In the three days between his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus lay in what is now called the Holy Sepulchre. It was there Swamiji felt the deepest inspiration. On New Year’s Day, he held an open house for the community. His dome was still a work in progress, but it was tidied up enough for people to come in. The choir performed the most recently completed songs from the Oratorio, including Christ Is Risen for the Holy Sepulchre.
The room was filled with people, but when the choir started singing that song, they were performing for an audience of one: Swamiji, sitting a few feet in front of them, eyes closed, absolutely still. When the last note ended, and the sound had died away, there was a moment of total silence; then, in a barely audible whisper, Swamiji said, “Beautiful, beautiful, just beautiful.” Then, “Thank you.” Whether he was thanking the choir for the performance, Divine Mother for the music, or Jesus for the life that inspired it all, it was impossible to know.
“When I hear this music, I can’t imagine how it was ever written,” Swamiji said. “In no sense do I feel it was I who did it.” About Christ Is Risen, he said, “It expresses just what I felt there—the triumph of Light over darkness. This is the new understanding of Christ that Master wanted to create through this music: triumph rather than suffering.”
Swamiji was born with a mild heart murmur, but was unaware of it until the start of World War II, when he was drafted for military service. The heart murmur disqualified him—a huge relief, since “I knew I was utterly incapable of taking anyone’s life.” Years later, in India, he was setting up a microphone, when something went wrong. Two hundred and twenty volts of electricity surged through his body. At that very moment, a fuse blew. His life was saved, but the shock made the heart murmur worse.
Now, as the weeks passed, and Swamiji worked to finish the Oratorio, his overall health, and especially his heart, began to suffer from the strain. His extremities swelled, his heartbeat was irregular, and even a short walk left him panting. His personal physician, Dr. Peter Van Houten—an Ananda resident who ran a clinic for the whole area—told him, “These are all signs of congestive heart failure. At any moment, you could die from a heart attack.”
“Satan is trying to stop me,” Swamiji said. “He knows this Oratorio will bring many people to God. Even if it costs me my life, I won’t give in. Nor will I compromise the quality of what God has given me to do.”
Swamiji finished the Oratorio in the middle of February, four months after he started sorting his slides in Sorrento. The next morning, the acute symptoms of congestive heart failure were gone.
One purpose of the Oratorio was to bring a new experience of Jesus to the Christian churches. Most clergyman would not be receptive if they knew it came from an Eastern religious tradition. So Swamiji used his English name, J. Donald Walters, as composer and called the choir the Joy Singers.
“The day will come when Master’s teachings—not necessarily his name, but the principles of Self-realization—will define all of society,” Swamiji said. “He is the avatar for Dwapara Yuga. Once people experience the Oratorio they may be more open to where it came from. In the meantime, the word ‘Christian’ belongs equally to all who love Jesus. We can’t let any one group take possession of it with their dogma.” We never denied Ananda’s part in the Oratorio, we just didn’t volunteer it.
Swamiji and the choir did several live concerts in Sacramento and San Francisco. The Oratorio included not only music, but also slides of the Holy Land, and poetic narration, mostly verses from the Bible. Our publicity made no mention of Ananda, but most of those who came were associated in some way. The performances were a huge success.
“It takes years to learn our teachings,” Swamiji said, “and even then only a few can share them effectively. Through the arts, many people can share the essence of our path.” Swamiji created a new department, Joyful Arts Production Association—JAPA (continuous repetition of the name of God). Swamiji and the choir recorded the Oratorio music and narration, timed to go with the slides. With the right equipment, one person could present the whole show. He hoped it would be the first of many artistic offerings from JAPA.
Showcase performances were arranged where many clergymen could come to one venue to see the Oratorio, and be inspired, we hoped, to arrange showings in their own churches. We started in California, then gradually spread across the country. Over the next several years, the Oratorio was performed in Christian churches of all denominations: live programs if close to Ananda, recorded if far away.
Not only the choir, but many people in the community learned the Oratorio songs. Often when we were with Swamiji, we would start singing, even in public places. We had learned from the Italians to be more free in expressing our love for God.
Although we had all been born in the West, many of us found it easier to connect to the Eastern side of our path—not because of Jesus himself, but because of the way the churches presented him. Jesus was in our line of Gurus, his picture was on the altar, and we named him in our prayers. Now, through the Oratorio, we also had an experience of his living presence in our hearts—and a Self-realization way of relating to him.
At the end of February, Swamiji went with Rosanna for a brief holiday on the Greek island of Rhodes, before going to the villa at Lake Como. Now that the Oratorio was done, he could put his mind to his new house at Ayodhya, which would be finished while he was away. On the island, there were beautiful crystal chandeliers from Czechoslovakia, selling for a fraction of what they cost in the United States, so they bought several. These, plus the Kashmiri furniture—there would be room for all of it now—were the beginning of what Swamiji had envisioned for the Retreat: world brotherhood expressed through the tasteful combination of handcrafted items from many countries.
Swamiji had asked about ten people from America to come live at the villa in Italy. “Maybe it will work out and you’ll stay a long time,” he said. “If not, then it will be a good vacation!” For the first two months, he would be there giving weekend retreats. PEKI would send its members, a few at a time. By the end of the summer, we would know each other well and have a better sense of what was trying to happen.
For the opening weekend, Swamiji invited all the Europeans who had been part of Ananda for years to come and celebrate our first home in Europe. He wanted to talk about what we might accomplish together, especially with what he was calling the Movement of Inner Communion.
“Like many who come to yoga,” Swamiji said, “when I was young, I rejected the church. Not Christ, but the religion as it was practiced. It was all politics, money, and things that didn’t lead to spiritual light.
“Master didn’t come to start a new religion, or to turn Westerners into Hindus. He loved Christ and put him at the center of our altar. When he visited the Holy Land he said Jesus walked with him everywhere. He called his message The Second Coming of Christ. Perhaps he meant that in ways more staggering than we can imagine, but at least he meant he was bringing back the original teaching that had been lost for centuries: inner communion. Outer ceremony alone won’t give you anything; the benefits are not automatic. What you receive from the Eucharist depends on what you bring to it of devotion and awareness of God.
“Yoga has remained on the periphery of society. Now is the time to bring it into the heart of our culture. The purpose of the Charismatic movement—the starting point for PEKI—was to get away from dogma and formal prayers to a more spontaneous communication with God. Christians in all denominations feel this need. It is the same reason many of us came to yoga: to experience God.
“Both movements, however, are incomplete. Charismatics sing and pray, but to commune with God you have to take your devotion into silence. Yogis go into silence, but many yogic teachings lack devotion. Without love, you won’t find what you are seeking.
“The Movement of Inner Communion, which we are launching here, goes a step beyond both: silence with devotion. This is where the two movements meet. This is what we are here to do.”
Ananda, he said, could provide the teachings, but the movement itself would have to come from within the churches. That would be PEKI’s contribution.
From the beginning, the villa was filled to capacity. People came from all over Europe to see Swamiji. Residents often had to give up their rooms so guests would have a place to sleep. Even after Swamiji went back to America, visitors kept coming. Soon they had to rent additional houses nearby.
Dhyana Lynn wrote, “People just want to be with us. Naturally we meditate together, chant, pray, and share the teachings, but we also eat together, go for walks, hikes, and boat rides. Our guests are happy with whatever we do. So many are lonely. They long for spiritual companionship. Europe seems ready for inner communion—and community.”
Swamiji returned to Ananda Village in time for his birthday in May. The new house and garden were mostly finished. His downstairs bedroom had been refurbished, but the money ran out before anything new could be built.
Swamiji jumped right into an intense schedule of classes, many held in his now spacious living room. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, he invited everyone, including the children, to come enjoy the garden and the pool. Outside on the terrace, he gave concerts, and held evenings of storytelling and P. G. Wodehouse readings. With the big kitchen it was possible to have community dinners in the garden. Swamiji invited couples to stay overnight in the new guest room and hosted them for dinner and breakfast in the dining room.
His health continued to be an issue, so Dr. Peter organized a prayer group dedicated to sending Swamiji healing energy.
Rosanna spent the summer in Italy, dividing her time between Sorrento and the villa at Lake Como, now called Centro della Gioia: Center of Joy. At the end of August she sent a note to the community, written in Italian, translated by Karin: “It fills me with joy to discover that my spiritual family is so huge, even larger than I had thought. I thank you all for the love which God has manifested through you. In this love we are together always.”
In July, after years of fundraising and piece-by-piece construction, all activities moved from the old Retreat to the New Land. The central buildings were done; the kitchen was functional; there was a bathhouse and tent-cabins for the guests. Not quite the full vision, but a good start.
On September 13, Swamiji officially dedicated the Ananda World Brotherhood Retreat. He did a fire ceremony, then led a procession of chanting devotees around the grounds, sprinkling water from the Lake Shrine everywhere. When Master was building the Lake Shrine years earlier, he stood waist-deep in the water, sending his spiritual vibrations throughout. He said, “From now on, this is holy water.” We planted a red maple tree as a symbol of our gratitude to all who helped make the Retreat possible.
“In ancient times, people honored certain places as focal points of spiritual energy, lighthouses illuminating not only the surrounding countryside, but the world at large,” Swamiji said. “American Indians believed Mount Shasta to be such a place. Also, I am told, Bald Mountain, where Ananda started, and where the old Retreat is located.
“In this country today, most such places have gone dormant. Unrecognized and spiritually unused, the energy has withdrawn. People go on ‘pilgrimage’ now to Disneyland or Las Vegas!
“When Master came to America he said, ‘My heart calls me to Los Angeles.’ Now it is a materialistic place filled with movie stars. Before that, it was just a cow pasture. But ages ago, it was the home of great masters. Their consciousness impregnates the soil. That is what makes Los Angeles holy.
“One of the most important things we can do now is to create places of spiritual power. After visiting Ananda, people tell us that even from a great distance they feel the power from here blessing their lives.
“The Virgin Mary, appearing to children in Medjugorje, listed ten tragedies predicted by saints and prophets that could be prevented—or at least mitigated—if enough people would pray, fast, and meditate. Already, she said, one has been removed because so many had come there on pilgrimage. This World Brotherhood Retreat, too, as a focal point of spiritual energy, can offset at least some of these tragedies.
“The root cause even of outward suffering is lack of attunement to God. To feed and clothe the poor is only a stop-gap measure, bringing a minus back to zero. Soul joy is the plus all are seeking. God has been thrust aside, and the solution is to bring Him back.
“In the Bible, God told Abraham that the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be spared from destruction if just ten righteous men could be found there. Jesus, Buddha: each had only a few disciples. Every major change in history started with just a handful of people whose influence eventually touched the hearts of millions.
“You are here not only to receive blessings, but also to give them. As you give, so shall you receive. And as you give, so will the future of this place be decided. I predict the World Brotherhood Retreat will become a great spiritual powerhouse. Each of you, guests and residents, has a part to play. We have not only the opportunity, but a God-given responsibility to share with all the blessings we receive. Even a few dedicated people, living for God, are the greatest blessing a country can have.”
By the time Swamiji returned to Italy in October, the Pastorale had withdrawn PEKI from the work at Lake Como. Dividing their forces between northern and southern Italy hadn’t worked for PEKI; to most Italians, north and south are like different countries. The congregation in Sorrento felt neglected; the Pastorale felt they were failing in their God-given duty to look after that church. We were welcome to help them in Sorrento, but they no longer felt called to serve together in the way Swamiji had envisioned.
Rosanna was caught in the middle, bound to PEKI not only by spiritual bonds, but also by family ties. Her mother, aunt, siblings, and cousins were all part of PEKI. She was a founding member and one of the Pastorale. All efforts on her part, though, to keep PEKI working with Ananda came to naught. It was more than just conflicting responsibilities. Some of the PEKI leaders had deeper issues—jealousy, power, the need for control—that made further cooperation with Ananda impossible.
Swamiji’s weekends at the villa were a huge success, but the work as a whole was being undermined by conflicting cross-currents of energy. Some people were heartbroken when PEKI left; they loved PEKI’s music and devotional approach to the spiritual path. Others were glad to see them go, saying it felt more like Ananda without their influence. Devotees in Milan helped support the center, but those at a distance did not always see eye-to-eye with those in residence. It was wonderful to have people from so many countries, but even among sincere devotees, different cultures often pulled in different directions.
Swamiji telephoned Jyotish and Devi at the Village. “We need someone here whom everyone will respect. I can’t think of anyone better than the two of you. Would you be willing to move to Italy?”
Their son was still young; Ananda Village was an ideal place for a child to grow up. The villa would be far less congenial. But the need could not be denied, and in keeping with Ananda’s principle, Where there is dharma, there is victory, they agreed.
The villa had been built as a summer home. It was uninsulated; the heating system was designed to take the chill off the evening air, not warm the house in what turned out to be the coldest winter in a hundred years. Holy water on the altar turned to ice; laundry put out to dry froze solid; community meetings were held huddled under down quilts. It was difficult to run retreats in such conditions, so the villa became home base for tours around Europe.
Jyotish grew up in Minnesota, one of the coldest places in the United States. “I always wondered why I was born there,” he said. “Now I see I was being trained to go through that winter at Lake Como!” Just as Swamiji hoped, the spiritual maturity, humility, and good humor of Jyotish and Devi calmed the waters, and carried Ananda’s work through a difficult winter.
Self-Realization Fellowship had a large and varied archive of talks by Master, but had released only a few—mostly exhortations to public audiences, urging them on to greater spiritual effort. “Although Master did, at times, speak that way,” Swamiji said, “those recordings were the exception. With me, with the monks, and in most of his public talks, he was sweet, supportive, fatherly—a dear and loving friend; not at all the way those talks present him.”
In Rome, Swamiji again visited his friend Renata Arlini. She gave him several recordings of talks by Master, entirely different in tone from what SRF had released. When he returned to the Village in early December, we immediately published the recordings: six talks on two cassettes. For the first time, Swamiji said, “People can experience Master as I knew him.”