Plain Living and High Thinking
A Spirit of Adventure
Contributed by Nalini Graeber
Joy was, and still is, the main attraction for those of us who live at Ananda. However, for those of us who lived here in the early 70s, the joy we felt was sometimes in spite of, rather than because of, the physical plane! Each day we were finding opportunities to challenge ourselves.
In Jan 1971, in a spirit of adventure, I moved to the Meditation Retreat, where there were three feet of show on the ground. I was eager to learn about Yogananda’s concept of plain living and high thinking, but nothing in my background had prepared me for what I was about to experience. I moved into a tepee so small that I could stand up only in the middle of it. I rarely did so, however, because in the middle we had dug a three foot hole in which to put the kerosene heater, my only source of heat. Since sleeping, reading and meditating were my main activities there, it was workable.
Most of my meals were taken in the common dome, and I took my showers, theoretically at least, in the community bath house. There was one shower for the women and one for the men. If one was lucky, someone else was just leaving. This meant that not only was the shower available, but also that the small room would be pre-warmed and the propane light would be on. Otherwise, early or late in the day, one would fumble in the dark, hoping to light the lamp and the old-fashioned propane heather — without setting the place on fire! I remember on a few occasions calling my mother who lived in the Bay Area, 3 or 4 hours away. “Hey Mom, I’m coming for a visit,” I’d say. (My ulterior motive was the desperate need to wash my hair and take a decent shower!)
Many years later when my husband Gary and I got together, he wanted to take me camping. He couldn’t understand my lack of enthusiasm at the prospect until he had spent some time at the Meditation Retreat. Then he commented, “Now I understand your resistance — you spent several years camping in those early days!” Now that I live in a normal house my taste for camping has returned. As Ananda has developed more on the physical plane, the tests have moved to the mental and emotional spheres. Still, the all-pervading joy and love for God that permeates this place is what makes it all worthwhile.
Contributed by Jaya Helin
In the fall of 1969, Kriyananda had asked Satya and me to remain at the retreat for the winter in order to keep an eye on things while others went to San Francisco to work. Shivani and Gurupod (Chuck Slavonic) also stayed in seclusion there.
We didn’t see anyone at the Retreat from Thanksgiving until March. During that winter, we fell into a routine, all in silence. The kitchen had supplies left over after the retreat season wheat berries, rolled oats, rye seeds and powdered milk, plus many quarts of canned berries. About twice a week, Shivani would make yoghurt, and I would make bread. Wed put it out and then scrounge out of the condiment section whatever was left on the shelves. We went through the winter on bread, yoghurt, canned blackberries and sprouted beans. Near the end of the winter, I was getting really tired of this diet, and was complaining about the food (in silence!).
I had been reading the book, Saints that Moved the World, by Rene Fulop-Miller, and I especially liked the story about St. Antony and the raven that brought him a loaf of bread each day. One day I went into the common room and found a big block of cheese sitting right in the middle of the table! We gathered around and had quite a feast. No one ever knew how it came to be there.
Future Saints Club
Contributed by Haridas Blake
Binay and I came up with the Future Saints Club. We had this idea that all of us were potential saints and that if we would organize a little bit, maybe that would help to accelerate our spiritual progress. So we made affirmation cards and some other things to help remind us of the teachings. It picked up steam, and went for six months or a year. It was just another way to bring us together.
Ananda Meditation Retreat is located in a rural and sparsely populated area of California. Sometimes people we met were a little rough.
Contributed by Satya Cox
Once when Swami (Kriyananda), Binay, and I were returning from a trip to town, Swami said, “Lets go for a swim at the pond.” (There was a big pond near the road to the Meditation Retreat where Ananda folk liked to swim.)
We parked the car and walked in. A trailer was parked by the pond, and standing nearby was a man in his fifties with his 20-something son and their wives. Both men had knives strapped to their legs, guns in holsters at their hips, and rifles cradled in their arms. They were drinking beer.
As the father raised his arm to throw the beer can into the pond, Swami yelled out, “Don’t throw that can!” The man threw it anyway. Turning to Swami he said angrily, “What I do is none of your business! Just who are you?”
Swami answered calmly, “I am a poet, a philosopher, and a yogi.”
As he talked he kept walking slowly toward the two men, who kept backing up until they were against the trailer.
“Come on over!”, Swami called out to a group of Ananda folks who were swimming nearby. The man declared with a sneer, “I’ll shoot any one of ’em who comes over here naked!” I groaned inwardly. When the swimmers arrived and stood up they were wearing swimming suits! Bloodshed was avoided.
Many people who came to Ananda in the early years had previously had very unique and interesting life experiences. Haanel Cassidy was invited by Kriyananda to move to Ananda for his retirement.
Haanel Cassidy, 1903 – 1979
Contributed by Anandi Cornell
One of my goals when I moved to Ananda was to learn organic gardening. This turned out to be a wonderful experience, primarily because of our head gardener, Haanel Cassidy.
Haanel was a unique individual who taught us gardening and much more. He had grown up in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, and began gardening as a child. Later, he moved to Japan, where he taught English and also taught himself to become an accomplished photographer. He then moved to New York City, and became an advertising photographer for Conde Naste magazines, doing very slick color photography. (His true love, however, was the subtlety of black and white photography.) While in New York City, he also developed his voice and learned quite a repertoire of music, including many Negro spirituals and Winnie the Pooh songs. He was known as Cassidy the Waltz King, for his ballroom dancing skills.
I believe Haanel discovered the Autobiography of a Yogi in 1952, the year Yogananda died. He became a devoted disciple and decided to move to Chile so that he could devote himself to a life of secluded meditation. The climate and general conditions in Chile, however, proved so harsh that he then moved to Southern California, where he supported himself by selling organic vegetables.
In the 1960s he met Swami Kriyananda who told him about the community that he was forming dedicated to Yogananda. At this point, Haanel was about 65 years old, and Swami invited him to live at Ananda and to enjoy a period of meditation in retirement.
He was not only our teacher and leader, but he also became our friend, inviting us over for a hot cup of Pero (a cereal beverage) or dinner. Anything Haanel produced had a careful beauty and elegance to it, even his spaghetti dinner. In his spare time, he offered to meditate with us, and to give us singing, calligraphy, or elocution lessons.
Along with another fellow gardener I had the great blessing of being with Haanel when he left his body in 1980. Pancreatic cancer took him quickly. He chose to meet his illness and his passing in his bedroom sanctuary at home. He told me that he felt Master’s grace pouring over him as he lay in bed; he was fully conscious as he left this world.
Contributed by Sadhana Devi Helin
Satya’s son, Monty Cox, was an animal trainer for the entertainment industry. He had trained several well-known animal entertainers, including Gentle Ben of television fame.
One day, I left the temple after afternoon sadhana and noticed huge cat-paw prints in the dust outside. Just then, I heard someone say, “Hey, I saw a lion walk by!” We all ran in the direction of the footprints (no one remembers being afraid!), and we found Satya, his son Monty, and a beautiful lion named Major. Major spent a day or two inside our fenced garden, the only place we had that could accommodate him.
It was quite an experience to actually pet a cat of that size (through the fence!) Monty warned us to pet firmly, as a light touch would be mistaken for flies, and the lion would bat us away, resulting in pain for us! Even a trained lion isnt a tame one.
Ananda Meditation Retreat: The Heart of Ananda
Long after its population was outstripped by that of the Farm, the meditation retreat remained the spiritual heart of the community. Each Sunday people would car pool and drive up from the Farm to the Retreat for Sunday service, staying afterward for lunch together. Group sadhana (spiritual practice) was offered every morning and evening, marriages and baptisms were performed, and of course, guest retreats were held there year round. In addition, the retreat served as a meeting place for the community, and it remained Swami’s home until 1971. Its kitchen was the only kitchen of any size in the community, which made it the obvious location for holiday celebrations.
Asha Praver arrived in 1971, one day after the previous kitchen manager had left. Showing some polite interest, and offering to help cook lunch, she was immediately drafted as the new kitchen manager! She served in that capacity for a few years, producing three meals a day for guests, plus Indian dinners for up to 100 people, with the help of Lakshmi Selbie, Seva Wiberg and other volunteers. Later, she became Swamis secretary, and moved to the monastery at Ayodhya. Asha, along with her husband, David Praver, is now spiritual director of the Ananda Palo Alto Community.
On July 3, 1970, the first retreat temple burned down. Whether this was caused by carelessness or by arson may never be known. By the time the fire department arrived the building was fully engaged, and burned to the ground. It was a great loss, but everyone was inspired by Kriyananda’s cheerful attitude of surrender to the Divine Plan.
In Money Magnetism, he says,
I sat in prayer after this conflagration, and told God, “This was Your temple, Lord, not mine. I gave it to You when I first built it. I’ve lost nothing, because I had nothing to lose.”
Suddenly I felt overwhelmed from within with a joy so great, I could hardly bear it. “Lord,” I then prayed, “if the destruction of a mere temple can bring me so much joy, You should have taken all my other possessions, too!”
I recall entering a shop later that day. I was singing. The shopkeeper, who had heard of our loss, exclaimed, “You’re singing! When our shop burned down several years ago, I cried for one year!”
“Well,” I answered, “I’ve lost a building, but I haven’t lost my voice!”
The truth was, I felt like singing. Gods joy within made everything else seem unimportant. Indeed, if one gift can bring blessings, is he not wise who gives everything to God?
Construction was quickly begun on a new and larger temple and it was dedicated twice — once by Swami Muktananda in October 1970, then again in November of the same year. Early in 1971 we began using it for Sunday services, classes and gatherings during the week, and plays, holiday activities and Swamis birthday celebrations.
One of the plays performed in the new temple was The Jewel in the Lotus, which Kriyananda had written in 1970. Kalyani (Marsha Todd) also performed Kriyananda’s music there and at other venues. These performances were popular enough to be performed at two other locations locally, as well as in Reno, Nevada and Los Angeles, and at the Davis Whole Earth Festival.
From time to time swamis and spiritual leaders from other ashrams and other spiritual paths visited us at the Meditation Retreat. One of the first was Swami Chidananda from the Divine Life Society.
Chidananda embodied the concept of inner stillness by his deeply calm and joyful demeanor. When he visited the Farm he noted the debris left by the former property owner (and, yes, a little junk of our own, as well!), he advised us to clean it up, noting that allowing this debris to stay would attract lower astral energies. We’ve remembered that comment and have tried to follow his advice ever since.
Other spiritual leaders who visited included Swami Muktananda (mentioned above), Sant Keshavdas, Amar Jyoti, Indra Devi, Roy Eugene Davis, and Norman Paulsen.
From the Divine Life Society came Swamis Chidananda, Satchidananda, Venkateshananda, Hridayananda, and Vishnudevananda. After Venkateshananda’s visit in 1972 he wrote a very nice article about Ananda in Advance Magazine, stating high praise for Swami Kriyananda. Ananda is a tribute to his genius.