Letters from Ananda members, Part 39

Why I Have Stayed At Ananda
Nalini Graeber

I have been at Ananda over 30 years now, since 1970. I’ve experienced numerous tests of faith and challenges in many areas: health, work, finances, relationships. Why, then, have I chosen to remain all these years?

Given my nature, it’s not hard to understand why I was attracted here in the first place: to a spiritual community in the country, based on high ideals, filled with like-minded souls, located in the beautiful Sierra Nevada foothills. That I had spiritual inclinations I knew from childhood. (Though my family wasn’t particularly religious, one of my earliest memories was my happy, though brief, attendance at a Catholic girls school during first grade. My favorite memory was of a life-size statue of the Virgin Mary in blue—she seemed to talk to me. To my parents’ consternation, I started collecting pictures of Jesus and other saints. Before long they had me transferred me to a public school!)

As a teenager, I grew up in the Kennedy era, and was deeply moved by the ideals of that time. After graduating from Stanford, I enthusiastically joined the Peace Corps in the late sixties, serving in Kenya, East Africa. Once back in the States, I felt frustrated at the prospect of living an “ordinary life.” I ached inside: “There HAS to be more than this.” My personal life was in turmoil. Later, the inner call from Yogananda to leave the city and live a life of “plain living and high thinking” in a World Brotherhood Colony resonated with my idealistic nature. Furthermore, visiting Ananda felt like “coming home” to my spiritual family of many lives, after a long period of exile. Such joy there was, in those early days!

Alas, the path to God is strewn with stones, as well as roses. In another article I tell in more detail about my first marriage at Ananda and how it ended after seven years in disillusionment and betrayal, deep hurt and loss of spiritual self-confidence. I was shaken to the core. It would have been easy to leave then; in fact I’ve known other people who left Ananda during similar periods of transition. However, in my own case, leaving would have only been an attempt to escape myself and the inner transformation I needed to make—for all of us a daunting prospect! As it turned out, I had to undergo yet a second divorce, further heartbreak, and a bout with cancer before I was really willing to get down to work.

During those long difficult years, I was largely sustained by my friendship with Kriyananda, as well as other Ananda friends. In retrospect, Kriyananda’s patience with me— my tears and letters and struggles—-was no less than heroic. Since he was more available in the early days, I often went to him for counseling. He must have seen me dozens of times for substantially the same reasons. Over and over he offered me the same advice, couched in different words, according to the particular context at the time:

“God loves you—have faith in that. Don’t give up. Keep offering your devotion to God. Try to think less about your problems and more about serving God in others. You can do it, Nalini; I know you can do it!”

I can easily imagine the reaction of another, less patient, person: “You again? Are you STILL groping in the dark, even after all the help I’ve given you? For God’s sake, go away and leave me in peace!” That’s how an ordinary person would have responded to me. But Kriyananda’s patience was, as I said, extraordinary. He never gave up hope that I would someday “get it”—that is, learn to forget myself by serving as a channel to others. He always held before me the image of what I was to become, of what I could become; truly he is a saint—especially in his ability to bring out the highest in us.

A few treasured memories come to mind that illustrate the sweetness of this divine friendship. One time I was traveling with Kriyananda and others on an airplane. We were spread out in different seats. Swami’s eyes were closed and he appeared to be sleeping. As I walked past him in the aisle, I was thinking of how grateful I was to be his friend. Just at that moment, he opened his eyes and smiled at me, as if in answer to my thought. No words were exchanged; it was just a precious moment in time.

Another incident took place many years ago after someone’s wedding. This was during the difficult time after my divorce. Normally I love weddings, but during that period they reminded me of my “failure” as a wife, so I felt especially vulnerable. As I sat apart from the crowd, SK came up to me and asked how I was doing. He said he had dreamed about me, and in the dream I was struggling. He conveyed his concern and sympathy. The timing was perfect. The compassion he expressed sustained me for a long time after that. Is it any wonder that so many devotees consider him their “best friend,” even when they’ve not had much contact with him?

Many years later, in a completely different context, I was having job difficulties during a particularly low period of my life. I had suffered from bad health, as well as the loss of several loved ones; this impaired my ability to concentrate at work. Finally I had to be let go, and my going away party was scheduled. Though it wasn’t at a convenient time or place, I remember Kriyananda made a special effort to be there in person. Again he offered advice, as he had so many times before, this time especially charged with Master’s power and divine love. The blessing of those prayers is what enabled me, in the coming months, to turn a corner inside myself and essentially change my magnetism to one of success.

Although I’ve told of Kriyananda’s help during the challenging times, the picture would be incomplete without adding that he’s shared good times with me as well. The holidays have always been especially joyful at Ananda, with a soul-inspiring all-day meditation on December 23rd, followed by banquets, music, skits, creche scene, exchange of gifts, and memories of Swamiji reading to us from P.G.Wodehouse, the British humorist. We’ve often laughed to the point of tears, so great was our merriment. Although Kriyananda lives in Assisi now, we still feel his joyful presence strongly during the Holy season. When he lived here at the Village, I remember he would always make a point of wishing a “Happy Christmas” to each one of us individually. Everyone felt included in the aura of Christ love which enveloped Ananda.

Another memory from the early days was when a group of us traveled around presenting Kriyananda’s play, “The Jewel and the Lotus,” to audiences in several cities. It’s a moving story about a man whose life was completely changed by the transforming power of Yogananda’s love. For me it was an honor to play a role in radiating that divine love to others. I remember, too, many play rehearsals, directed by Kriyananda, when we would practically be rolling on the floor in rousing laughter at his rendition of the comedy scenes. Kriyananda was always perfectly natural in those situations. There was never the stiff formality of someone on a pedestal. He was simply, first and foremost, our friend.

As I am now very happily married, I should mention that Kriyananda played a role in that, too. After my present husband and I had been together less than two weeks, we wrote Kriyananda a letter. As you can imagine, I was determined not to make any more mistakes! Swamiji responded with a very long, sweet letter, giving us his blessing to explore our friendship. In effect he was saying, “Yes, Nalini, he’s the right one!” This meant a great deal to me. At the time of our wedding he sent a sweet gift along with his heartfelt congratulations.

I’ve mentioned only a handful of the many instances of Kriyananda’s divine friendship. Also, my story would be incomplete without mentioning how much it has meant to serve as a minister at Ananda. “The channel is blessed by what flows through it,” Swamiji says, and I can testify to the truth of those words. Whatever the outward form of service, learning to be a channel for divine light has truly been my salvation. I am constantly grateful that Ananda exists, thanks to Kriyananda, and that it offers so many opportunities to serve Master’s mission. “If you want to be in tune with me,” Master said, “serve my work.” My life is rich with joy and meaning because of this service; I can’t imagine living any other way.

Since the time of the Bertolucci lawsuit there are those who have pointed a finger in judgment at Kriyananda. Their motives are at worst, despicable, and at best, misguided. The charge of sexual perversion and subjugation is especially ludicrous and preposterous. I’ve known Kriyananda over 30 years and all my interactions with him, whether alone or in the context of a group, have been on the highest possible level. I’ve always been treated with the utmost respect for my free will and personal integrity. Even when I craved outward guidance, I was encouraged by Kriyananda and other leaders to make my own decisions. There is nothing perverted or cultish about a relationship that results in greater inner strength for each person.

Yes, Kriyananda is not perfect. But since he has never given up on me, why should I give up on him? If, on the long upward climb toward perfection, he’s made a few mistakes, as he admits he has, what does it matter? Why should it dim my unconditional love for him? Why shouldn’t I see it instead as proof that my own mistakes need not separate me from God’s love? In any case, his errors are truly insignificant compared to the great good he has accomplished by bringing thousands of souls to Yogananda’s teachings.

Why hive I stayed at Ananda? Because it offers so many opportunities to expand by serving Master’s work in creative ways. Because I am nurtured by learning and growing with the support and friendship of my spiritual family. And why am I loyal to Kriyananda? I’ll love him forever because he believes in me. He reflects back to me the saint I will someday become. Whether I am happy and productive or feeling down and out, he offers me his unconditional love and friendship. To the best of my ability, I offer the same to him, and to Yogananda’s children everywhere. I pray that God will make all of us increasingly clear and worthy instruments of His peace and love.

Nalini lives with her husband at Ananda Village.