Talks with Ananda Pioneers: Nayaswami Sudarshan
April 20, 2022
Nayaswami Sudarshan shares with Dambara on April 20th, 2022.
Enjoy these beautiful interviews by Dambara, who talks with the founders of Ananda Village, a spiritual community in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Northern California. Ananda has grown now to many communities and centers around the world, and inspires thousands of people every day in their spiritual life.
The Early Days
In 1968 Swami Kriyananda, Ananda’s founder, purchased 70 acres of land in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, near Nevada City, to be used as a retreat and hermitage. He soon attracted many like-minded — and hardy — souls, who enjoyed the challenge of living simply. These early pioneers helped build the first temple, kitchen and common area, which provided the nucleus of the Ananda Meditation Retreat. The Meditation Retreat hosted year round classes and programs on yoga and meditation and attracted hundreds of visitors.
The New Land
The ideal of living simple, spiritually-centered lives appealed not only to those who were drawn to the life of the hermit, but to people in all stages of life — couples, families, single adults, retirees — and it soon became evident that more land would be needed to accommodate the rapidly expanding number of people drawn to the cooperative spiritual life Ananda had to offer. In 1969 an additional 236 acres were purchased, not far from the Meditation Retreat, which provided an ideal location for the new Ananda Cooperative Community, as it was then called. Gently hilly, with grassy meadows, mixed oak, pine and fir forest, and an open, expansive feel, including panoramic views of the Sierras and rolling foothills, the land offers its graceful beauty to residents, guests and visitors alike. In 1974, Ananda acquired another 326 acres adjacent to the original purchase. A number of years of pioneering innovation ensued. Businesses were started: macramé, incense, honey, an organic garden, an organic dairy, healthy candy, natural jewelry, book publishing, construction, and a natural foods market. Some were privately owned, some community owned – a pattern true today as well. Homes were made: teepees, tiny trailers, simple cabins. School was established: pre-school, elementary, residential high school. Basic services were established: water, sanitation, roads, electricity, phone. These years were marked by outward austerity and the joyful outpouring of cooperative spirit.
By 1979, the Village had grown to a population of approximately 150 adults and 50 children. As the Meditation Retreat continued to offer classes and retreats to ever increasing numbers, the model of spirit-centered life that Ananda demonstrated was attracting an eager and ever growing number of people. However, not all of them could move to Ananda Village, so it was decided to start Ananda centers and communities wherever there was strong interest. The first expansion was to Sacramento, California, and World Brotherhood Colonies in Mountain View, California, Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon quickly followed. Since then, communities have been founded in Los Angeles, CA, Gaston, OR, Assisi, Italy, Gurgaon, India and Pune, India. In addition there are numerous Ananda meditation groups in the U.S., Europe and India.
The Expanding Light
By the early 1980s, the original facility for the Ananda Meditation Retreat had been outgrown. There were only a handful of small cabins, kindly described as “charming,” a dormitory, and tent sites, all of which could no longer accommodate the increasing number of visitors. In 1984, the Ananda Meditation Retreat was relocated to the new land, and a new facility, enjoying close proximity to the residents and activities of Ananda Village.
It was also renamed The Expanding Light, and it serves guests 365 days a year, with classes and programs to inspire them to live strong, inner-directed spiritual lives. Since opening in 1984, thousands of guests have come to The Expanding Light from well over 50 countries.
Living Wisdom School
In 1972, Ananda’s first classroom was a refurbished chicken coop with one teacher and a student body of 7 kids, ages 4 to 8! Soon after, parents and community members built the first schoolhouse, with two classrooms. By the early 1980s, the school campus had expanded to three buildings, 5 classrooms, a gym, playground and school garden, providing over 75 children with “how to live” education from preschool to 8th grade.
Today the Ananda Living Wisdom School (which goes through 12th grade) is attended not only by the children of Ananda Village residents, but by children from the surrounding community, and boarding students from around the world. More schools, founded on the Education for Life approach, have been started in Palo Alto, California, Seattle, Washington, Portland Oregon, Gurgaon, India and, most recently, Gaston, Oregon. In 2003, the Ananda College of Living Wisdom, an alternative to traditional college education, began offering A.A. and B.A. degree programs. (Ananda College was founded and located on the original Meditation Retreat land for its first nine years. In August 2012, in true Ananda style, it expanded and relocated to Ananda’s newest community in Gaston, OR, which now serves as the headquarters for Education for Life.)
Gravel roads and potholes have been replaced with black top and speed bumps, creatively “remodeled” old farm buildings have been replaced with beautifully designed new buildings, the teepees and travel trailers have long since been replaced by lovely handcrafted homes, many jobs requiring hand tools and physical labor have been replaced with jobs requiring laptops and brain power – but it has all been made possible by the continuous outpouring of cooperative spirit with which the community began over 40 years ago.