Perhaps the quickest way to gain an insightful glance into an organization or community is through their procedure (or lack thereof) to become a member of the respective organization. Not too long ago, during my senior year at Ananda Living Wisdom High School, I was churning out college applications to schools around the country (eight in total). Most colleges have their own questions they like prospective students to answer before they can be considered for admission, which can be a begrudging detail for students who would prefer to use the same one or two essays (or other materials) for every college application. Similarly, every employer has their own unique screening processes put in place to vet potential employees. Whether a college, a business, or anything in between, organizations very rarely will allow anyone off the street to waltz in and become a member of that organization. Why should an intentional community be any different when it comes to membership?
The membership process for a community such as Ananda should not appear so insurmountable so as to ward off individuals. Swami Kriyananda acknowledges this point in his book Intentional Communities:
“A common failing of new communities has been the tendency to demand too radical a change of their members.” – Swami Kriyananda, Intentional Communities (1988 edition)
In a larger sense, most communities exist to serve people in one form or another, whether it be spiritually, culturally, agriculturally, or a combination of these and other qualities. Communities unsympathetic to the realities of current or potential members will, quite likely, fail. People are not perfect, and it is unreasonable to assume that a communal or economic structure alone will mold people into a certain image. A community’s membership process should be surmountable to those willing to put out the energy and make the necessary changes to enter the setting of an intentional community.
The membership process at Ananda Village is all too familiar for current residents, but it is not something to overlook as a mere technicality. In the early days of Ananda Village, the membership process was not so coordinated. Nayaswami Jaya Helin, a founding member of Ananda who met Kriyananda in 1968, jokes that once you walked into the community’s entrance and chanted AUM… voila! You were an Ananda member. After a couple years of a loose and nearly nonexistent membership policy, Ananda members held a community meeting and agreed that a more coordinated membership process would be beneficial for the community and its members. The Village’s membership process was refined and formalized further over the next several decades.
The membership or application process for an organization, or community such as Ananda, is a direct reflection of the values and intentions of an organization. Before becoming an Ananda member, one undergoes an intensive experience living as a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, lives and works with fellow disciples, and lives in a group home for one year (a microcosm of community life).
“While members of the community should be granted a right to have homes of their own, however, newcomers might well be required to live communally for the first year. Objectionable characteristics would be more quickly observable.” – Swami Kriyananda, Intentional Communities (1988 edition)
Ananda’s gradual process of becoming a member ensures that individuals learn the essentials of ongoing daily spiritual practice as well as the ins and outs of living in an intentional community setting.
In other words, you want to be sure that the people moving to the community know what they are getting into, are willing and able to live in this unique environment, and are ready to commit to the necessary steps of living with fellow community members. Just as a university will have its own “admissions” criteria, it is sensible for an intentional community to have a set of procedures for someone interested in becoming a community member. This is both for the well-being of the individual as well as the community: there is no sense pushing an individual into a community setting unprepared, nor is it fair to existing members to have a new member who is unwilling to commit to community expectations.
Some communities will require a more stringent membership policy than others, primarily depending on the end goal or purpose of the community. A turn-off for individuals interested in becoming members can be a statement such as, “Sorry, our community is at maximum capacity right now. Feel free to apply for membership and be placed on our waiting list.” If someone is interested in becoming a member of your community, give them some support! Ananda offers a variety of alternatives for interested individuals if there are currently limited options for membership in Ananda Village or one of the other communities. There is little sense for most communities in discouraging potential future members; meet their energy and willingness halfway, even if there might be limited membership options presently.
For intensive intentional communities such as Ananda, it is beneficial both to the community and potential members to utilize a gradual membership process. The culmination of Ananda Village’s membership process tends to take at least two years. Cite Ecologique, an intentional community based in Quebec and New Hampshire, has a membership process that typically won’t be until completed until after a minimum of three years. Membership is the gateway from the outside world into the full inner workings of a community, and serves as the means by which an individual becomes fully integrated with the expectations and intentions of the community. So far as the practical workings of intentional communities are concerned, some sort of formal membership process can be a helpful way to ease newcomers to the community’s way of life.
While the membership process has been formalized and adjusted in different ways over the years, this statement from Ananda Village’s original 1976 master plan summarizes the benefits of the community’s membership procedures:
Incoming members are carefully screened to assure that they are in tune with the ideals, especially spiritual, of Ananda. There is a waiting period of from one to six months during which “potential members” and the community at large have a chance to get thoroughly acquainted. This period of transition has been essential for the stability of Ananda. – 1976 Ananda Village Master Plan