Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What is Ananda?

The following was written for those who have not visited or experienced Ananda. It is a general overview. Our reference here is to Ananda in the Seattle area and located at the Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell. Visit for more details.

Welcome to Ananda!

What IS Ananda? Ananda is more than a teaching center for meditation or yoga. Ananda is different things to different people. Most of all, at Ananda we aspire to see that people are more important than things: even so-called “important” things like the classes we give, the projects we undertake, the services we offer, the buildings we occupy, or whether our efforts meet with success or acceptance. So, speaking of people, then, who are we?

Ananda members and students tend to be well educated, compassionate, and ardent supporters of conscious, healthy, sustainable, spiritual living. Differing points of view, backgrounds, and nationalities can be found here and are typically expressed articulately, respectfully, thoughtfully, and, perhaps most importantly, with a desire to share and learn.

You’ll find students coming every week to take hatha yoga classes. Ananda Yoga uses classic postures (asanas) and directs their use in an uplifting way, towards greater Self-awareness. We begin with relaxation, move to energy control and awareness, and then flow upward toward inner peace. Each student learns to develop his or her own strength and unique expression of the postures.

You’ll find students taking classes in how to meditate. Ananda meditation techniques emphasize the spiritual purpose of meditation but just as many students come for stress reduction, concentration, calmness or health benefits. Our most popular course is the Raja and Hatha Yoga Intensive: a 3-month weekly program that combines hatha yoga, diet, healing, breath work, meditation, chanting, and much more under the timeless and timely umbrella of Patanjali's famous Yoga Sutras (the 8-Fold Path of Enlightenment).

People come from a variety of traditions to meditate because the upstairs, high-domed meditation and yoga space beckons the soul to soar into skies of inner freedom!

First-time visitors come daily to the Meditation Temple in Bothell. They are attracted by the beautiful, blue-tiled 8-sided dome that so dynamically communicates a sense of joy and high aspiration. They want to know, "What IS this lovely place and who are you folks?"

In nearby Lynnwood there is an intentional, spiritual community where some Ananda members live and support one another in a lifestyle of meditation, service, simple living and high ideals. Residents have started a CSA: community supported food growing coop. Ananda is known throughout the world for its network of independent, intentional communities which are among the most successful in the world today.

You'll find students coming to the Ananda Institute of Living Yoga to receive certification in teacher training programs for hatha yoga or for meditation.

Ananda is also part of a worldwide work of self-supporting teaching, residential, and retreat centers. Aspects of this worldwide work exist in the Seattle area as well. For example, local members have founded the Living Wisdom School for children in Shoreline, WA. It is affiliated with the worldwide Ananda network of the same name. Other members have established the East West Bookshop in Seattle which was patterned after the first Ananda East West Bookshop near San Francisco, California.

Legally, the local ministry is organized under the Ananda Church of Self-Realization of Seattle which is a Washington state nonprofit organization recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a church. Ananda Church is locally governed by its ministers and senior members, and is supported by pledges and tithes from local members. (Income from classes and products constitutes only 25% of total general revenue.)

The spiritual philosophy and meditation techniques taught at Ananda are based upon the teachings of the world renowned spiritual yoga-master, Paramhansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi). The ministry of Ananda is guided by its founder, Swami Kriyananda and those who work closely with him. He lives in India now but is American and is one of the few remaining (and best known) direct disciples of Yogananda. Swami Kriyananda is the author of some one hundred popular books and hundreds of musical compositions (which figure prominently in programs and services at Ananda).

The primary focus of Ananda is what might be called realized spirituality! By this we mean that we feel it is more important to experience our higher Self rather than only talk about or believe in it. This comes with the greatest clarity and consistency through daily meditation. Once having tasted the nectar of soul-bliss, it is our nature to share it with others in service and fellowship. Thus we combine “Self-realization” with “fellowship.” This is shorthand for the two basic commandments of the Old Testament and of Jesus Christ: love the Lord Thy God with heart, mind, soul, and strength, AND, love your neighbor AS your Self!

Ananda has evolved from an ancient tradition whose roots are in India but whose essence is universal and nonsectarian. We honor our guru-preceptor, Paramhansa Yogananda, who came to the West (America) with this tradition. He brought with him the science of Kriya yoga through which we might commune inwardly with the divine presence in us and in all creation.

Yogananda’s teachings reflect a special connection between the yoga science taught by Krishna (in the Bhagavad Gita, India’s beloved “bible”) and the teachings of Jesus Christ. You will therefore find that at Ananda we make frequent references to Jesus’ teachings as illumined by Yogananda and the line of Kriya yoga masters in India who sent him to the West.

Strictly speaking, however, Ananda is neither Christian nor Hindu. Rather, we see in the original teachings of these faiths, and, indeed, in the teachings of the saints of all religions, universal precepts that are timeless. For this, we use the Sanskrit term, Sanaatan Dharma: the eternal religion. Sanaatan Dharma avers that we, and indeed, the entire cosmos, are a manifestation of the consciousness of the Infinite Spirit. Those who have realized Oneness with Spirit teach us that we were created to achieve realization of our “son-ship” as children of God and to reunite our seemingly separate consciousness with that of our Creator. There is a “high road,” or “airplane” that can accelerate this realization and it is meditation, especially the advanced “pranayama” known simply as Kriya yoga. This technique (which includes its wisdom-teachings and other supportive techniques) was resurrected in modern times by the Self-realization masters in India from centuries of neglect, indifference, and priestly secrecy to fulfill the spiritual needs of millions of souls in this modern, and new age.

But the practice of meditation is not only a science. It is an art. There is a subtle, powerful, and necessary transmission of consciousness that takes place through the receptivity of the meditator to the grace of the preceptor, or guru. Kriya yoga is thus taught not only as a meditation technique but is given in the bond of discipleship. Discipleship refers to a personal connection to God through an inner relationship with one who knows God and who can transmit that knowing. It was the purpose of Paramhansa Yogananda, at the behest of those who sent him to bestow the kriya-key that unlocks "the power to become the sons of God" to all those who sincerely and humbly seek it with devotion and attunement with him.

So, Ananda is different things to different people. The word “Ananda” means “joy:” the joy of our true, divine Self! If the practice of (hatha) yoga is your interest, come for a "stretch"; if you want to learn to meditate, Ananda meditation techniques are available to all and can help you to establish an effective daily practice. If you seek fellowship in worship, in timeless and universal wisdom, or in selfless service, Ananda has opportunities every day of the week! If finding friends who share high ideals, who prefer living simply and sustainably, or families who want a wholesome and Spirit-centered education for their children, then the Ananda spiritual family welcomes you. If you are drawn to the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, then Ananda can help you deepen your connection to God through them. And, if you seek the kriya-key to soul freedom, the doors are open!

Nayaswamis Hriman and Padma McGilloway are the spiritual directors of Ananda's work in the greater Seattle area and were appointed to this position in 1993 by Swami Kriyananda. As Ananda reflects a community and family spirit, you'll find an entire staff of ministers and teachers who take turns with Sunday Services and classes. Each of the core members and leaders of the Ananda Seattle Sangha (Fellowship) have been part of this spiritual heritage for decades and reflect a calm and joyful commitment to this way of life and a respect for all. Ananda would not exist without the many volunteers who staff the desk, answer phones, teach classes, sing and play music, sweep and clean, prepare meals and who enjoy meeting new friends. A typical Sunday Service involves some twenty volunteers alone!

We invite you, therefore to come and explore whatever aspect of Ananda inspires or appeals to you. Each person who participates has a unique relationship to this work and to this spiritual family. We are not membership driven and have no interest in converting anyone except to his or her own higher Self! We treasure harmony, inspiration, fun, and sharing, perhaps a meal, a conversation, a service project, practicing meditation or yoga, or the timeless wisdom we have been blessed to share. If you would like to experience this growing family of joy-affirming friends, come by for a visit. Better yet, come on any Sunday at 10 a.m. and experience Ananda in action!

Blessings to you, from Ananda......