I had to get a permit from the Building Department before beginning construction at the meditation retreat. At the Building Department I learned that I also needed a permit from the County Health Department. Hal Cox, the Superintendent there, placed us in the category, “church camp.” Had we been categorized otherwise, we’d have needed a further permit (something I didn’t know at the time) from the Planning Department. Being a church camp spared us more bureaucratic red tape, and, probably, the need to spend more money for the project than I even had.
I’m sure many people have lamented the regulations that force them to spend considerable amounts of money simply to be able to begin earning money-or, as in my case, to be of service to others. If only there were a way for people-young people, especially, starting out in life-with little capital but with lots of energy, ideas, and enthusiasm to launch a project without the burden of bureaucratic restrictions. I wonder if this isn’t one reason some people, anxious to serve God, have gone off as missionaries to far-off places like Africa. In less developed countries, these restrictions are at least few or non-existent. People can devote their energies in more worthwhile directions.
Spring of 1969 arrived, and people began arriving at Ananda in slowly increasing numbers. A few came as families. I intended to build a community eventually, away from the retreat. God encouraged me in this intention by sending us a few particularly noisy children at the outset. Meditations in the temple became a brow-furrowing background to gleeful shouts, angry accusations, and bitter tears over which no one had the slightest control.
One couple, Ray and Burma Harilla, arrived with their small daughter, Cici. They were a sweet and unassuming couple, but Cici definitely was a Presence. I remember Jyotish telling me, “I was sitting on my deck one morning, when Cici approached it from the side. The top of her head barely reached the level of the deck. Disdaining the obvious solution of climbing the steps, she studied the problem a moment, then said, ‘Hmmm, looks tough. I guess I’ll have to give it my FULL BLAST!’” Everything Cici did was FULL BLAST.
Children’s restless energy at a meditation retreat is a dubious blessing, and Cici had ten times as much energy as the average child. That we needed other land, and soon, was becoming more obvious every day.
At that time, and for many months to come, I continued teaching in the cities. I was therefore able to come to Ananda only on weekends. A friend of mine in Sacramento, Dr. Gordon Runnels, learning that we needed more land, mentioned a property he’d heard about from a real estate agent friend of his. “It’s in your general area, I think,” he said. Our “general area,” however, included places as far away as Auburn, fifty miles south of us. I shelved his news mentally, thinking it wasn’t time yet in any case to take on another venture.
The first week of June, however, I received a letter from Dick Baker, who was in Japan. He had heard of an influx of people at Ananda, and somehow got the impression that I was building a town! Distressed, naturally, he reminded me that the property we’d bought together was intended for seclusion. “Please,” he wrote desperately, “do no more construction until I return from Japan in the fall. We can then meet and discuss these things.”
Not many people had come yet, but, in fact, if a community was to begin at all, spring, not autumn, was the time to do it. The delay Dick wanted couldn’t have come at a worse time for us. God’s ways of forcing us to move forward, however, are not always those we ourselves would choose.
Dick’s letter arrived on a Friday morning. “Divine Mother,” I prayed, “help me to find a solution! I don’t want Dick to regret having included me in his venture. On the other hand, I can’t control who comes to Ananda. What am I to do?” I was about to leave San Francisco for another weekend at Ananda. Accompanying me was Sandy Miller, a student and friend who had expressed interest in the project. (Married since then, her name became Sandy Ross. My father and her husband, Ed, became friends.)
On our way to Ananda, we stopped at Gordon Runnels’s office in Sacramento. Another friend of Dr. Runnels stopped by. As we waited for Gordon, this man told me he was a real estate agent, and took the opportunity to speak about what he called “the hottest real estate buy I’ve ever seen.” I began to realize that this was probably the man Gordon had spoken of. From Gordon’s description, I’d surmised that the property was unlikely to be very near Ananda. My doubts increased when this man said it was “somewhere north of Auburn,” which made it seem almost a suburb of that town. Out of politeness only, therefore, I asked if he had a map he could show me. He pulled one out of a pocket and spread it on a table.
The map was of Ananda’s exact area! Things all at once looked promising. The property he pointed to was only six miles from Ananda Retreat. With Dick Baker’s letter lying heavy in my pocket, I asked, “Would you care to show it to me?”
“When would you like to go?”
“Would this afternoon suit you?”
“I’m free,” he said. “We could leave now.” The three of us drove up that afternoon. Gordon, unfortunately, had appointments and couldn’t join us.
“The owner of this land,” said the agent, “is a Mr. Sylvester. He has terminal cancer, and is anxious to settle his affairs as soon as possible. He’s had most of the property subdivided into forty-acre parcels. It isn’t even on the market yet, but already the guys in the office are fixing to place options on some of the parcels for themselves, and are getting their friends interested.”
In the fading daylight, we walked over some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen. I asked him, “Could you hold a few of these parcels for me over the weekend?” I told him which ones I wanted; they amounted to most of the property.
“I can certainly give it a try,” he replied.
The down payment for those pieces came to $13,500-an unthinkably high sum, especially considering that I’d have to raise promises of loans or donations over that weekend. “If God wants us to have it,” I reasoned, “He’ll work everything out.”
I’ve never been one to attract wealthy donors, perhaps because of a deep-seated aversion to letting anyone think he owns me. I knew many people, however, and a number of them had at least a certain amount of money. I sat down and made telephone calls. By Saturday morning, less than twenty-four hours after getting Dick Baker’s letter, I’d received promises totaling $13,500.
I phoned the agent. “To play it safe,” he said, “I went into the office at two o’clock this morning and took the listings you wanted off the board. It’s lucky I did! When the office opened today, five or six of the fellows came and pleaded with me to free up at least one of the parcels. By getting those promises of help so quickly, you’ve snatched the land right out from under their noses.”
Thus, we obtained Ananda Farm-not so far away from the meditation retreat that both couldn’t have the same identity. Interestingly, most of the original promises of assistance fell through. God had other ways of raising the money when the down payment actually came due. For the time being, however, those first promises gave us the confidence we needed to proceed.
The farm purchase had a particularly touching sequel. I’d been sorry that this good fortune should have been ours as a result of someone’s misfortune. Later, I happened to meet the former owner’s doctor, Robert Hume. Dr. Hume, speaking of Mr. Sylvester’s cancer (which he said had indeed been terminal), told me it had vanished quite marvelously after we acquired the land.
By an interesting coincidence, Dr. Hume’s wife was the daughter of family friends of mine in Scarsdale, New York. Their residence had been on the same road as ours, Claremont Road. We’d lived at 13 Claremont before moving to 90 Brite Ave. How many threads weave themselves into the tapestry of a person’s life! I’d again met her father, Harry Gibbon, in Patna, India, at the airport. I was seated at a table chatting with friends, wearing the orange robe of a swami. I had let my hair grow long, and had a beard. Thus I was, or so one would have thought, quite unrecognizable to someone who hadn’t seen me since I was a teenager. This man came over and said, “Say, from your voice you sound like one of the Walters!” Mr. Gibbon was retired, and acting as a consultant for some firm in Bombay.
Harriet, their daughter-another thread!-had had a crush on my brother Bob when she was seven years old and he, eighteen. “When I grow up,” she asked him, “will you marry me?” He took her childish “proposal” lightly, of course. “Sure,” he said, smiling off-handedly. A few years later, however, when he married someone else, she took it very hard. “You promised!” she wailed bitterly. Harriet must have been eleven at that time.
Dr. Hume became my doctor for a time, until he and Harriet moved away. After that, we gradually lost contact with each other.
Ananda began in truth as a community with the purchase of Ananda Farm. On July 4, 1969, we signed the papers that committed us to buying it. Now began a population explosion that we nearly didn’t survive.
The news spread by an amazingly efficient grapevine that a new “commune” was starting up and wanted members. People began arriving from points north, south, east, and west! One afternoon alone there were seven cars parked in our driveway, full of people eager to join. We did manage gradually to sift through this landslide of humanity and select from it a fair number of viable candidates. It was a slow process.
Strange as it may seem, comparatively few of my hundreds of yoga students ever became residents of Ananda. Most of those who came now had never studied with me, knew little or nothing about me, very little (if anything) about Paramhansa Yogananda or his teachings, and were in no way interested in fulfilling Yogananda’s or my communitarian dreams. They came because “communes” were the vogue, and it seemed to them an easy and comfortable way of avoiding worldly responsibility.
This “mass migration” raised several important questions. We did indeed need numbers, for without them it wouldn’t be possible to develop anything on our several hundred acres of land. We also needed help with the mortgage, which amounted to $1,750 a month-a large sum in those days. I had no intention of compromising my ideals, however, and therefore had to establish a few guidelines.
Though I wanted as few rules as possible, I’d already decided on two as essential: no drugs, and no alcohol. The anti-drug rule concerned hallucinogenic drugs, of course, not medications. Most of those coming were of the hippie, hallucinogenic drug culture. They couldn’t even understand why I would want such a rule. Many assumed I meant only, “No drugs on Ananda land”-perhaps as a legal protection. But wasn’t what they did off the property their own business? It took some time to persuade them that joining Ananda meant a personal commitment, not a casual excuse.
I’d seen at Mt. Washington how a surfeit of rules can destroy the spirit, as Master had warned me when I organized the monks there. For a time, notices were posted almost weekly on our bulletin board from the main office, informing us of a stream of new rules, regulations, and procedures. When I organized the main office, after Master’s passing, it was to streamline and simplify matters, not to impose rigid controls. Other people, however, had welcomed my reorganization with the glad cry, “Finally we’re getting organized!” Happily they added to the momentum, going from simplicity to ever-increasing complexity, imagining they’d found in the organizing process itself the key to efficiency! I myself felt that all they were producing was an ideational labyrinth.
At Ananda, faced again with the need for bringing order out of chaos, I determined to depend not on rules, but on the creative exercise of common sense.
For I wanted everyone to have the freedom to grow in personal understanding and ability, and not to have decisions imposed on him or her from above. Only thus, I felt, could Ananda grow vigorously, instead of slowly losing its first momentum. From the beginning, the decision-making process was kept as close to the “grass-roots” level as possible. People who were involved in a project were given an active say in whatever concerned them. We also permitted people to introduce a personal style into their activities, rather than force them all into the same mold.
I determined on certain guidelines, also, for myself: Never coerce; never “pull rank” on anyone; win others to a view by letting them convince themselves, rather than by overwhelming them with reasons, or with my own conviction. Naturally, my enthusiasm did count for something. Without the yeast of strong leadership, Ananda would have come out a flat pancake. Strong leadership, however, means leading, not driving. It means having the inner strength to be patient with others, to absorb the blows of opposition, to be completely fair to everyone, and never to play favorites. What I tried to do was inspire a kindred enthusiasm in others rather than impose on anyone my own enthusiasm. I let others think things through for themselves, without pressure from me. If I saw that someone was agreeing to a proposal only to go along with me, I let the matter rest until I saw that he or she really did agree. Tepid support, I’ve always felt, is almost worse than no support at all, for when it is put to the test it often fizzles out, generally when you most need it.
If I called a group meeting, I tried to give people on all sides of an issue a fair hearing. However, I kept the reins of such meetings in my own hands, never allowing discussion to descend to a verbal free-for-all. I did my best to get people not to think in terms of what they themselves wanted, but rather to ask, “What is right? What will benefit everyone?” Inwardly I always prayed for my Guru’s guidance, that his will be my own point of departure rather than any consideration of personal feelings or biases. What I hoped to establish was a “dharmocracy,” not a democracy. Dharmocracy (rule by what is spiritually right) I defined as a community dedicated to actions leading to soul-freedom, rather than to further ego-involvement. Ego-centeredness is the root cause of spiritual ignorance, but dedication to doing God’s will leads to wisdom. Ego-motivated desires are self-imprisoning, whereas desirelessness is the way to perfect freedom. Ego-attachment is bondage, whereas non-attachment is essential for those who seek true self-fulfillment.
“Ananda itself,” I insisted, “is merely a thing. Don’t be attached to it. Don’t imagine that we’ll ever create another Garden of Eden here. Ananda can never achieve perfection, for outer perfection is a delusion forever unattainable. Be attached only to doing God’s will.”
It helped that I gave weekly classes and devotional services, and thereby exposed people to Master’s teachings, instead of leaving them to work out everything for themselves, influenced by a heterogeneous collection of books and friends.
I insisted they work on developing solution-consciousness, not problem-consciousness. “It is easy to see a problem,” I said; “a little harder, perhaps, to define it, but only by solution-consciousness will you attract solutions. If you want to draw attention to problems, then suggest solutions for them; don’t just grumble and complain. To point out defects without showing the courage to look for solutions can paralyze people’s will power. If you induce such paralysis in others by your negativity, you owe it to them, as well as to yourself, to offer practical and constructive remedies.”
One time, I learned that a number of people were planning to “call me on the carpet” before the community to demand why certain things weren’t being done. I forestalled their tactic by calling a meeting myself, and listing their complaints. “What,” I asked everyone, “shall we do to remedy these matters?” It took the wind out of their sails! They themselves had no constructive suggestions to offer. The rest of us did what we could to remedy matters.
Actually, I paid little attention to people who were steeped in problem-consciousness. The energy it would have taken to persuade them to become constructive would hardly have brought any of them from a minus value to zero. Those who, in later years, worked with such people, from a desire to help them, found (as Jyotish once put it) that ninety percent of their energy went toward counseling ten percent of the members, and even then this ten percent usually ended up turning against the community, or in other ways letting it down.
Perfection is no mere dream: It is everyone’s destiny. In terms of present realities, however, the plain truth is that few people change radically over the course of a single lifetime. The best one can do in one life is refine what he started with; he can’t alter his nature drastically. When I was told recently of the arrogance and worldliness of St. Francis of Assisi as a youth, I thought, “Oh, no! He was always an innocent: exuberant, joyful, eager for experience, but never proud or selfish; never worldly in the sense of avidity for egoic fulfillment.” Worldly people project their worldly attitudes even onto saints.
A wonderful thing at Ananda was the fact that, after our first rocky years, community meetings almost always ended in a spirit of harmony. I never insisted on consensus, but if people couldn’t agree I generally shelved a discussion in order to give them time for further consideration. For when people sincerely seek a right solution, and not one they only desire, agreement comes relatively easily. In any case, I was not attached to the outcome. If an idea of mine didn’t meet general approval, I simply dropped it. Perhaps my own lack of attachment helped others, also, to see that mere things are not really all that important.
A principle I established-one with which everyone came in time to agree-was: People are more important than things. In practice, this means that people’s spiritual well-being is more important than anything else. If a job needed to be done, but the best person for it would not benefit from it spiritually, someone else was sought for the job. If no one was found, an entire project was sometimes abandoned.
For myself, even if an idea I presented was one I particularly liked-like architectural concepts for residences-I felt that what mattered most was encouraging people to think for themselves. For if a person’s idea is squelched, even for the simple reason that it is wrong, the person may as a result feel discouraged from making further suggestions. Thus, if his suggestion isn’t drastically wrong, it may be wise to remember that we learn by our mistakes, and therefore to give him a chance to prove himself. If, again, anyone came up with an alternate proposal to one of my own, even if I didn’t think it was as good as mine, I often went along with it to encourage that person to think creatively and to develop a sense of personal responsibility. For more important than almost any specific project is that people develop the ability to come up with ideas for projects themselves. Moreover, I sometimes found that an idea that I hadn’t considered very good turned out to be better than my own. It was good in any case, and helpful especially for me personally, to hold myself open to new ideas.
The primary goal of leadership in a place like Ananda is not to win admiration, but rather to develop leadership in others. As much as possible, and increasingly so through the years, I helped people to develop their own leadership skills, instead of making all their decisions for them. If someone made a mistake-which, as I’ve said, is often the best way to develop understanding-one had to consider the type of mistake, and people’s ability to grow in understanding. To allow a person to keep on erring would be absurd. Sometimes, also, the mistake was my own for expecting too much of someone. It is better always to give people less of a load to carry before burdening them with a heavy rock.
I said it was important for Ananda not to be sectarian, but to respect other faiths, and include all broadly in our sympathies.
I also urged our members not to think of Ananda as separate from society as a whole. Our good, I said, includes the good of everyone, and not that only of Ananda. If our immediate gain means loss for someone else, it is not a gain at all.
Thus, in June 1976, after a forest fire destroyed 450 acres at the farm, and twenty-one of our twenty-two homes, neighbors phoned us excitedly to announce that the cause of the fire had been a faulty spark arrester on a county vehicle. “We can sue the county,” they enthused, “and get all our money back!” I wrote the county supervisors about it, but in a different vein. “I’m sure you’re aware,” I said, “that Ananda was the biggest loser in the fire. Perhaps you’ve been worried about what we’ll do about it. I want you to know that we won’t be suing. We don’t want to take our bad luck out on fellow citizens by increasing the county’s insurance rates. Anything that harms the county will harm Ananda also, in the long run.” Our neighbors sued and collected. Ananda, on the other hand, faced the real possibility of bankruptcy. Another motto of ours has always been, “Jato dharma, tato jaya: Where there is adherence to truth, there lies victory.” We “stuck to our guns” and not only survived, but flourished.
Some twenty members (including families) left as a result of the fire. Those who asked us for help were paid, out of donations that individuals and other communities were sending us. Only after paying them off did we begin the rebuilding of our own homes.
The people who came to Ananda in the beginning were not devotees, for the most part. The word soon spread, however, that Ananda’s goals were spiritual. In time, non-devotees stopped coming. I didn’t force spirituality on anyone. Thus, I also didn’t demand that people become disciples of Yogananda, nor that they accept him personally in any sense. These are sacred decisions, and must be left to the free will of the individual. I made Master’s way attractive to people, however, by sharing with them my own devotion to it. Soon enough, people began not only coming as devotees, but with eagerness to become his disciples.
I’ve always found it difficult to say No to people. My solution to this difficulty was the same as when Master put me in charge of the monks at Mt. Washington: to help those who didn’t belong to weed themselves out. One way I did so at Ananda was to encourage a spirit of devotion. Faced with this spirit, the “freeloaders” and nay-sayers became uncomfortable. In fact, our first need was to make clear to those who came what we were, and weren’t. As long as we were unclear on our self-definition, it was easy for anyone to think he or she could decide what we ought to be. The veriest newcomer often thought, “This is my community. Why shouldn’t I and those who agree with me have a right to determine what Ananda will be?” Negative energy, fortunately, has little cohesive power, especially when faced with positive energy.
People wanted frequent meetings to decide Ananda’s future. I let them meet as often as they liked. I didn’t often attend those meetings, for I saw no way they’d ever accomplish anything significant. Often, all they did was stir up useless emotions. I knew, however, that the success of a community depends primarily on attitudes, not on superficial questions like zoning or how much everyone needs to tithe. I also knew that when many voices are raised on every side of an issue, nothing is likely to emerge.
There was a dog at Ananda named Blue. Blue caused general consternation by chasing the deer, barking at visitors, and obstructing people in their work. Declamations were made on every aspect of this issue. Unbelievably, it took all of five years for everyone to agree that Blue should be taken elsewhere and abandoned. (Blue had strayed onto the land in the first place.) The positive side of this fascination with minor issues was that the meetings never generated more than one-horse-power energy.
My own concern was with issues of more far-reaching importance. To achieve my spiritual ends, I found it necessary to accept compromise on certain issues in the name of harmony, and for the sake of things I considered more important: especially, the creation of a core of people in whom I felt I could instill a spirit of service and devotion.
Meanwhile, therefore, I worked with those whose spirit was positive, those who wanted to build, not merely to complain.
I tried also to do what Master did with his disciples: project thought forms toward those who wanted to work with me, rather than spelling out exactly what I wanted each one to do. Thus, they were free to take an idea from me or not, as they chose, and work to make it their own instead of coming to me constantly for guidance and approval. I told them they could accept as much, or as little, of an idea as they liked. If they tuned into it, it became our idea, neither theirs nor mine. Thus, Ananda became our community, gradually, and grew in a homogeneous spirit. For the thoughts I held and projected were those our Guru gave me for our development. Sometimes it appeared to others as though I were merely leaving them to their own devices. Far from it! By tuning in to our Guru’s guidance, and to my own awareness of it, they developed their own inner strength, and didn’t become weakly dependent on guidance from outside themselves.
Ananda’s true leaders have always been those who tried to tune in, seeking guidance primarily from within themselves. It was, I had seen, the way Master trained us if we listened to him inwardly. Ultimately, we all wanted only to project God’s will for this time in history, in response to humanity’s needs to which God Himself was responding.
Dick Baker once said to me, “When I die, all this will disappear. The universe has no more reality than I myself give to it. It exists in my own mind.” Evidently, this thinking was a product of his Zen training, though I cannot imagine it was the teaching of Buddha. For although this philosophy crops up from time to time in human thought, it is easily demolished. It simply represents an attempt to exclude God from the scheme of things, and it forces several obvious questions. For instance: Could you, Dick Baker, write plays as good as William Shakespeare’s? carve statues as good as those of Michelangelo? build bridges of a grandeur equal to the Golden Gate Bridge? compose a Beethoven symphony? sing like Enrico Caruso? Mind has produced “all this,” yes: but not your mind, nor mine. We are merely dreaming within a cosmic dream. That One Consciousness which dreamed “all this” brought us into existence as well. The noblest thing we can do in life is to open ourselves-our hearts and minds-to the influence of His dreaming.
I didn’t insist, to begin with, on people becoming disciples of Master. Bit by bit, however, they did become disciples, or else left to follow some other calling. Our rate of attrition over the years has been remarkably low. Many members today at Ananda came to us in those first years.
A suggestion was made early in Ananda’s history that we close down the retreat at least for a time, and concentrate on developing the community.
“No,” I said. “We need to direct our energies outward in service to others, and not inwardly only. Otherwise God will cease to pour out blessings on us. If no one else wants to serve at the retreat, I’ll do it myself-all of it, if necessary.”
At first, the retreat drained Ananda’s coffers, returning nothing of tangible value. In time, however, it became a major income-producer for the community. On the other hand, spiritually speaking, it brought much of the energy that built Ananda.
I once remarked to my mother, “I simply can’t understand a wealthy person wanting to build a beautiful home and garden just for himself and his family.” Mother replied, “That’s a novel way of looking at things!” And I thought, “How strange to look at things in any other way!”
After my parents died, I wanted to give my inheritance to Ananda. However, I realized that Dad especially, who had never donated a dime to Ananda, would be restless in his soul if he saw that money going elsewhere. One day he exclaimed to me in exasperation, “You’ve just got to stop giving all your money away!” I, on the other hand, would have been uncomfortable keeping it for myself. I then hit on a compromise: Build a beautiful home and garden for myself that would serve not only me, but the whole community as a spiritual center. Many hundreds, perhaps thousands, have been inspired by Crystal Hermitage (as I named my new residence). Actually, I myself rarely get to enjoy it, especially now that I live in Italy, and even at Ananda Village my work of writing and music composition requires privacy, which is available to me only in my apartment and little garden downstairs. To me, however, when I’m there, the occasional shouts of children around the pool upstairs, and the chanting of devotees in the upstairs dome, are a greater fulfillment than any sense of proprietorship could be.
Only once in Ananda’s history have I allowed the thought to enter my mind briefly: “It was I who brought this place into existence!” This was one evening during our early years, when most members had only trailers to live in. I strolled past these simple dwellings enjoying the light coming from their windows, and thought, “There was darkness here not long ago! It was I who brought soft light to this place.” I entertained this thought happily for a few minutes, then put it out of my mind-not with a sense of sacrifice, but in the suddenly vivid awareness that this kind of happiness, though pleasant for a time, was constricting to my consciousness. The smallest hint of ego only imprisons the soul.
Beauty, however, was important in my dreams for Ananda and in Ananda’s development. Men and women played equal roles in the community from the beginning. It is equally true, however, that each sex is blessed with special gifts-not uniquely, but generally so. Women, for instance, are more naturally inclined to create beautiful surroundings. I urged the women in the community to concentrate on beautifying Ananda. Quite a few of Ananda’s homes are esthetically pleasing, and nestle in beautiful gardens. Music, drama, and the visual arts play an important role in Ananda’s community life. Recently, the forest land was thinned out to give it a more park-like appearance, which made it possible to plant trees in a greater variety, in locations that were carefully thought out in advance.
Enjoyment of beauty is a delight to the soul. Attachment to it, however, is a prison. Thus too with my own heart’s feelings, every time they felt drawn to feminine beauty and tenderness. Even in that inspiration, thoughts wove themselves of personal, egoic fulfillment. For many years the fear lingered that, thus threatened, the very soul freedom for which I’d come to my Guru was in danger. Must I sacrifice salvation itself on the altar of service to him? Could God really ask of me such an enormous sacrifice? Yet, I asked myself, how can I liberate myself from sensual and romantic longings when all my energy needs to be devoted to serving this work? If only, I thought, it were possible to live in a monastery, or as a hermit, instead of having to mix always with people of both sexes! If I weren’t exposed to temptation, wouldn’t I, at least, gain spiritually? Could I run away? Yet this work was what my Guru had given me to do. I could see no alternative but to go on, hoping for the best, clinging with faith to his power, believing that he would take me eventually out of delusion. To me personally, the risk was agonizing. Meanwhile, I never pretended to myself or to anyone else that it was not a delusion, or might be in some way justifiable. At last, as it happened, I discovered that his blessings had been with me always.
I can best express through music the feeling of holy upliftment that possessed me. Therefore I tell people, “If you want to know me, listen to my music.” It is through this that people have come to understand what Ananda is truly all about. Without its influence, Ananda would not be what it is today. Books and lectures are only the outer form of the teachings. Music is its coursing blood.
One thing I have always discouraged at Ananda is anything resembling a group attitude. I remember a convent I visited years ago. The nun assigned to greet visitors addressed me in a whisper. “And over there,” she said reverently, “we have our chapel, where the nuns pray daily for others. We get up every morning at. . . .”
Just then, their Father Confessor arrived with a large box of chocolates as a gift for the community. The tone of her voice suddenly shifted from one of hushed reverence to a squeal of girlish delight. This change has always stood out in my mind as showing the difference between assumed and genuine feeling. Is not God more pleased with us when we share with Him what we sincerely feel, instead of mumbling prayers to Him from within a cowl of assumed humility?
I wrote a song that has become a theme song at Ananda:
Walk like a man,
Even though you walk alone.
Why court approval
Once the road is known?
Let come who will,
But if they all turn home,
The goal still awaits you:
Go on alone!
Follow your dream,
Though it lead to worlds unknown!
Life’s but a shadow
Once our dreams have flown!
What if men cry,
“Your dream is not our own”?
Your soul knows the answer:
Go on alone!
Give life your heart,
Bless everything that’s grown.
Fear not the loving:
All this world’s your own!
Make rich the soil,
But once the seed is sown,
Seek freedom, don’t linger:
Go on alone!
Walk like a man,
Even though you walk alone.
Why court approval
Once the road is known?
Let come who will,
But if they all turn home,
The goal still awaits you:
Go on alone!
We encourage eccentricity at Ananda. At Mt. Washington, by contrast, Arne Lipovec (Brother Premamoy) used to say to me, half in appreciation and half in criticism, “You’re eccentric!” I asked him to explain himself. He replied, “I don’t mean you’re crazy. What I mean is, you aren’t centered in anyone’s expectations of you. For instance, you don’t hold as sacred, necessarily, the things others consider solemn and important. When the nuns wanted a new designation for themselves, in order to get away from the word nun, you couldn’t resist suggesting-jokingly, I know-that they consider the designation, ‘renunciettes,’ or-with a more Indian sound-‘monkinis.’ That’s what I mean: You aren’t always reverent enough, and at times when others think it proper to be serious.”
I once said to Glenn Dittrich, a friend of Ananda’s, that one could usually tell which spiritual group a person belonged to by his outer attitude. Many “Hare Krishna” devotees tried to imitate the Bengali accent of Prabhupad, their founder. SRF members affected inwardness by excessive solemnity, unaware perhaps that Yogananda himself had a delightful sense of humor, and would sometimes actually shake with laughter. Glen surprised me by replying, “I can generally recognize an Ananda member, also.”
I wondered how he could say that, when I’d worked so hard to avoid group attitudes. “Please explain,” I said.
“Well,” he replied, “I find everyone I meet from Ananda to be genuine, not artificial. I find the members open to others, and willing to listen to their points of view. They talk with people, rather than at them. Moreover, I find them all very friendly. It’s obvious they care for people as individuals.”
Of such attitudes, what could I do but approve?
Something I avoided at Ananda was Indianizing people. This wasn’t easy to do, for I myself loved the Indian bhav-that is to say, its spiritual attitude. I let my hair grow long again, as it had been in India, and I gave Indian names to many of our members. Indian devotional music has always thrilled me. It generates a vibration, however, that in America is not “here and now.” Wherever God places us, I said finally, there He must come to us. More and more, therefore, I withdrew from practices that took us away from our present realities. After all, we lived in America now, and were doing a work designed to spiritualize Americans, not to Indianize them. My basic goal was to inspire people everywhere to embrace a more spiritual outlook. This could not be accomplished if we created a separate identity for ourselves, and withdrew mentally from the rest of society.
I didn’t push unnatural theories on our members, such as strict communal ownership, or strict poverty. Nor did I tell them they had to give everything to Ananda. Rather, I tried to help them to grow beyond the life to which they were already accustomed toward a new and better way of living. I saw to it that people received an income, which they were allowed to keep or spend as they liked. For myself, however, I accepted no salary. Seva and others tried to insist that I receive one, but whatever money I needed I earned outside the community by lecturing and teaching, and most of that money, even, went to Ananda. Thus, others developed similar attitudes of sharing, and soon thought no more of earning for themselves. It became quite the norm at Ananda, in fact, for department heads to receive lower wages than some of those working under them whose financial needs were greater than their own.
The devotee’s outlook is fundamentally different from that of the worldly person. For one thing, where worldly people define wealth in terms of acquisition, the devotee defines it in terms of inner happiness. Where the worldly person defines fulfillment in terms of desires satisfied, the devotee defines it in terms of desires transcended. Security, to the devotee, is not a bank account but a sense of constant inner peace. Inner renunciation is the way to true fulfillment. The true devotee is not interested in owning anything personally. He thinks only of serving God. And he sees God as the sole Doer. To God the devotee gives all the credit for anything he or she does.
I myself naturally like people, as I’ve already said. I see them, however, as souls primarily, not as personalities. In speaking to them, I’ve always done my best to address their souls, rather than their egos. Thus, what others thought of me, or whether they even liked me, did not greatly matter to me. Of supreme importance, where my relations with them were concerned, was the reflection that all of us are fellow pilgrims on the long climb toward God. My love for them was impersonal in the sense that, basing my attitude on my Guru’s example, I wanted nothing from others. My love was also, on the other hand, deeply personal in the sense that I wanted the best for everyone. I wasn’t always pleasing to them, for what I wanted wasn’t always what their egos wanted. My desire was to help their souls to emerge from the chrysalis of ego-attachment and soar in Spirit. Sometimes, in the process, I made enemies. I never compromised my soul-friendship for them, however.
We made other requirements of people, partly to sift out the superficial seekers and partly to help Ananda to meet its expenses. I asked, as a condition of membership, that people pay a fee of $1,000 for individuals, and $1,500 for couples after they’d been accepted for residency. This seemed to me a minor sacrifice to make as a demonstration of one’s sincerity and commitment. This is still the practice, though the amount was lowered in recent years, compensated for by the cost of training they received. We also asked people to help with monthly maintenance costs and other on-going expenses. And there was of course the monthly mortgage of $1,750. For some time I accepted the burden of paying the mortgage myself. It meant my continuing with nightly classes in various cities. It was only after a year, as people came to consider Ananda their own, that this burden was taken off my hands.