1975: Challenges Worldly & Spiritual

Swamiji makes corrections to The Path: My Life With Paramhansa Yogananda, 1976.

Swamiji continued to feel the urgency of Master’s predictions about coming hard times. His contribution was to keep working on his autobiography. A book about Master could draw many people to God, the only true security. To help in other ways, Swamiji sent six of us on a speaking tour around Northern California. Our marketing was not subtle. The free lecture was Trial by Fire: World Prophecies of the Great Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda. The all-day workshop was, You Can Prepare for Disaster. Even though they were a success, ever after we called them the Disaster Seminars.

Each of us covered a specific area: Jyotish talked about communities; Devi, simple living; Binay Preston, economic options; Shivani, growing your own food; Santosh O’Hara, land and shelter. My area was spiritual solutions. We were such a novelty, we got attention from the media. The San Francisco Chronicle called Jyotish and me the “gloom and doom duo,” although the reporter went on to describe us as, “More than happy, they are positively beatific.”

A pleasing side effect of the Disaster Seminars was not a disaster at all. The friendship between Jyotish and Devi blossomed into romance, and soon after, marriage. Shivani’s future husband, Arjuna Lucki, was also courting her at that time, following us from city to city.

All of us had experience teaching at the Retreat, but this was one of our first efforts to reach a broader audience. The crowds were small, but receptive. I had some understanding of the spiritual path, but compared to Swamiji, my cup of wisdom was more like a thimble. Now, on tour, sharing with others, I saw how much I did know.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says, “Even a little practice of this inward religion will save you from dire fears and colossal suffering.” By now I had practiced a little, and could attest to the truth of what Krishna said.

I came to Ananda to be with Swamiji. I loved helping people, but inwardly I kept aloof from “the project.” I considered my detachment a virtue; I had come for God-realization, not to get further enmeshed in the world.

One day, driving through the community with Swamiji, looking out the window I thought, “What tremendous effort it has taken to manifest each part of Ananda. Swamiji has given his life’s blood to fulfill the commission given to him by Master. And how grateful I am that he did! I couldn’t imagine life without Ananda.”

Suddenly I saw my detachment in a different light. I was happy to take from Swamiji, but what was I giving in return? Yes, I cooked meals, wrote letters, made tea, but how was I helping with the only thing that mattered to him, to fulfill the responsibility given to him by his Guru? I considered myself his friend, but how could I be, unless I made his cause my own? I resolved to become worthy of the friendship Swamiji extended so selflessly to me.


Swamiji starting holding Thursday night satsangs at his house. He would read us the latest chapters from his autobiography, now titled The Path. Reading aloud to others, and feeling their mental response, often revealed weaknesses in the writing he hadn’t noticed before. He kept pencil and clipboard at hand and would pause to make editorial notes.

In winter, darkness came early, it rained often, and snowed more frequently than it does now. We’d come bundled against the cold into the gas-lit, wood-heated dome, pulling off our boots and piling our coats on his dining room table. Swamiji always sat in a slightly padded straight chair, his back toward the large window. He dressed informally, usually dark trousers and a blue plaid wool shirt. There was some furniture, but mostly we sat on the floor around him.

The dome itself was perched on the edge of a steep incline. Far below was the Yuba River; on the other side of the canyon, nothing but forest. Through the window behind Swamiji, we could see the stars, or the moonlight reflected on the clouds; the blackness of rain, or the silent white snow. Were we in Twentieth Century California or high in the Himalayas? How many incarnations had we spent in this way, sitting at the feet of our teacher?

When he finished reading, Swamiji would ask for feedback. He wasn’t just being polite; he needed input. He was so close to the book, he couldn’t always tell what might need further editing. Information about Master was scarce in those days. Autobiography of a Yogi and what Swamiji had told us in satsangs and classes were all we knew. Now he was writing about Master, the path, and his own discipleship in ways we had never heard before. We wanted to help him, but often found the inspiration too deep for words, or felt unqualified to comment.

Only a few people were comfortable giving suggestions — the same few, week after week. Swamiji listened attentively, but if he didn’t understand, or didn’t agree, the ensuing discussion could be lively. You had to meet Swamiji on his level of energy. Many felt silence was the safer path.

Swamiji sympathized, but after several weeks of near silence from all but a handful of people, he felt a corrective was needed. One of Sri Yukteswar’s spiritual maxims was, “Learn to behave.” Swamiji said, “When I present to you something I have just created, to say nothing at all in response is not even common courtesy. I am not a television set, or a nickelodeon, where you put in your coin and then watch me perform.

 “You aren’t relating to me as a person. You have created some image of me in your minds and are relating to that. Quite apart from what I may need in order to perfect this writing, it isn’t good for you to take without giving back. Yes, you have to put out energy to come up with a response, but for your well-being, I encourage you to try.”


More than a year had passed since the purchase of the New Land. For Swamiji, moving the Retreat was urgent. He had given his word. Nothing could be done, though, until the county gave its approval.

Our first master plan—we called it Master’s Plan—was submitted in July 1974. The county rejected it: too vague. The second version, six months later, was also rejected: Too detailed. Then new, expensive requirements were added: water study, environmental impact report, use permit, zoning change. Whenever we got close, the county moved the goal posts.

The process was costing us a lot of money, but we couldn’t use the land to generate new income. We faced a balloon payment of $12,000 with no way to pay it. In those days, that was a large sum of money. At $50 a month, I earned twice as much as Nitai Deranja, who ran the school. In the afternoons, he supplemented his income by making incense for the company Jyotish had started.

In February, Swamiji sent out a letter of appeal. The projects for the new land—retreat, healing center, institute for cooperative living—“will serve many thousands of people outside our own spiritual family. They are a loving offering to needy souls everywhere. We would like this to be our gift to others, not their gift to us.”

But economic realities had to be faced. “Ananda needs your help.” A month later, the money had been raised. Swamiji wrote, “I am lovingly grateful for your generosity and your desire to share in the adventure that is Ananda—both as a place and as a spiritual communities movement. Your loving cooperation is the very essence of what Ananda is all about. I thank you, and the God in you, with a full heart.”

Then he talked about The Path. He had finished Part I, his life before meeting Master, and optimistically spoke of completing the whole book before the end of the year—unless his writing was interrupted by the need to fundraise for the land and for the new Retreat to be built there. “Presently, therefore, I’m asking God, ‘Shall I go out and give classes, perhaps across the United States and in Europe?’ You see, my way is to give Him the responsibility by letting Him decide.”

As “another way God may elect to solve the problem,” Swamiji had sent the manuscript to publishers in New York, London, Germany, and Switzerland. With a large advance he could meet his obligations and finish the book. He also offered to send chapters of The Path as he finished them in exchange for a small donation. Somehow we held on. Swamiji didn’t have to go out and teach, but continued to work on the book.

In May, he took a break and went to Europe to see friends, contact publishers, and take a vacation in Switzerland. A German publisher was interested in Fourteen Steps. A London publisher wanted Your Sun Sign as a Spiritual Guide. No one was interested in The Path.

By now, Swamiji had written eight books, all published by Ananda, with combined sales of $100,000. “Still,” he lamented, “publishers are afraid of taking this one for fear it won’t sell. If necessary, we’ll publish it ourselves and no doubt do well.”


Every year in August, SRF held a week-long convocation for its members. The direct disciples would speak, there was a Kriya Initiation, and tours of the places where Master had lived. Hundreds of people attended from all over the world. Everyone at Ananda was also an SRF member, so we could go, too. Swamiji encouraged it. SRF opposed him, but he refused to respond in kind.

Usually people enjoyed the convocation, but three years earlier, there had been an unfortunate incident. During a tour of Mount Washington, one of the SRF nuns invited the Ananda group, about ten people, to come with her into the chapel where Master often gave services. The chair he used was on the altar, protected now by a velvet rope.

After a few minutes of chanting and meditation, she suddenly launched into a fierce tirade on the subject of loyalty. SRF, she declared, was the body of Master, and the SRF lessons, Master’s blood. Loyalty to the Guru meant loyalty to SRF. The nun never said the name, Swami Kriyananda, but the point was self-evident: loyalty to Swamiji was disloyalty to Master.

When she finally stopped talking, at first people were too stunned to speak. Then Shivani said, “But Swamiji always draws us to Master, never to himself! He recommends that we take the SRF lessons!”

“That’s his way,” the nun responded, “cleverly making it seem that he is affiliated with SRF, and that he is serving Master. He is not!”

Even the most stalwart among the Ananda members were unnerved by the experience. Daya Mata wanted Swamiji to keep silence about his separation from SRF, but how could he? He had spiritual responsibility for these souls, sent to him by Master. He couldn’t sit by and let their faith be destroyed.

When the group returned to Ananda, Swamiji spoke to them about SRF. To some questions, though, he had no answer. “How can devotees of the same Master treat each other this way?” All Swamiji could say was, “Everything happens according to God’s will, for our own highest good.”

Since then, people had continued to go to the convocation and nothing untoward had happened. Now about fifteen people were planning to attend. Swamiji was concerned, but still unwilling to take a stand against SRF, even within the community.

Bimal and Keshava work at Ananda Incense, a community cottage industry.

This time, the Ananda people were invited to a special meeting for SRF meditation group leaders. Naively, they thought this meant SRF was acknowledging Ananda as a legitimate branch of Master’s work. Then one of their monks, addressing all the leaders, launched into a fire and brimstone speech against those who dare to betray Master. At one point, he pounded the podium so forcefully, it seemed either his hand or the furniture would break! “I would die for Master’s work,” he shouted, “rather than betray it!” Swami Kriyananda’s name was never mentioned, but everyone in the room knew at whom the tirade was directed.

A woman had moved to Ananda from the East Coast. She had been very generous to Swamiji, and as a way of saying thank you, he had promised to take her to Disneyland. When Swamiji heard about the monk’s tirade, he decided that now was a good time to go.

Swamiji invited those attending the convocation to join him. He knew Disneyland well and with great enthusiasm led the group from ride to ride. Eventually, they all settled down in one of the restaurants for a long, serious discussion. Each time he told the story of his separation from SRF, he revealed a little more. Always, though, there was the hard, unanswerable question: “How can good people make such bad mistakes?”

The fact that Master’s own organization, and the great disciples who led it, so strongly disapproved of Swamiji and Ananda was a dilemma every person had to resolve for himself. From then on, Swamiji didn’t forbid people to go to the convocation, but he no longer encouraged it. The challenge of negativity can strengthen one’s faith, but it can also destroy it. Why take the risk?


At about the same time that Ananda started, many young people in California were also going back to the land and building their own homes without regard for the regulations. For a while, officials turned a blind eye. Now, many counties were posting red tags on non-conforming structures. According to the building codes, they were uninhabitable and had to be torn down.

Trailers, teepees, and cabins all over Ananda were red-tagged. The Planning Department told us they wouldn’t even consider our master plan, until every existing structure was brought into compliance with the codes. In fact, it was illegal to tie the two issues together, and with the help of a local attorney, we got the Planning Department to back down. Still, we were no closer to getting the master plan approved.

Statewide, people organized into a group called United Stand and began to lobby in Sacramento for changes to the Uniform Building Code. Rural standards for rural living. Swamiji supported United Stand, but didn’t think it would solve our problems.

The Planning Director in our county started as a secretary and rose through the ranks to director without ever getting professional training. Her incompetence was so well known that a Grand Jury had investigated, then recommended that she be fired. But the Board of Supervisors refused to act.

The right category for Ananda was Planned Unit Development: multiple uses on one piece of land. But there had never been one in Nevada County, and the director had no idea how to do it. Her solution was to keep putting up roadblocks until we gave up and went away.

Swamiji said, “I knew Ananda’s complaints alone would not be enough to get the Supervisors to act. I had to make them see there was widespread opposition.” Which there was. Many county residents had been tyrannized, not only by the Planning Director, but also by other county officials. As individuals, their complaints fell on deaf ears. As an organized group, Ananda could do something to help them and ourselves.

Taking advantage of the upcoming 200th anniversary of the United States, Swamiji created the Bicentennial Liberty Committee. He, as J. Donald Walters, was president of the BLC; I, as Nan Savage, was secretary. Our English names were unknown in the county. Even in person, no one knew me, and very few would recognize Swamiji. He thought we would be taken more seriously if we acted as private citizens rather than as Ananda. Eventually we revealed our identity, but only after the movement had gained momentum.

He wrote a petition, “Two hundred years ago our forefathers fought for the right to be represented in government by people who were responsive to their needs, rather than to rules and restrictions insensitively imposed from afar. In this Twentieth Century, increasing centralization of power has raised again the threat of insensitive legislation, originating similarly from afar, where the needs of the individual are ignored in favor of mass uniformity.

“We, citizens of Nevada County, feel that with the approaching celebration of our country’s bicentennial it is time to affirm with some of the revolutionary zeal of our forefathers the need for personal liberty and self-direction.”

It went on for two more paragraphs, calling upon all governments, especially the county, to protect our rights to live our own lives as we choose to live them, and to build homes according to our tastes and inclinations, as long as we don’t infringe on the rights of others or endanger health or safety.

Not everyone at Ananda was happy about the BLC. It was folly, they said, to antagonize the very people who controlled our future. The whole thing would blow up in our faces! Better to wait and see what United Stand could accomplish. Ananda had always stayed out of politics; the BLC was a breach of dharma (right action; that action which leads to higher consciousness).

With the help of those who were willing, we collected signatures, first from local businesses, then from individuals. Soon thousands of county residents had signed the petition. Along with signatures, we collected dozens of horror stories about mistreatment by officials. We started a campaign of letters to the editor, systematically targeting nearly every county department. Emboldened by the BLC, other citizens began to write letters, too, and register complaints.

Nevada City is a small town, with just one newspaper. The BLC made quite an impact. “A tempest in a teapot,” Swamiji called it. The Supervisors waited a year, then quietly fired the Planning Director, replacing her with a competent professional. Nan Savage of the BLC became quite well known. Some people wanted me to run for Supervisor from our district.

“It would be helpful to have someone from Ananda on the Board,” Swamiji said, when I asked him what to do. “But it wouldn’t be good for you.” People are more important than things is Ananda’s founding principle, along with Where there is dharma, there is victory. No matter how worthy a project, the first—in fact, the only—consideration is, “Will it be spiritually beneficial to those involved?”

Later he said, “It would have been foolish and pointless to flex our muscles further. It wasn’t power we were after; it was simple survival, so that we might continue in the way of life to which we are dedicated.

“My methods were creative and unanticipated, but they worked—as I am not sure anything else would have done. Our very existence as a community was being threatened. What I did was dharmic, and the only effective course I could see to take. I would do it again if the same issues confronted us.”


Swamiji received a letter from a man who had been thinking of joining Ananda, but first wrote to SRF, asking their advice. Their answer caused him to doubt Swamiji’s sincerity as a disciple, and the validity of Ananda itself. He asked, “Would Yogananda approve of Ananda under your leadership? If not, shouldn’t you question your motives?”

Perhaps there was something in his letter that inspired Swamiji to answer; maybe it was just time to speak up. He wrote, “A Master’s blessings are like the broadcasts of a radio station. Even one who owns the biggest and best radio can have no monopoly on the broadcasts. Every disciple can and should try to attune himself to his Guru’s inner guidance, and not seek direction only outwardly. Master himself always trained us to seek his guidance primarily within ourselves.

He then acknowledged the dangers of going it alone. The true disciple is not one who says, “I’ll do whatever the Guru says, but I refuse to cooperate with his close disciples.”

Swamiji wrote, “I wanted with all my heart to cooperate with Master’s closer disciples, but I found myself denied all opportunities to give such cooperation. I was left with no recourse but to seek all my guidance directly from Master. For my life remained dedicated to him; I had nothing else to live for but to serve him. No doors opened for me except those which led to Ananda.

“It took many miracles for Ananda to come into being; Master would have needed to withhold only one of them for us to have failed utterly.

“I don’t blame those who think of me as beyond the pale. Most don’t know how desperately I tried to remain within the pale. They imagine I simply refused to be guided.

“Everything serious I have undertaken during these fourteen years since my separation from SRF has been started only after deep prayer, in many cases over a period of years, for Master’s guidance. I have learned to be very impartial in my readiness to accept whatever guidance I receive from him. Ananda is not my imposition on Master’s will.

“Left as I was completely on my own, I have had to develop a kind of independence, which I myself would generally counsel people against.

“I haven’t any doubt that Master himself engineered my dismissal, not for anyone’s punishment, but because he had other things to accomplish through me. Why, then, should I blame anyone? I wonder, rather, at the greatness of Master’s love. Surely I was not worthy of such great blessings as he has bestowed on me.”


It was Swamiji’s practice at Christmas to give everyone in the community a copy of his latest book. He knew The Path wouldn’t be ready in time, so he decided to republish a book he’d written twenty years earlier as a gift to his fellow SRF monks—Stories of Mukunda, about Master’s childhood. Before he was Yogananda, Master’s name was Mukunda Lal Ghosh. The original book was so popular, SRF had decided to publish it. Without asking Swamiji’s permission, or crediting him as the author, SRF registered the copyright in their own name.

When he was expelled, SRF took the book off the market: “Out of print with no plans to print again.”

In September, Swamiji wrote to Daya Mata, asking her to transfer the copyright to him. He explained that he planned to revise the book and do a quick print version as a Christmas present to the community. Formal publication would come a few months later. He didn’t hear back, so went ahead with his plans.

In December, Swamiji decided to write a piano sonata, as a birthday present for his mother. She was also a musician; the baby grand piano in his living room had been hers. As a young woman, she had gone to Paris to study the violin. It was there that she met her husband-to-be, though both were Americans from Oklahoma. Ray was an oil geologist, working in Europe, on vacation in Paris.

The sonata was Swamiji’s first instrumental piece. After months of writing words, it was relaxing for him to write melodies without the need for words. The secret of Swamiji’s prodigious creativity was to concentrate on one thing at a time. In his teens, Swamiji had spent hours every day practicing the piano, but since then had played very little. Now, day after day, he practiced the sonata, in order to be able to play it for his mother when he went to see her after Christmas. “The best way to learn to play the piano,” he said, “is write a piece of music that is beyond your level of skill, then practice till you can play it.” He called the sonata The Divine Romance.


The Christmas issue of The Banyan Tree included a family photo, signed by Swamiji and all the residents. In his Dear Friends letter, he wrote, “Offering of one’s will to God’s guidance should be made daily. It should become a mental attitude that is carried with one constantly, an inner gift from the soul unceasingly given until not the slightest decision is made without first asking the Lord at least for comment.”

He ended the letter saying, “The purpose of Ananda as a place is to demonstrate attitudes that can and should be a part of everyone’s life, wherever one lives. Above all, Ananda—divine joy—is a state of consciousness. What is truly important is to be in Ananda rather than at Ananda.

“My dear friends, may ananda be ever yours, wherever you are.”