Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"It is more blessed to give" - Stories of Faith & Finances

In June 1976, a forest fire swept through the rustic Ananda World Brotherhood Village near Nevada City, CA and destroyed virtually all the modest homes of its residents. The fire was caused by a faulty spark arrestor on a County operated vehicle. After the fire, Swami Kriyananda (founder of the community) wrote to the County Supervisors informing them that Ananda would not sue the County (even though neighbours did and they received reimbursed damages).

Prior to the fire, the community was in a process of working with the County to upgrade its buildings and infrastructure to be in conformance with county building and other codes. But after the fire, with all the homes now gone, it meant that there were no longer any existing homes that could be “grandfathered” in even though they were non-conforming. All new construction would have to be up to code. This was a second one-two punch but one that couldn’t be avoided.

These circumstances forced the young community to put out even more energy and while the result in future years was to be a more beautiful and functional community, at the time it wasn’t easy.

When I arrived a year or so after that fire, in 1977, there were “no homes and fewer jobs!” About 40 of Ananda’s members moved to town temporarily. Padma and I rented a small cabin (in a rundown former motel) on the edge of nearby Nevada City. For employment, Padma and I started an accounting practice which we also saw as a benefit to the community and the businesses it would need to create to generate income for rebuilding.

In that wake of the fire, Ananda Community established several new businesses in Nevada City and Grass Valley (“twin” cities): a health food store and cafĂ©; a commercial print shop; and, a clothing and gift store.

It took a few years for homes to be built at the Village community thirty minutes from town. There were so many of us in town that the Village Council at Ananda Community felt to establish a seat on the council to represent the contingency of members living “in town.”

One day we were notified that a few of our members had organized a meeting at the Ananda Meditation Retreat to discuss new directions around our relationship to money. It was a 45-minute drive from Nevada City to the Retreat. The last three miles are on deeply rutted dirt and gravel road. We traversed this each Sunday to attend the weekly Service.

I don’t recall the month or year of this meeting, but my best guess is somewhere between 1979 and 1981. One of the organizers, Shivani Lucki, had evidently read a book or two on the practice and principles behind tithing. This was a new concept to most of us and as community residents (those who worked for community departments or businesses) earned perhaps $150 per month, the thought of donating from these earnings was, shall we say, a novel idea.

Nonetheless, the spirit and enthusiasm carried the evening and with faith and enthusiasm, the community’s residents pledged to experiment with tithing as a form of spiritual practice (sadhana).

Looking back some years later, it is clear that it was from this day forward that slowly, steadily and increasingly, financial resources began to flow. And that was not all; attunement began to flow more abundantly as well. Mind you, Divine Mother never gave us more than we (as individuals or the community) needed at any given moment (and often at the very last possible moment!) but, nonetheless, houses were built; jobs were created and sustained; the school for children was expanded; and, eventually, the retreat  center moved from its rustic roots six miles away to a parcel of land adjacent to the community, occupying a newly built facility.

The tithing experiment was so inspiring for individuals that we decided that to ask the various branch departments of the community to tithe from their revenues back to the “General Fund” which provided overhead services and support for ministerial outreach. Even though these departmental tithes were more akin to a kind of administration fee, the spirit was one of tithing.
There was another challenge to the spirit of community residents that took place after the fire. Some residents wanted to re-direct funds from resident member dues away from subsidizing the costs of operating a year-round retreat and use them instead for rebuilding. The idea was to close the retreat during the slower winter months.

On the surface, this proposal appeared to be practical but in reality, Swami Kriyananda, our founder and spiritual guide, countered our material pragmatism with energetic and spiritual pragmatism. The solution to challenges, he explained, was to put out more energy, not less. We should serve the public more, not less and in all cases at all times keep our doors open to serve the public!

His solution, then, was to initiate a nationwide lecture tour which he themed “`The Joy Tour.” In this, he intended to share the principles and practices of “Saying ‘Yes’ to life” with energy and joy as the only way to find true and lasting happiness! And, to top it off, he wanted to bring upwards a dozen community residents on the tour with him to assist and sing the music.
For this, we would need money—lots of it (by our standards) for travel, lodging, meals, hall rentals and advertising! A national tour with a dozen people is no small financial commitment.

Not having any such funds, we borrowed it. Never mind that we didn’t have a clue how we would ever repay it. The lesson was all about energy, joy, and service in the effort to share the teachings we were trying to live. And, the rest, as we say, is history. The tour touched people’s hearts and one-by-one, individuals travelled west to join the community. True, it wasn’t a stampede and yes, it took a few years but the community grew and the loan was eventually repaid.

What did we learn through these experiences? Well, here are just a few suggestions that you might find helpful in your life too.
  • ·        If you need money, understand that “money is energy.” Put out the energy to find a job. Paramhansa Yogananda gave this counsel to the public during the 1930’s Great Depression: “If I needed a job,” he thundered, “I would turn the world upside down to find one.”

  • ·         So long as you’re still job hunting, don’t be idle: put out the energy to help and serve others: even if as a volunteer.

  • ·         If your income is less than you feel you need, be generous! Don’t wait until you “win the lottery!” Share a percentage of whatever you earn with others. While any worthwhile charity, cause or individual counts, those of us who are seeking Self-realization should consider giving back to the source of our inspiration in order to share the spiritual blessings we have received.

  • ·         In the life and teachings of Yogananda, and in the history Ananda, we have never simply been given in advance the resources required. We had to serve first in order to attract what was needed into our lives both personally and as in our service to God and gurus. Yogananda started numerous small businesses to set the example of “how-to-live.” Ananda, too, has been blessed with the necessity to make our ideals practical in daily life by starting numerous businesses and service organizations as an integral part of practicing and sharing our ideals. The reasons for this may be many but one of them is that for Dwapara Yuga the inspiration is to bring “Spirit to work” (into daily life).

  • ·         A life of faith and devotion necessarily invites us to go beyond our material comfort zone. We must avoid presumption but we cannot avoid living with faith if we are a true devotee. Faith requires we stretch ourselves.

  • ·         We recommend the practice of tithing a percentage of your gross income (before expenses). You can start with a small percentage but not too small! (10% is customary but only a suggestion.) Experiment. Give yourself (and Divine Mother) a window of opportunity such as a few months, for example, to test your faith and resolve. Don’t look for financial gain as a consequence of your giving; nor yet, recognition. Your “gain” will be a hundredfold but not necessarily in-kind but in-spirit: calmness, inspiration, creativity, joy, and devotion. At the same time, and use as a prescription as needed if your faith ever falters: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things (your material needs, included) will be added unto you.” Divine Mother will never let you down, though She will remember from time to time to test you.

  • ·         Swami Kriyananda lived entirely by faith. He never saved for rainy days. He lived entirely on what Divine Mother offered. When, so long ago, he heard about the community’s experiment in tithing, he chuckled (hearing of the 10% idea): “It’s ALL God’s!” he was reported to have said (though he very much approved of our experiment).

These tests were precious lessons which have changed our lives and opened our hearts to being guided by faith and guidance. We pray that sharing these stories will inspire you, too, to live ever more by faith and joy.

Joy to you!