I often tell people that I grew up at Ananda. And, of course, I wasn’t actually born here; in fact, I didn’t find Ananda until I was twenty-four. But I grew up here in the sense that my true life, my spiritual life, started when I met Swami Kriyananda and found Ananda.
I was living what most people would have considered a successful, normal existence. But there was no fixed point at the center to give it meaning, and for that reason it was an exceedingly unpleasant and insecure way to live. The fact that I was smart and accomplished just made it worse, because nobody understood why I didn’t have a confident expectation the future.
I had the substance of success, without the essence. And the more successful I became at meaningless things, the more frightened I was that my life might never have a center.
When I came on the path, and especially when I met Swami Kriyananda, it was as if the center fell in place and my life could be defined by that center. From the moment I met Swamiji and came to Ananda, I looked forward with eager expectation and excitement.
From then on, the question that defined every aspect of my existence was: “How does this serve discipleship, devotion, and Yogananda’s and Swamiji’s work?”
I’ve been browsing through the notes and files I’ve kept about my life with Swamiji and Ananda, and it’s amazing to look back and see how stupid I was. In the beginning, there was a great deal that I was completely unaware of. In particular, it’s clear that I didn’t have a clue about where Ananda was going. But as I read my old notes, I can see that Swamiji always understood. He knew what Master wanted.
Swamiji told us about two of his previous lives where he played a similar role in Master’s work.
In one of those lives, Yogananda was William the Conqueror and Swamiji was his son, Henry I of England. In the other life, Master was King Ferdinand of Spain, who was known as El Santo, “The Saint.” And Swamiji was his son, Alfonso X, who was called El Sabio, “The Wise.”
Those lives seem far removed from the roles that Swamiji and Master have played in this era, but they were critical in the overall spiritual development of the West.
In Spain, there was a tremendous conflict between the Catholics and Moors, and it was Ferdinand and his son Alfonso who held Spain for the Christian religion and prevented Islam from gaining a foothold in Europe and taking over, which was a distinct possibility.
Later, William and his son Henry led a battle to defend Christianity against the pagans from Scandinavia who threatened overrun the British Isles. It was Yogananda and Kriyananda who prevented it from happening, by uniting England under a strong Christian monarchy.
In each case, Yogananda came with tremendous spiritual power to set an entirely new course for a civilization. But he didn’t live long enough to consolidate the changes, and it fell to his son to complete his mission.
In our times, we find Yogananda and Swamiji doing battle with yet another threat to Christ’s teachings from the foes of meaninglessness, atheism, and fundamentalism, by revealing the truths behind all true religions.
It’s very important to understand that Yogananda wanted people to adopt a broad-reaching application of his teachings. He wanted them to accept an entirely new way of life based on “simple living and high thinking.” He wanted people to start schools and communities that would be based on the eternal truths. And if you look at the magazines he published in the 1920s and 1930s, you find them filled with ads for an endless array of creative businesses. They had a goat dairy, a papaya orchard, and they sold carrot juice, and so on.
My favorite was a meditation helmet that Master called the “Temple of Silence.” It was a headpiece with plugs to cover your ears, and it had a wire that stuck out in front with a white star at the end so you could half-close your eyes and stare at the star in meditation.
Master was wonderfully creative, innovative, and whimsical. And we’ve seen how Swami Kriyananda pursued endless creative projects. In the 1980s, for example, he came back from Australia with a bag of opals that he thought we could sell to raise money to build the Expanding Light.
I had a relative named Harold who was in the jewelry business, so I would talk to him about how we could sell the opals. When Swami bought his first jeweled bangle, he got the stones from Harold at a discount, and Harold, having a good sense of humor and being a good Jewish businessman, would say, “My niece’s guru, he needs some jewels.”
The opals didn’t sell very well, and the greeting cards we made didn’t go over. There are lots of stories of Swamiji’s projects that succeeded to varying degrees, but he was always moving energy, because he knew it would come back to us in one way or another, and he could always see where we were going.
In the beginning, he rarely shared the big vision with us, because he found it only frightened many people.
We were a group of largely ex-hippies, living in the woods and thinking we’d dropped out of society and would have our ideal little life in the country. But Swamiji knew that we were destined to establish a “great work,” as Yogananda called it, and that it would offer a new way of life for people everywhere in the dawning age of energy-awareness.
Master said, “Self Realization has come to unite all religions.” The true meaning of Self-realization, and of the movement he started, is that he wanted to show people the spiritual principles by which life works, and the way to know God. He didn’t mean that a single Self-Realization church would lead the movement, whether Ananda’s or some other.
But Swamiji could always see the big picture, and he always saw it the same way. And as I review my notes, I see the same story throughout Ananda’s history. I find that our present and past are the same – we are the branches of the vine, and the vine was Swamiji and Master and Babaji, who brought this great tide of spirit in response to the longing of many hearts.
In July 1986, Swamiji suggested that David and I move to Palo Alto. We were in a position that was very unusual at Ananda at the time, in that we’d actually been trained for something that Swamiji asked us to do. Often, people would come to Ananda and find themselves doing work that that they hadn’t done before, but that would be good for them spiritually.
On the other hand, David and I had traveled and taught for a number of years, so we wouldn’t be doing anything terribly new in moving to Palo Alto. And it became a big joke at Ananda that we might actually know how to do what Swamiji had asked.
At the time, no one ever spoke of “Ananda Village,” because “Ananda” meant the community in the foothills near Nevada City. And I remember a series of discussions we had, about whether any outposts of Ananda that we might create would have any other purpose than to find the people who were destined to live at the Village. The unspoken idea was that if people were sincere and committed, they’d want to go up there and live.
So, although we had a handful of urban centers, it wasn’t as if they had deep roots. We had East West Bookshop in Menlo Park, and we had an ashram in a big house in Atherton where we were living. We had a room in an office building in Palo Alto where we gave classes and Sunday services. But if someone was sincere, it was more or less assumed that they would move to the Village.
But when Swamiji gave this assignment to David and me, suddenly the old model no longer rang true.
We said, “Surely there must be many people who are sincere and committed, but whose karma doesn’t include moving to the Village. Otherwise, how will Master’s vision of a global movement come true?”
So we gathered our belongings, closed down our lives at the Village, and never referred to the Village as home again. Because we felt that if God had given us this assignment God, we should do it with all our hearts.
I have to add that I cried for two years. I didn’t cry all the time, just when Swami Kriyananda would visit, and then get in his car and drive back to the Village. When he wasn’t around, I was fairly okay, but I used up lots of hankies before, during, and after his visits.
After two years of that cycle, I thought, “If God has put you here, do you really think you’ll be happy anywhere else?”
That was when I realized there was no turning back. I couldn’t be thinking all the time, “It was so nice at the Village, I think I’ll go back there someday.” When heaven and earth turn, we must live with the new reality.
So we sank roots here, and with all respect to the Village, this place began to feel normal. After a few years, it began to seem normal to have Silicon Valley outside our door, instead of beautiful nature. And now I don’t think about going back to the Village at all.
At the time Swamiji invited us to move to the Bay Area, David and I had committed to lead the first India pilgrimage, so we didn’t move here until January 1987. The India trip had been in the works for a while, and we had to honor our commitment
At Ananda, you would often be asked in the evening to go somewhere, and you’d pack up and leave in the morning. So having six months’ notice and being trained for the job was a huge novelty. It was rare that you would stay in a job for years and years. But once we landed in Palo Alto, we realized that we wouldn’t be leaving for a long time.
We traveled with the pilgrims for about three weeks. We visited Fatima, Lourdes, Avila, and the town in Bavaria where Therese Neumann lived. And riding on the trains in Europe, we talked about what our new life would be like.
Swamiji never trained us to say that we wanted a church that would look just so, or a community that would look exactly like that. He trained us to think about what it would feel like, and how it would serve spiritually.
So we developed a picture in our minds, and we talked about a school, and we talked about a community. We already had the bookshop, but we talked about where people would live, and how they would serve, and what the energy would feel like.
We had a wonderful time visualizing it all growing. And what was the vision based on? As Babaji said, “I perceive potential saints waiting to be awakened in the West.” And we knew there must be many devotees hungry for this path.
At the time, Swami Kriyananda had just written the Festival of Light, the ritual we’ve used in our services for about twenty-five years. He began appointing people as lightbearers, and he put us in robes, where formerly we had worn regular clothes at service.
These were major changes, and they began on Christmas Eve of 1986, in the chapel at Crystal Hermitage. Swamiji invited a number of the lightbearers, including David and me, because we were about to go to the Bay Area, and he led us in the Festival of Light.
He knew it was the start of a completely different reality for Ananda. The walls were coming down, and the thought of living in our own little village was over.
Our mission now was to find potential saints where they lived. Swamiji was giving us the dignity of representing Master with a greater awareness of the true scope of Ananda. He gave us the form, with the Festival of Light, that would allow us to come together with others on Sundays and celebrate the teachings of the masters, and the prospect and method of our Self-realization.
Swamiji established the new pattern that evening. He planted the new direction in our spirit as deeply as we were able to receive it. He poured divine grace on us, and when we walked out we said, “That’s what we’re here for. We’re here for one thing, to carry this feeling of divine inspiration as far as we can, to as many as we can reach.”
When we think of the accomplishments of Ananda, we could write them down and they’d make a very impressive list: the church building, the money we’ve raised for various aspects of Master’s work, and so on. But it would all mean nothing except that it expresses the devotion of many hearts.
When I walked in this morning, I found Joycee lighting candles and Erin practicing her singing, and someone adjusting the sound system. Others were setting up tables, and some were preparing for the purification ceremony.
I said to David, “Look at how many people own this building.” They own it in the best way, with the thought, “This is my home. This is my spiritual life. And if it manifests in a physical form, the benefit is that it’s a little easier for the next wave of potential saints to find it.”
When Swami asked us to live here, David went to him and said, “Sir, what would you like to see there?”
Swamiji said, “I don’t know. How would I know? I’m not going to be there. You’ll be there. Go and feel what’s happening, and then you’ll come back and tell me.”
That was how Swamiji worked with us. “You come back and tell me. You feel it. Let the Divine flow through you.”
At the Village, years ago, some people were talking about how Swamiji had asked them to do a project, and how he then threw them in at the deep end and walked away.
Swamiji called them and said, very strongly, “I was always with you. I never left you. My consciousness was always with you.”
He would say, “I’ve founded nine communities, four schools, and six retreats.” And if you thought about it, you would find that he very rarely gave us directives. Twice, he told David and me that he thought what we were planning was misguided. I remember when we were thinking about starting a retreat here, he said, “I think we need that like we need a hole in the head.”
I turned to David and said, “I think I’m picking up that he doesn’t like it, David – are you getting the same feeling?”
At the time, the Expanding Light was barely scraping by, and Swamiji said, “It will just wipe it out if you start one here. You can’t do that.”
We’d somehow gotten the mistaken idea that someone wanted to give us some land, when it turned out that they only wanted to sell it.
I remember also how we were thinking of dissolving the ashram we had, long before we had a community. Swami said, “You can’t do that. The people who have moved there have a spiritual life. You can’t take the ashram away until you have an alternative.”
Those were the only two times I remember him saying anything to us about what we were doing. In fact, though, it was he who founded this community. Every piece of it was something he had a hand in, because we are branches of the vine. And if we had tried to do it all on our own, or if we even for a moment started thinking, “It would be great to be the minister of this church.” – if any of that kind of thought had crossed our minds, it would all have come crashing down.
It isn’t difficult to avoid those thoughts. It’s simple, really, and you all know this, because you understand that what we’ve done was impossible. There was no logic to it. We have no wealthy patrons, and it was impossible, no question, given our resources.
But it’s not impossible when devotees get together, and when their values are true: “We need to build this because there are potential saints waiting to be awakened, and we need to provide a place where they can find us and feel it is their spiritual home.”
Those were the only two times Swamiji ever said something to us. In a more general way, he told us, “Master’s teachings, this path of Self Realization, are ideally suited for the Silicon Valley, because people are intelligent and creative and scientific, and they want something that’s dynamic and makes sense.”
He said, “Raise the profile so that when people in this area start thinking spiritually, they’ll see you.”
Our first church was on the second floor of an office building on California Avenue. We had little teams out searching for a real church, and Nakula, who has carpentry skills, made a little collection box in the shape of a church, which we began stuffing with money.
We looked at churches all over, but most of the ones we found were impractically far out in the country. Finally, this one became available, and our realtor knew the realtor who was selling it, and in a very short time it became ours.
A strange thing is that when Nakula built the little donation box, he walked around looking for a church to use as a model, and he chose this one. He thought, “That’s an ideal-looking church,” and he built a box that looked just like it.
When we called Swami and told him we’d found this church, he said, “Oh, yes. Every time I’ve driven by that church, I’ve thought, ‘That’s our church.’”
I said, “Sir, you could have told us!…”
But by then I knew that he felt it was better to let our own intuition guide us, because then we would have the experience of tuning in to God’s will and finding the courage to listen and act and grow in faith.
We had been saving money for a while, so we had some cash. But it wasn’t at all like the way we acquired Ananda Valley Farm in 2013, where we had absolutely nothing. So we’ve progressed to the point where we can buy expensive property with nothing.
When we bought the church, we were a small group of feeble earners. So we chose three or four people in the congregation who had actual careers, and they met with the realtor because they could talk knowledgeably about business, and they knew how to shmooze with the realtors at their level. “I own this, I do that, I write this software, I make these deals.” And Santoshi carried a briefcase that had absolutely nothing in it but a picture of Master.
So we walked around putting forth the image that we could buy the church, no problem. The mortgage payments were five times the rent we were paying on our little office-church, but we knew intuitively that God was giving it to us. And God bless the Catholic realtor. He was donating his time, and he wasn’t interested in taking a commission – he was just happy to sell it to the first ones who came along.
It had been a Catholic church for forty years, and it was traumatic for them to give it up. So it was a tense time on both sides. There was a chiropractor on California Avenue who saw a lot of us, and it turned out that the entire Catholic ownership of the church were also his patients, so he was able to track the deal by the tension in our necks. The Catholics had to find the courage to let it go, and we had to have the courage to move forward and buy it.
David was wonderful through it all. Everybody trusted him, and he somehow just knew we could afford it. So we walked in and made it ours.
The first time I stood up to speak, I was wearing the white lightbearer’s robe. Most of the Catholic art was still on the walls and altar, although we had taken down the big crucifix. And I’m not psychic, but when I stood here to speak that first Sunday, I could feel a row of black-clad priests across the back of the room. Their spirits were hovering there, and they weren’t pleased. “What is that woman dressed in white doing in our church, facing away from the altar and not speaking Latin?”
I finally had to pause and say inwardly, quite strongly, “It’s our church now – get over it! We’re on the same side. You’ll have to accept it.”
And they did; they faded away, and over time the church became ours. And in these last twenty years, I’ve never walked into this building without feeling in my heart, “Thank you, God. Thank you, God. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
So much has been possible. But why did the grace come? Because of all the potential saints who’ve been willing to give their hearts to God. When you give your heart first to God, it’s not so hard to give the money in your wallet, even if it isn’t very much. You find a little and pass it forward, and miracles start to happen.
So that’s what we’re celebrating. We’re celebrating the miracle of what God can do through us, if we put one foot in front of the other with open and willing hearts.
God bless you.
(From Asha’s talk at Sunday service on February 13, 2014.)