Ananda’s Beginnings:God Is Our Stocks and Bonds
The Dream of Starting a Community
In thinking about Ananda's thirtieth anniversary, I began to reminisce about starting a community because, after all, I'm the guy who did it – “I'm the culprit,” you might say. From childhood I had a wish to create a better way of life, but my thoughts became more conscious when I was 15 years old. That was in 1941: The war had started, and I was pushed in the direction of thinking about world peace and the future of mankind. I was looking for a peace that wouldn't come with victory over enemies, but would create a new alternative for mankind.
In the beginning, I also had the thought of withdrawing from the human scene which I felt was essentially imperfect. It seemed to me that mankind needed to get back to a more pristine element. I knew that not everybody would be able to do it, but those who were ready to live in harmony with each other could create a viable alternative filled with love, forgiveness, and peace. It seems like an adolescent dream, yet still it had the elements that later came into play.
So at age 15 I got all of my friends interested in starting a community with me. They were enthusiastic only until they found out I was serious, at which point they all dropped out. I thought, “I've got to rethink this.” [laughter] It occurred to me gradually as I grew older, studied other communities, and read books, that what was needed was smallness, as opposed to the sense of bigness that was dominating society. The sense of individual worth was being lost. If we had small villages where people knew and could help each other, we could get back on track.
Later, in college, I spent much of my time in a deep inner search for truth, but I didn't know where to turn. To make a long story short, I came to Master. For the first time in my life, I knew I'd found what I was looking for. The first words I addressed to him were, “I want to be your disciple."
Realization of Yogananda’s Vision
One of the things that excited me was the fact that Master also was very interested in starting communities. I remember the talk he gave on world brotherhood colonies at a Beverly Hills garden party. His voice thundered, “I sow my thoughts in the ether! These vibrations shall not die!” I vowed that day to do everything I could in this incarnation to fulfill that dream. So it was that when in the 1960s it began to seem possible, I had a lot of energy behind my endeavor to start a community.
I was living in San Francisco, giving classes in the Bay Area, and saving money with the thought of buying land. Through Master's guidance I found the land which is now the Seclusion Retreat. Perhaps you've heard the stories about how I tried to build a geodesic dome, and it fell down three times in a row. Up to this point, I had to do all this mostly by myself, because very few people believed in the idea. But finally, I realized I had to get a qualified carpenter to do this work for me.
I began talking with people about starting a community. I remember a meeting in San Francisco, trying to get people interested. Jyotish was there at the time and had already been helping me. In fact, he was my right-hand man in all the work that I've done in this direction. At the meeting, people began talking about how this idea couldn't possibly work. I remember one man was so upset that he was shaking as he said that he knew somebody who'd started a community, and he had become “a monster!”
I thought, “They don't understand what I'm trying to do, and therefore I need to write it out in a book.” That's when I wrote Cooperative Communities – How to Start Them, and Why. I went to the Seclusion Retreat in April, 1968 and wrote it all in a week, drawing from notes that I'd written over the years. This book began to attract a few people, and with those came a carpenter and others to help me continue building.
My father had given me some stocks, and with that, plus what I'd saved from classes, I had about $16,000. I thought that it would be enough to finish the buildings, but after 2 1/2 months I ran out of money. The carpenter walked off the job – he wasn't going to stand behind “this dreamer” who hoped to build a community without any money.
Fortunately, there was an older, retired carpenter and a few others who were willing to stay, so we kept on building. I had to go back and earn money, so I was living in the city, giving classes in a different town every night, and coming up on weekends. Because I needed more money, Divine Mother sent me more students – about 300 a week.
Then, one day, the local lumber company where we had bought all of our supplies placed a lien on the property, demanding that I pay back all we owed them immediately, rather than according to the agreement we had already worked out. I called them and said, “I've been honoring my commitment, paying you the $500 a month that we agreed to.” The manager said, “Well, you've got to be practical in this world,” meaning, “greedy.”
At that time, Seva was taking my classes and heard about my predicament, so she loaned me $2,000, which was a great help. She was one of the stalwarts in helping to get Ananda started, not just in the money she gave, but in many other things she did to help get things going. She and Jyotish were really the backbone of what I was trying to do.
I phoned the lumber company again (I was learning by now) and said, “I have the money now, but I've decided to pay it to you only at the last moment, after you've incurred the legal expenses.” The manager said, “Well, if you can pay it now, I'll give you a big discount.” So he had dug a pit for me, but fell into it himself.
Gradually, I was able to pay off those debts and get the retreat started. The word began to get out that Ananda was starting, and at one point we had as many as seven cars arrive in one day, full of people wanting to join this new community, or “commune,” as some of them thought of it. Families began to arrive, and we ended up buying the land at the Village as well.
The difficulty I faced in the beginning was that most of the people who came didn't know me, and didn't even know Master. They were interested in the community, but few wanted to fulfill Master's vision that I'd worked on for so many years. Each one had his own idea of what a community ought to be, and there was a lot of pressure on me to take it in different directions.
I wanted to develop the community in such a way that everybody got behind it, and that takes patience. I had to win people to the idea and not impose it on them. It would have ruined everything if I had said, “This is how it shall be.” But even so, it seemed that all I had to do was suggest an idea for it to receive staunch opposition from some.
We had a mortgage of $1,700 per month to pay, which was pretty substantial at that time, in 1969. That winter I was living in Sacramento, teaching classes and coming up on weekends. I remember calling together a group and saying, “We've all got to earn the money to pay for this community.” Their idea was that God would take care of it, and that it was materialism to think of money. In fact, they saw my willingness to give classes to pay off the mortgage as the justification for their divine faith! They were upset with me because I had suggested that they do something so “demeaning” as earn money to pay the mortgage.
I said to them, “I will continue to do this only until June 1, 1970. After that, I will move up to Ananda, and if the mortgage isn't paid, we'll just have to face the consequences.” Fortunately, enough people had the right attitude, started contributing, and the financial situation stabilized.
On May 31 I moved to Ananda, and on July 4 the temple burned down. Yes, we've had a few little problems, but my thought has always been, “Why talk about the hardships? Why not look for the opportunities?” The very day of the fire, I remember going into a local store, and I was singing. The owner said, “You're singing!”
“Yes,” I said, “I lost a temple, but I haven't lost my voice!” Of course, the loss from that fire was nothing like the loss when the whole community burned in a forest fire in June, 1976.
Over the years we've had opposition and challenges to what is basically a good thing. But not everybody's definition of a good thing is the same. We had to bring Ananda to a point of self-definition where we could say, “This is who we are.” Now when new people come, we don't have to start from the beginning: They either follow Ananda as it is, or go off and start their own community.
Someone recently said to me, “It was easy for you to start a community, but it's a very difficult thing to do now!” [laughter] No, it was not particularly easy, but it was a joy. Would I do it again, knowing all the problems we had to face? Yes, I would.
Master said, “God is our stocks and bonds.” God is our strength. The spirit that has built Ananda will continue. The spirit that Master instilled in me, and through me to all of you, will be instrumental in creating a new and better world. If we can serve God, have the joy of living for Him and sharing Him with others, what greater fulfillment can there be?