1973: Planting Roots: A New Movement for the Masters

The Gandharvas (Celestial Singers), an early Ananda performing group. Music has played a major, defining role in the spread of the Ananda branch of Paramhansa Yogananda’s work.


When Swamiji returned to San Francisco, some fifty people were at the airport to meet him. He was scheduled to arrive at 6:30 p.m., but because of a series of delays, including a mid-Atlantic turn-around when a passenger suffered a heart attack, he landed at 2:00 a.m. He was surprised to see such a large crowd. He assumed that all but the necessary one or two would have given up and gone to bed.

He had carried photographs of Ananda with him to show his friends what he had been doing for the last decade. “They all remarked on your happy, shining faces,” he told us. “Ananda compares favorably with the best ashrams in India. Master has abundantly fulfilled his promise to bless and guide his devotees, even after he left this world.”

When he got home, and began to turn his letters into a book, Swamiji found he couldn’t describe the journey without first explaining why it was so meaningful to him. To leave that part out would be insincere. He had talked to people about his separation from SRF, but this would be his first published account. He felt Master guiding him to write it.

“If I’m going to do more than drag you along in the impersonal capacity of a tour guide, I had better touch on certain experiences that will help you travel with me as a friend and to experience India through my eyes.”

It was a brief account, fair to both sides. “Some people there are who, perhaps, too innately eccentric, don’t seem cut out for organization work. Perhaps I am one of them.” He also frankly stated, “I believe we would have cut twenty years off our efforts to develop the work in India had my plan been accepted.”


Just as Swamiji predicted, we grew stronger in his absence. But it was not all smooth sailing.

In the Jewel in the Lotus, the character Romesh was transformed by the Storyteller; in real life, the actor Jim was not. While Swamiji was away, Jim wrote a new constitution for the Farm, separating it from the rest of Ananda, and removing it from the influence and authority of Swami Kriyananda. “He is a monk and not qualified to lead a community of householders,” Jim declared. He and a few supporters presented Swamiji with the new constitution.

“First,” Swamiji said, “almost all the money to pay the mortgage for the Farm comes from Ayodhya and the Retreat. You would last six months—three months to default on the mortgage, three months for the bank to foreclose. Second, I did not start Ananda to turn it over to you.” Soon after, Jim left the community, moving to nearby Nevada City.

There had also been an unfortunate occurrence at the Retreat. In his absence, Swamiji had appointed “J” to give classes, Sunday Services, and to lead the Christmas meditation—which was particularly deep and joyous. J was bright, talented, sincerely devoted, and had a weakness for women. He was married, but started an affair with one of the guests.

The whole community was young and inexperienced. “Doubly ignorant,” Swamiji deemed us later. “Too ignorant to know what you are ignorant of.” Our idea of the spiritual path was romantic, not realistic. Few understood how long and arduous is the journey from first aspiration to final transcendence.

J was one of those Swamiji had left in charge, so when the affair was discovered, the lines of authority were muddled. A few vigilantes took matters into their own hands and angrily confronted him. J neither apologized nor repented, but claimed he had done nothing wrong. It was the vigilantes, he said, who were at fault, for being so judgmental.

Sex, intoxicants, and money are the three major delusions. Even advanced souls fight long and hard to overcome them. One can’t banish these delusions with a wave of the hand just because others demand it of you.

The vigilantes expected praise from Swamiji for defending the honor of the ashram. Instead, they got a severe scolding. “When people are struggling, that is the time to help them rise, not push them further down!” Swamiji said. “You went after a gnat with a baseball bat! Yes, he has a weakness, but he is a good man, with much to offer. You have to think about the person involved and what will help him. J is proud. He needed a way to save face. Instead you humiliated him.”

Years earlier, when Swamiji was still in SRF, one of the monks strayed from his vow. The monk wanted to keep serving SRF, but now as a married man. Daya Mata felt a harsh response was needed. To do otherwise, she said, would weaken the will of the other monks.

Swamiji disagreed. “People join SRF to become strong; very few are strong to begin with. If SRF turns its back on its own children merely because they are weak and succumb a little to delusion, they will feel like outcasts in their own home, and will certainly fail. It was the knowledge that Master’s love was unconditional that made people stick so firmly to him.” Daya Mata was not persuaded and the man was never allowed to serve SRF again.

“When I put J in a teaching position,” Swamiji said, “I knew his weakness. But it was karma that had to be faced; I wanted to help him through it. I didn’t expect to be 10,000 miles away when it surfaced.” Swamiji tried valiantly to save him, but the humiliation was more than J could face, and eventually he left Ananda.


A few weeks after he returned from India, Swamiji left again, taking a dozen singers with him for a week of recording in Los Angeles. He had been offered a studio, an engineer, and a talented tabla player who had only a few days free to record. Haridas Blake was one of the singers.

“I had been at Ananda for a couple of years,” Haridas said. “I had seen Swamiji in classes and satsangs, and occasional small gatherings, but this was my first time up close and personal with him. I was just out of my teens; he was twenty-five years older than me, but I could barely keep up! There was no way we could afford a motel, so we stayed with a devotee. Swamiji had a private room. The rest of us stretched out on the floor wherever we could find space. Long lines for the bathroom, but somehow we made it work.

“Every day Swamiji woke us up bright and early so we could meditate together. Then off to the studio, sometimes not returning ‘til the wee hours of the morning. At times, some of us crashed out on the floor of the studio, but Swamiji never stopped.

“We were there to record an album of chants—Swamiji leading, us following. None of us were professionals; most had never been in a recording studio before. Swamiji didn’t try for perfection musically, but he insisted that we get the vibration right. Take one. Take two. Take three. He kept on until he felt we were singing with our whole hearts—not for each other, not for him, but for God Alone.

“When we weren’t in the studio, or cooking meals, or trying to keep our crowded living space in order, Swamiji sent us out with piles of his books to sell to bookstores: Yoga Postures, Cooperative Communities, Yours! The Universe, Your Sun Sign as a Spiritual Guide. I was attached to the path of moderation. Swamiji showed me how much energy it takes to find God.

“The album was called O God Beautiful, after one of Master’s chants. Swamiji also made another album, Songs of the Soul, which was mostly him singing devotional songs. Some he had written, some were traditional songs he had learned in India. He had just returned, and a lot of India came back with him. The crowded conditions, not getting enough sleep, driving around Los Angeles looking for bookstores—it was all worth it for the hours we spent in the studio listening to Swamiji sing. Especially the Indian songs. He held nothing back. His whole heart was in every note. He went to worlds I didn’t know were there, and took us with him.”


In 1964, Swamiji had spent a weekend camping in Yosemite. One evening he joined an impromptu songfest with some guitarists. His contribution was the American spiritual, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. After that, he had no other appropriate songs to offer. Schubert? Puccini? Indian bhajans? Not right for the audience.

He had always loved singing. His high school choir director told him, “Son, there’s money in your voice!”—not realizing that money was the last thing that would motivate Swamiji. In college, his elderly singing teacher said, “I’m living for just one thing now, to see you become a great singer.” Swamiji never took another lesson from her. He was seeking truth, not fame. When he became a disciple, he dedicated his love of singing to Master’s chants, spending hours every day with his harmonium. SRF issued a recording of him chanting.

Driving home from Yosemite, Swamiji thought, “Singing is a wonderful way to share with people, but what could I sing? Perhaps I could write my own songs!” In that moment a love song to Divine Mother was given to him, both melody and lyrics—Farther Away Than the Stars.

Master had written songs, put new words to old melodies, and translated or adapted music from India for American audiences. Writing music was following Master’s way, but not competing with SRF, since no one there was doing it.

Over the next few years, Swamiji wrote several dozen songs. Melodies were effortless. “All my life I’ve been hearing melodies in my mind,” he said. “It is not my music; it is given to me.” Writing poetry that fit took more time. As a break from the effort of writing lyrics, in one day he wrote melodies for eighteen of Shakespeare’s songs. He learned to play guitar and in 1965 made a solo album: Say “YES” to Life!


When he and the singers returned to Ananda, Swamiji continued to work with them. He wrote choral arrangements and four-part harmony for many of his songs. “I didn’t write this music just for listening; it is for everyone to sing,” he said. “Ananda is a community.

When the group began to perform at Sunday service, or before his satsangs, Swamji would often correct them in public, frequently asking them to sing the song again with the changes he had suggested. Sometimes he even stopped them in the middle of a verse, especially if the rhythm was wrong. Practice makes permanent; he didn’t want them to reinforce their own mistakes.

In order to sing Swamiji’s music correctly, the singers had to raise their vibration to match that of the songs. For some, it took more energy and concentration than they were used to putting out. Whatever singing they’d done in the past was mostly folk music or rock and roll.

One of the few who was classically trained had a different problem. “My focus has always been on the beauty of my voice,” she said. “The song was there to serve me. Now I am the servant of the song. I have to deliver its message, not my own.”

Many of the lyrics took will power and conviction to sing properly.

Give life your heart! Bless everything that’s grown;

Fear not the loving: all this world’s your own.”

Before the light the veils of sorrow rend;

In inner freedom all delusions end.”

Sing when the sun shines, sing when the rain falls, sing when your road seems strange.

In a tempest, seize the lightening flash, and ride the winds of change!”

“Melody in music represents your aspirations,” Swamiji said. “When I am clear about what I want to say, the melody simply appears. Most modern music has a beat, because there is an urge toward self-expression, but no clarity or aspiration, and therefore no melody.

“The heavy downbeat, so popular today, is ego-affirming. Even when the lyrics are positive, even spiritual, the music itself affirms worldly consciousness. It says, ‘I don’t have to relate to anyone but myself.’ Carried to an extreme, it declares, ‘I can be as irrational as I want.’ Communication doesn’t matter. At its worst, that kind of music forces the listener to stop thinking, but in a subconscious, not a superconscious way.

“Even if you aren’t aware of its message, the message still affects you. Music not only expresses states of consciousness, it helps create them. The early Christian church was held together by its music. The Gregorian chants perfectly expressed the vibration of their mission. Repeatedly singing them together kept them in tune with what they were doing.

“Music is its own language, as specific as any other. You can’t always translate it into words, but you feel it intuitively.”

Melodies were given to Swamiji, but sometimes afterward he could see why that combination of notes was exactly right. Taking his song Hello There, Brother Bluebell! as an example, he showed the singers three possible endings:

First, was the stock ending, with a regular rhythm, going down in pitch, into a strong, harmonious resolution. “That ending affirms the reality of this world and one’s own place in it,” Swamiji said. “That’s why so many people would choose it.”

The next was to end on an upward, melodic phrase, but slowing way down. “This gives a soaring feeling, but the slow rhythm leaves you clinging to this world. You drift toward subconsciousness, rather than soaring into superconsciousness.”

The final choice was the one he had received—an upwardly soaring melody in a regular rhythm right to the end. “This takes you into higher consciousness,” he said.

The singers learned to welcome Swamiji’s input, any time, any place. Some of the audience, though, were appalled when he corrected the singers in public. Swamiji responded, “I’m not a dictator, but I do reflect back to people—and to the community as a whole—what I know they are capable of doing. It wouldn’t help anyone to settle for less.”


In Autobiography of a Yogi, in the chapter Outwitting the Stars, Master describes a twenty-four thousand year equinoctial cycle on planet Earth, divided into two, equal parts: ascending and descending. These half-cycles consist of four ages, called yugas—Kali, Dwapara, Treta, and Satya. These correspond to the Greek idea of Iron, Bronze, Silver, and Golden Ages, and the Egyptian cycle, Ages of Men, Heroes, Demigods, and Gods.[1]

The four yugas are unequal in length. Kali is twelve hundred years, Dwapara, twenty-four hundred, Treta, thirty-six hundred, Satya, forty-eight hundred. The duration of each yuga is the same, ascending and descending. The beginning and ending of each yuga is a transition period, proportional to the length of the yuga itself. At the apex of the twenty-four thousand year cycle, Satya ascending is followed by Satya descending. At the nadir, Kali descending is followed by Kali ascending.

Kali (dark) is the age of matter; Dwapara (second), the age of energy; Treta (third), the age of mental power; Satya (truth), the age of consciousness. Presently we are in an ascending cycle. Kali ascending began in 500 A.D. The transition from Kali into Dwapara began in 1700 and the yuga itself in 1900. In the relatively short period of time since Dwapara began, centuries of tradition have been annihilated; cultures, languages, and species are becoming extinct; and almost everything that defines modern life has been invented.

The yugas are a planetary phenomenon. The real drama in creation is individual soul evolution. Great souls incarnate in every age, and their disciples with them. Krishna came in the descending cycle as Dwapara transitioned into Kali. Master incarnated in the ascending cycle as Kali transitioned into Dwapara. The consciousness of a Self-realized master is untouched by planetary conditions; Jesus came near the nadir of Kali descending. A master’s message, however, is defined by the needs of his disciples, and the age into which he is born.

The transitions between yugas are tumultuous times, as one set of values is displaced by another. Krishna’s incarnation was defined by the battle of Kurukshetra, described in the epic Mahabharata, of which the Bhagavad Gita is one chapter. The battle is a spiritual allegory, and also a historical event. In Master’s lifetime, there were three wars—with much more suffering to come, he said, before the change of yugas is complete.

In the first pages of Swamiji’s book, Cooperative Communities: How to Start Them, and Why, he writes, “Yogananda stressed the joys of simple, natural living and God thinking—a way of life that, he said, would bring people ‘happiness and freedom.’ But his message went beyond simply presenting people with an attractive idea. There was an urgency to his plea.

“‘The time is short,’ he repeatedly told his audiences. ‘You have no idea of the sufferings that await mankind. In addition to wars,’”—Master predicted two more world wars—“‘there will be a depression the like of which has not been known in a very long time. Money will not be worth the paper it is printed on. Millions will die.’”

When Swamiji was living with Master at Mount Washington, one Sunday in the middle of his sermon, Master declared in a voice of thunder, “You don’t know what a terrible cataclysm is coming!” War and depression are human events; cataclysm implies an act of Nature, beyond the control of man. Human events can be anticipated; acts of Nature often catch us unaware.

The purpose of these events is not to crush us, Master said, but to inspire us to turn toward God: “America will have half as much wealth, but will be much more spiritual.” This country has some bad karma to pay off, he said, because of the way we treated the American Indians. Overall, though, America’s karma is good, and in the end, the country will emerge victorious. Then America and India will unite to lead the world in a three hundred year period of unprecedented peace and prosperity.

“Time is a difficult aspect of prophecy,” Swamiji said, “but Master made it seem as if these cataclysmic events would begin on the morrow. No matter what his announced topic, Master would always digress into the subject of communities, and the urgent need to gather together with like-minded friends to buy land in the country where you can grow your own food and live safely through the coming hard times.”

With such a warning ringing in his ears, Swamiji felt it was his duty to pass on the words of Master. Few wanted to hear them, chiding Swamiji at times for attracting the very things he feared by talking about them.

“There is a difference between positive thinking and wishful thinking,” Swamiji said. “Wishful thinking is like invading a country with ten soldiers, hoping to find the opposing army asleep. Positive thinking is accepting what is, then dynamically facing and overcoming whatever challenge those facts present.”

Swamiji decided to write a small book about Master’s prophecies: The Road Ahead. The prophecies themselves fill only a few pages. The rest is Swamiji’s reasoning about why, how, and most importantly when the events Master predicted are likely to occur. He doesn’t pretend to be an expert, but just looks with common sense at political, social, and economic conditions.

He includes the story of a man who, after living through World War I in Europe, felt it was just a matter of time before another war broke out. He searched the globe for the safest place to be when that happened—and settled on the isolated island of Guam. In World War II, Guam was the center of the battle in the Pacific!

The point is obvious: we must use our common sense, but God is our true security. “Get on the spiritual path now,” Swamiji said in one powerful lecture. “Otherwise, when these cataclysms come, you won’t be able to stand the horror of it.”

SRF also knew Master’s predictions, but didn’t publish them until after The Road Ahead came out. Then they put an article into their magazine, which included some of Master’s predictions, but most of the emphasis was how to be spiritually prepared. When asked, “What should we do?” SRF’s response was, “Kriya.”

“That is a beautiful answer,” Swamiji said, “if you are so absorbed in meditation that nothing else is of interest. The fact is, even people devoted to the spiritual path usually have many interests besides doing Kriya. I see no reason, therefore, not to have a thoughtful interest in what may be happening on the planet.”

Someone asked Swamiji, “Would God allow mankind to destroy this planet?”

“Oh yes,” he said, without a trace of concern or trepidation. “But the karmic condition here wouldn’t allow that. There is evil energy, but there is also great spiritual awakening. The difficult times ahead are merely an adjustment. When a child outgrows a suit of clothes, if he is wise, he simply throws away the old one and puts on the new. But if he is attached to that old suit, and refuses to give it up, even though it no longer fits him, eventually the change will have to be forced upon him.”

The Banyan Tree was a newsletter Swamiji wrote himself, and sent to the entire Ananda mailing list, “Bi-monthly, quarterly, or whenever we can afford it.” In November, speaking of hard times to come, he wrote, “The time, I truly feel, is NOW. So, dear friends, instead of my usual newsy letter I have felt it vital this time—for many people’s sake; for your sake as well—to issue a call to combat and victory.”

He reiterated Master’s call to start a community or join an existing one, then listed other practical ways of preparing, above all, spiritually.

“My prayer is for a much more important kind of victory for you: the spiritual. Earthly successes, disasters, crises, and fulfillments, are revealed, in the end, to be only dreams. God alone is real. Though Master often warned us of trials to come, he told us above all to look to God for our support, even while exercising common sense in our own and on others’ behalf.

“In the early years of his work in the United States, a visitor to Mount Washington asked Master, ‘What are the assets of this organization?’

“‘None!’ Master replied joyously, ‘Only God!’

“Such, too, is the spirit here at Ananda. By worldly standards we are poor indeed. But our hearts are rich in the awareness of God’s nearness. And our faith is strong. For we have seen countless miracles, without which Ananda could never have been brought to its present state of remarkable success.”


Most of the founding members of the community were born within a few years of each other. We had to be young and unencumbered to launch Ananda. Swamiji was in his forties; we were in our twenties. But it was he who set the example of child-like freedom in God.

On New Year’s Eve, Swamiji led a meditation from 10:00 p.m. to midnight. “As things begin, so they continue.” Meditating set the right tone. Contemplating the year ahead, and the troubles it might bring, we abandoned ourselves to God’s will. Two hours passed like ten minutes.

During the meditation it began to snow. Coming out of the Retreat temple at midnight, we gazed in silent awe at the white world around us—until the solemn mood was broken by a well-formed, deftly aimed snowball! Tossed by Swamiji himself! The resulting joyous melee—in which he played a leading role—was the perfect complement to the joy of inner communion we had shared only minutes before.


[1] Crystal Clarity has published a fascinating book on this subject,The Yugas, by Joseph Selbie and David Steinmetz.