Everything in life necessitates cooperation. Breathing itself is an act of cooperation with Nature. Great works of genius require the work of many: those who make the tools used in creativity; a general foundation of awareness from which the individual can soar; the inspiration of others’ thoughts; an appreciative audience. Would Leonardo have produced his masterpieces had no one been interested in his work? Would Jesus Christ, self-complete to perfection, have given outer expression to his wisdom had no one cared to hear him? Jesus himself said, “Cast not your pearls before swine.” A need must exist before it can be addressed. Cooperation of many kinds is essential to life itself. Without it, there would be only one hand flapping, but no answering clap.
Cooperation within intentional communities can lead to madness, however, if it isn’t based on a desire to cooperate with wisdom, at least to the extent that its members understand the concept.
I have tried in these pages to present the principles out of which Ananda grew and has flourished. I admit that my first expectation was that I’d tell more of Ananda’s actual story: to bring it up to date with anecdotes, and to explain the lessons we learned from our tests, adventures, and interesting or amusing episodes. Fortunately, these events were mostly a proving ground for the teachings of our Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda. I say therefore that, apart from the blessing he bestowed on the concept itself, he is, in fact, the patron saint of modern communities. His frequent intervention in times of need, though subtle, has been repeatedly a lifesaver for us. Instead of writing the anecdotes that make up Ananda’s history, what I have done is leave you-poor reader!-stranded on a beach. The launching of the ship, Ananda, to which I thought I was inviting you, has been delayed. By 1970, the point to which this story has taken us, the ship was still unfinished. Many events followed, some of them dramatic. In fact, I wonder whether the story can ever be told fully.
In March of the year 1970, I received a second threat of foreclosure, this one from the trustees for Ananda farm. (On the last possible day I was able to send the check in the mail!) One month later, on the fourth of July (Independence Day, of all dates!), our temple burned down. This proved in fact to be a blessing, for rebuilding it provided a means for uniting the community in a common purpose.
Again and again, miracles saved us-like the day our carpenters, building the publications building (renamed since then, “Hansa Mandir”), were saved from disaster. The roof had an unusual design, which the men couldn’t carry to completion. Extensive research hadn’t provided a solution for its construction. The men were literally leaving the job when a car drove up, and a man stepped out of it. “I’ve come from Santa Barbara today-five hundred miles!” he announced. “My purpose in coming was to ask if there’s anything I can do to help you.” Hope glimmered faintly. The men explained their predicament, whereupon the visitor exclaimed, “Why, I’m probably the only builder in California who knows just the technique you need for this job. It’s something I learned in Canada, brought over from the Orient.” With this help, the roof was completed.
We were blessed with tests also-like the forest fire I’ve mentioned already-and the pluck that helped us persist in the face of seeming defeat: Jyotish turning to his wife Devi, who ten days earlier had given birth to their only child, and saying, “Well, at least this fire solves the problem we’ve been having with leaks!”
I could go on and on. Indeed, I expected I’d do so: What a lot remains to be told! And I’d have enjoyed the telling of it. Such a book, however, might easily run to more than a thousand pages: far too long, and counter-productive to its real purpose. Indeed, the story has already been told by the explanations I’ve given of the principles on which Ananda was founded. Those principles tell who we are, what Ananda is, and why the whole experiment has turned out so successfully. I hope I’ve shown convincingly why my belief in cooperative communities is very deep. To me, they are an essential solution to the problems of civilization at this stage of history. Small, clearly thought-out, consciously lived experiments are needed as a way of working out the challenge before humanity: how to preserve human values under the onslaught of technology. I’ve explained basic attitudes without which, I think, no community can succeed. What would follow the telling would only be details. A plethora of them might cause the reader to lose sight of more important points.
I built Ananda on principles I’d learned through meditating on the life of Paramhansa Yogananda; after years of working with people, as head of the monks in Self-Realization Fellowship, and as the director of SRF center activities throughout the world; as the victim of ongoing attempts to suppress, and then ruin me; and as a consequence of having to deal with people’s indifference to interests other than their own. One of the things I learned was the relative importance of cheerful, willing cooperation compared to blind obedience.
At Ananda, I delegated responsibility to others as much as I could. I did so partly because it takes the energy of many people to create a work of which the goal is to benefit people. Partly, too, I did so because I recognized that others were blessed with skills in which I myself was lacking. I always took care to protect, and also to further, principles of practical spirituality in keeping with my Guru’s advice to me: “Be practical in your idealism.” I contributed my own energy-often to the limit of my strength-while never forgetting that we are all only small cogs on life’s very large wheel. Community leadership requires team effort. Success is not a one-man show.
I tried, therefore, to channel energy and inspiration through others, in cooperation with them, and never stood over them as “the manager,” nor intruded on their free will. Instead, I tried to win them by kindly reason, and by my own sincere commitment to truth no matter who utters it.
At this point in my story, then, practicing as ever the principle of delegating authority, I leave to my companions in our thirty-four-year odyssey the task of telling what remains-the bulk, indeed-of this saga! Each of them will tell it differently, and will give his or her perspective. And so they ought to do, for it is their story and Ananda’s quite as much as it is mine. The story will be the richer because I didn’t write all of it myself.
There are a few points I’d like to make here, at the end of my account: a few final hammer taps, so to speak, to make sure the nails are set as tightly as possible.
One of those “nails” is a question that several readers, I suspect, will have asked: Is it necessary for a community like Ananda to be spiritual? Much thought has been devoted in modern times to finding solutions that depend entirely on human effort, without God-and without even such high ideals as love, happiness, and voluntary (as opposed to enforced) cooperation. I’ve written unabashedly of my own ideal: to live wholeheartedly for God. I fully realize that to say so is frowned upon in today’s society. Even granting that Ananda has worked well, is there a hope that a more “normal” community can succeed?
No; frankly, I see no such hope. The reason is perfectly simple: A so-called “normal” life is not really normal at all: It is abnormal! If people live selfishly, what hope have they of clambering out of their habit-worn mental ruts? Attempts have been made, and the results always have been disappointing.
I hope you won’t mind if I have a little fun here? I have a counter-question to offer: Is it necessary for a community to be alive? Is it necessary for a body to have a head, and for that head to hold brains? Is it necessary for human beings to be conscious? Modern communist philosophy exalts muscle over brain, and the “proletariat” over a so-called “aristocratic elite.” In effect, what it encourages is stupidity with the purpose of gaining mass control by a false “elite” of self-centered, cloddish bullies. Tara Mata’s concept of crowd management was essentially no different from that of Marx, Engel, and Lenin. Cooperative communities can succeed only if greater, not less, awareness is encouraged. The concept of God symbolizes, if nothing else, the need of every human being to aspire to the highest potential he can imagine for himself.
What do people think it means to be spiritual? Do they imagine it to be a matter of telling long strings of beads and mumbling incessant prayers? What kind of tasteless pudding do they think the masters have invited mankind to ingest? Do people want ideals without challenges? or safe platitudes that merely fall flat, like an eggless soufflé, the wisdom sucked out of them for fear of giving offense? Do they want popular acclaim without integrity, and principles so bland that no one even notices they exist? If you want to “people” such a wasteland with cactuses, go to your Nietzches, your Sartres, your biologists who claim life is meaningless because they’ve worked out a handful of mere evolutionary mechanisms! An intentional community with no higher goal than economic security is not what I’ve proposed in these pages. Nor is it what I have struggled, suffered, and even risked my life to achieve. My dream at fifteen remains unchanged after sixty years. I am no longer young, but in spirit I am younger than ever, secure in a way that I see leads to inner freedom, happiness, inspiration, and the richest possible sense of meaning. If your own quest is for something else, then ignore this book. Warn your friends not to read it. Pretended solutions, however, that skirt the question of spirituality are sodas without the fizz; lemonades without the lemon; books without a light for reading.
Yes, I believe that if a community would find meaning in life, and not a sleeping pill slugged down with a glass of water, people have no choice but to be spiritual! The only thing I concede-in fact, insist upon-is that spirituality not be lumped with religiosity.
Man is a spiritual being. Of this I am certain. If he rejects the higher reality of his being, which would inspire him to highest achievements, he is a walking, eating corpse, incapable of bringing life to this planet, and able only to procreate other corpses like himself.
One of the most important aspects of Ananda, and a fitting note on which to close this book, is music. I have noticed, as have many Ananda members, that those who have become involved in our music, played it, sung it in our choirs, listened to it at home and at work, have understood in their hearts what Ananda is all about. To convey this understanding by words alone would be impossible.
Man consists essentially of sound vibrations condensed from the music of Creation. Without music, life itself would cease to be. Communities can succeed only if every member seeks his own center, not in outer consensus, but in himself. It is from this center that he should reach out to touch others. From within, finally, and in attunement with the inner Song of Creation, comes the harmony that enables people to work together in a spirit of true harmony.
Therefore Yogananda said, “Seclusion is the price of greatness.”
We must listen to the voice of God in our souls. Inner communion with Him will put us in touch with our conscience. To walk with others in lock-step togetherness is to become at last a mere lemming, plunging to destruction because one has failed to develop awareness, lives oblivious to present realities, and ends in the gray oblivion of death. To stride through life in company with others, singing joyfully, is to become the hero, or heroine, that God has ever intended us to be.