The question of our incorporation would be decided by the eight members of the Local Area Formation Commission—LAFCO. One member was a county supervisor, the rest were private citizens. When the draft environmental impact report was done, a public hearing was scheduled. The EIR closely followed the master plan, which had recently been approved, so there was little of substance to comment on, except the fact that a religious group was trying to become a secular entity.
LAFCO asked the Legal Advisory Board for the California State Legislature to rule on the question of whether Ananda’s incorporation would violate the principle of separation of church and state. The Board concluded that not only did it not violate that principle, but that Ananda’s freedom of religion would be violated if the incorporation were denied on that basis. Religion must be strictly excluded from the decision-making process.
Still, at the public hearing for the EIR, there were three and a half hours of testimony—almost all of it about our spiritual practices and Swamiji’s role as the spiritual leader. The consultant was supposed to incorporate public input into the final report, but the county attorney told him to leave it all out.
Many times over the years Swamiji had referred to Daya Mata and other of the direct disciples as great souls, and praised them for their dedication to Master. At the public hearing, in letters to the editor, and letters to many people in the community, ex-members of Ananda who were now loyal to SRF said, “Every direct disciple, all those great souls, are on one side. On the other side, only Kriyananda. How could he alone know Master’s will?” Swamiji may not have been affected by the opinions of others, but many in the community were.
Persecution is a test of faith—not faith in Swamiji vs Daya Mata, but faith in one’s own experience.
Ananda has always been a series of concentric circles of attunement to Master as he flows through Swamiji. The circles are not static; no one’s position is fixed. It has nothing to do with position, longevity, or proximity to Swamiji. It is a matter of vibration. When the vibration at the center accelerates, either you rise with it, or you spin out.
Every so often, some external event changes the vibration so dramatically that everyone is affected. Early on, it was Swamiji’s decision about the publications building. Then came the fire. Now it was Swamiji’s change from monk to householder and the incorporation.
In the outer circles, people come and go. The inmost circle, though, has been remarkably stable, steadily expanding year by year. Swamiji resided at the center of it all, but he never defined himself as essentially different from us. We are all equal in God—if not yet in realization or accomplishment, then in our divine potential. As Jesus says in the Bible, “That which I do, ye shall do, and greater things.”
People condemned us for not being a democracy. But what is the value of majority rule when most people vote only their opinions or their self-interest? Eventually we coined the word dharmacracy: decisions made on the basis of dharma, arrived at by attunement to the highest principles to which we are all committed. It is too subtle to comprehend from the outside. There is no point of reference. Ananda is unique.
“People are always trying to ‘figure me out,’” Swamiji said. “By that, they mean to discover my hidden motive. It never works, because I don’t have a motive. I am here to serve.”
In January, Swamiji wrote a pamphlet called A New Dispensation. The inspiration he received in Rome to make discipleship separate from Kriya Initiation, he now opened to everyone. The pamphlet was also a response to the unsettled energy in the community, although nowhere does Swamiji refer to himself or his position. What he offers are principles of discipleship, leaving the reader free to draw his own conclusions.
When teaching outside of Ananda, Swamiji said, he would often ask the audience, “How many of you have read Autobiography of a Yogi?” In every group, in every country, the majority would raise their hands. Many told him afterward that their spiritual life began with Autobiography of a Yogi, and that it was the most influential book they had ever read.
But of all those vast numbers, only a tiny percentage follow this path. Of course, some are not suited for it; but many who are suited continue to look hither and yon, when what they seek is right in front of them. They don’t understand what they have in Master, and the ray of grace he brought.
Swamiji wrote, “Master told us that from time to time in the great storm of maya [cosmic delusion], an area of calm appears. There, it is much easier for souls to escape delusion, and find God. ‘You are not connected with a mere organization,’ Master often said, ‘but with the divine power flowing through a line of Self-realized masters. This work is a special dispensation, sent from God. By the power of this ray, millions will find God.’”
Disciples of Master do him a great disservice, though, when they personalize the power of his mission, defining it in terms of his personality and teaching, just as the disciples of Jesus have done in their misunderstanding of what it means to be “the only Son of God.” When Jesus said “I and my Father are one,” the “I” he referred to was not the physical body of Jesus, but the Christ Consciousness he expressed. “Truth cannot be personalized,” Swamiji wrote. “It exists even if no individuals appear to declare it.”
Or as Swamiji said humorously about himself, “To thank me for what comes through me, is like thanking the radio for the program!”
Master’s message was not his own—it came from God. At the same time, Master was the messenger. He was a perfect instrument, bringing the energy to a focus in his own consciousness. It is important for us as devotees, and for the future of Master’s work also, to appreciate that, through him, it is much easier for us to contact the divine ray he expressed.
“I have always felt a distaste for sectarianism,” Swamiji wrote. “Master himself often said that his work was not a sect. But it is not sectarian to point out the clear blessings that are at hand.”
Swamiji first began to appreciate the power of this ray, he said, when he was a minister for SRF at their Hollywood Church. “Those who took up this path earnestly came, in time, to manifest a kind of inner radiance that I’d never beheld before in anyone else. What I saw was kindness in their eyes, an inward joy. Everyone they met found it inspiring.”
Years later, at Ananda, he saw it again. “Even visitors changed in ways that seemed out of proportion to the time they spent in meditation. Sometimes, in hardly a week, traces of tension and worry began to vanish; inner joy to appear. Master often said, ‘This is a special dispensation.’ More and more over the years, I’ve come to realize what a wealth of divine promise he had packed into that simple statement.”
Swamiji then describes, from his observation of devotees for many years, the factors, other than just meditation, that enable one to receive this special dispensation:
“Those who serve selflessly are the ones who also gain the most spiritually.
“Those who share with others the light they receive gain more spiritually than those who keep it to themselves. As Master put it, ‘The channel is blessed by that which flows through it.’
“They gain the most who seek attunement with others more advanced than they themselves are on the path.
“They gain the most, finally, who realize that soul-attunement with this path is more important even than long hours spent in meditation, without the companion effort to establish such inner attunement.”
All those who follow this ray of divine grace manifest its particular qualities, which Swamiji listed as kindness, joy, openness, trust, and a certain inner radiance.
“In the spread of religious teaching, ‘transmitting stations’ are necessary. Without people to radiate outward the light they receive in themselves, the light itself dies out in the world. God works through living instruments. This is a teaching that has been insisted on in India.
“I have seen over the years that those who sought their attunement with Master, but who didn’t also recognize the need for personal contact with living instruments of this ray, have not received nearly so much.”
He acknowledges that this is no longer the age of institutionalism, but of “individual, inner commitment, of Self-realization.” But there are benefits in outward affiliation, too. Some, though, may wish to join merely on an inward level. “People are constituted differently. Much is lost in religion when everyone is pushed and squeezed into the same mold.”
He suggested that those who feel in tune with Master would do well to align themselves formally with this path. “Self-Realization Fellowship and Ananda are the two, best known representatives of this family of Self-realization,” he wrote. Then, with perfect fairness, says, “SRF was founded by Master himself, Ananda was founded by a direct disciple—myself.
“I see no conflict between these two organizations. That the ray of divine power flows strongly through both of them is, by now, after all these years, self-evident… If there is a difference between the two works, it is only that Ananda offers greater scope for individual service to the divine ray that our line of Gurus represented.”
He concludes simply, “Go where you feel inspiration.”
He then describes a simple discipleship initiation which not only he, but many at Ananda, would now offer in Master’s name, on behalf of our line of Gurus. Anyone who feels a calling to join this family can be immediately accepted, just as Swamiji himself was accepted when he first met Master. The decision is made not by an institution or its appointed authorities, but by each disciple for himself.
The initiation is consecrated by these simple words: “Receive me into your family of Self-realization. And bless me with ever-deepening attunement with you, with your representatives on earth, and with God.”
In January, Swamiji spent a few days in Los Angeles. He gave an informal satsang at John Ball’s house. Speaking of Master’s mission to the West, he said: “Every country, in a sense, has its own soul. People’s spiritual experiences seem to reflect the soul of where they live. We are all following the same path, but what the devotees experience in India, is different from what happens in New Zealand or England. Master was from India, but he didn’t come to ‘Indianize’ Americans; he came to spiritualize our culture.
“The soul of America loves Nature. Communion with Nature is not uniquely American, but it is especially American. We are in tune with our indigenous people, the American Indians. Many of us probably were American Indians. Much of their attunement to Nature seems forgotten now, but that is only temporary. What they achieved won’t be lost to this age.
“Master’s chant O God Beautiful expresses the American soul perfectly: In the forest Thou art green; in the mountain Thou art high; in the river Thou art restless; in the ocean Thou art grave.
“Practicality is also a notable American quality. We are a young country. In order to establish ourselves, we had to be very down-to-earth. This same quality is essential for spiritual life. Faith must be based on experience; our beliefs must be tested in the cold light of day. Americans are very practical in their devotion. Master admired that quality; his most advanced disciple was a self-made millionaire.
“Cooperation is the particular genius of America. The pioneers had to work together, and pool their resources and talents to conquer the wilderness. America is the natural starting point for Master’s cooperative communities.
“Cooperation is essential also in our relationship with God. Instead of praying, ‘God, You do it for me,’ make Him your partner. ‘Lord, we are in this together. I’ll do my part and you do Yours.’ Master gave us this prayer: ‘I will reason, I will will, I will act, but guide Thou my reason, will, and activity to the right path in everything.’”
On March 24, LAFCO held the final public hearing on the incorporation. The attorney for the county opened the meeting by saying that no testimony would be allowed on Ananda’s religious leadership or practices. The Legal Advisory Board had ruled that religion could not be a factor in deciding the incorporation.
Immediately an outspoken leader of the opposition made an emotional plea for his right to be heard. The chairman of LAFCO then overruled its own attorney and said the testimony would be allowed, but, if it related to religious issues, “disregarded when it came time to make a decision.”
Ananda’s presentation was disciplined and focused. The opposition was a free-for-all, almost entirely about Swamiji and our spiritual life. The hearing went on until 2:00 a.m., too late for LAFCO to vote. A week later, they gave us their decision: one in favor, seven against. Their reasoning was legally unsound. They voted as human beings who simply couldn’t stand up to all that opposition.
We did not feel it was dharmic for our neighbors to have so much power over our development. They neither understood nor respected our way of life and our mission for Master. LAFCO had violated our rights by allowing so much testimony about religion. After a long discussion we decided to file a lawsuit to have the decision reversed.
Three days later, a television crew came to interview Swamiji. It was a big national story. By now Swamiji had a telephone, but I didn’t; they were still a rare commodity at Ananda. There was no way to inform me in advance of his intention. Only when the cameras were rolling and he started reading his prepared statement, did I find out we were going to drop the project.
Later he explained. “When I asked Master in meditation this morning if we should continue, the clear guidance was, ‘No, you’ve done enough.’ Then I saw all the reasons why.”
“Why didn’t Master tell me?” I asked.
“Did you ask him?”
“No, I just assumed he would agree.” Fatal error on my part—good lesson.
Swamiji then wrote a letter to the county. We couldn’t depend on the editor to print it all so we took a paid advertisement. “Within the limited context of what Ananda’s needs are, and of our contribution to Nevada County, past and future, we were right,” Swamiji said. But reading the national press reporting on the LAFCO decision, Swamiji saw the issue in the broader context of America as a whole. “Our constitution was written with a clear eye to history and to the evils that have occurred in the past when any group of people whose interests draw them together for one reason allowed those interests to dictate their decisions in other matters. One of the saddest days in the history of Christianity, in my opinion, was when Christian teachings became widely enough accepted to become mixed up in politics.
“I believe strongly that what Ananda stands for in a sociological sense—namely, cooperative effort at a time when our nation is becoming all too fragmented—needs to be encouraged, not discouraged.
“But this very fragmentation that I see taking place in our nation might also be strengthened if religious groups like ours were permitted the status of legal entities. I foresee a time of great stress in this country, when groups will be pitted against one another in an ideological struggle. At such a time, I feel, religion will need, if it is to be effective for the truth, to speak out on religious, not political grounds.
“In the broader context of America’s history and future directions, I think the LAFCO decision not to grant us corporate status was a wise one. This does not mean I think we were wrong, for what we wanted was valid. This does not mean I think LAFCO’s reasons were necessarily right. But it does mean I think there were higher forces at work here, and that the truths that our neighbors intuited were valid, and a valid reason for concern.”
Even though we failed to achieve our objective, the effort benefited Ananda in the long run. The county was impressed by the quality and dignity of our presentation, and by the great lengths we were willing to go to stand up for our principles.
Once the dust settled, many of our neighbors were embarrassed, even appalled by the viciousness of the campaign waged against Ananda. Some were sensitive enough to realize that their valid objections had been used to support a cause that was not their own: ex-Ananda members pushing SRF’s agenda.
We didn’t get the freedom we hoped for, but by “drawing their fire,” as Swamiji put it, the long-smoldering opposition was brought into the light of day. From then on, we were more effective in our response to it.
Some of the most virulent attacks against Swamiji during the incorporation effort came from Jim, in a transparent effort to justify his own failure at Ananda and to ingratiate himself with SRF. In response to one of his letters to the editor, a group of us wrote a letter in return, describing, from our own experience, his true character and motives. We started by saying, “Jim is our spiritual brother, and in that way, still dear to us. But our continued silence may seem an endorsement of his lies.” When Jim lived in the community, it was obvious to everyone that he wanted power. Swamiji would never give a position of leadership to someone with that attitude. Ananda leaders are there to serve, not to rule.
In response to our letter, Jim justified himself by saying, “I am in touch with Daya Mata about everything I say.”
Swamiji decided to write directly to her. “The issue of ‘Kriyananda’ cannot simply be wished away. Tara told me in New York, ‘From now on we want to forget that you ever lived!’ But that hasn’t worked, has it? So what next? There is a limit, surely, to how angry SRF can get. And anger hasn’t worked, either. It not only hurts the innocent devotees on whom it is vented; it also hurts those who do the venting.
“My reason for wanting to see you in recent years was the thought that you must be suffering, too—not only for what is happening to the work, but for the great wrong you have done to this brother of yours. I’ve wanted to give you a chance to undo that wrong.
“It would be so easy. I love you already. I’m ready to forgive you anything—not only for Master’s sake, but for the deep love I bear you. I no longer care personally. I do care for Master’s work, but then I’m doing everything I can to serve him in a positive way.”
Daya Mata did not respond. A month later, Swamiji wrote again, telling her about a letter he had received from a woman who had been with SRF for twenty-five years, most of that time serving as a volunteer Sunday school teacher. She occasionally came to our Retreat, loved being there, and had written to Daya Mata asking, “Why is SRF so opposed to Ananda?”
In response, a nun from Mount Washington telephoned with an ultimatum: “Cut off all contact with Ananda, or you will never be allowed to teach SRF Sunday school again.” In her letter to Swamiji, the woman described the incident, then asked, “May I come live at Ananda?”
“It seems to me that in SRF anything bad about me gets a sympathetic hearing,” Swamiji wrote to Daya Mata, “and anything good gets discounted, probably as impossible. Thus the ‘evidence’ against me over the years becomes overwhelmingly damning. That doesn’t, however, make a word of it true.”
SRF gives the impression that the “blueprint” Master said he “left in the ether” is a detailed two hundred-year plan. “That isn’t how Master worked,” Swamiji said. “He responded to opportunities as they presented themselves. The ‘blueprint’ is not a fixed plan; it is a vibration of energy. ‘Following the blueprint’ means to follow those opportunities that have the right vibration.” Swamiji often reminded us that the primary consideration was not, “‘What did Master do?’ but ‘What would Master do, if he faced what we are now facing?’”
Talking to a group of Ananda community leaders, Swamiji said, “I’m trying to find an attitude toward SRF that is sincere and genuine, yet also charitable and supportive. One way is to be silent. That is what SRF would prefer. If I were the only one involved, silence would be appropriate.
“But many others have given their lives to Ananda for Master’s sake. I have an obligation to them, to give them the facts, so they can decide for themselves whether their loyalty is misplaced.
“Also, there are many important lessons to be learned for the future development of Ananda in comparing the two organizations. SRF shows us the inevitable consequences of certain ways of thinking. Ananda has a role to play in Master’s work. I don’t feel it is in the best interests of that work to squelch discussion merely in the name of being charitable to SRF.
“I know the leaders of SRF in a way none of you do. This has nothing to do with their love and dedication to God and Guru. These are entirely practical matters. Even deeply spiritual people may still not be skilled at organizational matters.”
Soon after his birthday in May, Swamiji went to Europe for a six-week, lecture tour to Austria, Germany, Italy, and England. We had meditation groups starting in London, Vienna, and Frankfurt, and an established group in Rome. There were enough serious devotees that in several cities Swamiji gave Kriya Initiations. The two Americans that had been living in Rome were now back at the Village; there wasn’t quite enough happening yet to keep them in Italy. But of all the countries in Europe, Italy was the most promising. Swamiji already spoke German, French, and Spanish; now he was also learning Italian.
The charismatic Catholic group had invited Swamiji to come to their home town of Sorrento. They hoped to start a community and wanted his advice. They called themselves PEKI, a name intuitively received that meant peace.
As soon as Swamiji stepped off the train in Sorrento, one of the leaders, Rosanna Golia, linked her arm with his, and for the rest of his visit, was always by his side. PEKI had their own music, which they sang accompanied by guitars. Swamiji was very moved by their heart-centered spirituality. Their priest, Padre Luigi, was the pastor of the local church. His Mass, supported by PEKI’s music, was a profound expression of devotion to Christ. Perhaps PEKI would be an opening into the Catholic Church for Master’s teachings. Swamiji encouraged PEKI to send some of their group to Ananda Village, to get a feel for how we do things; then we could talk about what we might do together.
Taking care of the children was the one cause the early Farm residents were united in supporting. The schoolhouse was the first public building they constructed. Master started two schools: one in India, one at Mount Washington. The Indian school was an immediate success. In America, Master soon realized that he first had to educate the parents before they would send their children to his school. After a short time, he gave up the school at Mount Washington to concentrate on teaching adults.
Master wrote only a few articles about his educational methods, but with that little bit of information, and a great deal of intuition, Nitai had spent the previous decade developing the school at the Village. We had some good teachers, but not all of them were committed to Master’s principles. They drew from many sources and used many methods.
About child-raising in the community, there was no consensus at all. The householders were not receptive to his input, so Swamiji had let others decide all issues relating to children. Now, everything was different.
When he returned from Europe, Swamiji started a six-week series of classes called Children in the Community. It was a collaborative effort. Parents, teachers, and Swamiji all shared the class time. He listened attentively to their ideas and experiences, then started writing a book he called Education for Life. It progressed slowly. Writing was not his priority; being with people came first.
For Retreat classes and Sunday services, Swamiji didn’t select his own topics. Others made up the program. He always spoke extemporaneously. Many times while driving over to the Retreat, he would ask someone in the car, “What am I supposed to talk about today?” One Sunday, the sermon topic was Marriage as a Spiritual Path. When it was time for him to speak, Swamiji said, “I’m not willing to talk about this subject. Your relationship to your family is integral to your devotion to God, but marriage is not a separate path. For everyone, the path to God is renunciation of the ego, not ego-involvement.
“Master’s teachings will someday influence mankind on every level. I have tried to suggest how this influence might express, not only in marriage, but in art, politics, child-raising, education, material success, leadership. It is why I’ve composed music and even wrote a book on astrology. My hope has been that, as Master’s direct disciple, I could point out directions in harmony with his thought, rather than leaving it for others to figure out.
“If we seek God deeply in meditation, then bring his consciousness into everything else that we do, we shall be Master’s disciples indeed.”
In September, Swamiji returned to Sorrento for two weeks; then again in November, spending time in PEKI’s seclusion house. He came back to Ananda rested and filled with joy.
Each year, Swamiji’s Christmas present to the community was usually the book he had just finished writing. But Education for Life was far from done. When he was in SRF, one of his fellow monks had asked him for the gift of “a letter of spiritual advice.” So this year, his gift to us was “some of the fruits of my meditations—not only in words, but also in silent prayer and blessings. It is for clearer attunement with God that I’ve gone into seclusion—not only for personal gain, but to have more of that attunement to give to all of you.”
He described the past year as wonderful. Considering how contentious it had been, he said, “Perhaps you think me ‘Polyanna-ish’ to call it that!” He said he hadn’t been touched by all the controversy, “until, finally, someone came to me in the guise of friendship and spent two hours trying to convince me that my whole life had been a failure, that I’ve only been hurting the work of the Guru to whom my life is dedicated, that I’m hopelessly in delusion, and that SRF obviously had no choice, twenty years ago, but to throw me out on my ear.”
The “friend” was a man who had lived at Ananda for twelve years, entirely on his own terms, even refusing to pay the usual monthly fees. Swamiji had allowed it, hoping that he would eventually come around. Finally, with Swamiji’s approval, the community manager issued an ultimatum: either contribute as everyone else does, or find another place to live. The man chose to leave, and on his way out, paid Swamiji a final visit.
“It is easy to answer criticism that is based on simple factual errors,” Swamiji wrote, “as most of that of our neighbors was. But it is far from easy to answer criticism of this more abstract kind, particularly when it touches all that one holds most dear. Perhaps also coming when it did, on the heels of so much other criticism, made it more difficult to take.
“At any rate, I found myself turning to God and Master for reassurance. And that was when I received what I believe is the best song I have ever written, a song that thrills me with gratitude for the inspiration, every time I sing it.” He called it I Live Without Fear:
Though green summer fade,
And winter draw near,
My Lord, in Your presence
I live without fear.
Through tempest, through snows,
Through turbulent tide,
The touch of Your hand
Is my strength, and my guide.
I ask for no riches
That death can destroy.
I crave only Thee:
Your love, and Your joy!
The dancers will pass;
The singing must end:
I welcome the darkness
With You for my friend.
“And that, my dear ones, sums up for me the lessons of this year. Let the storms rage! Just love God the more. That is all He wants of us.
“That doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced pain. I have, of course; sometimes intensely. But somehow I haven’t regretted the pain. Nor for a moment have I wished anything different from what it was and is. The feeling is strangely impersonal. I am happy to find myself free in my heart.
“At Ananda, we don’t dream of achieving perfection in a worldly sense. In fact, we see every reason to be grateful for the unidyllic nature of the age we live in! The very insecurity and imperfection that haunt it are like goads to man’s spiritual longings.”
Speaking of Master, Swamiji said, “The truths he taught, the life he lived, the example he gave, the window onto Infinity that he provided all of mankind by that life and example—these things belong to the whole world. They cannot possibly be monopolized by any organization—whether SRF, Ananda, or even Master himself, were he still alive. As the Bible says, ‘To all who received him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.’”
Swamiji ended the letter, “I thank you all, from my soul, for the joy, the privilege, and the blessing of being able to serve you in Divine Mother and Master.”