“The Meditation Retreat,” Swamiji wrote in The Banyan Tree, “has become far more popular than we ever dreamed it would when we first bought the land.” Originally intended as a place for serious meditators, people were now coming for a variety of reasons: to check out Ananda as a place to live, to get help in starting their own communities, for personal counseling, for purely social reasons, or to spend time in the company of like-minded friends. On Sunday, some people drove long distances just for the morning service.
The rules set up by Swamiji’s co-buyers, shortly after the property was purchased in 1967, did not permit the kind of Retreat that was developing there. We had to look for land elsewhere.
The ideal piece was the Hoffman Ranch, right next to the Farm. It was owned by a dentist in Los Angeles who rarely even visited. But he didn’t want to sell—“Absolutely not!”—so we started negotiating for a piece down the road. We didn’t have any money, “But moving the Retreat was a personal responsibility I had taken on,” Swamiji said, so we assumed God would find a way.
A few days later, I was standing in line at the post office when I overheard a man I’d never seen before ask the clerk, “Do you know anyone from Ananda?” Thinking he was a guest looking for the Retreat, I stepped forward, told him my name, then, to my astonishment, heard myself say, “So, you want to sell us your land!” It was Dr. Hoffman.
He’d had a change of heart and driven up from Los Angeles to talk to us. My sudden intuition further convinced him that the land was meant to be ours. “I always dreamed of developing it in just the way Ananda is doing,” Dr. Hoffman said. “I realize I’ll never do it myself. I want you to have it.”
He offered us an unbelievable deal. No money down, $1000 per month, the first twelve payments deferred to the end of the year. The only catch was, we had to buy it all. We had been looking at thirty acres; this was ten times more. Of course we said, “Yes!”`
The New Land—it remained new for a decade—opened the door for two other projects Swamiji had long considered. First, a sanitarium. He wrote in The Banyan Tree, “Rather than working against disease, we would work with the body’s natural healing process, extending the idea of cooperation into the field of health. The patient would not be passive, but actively engaged in his own healing, cooperating with natural law and divine will.”
There could be allopathic physicians, Ayurvedic doctors, and other practitioners in tune with this method. “I envision something small, with low overhead, and no sophisticated, costly equipment. Above all, it would be a place of loving service, rather than merely a business relationship.”
Second, would be an Institute of Cooperative Spiritual Living, to support the growing communities movement. “There would be classes in how to found and operate communities like Ananda, including practical courses in establishing supportive industries. Students could apprentice in Ananda businesses, in the school, and on the farm. They could learn yoga philosophy and practices, and study other spiritual traditions as well. We could offer a broad range of courses on cooperation itself, in history, government, science, anthropology, and sociology.”
With the remaining land, we could double the population of Ananda, from two hundred to four hundred people. It could be a godsend for hard times.
In 1969, when word spread to Nevada City that a teepee village filled with hippies had sprouted twenty miles outside of town, a concerned editorial appeared in the local paper. Swamiji went to the newspaper office and introduced himself as the founder of the teepee village. Then, pointing to the editorial, he said, with a humorous smile, “I am here to answer your ad.” Swamiji gave them a letter to the editor, but they chose not to print it.
In the closing paragraphs, of that letter he said, “We have assumed this way of life with a sense of keen responsibility to society, and with a loving desire to offer to others what we hope will be an example of peace and brotherhood, a first toddling step on the pathway to world peace.
“We ask from you, our neighbors, no favor but your friendship. We give you ours in return, and add to it our prayers that the peace of God that we have felt in these, your hills, may fill your hearts—that you may know from experience that, under all the insecurities, fears, and aggravations of our times, God is not dead. He holds out His hand, calling to us in silence, but as urgently and as lovingly as ever in the days of Christ.”
He then went to the county office, assuming the editorial would also have piqued their interest. After some discussion, the county officials decided that the right designation for Ananda was Church Camp, which gave the Health Department sole jurisdiction.
The inspector assigned to Ananda had spent years in developing countries. He didn’t mind primitive, as long as health and safety were respected. In the first years, he was the only county official we had to satisfy. This was one of the many miracles of Ananda’s beginning. If, from the start, we had been under the Planning Department, Ananda would never have gotten off the ground.
When we got the New Land, we took our plans, as usual, to the Health Department. They told us that county officials had decided we had grown beyond being a Church Camp. The Health Department no longer had jurisdiction; from now on, we would be under the Planning Department.
Our first meeting with the Planning Director did not go well. After hearing Swamiji’s careful explanation of Ananda as a cooperative spiritual community, the Director turned to the bookshelf behind her and pulled down a thick volume of regulations. She thumbed through it until she found what she was looking for, then announced, “So, you are a condominium!”
We made some further effort to clarify, but it didn’t help—nor did it matter. Before anything could be done on the New Land, she said, we had to submit a Master Plan for the whole community. The easy freedom of “Church Camp” was gone forever.
“When I was eighteen,” Swamiji said, “I had a revelation about meaning in art. As a consequence, I destroyed everything I had written to that point, then wrote two stories, The Singer and the Nightingale and For What Was Man Made? [later retitled, Land of Golden Sunshine].”
In an essay for his college English professor, Swamiji explained his criteria for greatness in art as “the quality of light that emanated from it.” The professor was not impressed, and gave him a flunking grade, but Swamiji knew he was right.
“For the past thirty years I’ve been trying to express in words what I understood in a flash of insight at that time.” Now he was trying again. “It has been tremendously difficult. I spent a whole afternoon working on one paragraph. I understand it intuitively, but bridging my ideas in a way others can follow—that is the challenge.”
When he finally finished writing Meaning in the Arts, he said, “I feel like a warrior after a battle.” Then hastened to add, “A victorious warrior.” He edited the two stories and put them, with Meaning in the Arts and his play, Jewel in the Lotus, into a book called Tales for the Journey.
Some spiritual traditions condemn all creativity as egoic. “This is a misunderstanding,” Swamiji said. “You can’t transcend the ego merely by suppressing it. Creativity is fundamental to the spiritual path. To grow spiritually, you must give of yourself—first to God, and then, as He inspires you, to God in others. The devotee’s constant prayer must be, ‘Lord, help me to serve You better.’ When you ask God to work through you, all work—whether artistic or mundane—becomes creative, because Spirit is ever-new. It never repeats itself, even in tiny things. Master said, ‘Every atom is dowered with individuality.’”
Master wrote poetry, music, and an autobiography that is one of the best-selling spiritual books of all time. He interpreted ancient scriptures in new ways. His Whispers from Eternity is a masterpiece of devotional literature.
To share India’s teachings in a country where they were virtually unknown required great creativity. Master crisscrossed the country, filling the largest halls in major cities with topics like Highest Science of Super-Concentration and All-round Success; Yogoda Muscle-Will System of Physical Perfection; Mastering the Subconscious Mind by Superconsciousness; Divine Healing Prayer Vibrations Administered by Yogananda to the Entire Audience (Bring Your Sick Friends); and Where Is Jesus Now and What Is He Doing?
In India, the guru is supported by his disciples. In the United States, Master had to support both himself and his disciples. He started a goat milk dairy, a carrot juice factory, a flower farm, and bought a papaya grove. At a time when vegetarianism was virtually unknown, he opened two vegetarian cafes, featuring recipes of his own invention. Mushroom burgers were a particular favorite.
During World War II, when meat was rationed, Master was concerned for all the meat-eaters who would now feel deprived. His constant prayer was, “How can I serve?” He had the idea to extract gluten from wheat and use it as a meat substitute. This became one more cottage industry for Mount Washington. Later, he gave his recipes to the Seventh-day Adventists; their Loma Linda brand is popular to this day.
“The secret of prosperity is creativity,” Swamiji said. “The opposite, ‘poverty consciousness,’ is to be locked in a limited view of reality itself. If you think there is only one way to do something, and that fails, then you fail. ‘Prosperity consciousness’ is to see an infinity of possibilities. If your first idea doesn’t work, you try another one. If that fails, you keep on generating ideas until you find the one that does succeed.
“That is how Master worked. He tried many things just to get the energy going in the right way. It is a mistake to take what he did too literally.
“Like Master, much of the time I’m just getting energy going, rather than dictating how a thing should be done. If I propose nine ideas and someone comes up with a tenth that is better, let’s go with the best idea. Too often people follow what I say dogmatically instead of creatively—then hold me responsible when it doesn’t work out!
“Positive thinking is part of it. When I say we’ll sell thousands of copies of a book, or have two hundred guests for Spiritual Renewal Week, it is part of keeping the right affirmation. But when it doesn’t happen that way, some people think I’m just a dreamer. That isn’t the case. One reason we don’t sell thousands of books or have two hundred guests is because most of you think it is impossible. I’m the only one who believes we can! If I didn’t affirm that two hundred people would come, we wouldn’t have even the thirty who do come. If all of you thought as I do—and worked as hard as I do!—we could attract millions.”
On another occasion, I was startled to hear Swamiji say, “Prosperity will be Ananda’s greatest test.”
“How could that be?” I asked in astonishment.
“When things come easily, people often stop putting out creative energy,” he said. “Instead of thinking, ‘What can I give?’ they begin to ask, ‘What can I get?’ It doesn’t happen overnight, but gradually a selfish attitude sets in, and the original spirit is lost.” Then he added, “I’m not saying it will happen, I’m only saying it could happen. What will save Ananda is the constant prayer, ‘How can I serve?’
“To be original is not to do something that’s never been done before. It is to come from your own point of origin, from the heart of your own life experience. True creativity is an outward expression of the inspiration you feel inside. Otherwise, it is just an echo of what has been done before.
“Most people think of creativity as ‘I want to create something.’ Or ‘I need to express myself.’ I have never felt the need to express myself. My only thought is, ‘How can I serve?’
“My way of creating is different. I ask God to help me express certain states of consciousness that I think would be of benefit to others. I think only of that consciousness, and it comes to me as words, music, photography, architecture—whatever it is I’m trying to do. I tune in to what is already there, then express it. Inspiration comes to those who seek it with humility toward their own achievements, and reverence toward the achievements of God.
“It is a new understanding of creativity I hope to inspire others to try.”
After he finished writing Meaning in the Arts, Swamiji went into seclusion. “I feel the most important thing for me now is to prepare myself inwardly to face the hard times ahead. Meditation is my priority.”
By the middle of March, he was ready for a break. A friend offered to pay for a trip to India, if he could go along. Jyotish, Nalini Graeber, and Shraddha von Tobel joined the traveling party. Swamiji would be gone for two months, starting with a week of programs in San Francisco, and ending with lectures in Europe.
Every twelve years in Haridwar, there is a huge spiritual fair called a Kumbha Mela. Hundreds of thousands of people gather to bathe in the Ganges and receive darshan (the blessing of seeing a holy person or the image of a deity) from the many saints and sadhus who come. It was there that Swamiji would see Anandamayi Ma. But when the others left for Haridwar, Swamiji stayed in Delhi. Several weeks into the trip, he had become ill.
“I told them not to expect me,” he said. “I felt so weakened by dysentery, I couldn’t face the crowds. Just to be sure, I prayed to Ma, since the strongest reason to go was to see her. Immediately, I felt her calling me to come. My strength returned remarkably. I knew I must go.”
They visited her encampment twice. Both times, Ma came out specially to see them. “A deep and beautiful love flowed between Swamiji and Ma,” Jyotish wrote, “like a mother and son, but much closer, both being great lovers of God. You could feel the intuitive connection between them. There were worlds of meaning in the simple glances they exchanged. When they laughed together, it went beyond merriment into realms of divine joy. Being with them, I understood what it must have been like to be enfolded in Master’s infinite love.
“Ma talked with Swamiji for a long time, and was very supportive, especially of his surrender to his Guru’s will. She was warm, joyful, childlike, and exceedingly sweet and kind to him. She took a flower garland that someone had placed around her neck, and put it on his. Then she tossed to each of us little cloth-tied bundles of prasad—bits of candy, made holy by her touch.
“We asked her a number of questions, but Ma gave very short answers, mostly, ‘Ask your Guru.’ Swamiji always directs us to Master as the Guru. Only later did I realize that she wasn’t speaking of Master. When she said ‘Guru,’ she meant Swamiji. Ma made it clear that it was not her responsibility to guide us; responsibility for us had been given by God to Swamiji.”
He returned to San Francisco on May 18, the day before his forty-eighth birthday. In India, he dressed as swamis do there, in orange kurta (long, loose-fitting shirt) and dhoti. In Europe and the United States, he wore Western clothes, usually blue, which is how he dressed for the plane. So his fellow passengers were bemused to see him showered with rose petals and then decked with garlands by the two dozen devotees who had come to meet him.
Soon after his birthday, Swamiji went back into seclusion.
“After I had been with Master for about a year,” Swamiji said, “he began urging me to write down his sayings and parables, and hinted that he expected me someday to write about him. In his own autobiography, Master revealed much of the path as seen through the eyes of a great soul, but could not speak of that great soul himself as he truly was, a perfected example of the divine teachings. The task of presenting him as a great master, rather than a humble seeker after enlightenment, belonged, by right, to his disciples.”
After Master died, Swamiji wrote down every conversation, story, and experience he could remember that he hadn’t already recorded. He also wrote down the recollections of others. For years he meditated on the meaning of each word and story. “Much was conveyed,” Swamiji said, “by subtle nuance, Master’s tone of voice, or the look in his eyes.”
Swamiji thought his own story, how a more or less typical Westerner came to be the disciple of a great Guru, might also be helpful to people. Master had encouraged him to write that story, too. Eventually, Swamiji decided to combine them into an autobiography of his search for truth and the fulfillment he found in Master.
He began writing in 1971, but stopped when he realized, “I haven’t grown enough yet.” Two years later he started again, wrote two chapters, then felt, “Not yet.” For a year and a half, he meditated and prayed for guidance. Now he began to write again.
I was working as his secretary and also had a day job at Pubble (Ananda Publications), which was really working for Swamiji, too, as he was our only author and closely supervised the business. I received my salary directly from him: $50 a month in cash from his own wallet.
As a courtesy to Swamiji, I was exempt from community fees. I lived in a small trailer, cheap to begin with, now long since paid for. I had no car, no insurance of any kind. My only expenses were food, propane for heat, kerosene for light. Money went farther in those days, and I didn’t find it difficult to be comfortable within my purse, as Master’s Guru, Sri Yukteswar, recommended. When I did fall short, I was always taken care of. I felt wealthy beyond the dreams of kings.
Ayodhya, where Swamiji, I, and most of the monks and nuns lived, was about a mile from Pubble, as the devotee walks, over the hill and through the woods. Communication then was by telephone or postal service, neither of which connected directly to Swamiji’s house. If you wanted him to know something you had to walk over the hill and tell him. Every weekday in the late afternoon, and occasionally on Saturday, Seva and I, and sometimes a few others, would bring Swamiji news, mail, and messages.
The day he started working again on his autobiography, I found him sitting on the floor of his office amidst hundreds of pieces of paper of various sizes arranged carefully in stacks. Each was a note about Master, some handwritten, some typed. Swamiji had spent the day sorting and organizing them. He greeted me, but remained where he was on the floor.
With a look of utter dismay, he said, “How am I ever going to turn all of this into a book about Master?”
Later he said, “I can’t convey to you the kind of fear that came over me when I faced the enormity of the responsibility. How can the anthill describe Mount Everest? But it was a duty from Master that I had to fulfill.”
Too much depended on Swamiji for him to drop out completely. But as much as possible, he spent his days in seclusion working on his autobiography. He went over every sentence scores of times. He would put the typed pages on a clipboard, move from his desk to a comfortable chair nearby, then write by hand whatever changes were needed. If he made even one change on a page, it had to be retyped and reviewed again before he could be sure that page was done.
He was the only one who could do the writing and editing, but I thought I could do the retyping for him. He was reluctant, though, to turn it over to me. Retyping often turned into more editing. And his handwriting, suffice to say, was not easy to decipher. What if I missed important changes?
I pointed out that, as his secretary, I had learned to interpret his scrawl, as he called it. I promised to double check every page to be sure nothing was missed. About editing as he typed, the net result might still be a gain. He agreed to try it. Gradually he saw that I could be trusted, and began to save the retyping for me.
His entire house was one large dome, divided into office, sitting room, and sleeping loft by partitions that stopped far short of the high ceiling. He was out of sight in his office, but every sound could be heard; the dome was like an acoustic shell. Seva and I always came in quietly so as not to break his train of thought. Sometimes he stopped work immediately. If he went on typing, we waited silently until he was done.
He didn’t always greet our arrival with the phrase, “To what do I owe this great honor?” but that spirit was always there. I was never the secretary who comes to type his manuscript. I was his friend—a cup of tea, some relaxing conversation. Only afterward did we get down to business.
Even the requests he made were proffered first as hints, respecting my freedom to offer or refuse. Our afternoon visits regularly extended through dinner, sometimes late into the night, so I never made any other plans. Serving Swamiji was not my first priority, it was my only priority, and he knew it. Still, he never presumed.
People speak grandly of having no expectations but it is a hard ideal to live up to. Habit takes over. “You are my husband, wife, child, secretary—therefore….” Even unspoken, expectation is there.
God’s joy is ever-new. Yesterday may hint at what today will bring, but it can never define it. Swamiji’s delighted surprise at our showing up—once again—at the appointed hour, was no affectation. He encouraged us in his own practice: “Every night, give back to God your little part of His creation.” When morning comes, whatever comes with it, is His gift to you, not yours by right.
Twelve singers, with three guitars and a flute, had formed a group called the Gandharvas (celestial musicians). Swamiji thought they were ready to share the music with a larger audience than Ananda. Plans were made for a December tour. In November, he interrupted his work on the book to write more arrangements, and rehearse the singers. Sometimes they practiced with him for eight to ten hours a day.
Rehearsals began with prayer, chanting, and meditation. Swamiji talked about voice placement and singing technique, “but even proper placement,” he said, “comes from right consciousness.” In the same way a guitar string needs a sounding board to give it resonance, so the human voice needs the sounding board of the Divine.
Some of the singers were nervous about the upcoming tour, so he called them together and said, “Let me give you all the reasons for you to have self-confidence. It will be nice if you sing well. Be as good as you can, but that is not what will carry you. Just be yourselves. Whenever visitors come to Ananda, it is the people that make the deepest impression. The sweetness and happiness you radiate is what your audiences long to have in their own lives. It will make up for any artistic weaknesses.”
He hoped that their tour would help energize the communities movement. They would be a graphic illustration of what otherwise would be just a theory. The music would give people an experience of harmony; the singers themselves, of cooperation—not only with each other, but with Truth and with God.
“Give special emphasis to the song Go On Alone [now called Walk Like a Man],” Swamiji said. “We want people to understand that Ananda is much more than a nice place to raise a family. It is a life of profound meaning, which we have chosen after deep and careful thought.
“But don’t think your job is to get people to join Ananda. Don’t try to impose our way of thinking on them. If you do, they’ll just write us off as sectarian. Let them be inspired simply by who you are. Everything else follows from that.
“We don’t have to compete on the world’s terms. Meditate, be in tune with Master, give the audience his vibrations. Let your singing be an expression of your spiritual sincerity. That is what will make it beautiful.”
In December, he wrote another issue of The Banyan Tree. The subject was communities, and Master’s statement that someday this lifestyle would spread like wildfire. Swamiji was musing on how that would come about. That summer, we had organized a Communities Conference. A hundred people came, many of them involved in communities of their own.
“I am beginning to feel,” Swamiji now wrote, “that this over-all movement will not derive its main strength from inter-community cooperation. Each one is motivated by different sets of ideals. Cooperation among groups, though loving and sincere, never goes beyond the rudiments of commitment. I believe in such cooperation, and will continue to promote it, but something closer to our work is needed. Otherwise, our very efforts to support the movement will be diluted by tactful compromise.”
He then suggested launching an Ananda Communities Movement, inviting his readers to join. “I see no way to spread the movement as widely as it needs to spread,” he wrote, “if commitment is restricted to people living here. It is also misleading, for it suggests that our land and residents are all that Ananda is. In fact, these are but symbols of a much broader reality.”
The Ananda Communities Movement embraces the ideals of our Guru, which Swamiji listed:
Simplicity, but not primitivism
World compassion, not world rejection
Practicality, not utopianism
Service, not self-indulgence
Love of God, not materialism
Kindness, respect, and an open heart to all
On Christmas Eve, we gathered in the Common Dome where Swamiji regaled us with his reading of a P. G. Wodehouse story. He had been introduced to this British humorist when he was a schoolboy in England, and had loved him ever since. Now he was sharing his enjoyment with us. He was a gifted mimic, and his accents sent us—and occasionally, him—into gales of laughter.
Then outward merriment gave way to inward joy, with Christmas carols and Swamiji’s songs. There were guests from Germany. As a child, Swamiji was as fluent in German as he was in English. Together they sang some of his favorite German carols. Instruments came out for an impromptu concert.
At the Christmas meditation the day before, Swamiji had played some recorded music in the afternoon. Most of his music was not suitable for the occasion, so he played favorite pieces from many traditions. Sitar and tabla from India, a European folk song, a duet from a French opera. Then he played The Blue Danube waltz, which Master had played for every Christmas meditation.
“Visualize yourself in the astral world dancing with the masters,” Swamiji said. When the piece concluded, he smiled mischievously, then said, “Master always played it more than once.”
We listened to it three more times. Swamiji stood near the altar, eyes closed, smiling blissfully, swaying gracefully, keeping the rhythm with a soft clap of his hands.
Earlier in the week, I had come to see Swamiji in the middle of the day, to discuss a business matter. When I arrived, he was making chapatis (Indian unleavened bread) for his lunch, and continued on without breaking his silence. In his lectures, Swamiji often referred to inner experiences devotees may have, but rarely made it personal.
Such an aura of holiness emanated from him as he quietly prepared his simple lunch. Even the smallest task, done for God, becomes an act of worship.