In 2006, Swami Kriyananda wrote the 12 Precepts of Evening Hospice. When I first read them I was stunned. It was obvious that these 12 precepts were not just something that you would want to address at end of life, but in fact, were guidelines for living!
In a letter Swami sent out he stated:
“The word ‘hospice’ is defined in my dictionary differently from modern usage. It means, ‘A lodging for travelers, especially one kept by a religious order.’ Why ‘Evening Hospice?’ Because alternative words, (twilight, sunset), suggest a sense of loss.
“Evening Hospice will be a place of retirement for elderly people. Every effort will be made to make it a true, alternate home for them.
“A frequently repeated theme in the Bhagavad-Gita is the importance of preparing for death. Death is the ‘final exam’ of life. In old age, especially, people should be readied for their final exit into a better world, a better future — and, if possible, liberation from all earthly ties.
“Counseling should be given both to groups and to individuals with a view to helping them in the following ways:
1. To face the past;
2. To relinquish attachments;
3. To accept past errors without regret as simple facts, trying to see that
It was God, through their imperfect understanding, who did it all;
4. To release the grip of ego-consciousness;
5. To release, one by one, every desire and attachment into the
6. To offer every regret into God’s love and Infinite Consciousness;
7. To forgive past hurts and betrayals;
8. To give out universal love to everyone, even to so-called enemies;
9. To help them see that everyone is motivated, however misguidedly,
by the same soul-craving for Satchidanandam;
10. To concentrate on infinity;
11. To practice devotion;
12. To learn to overcome fear by realizing that we are not this body.”
Swami saw Evening Hospice not as something to engage in the last six months before your transition, but as a place where a person could live with assistance and be supported in their spiritual quest during, perhaps, the most important time of their life. Evening Hospice is a conscious way of living where an individual can address these precepts in a supportive environment.
Spurred on by Swami Kriyananda’s Evening Hospice, Ananda House at Laurelwood was founded to meet this particular need. At the time of its inception, during the summer of 2010, Mari and I were living at the Portland Community. Ananda had just aquired Ananda Laurelwood Campus and many of the weekends were filled volunteering to spruce up the buildings and prepare it to become a retreat facility and college. It was and is an inspired time of start up energy.
On one such day a friend of mine pointed out a house across the street from the campus that was available for adult care living. For much of my time in Oregon I have been advocating for some way to support our elders in their physical as well as emotional and spiritual needs. The community was working to some extent. Myself and other nurses in the would help coordinate care, meals, transportation and medical visits for those in need. But it was always a stop gap measure. At some point some of our elders were needing more than the occasional volunteer. They really needed in home assistance.
As I was gazing across the street at this house an old dream rushed through my brain. In the dream I was sitting in a chair on a hill where just such a house was. From my vantage point I could see young adults, seniors, and even children. I felt a deep sense of peace, joy, and harmony. Now, looking at this home the words came to me “This is your work to do, and if you don’t, you will be making a spiritual mistake.” And thus the project began.
Without any advance planning we were able to secure this “fixer upper” home with five bedrooms and a “bonus room” all within 30 days. In over 40 years, I had not used my VA loan bennifit so we had instant financing. I continued to work full time as a hospice supervisor by day, and general handyman by night. The hours were long but we had a great amount of support from our community and friends. We had many workdays to help get us up and running. Many hands truly were making this dream miracle come true.
Our first two residents were Joe Gamble and Gyandevi Fuller. Joe had been in SRF when Swami was in charge of the monks and Gyandevi had been a long time member of Ananda Village. Soon after their coming Lynne Shirley joined us. Lynne had been our church secretary and teacher at our Living Wisdom School. Lynne was already in an assisted living situation when she broke her hip ending up in the hospital. I had been in conversation with Robin, Lynnes daughter and now seemed like the perfect time to come to Ananda House. In a very short period of time we were full to capacity and trying to stay open to the momentum of grace that was pouring forth.
On our 2nd year Anniversary, Swami Kriyananda came to visit, and blessed our home with his presence. He walked along the garden paths, and then spent time with all of us. He was radiant in his aura, so kind in his demeanor. He was pleased to see his ideas put into action, and enjoyed spending time with old friends in God.
As a religious order we pray and meditate daily, attempting to commune with our highest potential in God. Using Swami’s precepts, we address our lives and the lives of our residents as consciously and compassionately as we are able. We strive to support each other in our quest to face our past, relinquish attachments, accept past errors and forgive past hurts. We attempt to give universal love to everyone, concentrate on Infinity, practice devotion and learn to overcome fear.
Living consciously is both a blessing and a challenge. When you live consciously, you become more aware, both of the blessings surrounding you everyday, and also the challenges you face with your own reactivity and over whelm. It becomes clear, that the only way to find happiness is to see your connection with all individuals and environs in God.
I once asked Swami about the third precept, “to accept past errors without regret as simple facts, trying to see that it was God, through our imperfect understanding, who did it all.” I was questioning our accountability in past errors. His response was, of course, that we are responsible for past error (that is why we have karma). But it is one thing to understand that all is God, and quite another to “realize” that all is God.
Living and working together in this ashram setting, everyone has plenty of opportunities to “rub off the rough spots” in our own understanding and spiritual growth. It is the greatest way I know to live, if you want to make spiritual progress. It is not an easy way to live, though. You must have the strength and courage, as Yogananda’s disciple, Sister Gyanamata told us, to “see yourself in the cold light of day.” And then commit to doing the internal work necessary to make the changes required to find God in this lifetime. That is what makes this work a ministry. It is not just about caring for our elders. It is about caring to support our elders and ourselves in the work of transformation that has been given to all of us to do. Living in community is a time-tested way to give us the lessons we need to learn to commune with the God within each one of us.
I wanted to share with you a prayer that I carry with me and repeat daily. It is inspired by Swami Kriyananda’s 12 Precepts of Evening Hospice.
May I have the courage and wisdom to face the past;
May I offer every regret into God’s Love and Infinite Consciousness;
May I accept past errors as simple facts, trying to see that it was God, through my imperfect understanding, who did it all;
May I relinquish all attachments;
May I release the grip of ego-consciousness;
May I release, one by one, every desire and attachment into the Supreme Bliss;
May I forgive past hurts and betrayals;
May I give universal love to everyone, even to so-called enemies;
May I see that everyone is motivated, however misguidedly, by the same soul-craving for Satchitananda (Ever Existing, Ever Conscious, Ever New Bliss);
May I concentrate on Infinity, practice devotion, and learn to overcome fear by realizing that I am not this body or personality, but a unique aspect of the divine, finding my way home.
Aum, peace, amen.