I’ve lived in quite a few Ananda communities and centers over the years. While reflecting on my experiences, the thought occurred to me that Ananda is not a place, but rather, a choice.
Let me explain.
My first experience of Ananda took place in 1975, when I was in my teens. I had flown to California from Ohio with two friends. We took a taxi ride from the Sacramento airport up the long road to Ananda Village.
When I first set foot on the land I suddenly felt that, for the first time in my life, I was home. I remember sitting on the lawn holding an orange in my hand and feeling this energy flowing through me. I felt no need to go anywhere or do anything; for the first time in my life, I was completely content.
I was not very old, but already I had experienced enough of life to know that everything people told me would lead to fulfillment only brought emptiness.
I stayed at Ananda for five wonderful weeks, then returned to Ohio.
The following year, one of my friends and I had an inspiration. We decided to return to the Ananda area and live like hermits down by the Yuba River.
We had come to know the river fairly well the year before, walking down the old dirt road (“Sunset Boulevard”) that leads to it from behind the Ananda Meditation Retreat.
In those days that section of the Yuba River was beautiful and pristine. The water was crystal clear, pure enough to drink. There was no one around and we camped right beside the rushing river.
Well, the Yuba was pristine, but unfortunately, we weren’t.
We had brought with us all our worldly habits, our old ways of thinking and behaving, and before long, our experiment with living like spiritual hermits had become a joke.
One morning I sat in my tent to meditate and the thought came to me: “This isn’t what I came here for. I came here to find God.”
In that moment, I remembered clearly the experience I’d had the year before at Ananda Village, the feeling of God and Guru’s grace flowing through me.
Holding onto that memory, I stood up from my meditation seat, left my tent and marched up the steep and winding path to the Meditation Retreat.
My mind and heart were focused on God and Guru. I was returning to the source of my inspiration. Walking up that hill, I felt like Master’s soldier. Arriving at the Retreat, I had a long meditation.
After that, things changed pretty quickly. A short while later I was back in a yoga program at Ananda Village. At the end of that summer, I took kriya initiation. Next year, I moved to the Village.
But it all came about because of what I had felt inside, and my reaction to it.
Those of you who are reading this may have had a similar experience.
And so I’d like to ask you now to pause for a moment, and remember the first experience you had of Yogananda’s grace. How his transforming love and energy came into your heart; how he spoke to your soul, and how you responded to him.
This is Ananda.
This is what binds us together. This is what we are celebrating today.
Ananda isn’t a place. Ananda is a choice.
As Swami Kriyananda has written, “God chooses those who choose him.”