As our nucleus formed and more visitors came to our retreat, Kriyananda saw the opportunity to begin reaching out beyond our borders, not only to those who might be interested in Yogananda’s teachings, but also as a means of acquainting the local community with what we were doing.
The Master Plan process and other events made it clear to us as time went on that we needed to build bridges and develop more relationships outside the community, so that the general public could understand what our community was trying to accomplish. One of the ways we began reaching out was to form a singing group in 1975, called the Ghandarvas (Sanskrit for “Celestial Singers”).
This group began performing locally, as well as in nearby Sacramento, eventually growing into several Joy Singers, singing groups, who now perform Swamis music around the world. We continued to perform The Jewel in the Lotus as well, and we also began giving seminars how to prepare for hard times, with Jyotish, Santosh, Shivani, Asha and Devi. At many of these events we met new people interested in Ananda, some of whom later joined the community.
Swamiji visited India in 1972, and again in 1974. On the second trip Nalini, Jyotish and Shraddha Kimmel accompanied him.
A Visit to India
Contributed by Nalini Graeber and Jyotish Novak
We soon made a pilgrimage to Masters house, mentioned in Autobiography of a Yogi. After meditating in the little attic room where Master said he found God, we had tea with Masters brother and his family, who occupy the house now. He told us a little about his early life with Master. (Editor’s note: Yogananda’s brother, Sananda, has since passed away.) The women were pleased that Shraddha and I were wearing saris. As a sweet gesture, they called us aside to give us bangles which were, alas, too small to slip easily over our Western-sized palms. We were deeply impressed by the kindness and humility of Masters relatives. Later on we had a similar experience at the house where Swami Kebalananda taught Sanskrit to Master, and then in Benares at Lahiri Mahasaya’s house. We meditated at the tree where Babaji appeared to Sri Yukteswar until the crowd that had gathered to watch us became too imposing!
We were especially moved by our visits to the saints of India. Here is an account, in Jyotish’s words, of our visit to Anandamayee Ma in Hardwar:
There is a tangible aura of joy permeating the room, a definite feeling of being in the presence of a divine consciousness. It is deeper than appearance, having nothing to do with speech, since she isn’t talking. It is a lesson that the divine is primarily existent as consciousness, and secondarily existent as form. If one can become attuned to the consciousness, it is ever present and continually showering blessings.
The next morning, Swamiji arrives and we go again to see Ma. There is great love between Swamiji and Ma, and joy in both of them to be meeting again. Ma comes to talk with us, and we have a chance to ask questions. For us, she gives little detailed advice; the essence of her answers is to go within and contact the guru. But in response to a letter from Haripriya, one of her disciples, she gives detailed instructions. A lesson in the guru-disciple relationship.
Despite the physical inconveniences, we truly felt sad to leave India. It is remarkable to be in a culture where there is practically no such thing as atheism. It is not uncommon for Indians, even those who claim to think little about God, to have more spiritual experiences than we down-to-earth Westerners who have been on the path for years. We noticed quite a contrast when we traveled on to Europe from India. Despite the greater affluence, we saw fewer happy faces in cities like Athens, Paris, or New York, than we did even in Calcutta. In America, especially, we felt a deep spiritual hunger and a tangible sense of appreciation for teachings such as ours, which help to fill that longing.