Ananda Through the Years: Introduction, Part 1

Honoring Its Principles, Ideals, and Commitments

 Introduction

By Jyotish Novak, Spiritual Director of the Ananda Sevaka Order, worldwide

Ananda is one of the world’s most successful intentional communities. Ananda came into existence in the late 1960s, a time when America saw thousands of attempts to create new models of living. Most of those experiments never survived their first year, but Ananda has thrived and grown. The thoughtful person must wonder why? This booklet helps answer that question.

Three reasons stand above all others. First, Ananda is built on high, spiritual principles with daily meditation as the oil that lubricates all of our interactions. Secondly, we put primary emphasis on the growth of every individual. And finally, through all tests and trials, we have stubbornly held to dharma, or righteous action.

We invite you to see how “high thinking and simple living,” as Paramhansa Yogananda phrased it, is not only a possible way to live but, in his words, destined to “spread like wildfire.”

Ananda Through the Years

While most of the utopian religious communities that sprang up in the 1960s have failed, Ananda has flourished.”—The New York Times

From small beginnings, Ananda has become a decentralized, worldwide movement with centers of inspiration or “colonies” in America, Europe and India. These colonies, all of them autonomous, include residential communities dedicated to “simple living and high thinking” and church-type congregations. There are also Ananda meditation groups on nearly every continent and teaching centers throughout the United States and Europe.

Why Ananda Has Succeeded

People often ask how Ananda has been so successful, particularly when so many similar communities have failed. Many reasons might be advanced, but three are the most important. In Cooperative Communities, Swami Kriyananda, Ananda’s founder, explains:

1) At Ananda, we find our peace inwardly first, in meditation, and only secondarily from one another.

2) We have learned that the secret of work is joyous service; and 3) we have learned that to see God in one another, and in all people, is to dissolve all sense of differences between us and them.

The principles and ideals that guide Ananda have grown naturally out of a way of life based on meditation, joyous service, and the understanding that a single Reality underlies all of life’s seeming diversity. These principles and ideals, and how they’ve worked in practice, tell who Ananda is and why it has flourished despite numerous obstacles and challenges. To understand Ananda, one needs to become acquainted with these principles and ideals.

The following pages discuss these principles and ideals in a variety of contexts. Emphasized throughout are the challenges Ananda has faced— opposition from neighbors, the threat of bankruptcy, lawsuits—simply because one’s commitment to principles is truly tested in the fires of controversy and challenge. As steel is tempered by fire, Ananda has emerged from these challenges greatly strengthened, more deeply committed than ever to its guiding ideals.

Most of the examples discussed in the following pages pertain to Ananda Village, the first of the Ananda colonies, where a way of life developed based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. That way of life, and the principles and ideals that guide it, is followed today in all the Ananda colonies throughout the world.

The key principles and ideals

Two fundamental principles guide all that we do. The first is, “People are more important than things.” In practice this means putting other people’s needs, spiritual or otherwise, ahead of anything one might want of them. Thus, if a job needs to be done, but the best person for it would not benefit from it spiritually, someone else is sought for the job. If no one can be found, an entire project may be abandoned.

Closely related to this is the second principle, “Where there is adherence to truth and right action, there is victory.” A dramatic example of this was the June 1976 forest fire that destroyed 450 acres and twenty-one of the twenty-two homes at Ananda Village. A faulty spark arrester on a county vehicle caused the fire, and Ananda could have sued the county and recovered its losses. Instead, Swami Kriyananda wrote the county supervisors and reassured them that Ananda would not be suing:

I’m sure you are aware, that Ananda was the biggest loser in the fire. Perhaps you’ve been worried about what we’ll do about it. I want you to know that we won’t be suing. We don’t want to take our bad luck out on fellow citizens by increasing the county’s insurance rates….

Although Ananda faced the real possibility of bankruptcy, the community flourished. The decision not to sue was in line with the principle noted above: “Where there is adherence to truth and right action, there lies victory.”

The example of Swami Kriyananda

Have we been 100% successful in living up to these ideals? No, but we have certainly done our best. Ananda is composed of many people, who try with varying degrees of success to honor them.

Therefore, it’s important to “test the water” at the spring: how far has Swami Kriyananda himself honored these ideals? It’s safe to say that he has lived them. A frequent statement he has made is, “I said I would, so I must.” Here are a few examples, only:

A married couple were having problems and Kriyananda, wanting to help them, asked them to accompany him on a long journey. They said they thought they would be able to meet their own expenses. Later, when the trip was close to being crystallized, they discovered that they would not be able to cover their expenses after all. Kriyananda’s response was, “I asked them to come, so I will pay the amount to make it possible.”

In December 1994, Kriyananda committed himself to a lecture tour of southern California the following March. Later in December, his doctor informed him that he urgently needed open heart surgery to replace a faulty valve, and that without it, he could die “at any moment.” After surgery his doctor said, “You must take complete rest now for one year.”

Kriyananda had committed himself, however, to that lecture tour. When people urged him to cancel it, his answer was, “I said I would, so I must.” There was no financial or other reason for him to make the tour: It was simply that he had given his word.

Many times, because of illness, Kriyananda has been urged to cancel a talk or some other commitment. Always his answer has been, “I said I would, so I must.”

A certain person committed herself to doing a job for Kriyananda, but never finished the job. This rendered the work she’d done up to that point altogether useless. Kriyananda paid her just the same, without complaint, because he’d promised to do so.

This has been Ananda’s behavior also. Sometimes imperfectly, but always its endeavor has been, whatever its commitment, to honor its word, its principles, its ideals.

The principles in action—what others say

In the following pages are many examples of how Ananda has done this, along with the comments and observations of people, not part of Ananda, who have dealt with Ananda members over the years. Many of them say that Ananda people treat them as a friend and seem genuinely interested in their welfare. Others emphasize that Ananda’s sympathies are expansive, not contractive.

In fact, another of Ananda’s principles is that no community can flourish if it cuts itself off from the greater society of which it is a part. Ananda sees its very existence as justified by the service it renders to that society. In A Place Called Ananda, Kriyananda discusses this very point:

I urged our members not to think of Ananda as separate from society as a whole. Our good, I said, included the good of everyone, and not only that of Ananda.

Serving the Larger Community

Retail businesses

Ananda’s first business was its Meditation Retreat, which was started in 1968 and attracted the people who would eventually become the nucleus of the future community. A number of other businesses followed, both privately and community owned.

Ananda’s most enduring businesses have been its two guest retreats and its two markets. In addition to the Meditation Retreat, these include The Expanding Light Guest Retreat at Ananda Village; Master’s Market, a natural food store and cafe that serves Ananda Village and neighbors; and Earth Song Health Food Store and Cafe in Nevada City, which Ananda owned for more than 20 years before selling it in 2002.

The temptation to put personal advantage ahead of principle is possibly greatest in business transactions, which makes them an important testing ground. In these settings, Ananda’s commitment to its ideals is expressed in relationships characterized by integrity, respect, and friendship. Here’s what two food industry sales reps have said:

I interacted with the manager of Earth Song once a week by phone for about three years. I also visited both Ananda Village and Earth Song to try to arrange for speakers connected with our products. On such occasions, a lot of people I do business with will try to get something out of me—a dinner, perhaps drinks, something for themselves. There was never any of that with Ananda. I never had the sense that Ananda was trying to “use” me in any way.

I was impressed by the integrity with which Ananda operated. Once, when Earth Song was going through a difficult period, the manager was very up front about it and asked if short-term payment terms could be arranged. This is something my company never does, but I agreed because I knew Earth Song would pay. And they did. They made every payment, even before it was due.

Ananda people treated me as a friend. My salespeople loved visiting Ananda Village and Earth Song and always had positive things to say. Jack Burke,National Sales Manager for a national health food distribution company.

When I talked with people from Earth Song, it was different from any other health food store. They treated me as a friend. I felt from them a warmth and a caring that I’ve never experienced with any other client. They really seemed to enjoy serving others and were always very positive and upbeat.

It was wonderful to deal with people who seemed genuinely interested in learning about the products I was selling and getting them out to the local community — Janet Planet, former sales representative for a national company that marketed new products to health food stores.

Community health services

In 1982, in a run-down trailer two miles down the road from Ananda Village, Peter Van Houten, a medical doctor and Ananda Village resident, started a rural clinic (Sierra Family Medical Clinic) for an area totally lacking in medical services. Staffed initially by Ananda members only, the clinic served not just Ananda Village but the entire local area. Twelve years later, when the clinic was self-sustaining, Dr. Van Houten donated it to a local non-profit corporation. He continues to serve as medical director and CEO.

Today the clinic staff and governing board are made up of both Ananda members and area residents. Housed in a new, up-to-date facility and offering dental and behavioral therapy services along with medical, the clinic is considered one of the best of its type in California. It is one of the few clinics that accepts patients regardless of ability to pay. Asked what they most appreciated about the clinic, most patients commented on the loving, caring attitude of the staff:

At the Sierra Family Medical Clinic my son and I receive loving care from Peter Van Houten and the staff. When I am receiving care, I feel like my concerns and medical condition are of the utmost concern to my doctor. I don’t feel like I’m being rushed in and rushed out. Dr. Van Houten takes the time to explain in detail what is going on and what I should expect. The receptionist makes me feel like she is glad I am a patient here. R.C., Downieville, CA

Sierra Family Medical Clinic has never refused medical attention to anyone I know. I myself have done plenty of walk-ins with my kids, and I’ve always felt welcome. They’re more than just doctors, they’re friends and they really care about their patients. K.M., North San Juan, CA

I love that the clinic is always clean and uplifting and that everyone is kind and serviceful. I especially appreciate that my two practitioners, Lennie Martin and Dr. Van Houten, are extremely bright, perceptive, and up-to-date on the best ways of treatment with the least side effects. M.C., Nevada City, CA.

If it weren’t for the clinic and the sliding fee scale, who knows what shape I’d be in with my medical problems. I couldn’t afford ANY medical attention. Thanks from the bottom of my heart. C.C., Camptonville, CA.

Fire prevention

Fire prevention is a key concern in the Sierra Nevada foothills where forest fires are a normal occurrence during the long, dry summers. For many years Ananda members have been actively involved with the local volunteer fire department. They have served as fire fighters, on the fire department board, and, occasionally, as fire department staff. The head of the department comments:

There’s been a lot of support for the volunteer fire department from Ananda. The Ananda community really got behind the workdays for finishing the new fire station, which was a big project for our district. Of the fifteen people who showed up for the workdays, ten were from Ananda. We worked two very long weekends and it was great fun.

In the area of fire safety, Ananda is doing all the things that should be done—installing fire hydrants, creating an incredible water system, storing water, clearing the brush, and getting rid of buildings that are potential fire hazards. From time to time, the department holds training sessions for volunteer fire fighters at the Village.

The people I’ve met and gotten to know from Ananda Village are wonderful people. Bruce Boyd, Chairman, North San Juan Volunteer Fire Department.

Local hospital

An interest in serving the larger Nevada County community has prompted some Ananda members to seek service opportunities at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley—35 minutes away by car. While working as manager of Earth Song, Ananda member Eric Glazzard ran the hospital’s annual Health and Safety Fair and expanded its offerings to include yoga, meditation, vegetarian cooking, and sports.

Other Ananda members teach yoga and meditation to patient groups, and some have participated in the hospital’s interdenominational chaplaincy program. Their hospital contact person comments:

The Ananda people I’ve worked with were very friendly, helpful, and cooperative. They have a community spirit and aren’t parochial in their outlook. They realize we’re all connected and see the larger community as their community. Eric Glazzard loved to showcase Nevada County and its many health offerings at the hospital’s annual fair.

Whenever Ananda people have taught meditation or yoga at the hospital, they’ve always abided by our requirement that their presentation be non-denominational— they’ve never tried to push their religious orientation. Debbie Wagner, Director of Occupational Health and Wellness, Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.

Relations with Neighbors Ananda is an open community. Guests and visitors are welcome every day of the year. Children from the local area attend the Ananda schools and use the community playground; neighbors shop at the community market and thrift shop; and Ananda’s religious services draw people from the surrounding area and from as far away as Auburn. Most years Ananda has hosted a countywide “open house,” which attracts hundreds of visitors.

People are often astonished at how little friction there is at Ananda. But there is really no mystery about that. Inner peace, like oil, keeps the machinery of life flowing smoothly, all its parts working together harmoniously.

During its more than thirty year existence, Ananda has done its best to promote harmonious relations with its neighbors—cooperation and harmony are expressions of our key ideals. If disagreements arise, Ananda members look for solutions that promote harmony and make it possible for those involved to work together again in a spirit of good will. Of vital importance to this process is the ability to transcend any need to “win” or to be “right.”

Meditation Retreat

Kriyananda’s response to the opposition directed at our Meditation Retreat early in Ananda’s history is a good example. Kriyananda faced the challenge of accommodating the concerns of neighbors who opposed all but minimal development of the area, without abandoning his commitment to providing a place where people could devote themselves to spiritual goals.

The Meditation Retreat was originally part of a larger undivided parcel acquired in 1967 by a group of people that included Swami Kriyananda. Initially, there were four buyers, each of whom acquired a 24-acre parcel. The expectation was that, before the deadline for finalizing the sale, two more buyers would be found for the two remaining parcels. Kriyananda, who planned to use his parcel as a private retreat for himself and a few like-minded “hermits,” attempted to build a home on his parcel even before the deal closed.

After several failed attempts to build a home, Kriyananda concluded that a spiritual community of the type repeatedly encouraged by his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, “was trying to happen.” When the deadline for closing the deal was imminent, and no new buyers had been found, Kriyananda offered to buy the two remaining parcels on the condition that with that much land, he could start a community and then move it, at the latest in five years.

The other buyers agreed, the deal closed on schedule in April 1967, and Kriyananda now owned a total of 72 acres. In August 1968, Kriyananda dedicated the Meditation Retreat and the first guests arrived.

1969 challenge

In June 1969, one of the buyers, Richard Baker, demanded that Kriyananda not accept any more people at the Meditation Retreat. He argued that the existence of a small community at the retreat violated the agreement signed by the buyers the year before.

In September 1968, the buyers had formed the Bald Mountain Association, transferred title to that entity, and signed an agreement that allowed no more than one hermitage or 2 persons per acre. The agreement made no mention of the Ananda Meditation Retreat or the future community.

Kriyananda signed the agreement knowing that in a few years he would move the community. Also, since he owned 72 acres, the provisions allowing one hermitage or two persons per acre seemed to allow for the development that was taking place at the retreat.

There were, however, different points of view on the meaning of the written agreement. Also, despite his promise, the other buyers also doubted that Kriyananda would later move the community.

While disagreeing with their interpretation of the spirit and letter of the agreement, in the interest of harmony, Kriyananda acquiesced. He found property six miles away, and that same year moved the young community to its new location at Ananda Village. This decision forced Kriyananda to live away from Ananda for two years, except for weekends, while he gave classes in San Francisco, Sacramento, and other cities to pay for the newly acquired land.

1973 challenge

In 1973 there was another demand from the Bald Mountain Association, no less serious in its potential impact on Ananda. In order to reduce traffic on the roads, the Association now asked that Ananda move the Meditation Retreat altogether.

This request posed a dilemma. The retreat was integral to Ananda’s spiritual mission. In his book, A Place Called Ananda, Swami Kriyananda describes his reaction to a suggestion from certain members that Ananda temporarily close down the retreat and concentrate on developing the community:

“No,” I said. “We need to direct our energies outward in service to others, and not inwardly only. Otherwise God will cease to pour out blessings on us. If no one else wants to serve at the retreat, I’ll do it myself—all of it, if necessary.”

Nevertheless, in the interest of harmony, Ananda again acquiesced, and in 1974 purchased property adjacent to Ananda Village as a site for a new retreat. Construction proceeded slowly, however, stalled by county red tape and lack of funds. But by the early 1980s, The Expanding Light, the new guest retreat at Ananda Village, was hosting guests.

Thereafter, the Meditation Retreat served mainly as a church training center and private retreat. It is currently the home of the Ananda Institute for Alternative Living.

1994 challenge

In 1994, Ananda again encountered opposition from retreat neighbors when it circulated, for their comments, a plan to increase and upgrade Meditation Retreat buildings to allow for more residents and private retreatants. By then, the original parcel of land, purchased in common, had been partitioned and Ananda held legal title to its portion.

In the interest of harmony, Ananda again made major concessions by agreeing to keep the retreat population and buildings well below the proposed number. Ananda also agreed to move its monastic training program, then housed at the retreat, to Ananda Village.

A 1992 letter from Meditation Retreat staff member, Karen Gamow, to Gary Snyder, the only remaining Association member, reflects Ananda’s day-to-day approach to neighbors’ concerns about noise and traffic:

I wanted to be in touch with you about our summer plans. The annual nature conference runs June 22-27. There will be 33 guests in tents, mostly nature educators, studying with Joseph. You’ll see some cars parked in the lower lot, probably 10 at most. We’ll be going there to trim the grass next week.

Also, we’ll be rebuilding the Temple this summer. [It collapsed in 1991] It will be a dome kit, with 4’ riser walls, so actual construction noise will be much less than normal for a project of this type. We’ll begin around July 15 or August 1, and hope to be finished with any outdoor construction noise in about 6 weeks. We’ll be using the quietest generator possible for supplying power to tools, and we’ll be concentrating our power tools as much as possible to specific periods of the day. Construction will take place between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Do call me directly if you are impacted negatively, and we’ll do everything we can to find alternative ways to work.

A neighbor comments

I’ve been living next to the Ananda Retreat for the last ten years! We’ve had contact with the leadership of the retreat and have had a very good working relationship. The leaders of the retreat have been cooperative in any way possible. Sheelo Bohm, letter, December 5, 1994.

Ananda Village timber harvest

The type of accommodation reached with our Meditation Retreat neighbors wasn’t possible with critics of Ananda’s 2001 timber harvest. Rumors and newspaper stories created the impression that Ananda intended to engage in “clear-cutting,” but this was untrue. When opposition developed, Ananda invited critics to the Village to discuss their concerns.

After reviewing the forestry plan and touring the areas to be logged, most neighbors were reassured. The remaining opposition, a small minority, insisted that trees should never be cut down, or at least never for profit.

The timber harvest was a means of raising urgently needed funds, to be sure. But the project itself was in keeping with standards of good forest management. Ananda’s forests were badly in need of thinning to reduce the fire danger and to improve forest health overall. The consultant who supervised Ananda’s timber harvest comments:

Some environmentally conscious people believe that it’s never right to cut down a tree. I don’t agree. Under proper management, cutting trees improves the health of the forest. The trees at Ananda were so diseased that they reduced Ananda’s return on the harvest by about 8-10%. Ananda’s forests were also badly in need of thinning to reduce the fire danger both to Ananda and the surrounding area.

Most people who do a timber harvest want to maximize the financial return but Ananda’s attitude was different. For Ananda, maintaining the rural flavor of the land was very important.

The Ananda tree-marking committee went around and marked trees. I made recommendations, but some were overruled based on aesthetics. Ananda focused almost exclusively on diseased trees, and took only those healthy trees that were overcrowded. If Ananda had been in it for the money, they would have cut down many more trees.

Ananda now has a good balance between open areas and brush, which helps the wildlife. It’s good to have patches of brush where wildlife can hide, but you find most wildlife next to meadows where they have a chance to escape predators and not get trapped in the brush.

Some of the money from the harvest was set aside and used to finance a thorough clean up of slash, removal of brush, and planting of new trees. Ananda did the best post-logging clean up I’ve ever seen. I very much enjoyed working with Ananda. It was the friendliest group of people I’ve ever met. Hollis (Les) W. Day, Mountain Clearing and Brushing Inc., Grass Valley, CA

Swami Kriyananda has noted that the vibrations at Ananda Village have risen “spectacularly” with the clearing of “unkempt” wilderness. He explains:

The very devas [higher astral beings] are attracted to places where there is pure, devotional energy…. For this purpose the ancient Chinese even remolded the shape of the countryside, and thereby made their world itself a more perfect reflection of heavenly values. Wilderness alone, especially “unkempt” wilderness, attracts lower astral entities.

Relations with Public Agencies

When Ananda Village first got under way, word spread quickly to nearby Grass Valley and Nevada City that “bad news” had come to Nevada County. To be sure, among the early residents of Ananda were a few hippies with no greater ambition than lounging at the nearby river. But most Ananda residents wanted to become responsible citizens and good neighbors.

In time, the general impression changed. People found that Ananda residents respected local laws and authorities, paid their bills promptly, and added a positive aura of their own to the area. In fact, a surprisingly large number of people, though not members of Ananda, have moved to Nevada County as a direct consequence of Ananda’s being here.

1971 complaint

Kriyananda’s handling of building code violations that threatened to close down the Meditation Retreat was an early demonstration of Ananda’s intentions. The retreat at that time was classified as a “church camp,” and came under the authority of the county health department. In 1971, the District Attorney’s office informed Kriyananda that certain buildings at “Camp Ananda” were in violation of the building codes, and that dire consequences would follow if the violations were not corrected.

Kriyananda wrote immediately to Hal Cox, our health department contact, and explained that “most of our buildings (and all of our principal ones) were built according to regulations.” He apologized for the handful of smaller structures that were not in compliance, saying that we had been misinformed as to church camp requirements. He pledged his cooperation in correcting things:

Whenever you find us to be in violation of your codes, Hal, you may count on our cooperation to rectify matters to the best of our ability. I came up here four years ago with a firm intention that has never changed, namely, of cooperating with the authorities, and of permitting only those persons to join me at Ananda who wanted to become responsible (and voting) citizens of Nevada County.

Matters were resolved amicably at a meeting at the District Attorney’s office. In a follow-up letter, the District Attorney thanked Kriyananda for his statement at the start of the meeting, “offering full cooperation to Nevada County and all its officials.” He closed the letter saying he looked forward to visiting “Camp Ananda”:

You assured your cooperation, and invited members of my staff to come and see the camp. We intend to do this someday in the summer and look forward to the experience.

1998 anonymous complaint

Having experienced how a surfeit of rules can destroy the spirit, Kriyananda, in founding Ananda, wanted as few rules as possible. From a spiritual standpoint, it was important that members grow in understanding at their own pace, and not have decisions and rules imposed from above. Thus from Ananda’s earliest days, “people are more important than things” has meant never imposing on anyone’s free will.

There are times, however, when the needs of individual Ananda members must be balanced against broader considerations, including the interests of the larger community. Ananda’s response to the 1998 anonymous complaint filed with the Nevada County Building Department was an instance of this type of balancing.

Ten allegations in the complaint were untrue. The rest dealt mainly with remodeling done after a structure was built under a valid permit, or conversions of residential outbuildings to office or other uses.

It was Ananda’s policy that all new homes be constructed under a valid permit, but there was no policy relating to private contractors engaged by residents to modify existing homes. As a result of the complaint, Ananda initiated an oversight process to ensure that all remodeling by members meets code standards.

The complaint itself was harmoniously resolved. Ananda arranged for inspectors to visit private homes at times convenient for all, supervised the correction of violations, and obtained the appropriate building department permits. Robert Porta, Chief Building Inspector wrote Tom Taylor, Ananda’s property manager, to express appreciation for Ananda’s cooperation:

We thank you for all your help and cooperation in the resolution of the complaint. It was very pleasant to know you and work with you.

Porta’s assistant, Donna Burley later commented on the “positive experience”:

It was a very positive experience working with Tom Taylor. Everything worked out well and the complaint was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

Planned development

To fulfill its promise to neighbors that it would build a guest retreat at Ananda Village, Ananda needed county approval of its Master Plan. Without Master Plan approval no new construction was possible. Ananda was also experiencing an acute need for housing for the many residents living in small trailers, yurts, and teepees—a situation that became worse after the 1976 Ananda fire.

Ananda submitted the first Master Plan in 1974. Thereafter, over a four-year period, the community ran into an almost impenetrable wall of red tape, including unexplained delays and repeated requests that the plan be revised. To the officials in charge, an intentional spiritual community was a new concept. Ananda didn’t fit traditional planning categories. And, in some minds, the “bad news” perception undoubtedly lingered. Not until 1978 was the Master Plan finally approved.

When the Master Plan was under consideration during the late 1970s, a visitor to the fire-ravaged community would have seen little to presage the beauty and innovativeness of Ananda’s later development. By the 1990s, both Ananda and the political climate had changed. When the county supervisors voted 5-0 in 1993 to allow Ananda to update its development plan, it was a community visit that persuaded two supervisors:

I’ve been to Ananda. I’ve looked at what they’ve done. …It seems to me that this group is doing exactly what we ask all groups to do. They are self-contained. They are providing industry within a community. They are not impacting the infrastructure or the roads…. I think they should be commended. Robert Drake, Supervisor

When Supervisor Melody Lane …originally asked me to go to Ananda, my answer was “No. I’m not going to Ananda.” And she did convince me and another person in the county to go out to Ananda on a tour. And what I saw was absolutely 180 degrees the opposite of what I thought I would see. It is a good community. They are very innovative. They have taken the time and the energy to try things that have addressed alternative housing, alternative lifestyles that are not anything like I ever imagined it would look like, or feel like, as I was walking around there…. I am very impressed with Ananda. Karen Knecht, Supervisor

Today, Ananda is seen as a positive influence in the county and an important support for the local economy. To commemorate Ananda’s twentieth anniversary, the county supervisors adopted a resolution designating the week of June 26, 1988 as “Ananda Village Week.” In the words of the resolution:
The Ananda community has been a positive supporter of Nevada County and its growth,

The Ananda community and its residents have always supported local businesses, contributing millions of dollars to the Nevada County economy over the last 20 years.

The Ananda community has created one of the most respected, successful, crime-free, drug-free, “new age” intentional communities in the world.

The Ananda community and its residents have always supported the richness of the local arts by performing at hospitals, fairs, and other theaters and music events.
Honoring Financial Obligations

Departing members

In his book, Cities of Light, Swami Kriyananda discusses an early decision involving a member who, prior to leaving, asked to be reimbursed for certain financial outlays. To some community leaders, this request seemed unreasonable. Kriyananda persuaded them to see it differently.

In that situation, he writes, the highest value was not “reasonableness” but compassion. In the context of departing members, “People are more important than things” meant doing whatever we could to make them feel they had been fairly treated, and that the door was open for them to return.

All land at Ananda Village is community-owned. Departing members who request reimbursement for homes they’ve built are repaid in a lump sum or installments. The first instance of this occurred with the exodus of members after the 1976 fire. Departing members who lost homes received the lion’s share of the post-fire donations, and later, in installments, the full value of their loss.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy

An even larger exodus took place in the late 1990s after a large court judgment forced Ananda into a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. By then, Ananda had a householder monastic order. Many of those planning to leave were members of the order and had donated their homes to the community upon taking final vows.

It became apparent, however, that without the return of their investment in Ananda housing, many departing members would lack the funds needed to establish themselves elsewhere. Ananda reconsidered the situation and ultimately agreed to give full reimbursement to any departing member requesting it. A local businessman comments on Ananda’s decision:

I was very impressed with how Ananda handled the “buy-back” of houses from members who were leaving. Many of these people had previously made a religious vow to turn these assets over to Ananda. Ananda gave them an opportunity to reconsider those vows, to revoke them if that was their current decision, and to receive full repayment of their investment in their homes when they left the community. I’ve been in contact with several members who have left the community and none have said anything negative about Ananda. Scott Robertson, CPA, Robertson and Woodford, Nevada City, CA.

Ananda’s decision to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1998 bespoke a very challenging time. A highly aggressive judgment creditor was making demands that threatened Ananda’s very survival.

Ananda is not a wealthy organization. Its main assets are the land at the Meditation Retreat and Ananda Village, and the judgment creditor wanted that property. Attempts were made to seize the copyrights to all of Kriyananda’s books, which are not only a source of income for Ananda but one of the main ways Ananda shares Yogananda’s teachings with the world.

But Ananda clung to its core ideal, “Where there is adherence to truth and right action, there is victory,” and ultimately defeated such tactics. A Nevada City businessman comments on the integrity of Ananda’s approach:

I was impressed with how Ananda handled its Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. Typically there’s a certain amount of desperation associated with a bankruptcy situation, and people hide assets from creditors. Ananda’s financial arrangements are complex, and Ananda could easily have made the reorganization complex and difficult for creditors, even without hiding assets. Ananda did just the opposite. It chose to stand up and make things as clear as possible and to go forward and trust the system. Ananda people showed a detachment and objectivity, when things could have been very emotional. Scott Robertson, CPA, Robertson and Woodford, Nevada City, CA.

One of the main challenges in the Chapter 11 reorganization was to negotiate a settlement acceptable to the judgment creditor, but that also preserved Ananda’s ability to pay other creditors in full, including departing members. Ananda could have developed a plan that called for less than 100% repayment of all obligations, thus reducing the likelihood of any future default, but chose not to. Ananda’s bankruptcy attorney comments:

Throughout the Chapter 11 process, the Ananda leaders acted admirably and with integrity. It was driven into me over and over that we had to do the right thing. Everything had to be disclosed—warts and all, even things that weren’t beneficial to Ananda. There was never any inkling or direction to be “cute,” to play hide the ball, or to be less than candid with any of the individuals or groups involved in the process.

Ananda was facing an aggressive judgment creditor who wanted to push the money aspect so hard as to shake the bedrock of the community. The big challenge was to come up with a solution that recognized Ananda members who had made housing pool contributions as unsecured creditors, and that didn’t reduce their rights.

Since Ananda wanted to do the right thing by its unsecured creditors, it had to settle on terms the judgment creditor would accept. Without a settlement, there would have been an attachment of assets by the judgment creditor. What was developed was fair, honest and equitable.

For a non-profit organization like Ananda, it’s possible to have a Chapter 11 plan confirmed that calls for less than 100% repayment of all unsecured creditors. Ananda’s leaders were never interested in this route. Ananda agreed to a plan that called for 100% repayment. Walter Dahl, Dahl & Dahl, Attorneys at Law, Sacramento, CA.

Urgent need for funds

There was a lot of belt-tightening at Ananda in the months following court approval of the reorganization plan. A time came when Ananda urgently needed a sizable loan and, of necessity, turned to a high-cost lender. The lender who made this loan discusses his dealings with Ananda:

Our company is expensive, but we make money available very quickly. Often clients come to us because of a need for money they hadn’t planned for but which is suddenly right in front of them. They need a certain amount of handholding and help in sorting things out.

Ananda was different. Ananda was taking responsibility for its situation and wasn’t looking to me for any handholding. I was sure the leaders had thought carefully about what they might be facing in the future and that, from a business standpoint, they had a plan. I had no doubt that the information they gave me was true and accurate.

There’s usually a certain level of anxiety when I make a loan above a half million dollars. With Ananda I didn’t have that anxiety. The whole process was very simple and I felt peaceful. I wasn’t surprised when Ananda repaid the loan in advance. Phillip Lester, Broker-Owner, Gold Country Lenders, Grass Valley, CA.

Individual financial commitments

By 2001, the judgment debt had been paid in full—a miracle for sure! Most of the money to pay the legal debts has come from individual Ananda members. There is a motto at Ananda, a truth that has become ingrained over the years: “Many hands make a miracle.” As Kriyananda writes, he didn’t build Ananda alone:

All I did, really, was give it the push it needed. Many hands, many voices, many minds made the miracle that eventually emerged.

Not surprisingly, individual Ananda members also have a track record of honoring their personal financial commitments. A local banking official describes her experience:

I’ve had a 30-year banking relationship with individual Ananda members and the Ananda community. Without exception, the individual members and the community have always honored their banking commitments. When they said they would do something, they did it—they never deviated. Claudia Scharsmitt, Senior Vice President, Citizens Bank, Nevada City, CA.

Lawsuits against Ananda Ananda was sued twice in the ‘90s, first by Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), and later by Anne-Marie Bertolucci, a disgruntled former member. (These lawsuits are discussed in more detail below.)

Lawsuits force people into adversarial modes, even when they themselves don’t feel adversarial towards anyone. In both lawsuits Ananda had little choice but to defend itself. Ananda tried, unsuccessfully, to resolve SRF’s concerns without litigation, but ultimately was forced to subordinate its desire for harmony to the deeper need for truth.

These two lawsuits tested Ananda’s commitment to its ideals to the utmost. Repeatedly during the 12 years of litigation, Ananda resisted the temptation to place any temporary gain ahead of principle. The community emerged from this period greatly strengthened, its priorities and values clarified and reaffirmed.

On a practical level, Ananda raised more money than it had ever thought possible. And it was during this time that some of its main colonies got underway, as well as new Ananda centers and meditation groups. Quite a few people left Ananda, but new people came, seemingly attracted by Ananda’s increased clarity and strength.

SRF lawsuit

SRF is the organization that Paramhansa Yogananda founded before his death in 1952. It is larger and much wealthier than Ananda. Swami Kriyananda was part of SRF from 1948 until 1962, when he was dismissed.

SRF’s lawsuit, which dealt mainly with trademark and copyright issues, was an attempt to put Ananda out of business—either by defeating Ananda in court and severely limiting its ability to spread Yogananda’s teachings, or by bankrupting Ananda with the costs of aggressive litigation. After 12 years of litigation and two SRF appeals, including one to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ananda prevailed, winning more than 95 % of the lawsuit.

Bertolucci lawsuit

In 1994, Anne-Marie Bertolucci, a former member angry over Ananda’s disapproval of her failed love affair with a married Ananda member, sued Ananda, alleging sexual harassment and other charges. Mrs. Bertolucci also made accusations against Kriyananda, who had refused to allow the affair. These accusations enabled her to introduce into her lawsuit sexual harassment allegations against Kriyananda by women involved with Ananda in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Kriyananda denied sexually harassing anyone, including Mrs. Bertolucci, but admitted to a handful of con sensual sexual relationships in the early 1980s, before his marriage.

The trial court, however, refused to allow Kriyananda’s lawyers to cross-examine his accusers, a sanction imposed for Ananda’s unintentional failure to produce certain documents in discovery. Nor would the judge allow Kriyananda’s lawyers to tell the jury why they weren’t cross-examining his accusers. The testimony of Kriyananda’s accusers thus stood unchallenged and unexplained. The jurors could draw only one conclusion: that the testimony of his accusers was true.

The verdict reflected this conclusion. The claims Ananda lost were based primarily on oral testimony that was never subjected to cross-examination.

Bertolucci also made allegations of financial irregularities at Ananda—irregularities so serious that Ananda might have been forced to dismantle had it lost. Ananda defeated these claims resoundingly. In this instance, there were no restrictions on Ananda’s ability to cross-examine witnesses.

There are many untrue and greatly distorted accounts of the nature and outcome of the Bertolucci lawsuit. For a thorough discussion of all aspects of the case, and Ananda’s response to the false and distorted accounts, see Frequently Asked Questions About the Bertolucci Lawsuit.

In the press and other pubic forums, Kriyananda had many opportunities to discredit his accusers, but he remained charitable, saying only the minimum. Many people strike out defensively when faced with such accusations. Kriyananda did not. After the trial, he wrote a friendly, one-page letter of spiritual advice to one of his chief accusers, simply because he wanted to help her.

Kriyananda demonstrated his faithfulness to the highest of all principles—unconditional love and forgiveness. Partly because of the way he comported himself during the trial, many people are much more solidly behind Kriyananda since the Bertolucci lawsuit.

Conclusion Much more could be said about Ananda, but the above examples give a fairly complete picture. The best way to learn more is to spend time at Ananda Village or one of the other colonies. Ananda enjoys sharing its way life with others and the doors are always open.