Ananda Intern Diary: Practical Idealism in Intentional Communities
Participating in Ananda’s labor environment throughout the summer thus far has helped me observe some similarities between the ethos of Ananda and Berea College, a small liberal arts college in Kentucky with 1,600 students, where I will graduate from in 2014. Berea, a work college that requires all students to work at least ten hours every week, maintains a commitment “to demonstrate that labor, mental and manual, has dignity as well as utility;” whether as a janitor or a team leader or a teaching assistant, students learn firsthand the importance of service through labor. By integrating its labor program into the overall academic environment, Berea promotes the understanding that every labor position is an important offering to the greater community; all labor is important, involves service, and should be treated with dignity.
I sense and observe very similar values within Ananda when it comes to labor – regardless of what the specific job may be, it is understood that each position of labor is an important service to the community and, in the view of Ananda, service to God and the spiritual growth of Ananda’s members. Labor is seen as an opportunity to serve something larger than one’s own self, rather than solely accumulating financial resources for the benefit of one person or a few people.
The importance of maintaining a positive and willing attitude throughout the trials of each day, whether through labor or another form of service, is an important component of Ananda’s spiritual philosophy. In Cities of Light, Swami Kriyananda offers a glimpse of what spiritual person ought to display throughout each day:
“The truly spiritual person displays common sense and practicality, high energy, an attitude of constant even-mindedness and cheerfulness, and an effort always to relate to any reality with which life presents him.” – Swami Kriyananda, Cities of Light
Perhaps easier said than done, at least for me! It is important for me to revert back to this lesson when any roadblock might appear.
Some roadblocks have managed to appear (imagine that) while investigating the possibility of Ananda offering an internship compatible with the U.S. State Department, which would open the door to sharing Ananda’s model and vision of communities with more individuals born outside of the United States.
There are numerous young foreign individuals who would hope to travel to Ananda Village to learn about the community’s structure and management, but have a very difficult time obtaining traditional travel visas. There are other visas which, when obtained, allow individuals foreign to the U.S. to engage in exchange visitor programs with organizations authorized and sanctioned by the U.S. State Department.
In order for some foreign individuals to travel to Ananda Village, then, Ananda would have to first develop an applicable internship or exchange program. Once such a program is in place, Ananda would then apply to the State Department to become an official program sponsor. While the idea looks reasonable on paper, there is no shortage of hurdles: the user manual on how to apply to become one such program sponsor through the State Department is 75 pages in length.
Positive attitude, positive attitude, positive attitude.
Thankfully, the environment of Ananda reminds me to take things one step at a time and remember that I am simply one piece of a puzzle not easily understood; everyone has their role to play and challenges will be found no matter what route is taken. In the case of developing an internship program suitable to be sponsored by the U.S. government, other feasible options (with shorter user manuals, of course) are being explored that might allow Ananda to host a compatible internship program without so many exhaustive requirements.
When dealing with user manuals, it is helpful to remember that there is no definitive user manual, constitution, or guidebook for starting or maintaining an intentional community. Swami Kriyananda’s book, Intentional Communities: How to Start Them and Why, reached its ninth edition in 1988 (when it was most recently published). Kriyananda’s 1988 edition of the book includes revisions and additions to his original 1968 Intentional Communities text. In short, Kriyananda’s vision for Ananda as a community evolved over time based on direct, practical experience.
Every intentional community will have unique attributes when it comes to formation, management, and expansion; depending on the state or country, legal code itself often dictates what forms an intentional community may feasibly take. Even individual Ananda communities around the world are quite unique when it comes to structure and physical management, but the underlying element of cooperation between Ananda’s communities, as Kriyananda intended, remains a priority of each Ananda community.
“Whatever the future holds, the spirit prevailing among the different communities should be the same as that which prevails among their individual members: cooperation.” – Swami Kriyananda, Intentional Communities (1988 edition)
Kriyananda’s ideal of utilizing communities as a tool to foster cooperation among humankind did not waver, but the physical reality of implementing and managing such communities certainly went through an evolutionary process based on practical experience and careful observation of Ananda’s communities.
I have begun to understand that ethics and values are much stronger when they can actually be practiced on a daily basis. A perfect example is how the ethics, or spiritual teachings, in Ananda are placed at the forefront of everyone’s striving for a deeper spiritual life. Values and ethics permeate the daily experience at any organization or community, whereas something such as a mission statement can become stagnant and even irrelevant if it is not reinforced through the daily actions and values of organization/community members. Ethics that are idealistic in a practical sense can serve not just as guidelines or potentially dogmatic expectations, but rather as tools to motivate and inspire people toward their highest potential.
Kriyananda maintained an intense focus on building and spreading intentional communities throughout his life, but did not get caught in a dogmatic trap dictating exactly how intentional communities must function. Rather, while focusing on his highest ideals, Kriyananda worked with daily realities in a practical manner to adjust and improve the physical means of attaining his vision of intentional communities. Kriyananda was not fond of the phrase, “the end justifies the means,” preferring instead, “the end tests the validity of the means.” The life work of Kriyananda surrounding intentional communities is a testament to the simple philosophy of practical idealism.
Fittingly enough, Ananda Village’s first master plan (drafted in 1976) codifies this vision of maintaining practical idealism throughout the operation and expansion of the community. Included in the ‘76 master plan is a “Goals” section, which concluded with the following final goal for Ananda Village:
To review our goals and ideals constantly, co-ordinating the actual experience with the vision, and adjusting the vision, where desirable, to the valid discoveries of experience. – 1976 Ananda Village Master Plan
Kriyananda faced many hurdles when forming the Ananda communities, but did not allow challenges to shake his conviction in the positive and attainable change cooperative community living could bring to the world. A permeating lesson for me, throughout the summer thus far, is the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and keeping the bigger picture in mind, no matter how long (or nonexistent) the user manual might be.