While a good many of us remained at the Village for rebuilding, Swamiji also began to encourage us to go out into the cities and to share the teachings of Yogananda. One of the first things was the establishment of the first Ananda Center outside the Village, in Sacramento, California, only a couple of hours away.
Swami had begun teaching yoga in the 60s in the home of one of his students in Rancho Cordova, a Sacramento suburb. Later, in the early 70’s, more classes were taught by Swamiji and others at U.C. Davis, and the Davis meditation group was strong with Indira McSweeney and others
The First Ananda Sacramento Center
Swamiji had invited the monks to a dinner in Nevada City at a lovely historical restaurant in the center of town. This was a special treat to be with him in a new and colorful setting. Somewhere in the course of the meal the conversation began to heat up and Swami began talking about starting an Ananda Center in Sacramento. Within minutes we realized that he meant business and that one or more of us were about to see their lives drastically changed. We all looked down at our toes and began praying……”not me!” All we had known for years was Ananda Village, The Country, The Simple Life. Now….. The City?
Swamiji continued to ponder aloud….who could he send? Then, his gaze fell upon Vijay and me. The rest of the monks began to lift their heads….greatly relieved. It looked like the “storm” had passed, at least for them!
In the winter of 1977 Vijay and I loaded up our sparse belongings and headed to Sacramento. We had two ancient cars but we were grateful we didn’t have to walk. We settled for a few days at a friend’s house and began to look for a place to land. After a brief search we found a modest house in Sacramento on Boone Lane. It was a cozy, tree lined neighborhood, mostly olive trees, and it seemed like a good start.
We contacted the realtor, Carol Delzee, and began the rental negotiations.
“Do you have a deposit?” she asked.
“Well, not really” we replied
“How about the first and last months’ rent?”
“Well, actually, no”, we said as brightly as possible
Within minutes she gathered that we were obviously broke.
A wonderful and trusting lady, she allowed us to move in. As we left her office we said, “Please pray that we get the rent.” She said that she would, and we were launched.
Carol attended the Grand Opening in December and even brought flowers. Swamiji blessed the occasion too, coming down from the Village, bringing with him a big crowd. The place was packed and Ananda’s first city center was born.
During those early years Swami would often visit . We set up classes for him and took him to media interviews. There were many happy times. We renovated the garage into a temple, and offered Sunday Services, classes, Sunday School and special events. We didn’t know what we were doing, but somehow two years sped by and we were still standing! Money was scarce, so we did all kinds of creative things to keep going. People, including Vijay’s mom, donated furniture. We painted the three bedroom, two bath house, inside and out. Friends helped with a vegetable garden and the grounds kept us busy too. Wonderful souls attended the many events and classes, serving in every possible way. Some of the original Sacramento members are still with us today.
One day I was making cold calls using the Sacramento phone book, hoping to interest people in our yoga classes. A fellow answered and we began to talk. As it turned out, he had just attended one of Ananda’s programs and loved it. He became a regular, always brimming over with enthusiasm, and it wasn’t long before he took Kriya. The amazing thing was that I had called him by mistake! The Sacramento phone book was huge and I was still on the “A’s”. His last name was Zehnder! This became a favorite story at the center: “How Jeff Zehnder became a Kriyaban”. …Haridas Blake
Whenever Haridas and I had a crisis of any kind we always prayed about it. And our prayers always brought a response from the universe. We experienced that God definitely has a sense of humor. We prayed for a car and someone donated a tiny sports car. We prayed for money to pay rent and somehow we always had just enough. We prayed for new people to come and slowly, but surely, they did. We prayed that God would help people through us, and in spite of our imperfections, we saw that people were touched by our sincere efforts.
During those early years we were just discovering how to be ministers. We learned that we didn’t have to carry people to God, but that we only had to walk along with them in the ways that Swamiji had inspired us. It was the totality of the Ananda way of life that drew people in. The blending of prayer, silence, meditation, service to others, joyful activities, and uplifting music all blended into a spiritual lifestyle that was so natural.
Haridas and I have been teased for years about turning the garage of our house on Boone Lane into a chapel and thus creating what has become
known as the “Garage of the Eternal Religion.” But I must confess that it really wasn’t our idea. In 1972, Swamiji took a group of us to Reno, Nevada, to put on a performance of his play Jewel in the Lotus. In Reno we stayed at the home of Satya’s son. Doug and his wife were the leaders of the local SRF meditation group and they had turned their garage into a chapel. It was a very practical and cost effective solution to our need for a place where we could have services, meditations and classes. However, I don’t remember their chapel having a washer and dryer in the back the way ours did!
When we finally left Sacramento for other assignments in 1980 we had enough stories to fill a small book. It’s been a blessing to watch the center grow over the years into what it is today, one of Ananda’s lovely colonies.”
Growing the center
Eventually the center moved around the corner to 4343 Marconi, where it remained through the next decade.
On September 12, 1991, Swamiji’s spiritual anniversary, Ananda Sacramento finally got its community. We had been looking at apartment complexes for 3.5 years, eventually seeing 140 of them in the Sacramento area. We had a brainstorming session one day and listed everything we wanted Divine Mother to give us so the community could not only be our home but also a place where we could serve everyone interested in our teachings. Our list included an outdoor temple, community temple, garden space, pool, places to grow flowers, lots of trees, land near the river, places to grow vegetables, a mandir close by, privacy, fruit trees, a place to have a community dining room with a big lawn for outdoor meals, tennis courts, basketball courts, and more. We asked Master to provide us all these things, not for ourselves, but for those who would come. When we got the property, it had everything on the list or had room for us to build it.
Our new community was 48 units on 3.5 acres of land in Rancho Cordova, and was purchased by Ananda Sacramento and a group of many other Ananda Sanghis. The man who sold us the property was very wealthy, but had let the property deteriorate, pocketing the rent money each month without making repairs or improvements. The lawns and landscaping were dead, and the trees were stressed from lack of water and pruning. When the deal was done and we and we were ready to take it over, he said to me, “Ananta, this place is going to look really wonderful once you take care of it!” (I had to admit I wondered why he had never done so.)
We moved into the complex in October and began fixing up the apartments. The entire complex needed paint and plumbing and sprinklers and landscaping, but that allowed us to purchase it, since we were long on energy and short on cash. One day, we invited Ananda Village and Palo Alto to come join us for a giant workday. When I told a painting contractor friend that we were going to paint the buildings the following Saturday, he thought we might be able to paint one in a day. We painted 10. Satya, Dave Bingham, Vidura and about 60 others had a really fun day and put a lot of paint on a lot of old buildings.
At the time we rented space In a nearby office complex for our center where we held classes and Sunday services. Later, on Swamiji’s spiritual anniversary, September 12, 2005, we purchased a former mortuary and converted it to our new mandir (temple).
We held the dedication in the spring of 2006, and when the mandir was blessed with 3 Aums, the room vibrated with the presence of the Masters so strongly, it was as if Swami and Master and Babaji were present. Everyone I have talked to about the dedication noted how strong the vibration of the Masters was at that moment.”