” but this was untrue. When opposition developed, Ananda invited critics to the Village to discuss their concerns.
After reviewing the forestry plan and touring the areas to be logged, most neighbors were reassured. The remaining opposition, a small minority, insisted that trees should never be cut down, or at least never for profit.
The timber harvest was a means of raising urgently needed funds, to be sure. But the project itself was in keeping with standards of good forest management. Ananda’s forests were badly in need of thinning to reduce the fire danger and to improve forest health overall. The consultant who supervised Ananda’s timber harvest comments:
Some environmentally conscious people believe that it’s never right to cut down a tree. I don’t agree. Under proper management, cutting trees improves the health of the forest. The trees at Ananda were so diseased that they reduced Ananda’s return on the harvest by about 8-10%. Ananda’s forests were also badly in need of thinning to reduce the fire danger both to Ananda and the surrounding area.
Most people who do a timber harvest want to maximize the financial return but Ananda’s attitude was different. For Ananda, maintaining the rural flavor of the land was very important.
The Ananda tree-marking committee went around and marked trees. I made recommendations, but some were overruled based on aesthetics. Ananda focused almost exclusively on diseased trees, and took only those healthy trees that were overcrowded. If Ananda had been in it for the money, they would have cut down many more trees.
Ananda now has a good balance between open areas and brush, which helps the wildlife. It’s good to have patches of brush where wildlife can hide, but you find most wildlife next to meadows where they have a chance to escape predators and not get trapped in the brush.
Some of the money from the harvest was set aside and used to finance a thorough clean up of slash, removal of brush, and planting of new trees. Ananda did the best post-logging clean up I’ve ever seen. I very much enjoyed working with Ananda. It was the friendliest group of people I’ve ever met.
—Hollis (Les) W. Day, Mountain Clearing and Brushing Inc., Grass Valley, California
Swami Kriyananda has noted that the vibrations at Ananda Village have risen “spectacularly” with the clearing of “unkempt” wilderness. He explains:
The very devas [higher astral beings] are attracted to places where there is pure, devotional energy. For this purpose the ancient Chinese even remolded the shape of the countryside, and thereby made their world itself a more perfect reflection of heavenly values. Wilderness alone, especially “unkempt” wilderness, attracts lower astral entities.
By Nayaswami Naidhruva
Many Hands Make a Miracle: A History of Ananda, 1968 – 1976 by Sadhana Devi Helin