Watching Ananda’s growth over the years, I’ve come to think of it as something of a mixed blessing.
The more successful and established we’ve become, the more our work has taken on a tangible form. And the risk is that we might be tempted to think of it as something that exists in a fixed, outward way.
There’s really nothing that we can do about it. Outward growth is inevitable, when you’re offering people something that they want.
Paramhansa Yogananda was an unusual sort of avatar. Unlike most avatars who come with a great world mission, he set up an organization, and he incorporated it under the state of California and made himself president of the board. It was something he knew he had to do, in this country at this time, because he realized that if he didn’t establish something solid and substantial, people would have less respect for the teachings.
When Swami Kriyananda started Ananda, he followed Yogananda’s model and gave it a certain form. And yet the form hasn’t completely coalesced, much less congealed, and we’re still fortunate to be living at the start of this work. Barely sixty-five years have passed since Paramhansa Yogananda left his body, and there hasn’t been time for the teachings to be diluted by the usual misinterpretations that mankind places on them. So the creative spirit of what we’re doing is still as much alive today as it was in his time. But we need to remember that there is only one purpose for Ananda’s existence, and that is the Self-realization of the individual.
Those of us who were drawn to become Master’s disciples, and who’ve work toward our own Self-realization, have also worked hard to build a work that will endure as a channel for a message and a divine light to help others.
We’ve worked to pay off our buildings, and we’ve done our best to make them a visual representation of the spirit behind this work. Because, as Swamiji said, “If your places are not refined, people will think your ideas are not refined.” It’s the way most Americans think – they judge a work by its outward appearance, and this is partly the reason why we’ve wanted to bring everything up to a level that will inspire people and draw their respect.
But the only reason we’re doing it is so that the individual will be able to discover these teachings and learn to find the inner presence of God that exists in us all.
The work of helping people spiritually is never-ending. It’s forever in motion, like the waves on the sea, and there is no point at which the decisions we make will ever be final. We will always need to think of what’s the best direction at a certain point in time. And when heaven and earth rearrange themselves, and people’s consciousness changes, and new people enter the picture, the definition of Ananda will have to change with the new circumstances.
I’m of an age where I know a lot of the history of what we’ve done, and why it started, and what the reasoning was. And I know that it was never about laying down a set of rigid rules and saying, “This is how things are done at Ananda.” It was always about finding the best way to help people at a given point in time.
So I would like us to always remember that the great fun of Ananda lies in the ever-new nature of our attunement. And as each of us grows, and as our responsibilities shift, it’s enormous fun to see how God will give us creative solutions.
In my life, I’ve moved into a new phase now, where I’m relating somewhat differently to Ananda’s work. I’ve begun to follow Swami’s guidance to me, to work more with writing. Meanwhile, Shanti has moved into the role of serving as a spiritual director of the community, and it has passed to her to think of all the ways Ananda needs to be reinvented, and how we can re-attune ourselves to please God and Master and Swami through our service.
Swamiji talked a great deal about SRF, and people have sometimes misunderstood his reasons for doing so. Since Master’s passing, SRF has changed his work in many ways, and it has presented us with an example of what Master did not want us to do. And this is why Swami would use the example of SRF, to tell us about Master’s wishes for the work, and how he wanted us to develop it.
As Swami said, “I would rather be more charitable, but there is just too much to be learned that is too important.” And one of the primary differences that he pointed out between SRF and Ananda was that he felt they had a habit of looking backwards, and saying, “This is what master did, and therefore it’s what we should do.”
Swamiji wouldn’t think of what Master did sixty or seventy or eighty years ago, but what he would do, if he were here in this moment.
We saw an example of this when Swamiji took Ananda to Italy. We initially rented a villa in Como, and he began working with a group of charismatic Catholics from Sorrento. Swami was trying to create a combined work, because he saw how devoted they were, and he felt that we could help each other. In the end it didn’t succeed, more because of their point of view than ours. But he gave a very significant talk where he explained, “I do not want anybody looking back to America to say that ‘this is how we do it.’”
He said, “We are not in America. We are in Italy, and I want us to work as partners and try to see what is the right thing for now.”
He had that courage, because he had confidence in Master’s power to guide us, and he had confidence in his attunement.
He had tremendous confidence that the right attunement will take you where you need to go, that you don’t need to build rigid walls around yourself, and limit your understanding to what’s been done in the past, or to the guidance that you might have been given at one point in time, or to what seems reasonable from the perspective of the rational mind.
When we came to Palo Alto in January 1987, there was no such thing as an urban Ananda colony. Since the early eighties we had had a big house in San Francisco where people lived together and shared the teachings, and we had a group house in Atherton, and a small house in Sacramento. But the concept of having a real church that would require our lifelong commitment, and a real, separate community that wasn’t Ananda Village, was unheard-of. In fact, many people thought that our urban centers should serve as portals through which sincere people could come and learn for a time and then abandon everything and move to Ananda Village.
So the thought that thirty years later we might be sitting in a real church like this one, with a real community, was not even a misty vision for us. And yet it seems so obvious now, doesn’t it?
It’s easy to see, now that it has been accomplished, that it was what we were meant to do all the time. But when it didn’t exist, and it hadn’t yet been created, and we had nothing of this nature, the question we continually had to ask ourselves was, “What would Master do if he were here? What would Swami do if he were here?”
And as long as we hold that thought in whatever we’re doing, Ananda will be a vibrant work, and it will continue to thrive in the only way that is needed, which is that souls will be able to find it and be uplifted.
There’s a story of Master, when he returned to India in 1935 and visited his school in Ranchi. They had a big gathering, and the speakers were trying to praise the school in terms of the academic record of the children. And one of the guests stood up and said, “That’s not how you measure it.” He said, “The measure of what’s happening here is the spiritual expansion of the individual.”
And in everything we’ve done here in Palo Alto, I don’t think we’ve ever come close to losing that focus. As we’ve progressed, step by step, and we’ve done all of the material things to build this work, the freshness of that understanding has never left us.
Every so often, we need to reinvent ourselves a bit. And that’s more or less what this meeting is about. It’s about doing a little bit of reinventing, with Shanti and I changing our roles, and the need to remind ourselves of what our main focus should be.
What has served us in the past is continuing to serve us in the present, and it will serve us in the future, as long as we keep the thought alive of who Swami was, and how he worked.
To the end of his life, it was just one constant stream of creative initiatives. I remember being in a house where I counted fourteen people who were each industriously engaged in some project that Swamiji had started, whether it was an aspect of the music, or helping with a book, or sitting with him and working with his slideshows. And that endless creativity was driven by Swami’s constantly wanting to ask, “What can we do that will help people now?”
How can we help people now? In my role as an Ananda colony leader, people have sometimes asked me, ‘How do you define your job?” And my definition has become very simple over the years, because it’s all about us working together and creating moments of profound inspiration for ourselves and others. Because if we’re doing that, that’s all that is required.
Everything we do, including buying buildings and starting communities is for one reason only, so that we can combine our energies, and by the power of our magnetism, attract the presence of the Masters, and constantly return to the point of our inner attunement with Spirit. And then absolutely everything else will follow.
For those of us who have more than a casual interest in our own Self-realization, and who are working hard to help others find their Self-realization, I think that when we get together in the astral world we will look back and say, “Wow, that was some incarnation!”
Mother Teresa said, “Let us do something beautiful for God.” And I know that we have. We’ve built castles of Self-realization within ourselves, and we’ve built a temple of Self-realization for others. And our continuing assignment, which we will never stop doing until our last breath, is to make sure that the magnetism of that castle and that temple remains as powerful as possible, with God’s grace, so that we can offer the blessing that we’ve been given to seekers everywhere.
(From a talk by Asha at an Ananda Palo Alto members’ meeting on August 28, 2016.)