A Conversation with Devamuni Hall
Devamuni Hall serves as the only electrician at Ananda Village, where he lives with his wife Satyana, formerly of Ananda Palo Alto. Although Devamuni and I spoke more than 30 years ago, his story remains as inspiring today.
Our conversation may seem, on the surface, to have little to do with the arts. On the other hand, artists face many of the same human problems that electricians do – including, of course, the need to make a living. Regardless of our livelihood, the ultimate source of our sustenance is the same.
Last heard, Devamuni and his crew were putting the final touches on the wiring of the Temple of Light in preparation for Ananda’s 50th anniversary celebration in June-July 2019.
Satyana reports: “He’s also working on Mangala Powers’s house that’s currently being built and various electrical needs for the 50th Anniversary, plus emergencies that come up all the time in people’s homes, the water system, the mailroom, etc.”
Q: Can you tell us how you got into the electrical contracting business?
A: When my father died, I took over my family’s hardware store in San Francisco. My brother had little desire to keep the store going, so I stepped in and began remodeling it. It was a big store, and it was fairly popular and had done well for a long time, but it had declined.
About that time, I discovered yoga and I began taking classes and visiting Ananda Village. I ended up spending a month at Ananda, then I took a two‑month yoga teacher training course. So I had only been at the hardware store for a few months when I left it in someone else’s hands.
We had just begun to pull the store out of a hole, and when I returned from Ananda, it had gone completely dead. The man who had taken over had done his best, but it hadn’t gone well.
Influenced by my time at Ananda, I had the gall to get everybody in the store together at the end of the day to sit in the office and visualize the store being surrounded by white light, and lots of people coming in.
I didn’t know what God’s will was for the business, but I thought, “This place needs prosperity, and we’re going to visualize it surrounded by energy. We’re going to visualize the store being prosperous.” And it was amazing – we sat in the back room, and one of the employees was a Jehovah’s Witness. I can’t believe I had the gumption to do that, but we got everybody doing the visualization and right away we had our best day and our best week in the history of the store.
Actually, we had our best day, best week, and best month, and we began hiring people. It was incredible how well we were doing with these visualization techniques. But then all of a sudden I got to thinking that maybe I was pushing God to make it happen, and that maybe you shouldn’t do that. Maybe I should be asking for God’s will to be done. So I started praying, “Your will be done. Whatever You want to have happen with this business, I want that to happen.” And we had our worst day, our worst week, and our worst month ever, and we finally ended up selling the store.
It had gone up, then straight down again as soon as the prayer changed. But it turned out to be the right thing, because it was right for my mom who needed to get out of the business.
Q: Did it free you to do something else?
A: I was in the “honeymoon stage” of the spiritual life. I was twenty-four and I had moved into an Ananda group house in San Francisco. I was meditating a lot and trying to spiritualize my life, but I realized that my life was starting to get sluggish, and that my energy was decreasing, because I didn’t have a clear direction. I had always dreamed of having time to do anything I wanted, but all of this so-called freedom wasn’t doing much for me. So I thought that maybe it was time to go back into business.
I liked the hardware business. It was fun for me, because it’s basically about helping people. So I thought, that’s what I’m going to try. It turned out that there was a hardware store just nine blocks away that needed someone with my experience. I didn’t want to run the place, because I still wanted time for meditation and yoga, so I started working my ideal hours, something like 10 to 2. But then two things happened. One was that I was feeling sluggish again, because I wasn’t using my time wisely. I would get up early and put out lots of energy, but still, there was a certain magnetism that I felt was missing.
The other thing was that a new owner had recently bought the store and he didn’t know the business. He was from Ethiopia, and he was trying to draw lots of money out of the business to send back to his family. The store was in a beautiful area of the city, a real up-energy area, and the owner wanted to remodel it. So I was able to fulfill a desire that I hadn’t been able to realize at my family’s store, because my mother didn’t want to put money into it. But I was 25, and I had a lot of energy and desire to create something special in the business world, so I got into the business full time. But I didn’t get into the management side, so I was able to keep a very good spiritual life going.
It turned out to be a really special time for all of us who worked in the store. Everyone appreciated my presence, and they gave me a huge going‑away party when I moved to Ananda Village. They expressed their thanks for opening a door to what a person can do by living the spiritual life in business.
Q: They recognized the value of your spiritual interests?
A: Yes, they were very aware of it, because I had a closet where I would meditate during the lunch hour. It was the romance period that beginners often experience in the spiritual life. But nevertheless, the manager said that he’d never seen anyone actually live their spirituality as I did.
I loved construction – that was my thing, and I planned to be a custom home builder, but it was another desire that I had never been able to fulfill. When I moved to Ananda, I got a job right away in construction, and I really loved that job. I was quite taken with carpentry, but then Muktan asked me to do some electrical wiring on a commercial project in Nevada City, and I really liked that, too. Electrical contracting seemed like a smart way to make a living, because you weren’t beating yourself up as much, and you were still working with your hands.
Muktan was expansive. He would take on jobs that he didn’t know how to do, and he’d hire people who knew how to do them. For a long time, Ananda Electric was one of the biggest electrical contractors in the area. We did a big shopping center, and some waste water treatment plants, some banks, and nearly all of the new elementary schools.
Anyway, we were doing these big jobs, and at one point we started doing solar electric installations. We did one for a lady who lived near Ananda, and we thought it was very interesting and intellectually stimulating work, so we began to think it had the potential to be a good field for us, because hardly anyone else was doing it.
The more we did solar installations, the more we realized that the technology was in a very funky pioneering phase. Contractors were doing installations that didn’t meet the national electrical codes or the UL requirements, and that’s how Ananda Power Technologies was born. We started making boxes that incorporated all of the disconnects, fusing, and metering that you would need for a solar installation, and that met the national electrical code and UL standards.
The company took off like wildfire. It employed many people, and it was eventually sold and relocated to Grass Valley. Meanwhile, the electrical contracting business was slowing down. We had kept it going to raise funds for the solar business, but I finally pulled out, because I saw that we were going into debt to start the solar business, with nothing to show for it, and only more debt in sight.
I had been haunted by the thought that I had never really asked God, “Is this what You want me to do?” I had gone into the electrical business because I was excited about it, and now I thought, “Well, Ananda Electric has a great reputation, but it has never been financially successful.” I was praying very hard, “What is it that You want me to do, God? All I want is You! Just tell me what You want and I’ll do it. If you want me to do electrical work, I’ll do more of that, even though it’s been eight years, and I came to Ananda to be a devotee, not an electrician. I didn’t come here to be a career person. I came just for God.”
I had gotten myself caught in a career position that wasn’t really what I wanted. I wanted to have my mind clear of the jumble that goes along with owning and running a business, so I could direct it toward my spiritual pursuits, keeping my mind on God as much as I could.
Since day one at Ananda Electric I had been a foreman, even though I hadn’t done much electrical work, and there had been trials and tests. But I was praying, and I got this thought after a two‑ or three‑hour meditation, “Buy Ananda Electric.” And I was amazed. “You’re nuts! I’m not buying Ananda Electric, and I’m not taking on that huge responsibility! I just want to love You. I just want to do something where I don’t have to think so much all the time. I’m always thinking, and I’m always planning and being responsible. And I just want to think about You.”
But the thought kept coming, and I was thinking, “Okay, God is going to have to make this really clear to me.”
Two years earlier I had installed power protection systems for some big local hardware and lumber companies, and on my last day at the Ananda Builders Guild, I got a note that said, “Someone called from this hardware store – please call him about installing an emergency backup system.” And I go, “This is pretty funny!” and I just tossed the note aside. But two or three weeks later, I prayed, and when I got the thought to buy Ananda Electric I said, “Okay, God, I’m going to test it. I’ll call this guy after three weeks, and I’ll say, ‘I got your note. I don’t have a company, and I don’t belong to Ananda Electric. I don’t have a license, and I don’t have insurance. I quit all that stuff. I’m not working for anybody. Are you still interested?’”
I thought, “Okay, God, if he says ‘Yes’ I’ll take it as a sign that maybe I should consider doing this.” So I called the man, and he said, “Yeah, come on down.” So the first thing that’s looking me in the eye is a major, multi‑thousand‑dollar electrical system which is a fun thing for me to do. So that was definitely a sign.
Q: A bolt of electricity?
A: Yeah, and it gets better. I talked with the Ananda Business Guild, and we worked out a deal. I wanted to buy just a little of the business, but then they offered me all of the equipment at an extremely reduced price – tools, inventory, everything. And they didn’t want to hassle with selling just part of the business. I had planned to do Ananda Electric on the side, so it would be nice and mellow. But that wasn’t what God had in mind. God made me buy it all, and I ended up spending about $45,000. Also, I had to get a new truck, along with everything else. Anyway, I bought the business, and the next morning I got six calls. Six calls, six jobs – after the business had received maybe one or two calls the whole month.
I thought, “Wow! Yogananda really did want this to happen. I prayed hard this time to make sure that it was what he wanted for my life, and he answered.” And the business has been going like gangbusters ever since.
I started with the big job for the hardware store, and since then I’ve hardly been able to keep up. I don’t even seek out work anymore, because I have more than I can do. I went to Assisi on pilgrimage this winter, and I said, “God, please don’t make all hell break loose while I’m gone, so that when I come back there are five million emergencies to take care of and I can’t keep this wonderful feeling of centeredness.” And it was so sweet, because when I came back it was just very mellow, and I was able to kind of step softly back into it.
This has been a special year for me, spiritually. Lots of times, God has pushed me to the limit, what with working weekends and late at night, but I’ve felt good. I’ve always wanted to be able to overcome and not be crushed by things like that. I wanted to be victorious. Not that I’ve always been victorious, but I always wanted to make it happen.
I think part of my spiritual growth has come through learning to accept and embrace what comes from God. Lots of times, I don’t want to do this business, because I’d rather be thinking of God more. I’ve always had this problem balancing my desires for God and my business desires.
I’ve had lots of drive and zeal for being successful. But I remember going down to Los Angeles one year for a Yogananda convocation. I came back, and I only wanted to work six hours a day. Yogananda said six hours a day is a good amount of time to work, and I felt it would give me time to meditate and be with my family. But God just made it very hard. And finally, someone pulled me aside – he’s the most mellow, easy‑going guy in the world, and he said, “You’ve got to stop doing this! This is killing us. We can’t count on you when we need you, and it looks bad to the customers.”
Q: Business as a monastic discipline?
A: Oh, yeah! And it’s funny – I’m really torn, because part of my nature just wants to go deeper. But I think that until I gained a little more spiritual maturity I wasn’t able to keep the spiritual and business sides together. I was kind of pulling them apart, and I got lost there for a while.
Q: I’ve talked with business people who’ve said that they reached a point where they could have big financial success, but that God had subtly pulled them back. And they felt that it was because there were other issues that God was working on, and that He was defining success in a different way.
A: At one point, a couple of people got together here at Ananda and started holding a series of gatherings for the business managers. And I was so into it, because so much of my life revolved around business, and I really wanted to spiritualize it. I felt like it was my life’s mission to learn how to spiritualize business and help others spiritualize their businesses. I felt strongly that this would be an important thing in America, where so much energy goes into business, even though spirituality is still the most important aspect of people’s lives. It’s so hard to integrate the two, and I feel a real drive to help others make that happen.
Q: Your experiences seem to be telling us that maybe it’s not so hard, it’s just hard to see how.
A: Yeah, it’s an area we spend so much time in. And if we could feel that there was major spiritual growth in it, as much as when you’re sitting in meditation, it would be more deep and real. This year, things have changed a lot, and I feel it’s moving in a direction where I’ll learn how to do this.
I read a book called Many Mansions, about Edgar Cayce, the sleeping prophet, and his life readings for people. It reminded me that it’s all about working to serve people, and that that’s all you need to think about, and then the money comes of itself. With this business, I have to look at my watch all the time, because I charge people for my time. And I’m becoming aware that I have to think totally that I’m just doing it for service, just for God, and that I have to forget about the other stuff and let it come. That’s my latest challenge.
I helped design the Yogananda museum at the Crystal Hermitage. The budget was real tight, and I wanted to put in nice lighting, a fire alarm system, this and that, all these extras. So I submitted the bid, and they said, “Gosh, Roger, we can’t afford this. Could you take out $1000 or maybe $1500? I thought, “I’m going to do it anyway. This place is going to look great!”
I thought, “What if I just did this for the cost of materials, and I’ll do the labor for free?” It was a big job. I would have made a couple thousand dollars, and our business was kind of having a hard time. But I decided, “No, this feels like what Yogananda wants.”
And you know what happened? I couldn’t believe it. The next week I made a sale for the whole $2000. And after that, it was just one big sale after another. I probably made more from doing that one thing that I felt like doing, than I’ve made in any other month. I felt, “This is the best thing I’ve ever done.”
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