Many Hands Make a Miracle: Ananda’s Outreach and Expansion
Many hands make a miracle:
Let’s all join hands together!
Life on earth is so wonderful,
When people laugh and dance and struggle as friends,
Then all their dreams achieve their ends.
—Lyrics to a song by Swami Kriyananda
After the forest fire in 1976, Ananda literally rose, phoenix-like, from the ashes to begin a new phase of growth and expansion. Normally, human beings after such a test tend to think first of their own needs. Though the spirit at Ananda remained courageous and positive, Swamiji knew that he must guide the community forward at this pivotal time in its history, when the potential existed for contraction inward upon itself.
He prayed to his Guru, and the response he felt in his heart was, “Go out and expand!” Thus, Swami Kriyananda and other community members began a dynamic outreach campaign with Yogananda’s teachings and with the Master’s vision of world brotherhood colonies.
Swamiji began a series of magnetic lectures. He traveled three times across America between 1977 and 1980 on what he called “The Joy Tours.” He addressed large crowds in dozens of cities, speaking on the subject, Building Spiritual Power Against Troubled Times — How to Find Inner Joy and Strength under All Circumstances.
Taking about a dozen Ananda members on the road with him, Kriyananda and his “team” traveled in a caravan: one large motor home, and two or three other vehicles. The team had various jobs to perform: playing and singing Swamiji’s songs at the programs, preparing halls for the events, driving, navigating, maintaining the vehicles, cooking meals, and setting up housing with friends along the way. These tours drew many new members from across the country to Ananda.
One long-time Ananda member, Mary Kretzmann, told of her experience with the Joy Tours in 1977:
“I was living in Arkansas and had read Autobiography of a Yogi. Though I was really inspired by the book, I was still desperate to know if Yogananda was my Guru. I heard that one of his direct disciples, Swami Kriyananda, was speaking in Chicago, and I drove 500 miles to meet him. During the trip, I was inwardly praying to Master, ‘Please give me a sign if you are my Guru.’ When I heard Swamiji’s music for the first time — it was his piano sonata, ‘The Divine Romance’—I felt a wave of blessings and love fill my heart. I knew without a doubt that Yogananda was my Guru.”
Mary and her husband, Tim, moved to the community soon afterward.
Over the years, many Ananda teachers would follow in Swamiji’s footsteps and spread Yogananda’s teachings to virtually every continent on earth. To guide them in their efforts, Kriyananda once shared these thoughts on outreach:
“Emphasize principles. Win people on the strength of their needs. We need to talk in terms of solutions to those needs, not just of the needs themselves. In short, we need to stress positive values: inner happiness, peace of mind, love of high ideals, cooperation, and kindness — in fact, all the good things we’ve learned from Master. We are part of a great tide of loving, joyful energy that wants to give and give as long as people are happy to receive it.”
Two other significant events happened in 1977. The first was the publication of Swamiji’s autobiography, The Path — One Man’s Quest on the Only Path There Is. Since 1974 Kriyananda had been working devotedly on this book, which tells of his years of training and discipleship under his Guru. No other book presents with such clarity and insight the Master’s true spiritual stature, and how he succeeded in creating a great spiritual renaissance in the West.
In the opening paragraph of The Path, Swamiji wrote:
“There are times when a human being, though perhaps not remarkable in himself, encounters some extraordinary person or event that infuses his life with great meaning. My own life was blessed with such an encounter nearly thirty years ago, in 1948. Right here in America, of all lands the epitome of bustling efficiency, material progressiveness, and pragmatic ‘know-how,’ I met a great, God-known master whose constant vision was of eternity. His name was Paramhansa Yogananda. He was from India, though it would be truer to say that his home was the whole world.”
The Path has been translated into many languages, and has reached spiritual seekers throughout the world. A letter from Bulgaria stated: “I have read The Path, and many times tears of happiness have stained the pages of the book.” A reader in India wrote: “Thank you for your wonderful, touching book, The Path. You have labored hard to create for us the style and truthfulness of Paramhansa Yogananda. It filled me with delight.” Another letter, from the Ukraine, stated: “Now we have a chance to read The Path. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts, brimming over with bliss and indescribable gratitude.”
The second major event that occurred in 1977 was the establishment of The Circle of Joy, a way for people to belong to Ananda wherever they lived. Over the years since then, that name has been changed to Ananda Spiritual Family, and, more recently, Ananda Sangha. (A sangha is a community of like-minded souls.) The principle behind this extended membership is that Ananda is much more than a physical community, and much more than a number of places: it is a spiritual movement, and as such it embraces like-minded people everywhere.
In Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda described the nature of divine vision as “center everywhere, circumference nowhere.” This image has shaped Ananda’s growth and development, inspiring it to transcend all boundaries of nation and religion.
The year 1977 also saw Ananda expand to Sacramento, a move which started the first of many city ashrams — places where devotees can work at normal jobs and still live together and participate in daily meditations, satsangs, and classes. These ashrams eventually developed into full residential communities. Today there are a total of seven Ananda communities in America and in Italy, where altogether some 1,000 residents live dedicated lives. Plans are presently under way for establishing such communities in India.
Kriyananda continued to explore creative ways of reaching people with his Guru’s teachings. In 1979 he also introduced a new system of spiritual training, which he called Superconscious Living (SCL). This system bases its teaching on the fact that there are three levels of awareness: the subconscious, the conscious, and the superconscious. Kriyananda went on to say that, by living more from the highest level, the superconscious, we can feel ourselves to be living parts of a greater, universal consciousness — the source of all creativity, energy, and positive solutions to the difficulties of life. This revolutionary system includes many practical techniques and exercises that help people to develop superconscious awareness.
To launch SCL, Kriyananda, in the spring of 1979, gave several introductory talks in the San Francisco Bay Area, leading up to a large weekend event in the city. Many hundreds of people attended the program. This system continues to be taught by Ananda ministers around the world.
After his introductory series, Swamiji remained for several months in San Francisco with a team of Ananda members, teaching and building a spiritual focus of energy. By the end of that summer he established Ananda House, a large ashram and teaching center in the city.
Even greater expansion for Ananda Village was soon to follow. In 1979 Ananda received an offer from a neighbor, Dr. Hoffman, who owned land adjacent to the community.
“I’ve watched what you’ve been doing at Ananda,” he said, “and I’m really impressed with your spirit, especially since the fire. I own nearly 350 acres next to you. For years I’ve dreamed of developing it into a boys’ camp. I’m getting older now, however, and I realize my dream, as such, will never be realized. I’d like to give Ananda the first option to buy this land — if you’re interested. Should you take it, I’ll know that the land will at least be used for a good cause.”
With a year of land payments still remaining as a burden on the community, and with money needed to continue rebuilding after the fire, this purchase was a major opportunity, but, also, a major challenge! Swamiji called a meeting and discussed it with Ananda’s leaders and members. Did we need more land? How could we pay for it? A few people balked at the idea. Kriyananda then declared, “I’ll go out and earn the money myself, if need be! Let me be the guarantor for this property.” Further prayers for guidance ensued, resulting in everyone’s agreeing that it felt like God’s will for Ananda’s future to secure this land.
There was a particularly beautiful, small section of this new property with gently rolling meadows, forested areas, and expansive views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east. Swamiji had been thinking of Ananda’s need to expand the Meditation Retreat facilities, but he’d been constrained from doing so by his agreements with Dick Baker and the other joint-owners of the original piece of property. This lovely part of the new property would be ideal for a new Ananda World Brotherhood Retreat.
Thus it was decided to buy the Hoffman property, and to build a new guest facility on the eastern portion of it. Construction began during the summer of 1979. The original Meditation Retreat continues to serve visitors as a place for quiet and seclusion. Later, Kriyananda was inspired to change the name of the facility on the new land to The Expanding Light. Yearly, this dynamic center attracts several thousand guests from around the world; it has become one of America’s most popular and respected yoga centers.
One visitor wrote recently:
“I feel the lessons I learned at The Expanding Light are continuing to grow and enrich my life. My experience there has enabled me to become reacquainted with my own spirituality. With all my heart, I thank you and all those at Ananda who are so committed to love and to serving the spirit of goodness and light.”
In 1980 Ananda received another unexpected offer, leading to a new opportunity for growth. Kriyananda one day visited a large metaphysical bookstore, East-West Bookshop, in Menlo Park south of San Francisco. He and Virginia Scharfman, the owner, had been friendly since the early 1960s, when Swamiji, while visiting his parents in nearby Atherton, had discovered her shop. When he entered the store on this particular day, Mrs. Scharfman said to him, “Would you like to buy my shop?”
“Are you serious?” he asked. She’d made the offer to him once before, but hadn’t made it clear that she really wanted to sell. This time she expressed herself more seriously.
“I’m seventy-five years old now,” she said, “and I’m thinking of retiring. I want to be sure East-West will be carried on in a spirit of love for spiritual books. I’ve known you for many years. Do you think you might be interested in buying?”
Kriyananda paused a moment, praying for inner guidance. A moment later — to his own surprise, actually — he answered, “Yes.”
Ananda didn’t have the funds to pay for the store. Yet Virginia was a friend, and Swamiji wanted, among other things, to help her. He also felt that running a metaphysical bookstore would be a good way for Ananda to serve people spiritually, in a non-sectarian way. Swamiji and the other Ananda leaders prayed, later, over the consequences of his decision, and all felt Yogananda’s blessings on the project. Through loans and donations from various friends, Ananda was able — almost miraculously!—to purchase East-West Bookshop.
Today there are successful branches of East-West Bookshop elsewhere: the first in Mountain View, where the store relocated from Menlo Park; in Sacramento, California; and in Seattle, Washington. They are run by devotees whose consciousness of divine service and universal friendship has turned these stores into spiritual lighthouses for thousands of people.
In 1980, in order to operate its new bookstore, Ananda established a small ashram (a house where spiritual seekers live together) in the Menlo Park area. Eventually, the work in that area grew and expanded, embracing a large and beautiful church in Palo Alto and a residential community of over a hundred residents in nearby Mountain View. Ananda’s is one of the most dynamic spiritual works in the San Francisco Bay Area. It brings Yogananda’s teachings to many thousands.
1983-1990 brought new growth, security, international expansion, and global recognition to Ananda. For Kriyananda, these were years of incredibly creative output, during which he wrote books and music. They also marked a time of change in Swamiji’s personal life.
In February 1983, Kriyananda’s father, Ray Walters, passed away. His mother soon followed, leaving her body that July. They’d been a happily married couple for nearly sixty years.
Everyone who knew Gertrude Walters, especially, loved and respected her deeply. During her waning years she became increasingly radiant as her soul qualities found outward expression. Yogananda, at Swamiji’s request, had welcomed Mrs. Walters at Mt. Washington many years earlier, and had personally blessed her. Holding her by the hand as he was saying goodbye, he uttered these words: “May you be drawn onto this path of the masters.” In her later years, Mrs. Walters requested her son to teach her meditation, which she practiced until the end of her life.
Now, with both his parents gone, Kriyananda came into a modest family inheritance. Over the years, Mr. Walters had never supported, either financially or emotionally, his son’s efforts to build Ananda. Swamiji knew it would go against his father’s wishes to use his inheritance for the community. Yet he wasn’t interested in spending the money on himself personally. He reached a solution, finally, that would honor both his father’s wishes and his own.
At this time he was living in a simple dome on a part of Ananda that he had named, “Ayodhya” (after the legendary ancient kingdom of Lord Rama). Here he had been joined by a group of residents who also wanted to live, as he did, as renunciates. Meditating on how he might give his inheritance to God without offending his father’s spirit, Swamiji realized that he could expand the buildings and grounds around his dome to create a beautiful spiritual center for all Ananda residents and visitors, as well as for his own enjoyment. In 1984 Kriyananda named his newly developed home, Crystal Hermitage.
He consulted local architects, builders, and landscapers, and together with them created beautiful upper and lower gardens and pools. In the upper garden, he had a small meditation chapel built, and (later on) a museum which now holds relics from Yogananda and Ananda’s line of gurus. The main building, below, held a large dining room and kitchen for banquets and social gatherings. The expansive lower garden he designed to hold outdoor concerts and other programs.
The dome that had served for over ten years as his own dwelling he opened up to form a single, large area for group meditations and satsangs. On a lower level were Swamiji’s sleeping quarters. His own quarters were moved, later, to an attached wing below the lower garden, and now have two small gardens of their own. Kriyananda wrote in his book, The Story of Crystal Hermitage (since then re-named Space, Light, Harmony!), how this extraordinary spiritual oasis was created using the principles of space, light, and harmony to create beauty that uplifts the consciousness.
Numerous guests from The Expanding Light have been deeply moved by their experience here. One first-time visitor to the community commented, “When I saw the gardens at Crystal Hermitage, I felt God’s presence in my heart, and I understood what Ananda was all about.”
During Kriyananda’s years with Yogananda, the Master had told Swamiji that he was thinking of sending him to Europe also, to spread the teachings. “There is a great work to be done there,” he said. When Kriyananda represented SRF as the director of center activities, he twice visited the European centers of SRF, and formed a warm connection with some of the devotees there, especially in Italy.
Even after his dismissal from SRF, a few people in Italy remained his friends and continued to invite him back to give lectures. Unfortunately for some of them, their continued friendship with Swamiji caused them to be dismissed from SRF.
Kriyananda, in response to their invitations, began to visit Italy and Europe again. He traveled there several times, starting in 1972. Lecturing in Paris, in Switzerland, and (in Italy) in Milan, Rome, Florence, and other cities throughout the country, he found increasing interest in Ananda, especially among Italians, and began thinking about his Guru’s hint that he might send him there some day. Finally, in 1983, an Italian devotee offered Swamiji the use of her family vacation home near Lake Como to start a retreat.
Kriyananda and a small group of Ananda members moved to the village of Veglio, where the villa stood high above Lake Como. Here, he began offering weekend programs. Always gifted with an ability to learn new languages, Kriyananda was soon lecturing fluently in Italian. (It wasn’t long before many Italians actually mistook him for an Italian!) As visitors began coming from other European countries, Swamiji also spoke in languages already known to him: French, German, and Spanish. It quickly became apparent that there was indeed “a great work to be done there.”
In 1982, during a lecture visit to Rome, a Charismatic Christian community from the southern city of Sorrento came to meet Kriyananda. This group called themselves “Peki,” or “Communità della Pace.” Peki was attracted to Yogananda’s teachings, practiced meditation, and eventually took Kriya initiation from Swamiji.
It occurred to Kriyananda that Peki might be a good group for Ananda to work with in building the work in Italy. Their members combined deep spirituality, a love of community, and an understanding of the Italian culture. One of the leaders of Peki was a deeply religious woman, radiating spiritual warmth. She and Kriyananda formed a warm bond of friendship, and worked together to develop the work there.
Swamiji returned to America in the winter of 1983. Later, the leaders of Peki visited Ananda in America in order to understand better how Ananda worked. By this time nearly 350 adults and children lived at Ananda Village; there were eighty homes, a school, and several businesses. Some of the members were single renunciates; the majority, however, were married, and several of the couples had children.
The monastics in the community had clear models in other, more traditional monasteries to guide their lives. The householders, however, still needed clarity on how to make their chosen way a true path to God. Kriyananda had felt for some time that he needed somehow to help create a new model at Ananda for marriages rooted in the divine search. Realizing that he had needed to serve as an example for every significant development at Ananda, he had tried tentatively already to bridge these two apparently opposite paths and show how the two might be reconciled. The superior, and somewhat spiritually judgmental, attitude of many monastics toward householders was offensive to him. The great Lahiri Mahasaya himself, guru of Swami Sri Yukteswar, had been a householder, whose role was to show that all men can find God regardless of their outward station in life. Kriyananda felt that until man’s home life can be sanctified, monks themselves would be like lame-winged birds, unable to fly.
Kriyananda recognized, though he feared, the hazard for himself of attempting to set a model of “spiritual householdership” at Ananda. Nevertheless, he decided that it was now his duty to risk everything if he was to forge a truly God-centered community.
After deep meditation and prayers for guidance, Swamiji came to feel that it was God’s will for him, personally, to set an example for the householders at Ananda. He asked his dear friend, the leader of the Peki group, if she would join him as his wife in leading Ananda and in fulfilling the work his guru had given him to do. She accepted his offer. They were married on September 23, 1985 in the lower garden at Crystal Hermitage, in a beautiful ceremony that Kriyananda himself had created for the occasion, and for all such occasions in future at Ananda. This ceremony has been used many times at Ananda, and has been an inspiration to thousands.
Swamiji has written that what eventually emerged at Ananda was “a new kind of monastic order, including householders dedicated to the traditional monastic ideals of non-attachment, simplicity, service, and self-control.” He continued, “Such a community, I find, is an inspiration to people everywhere, at a time when most monasteries in the world are empty. People at every stage of life are encouraged to be devotees wholeheartedly. This pattern of life was first established by Lahiri Mahasaya. Paramhansa Yogananda approved of it, and, indeed, recommended it for most people.
“I had to set the pattern myself — such, it seems, has always been my job at Ananda — for ‘monastic householdership.’ Seeing many Ananda members burdened with feelings of guilt that they couldn’t live more wholeheartedly for God, I deliberately chose to be married, myself. This step was, of course, a serious risk for me, but I felt I could accept the married state now without losing my inner spirit of renunciation. Our marriage completely changed the community. Ananda’s teachers and ministers, almost all of whom are householders, are the best I’ve encountered anywhere.”
These years bore amazing fruit for Swamiji. After a pilgrimage to the Holy Land he composed an Oratorio: a choral and instrumental “panorama” of the life of Jesus Christ which he called Christ Lives in the Holy Land — And in You. During its early performances, Swamiji accompanied the music with beautiful photographic slides that he’d taken that show sites where Christ actually lived and taught.
Swamiji also began writing prolifically on a broad range of spiritual topics, based on his guru’s teachings. Books flowed from his desk: Education for Life, The Art of Supportive Leadership, Cities of Light, Rays of the Same Light Volumes 1-3 (commentaries on parallel passages in the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita), Affirmations for Self-Healing, Money Magnetism, and a series of beautiful little gift books called Secrets of Happiness, of Success (out of print in 2008), and many others. The above list, full as it is, is far from complete. Often experts in such fields as education, leadership, or financial management comment that Swamiji’s books offer innovative thinking and insight in their own area of expertise.
While in seclusion in Assisi, Italy, Swamiji also wrote a Festival of Light, an inspirational ceremony which briefly presents the core of Yogananda’s teachings through poetry and music, to be read and performed at Sunday worship services. This festival is performed weekly at Ananda communities throughout the world.
During the 1980s, Ananda’s work continued to expand. Communities were started in Seattle (Washington) and in Portland (Oregon). In 1987, land was purchased near Assisi, Italy for a European Ananda retreat and community.
On September 12, 1988 Swami Kriyananda celebrated forty years of discipleship under his guru. What he had accomplished thus far to further Yogananda’s mission was monumental. There was still much more, however, for Swamiji to do for his Guru.
He soon started work on a major work, The Essence of Self-Realization — The Wisdom of Paramhansa Yogananda. This book, published in 1990, is a compilation of teachings and sayings of the Master that Swamiji had recorded lovingly during his years with the Guru.
Having disseminated Yogananda’s teachings faithfully for nearly twenty-five years, Ananda decided in January 1990, to add the term “Self-realization” to the name of its religious corporation.
“What will SRF say?” was a question asked by some of those present. Kriyananda responded, “We’ve been trying for over twenty years to please them, and to avoid displeasing them. The response to all these efforts has been a stony silence. It is time we simply told ourselves, ‘From now on, we will serve our guru in our own way. If SRF wants to work with us, fine, but I see no point any longer in worrying about how they’ll react. Why try to adjust our dance steps to others who won’t even dance!
“Self-realization,” he continued, “was the name Master gave to his work. In that name he took an ancient concept, one already in existence long before he came to America. No one can own this name. Our duty as his disciples is to honor it.”
The Essence of Self-Realization was a conscious response to the need Kriyananda perceived for universalizing the teachings of the masters. “Self-realization” is what the Master himself had called his “religion.” This term more clearly represented Yogananda’s, and therefore Ananda’s, mission than any name Kriyananda had previously proposed, in his anxiety not to give offense.
Thus, another major event began to shape up in the story of Ananda. The very next month, February, marked the beginning of the greatest test Ananda has ever faced and endured. This test was to last for another twelve years.