Thursday, May 31, 2018

Message and Messenger: the Return of the "Spokes of the Wheel" to Ananda's work

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!

Swami Hrimananda!

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!

Friday, May 25, 2018

How Do We Know We Know?

Dear Friends, this excerpt is from the book by Swami Kriyananda, Intuition for Starters, from the first chapter, “What is Intuition & Where Does it Come from?

“When we look at the world around us, we find a celebration of life in the universe – shining through the stars, singing through the birds, laughing through children, and dancing with the wind in the trees. With all this beauty and diversity surrounding us, we sometimes yearn to feel more a part of it all. We want to sing in harmony with the “music of the spheres.” What happens all too often, alas, is merely that we add discord by adhering adamantly to our own ego-generated notes.
We’ve all seen groups of little children singing. There’s usually one child who has no idea of the melody being sung, but he or she wants so desperately to be a part of the activity, that he sings enthusiastically whatever notes he likes, adding charm, if not harmony, to the music. Perhaps less innocently than that child, we intrude our private wishes saying, “I want the world to be this way,” or, “Come on, everybody, let’s do it my way.” In consequence, the world is full of disharmony, and we hear the cacophony on all sides.
How may we tune into the greater symphony of life? A friend of mine, when confronted with any new situation, approaches the problem this way: He asks, “What is trying to happen here?” How often do we insist, instead, on changing reality to meet our own desires? In the process, we lose sight of the overall purpose. We struggle to make sense of life segment by segment instead of as an overall flow. Viewing everything fragmentarily, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, no coherent picture emerges, no path, and no direction to guide our understanding.
There is a way for us to find that path, however – to feel a part of that greater reality, and therefore to know what is right for us as individuals. That way involves opening ourselves and becoming receptive to higher potentials of consciousness within ourselves and thereby of living in harmony with the world around us. It involves developing our own inner sense of intuitive guidance.
Intuition is the innate ability in everyone to perceive truth directly – not by reason, logic, or analysis, but by a simple knowing from within. That is the very meaning of the word “intuition”: to know, or understand from within – from one’s own self, and from the heart of whatever one is trying to understand. Intuition is the inner ability to see behind the outer forms of things to their inner essence…….”
Note: Meditation is the single most effective means through which to develop our intuitive faculty, our 6th Sense! This is especially true in the last part of meditation when we end techniques and sit still in the silence in order to attune our consciousness to superconsciousness.
You can obtain your copy of Intuition for Starters at the East West Bookshop nearest you or any Ananda Center or directly from the publisher at