What is the outward, public work of Ananda? Are we promoting Yogananda-ism? Or, are we about Communities? Do we represent a new paradigm of living that blends ideals with practicality? That substitutes cooperation for competition? That replaces exploitation with harmony and sustainability? That promotes simple living over acquiring ever more possessions? That encourages moderation and self-control over heedless self-indulgence?
It has been oft been repeated, indeed, stated by Paramhansa Yogananda himself, that a world spiritual teacher has a dual mission: to liberate the souls of close disciples, and, to uplift humanity at large.
We see this even in the life of Jesus. In the gospels where the disciples chide Jesus for speaking in parables, Jesus makes it clear the distinction between those who hear but don’t understand (the public at large) and those who are his own (disciples).
When Swami Kriyananda founded Ananda there were two distinct aspects to his personal ministry at that time: communities, and, hatha yoga. This was not a coincidence. Both were interests of Yogananda that Self-Realization Fellowship Inc. did not foster.
But there is another aspect to Ananda’s work that is embedded in its founder’s spiritual ‘DNA.’ He himself told audiences often that when he read the “Autobiography of a Yogi” and travelled immediately to Los Angeles by bus from New York City in 1948, he had two intentions: one, personal soul-freedom; the other, to share these teachings with others.
Swamiji often said that the twin children of his soul’s desire were offspring that were at odds: being a hermit and sharing the teachings. Sharing the teachings won, hands-down.
Interestingly, the same is said of our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda. Yogananda wanted to flee to the Himalayas in his early life until he embraced his divine mission to serve publicly. The tension, if that’s what one calls it, co-existed uneasily in the lives of each of them.
As it should, in fact, in our lives as well. The one supports and nurtures the other. Yes, history is filled with would-be and de facto saints who lived alone. But, truth-be-told, these are outnumbered statistically with saints in, but not of, the world. But, no matter: the age in which WE live is one, we are told, where bringing “Spirit to life” is the leading spiritual impulse and dharma.
Swami Kriyananda spent his public life writing, lecturing and editing, even as his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, instructed him. Swamiji described his work specifically in the twin terms of outreach into daily life balanced by the inner life. He wrote books, plays and music on subjects such as leadership, education, marriage, astrology, architecture, time travel, different cultures and countries of the world, and even politics. He also wrote commentaries on the great scriptures of East and West. He wrote church ceremonies for weddings, christenings, funerals, “confession,” and a glorious Sunday worship Service imbued with poetry, song, an imaginative metaphor-story, and a deep personal blessing.
Even in the last phase of his life which, perhaps we could say began with his move to India and the founding of Ananda’s work there, during which he donned the robe, mantle, and persona of the Indian swami (and what in India would be called a guru even if not a true, or sat, guru), he wrote a masterpiece course called “Material Success through Yoga Principles!”
Nonetheless, in this last phase of life he entered fully the being-ness and garb of a disciple of a great master, the avatar Paramhansa Yogananda.
For perhaps this reason, and unquestionably other reasons as well, after Swamiji’s passing in 2013, Ananda’s work worldwide has emphasized discipleship to Paramhansa Yogananda. A cursory review of the many websites worldwide would show this clearly. Nor was this a change or a new phase. The central ministry of Ananda based in California has long offered courses in the teachings towards the goal of kriya yoga (the essence of discipleship). So long as Swamiji did the spokes, the heart of Ananda was free to emphasize kriya yoga and discipleship.
During the active and public lives of both Swami Kriyananda and Paramhansa Yogananda, their topics, lessons, and teachings were for the “man on the street,” Mr. Everyman. Overcoming nervousness, becoming a success in business, choosing the right partner in marriage or business, vegetarian recipes for health, healing techniques and much more.
But during the last 50 years of Ananda, the heart of Ananda focused primarily on discipleship and kriya while Swamiji toured, lectured and wrote of “applied spirituality.” Now that Swami Kriyananda is no longer in the body, the question remains: will we offer the “spokes of the wheel” (as Swamiji called the more practical, public, how-to-live teachings) on an equal basis? Or, are we simply proponents of Yogananda-ism?
To the rescue of the public aspect of Yogananda’s work (and by extension, Ananda’s) comes the offer from highly-placed individuals in India to establish an Institute precisely for this purpose! Since 2013, I have spoken privately to friends of my concern that the spokes of the wheel will fall off the hub unless we consciously energize it. As if in answer to my personal prayer, and, far more importantly, in answer to the obvious dharma of Ananda, has come a powerful reminder and (presumably) opportunity.
Sometime around 1989, Swamiji hired a small plane from Grass Valley (a half hour away from Ananda’s original and largest community, Ananda Village) to fly to Portland, Oregon. With him, he took two couples. Padma and I were one of the couples. Our mission was to see a building in downtown Portland that could be the headquarters of Crystal Clarity, Publishers. Padma was the director of publishing and Swamiji was in the heyday of his writing the spokes of the wheel. Publishing was growing, but it was also facing silent but effective resistance from the residential community and management at Ananda Village. This was no dark and evil plot. Rather, it was the growing pains and relative interests of various parties.
Publishing was symbolic and energetically expressive of Swamiji’s public ministry. Its products had nothing to do with life at Ananda Village. Life there was always a struggle, financially and otherwise, as it was also for the outreach ministry, including publishing.
Publishing’s need for funds and personnel sometimes ran headlong into the needs of the Village and its departments and businesses and need to cover overhead expenses.
Without ever expressing it (in my presence, at least), it seems obvious that Swamiji was purposely contemplating relocating the “spokes” ministry away from the Village and out into a city. Perfectly understandable, in fact.
As we walked this large, old, and almost prison-like building in Portland, the two couples had to contemplate family life (with children) in this hulking edifice in downtown Portland. Thankfully for us, Swamiji decided against it. He, too, was turned off by its institutional vibration.
The point of the exercise, however, was, and remains lost on the minds of Ananda residents there; and, I should add, for good reason. Ananda Village is the spiritual origin, center, and heart of Ananda’s work. Swamiji wants its vibration to remain high and pure as much as possible. It makes perfect sense that the spokes ought to be and go “out.” But has it died on the very vine that should nurture it?
Years later, and not long before Swamiji’s passing, (2011?), a large rural facility was acquired by the members of Ananda in Portland. (Portland, again, you see!) It had been, decades before, a boarding high school run by Seventh Day Adventists. Swami Kriyananda was supportive of its acquisition. How much he said about it I don’t know beyond what I heard him say. But his emphasis each time was upon the facility’s use for what Yogananda called a “Yoga University.” He did not see it as another Ananda Village community. Yogananda himself decades ago spoke of the need for such places of public instruction and experimentation where yoga precepts and practices could be offered to “everyman.”
By whatever term one might use, and for my purposes at present, this facility (Laurelwood Academy), I believe, symbolized for Swamiji the same basic thrust that our adventure to downtown Portland represented for him: a place where the how-to-live teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda could be explored and shared. Illustrative of what seems to me to have been his obvious intention is the simple fact that at that time, Swamiji asked the Ananda College to move from Ananda Village to this new facility. Coincidence? Deja vu?
As an aside and in respect to a topic not quite in the centre of my own experience to comment upon is our thriving and successful centre in Italy: Ananda Assisi. It is my impression, or, ok, opinion, that its success has been in direct proportion to its emphasis on the universality of raja yoga. Europe is even more inclined, I feel, to be drawn to the language of academic-style instruction, and through the efforts of a few key leaders there, this has developed and matured. And, there are, of course, deeply committed and attuned disciples at the heart of this work.
Here in Seattle, I associate our success (outwardly speaking) with the concomitant success of our long-running Raja Yoga Intensive. When I took it over in 1994 it was attended by just a handful of students. But over the years I purposely emphasized its universal aspects and made no effort whether by intention or word to use the course as an integral part of training in kriya yoga (aka discipleship) even if, at the same time, the course was a prerequisite for kriya training.
Consequently and not surprisingly only a relatively small percentage of its graduates (maybe, 15%) went on to kriya training. Among those who did, there were some who acknowledged that they would never have gone forward had their raja course experience been oriented around kriya. They needed time and practice before the resonating vibration of the path of kriya yoga emerged in their consciousness.
So here Ananda is with this invitation coming from India (of all places—where discipleship is its "mother's milk") to establish just such an institute. We are being rescued from our own impulse to promote Yogananda-ism to sharing the message (not just the messenger) in our public service.
In the Seattle area, we established the Institute of Living Yoga just after the new blue-roofed temple was built. Our initial offerings of course curricula in how-to-live areas did not at that time take hold. Instead, the teacher training courses (yoga and meditation) did. But the time is coming when we can expand our offerings. In part this is because we have matured; our acceptance and recognition in the community has expanded; and, we built a separate structure specifically for the Institute.
The disadvantage of this beautiful eight-sided, blue roof tiled dome is that it speaks the language of discipleship. Visitors enter the building, curious but cautious, wondering if they are allowed to visit, despite the fact that our simple wooden sign announces “All are Welcome.” Each visitor says the same thing: “I have been driving by here for years and wondered what this was.” It feels private. The building is set far from the street: away from the “man on the street” and away from the busy marts which surround us. This is lovely. It is right. But it speaks to the “hermit not the householder.”
By contrast, the Yoga Hall, as we call it, is close to the street. Its simple design is at once elegant and refined while yet familiar and inviting.
For those of younger or at least a newer generation drawn to Ananda’s work, a pioneering opportunity is needed. We have wondered, and, indeed, our newer members have also wondered: “What can I do? How can I contribute?” They see the founding generation of the Ananda communities as having struggled against great odds, blessed by the living presence, friendship, and guidance of Ananda’s founder in his younger, more approachable years. “But what about us?”
It is no coincidence, you see, that the “mission of the spokes” is calling to us. This part of “Master’s” great work can be theirs. Of course, newer members also need to go deep and become grounded in their discipleship lest what they share is not of this ray (of spiritual vibration sent by Yogananda and his lineage).
There should always be a dynamic tension, or play, between the outer and inner man and soul. God did not manifest this creation in order to condemn it, but to offer the opportunity to pierce its veil of maya that we might see “God alone.” We cannot achieve moksha, liberation, by fleeing from our karma or the creation (one and the same thing).
Meditation, devotion and divine attunement are of the soul. If we go out into the world driven by egoic impulses, past habit or karma, we may achieve good karma but we, relatively speaking, only postpone our liberation. But if we deepen our attunement and act in harmony with the divine will, our public service will accelerate our liberation and be able to spiritual uplift others towards their own.
Joy to you!