Letters from Ananda members, Part 22

A Personal Perspective on Ananda
James Conti

I am a pre-Baby Boomer, a graduate of Stanford University, a hands-on business owner, a political independent (which is to say, I find little to like about politics in general) and a passionate supporter of free and truthful speech.

For better or worse, I am not a “religious” person. When I came to Ananda, I was not in search of a church or religious society to redefine me. I was looking for a part of me that was hidden away. As an avid student of Eastern philosophy, of discoveries in quantum physics, and especially of books which integrate science and spirituality, I had come to believe that “who I am” was more than I had learned at home, in school, or in the world of everyday living.

Ananda’s classes in meditation and yoga have lifted me to new levels of personal and spiritual strength. By tapping into my own inner guidance, instead of turning to others for advice, I have increased the joy and peace in my life immeasurably. The clarity I have gained from this single practice has put me on a direct path to a higher state of self. For its blessing alone I am deeply grateful.

But the teachings would be incomplete were it not for the spirit in which they are offered, both formally and informally. The loving, supportive environment that exists at Ananda is unique in my experience. Everyone reflects it, from the founder Swami Kriyananda to the newest devotee. There is no power structure here, no hierarchy of relationships, no manipulation. Each of us is here to help each other return to God.

I remember a line from an old Peace Corps commercial: “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.” Service to others is Ananda’s most fundamental reason for being, and the love that underlies it is unsurpassed. It goes beyond emotion to the sacred heart of knowing that we are one.

Sometimes a person will ask, “What do you Ananda guys believe in?” The long answer comprises most of the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. But here, for me, is the core of what these Scriptures tell us:

We are children of God who have gone astray, living in pursuit of pleasures which do not last, in denial of our basic divinity. That is, we are immortal souls, not bodies or personalities as we seem. And though we are bound in this lifetime to the challenges and limitations of our humanity, these difficulties will either persist or dissolve according to how we meet them in our thoughts, our words and our deeds. Thus, to extricate ourselves from this human drama, this field of impossible dreams, each of us must rise to the occasion, realizing that all life is to cherish and revere as expressions of our Creator, and that truth is one and eternal, regardless of how it is twisted and stretched by those who would revise it for a fleeting advantage.

It is surely a testament to the power of ego that we have fallen so out of touch of the truths that would set us free. Stories in the news are frequent reminders of how convoluted an article of Scripture can become when its meaning is put to the test of egoic interpretation. Witness the countless numbers of churches, steeped in their own dogma, which compete around the globe as a result. “Peace on earth and good will toward men” have long been the principal casualties of the differences they promote.

Where there is ego, an attitude of judgment is certain to follow. And where there is judgment of others, you can count on friction. I cannot tell you how thankful I am that Ananda, as a matter of policy, refuses to disparage even those who have made us targets of their spiteful persecution. We prefer to emulate the likes of St. Francis and Gandhi, who showed us that just as darkness cannot be beaten back with a stick, hostility cannot be ended with hostility. Ego is the only foe to be reckoned with at Ananda. And the reckoning itself is always sought through patience, persistence and positive output.

In recent years Ananda has been under siege of litigation, mainly from those of similar faith who, as we, are disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda. Our founder in particular, Swami Kriyananda, has been vilified, slandered and libeled for reasons that are simply impossible to fathom. How is one to comprehend the distortions they represent except as the embodiment of fear? When I was a boy, and even as a younger man, I could never understand the frame of mind that condemned and crucified Jesus. Suddenly the people whose sins he came to absolve, whose faith he committed himself to restore, turned against him as a devil in their midst. But now I see, as history demonstrates repeatedly, that people will often lower themselves, even to terrible deeds, if they think their control over someone, or over something they dearly want to possess, is slipping away.

Self-realization, the cornerstone of Ananda’s spiritual faith, is an idea whose time has come, for it seeks to unite all religions under the essential truth that we, indeed, are one. Beyond the politics, pettiness and feuds that speak only to our fears, we are one people with one overriding mission: to realize the Self that abides in us all. That is, we are here on earth to journey in God’s direction until, free of desire for anything else, we merge into His Consciousness like drops of purified rain into the sea. As we say of God in our Festival of Light at every Sunday service, “Your chosen people have always been those of every race and nation who, with deep love, choose Thee.”

Yogananda came to the West to spread this message alone. He envisioned, as one of its vehicles, the establishment of spiritual communities in which devotees could support each other in shedding the worldly attachments that keep us in delusion. Sadly, though, just as the “true Christian” Gnostic movement was suppressed for the sake of those at the core of Christianity’s power, Ananda, too, is opposed in its service to Yogananda’s mission. And again the issue appears to be one of control instead of truth. Forces committed to rigid centralization (with themselves at the helm, or course) have used huge sums of money and media guile, not to mention a decade of costly lawsuits and legal maneuvers (nearly all of which they have lost) to demonize Ananda, especially Kriyananda. Given their shameless tactics, one can only conclude that their aim is to break us financially and win by default.

Let me be clear that my views in this matter are my own. They carry no official weight. I am not a shining example of what a Yogananda disciple should be. I spend more time running my business than I do remembering God. The two should be complementary, I know, but for me the lure of worldliness is sometimes more imposing than my unfinished faith. I am 20-years happily married, not a monk, having no wish to undo my householder vows. I tithe part of my income to Ananda, but not to the point of denying myself a number of comforts and pleasures apart from Spirit.

I say this because I see as far more fraudulent and hypocritical the people who, supposedly of higher God consciousness, so viciously accuse our leadership of ulterior motives and miscreant behavior. What they have done by their false allegations exceeds the limits of decency.

As I noted earlier, I do not judge or condemn them. I leave that to Higher Authority. Nor do I wish them ill. Quite the contrary. I do, however, discriminate between moral and immoral schemes, and in that context I can only express disappointment at the campaign these people have waged to discredit Ananda’s cause. The karma they have unleashed upon themselves will surely make trivial whatever they hope to gain by their legal maneuvers and scurrilous media crusade.

Someday millions of people will live in communities like Ananda. Someday millions will look to the life of Swami Kriyananda as one of this world’s brightest rays of divine inspiration. In the meantime I am content to be where I am, devoted to those who are serving these goals today.