Letters from Ananda members, Part 33

A Beacon of Light in Times of Trial
Janakidevi Steinmetz

It seems like this is the time for even the most timid of souls to come forward in support of Swami Kriyananda and the Ananda way of life. My feelings for Yogananda, for Swami, for Ananda, and for a life lived for God runs very deep and strong, so it is hard to articulate what it means to me, but now I am willing to try.

I am so astonished that devotees of a great and beautiful soul like Yogananda would willingly cause the deep painful wounds that Swami and the Ananda people have suffered at the hands of Self- Realization Fellowship. I ask myself “How? How could the SRF Board of Directors ever have been so cruel to one of Yogananda’s own close disciples? One that he truly loved and predicted would do “great work”?

It reminds me of the fairy tale of Cinderella. Cinderella was the one with blossoming potential, the one that was beloved by the father that was gone and was greatly envied by the stepmother and sisters left behind. They could not do enough to disgrace and disallow Cinderella. But, in spite of the maltreatment, her beauty and her light could not be banished. She endured, she flourished, and in the end she was able to live the life of the princess she had always been.

And that is Swami! His sterling qualities have always been there no matter what kind of hateful things are said about him or done to him. And he will prevail!

But, this is only part of the story. The other part of the equation is the people who are trying to destroy him. Again I say, “How can this be?! How can this continue in light of the events of September 11th? How can people who are part of a religious organization that is dedicated (at least by its founder, Paramhansa Yogananda) to wanting to know God and all that that means; how can these people even entertain the negative thoughts that abound on their internet site and in the legal proceedings that are still pressing? How can they continue with their hostile criticisms and legal suits now that our country is engaged in armed conflict against terrorism and even the general public is wanting to pull together and support one another?” We are two groups devoted to the same high spiritual Master and we all need to focus our energies on how to uplift those around us.

Yogananda’s path teaches us that karma takes care of other people whose deeds are not in tune with divine harmony. It is not up to us as individuals to hate and punish and try to destroy someone who we think has done something wrong. It is up to us, as devotees, to take care of our own thoughts, words, and deeds so that they are in tune with divine harmony. As devotees we are always working to keep our thoughts more tolerant, more forgiving, more patient, and more loving, disciplining our actions to follow suit. At least this is the way I interpret what I have learned at Ananda about Yogananda’s teachings.

After September 11, we saw so clearly what the final results are when people allow their thoughts to become dark with fear, envy, hatred, and revenge. It draws people into evil environments, then into unbelievably destructive acts. Some of the forces that have opposed Ananda for the past eleven or twelve years carry that same kind of energy.

Ananda has become strong by standing up to that energy and not letting ourselves get drawn into the darkness of fear, hatred and hostility. That is what I so love about the Ananda way of life. Everywhere I go—and I have lived at the Village, at the Palo Alto community, the Seattle community, and the Sacramento community, and have spent time at the Portland and Assisi communities—everywhere, the devotees are beacons of light!

When I was a young woman, a wife and mother with a good marriage, a good family, a church, and many friends, I was deeply unhappy and I never knew the reason why. Psychologists and psychiatrists would therapize and tranquilize, and they kept me surviving, but never cured. In 1971, with my family raised and at the height of a mid-life crisis, I decided to try divorce and new directions. I had to find the meaning of life, or die trying. I started reading Eastern teachings and took classes in yoga postures. In the mid ‘70’s, I was led to Yogananda’s book, Autobiography of a Yogi. The book really spoke to me, but when I realized that neither he, nor any of the Masters were still alive and all that was left was another sterile religious organization, I had no place to turn.

My search for the meaning of life went on. Even the richest of lives that I could imagine, in fame, fortune, or creativity held no appeal and I searched in religions, education, career, travel, relationships, from one coast to the other. I was in deep despair when a group of people from Ananda gave a program at the Unitarian Church I was attending at the time.

Until then I had started studying more than just the physical postures aspect of yoga and came to realize that the ancient yoga teachings had answers that I had long been seeking, but I did not know how to connect with them other than through a book. The idea that these people from Ananda represented a community of people who were putting such teachings to work in their daily lives deeply appealed to me. At the first opportunity, I went there to visit. As so many people who have come to Ananda since Swami Kriyananda started the community in 1968, I felt like I had come home.

A devotee, a person who has a close communion with God, is always unhappy out in the secular world. The people, business world, states and nations do not always conduct themselves from the highest of motives. If profit, greed, one-upmanship, foul or suggestive language, sarcasm and putdowns, as well as brutality, abuse, destructive acts, alcoholism, and drugs—if these things are like dagger wounds to your inner self, I can tell you there is a different way to live.

It is a way of inner peace and of deep joyful tranquility. That is what Swami Kriyananda has established in this world for anyone and everyone to come and share. He has been able to translate the teachings of Yogananda into a deeply meaningful way of life.

It took a little time after that first visit, for me to realize I was never going to find my happiness in things of the world. In 1980 I gave up my job, my worldly way of life and moved to Ananda Village, which is located in the Sierra Nevada Foothills near Nevada City, California. I expected to go into a monastery, setting myself off from the world in prayer and contemplation, which was all I could visualize as a way of life lived for God. However, Kriyananda had fashioned this path as a householder path, which means the people living together as renunciates in a city community or village setting could either be single people or married people with or without families. We were all given opportunities to study and practice meditation, yoga postures, and energization exercises, as well as given a thorough grounding in all of Yogananda’s teachings. We learned to share our energies in harmonious ways with others in work, in play, (great volley ball games!) in silence and in prayer. The life lived for high ideals presented many a challenge—most of them within ourselves.

The roles I assumed soon after going to Ananda were a part-time job as a bookkeeper, which I had done for years, and part-time as a pre-school teacher, for which I was also trained. I’ve played many roles both at the Village and at the various communities where I’ve lived since then. As I have grown in the teachings and deepened in my meditation practices, my life and everything that I do, no matter what it is, has become more and more satisfying, because I am now aware of the Higher Power flowing through all our lives.

Plus, Kriyananda has added a richness to the spiritual life through the wonderful music that has poured through him. He has given the world a body of music that will be uplifting and inspirational for centuries to come. He has also done a lot to promote chanting as a part of all ceremonies and rituals, because Yogananda said , “Chanting is half the battle.” So music rings out from many a home and meeting place in the Ananda environs. Many of the members have developed beautiful voices through their devotional practices and choirs and musical events abound everywhere. Just another way of expressing that inner joy!

Since those early years at the Village, I have, of course, experienced how challenging it is to live a spiritual life and have thought various times about giving it up. Then I would look around mentally and say, “Where would I go?” This way of life may be hard at times, but there are few places in the world where I could live my ideals without being ridiculed or scorned. I have found more happiness through Ananda than I ever thought possible. I have a wonderfully successful marriage, have traveled to India, to Italy, have lovely vacations, enjoy my children and grandchildren, and have been blessed to minister to others. All of this I owe to Yogananda through Swami Kriyananda. Kriyananda has made these teachings live! It is not just another sterile religious organization.

Janakidevi lives at the Ananda Community of Sacramento with her husband, Byasa. She is a minister and counselor.