Ananda Through the Years: Introduction, Part 2

Ananda Through the Years

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? These pages (7) 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 ParamhansaYogananda phrased it, is not only a possible way to live but, in his words, destined to “spread like wildfire.”

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.

Other Chapters:

Why Ananda Has Succeeded

Serving the Larger Community

Honoring Financial Obligations

Relations With Public Agencies

Relations With Neighbors

Lawsuits Against Ananda