Letters from Ananda members, Part 50

Swami Kriyananda, My Friend and Guide on the Spiritual Path
Parvati Hansen

Dear Friends,

My name is Parvati Hansen. I arrived for a weekend visit at Ananda Village in August of 1971 after looking for some time for a spiritual path that I could dedicate my life to. I had recently read the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda and was thrilled by the spiritual potential for the soul that Yogananda wrote about in this book. In the summer of 1972 I moved to Ananda Village permanently and have remained a part of Ananda ever since.

What I felt at Ananda from the beginning that so attracted me was a sense of inner freedom and joy. I felt that the potential for spiritual growth there was indeed very great.

There were two reasons for this feeling. One was Swami Kriyananda. Here was a direct disciple of Yogananda’s who was accessible, who could guide me in my evolving spiritual life, and who exuded the most magnetic spiritual qualities of inner joy, devotion, freedom and common sense that I had ever encountered. The other reason was that I found the people around him to be mature, centered and also developing these same qualities. But most importantly, I felt that whatever was going on at Ananda, had the same deep spiritual vibrations that I had experienced when reading Yogananda’s autobiography the year before.

Since the filing of the Bertolucci lawsuit in 1994, many ridiculous accusations have been made against Kriyananda. From my own direct experience of working with him for 30 years, I would like to address one of these allegations specifically.

Kriyananda is a dictator who forces people to do what he wants and wants people to be dependent on him.

Ananda Village:
I was very impressed when I first moved to Ananda Village at the way it had been set up financially. The Village has always been just that, a spiritual village; not a commune or some other form of community living. Each person at Ananda was responsible for his or her own finances. And yet, at the same time, there was a feeling of spiritual family and support, that we were all there to help each other make it work.

There was no giving over of all one’s money or personal belongings to “the community.” Each person had to deal with finding a job either within or outside the community and was asked to pay a monthly maintenance fee that went to land payments, and some general upkeep of the land and roads.

The tone for this, as with all other things at Ananda, was set by Swami Kriyananda. He never drew a salary from what we gave for this monthly maintenance fee, although he took on the responsibility for making sure that things were going well, as any good manager would. He always placed himself with us, not above us. And we felt from him that we were all in this adventure of founding Ananda together.

Developing Master’s Market:
When I first moved to Ananda, the community was still very much in the beginning stages. There was a great need for businesses and ways in which people could support themselves financially. Also there was a need to develop a sense of community outwardly. There was a phrase that we used then that came directly from Kriyananda and reflects much of the attitude with which he guided Ananda. “If you see something that needs doing, then do it!” This phrase wasn’t a command; rather, it suggested a way for people to put their ideas about things into positive action.

For myself, I looked around and saw that there was no place for people to buy food. The only real food markets were 15 miles away in Nevada City. This was a great inconvenience at a time when not everyone who lived at Ananda even had a car. So, I thought, “I’ll start a market!”

I had been at Ananda about 7 or 8 months and had virtually no money or skill in this area. But all around me I was seeing people do things they had never done before – starting businesses such as an incense and oils company, doing tree planting, making jewelry out of local wildflowers, beekeeping, carpentry and many other things. And do you know where they got the courage to do these things? From Kriyananda. He was always there encouraging us and saying that you can do anything you put your mind to! This is the kind of thinking I had read about in Yogananda’s Autobiography. And here at Ananda, with Kriyananda’s support, I was seeing it lived out in action in developing the community. [By the way, years later I heard of a man who had known Yogananda in Los Angeles and had lived at Mt. Washington for a time. He said the main thing he remembered from his time with Yogananda was that he (this man) felt he could do anything].

I did start this market, called Master’s Market, with a box of oranges and bananas in the spring of 1973 in a tiny room in the old farmhouse at Ananda Village. Although Kriyananda thought it was a great idea, he never once told me anything about what I should do to develop it. He simply encouraged me in what I felt needed to happen there. He also never asked about the money it made and what I did with it. The market did become quite successful, paying salaries for 2 or 3 employees in the beginning and expanding to become quite large over the years. But it was my own project, inspired and vibrationally supported by Kriyananda yet never controlled by him.

The Ananda Colonies:
I also have had the great good fortune to help direct many of Ananda’s Colonies (city centers) over the past 20 years and even helped in founding several of them. In the summer of 1986 Kriyananda suggested to four of us who were ministers at Ananda Village that perhaps we would like to move to Seattle to begin an Ananda Colony there. Ananda had had a meditation group in Seattle for a number of years, and now the group there wanted full-time ministers. We thought this sounded like a good idea, and the four of us moved there in the fall of 1986. This meant starting a teaching center with space suitable for Sunday services, starting an ashram house for devotees to live in, and doing the many other things involved in promoting the work there and in helping people in their spiritual lives.

Kriyananda didn’t give us detailed instructions as to how to do this. We gave Master’s teachings through classes and services, used our common sense and drew on the inner guidance of the gurus. In addition, we knew that Kriyananda was there, not looking over our shoulders to make sure we were doing things right, but supporting us spiritually and helping us to keep in tune with Yogananda vibrationally. Knowing that each situation is different, he knew that we would have to use our own understanding to make the colony work, and he gave us the freedom to do this.

He visited once during our first year there to see how things were going and gave us some general counsel about how to help people there and how to work with each other. But again there was no sense of him wanting to control things.

I remember at one point I told him that things were difficult between the four of us because our roles had not been well defined before we went there. He immediately took this criticism on himself and said that this was his fault. He said he was sorry that he had not made this clearer from the beginning. I, in turn, felt badly because I didn’t feel it was his fault, but more that it was just a situation that had made it difficult for me to function well.

These are just a few of countless examples of how Swami Kriyananda has actually worked with people over the years in the building of Ananda. He has been a friend, a guide, a spiritual teacher and a fellow disciple all in one. And it is only because of his deep understanding of, and respect for, people that Ananda has continued to be one of the most successful cooperative spiritual communities in the world spreading this ideal to wherever people are interested in learning about it.

Parvati Hansen serves as the spiritual director of Ananda Sangha of Portland with her husband, Bent.