Writing About Ananda

Swami Kriyananda editing The Path, 1976. Photo by Rambhakta

by Rambhakta

(A chapter from a book-in-progress, Kriyananda Stories.)

In the early days, Ananda was fairly crammed with Leos and Capricorns – the Leo leaders and their Capricorn implementers. In their company I always felt at sea – the plodding village idiot among the witty partygoers.

Swamiji encouraged me to accept my nature – to be comfortable with it, and to understand that I, too, could be useful to God by accepting a quieter role that would be more closely tailored to the way I was made.

In a private talk, he said, “You don’t have to be the life of the party. You can just be quiet and sit a little bit apart and observe.”

He encouraged me to write, a service that suited my heremetical constitution. Occasionally he praised my efforts.

In the 1980s, with Swamiji’s encouragement, Ananda decided to try to incorporate as a city. Nayaswami Asha tells the story of the “Bicentennial Liberation Committee” in her books, Swami Kriyananda – As We Have Known Him and Swami Kriyananda: Lightbearer.

The incorporation campaign was our response to the repressive rulings of the county’s planning director, which were transparently intended to suppress Ananda and prevent it from growing. During the campaign, the local paper published articles on the issues. Several SRF members who lived in the county wrote scathing letters to the editor, attacking Ananda and Swamiji.

When I read the letters, I was upset. For several days I seethed, wanting to reply but knowing that to lash out in anger would do no good at all.

Finally, after I had succeeded in gaining a measure of calm inner harmony and detachment, I wrote a letter saying,  essentially, that Ananda had many friends in the county, and that they would judge us according to their experience of us, and not by the opinions of a hostile and prejudiced minority.

Swamiji praised the letter – he said it was “a perfect response.” I’m sure he was pleased that I had waited to write it until I could set my anger aside and feel calm and attuned to a higher guidance.

One day, I visited the community’s preschool. The teacher was Saraswati Kieran, a woman who had a rare gift for guiding the toddlers.

I wrote a story about the school for Ananda’s magazine, Spirit and Nature. I struggled over the article, searching for the right words to describe the atmosphere in the schoolroom, and the way the sun shone through the windows, amplifying the light that Saraswati was awakening in the children.

I offered myself as an instrument for God to write the article through me. It was God’s school, and in describing it I wanted to have no agenda of my own or to follow any fleeting mental “inspirations.” I knew I would be happiest if I could simply let God write it as He pleased. Swamiji expressed his pleasure.

I wrote an article about Ananda for a new-age newspaper in Los Angeles with a large circulation. I described my first visit to the community – how I tramped the hills and visited every workplace and home and talked with as many people as I could.

I summed up what had inspired me most about Ananda. As I’ve noted, it was something in people’s eyes – a calmness, clarity, and kindness born of meditation and inner communion.

When Swamiji read the article, he thanked me and embraced me lovingly. I felt quite detached, because I had worked hard to set myself aside and write only as God might like to guide me. As I wrote, I felt almost as if I was taking dictation.

Everything that I wrote about Ananda bore lessons for me. It was never more so than when I wrote a letter during the years when SRF was doing its best to destroy us in the law courts.

It was during the two years that I served in our legal office, which was located in the Mountain View Ananda community.

The “other side” had failed spectacularly to get the local newspapers and TV stations to present their side of the case. This was understandable, since the major media had repeatedly been burned in recent years after printing sensationalized allegations of sexual misconduct by public figures, only to have the accusations later disproved or recanted.

Still, SRF’s agents provocateur succeeded in persuading a third-tier counterculture paper and a sensation-mongering TV station to bruit their side. The paper was the SF Metro, a weekly rag that was supported by ads for the city’s sex trade.

When the Metro printed a lurid cover story lambasting Swamiji and Ananda, I decided to step up and state our case.

After praying to Master for his guidance, I was surprised and delighted by the direction of the inspiration that came. The letter was hilarious – it adopted the tone of scurrilous yellow journalism that the author of the story had taken. I’m sure the editors loved it, because it was so clearly on their wavelength. At any rate, they printed most of it, even though it was quite long.

I concluded by pointing out that the Metro’s readers would be disappointed if they were to visit Ananda in search of salacious adventure, since far from the sex-obsessed zombies the author had portrayed us to be, we adhered to the highest moral values of Sanaatan Dharma.

I felt that Master had fun with the article, and I was tickled by the results.

Swamiji didn’t comment on the piece, but a number of Ananda members expressed their amusement, including Nayaswami Asha.

That writing job taught me that there isn’t just one “spiritually correct” way to portray Ananda, but that the Guru will find the appropriate means, even if it entails slamming the editors for their hypocrisy in lambasting us while earning their daily bread from ads for out-call “massage” services, pornography stores, and the like.

There could never be a simple formula for writing about a community as diverse as ours.

Devotees who undertake to write about Ananda sometimes feel duty-bound to lace their writings with stock phrases. I feel this is a fatal mistake. We are completely unlike the fundamentalists, with their carefully curated lists of spiritually correct phrases and behaviors – “fellowshipping” in place of “spending time with like-minded pals,” and the careful, authorized pronunciation of “Gawwddd.”

When Swamiji visited our community in 2012, Asha encouraged us to write brief thank-you notes for his friendship and guidance over the years.

In my letter I was relaxed and open. I told him about an interview I had had with Brother Dharmananda of SRF in 1975, shortly after I had visited Ananda for the first time. I wanted to ask for his help in deciding whether I should apply to become an SRF monastic, or if I should move to the Ananda community.

Dharmananda told me, “Kriyananda is a good monk. You’ll make progress if you do what he says.”

In my letter, I said, “You’ve never actually told me what to do. But to the extent that I’ve done what you suggested when I’ve asked for your guidance, I’ve thrived.” I concluded by saying, “In a very real sense, I owe you my life.”

Swamiji remarked to Asha that my letter was the one he appreciated the most. Again, I’m sure it wasn’t because of anything extraordinary that I’d said, but because for years after I arrived at Ananda I was so off-base that it had to be refreshing to find that in some small measure his guidance had penetrated my thick skull.

I’ve learned many spiritual lessons through writing.

I once asked Nayaswami Jyotish if he thought that we should try to write very impersonally about Ananda, to avoid any temptation to express the ego.

His answer was pithy: “I think all writing is personal.”

I noticed that my first scribbled drafts tended to be overly personal, expressing my own ideas and reactions, but that as I refined them, draft after draft, the writing became more impersonal, as I labored to set myself aside and make it interesting for the reader. I learned to treasure the small scraps of inspiration that came. I got into the habit of scribbling them down, however rough and ill-formed. A Chinese saying is, “The best memory is not half so firm as faded ink.”

In the end, the best writing retains a personal core – a sense that a real person is talking to the reader. I realized that a writer needs to be a storyteller – a friend, sharing real experiences and discoveries.

I recall how Asha would always read her drafts aloud, a practice that Swami recommended.

Of course, the writing went best when I offered it to God. I would often find Him guiding my word choices, nudging me toward the phrase that would  best serve the reader. The best writing projects seemed not really mine, but His.

2 thoughts on “Writing About Ananda”

    • Thank you, Helen. I hoped that people would look past the writer and the writing and take insights about the process of attuning ourselves to the source of inspiration.

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