The following is a recent interview with Nayaswamis Jyotish and Devi, published in The Speaking Tree, a section of the Times of India — India’s largest newspaper — devoted to articles on spirituality, wellness, and lifestyle. They discuss Ananda Sangha and, in particular, the Paramhansa Yogananda Public Charitable Trust in Brindaban.
Or, access the article in PDF format here.
Lighting Up Lives
Nayaswamis Jyotish and Devi who are carrying forward the mission of Swami Kriyananda’s Ananda Sangha — inspired by his guru Paramhansa Yogananda — are currently in India. They interacted with Narayani Ganesh, talking about Vrindavan widows, consciousness awareness and becoming agents of change.
What They Do In Vrindavan
Ananda Sangha volunteers complete at least 2,400 home visits per month in Vrindavan, says Nayaswami Jyotish, talking about their project that is designed to ‘restore dignity and divinity’to those who have come to be tagged as ‘Vrindavan widows’. Paramhansa Yogananda Public Charitable Trust works with the poorest of the poor, disadvantaged and marginalised sections of society to provide them with physical comfort including food, clothing shelter, health and medical care, to improve their life circumstances and help them live a life of joy. Ananda Sangha was founded by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda. Currently, the Trust is providing support to more than 4,000 widows in the holy city of Vrindavan with home-based care, hospitalisation and shelter with total care and support.The Trust also conducts regular kirtans and satsangs. The Trust has also initiated programmes to support employment needs of youth and women and education of children.
What is the thrust of Ananda Sangha’s work in Vrindavan?
Jyotish: We work in cooperation with the Ramakrishna Mission and our aim is to restore to the marginalised people here, especially widows, dignity and divinity.It is not enough to just provide basic needs like food, shelter and clothing; they need follow up in their homes, they need to know that someone cares for them and loves them. We have a database of widows in Vrindavan and they fall into one of the following categories:
1)Those who can take care of themselves with a little help; so we need to just check in on them to see if they are doing all right.
2)Those who live in their own homes, but need assistance in the home to help them function.
3)Those who cannot function on their own and for whom we make arrangements in care homes Sometimes we also come across sadhus who are sick and who need help, and we do care for them as well.
Operationally, you have worked out a system?
Jyotish: Our staff wearing blue jackets make at least two to three hundred home visits a day. They mainly help to restore a sense of dignity to make them feel cared for. Many widowed mothers desire to die here in Vrindavan and cannot afford the cost of funeral rites so we make sure that arrangements are made to fulfil their wishes. We also encourage them to participate in festivals and not stay confined within four walls. One woman said,“For the first time, we celebrated Deepavali on the streets.” Our staff is taught energisation meditation, making them feel positive and energetic so they can transmit the same to widow mothers. Now they can do simple exercises and yogic asanas for greater mobility. It’s more about love and care, really.
Are you being helped by professionals?
Jyotish: Yes, we work with ex-WHO medical doctor Manjunath Kini, an Ananda Sangha member and he is also one of our teachers. He lives with his wife and two daughters and he is director of the charitable trust in Vrindavan. Other corporations help us with skill training. We are now more focused on service. Many NGOs are coming to us in Vrindavan; we have a good reputation there as the work becomes more visible. They are seeking to replicate our model of service. They look out for the ‘people in dark blue!’
Do you have your own care homes or do you serve care homes run by others?
Jyotish: Most care homes are rented; till we’re able to afford to build our own. They are small homes so they get personal attention, like a family. Of course, donations are welcome, not just money but anything, like clothes, food, and medicines.
Many of us want to become agents of positive change, but don’t know how. What would you suggest?
Devi: Many, when they have problems, project those problems on others; no one likes to take individual responsibility. For this, we really need to elevate our consciousness. You need to tell yourself,‘Let me do something; undertake a personal effort to act in a way that is positive.’ Shift the responsibility from others to yourself. See what happens, then! If you can, try to give people tools to do something. Recently, at Ananda Sangha, we released a meditation app to help people. If each group works with other groups to give people tools to work on positive goals, then you create a large network. This is what we are trying to do with other spiritual groups like the RK Mission, Swami Ram Dass, and so on. Our campaign’s line is ‘Be the change.’
How can you gain more visibility to garner wider cooperation and help?
Devi: We have applied to the UN for entry as a spiritual NGO.Then one can suggest a special day, like International Day of Meditation and this could help bring more groups together. Ananda Sangha India is to receive an award from a UN-affiliated NGO in New York in November this year, for helping to lift consciousness. This is significant because we need to understand that change comes from change in consciousness; only then can you hope to achieve sustainable living, harmony and selfless service.You need to become a catalyst for positive change.
Can you give me an example?
Devi: In the early days of Ananda Sangha in Nevada County, USA, there was stiff resistance from government agencies who did not want us there. It took us five years to get approvals and acceptance to get anything done. Today, government officials speak on our behalf and uphold Ananda Sangha as an example to replicate — to respect the environment, to use alternative sources of energy like solar, for example. They say, Ananda Sangha is a role model. See, that’s how you can change by doing the right thing and demonstrating it at a practical level, by example.