I’m Prem Das Sills, a devotee and disciple of yoga master Paramahansa Yogananda. I have been a longtime member of Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), founded by Sri Yogananda in 1920. Currently, I am living in Northern California, just outside Nevada City. To be exact, I am living at Ananda Village.
Ananda is a cooperative and intentional spiritual community based on the ideals and precepts of Paramhansa Yogananda. It was founded over 40 years ago by Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters), a direct disciple of Yogananda and former monk in the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) monastic order.
In this blog, I will share my story of how I was led to Ananda, and my experiences and perceptions after my arrival. I will leave the subject of the collective history of Ananda, SRF and Swami Kriyanada to other publications already available and well written, and possibly to my own future blog posts.
Before now, I have not openly shared much about where I have been living for the last nine months. I was not ready or interested in dealing with some SRF folks’ negativity and criticism that tend to arise upon mention of Ananda. I now feel drawn to share my story and be open about my new home, as it seems to me that there are many who are interested in the underlying harmony that exists between devotees of Yogananda who belong to SRF and those in Ananda.
Until about a week before I arrived at Ananda Village, I never dreamed that I would even consider living here. I know now, without a shadow of a doubt, that my Guru, Paramahasa Yogananda, guided me here. After arriving, I immediately felt that at last, I’d finally come to a place on this planet where I feel at home. Yes, I am aware that on a deeper level this planet is not our ultimate home, however, we all must establish ourselves someplace while we live here.
I have been a practicing Kriyaban disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda, and loyal member and sometimes-employee of SRF since 1971. I have lived near and served at several SRF temples. In spring 2013, I lost my job in the art business and was looking for what to do next. During this time, I met a Yogananda devotee named Casey who lived just down the street from me in Encinitas, CA. Although Casey started out in SRF at Lake Shrine in the 1980s, he became involved with Ananda later and has a very beautiful little temple on his property in Encinitas called The Temple of Joy, which is the center for Ananda in Encinitas. Casey is also found occasionally attending services and meditations at the SRF Temple in Encinitas. I have often seen Casey and Bro. Bhumananda, the minister in charge of the Encinitas Temple, greeting each other warmly.
Casey and I met when I was out for a run and stopped to comment on how beautiful the little sculpture of Master (Yogananda) was in his front yard. We had a great conversation and he showed me the temple, and we quickly became good friends. He even provided me with some temporary work helping him with a project. As I was in transition at the time, he mentioned that Ananda Village has a Karma Yoga program where people can serve and stay there for a few months at their Expanding Light retreat facility. I did not consider it as an option; instead, the thought came to me that it would be great if I could move to the SRF Hidden Valley ashram. I knew they had a program for men that afforded one the opportunity to live and work at the ashram for up to two years as a resident lay disciple. I had to do something as my income was running out, work was not manifesting and rent was due!
I spoke with the head monk and administrator at Hidden Valley, Brother Ishtananda, whom I knew for many years. He was very enthusiastic for me to start the application process for the two-year resident program. In my mind, I was thinking that maybe Master would work it out that I could just stay there for the rest of my life!
Hidden Valley has a one-month karma yoga (service/work) program, which Brother suggested I participate in while waiting for my resident program application to go through. So in August 2013, I moved to Hidden Valley after selling or giving away many of my possessions. I was very happy to be there; it was so wonderful! All the monks and residents were happy I was there — especially Brother Devananda, the monk’s kirtan leader, as he now had a tabla player (me)!
Because of certain circumstances, my application was delayed and the monk at Mt. Washington (SRF’s International headquarters) who was in charge of the approvals was going on a speaking tour for several weeks. He said he would not be able to finalize my application before he left, so I couldn’t stay more than the initial four weeks. Bro. Ishtananda was not happy about that, so he arranged for me to stay in a room with other devotees, just off the property, who worked at Hidden Valley. I could continue to work, eat and meditate at the ashram. As the weeks went by, Bro. Ishtananda suggested I move back to the ashram until the Brother got back and we received what we assumed would be my application’s approval.
Once the Brother eventually returned, my application was denied because of an arcane rule that really did not apply to me in spirit but did on the face of certain facts (another story for another blog). This was still the decision even after Bros. Ishtananda, Devananda, Keshavananda (senior monks at Hidden Valley) and Bro. Bhumananda, minister in charge at Encinitas Temple, signed a memo stating that they enthusiastically supported me in staying at the ashram, that I was an asset to the ashram and fit there perfectly. Bro. Ishtananda told me that the Personnel Dept. said that if they make an exception for one person, they might have to make it for others and they were not willing to do that. This is unfortunately, one of the problems with how the organization works.
I had to leave after living there and successfully integrating into ashram life for three months. I could not find work in the San Diego or Los Angeles areas, but I did find there were opportunities in Maui, HI, as I had previously lived there. I sold my car and used the rest of my savings to move to Hawaii. Interestingly, my friend Casey strongly advised against this and said I really should consider going up to Ananda for a while. He was right, but I was not yet ready.
I went to Maui and although I had a job, a place to live and a car, the whole thing turned out to be a disaster. The job and people I worked for were not what they seemed in the interview process, my living situation turned into a horrible tamasic (dark and degrading) environment, and my used car that I bought there broke down completely. I had to walk and bus to work, I couldn’t get to the meditation group, and it rained for three weeks straight!
I became a bit shaken by all this (an understatement!). A friend of a friend talked with me and observed that Hawaii was not working out, and asked if I had the resources to leave. I did. She asked me where I had been happy. I had told her the story of Hidden Valley and said I was really happy living in a spiritual community. She asked if there were other communities that followed my spiritual path that I could go to. Like a huge light going off, I said, “Yes there is! A place called Ananda!” (This turns out is the title of a great book about the history of Ananda).
I called Casey who said he would contact people he knew at Ananda and tell them about me. The woman who was essentially coaching me through this process (an angel!) suggested we call ourselves. I called and spoke with the Director of the Karma Yoga program for a long time and he finally said, “Prem Das, we would love to have you here.” There were financial considerations, which I mentioned to him at this point. He said that interestingly, they have not had any scholarship funds for the program available for years but a little had recently become available. He needed to check to see if a room and funds were available and would call me back. It turned out both were! Although a bit nervous about going to Ananda, I flew back to Encinitas in February of this year to get my winter clothes that were stored at my brother’s house and took a Greyhound bus to Ananda Village in Northern California.
As soon as I stepped foot on this beautiful land, I felt that I had come home.
Subsequently, what I found here was wonderfully surprising and inspiring. This is an entire village of dedicated, sincere, enthusiastic Kriyaban disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda. It is a cooperative, intentional community totally based on Master’s teachings.
The subject of Swami Kriyananda came up occasionally during all the years I spent deeply involved in various capacities and locations with SRF — especially during the 12 years of SRF’s lawsuit against Ananda. My reaction during those occasions was always to withdraw from the conversation or energy. It was invariably very negative to such a degree that it did not feel like my Guru’s vibration. I was not interested in participating in that. So, upon my arrival at Ananda, I did not know much about Swami Kriyananda, the history of his time with Master or the circumstances of his removal from SRF. I was aware that if I was going to stay here I needed to know the facts.
During my time here I have intensively read, researched, interviewed people and looked at Swami Kriyananda’s life and the controversies surrounding him, and find that most of what has been said about him and Ananda in SRF circles and the press is not true or is very distorted. Please understand that I am looking at this from the point of view of one who was and is a loyal SRF member and disciple of our Guru for 44 years.
Whatever one thinks of Swami Kriyananda, who passed on in the spring of 2013, the legacy he left behind and the fruits of his work are undeniably good. The quote from the Bible, “To judge a tree by its fruit,” is very apt here. All one has to do is spend a little time with the people who have lived here for a long period of time and you get it. You will feel Master’s vibration in their sincere devotion. You will feel it in the music that is sung and played here frequently. You will feel it in the energy people put out to serve others and share the blessings they have received. You get that Yogananda could not be anything less than very pleased that His ideal of a World Brotherhood colony — a thriving, growing spiritual community — has manifested in a beautiful way.
I invite and encourage anyone reading this who might doubt the veracity of my words to come and see Ananda Village for yourself. Spend some time meditating, chanting and sharing time with the devotees here who, if you are in SRF, are truly your Gurubhais.
Swami Kriyananda always stated in his writings, talks and even in his last will and testament, that he wished for there to be harmony and cooperation between SRF and Ananda. The way that will happen is for us to share satsanga: Fellowship with Truth. The truth is that we are all in the same spiritual family; we are disciples of our line of Gurus and devotees of the Heavenly Father and Divine Mother.
Currently, I work at a small business called Ananda Woodworking, Inc., building meditation benches and altars for MeditationBench.com. I also work one day a week at Yogoata Dairy, the Village’s small goat dairy, with another devotee who was at the SRF San Diego temple for 17 years.
I play with our evolving kirtan groups at Ananda Village and everyone seems to really appreciate the tabla-playing.
I have found a place that feels more like home than any other place I have ever been.
Come visit sometime. There is a wonderful retreat facility here called The Expanding Light with beautiful accommodations for you to stay at, while enjoying vegetarian food and experiencing the joy that is manifest here at Ananda. I’d love to show you my new home.
Wow Prem Das, it is so good to see this on the Ananda web site so more people can hear your story. It is a joy to have your help with the goats. Jai Guru, great soul! Joy and Blessings, Virani (my name used to be Jackie Saar when I was at SRF temple for 17 years.)
Dear Prem Das, Master has placed you in a unique position. We are so very grateful for the loyalty and wisdom you have manifested through out your journey!
Thank you for your open mind….but more than this for your open heart to Truth and Love for God and Guru!
You are a Joy!
What a joy and blessing to have you here with us. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s always interesting to hear about the purposeful cosmic conspiracies that bring us together to share this ray of our path in Master’s light and joy. Blessings,
Prem Das, thanks for sharing your insight that has manifested throughout your journey! May your story inspire growing harmony and peace. :) Joy to you, dear friend!
Dear Prem Das Sill,
So happy that you have shared this wonderful experience at Ananda Community. Parmahansa Yoganandaji has advocated love and only love. Swami Kriyanandji was an embodiment of love – tender and loving – this is the thought that came to some of us who visited him in 2012 at the Pune ashram in India . Finally only love triumphs.
I have nothing to do with either ashrams though I have always loved to read and hear about the great Masters. We have a different Master -Guruji Shri Devadas Rao of Kinnigoli, Mangalore, India.
Yet I have been an avid reader of Swamiji’s books and have always prayed to Babaji’s line of Gurus, so the discord between SRF and Swamiji always was a prickly thorn.
So glad that you have discounted the vile things said about Swamiji. Praying that more of SRF members follow your example. Love is what is required for the world to exist.
What an interesting path you have trod to arrive at Ananda Village. I enjoyed reading of your experiences which led you to Ananda. It is my wish as well to experience an Ananda community in the coming year, and to share in the programs offered through Ananda which help to acquaint people with life there. Reading about the experiences of someone already living at Ananda is very helpful. Your article put a smile on my face too, knowing that you are now “home” and living a fruitful, productive life! May God and Master continue to bless you.
I really loved reading your blog. It is amazing to see how things worked out for you. Sometimes we plan things one way and do not know why our plans fail. However, if only we could remember that God has His own plans for us, we would not fret. Finally, Master brought you where He obviously needs you. I am sure you would have been of great help to SRF, too, but looks like Ananda needs you. I go to an Ananda group in Michigan. It was started by a wonderful person named Lorne Dekun. He passed away in 2013 and you may or may not have known him. I am grateful to him for bringing me close to Master. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
Dear Prem Das Sill,
Thank you for posting your story about how you came to Ananda. I am a student of the Ananda Home Study Course and your story re-enforces my feeling that I am on the right path. I hope to visit Ananda Village soon. I am also a musician and play the Mandolin. I love sound of the Tablas and find it interesting that you know how to play them. I have some but the heads are broken. Do you know how much it costs to rehead Tablas? Thanks again for sharing your story. It seems you have found where your are suppose to be.
What a beautiful expression of what I also experienced at Ananda. I was also an SRF devotee in 1972 and loved attending services at Lake Shrine. Since I had a young daughter I was not able to fully join into and live with other devotees. I remember I felt closest to Brother Turiananda at Lake Shrine. It felt like he spoke directly to my heart on many occasions. Then in the 80s I got married and moved to Middletown where I had to go to more main line churches for my spiritual growth. There were two lady ministers who really stirred my heart with their sermons but when they finished all I wanted to do was take those feelings into meditation while everyone else wanted to go get coffee and socialize.
After my marriage dissolved and my daughter left home, a friend reminded me about Ananda. I had heard their choir many years prior back in LA and fell in love with the idea of community. So I decided to go to their Christmas retreat. Just like you, while driving into Ananda Village, I had the over powering feeling of coming home!
As soon as possible I went back for a month long Meditation retreat, applied for Monastic Training Program and was accepted. I heard that there was some bad feelings between SRF and Ananda so I decided I would ask Brother Turiananda what he thought the next time I was in LA. Not long after that I was sitting at a table at the Expanding Light talking with some other devotees when one of them mentioned Brother Turiananda had passed away. Another devotee immediately said that was unfortunate because he was one of the only monks who appreciated Ananda Village. It felt like he was there with me patting me on the head and saying it was alright.
My employer at the time needed my help through a lawsuit that took almost another year. Finally in the early 90s I was there at Seclusion Retreat for the year long Monastic Training. It was wonderful! Seclusion Retreat has a very high spiritual vibration. The first 3 months were fully devoted to the teachings of Yogananda and let completely immerse myself in God. I lived at various Ananda communities for the next 15-16 years.
When my daughter gave birth I moved back to LA to help her raise my grand daughter and have been here for 6 years. But your blog, which happens to be my very first blog, has made me feel homesick for the community that was my only true home.
Many joyous blessings to you
Thank you for sharing your inspiring story Prem Das. Master came to me through SRF and I am very grateful for the time I spent worshiping at the temple Kamala started in Richmond, CA. I did not know about Ananda or Swami Kriyananda until I moved back to my home state of RI in 2003, and found the Ananda Rhode Island center practically in my backyard! We are all Master’s children and like Swami, I truly believe he wants love, harmony and divine friendship between all his devotee’s. I am happy that our Ananda Center in RI has several longtime SRF members who come to our weekly sunday service and other events. They have come to love Swami Kriyananda’s music and wisdom. We have become dear spiritual friends and gurubais, united by our shared love of God and Guru.
What a refreshing read. Thank you. Though I wish not to have to say this, in my search for a community here in South Florida,I went to a SRF Center, left quite disheartened. How I long for a spiritual family connection. Currently I am trying to find an affordable property to my own community. I can always earn a living selling my medicinal herbs. I offer no resistence to what presents itself to me, I only reflect and expect my self to continue its spiritual evolution. Be blessed and live with gratitude.