The Second Ananda Center: San Francisco (1979)
After the tours were completed Swamiji wrote the Superconscious Living Course, and a group went with him in the spring of 1979 to present the course in San Francisco at the Palace of Fine Arts. Swami felt that we needed to have a presence in the Bay Area and rented an apartment there while he offered satsangs and classes at the Unitarian Church on Franklin and Geary.
Later several of us rented a house on Judah Street in the Sunset District, with Swamiji staying outside in the Joy Tours motor home. Soon the house was bursting with occupants, with people even living on the roof in tents. Just about the time that the neighbors were beginning to get suspicious, a large house in Pacific Heights became available through a friend.
Although it seemed larger than anything we could afford, Swami held a meeting of
those interested in living there and was able to raise the $12,000 needed to move in. Jyotish and Devi were the first ashram leaders, and served there for 3 years.
It was in the fall of 1981 that I received a phone call one day from Purushottama, who had just spent a few days in San Francisco with Swami Kriyananda who was visiting Jyotish and Devi at our Ananda House ashram there. At this time Jyotish and Devi and their small son Kalidasa had been living in San Francisco for almost 3 years developing Ananda’s work – giving Sunday Services and classes and working with the ashram residents to develop the Ananda center there. They were feeling the need to move back to the Village and Swami was trying to determine who could move there to take their place.
And thus the phone call from Purushottama. He was calling to say that Swami was wondering if I would like to move down to San Francisco to help direct the center there and that he thought that might be a nice thing for me. What a wonderful moment! I gulped, both because I wasn’t sure if I would be capable of doing this and simply because it was such a drastic change. Then, after thinking about it for a moment, I said Yes! I was both thrilled and overwhelmed, but also very happy to have a new direction in which to serve.
In early November 1981 I moved to San Francisco and began my training with Jyotish and Devi in how to serve both as a minister and as a center
I remember very distinctly the feeling of the Ananda House when I first moved there. Jyotish and Devi, over their 3 years serving there, had built a wonderful vibration of spiritual family among the residents in the house. It was both natural and yet deeply spiritual. My first Thanksgiving there was just a few weeks after I arrived, and it had a very sweet feeling to it. That day we had a meditation together in the morning, then we lightly cleaned the house, and then we began to prepare the Thanksgiving meal together. I remember at one point Devi saying, “Let’s make the food we serve look nice as well as tasting good. That way it will be uplifting to everyone who comes.” And there were quite a number of people from the larger congregation who came that day and shared in that celebration.
Jyotish and Devi stayed on in San Francisco until the beginning of February 1982, helping us to get attuned to this new way of life. In addition to myself, Swami had also asked another couple, Ram and Dhyana Smith, to move to San Francisco and wanted the 3 of us to work together in directing the center. Ram and Dhyana arrived in January of 1982, and the three of us had about a month to train with Jyotish and Devi. Since I had arrived in November I was able to attend a number of classes, Sunday Services, and other events during that time.
The Services were held at a center Jyotish and Devi had rented and renovated the year before. It was a very nice place, located right on Judah St. at around 22th Ave. They had decorated it beautifully with nice rugs, some of Swami’s Kashmiri furniture, and beautiful lighting that they had put together themselves.
Of course, it had its peculiarities as all new centers do. The Judah streetcar had a stop right in front of the center, and we used to joke that we never knew who was going to get off that streetcar and walk into our Sunday Service each week.
Then the Chinese family who lived upstairs, often had their grandchildren visit on Sundays during our services. We could hear them running around and riding bicycles as we were downstairs chanting and meditating. In addition sometimes during the service, they would come down to do their laundry which was located in a space behind our altar. We’ve gotten a lot of laughs over the years remembering just how ridiculous some of these situations were.
Jyotish gave me my first assignment shortly after I arrived there which was to organize the Master’s birthday celebration in January 1982. It was a particularly big event that year with Swami taking part in it and many people from the Village coming down, so there was a lot to be done.
The first and most memorable thing I remember doing for this event was renting a hall. I was looking for one that Swami Satchidananda had previously spoken at which was the Scottish Rite hall in the Sunset District. But I got confused and instead rented the Masonic hall that was located at Van Ness and Geary St.
After renting it I was looking through one of the old East West Magazines and came across a photo of Master standing in that very hall! It turns out that this is where he had lectured when he was in San Francisco in the 1920’s. We ended up renting that hall for a number of years afterwards when we held several of our World Brotherhood Day celebrations in San Francisco.
The other part of my training was in understanding how to work with the people who lived in the ashram house. This was even more challenging than teaching classes, and it took me some time to understand how to do this in a helpful way. Living with many different kinds of people, most of whom were quite new to this path, definitely had its challenges.
Trying to work with their spiritual needs and at the same time trying to draw them into a deeper attunement with this path and with Master and Swami was always challenging. At any one time during my time in San Francisco we had anywhere from 22 to 31 people living together in the house including some couples with children. They shared rooms, bathrooms, meals, sadhanas, classes, Sunday services, telephones, everything! It’s no wonder that sometimes things got a little tense!
But we had some wonderful times in the house as well. One time two of our congregation members who were dancers with the San Francisco Ballet came and performed for us in the dining room. (We covered the hardwood floor with a mixture of water and sugar so they wouldn’t slip. It was very interesting getting it off the floor after the performance!) We also had international dinners cooked by some of the residents which included excellent Indian and Japanese food. We had wonderful all-day Christmas meditations and banquets over the years and had the best seats in San Francisco for the fireworks display that happened each 4th of July in the Marina area below the house.
The San Francisco Ananda House is where Swami stayed when he first returned from Egypt in the fall of 1981 bringing with him the beautiful music he had been inspired to write while traveling there. He also stayed at the house in the fall of 1983 when he returned from the Holy Land where he had begun to write the music for the Christ Lives Oratorio. He was deeply moved by what he had experienced in the Holy Land, and the morning after he returned he came down from his room and played for us (on a tiny Casio keyboard) some of the pieces he was beginning to compose. It was also from the San Francisco Ananda House that Ram and Dhyana left in the spring of 1984 to go to Italy with Swami and others to begin what has since evolved into our present-day work in Europe.
The Ananda Center in San Francisco closed in 1988 after 9 years of offering Master’s teachings to those living in the city and surrounding areas. Its closing coincided with the dynamic expansion of Ananda’s work on the Peninsula in the Palo Alto area.
Some of the people who lived in the Ananda House in San Francisco and who are presently active with Ananda include:
Michael and Laura Hermann