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Swami Kriyananda’s Letter to Yogacharya Oliver Black on Spiritual Communities

At the age of 90, Mr. Black, one of Yogananda’s most advanced direct disciples, wrote to Swami Kriyananda, asking for advice on how to turn the ashram he had founded into a “world brotherhood colony.”

This is Swami Kriyananda’s response.

January 15, 1988

Dear Yogacharya Oliver:

Thank you for your welcome letter. I am impressed by your courage in “working diligently,” at this late time in your life, to create a colony. More power to you!

What we have at Ananda now is a real village, with lovely homes, flourishing businesses, schools that have an excellent reputation, and an experiment in living that people in many countries admire. We have several branch communities also, including one near Assisi, Italy.

Far more important, we have about five hundred devotees who are living joyously for God and Master, who meditate several hours daily, and are dedicated to making Master’s message of Self-realization known everywhere.

But when I think of the struggle of our beginnings — not so much of our initial poverty, nor of how simply we had to live; that all had its compensations: but of the problems I faced in bringing so many people into attunement with Master’s ideals — I tell myself, “Once was enough!” Patience and determination are virtues, but there are other qualities also that one needs to work on, on the spiritual path.

Most of our real difficulties at the beginning seemed to be related to people. True, there were money worries. At first I had to go out and earn most of what we needed myself. True also, there were times when it looked as if financial disaster not only stared us in the face but was preparing to swal­low us. But Master always wrought the necessary miracles — in one case saving our most important (in fact, essential) property with only twenty-four hours to spare.

I’ve always believed that one essential reason we won out was that we always held to the Indian motto, “Where there is dharma, there is victory.”

Another reason we won was that we held to Master’s dictum: “Be practical in your idealism.”

And a third reason was our own basic guideline: “People are more important that things.”

Even in the matter of practicality, however, my big challenge came from people — from those woolly minded idealists, for example, who insisted they were serving God by going to the river and swimming all day instead of working to earn anything so crass as money. I knew I’d never build a successful community if I simply “laid down the law” to them. I had to learn how to win them, and not drive them, to right action.

People, not things, were the problem. I don’t think it would have particularly helped us, in the beginning, to have too much money. Certainly, our present three-million-dollar income would have been our undoing. Had things been easy, people might not have developed the dedication they acquired by responding to outward challenges.

The main principle that I found worked was perhaps to work in cooperation with positive and supportive energy, and not to waste time and energy on those people who were either passive drifters or negative opponents.

In the beginning, our core group of dedicated members was quite small, and the opposition to every constructive idea, dauntingly large. Negative energy, however, has no cohesive power, if one can afford to give it time to disprove itself. What it feeds on, and what gives negativity strength, is the feeling that it has something substantial to oppose.

Usually, therefore, at least where possible, I more or less ignored the negative voices, and just worked around them. When I had to fight them, I made sure in advance that I had the backing, or the power within myself, to win. For even small defeats can loom large in petty minds, and can seriously damage a leader’s position in the future. (Best is it, I learned, in the likelihood of defeat, to give in quickly and gracefully, and rescue what one can for the next time around.)

Fortunately, for many years now those people-problems have been overcome. The harmony here now is so great that I rarely have to involve myself in the day-to-day running of things, except, essentially, from behind the scenes.

The most important factor in our success, certainly, has been the fact that every day since our beginnings I have given this whole project to Master, and have asked him to do with it as he would, albeit through our own physical struggles.

I say these things in a spirit of sharing, since you asked me, and not of giving advice. I know you have succeeded greatly in the business world, and that you must know much of what I’ve had to learn here through years of struggle, and perhaps a great deal more besides.

But let me send you also another book I wrote, one that grew out of the lessons I learned in working with people. It’s called The Art of Supportive Leadership. I’ll also send you a book on Ananda, Cities of Light. You may have these books already, in which case you may find use for these extra copies anyway.

We celebrated our twentieth anniversary this year. Please give us your blessings for a continued future of joyful service to Master and God.

In Master’s love,

Swami Kriyananda

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