1987: Paramhansa Yogananda and Spiritual Communities

Nayaswami Asha performs the Festival of Light at the Ananda Church of Self-Realization in Palo Alto, California

The United States of America and the community of Ananda have the same birthday: July 4th, the day in 1968 when we got the Farm. The Retreat land, however, was purchased a year earlier. So we decided to celebrate our 20th Anniversary for a year and a half, starting on New Year’s day, 1987, and finishing on July 4th, 1988.

At the first event, Swamiji said, “Every world-changing movement, in every field of endeavor—whether religion, science, art, or music—is created, not by one person alone on a mountain top, with everyone else standing miles beneath him, but by a group of people, all committed to the same ideal. Even a great master works this way, transmitting his light to his disciples, who then pass it on through successive generations. It is the vortex of energy created by people working together, helping and inspiring each other, that brings about change.

“The world stands now at a dangerous crossroad. We have developed technology powerful enough to blow our planet to bits. But unless we also develop—and soon—the moral strength and spiritual clarity not to do it, we may find we’ve created a Frankenstein that will turn and destroy us. This fear is a tremendous external impetus for change.

“The extreme rationalism of science has undermined religious dogmas. We find ourselves adrift in a world without meaning. But a primordial urge in every heart rebels against the thought that life has no higher purpose than to eat, sleep, and procreate. The search for meaning is a tremendous internal impetus for change.

“The communities movement is driven by both these impulses. In the past, communities came together for economic reasons: a port, a river, a gold mine, a railroad. Now people are being drawn together by shared ideals. The movement is just beginning; the fact that many, perhaps even most new communities have failed, is no cause for discouragement. The first soldiers in a battle often don’t succeed, but if those coming after keep on with strength and determination, eventually they prevail.

“Some people think, ‘If we build a perfect community, it will be heaven on earth.’ In this respect, Ananda stands apart. We know there is no perfection on the material plane; the kingdom of heaven is within. Community for us is a way to help each other find God.

“People sometimes ask how we reconcile faith in God with the practical side of building a community. The answer is simple: Faith is the most practical way to live. We do our part and God does the rest. Look how much we’ve accomplished in just twenty years! We could never have done that on our own.

“We are not trying to start a social movement—although in the end that may happen, too. Even one person who can bring God to others can change the course of history. Centuries later people look back and say, ‘Because one such person lived—Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Saint Francis—my life has been transformed.’”


In January, Swamiji received the inspiration for two more ceremonies: the Purification Ceremony and the Superconscious Attunement Ceremony.

The Purification Ceremony he described as “in lieu of confession.” In confession—one of the sacraments in the Catholic Church—a person seeks absolution by revealing his sins to a priest, and then doing the assigned penance. It is assumed that a person will sin again, so the ceremony has to be repeated, at least once or twice a year; more often if warranted. Even children have to go to confession. It is a matter of grave concern if a person dies without a final confession and absolution. All this reinforces the thought that man is inherently sinful, and that his nature is dark.

By contrast, the Purification Ceremony affirms our essential goodness. Gold, though buried in mud for ages, is untouched by what surrounds it. Wash off the mud, and the gold shines with perfect purity. It’s the same with us: darkness is not inherent. Remove the error of delusion, and our true nature is revealed: oneness with the Infinite Light.

In the Purification Ceremony, the devotee, kneeling before a Lightbearer, says, I seek purification by the grace of God.” The Lightbearer responds, “The Master says, ‘Open your heart to me and I will enter and take charge of your life.’”

They pray silently together; then the Lightbearer blesses the devotee at the heart chakra and says, “By the grace of our Masters, you are free!” The devotee places in a burning bowl on the altar a small paper on which he has written whatever he wants purified by God.

“The same words, asking God for purification, could be spoken at any time,” Swamiji said. “But saying them while kneeling before a Lightbearer, in the presence of others, implants the thought more deeply than saying them alone. It is a reminder that grace, though always available, is not automatic. The devotee must invite the Guru in.” It also affirms that the solution to every difficulty, the fulfillment of every desire, is to deepen one’s experience of the divine within.

At Ananda we often gathered for group meditation; but as a community, we rarely practiced together any of the other techniques. The Superconscious Attunement Ceremony, to be held once a week, included group practice of affirmations, attuning to the chakras, chanting AUM, and praying for others.

“The Attunement Ceremony reminds us of why we are here,” Swamiji said. “Yes, we are raising families and building a community, but our true work is to experience God and to share His presence with all.”

For Sunday service, Swamiji now selected parallel passages from the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, and wrote commentary that would be read each week. Each pair of verses was given a title, which would be the sermon topic. As soon as he had a few weeks done, he started sending them out.

“The themes are so grand,” Swamiji said, “each verse could be a book in itself, just commenting on what is already there without adding any new ideas of my own. I had to limit myself to one approach and try to do it justice.

“The two scriptures had to be reconciled in a way that made the Gita acceptable to Westerners. And it all had to work as a reading that newcomers could understand, and longtime devotees would find inspiring. Then, having committed to a whole year, I had to turn one out every week. A challenging project!” Sometimes the commentary for the next day arrived by fax on Saturday.

With A Festival of Light, and now the scripture commentary, the basic teaching of Ananda would be part of every Sunday service. Swamiji then wrote a book of Affirmations and Prayers. There was a short explanation of the quality of the week—success, perseverance, devotion, immortality, to name a few—followed by an affirmation that the congregation repeated out loud together, then a prayer.

Master always began his services by asking the audience, “How feels everyone?” Then he led them in the enthusiastic response, “Awake and ready!” Swamiji now created a variation on that as the beginning of our Sunday service; and suggested we end the service by saying, “Go out with joy!”

He wanted the ministers to wear liturgical garb when we did the Festival or the Purification: a simple robe with a shawl, draped in a way Master often wore it. Although some of the ministers preferred not to set themselves apart, we all went along with what Swamiji wanted. But when he suggested the robe be lavender, for many it was a step too far; so we settled on white.

“Although at first you may feel self-conscious,” Swamiji said, “wearing a robe is actually more impersonal than dressing in your own clothes. It puts the emphasis on the role rather than the person who fills it. Robes also strengthen the religious aspect of our work and help people understand that this is more than philosophy; it is a spiritual path.”

As part of the new service, the congregation now stood when the minister walked in. Some found this embarrassing. “They are not standing for you as a person,” Swamiji said. “People may not even know you. They are standing out of respect for the teachings and the Gurus you represent. Many people have difficulty connecting with Master directly; some even have subconscious blocks against direct contact with him. You are an important link. Many will find it easier to relate to someone who seems more like themselves.

“If, after all your years on the path, you feel you have nothing to offer, the insult is to Master. You are saying that the teachings don’t work. Passive willingness isn’t enough. Be dynamic in your service. Pray that Master use you as his channel.”

To help launch these new ceremonies, every weeknight at the Hermitage chapel, different Lightbearers gave A Festival of Light, preceded by a meditation and the Purification Ceremony. Every Saturday at The Expanding Light temple, there was a Superconscious Attunement Ceremony. Sometimes Swamiji and Rosanna led the ceremonies, occasionally reading the Festival in Italian, which made it easier for Rosanna to put her heart into it.

Most people loved these changes, but a few felt Swamiji had no right to diverge so far from what Master had done. Others were concerned that this was just the first step down the slippery slope of institutional religion. Some people even left Ananda because of the ceremonies.

Swamiji did his best to explain why the ceremonies were needed. Although he commented, “You have it so much easier than we did with Master. I bend over backward to explain things to you! Master never bothered. A few words, a meaningful glance—that was all he gave us. The rest we had to get through intuition.”

About the ceremonies, he said, “There may be some similarity of feeling between these and what came before—like arati in India, or the Eucharist in the West. But they are not a continuation of Kali Yuga rituals, which mostly commemorate single events in human history. The message of these ceremonies is universal, reflecting the Dwapara Yuga consciousness of energy as the fundamental reality—the Infinite manifesting itself in form, then seeking to merge back into the Infinite again.

“Even when people meditate together, often, inwardly, they are still meditating alone. They don’t feel responsible for anyone but themselves. Ceremonies are a way for people to unite their energy, to pull together spiritually. When people’s minds are united, meditating together raises the consciousness of everyone in the group.

“People need outer symbols to remind them of what they are doing inwardly. A Festival of Light expresses the core of our teachings, involving people in a way that makes it easier for them to remember. Words that are poetic, rhythmic, and alive with images, when heard repeatedly, enter the subconscious, and gradually shape the way a person looks at the world.

“Phrases in the Festival like, O Children of Light, forsake the darkness! and You are a part of all that is, make a deep impression, and will come back in times of need. When you receive the touch of light from the masters, you know that grace can change your life.

“The Festival deepens our respect not only for those from whom we draw inspiration, but also for our own capacity to channel inspiration. Not every minister is a gifted speaker, but through these ceremonies, every minister can give the congregation something deep and uplifting. The more we take responsibility for uplifting others, the more we ourselves grow. Lord, we offer up the little light that is in us into Thy blazing light of Infinity. Make us ever increasingly pure channels of Thy love to all.

The problem with most ceremonies is that they keep you so busy moving from standing to sitting to kneeling, all the while intoning ritual responses, that there is little time for devotion. Master believed in the power of ceremonies, but stressed the need for simplicity. What could be simpler than I seek purification by the grace of God?

“Without inner practice, ceremonies remain superficial. But when you add Kriya Yoga and worship with others equally dedicated, ceremonies can help transform your consciousness.”


Rosanna’s father was again unwell. He had diabetes and there were complications. In April, when Rosanna went to Sorrento to be with her family, Swamiji went into seclusion to work on his writing.

In 1980, he had written a small book on leadership which was little more than twelve principles. Now he made a chapter out of each one. “Genuine leadership,” he wrote, “is of only one type: supportive. It leads people: it doesn’t drive them. It involves them: it doesn’t coerce them. It never loses sight of the most important principle governing any project involving human beings: namely, that people are more important than things.”

He made two collections of poetry, including many of the lyrics to his songs: On Wings of Joy was for adults; Ring, Bluebell, Ring was for children. He wrote Secrets of Happiness, a small book of aphorisms, one for each day of the month. Then he turned his mind again to Meaning in the Arts. The result was a completely new version now titled Crystal Clarity—The Artist as a Channel.

Crystal Clarity itself Swamiji called a new concept in living—the definition of Master’s teachings as we lived them at Ananda. Ananda Publications became Crystal Clarity Publishers, with this introduction to all its offerings:

Crystal Clarity means to see oneself, and all things, as aspects of a greater reality; to seek to enter into conscious attunement with that reality; and to see all things as channels for the expression of that reality.

“It means to see truth in simplicity; to seek always to be guided by the simple truth, not by opinion; and by what is, not by one’s own desires or prejudices.

“It means striving to see things in relation to the broadest potential.

“In one’s association with other people, it means seeking always to include their realities in one’s own.”

Swamiji’s only book about communities was written before Ananda even started. Cooperative CommunitiesHow to Start Them, and Why remained a classic in the field, but it hardly represented Ananda now. Something more was needed for our 20th anniversary. Rosanna was about to return from Italy; he had less than a week. Later Swamiji said, “I thought, ‘It is impossible, I can’t do it.’ Then I realized, ‘I can’t, but Master can.’” In four days he wrote Cities of Light. “The words just came. Usually I have to go over a book many times, but this one hardly needed editing.”

“Channeling” had become a big part of the spiritual scene—going into a trance, and becoming the mouthpiece for someone from the “other side.” A prominent yoga teacher from India was channeling in this way; some people close to Swamiji, but outside of Ananda, were caught up in the wave. Whether these channels were speaking for higher astral beings, as they claimed, or just from their own subconscious, Swamiji felt clarity was needed about the whole phenomenon.

In the introduction to How To Be a True Channel, he starts by describing Master as one of the greatest channels of our time. He was not known for being a channel, though, “because he didn’t need to go into unconsciousness, nor into any abstract mental state, to give voice to the wisdom that flowed through him. He simply ‘tuned in,’ and the answers were there. He was a master, he had realized God. His ‘channeling’ was the result of his constant inner communion with God, and with other great saints who, like him, had merged their consciousness in God.”

Swamiji then expressed profound concern: “I am writing this book to help people to understand more fully what channeling means, because I see there is confusion on the point. Some people seem to think that anyone who sits back, closes his eyes, and allows words to pour out of him without his conscious control is acting as a channel for some higher power and is able to channel some special message personally from that higher power to them.

“Yet I have seen that many people have been hurt and confused by such messages. They have been misled in fundamental matters such as what they ought to do with their lives, or what path to follow in an undertaking of importance to them. I have known them to be encouraged to develop talents they did not possess, or discouraged from activities that would have furthered their spiritual development.

“I have known them to be fed ego-balm—assurances, for example, that they have a glorious future before them, or that they have lived equally glorious lives in the past. Rarely, if ever, have I known them to receive the discipline they needed for their present spiritual welfare. Worst of all, I have seen them become dependent on such channels, rather than independent in themselves and inclined to seek outside themselves for their answers, rather than seek them, as all great masters have said we should, in the silence within.”

After this strong corrective, the book itself was a guidebook for how to attune to higher beings and higher states of consciousness, including, in some detail, a description of the astral world.


At Ananda Village, we were proud of the fact that we had only three rules: No drugs—essential, especially at the beginning, when many of those coming were still part of the hippie culture. No alcohol—anything that dulls your consciousness is the opposite of Self-realization. No dogs—their barking can be heard everywhere, and is disturbing to meditation; and they run in packs and chase the wildlife.

It is customary, though, for a formal religious order to have a Rule, as well as a conditional vow and a life vow. Swamiji now wrote Rules of Conduct for Ananda Members. He called them rules, but what he described was right attitude. “If the spirit is right, everything else will follow.” Right behavior, without corresponding right attitude, leads too easily to hypocrisy.

In the introduction he says, “Astonishingly, systems are often built on preconceived theories alone, with no practical reference to the human realities they are meant to affect. The purpose of these rules, then, is primarily to explain and clarify a way of life that is already in existence, and thereby to guide the members of Ananda further in their efforts to grow toward perfection.” In thirty-five pages, Swamiji covers every aspect of Ananda life:

Membership: Our primary purpose is to find God, by meditation, and by service to God through our fellowman.

Spiritual practices: Meditate daily, and practice regularly the techniques of meditation, especially Kriya Yoga.

Home life: View one’s home not in normal worldly terms as ‘my castle,’ but as a temple of God.

Personal habits: Sift mentally through personal habits, rather than continue unthinkingly in old patterns of behavior merely because of prior momentum.

Work: View gainful employment as a service, never merely as work.

New members: The community’s expectation for a new member is not that he be a saint, but that he is living his life in a manner to become a saint.

Community as home: Look upon Ananda as your spiritual family… treat community property as your own property… above all, view every life form with divine respect.

 Self-Realization Fellowship: Always show respect and love to the organization founded by our Guru. Should the occasion arise, show a willingness to cooperate constructively, in a spirit of brotherly sharing.

The Rules of Conduct end with these words: “Man lives on earth but a few years, but if we, as devotees of God, can live rightly, we shall live to rejoice through all eternity in Him. God consciousness remains forever our true, our only lasting home. All else is stewardship, simply, in His name.”


Rosanna returned in time for Swamiji’s birthday in May. He led a Superconscious Attunement Ceremony as a way of welcoming her home. Life resumed at Crystal Hermitage with meditations, ceremonies in the chapel, concerts, and other events in the garden. Occasionally Swamiji invited local musicians to give concerts of classical music, just as Master did at Lake Shrine. “He offered these concerts as a service to others,” Swamiji wrote in The Path, “Divine inspiration often reaches people through the medium of music. Above all, he saw them as a way of drawing people to the spiritual path. ‘Outsiders come, and see only the surface,’ Master said. ‘Not understanding what this place has to offer them, they go away again. Those who are our own, however, see beneath the surface. They never leave.’”

In October, when Rosanna returned to Sorrento, Swamiji went back into seclusion, and soon finished the rest of the scripture commentary. She had planned to return before Christmas, but her father was facing a series of tests that might lead to hospitalization, so she decided to spend the holidays with him.

It wasn’t only her family that drew Rosanna to Sorrento. PEKI was going through a difficult transition. Even though they had long since pulled away from working with Ananda, the experience had changed them. They struggled to integrate the different influences, and to feel what God wanted from them now. Rosanna felt it was her duty to help. She would stay in Sorrento, she said, “as long as it takes to resolve certain issues in relation to the community here.”

At Christmas, Swamiji sent a note to everyone. “Different ones of you have often thanked me for my service to you. But service is my privilege, my pathway to God’s love. What, then, can I say in reply? Only Master’s words may suffice: ‘God is serving God.’ I bow to the One Beloved in all of you, who have enriched my life with so much joy, by giving me the privilege of serving God and Guru, through you. One of the greatest blessings I could ever have imagined has been the company of so many wonderful souls on the path, whom God has given me in you all, my spiritual family in Master.

“May Divine Mother bless you in this holy season.”

He signed the letter, “In Her love.”


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