My first thought had been to let others come and build near me. Matters didn’t turn out so simply, however. This step would have meant, for most people, a major commitment. To me, the commitment seemed quite simple, but then, they hadn’t been through years of mental and spiritual preparation for it as I had. In fairness to my friends, moreover, they didn’t lose interest, as others had done so quickly when I was fifteen. These ones, at least, were ready to ponder the proposition.
Putting myself in their shoes, I realize now that the decision can’t have been easy for any of them. There were other challenges involved than a mere change of life style. For one thing, even if people saw anything in me that inspired faith, I always made it clear to them that I didn’t want a personal following. I hoped that those who came would be, or would become, followers of Paramhansa Yogananda. Complicating this expectation was the fact that I refused to make claims for myself as a disciple. I never “talked down” to others or reminded them they should listen to me because I was older and more experienced than they, or because I was a direct disciple who had known Yogananda and been trained by him personally. If sweet reason can’t prevail, I thought, I won’t claim superior insight. And if they can’t see the truth for themselves, I will attempt only to sway them with reasons they should be able to understand. To respond to their challenges in such a way as to strip them of all defenses would, I felt, be both cowardly and unfair. I had already seen that such comportment not only silenced well-meant objections, but effectively suppressed creative thought.
I spoke well of SRF. If anyone asked me, I answered frankly that I was not in SRF’s good graces: that, rather, I was persona non grata at Mt. Washington and in their churches. As I reflect back now, I realize that the inducement I was offering people to join Ananda wasn’t much. SRF’s headquarters were in southern California, relatively nearby. Daya Mata herself had been outraged by the fact that I’d moved to my parents’ home in Atherton. She’d accused me: “You’ve settled practically on our front doorstep!” Anyone could travel easily from northern California to Los Angeles and personally check my bona fides. And anyone who went there could ascertain, as I told them they would, that no such bona fides existed. No one I knew, moreover, was in a position to declare from years of experience that I was trustworthy, honorable, and sincere.
One might ask, whimsically, whether I actually wanted to make membership at Ananda difficult. It seems to me now that what helped me most was SRF’s utter certainty that I would fail anyway at whatever I attempted. It was also a help that some SRF representatives spoke of me so heatedly. No fair-minded person likes to hear people berated emotionally. In fact, people who knew me even superficially couldn’t believe the accusations against me, particularly since few of those accusers were willing to be specific. Some who were willing resorted to outright invention: “He absconded with the organization’s funds”; or, “He left in a huff because Daya Mata told him he couldn’t start a community.” Most of the accusations were vague: “If you only knew what he did!”-this, said with a shocked expression. And when anyone asked for particulars, the answer was the same: “Oh, if you only knew!” In fact, my most aggressive critics had no real explanation to offer. They themselves had been as aghast as I at my fall from grace. Officially, the policy was tight-lipped silence.
I wanted the members of Ananda to be devotees of Paramhansa Yogananda. In time, I asked them also to look upon themselves as his disciples. I refused to pretend anything. My desire was to serve Master, not to do him a disservice by claiming a false relationship to him or by pretending to be in SRF’s good graces, nor by talking against his organization.
The first question in people’s minds, naturally, was, “Who is this Kriyananda that we should listen to him?” I never answered that question. Rather, I let them answer it for themselves, on the basis of what they saw and experienced in their association with me.
These conditions for founding Ananda as a community were unquestionably daunting. Almost more daunting, however, was my first formal attempt at interesting people in the venture.
I held a meeting in my apartment, inviting friends who I thought might be interested. Others came, uninvited, claiming the right to be involved because they were interested. The presence of these people, some of whom I hardly knew, was far from helpful except in the negative sense that it gave me some idea of what I was letting myself in for.
“How do we know you’re on the level?” demanded one.
“If you start something this big, you’ll forget all about your ideal of serving humanity.”
“I know a teacher from India who got so involved in building such a place that he lost his inner peace. Today, he’s a MONSTER!”
“Think of it, everyone. If Kriyananda really wanted to draw us into this thing as partners, why didn’t he call this meeting sooner?”
The only thing to do at this point was serve tea and cookies.
The meeting was not a total disaster, however, for it convinced me that I must explain my concepts in writing. Mere talk, with people bursting in and declaring their own ideas on a subject I’d been pondering since I was fifteen, would prevent any clear picture from emerging of what I had in mind.
I left for the property, accordingly, and stayed there in a tent for one week. There I went over the notes and reflections I’d gathered over many years, and arranged them into coherent order. I took long walks, hammering these ideas out in my mind as though I were a mental blacksmith, then polishing them till they shone. As I worked over my concepts, I wrote them into a book, Cooperative Communities-How to Start Them, and Why. On returning to the city, I published this book in a loose-leaf format, and offered it to people who were interested in the idea. I then gave them time to reflect, before broaching the subject again.
Interested persons, I realized, needed also the reassurance of something concrete, something already happening. One of the obstacles to starting any new venture is usually that it requires people. If one hasn’t money, one can’t hire them. How then can they be attracted? Most people want to see a thing actually functioning before they’ll put energy into it.
The best way to begin under the present circumstances, I decided, would be first to create a meditation retreat, where people could visit and get a feeling for the place and for the sorts it attracted. By creating a spiritual vortex of energy, a retreat would, above all, clarify the principles on which Ananda would function as a community. Ananda is 180 miles from San Francisco. This distance too was a daunting factor. Still, it was the best I could offer.
I had reached the conclusion, by means which the tactful reader will no doubt view with surprise, that I was not cut out to be a carpenter. Nor, unfortunately, were any of my friends. However, my classes were by this time earning a fair amount of money. Donations also were starting to trickle in. I now had, including stocks my father had given me over the years, about sixteen thousands dollars-enough, I decided, to hire professional help.
I still wanted geodesic domes. The only company I’d found that made them remained that tool manufacturing firm, whose domes had reminded me of toadstools. I bowed to the inevitable. At least these were something I could afford.
Joan Forest, a friend from Bridge Mountain, recommended as foreman for this job the man who had built her own home. The man assured me he could finish the project in two weeks. He wanted two other professional carpenters to help him. Friends of mine worked with him also, at reduced wages. And a number of local high school children agreed to work for a dollar an hour. Even these low wages added to $1,000 a week: to me, a fortune. Worse was to come, however. Two weeks passed, and even the foundations were not completed. The project took two and a half months in all, not the two weeks promised. Long before that time, I ran out of money.
I’d hoped to get a bank loan to meet emergencies. At my own branch of Bank of America, however, the loan officer refused to give me even a penny. This was a major blow. Five buildings were under construction: a temple; a common dome combining a kitchen, a dining room, and a living room; a bath house for men and for women; an office-cum-reception center; and my own home. It was imperative that these buildings be completed before the winter storms. Instead, the foreman and one of his professional helpers walked off the job. The third one remained with us, but I still had outstanding bills in the amount of thousands of dollars. Completion of the construction was to cost me, in the end, another $12,000.
I persuaded my creditors to accept partial monthly payments. Happily for me they agreed, since I’d always been prompt in my payments. Even so, the least I could get them to accept totaled $2,500 a month, for five months. This was a staggering sum, especially when one considers that the dollar in those days was worth a great deal more than it is now.
I was screwing up the courage to face this predicament, when Hills Flat Lumber Co., the firm that had sold me all my lumber (except for the pre-fabs), placed a lien on the property. Pardini, the owner, had, like the others, expressed willingness to accept partial monthly payments, and I’d been adhering to our agreement faithfully. Why was he now breaking his word? Anyway, I now learned what a lien was! Years in a monastery had not prepared me for certain things.
In addition to those monthly payments, I had all my usual expenses: apartment, car, correspondence, class promotions, travel to and from the classes, food, and so on. Years in a monastery had not prepared me for these things, either!
Or had they? Knowledge alone could not have helped me over this hurdle. The only thing that works in a real crisis, I’ve discovered, is faith in God. I plunged in, did the best I could, and placed the outcome firmly in His hands.
More students than ever enrolled in my classes. Friends also helped generously, even nobly. Every month, though sometimes with very little to spare, I met every commitment.
Some time earlier, I’d been teaching at North Point, an apartment complex in the North Beach district of San Francisco. A young woman in the class had attracted my attention. Her eyes were unhappy. She seemed to be thinking, “What is this life all about? Why does it seem so empty and meaningless?” She was, I felt, in real need of spiritual understanding. Her name was Sonia Wiberg.
In time, Sonia dedicated herself, as Jyotish had done, to serving Master with me. In the evenings, while I was giving classes to earn the money for Ananda’s development, she would come to my apartment and typeset Cooperative Communities-How to Start Them, and Why. I had a “C” model IBM typewriter-nothing fancy, but usable for the purpose. She would carefully count out the “numerical value” of each letter-five points for every “m,” one for every “l”-and the spaces before typing in each line, in order to make the right margin as straight as the left one. Thanks to her, the book appeared at last in a suitable format for bookstores. It wasn’t high-class in appearance, but people who were interested in the subject began buying it in increasing numbers. In time, this book actually became a classic in its field-if only because in that field it stood alone! No one else, to my knowledge, has ever addressed this subject specifically in a “how-to” manner.
When Sonia moved to Ananda in 1970, I gave her the spiritual name, “Seva.” Her presence there-steadfast, regular, and always cheerful-was crucial to Ananda’s early development. She had been the acting office manager at Rex Allen Associates, an architectural firm in San Francisco, and had brought them out of indebtedness into solvency.
In the fall of 1968, however, she was still not certain as to her directions. She and a friend of hers, Arlene, faithfully attended my classes. When Seva (as I’ll call her from now on) heard of my financial straits, she offered to lend me $2,000. A man in Texas, also, the owner of a guitar store, kindly sent me a donation of $1,000.
I’d hoped my father would help, but he considered the venture unrealistic and would have nothing to do with it. In fact, none of my relatives had any faith in the venture. Even my mother described it teasingly as “land fever.” One relative by marriage denounced the venture as “hair-brained.” Another, a successful businessman, pontificated at length, whenever I gave him the opportunity, about my need to get my feet on the ground. Generally, in fact, anyone with experience in the world treated me as though I were a child, touchingly unsophisticated and naive.
Meanwhile, I received a letter from Leo Todd, the lawyer for Hills Flat Lumber Company, informing me that if I didn’t pay off my entire debt within two weeks, they would foreclose.
I telephoned Pardini. “Well, Don,” he replied defensively (I’d made the mistake of thinking we were friends), “you see, a person has to be practical.” What, in his vocabulary, did “practical” mean: greedy? I’d been honoring our agreement. Worldly people, however, don’t always think in terms of honoring their word, or of being generous, or simply honorable. “Look out for number one” is their motto. I prayed that Ananda would be an inspiration to others to seek high-minded alternatives to cut-throat business wheeling and dealing. In fact, it has been gratifying to see how many business people have benefited from Ananda’s example of concern for others.
“I don’t know anything about an agreement!” raged Leo Todd when I visited his office. “Show it to me in writing.” To him, evidently, as to Sam Goldwyn in Hollywood, verbal agreements aren’t “worth the paper they’re printed on.” On further inquiry, I learned that foreclosure would in fact take another two months before the final papers were signed. Meanwhile, I had no idea what to do except slog along, clinging to my faith in God.
Later that week, I was in the home of some friends in Palo Alto showing color slides I’d taken in India. I didn’t mention my predicament; to do so would have seemed inappropriate to the occasion. Afterward, however, as I was getting into my car, a young man came out of the house and approached me.
“I like what you’re doing,” he said. “Would you allow me to give you a donation?”
“I’d willingly accept anything you care to give,” I replied. Probably, I thought, he’d give me five dollars, or maybe ten. Instead, he wrote out a check for $3,000.
I telephoned Mr. Pardini that evening and said, “I have the money you want, but I won’t pay you until you’ve incurred all the legal fees you can. Recalling your demonstration of greed, I’ll just wait till the last moment before I pay you what I owe.”
“Gosh, Don,” he replied, “if you pay me now I’ll give you a big discount.” He’d dug a pit for me. Now he fell into it himself: a classic karmic retribution!
My bank account at the end of that month, after paying what I owed Pardini, stood at $1.37.
The name of the young man who had so miraculously come to my assistance was Tom Hopkins. Tom later lived for a time at Ananda. I have always kept a special place for him in my heart. His help during those critical times was a priceless memory of God’s grace.
I sincerely believe that one of the reasons God helped me during those difficult times was that I never compromised my principle of serving others. If anyone wanted to enroll in my classes but hadn’t the money, I let him come anyway. I asked only, as I always had, that he return service in kind by setting up chairs, or by bringing snacks for people to eat during the breaks.
God tested my sincerity. One evening a young woman student announced, “I won’t be coming to your next class, as I’ll be flying to New York to visit my parents.” Surprised, I responded, “Then you do have money?”
“Oh, yes” she replied, “I have it for things I consider worthwhile.” How should one reply to such a deliberate insult? I simply let it go. To me, the important thing was that my own heart be free.
On another occasion a couple told me casually that they’d just spent fifty dollars on books. This was what they’d said they couldn’t afford for the classes. Again, I made no protest. It was for my own conscience, above all, that I held to the principle of placing service to others ahead of personal benefit to myself-even if, as was the case here, the benefit would have accrued not to me, but to Ananda.
Within the bounds of integrity, however, I did what I could. I even sold a prized astrological bangle, of nine gems, which I’d worn during all my years in India. I got $2,500 for it, through Gleim’s Jewelry in Palo Alto.
By the end of 1968, by God’s grace, the retreat was built and was very nearly paid off. People were beginning to “rally round the flag.” The time seemed right to think seriously about building the community.
I’d already dedicated Ananda in August, 1968. The domes weren’t finished, but people nevertheless came, especially on weekends, sleeping in tents or in sleeping bags under the stars. We had strolling kirtans (singing joyously to God) at dawn, classes in the open air, and group meditations.
Three or four hardy souls remained there through the winter months. The crisis had passed with God’s grace, and with my Guru’s help. I had been a little upset with God, I confess, that I, who had never wanted money, should have been forced to devote so much of my energy toward earning it, and for so many months. My gain, however, was far more than the money I earned. Most of all, it was spiritual. I’d grown in inner strength by doing what I’d had to do despite every obstacle, even that of intense personal reluctance, and I’d done it for God.
Tara had scoffed at my “Delhi project” during our meeting in New York. “Don’t you know,” she sneered, “that to create anything this big takes spiritual power?” She might have added, “or bulldog determination, and a willingness to sacrifice everything.”
Many people in my position would have taken these difficulties, which seemed insurmountable, as a sign that God didn’t want the project to succeed. A common attitude, especially in that era, was that if one decides to go out shopping, but trips lightly over a carpet on his way to the car, that mishap is a sign that God doesn’t want him to go out. I’d been given my share of such advice by well-wishers, all of them wanting to be helpful. If my stubbornness in pursuing victory can inspire anyone who faces difficult situations in life, let this be the lesson: If you feel strongly in your heart that you have something you must do, be guided from within if that feeling is one of calm, inner certainty. Don’t look outside your Self for guidance. For at that point, omens-and let’s face it, as omens go, tripping over a carpet isn’t very impressive!-are rarely signs from heaven. Signs should be sought, if at all, while the mind is still uncertain as to the rightness of a course, not once one has fully committed oneself to it.
Most of the great achievements in history, beside which my little victories were small indeed, have come in the face of all-but-impossible odds. Victory’s laurel goes not to the faint-hearted, but to those who are willing to lay their very lives on the line.