Q. You moved to Ananda Village in 1975. What prompted that?
A. I had been a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda and doing Kriya Yoga for three years. When I heard about Ananda Village, I decided to visit because I very much wanted to start a spiritual community based on Yogananda’s teachings.
I immediately recognized, however, upon meeting Swami Kriyananda, the kind of magnetism needed to found a successful community. I felt I could help build Ananda, but leadership required much more attunement and experience on the spiritual path, and in life, than I had at age twenty-three.
Q. When you moved to Ananda Village in 1975, you worked in the Ananda garden. Did you have an interest in gardening?
A. Yes. My supervisor in the garden was Haanel Cassidy, a Kriyaban and an expert in biodynamic gardening — Swami Kriyananda had invited him to move to Ananda in 1970 to start the garden.
Working under a master gardener like Haanel Cassidy was for me the answer to a prayer. I had always wanted to learn gardening and when I came to Ananda and realized that Haanel was the foremost expert on biodynamic gardening in the world, and also a Kriyaban, I knew Master had answered my prayer.
Q. What challenges did you face in the garden?
A. In 1975, the garden was still very small and underfunded. It was a huge challenge to undertake a garden at such a high elevation, with poor soil, and no money to build the infrastructure. Then, in 1976, the fire came and destroyed everything.
Those of us who could leave were urged to get outside jobs to help earn the money to rebuild. As gardeners, we wanted the garden to be much more than it was before the fire, and for that we needed water for irrigation (dams, pipes, sprinklers); the proper equipment (tractors, implements, backhoe); fencing to keep out the deer; and money for seeds.
So I worked in construction in San Francisco; others left to do tree planting or rice harvesting. As a garden staff we also did odd jobs for a fee. But we were still short of the money needed for big infrastructure items like a dam, which cost $20,000.
I prayed to Yogananda on how to raise the money for the dam and step by step followed his guidance. Using $5000 I had saved working as a contractor before moving to Ananda, I opened a futures trading account in precious metals by phone. I had no investment training but I would meditate on when to buy or sell, promising Master if he gave us the money, it would all go to the dam.
At one point there was a spike in the price of silver and I made $20,000. We built Nandi Dam that fall. Though the garden continued to have financial challenges, Master never guided me to do this again.
Q. Haanel Cassidy has been described as a “hard taskmaster with a heart of gold.” Was that your experience?
A. At Haanel’s passing in 1980, Swami Kriyananda said that the principal lesson Haanel shared with Ananda was “discipline.” He taught us that to be great you had to learn discipline. Most of us were not mature enough to understand the need for discipline. He sometimes called me “his wild Irishman,” but he knew that what I lacked in maturity I would make up for in effort and sincerity.
He required us to be prompt, to work hard, and to speak English correctly, and if we did these, he gave us absolute loyalty and friendship. We met each morning at 7:30 for our garden meetings; 7:31 was late. Often we would work for weeks on end without a day off, sometimes fourteen hours a day, but the wisdom and training he gave us has lasted a lifetime.
Q. In addition to self-discipline and intensity of effort, what else did you learn working in the garden?
A. The garden was a great environment to learn about humility and non-attachment. You could work a whole season and the deer, or a frost, could wipe out the entire crop in one night. It was a training in selfless service, in learning that God is the Doer and that He wants you to serve joyfully regardless of results.
Young apprentices usually found working in the garden very difficult. Only a small percentage would last a season, but the ones who did are still members of Ananda thirty years later.
Q. Did the challenges ever shake your faith?
A. When Haanel passed away, Swami Kriyananda asked me to be in charge of the garden. I asked myself: “Was I really ready to take over the garden?” “Whom do I ask for advice?” “Will I let Swamiji and the community down?”
Day by day, I realized that God was the Doer and that he could do things through me, if I let him. The miracles of the Ananda garden helped me understand that Yogananda was guiding this work and that all we had to do was cooperate with His “ray.” Because God always came through, my faith became stronger.
Q. How did God always “come through?”
A. God and Guru would give us what we needed for God’s work, but not for personal desires. It became clear we needed to attune to His will, not our desires, to activate the law of success. If we kept open to what He was trying to teach us, we found miracles at every turn.
Once, for example, we really needed a cultivating tool that was extremely rare in Northern California. We had only a quarter of the price of a new one, but through an ad in a Yuba City newspaper, we found a used one in almost new condition for exactly the $2,300 we had.
Another time an early storm soaked the garden and didn’t clear until sunset. It seemed certain the entire tomato crop would freeze — there was no way we could protect so many plants. We prayed deeply, giving it all into Guru’s hands, and went to sleep. That night a fog formed and kept the air temperature above freezing. No plants died.
Q. It sounds like working in the garden enhanced your sensitivity to nature and the unity of all life?
A. This was the greatest blessing of gardening, to see Divine Mother in everything, from the plants and flowers down to the insects and bacteria, and to realize how little our human efforts determine what happens in proportion to the wind, rain, sky and earth.
Through Kriya Yoga and Yogananda’s teachings we learn that we are connected to the Divine and a part of all that exists. So we always tried to see ourselves as channels for God’s blessings to work through these powerful natural forces so they could yield food for people. It was constantly uplifting to work in this consciousness. It gave us a dynamic awareness that God is the Doer.
Q. In 1986, you and your wife, Maria, who also worked in the garden, were asked to lead the Ananda Sacramento center. Did your garden experience prepare you for your new challenges?
A. Embracing the impossible challenge of the garden and having the experience of Yogananda’s grace bringing success was an invaluable spiritual lesson. The reality that God is the Doer became more and more ingrained. We left the garden ready for anything the Guru wanted of us.
Q. Some say that establishing the apartment complex community in Sacramento was another “impossible challenge.” Was Yogananda’s grace involved here?
A. At every turn. As we set out to find the “perfect” apartment complex for our Guru’s world brotherhood colony in Sacramento, we had a brainstorming session with future residents of the community. We listed everything we needed for the perfect community, ending up with thirty-seven items: close to the American River; places for outside Sunday services; community temple and dining room; trees for shade and color; and so on.
Each day we prayed, said affirmations, and meditated, and then surrendered the project to Yogananda, asking him to guide us. We looked at 140 apartment complexes and when we found what is now Ananda Lane, it had 35 of the 37 things we told Master we wanted.
Q. You and Maria will be moving to Ananda Village in early 2009 to be leaders of a new “community within a community” consisting only of “young people.” Ananda Village has never had this kind of “separation” before. Why is it happening now?
A. Starting a community is a wonderful spiritual opportunity. The young disciples need the experience of starting something “from the ground up,” so they can learn what’s involved in building a community, and then pass it on to the next generation.
All of them now serve Ananda. But they need the chance to tune into the Guru’s plan for them, to feel his guidance, and to know they are just as capable as the young people at Ananda Village in the 60s and 70s.
Q. Will gardening be the focus of this community?
A. The direction the new community takes will come from the attunement and intuition of the young leaders. This will apply to every aspect of the community.
Q. What will you and Maria do?
A. We hope we can facilitate the process of starting the community and foster the Ananda vibration. What we will do day-to-day is entirely unknown. It is a new chapter in the history of Ananda, and Maria and I are very eager to see how it plays out.