Crystal Hermitage at Ananda Village is one of 14 Gorgeous Gardens in the West according to by AAA. Read Article

The Union, a newspaper for the Grass Valley and Nevada City area, recently posted two articles about Springtime at Ananda, an annual event at Ananda Village where thousands of tulips bloom at the Crystal Hermitage.

In bloom: Springtime at Ananda: Tulips at Crystal Hermitage Gardens

Just up Highway 49, situated between Tahoe National Forest and the middle fork of the Yuba River, lies the Crystal Hermitage Gardens. Read More

Springtime at Ananda, 17,000 tulips on display

The sun is shining and the tulips are blooming at Ananda Village on the San Juan Ridge, which means it’s that time of year again for volunteers to open the doors of the Crystal Hermitage to the public to take in the peaceful views and take part in the yearly tradition. Read More

In the late 1990s, we had a lovely conversation with Catherine Kairavi, who for many years served as director of fundraising activities of Ananda Sangha worldwide.

Q: Non‑profit businesses are proliferating nowadays, and donations may continue to provide an important part of the funding for cooperative communities in the future. Can you share your thoughts with us on fundraising for spiritual organizations, and the benefits people receive from supporting a spiritual work.

A: Before I became involved with fundraising, I helped out with all kinds of projects, from building The Expanding Light, Ananda’s public meditation retreat, to publishing a paperback edition of Swami Kriyananda’s autobiography, The Path.

We had all this enthusiasm, all this fire, and all these wonderful ways to touch people – but the limiting factor was always money. After a while, I began to feel that I would give anything to be able to tackle that issue, and Divine Mother blessed me by giving me that area of responsibility, and I got to try to open up the financial bottleneck.

Q: How did you begin?

A: I was the first full‑time fundraiser that Ananda had ever had. I started out by attending a week-long course in San Francisco where I learned the classic model for nonprofit fundraising. They taught us about capital campaigns to raise money for major projects, and the annual appeal that supports the general budget and the operating expenses. They told us about special fundraising events, planned giving, and bequest programs for building long‑range financial stability. So I got a quick thumbnail course, and I went back to Ananda Village, where the first thing we did was try to raise funds to build The Expanding Light.

We had built a concrete foundation that was sitting out in the rain, just waiting for a building to be erected on top of it. At the time we were trying to build the EL with gifts and loans, and of course I immediately betrayed the first principle of “Fundraising 101,” which is that you never, ever undertake a capital campaign unless you’ve already had an annual campaign in place for many years. So of course we started with a capital campaign. The standard idea is that until you’ve conducted an annual appeal, you have no idea who’s even interested in you, and what gifts they’ll be capable of giving.

But at Ananda we already knew our people, because we’d had other avenues of contact with them. We just didn’t necessarily know what they would give, because we hadn’t ever really asked them to give to Ananda.

The first year, we had a lot more success with loans than with outright gifts. But it was a great experience, because it meant that I had to get on the phone and overcome my fear or shyness or pride, or whatever it is that gets between you and going up to someone and saying “Can you help us out with this project?” And it was great to see what can happen when you jump in and start making cold calls.

You have to get really impersonal about who you are, and why you’re asking people for donations. You have to remember that it’s not you who’s asking. You’re asking on behalf of Paramhansa Yogananda and Ananda, so you have to ask with a centeredness and dignity that comes from the nobility of the cause. You learn to get out of any thought of yourself and your personal shyness. Because you have to get a whole lot bigger than that, or you’ll never be able to ask for money. So it was a wonderful experience to start out with a capital campaign, because it was like being thrown in at the deep end and having to learn the principles real fast.

It was interesting to see – and this is a sense that has grown in me over the years – that the people who give to a project tend to form a bond with the project, and it becomes part of them. And when someone gives money to Ananda, they immediately feel closer, and they feel more like family. I remember Swamiji saying that if you want to make someone your friend, you should ask them to do you a favor.

Q: Paramhansa Yogananda said, “Friendship is based on mutual usefulness.” It may sound sort of functional and practical, but there’s something about being useful that opens your heart to others.

A: If you create in someone a feeling that you need them, that they’re integral to something that’s important to you, then they begin to feel that they’re a part of you. If people feel that Ananda will go on without them, without their help, they won’t feel so much a part of it. They won’t feel essential to it. They won’t feel that they’ve being served. Fundraising is a vital way to help people serve Paramhansa Yogananda. Sometimes, I would ask people to imagine what would happen if someone walked in the door with millions of dollars and told the rest of us to put our wallets back in our pockets. I ask people to meditate on what it would feel like in their hearts. And it’s contractive. You would feel smaller. You’d feel diminished. You’d feel pushed out of the circle vibrationally.

Q: You’re walking into a building that’s cold, like a government office?

A: Nothing would be needed from you to make it grow. You wouldn’t be asked to put your elbow grease into it – and that isn’t the way people grow.

Q: Rodger Hall told a wonderful story. He was asked to do the wiring for the Paramhansa Yogananda museum at Crystal Hermitage. He couldn’t afford the best light fixtures, so he decided to contribute his labor. He had never tried doing that before, and he didn’t know what would happen. But he went ahead, and the day after he finished the job he got an incredible contract that recouped his labor costs on the museum job in just one week. And afterward a string of jobs poured in. I mention the story because you’ve made it so clear that you’re doing people a favor by asking them to contribute to a spiritual work.

A: It’s the same principle that operates for people when they serve any part of the ministry. I feel that giving helps people. It helps them open their hearts. I have found over the years that people who don’t give financially usually leave the work. Sooner or later, you have to open up that part of your life to God. On the spiritual path, you have to learn to relate to money as energy, and to recognize its source as God. Unless you’re willing to let God flow back to His other children through you, sooner or later it will throw you out of tune.

It’s a very unusual individual who fails to spiritualize that part of his or her life and activities and still manages to go deep spiritually. The people who give, I see getting more in tune spiritually. They seem to have an easier time dealing with the doubts and dilemmas and tests of the spiritual path. It softens their hearts. God is more their partner. So, yes, I do see it as a ministry. I see it as a service to people, to ask them for money. But my job is to do it in a way that is as inspiring as possible, and that keeps it on the highest plane. It’s never giving just to a build a temple, it’s to serve Paramhansa Yogananda, and to serve others through a particular project. You have to keep it on that spiritual level, where it truly is.

Q: If people receive blessings from it, it would appear that it’s spiritually valid. The proof is how the pudding tastes.

A: And they definitely do. You just have to help them feel initially that Paramhansa Yogananda is behind the project.

Q: Is personal contact important when you’re trying to convey a spiritual vibration, and grow a spiritual work?

A: It is. Although I think we can also do it to some extent through other channels. I try to create all of the written fundraising pieces, and that’s why I also started creating videos. Two years ago, I started making an Annual Appeal video. We produced an audiotape with selections of Swami Kriyananda’s new music.

Every year, I struggle to work with the written medium and the mailing list. How can we make it as intimate and genuinely sincere as possible? How can it be as powerful as possible? The video was one answer. Anybody who gave even a dime in 1994 would automatically get one of those videos.

But I don’t sit back with my calculator, thinking “If we do this much we’re probably going to get this much back.” It’s not that kind of asking. It’s always a question of how to give people the most intimate, powerful experience of the vibration that’s coming through Ananda. And that question must be answered differently each year.

I can look back and remember how, in 1992, we put two ministers on the road in a car with cracked windows. They went up and down Route 5 with $5 dollars in their pockets, conducting satsangs, and eight years down the line it created Ananda Seattle. So that’s the process that we’re continually feeding into. We’re trying to create something that is strong and supportive for people locally, because there’s no substitute for that. And then we also try to support the people in the Midwest who may never have a community but nevertheless need our support.

Q: As the work grows, do you think it will continue to feel intimate because of the fact that it’s serving people?

A: Yes – we’ve got to do it that way, because that’s the heart of Ananda. It was an important issue in the lawsuit that SRF filed against Ananda, that we believe the spark of Yogananda’s inspiration doesn’t get passed from an organization to the individual, but from one individual to another, and from one devotee’s heart and wisdom to another devotee who’s receptive and is longing for it.

It’s always person to person, and it can never be faceless. I think that as we grow, even if the office has a hundred people, the nature of that one‑on‑one contact can never change, or we might as well shut down.

Q: I remember visiting Ananda for the first time and being inspired by the spiritual vibrations that I could feel, and the divine presence that I sensed in people’s lives.

A: There’s no substitute for that, and there never will be. So it will be a challenge, for sure, and we have to be clear in our minds that personal contact is the essence of the way people grow spiritually. The printed page can inspire people in many ways, but eventually there’s got to be that spark from one devotee to another.

Devi told me about a Christmas gathering where Swami Kriyananda made an appearance. He had had a minor stroke that same morning, but he insisted on coming upstairs, and once he was there he put out tremendous energy. She said that she walked out feeling really Angry at him. In fact, it ended up with him having to enter the hospital on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. But she walked out feeling really upset, thinking “Why does he have to do that?” But then she realized that if she came into a room that was messy and sloppy, where the flower arrangements were falling over and there were dust‑bunnies in the corners, she would feel obligated and driven to straighten, neaten, and beautify, just as he had felt driven to give all of his energy and blessings to others. But she was so upset that he’d let himself get totally depleted, so soon after his most recent surgery.

Everyone has a relationship with money. Everybody. It’s an important question: how do I deal with money? What do I do with my money? What do I do with my money that will make me feel good? And that will give me real happiness?

So, yes, I think of fundraising as a ministry. And if you think of it in terms of pure returns, the profit margin is fabulous. But I certainly don’t think of it as a business in that sense. Rather, it’s ultimately an investment in everyone’s happiness. That’s what you’ve decided to invest in, and the return is going to come entirely in intangibles, as greater joy for yourself, greater attunement with God, and helping a ministry to grow that has served you beautifully.

It’s ultimately asking people to invest in the consciousness of mankind. Most of the people who are involved with us don’t have any trouble with that. It’s all they’re really interested in. And it’s thrilling to work with people who have that awareness.

To make an instant one-click contribution to the spiritual work of Ananda Palo Alto, follow the link to the donation page, where you’ll find seven wonderful ways to give..

Whispers from EternityIn Yogananda’s beautiful poem “When I Am Only a Dream,” he says:

When you are able no longer to talk to me,
Read my Whispers from Eternity.
Eternally through that I will talk to you.

Over the years I have taken that advice to heart and encouraged others to do so. Always, he has kept his promise.

It was a year or so ago that my teen child began to experience sudden health issues. Our medical system wanted the family to conform to their traditional treatment of heavy medication. To me, it was clear that would compromise the quality of her life.

Sitting in front of my altar, I picked up Whispers from Eternity, Yogananda’s loving prayer-demands to God. In that spirit, I centered myself; then lovingly demanded that Master guide us all through this karmic test. Opening the book, my eyes fell on these lines from Master’s poem I Am Here—they explained the present, prophesied the future and gave me hope and comfort:

… A gay, glad world, with mystically opening doors.
With only mists of dreams between,
Someone beside me stood unseen—
And whispered to me, calm and clear:
“Hello, playmate! I am here!”

We decided to delay the medical interventions and wait for the mystical doors to open, and the “mist” to evaporate.

To be honest, the next two months felt like an “Eternity”! Still, these other lines from When I Am Only a Dream became my affirmation:

Unknown I will walk by your side
And guard you with invisible arms.

I repeated them over and over with full faith and clung to Master like a child to their mother.

Those “mystically opening doors” Master spoke of begun to come true — first one, then another, then another. The mist slowly lifted. To the ordinary eye, it looked like a normal course of events — but I knew without any doubt it was the hand of Master.

The teen quickly returned to normal vibrant health.

And I relaxed, comforted in the sure knowledge that by following Master’s advice to “read my Whispers,” he had spoken to us, and given us the right guidance.

“Greater can no love be than this:
From a life of infinite joy and freedom in God
Willingly to embrace limitation, pain, and death
For the salvation of mankind.
Such, ever, has been the sacrifice
Of the great masters for the world.”

Such is the divine gift to mankind of Christ, of our Masters, of the great saints of all religions, of our own beloved Swamiji. Such also is the divine service there for every devotee to perform — each one, according to his ability and his realization, to enter into the fray and there act as a channel for the supernal blessings of God.

In the Russia of the decades following 1919 the persecution of those who believed in God was state-sponsored. The Party faithful joined the Militant Atheist’s League and read the widely-disseminated journal named Godless. The anti-religious persecution in Nazi Germany was just as fierce. Caught in the grip of these two powerful dictatorships, each demanding loyalty to the State as the supreme power and authority over human life, were the fearful millions of ordinary people. Those who loved God were forced underground, like the early Christians in the catacombs. Many hid their icons and worshipped secretly. The bravest found ways to serve those now deprived of their traditional faith.

Bright lights among these courageous souls were those called yurodivy: These went even into the concentration camps to give love and spiritual support to their imprisoned brothers.

One who made it through alive to tell the story was a Croatian priest, his memoir written under the alias “Father George” to protect those still serving where atheism was law. Father George had felt inwardly called to serve those who loved God — and those who had been taught to see God as a myth — and to do so where World War II was raging in eastern Europe and Russia. Travelling in various disguises, as a plumber, as a medical doctor, sometimes as a Partisan officer allied to the Russian army, he never took up arms or inflicted injury. His work was with the souls of everyone he encountered — simple country people trying to survive the years of war and oppression, soldiers of many nations, Partisans, even members of the dreaded MVD secret police (ever vigilant against the forbidden practice of religion).

Wherever he went Father George found souls yearning for freedom, yearning especially for spiritual sustenance, for a way to believe in goodness and love in the midst of the bitter disillusion of life under a state that denied God. Loyal to his own path (he was Roman Catholic), he showed equal respect to all religions and their followers — Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, Moslem — and equal compassion as well, not only for the oppressed but also for the oppressors. One high-ranking Soviet officer sought out Father George, sensing his openness to higher realities. Witnessing the execution of a young soldier, the officer had looked into the young man’s eyes as life left his body: What he saw there, and felt in his own heart, was first sadness, then compassion, then forgiveness. In that moment faith was reawakened and a soul long imprisoned started on its journey to freedom.

Billeted with a unit of MVD secret police, in extreme danger of discovery, Father George was able to cultivate friendships, gently to awaken trust in these most suspicious of Soviet agents — to speak quietly, indirectly, of God, unemphatically, as though commenting on the weather. Late one night a woman officer burst in on him: “Tell me more about God!” All night they conversed, she drinking in what her embittered soul had longed to believe, that God exists and that He is kind. Before Father George moved on deeper into Russia, seven of the MVD officers were coming nightly to share the joy of faith blossoming after long drought.

Travelling into Russia with Partisan units from many Eastern European countries, Father George came upon a devastated village where a Slovakian unit was camped whose priest had somehow been overlooked in the general purge of all chaplains from army groups. Word spread that an actual priest was in reach. Soon there appeared a ragged procession, many barefoot and shivering, mothers with small children, young boys, women in their twenties. They had come from villages in all directions, some quite distant, seeking the batiushka, the little priest, to baptize their children, even those well along in years. The year was 1944: These devoted souls had never known a priest; their villages had been without one since 1919. After the ceremony the mothers came one by one to the batiushka, to slip into his hand an egg, a bit of cheese, a small loaf of bread, “giving him the whole of their poverty as thanks,” then back on the road, the long homeward trudge to their own devastated villages.

Finally exposed as a priest, Father George was imprisoned in Prague, tortured by the Czechoslovakian ZOB secret police, their purpose to break his spirit, force him to confess himself a Vatican spy. With impersonal dedication to his mission, he saw his physical suffering as part of his service. Concentrating his will, Father George too became a yurodivy, one who willingly joined those suffering in prison in order to bring courage and spiritual solace. Even at the worst, mind and faculties numbed into a comatose state, he could still pray. And his prayer was to endure, to stand strong in his faith through whatever came, so that he could continue his service to Christ, and to Christ in his fellow prisoners.

By God’s grace Father George was released to the West, there to write his memoir and so to speak for the millions who hungered for God but had no voice — and thus to awaken in free peoples the kindness and hope of prayer, wafting cloudlike over mountains and all barriers of ideology and race — the thousand ways we separate ourselves one from another — to drop their healing balm wherever suffering and darkness reigned.

In 2009, our beloved Swamiji lay helpless for weeks on end, his body a battlefield on which played out a great struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. A true yurodivy, Swami kept his mind always on Master, and on Divine Mother, so that She might use him as She saw fit in service to the Divine in us all. Suddenly he entered a state of great bliss, one that stayed with him the rest of his days. Wholly self-offered to Divine Mother, his long illness departed, to be replaced by an outpouring of joyous inspiration: a new renunciate order, pathway for lovers of God in every faith to hasten their journey to the one, true Home.

“Through all trials we sing Thy name.
Joy in Thee is life’s sole aim.”

In divine friendship,

For Ananda’s “Thank You, God” Tithing