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Path: One Man's Quest On the Only Path There Is
by J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda)
Less Is More
Krishna is depicted in legend as a boy playing his flute by the banks of
the River Jumna, calling his playmates away from worldly pursuits to the
divine search within. All men, consciously or unconsciously, hear in their
souls this call to divine awareness. Every time a bird's song charms them
with the reflection of how sweet life might be, were it tuned to simpler
melodies, it is this call they hear. They hear it when a sunset reminds
them of Beauty overlooked in the frenzied struggle for success; when a starlit
night reminds them of Vastness and Silence, driven afar by noisy self-preoccupation.
How well they heed the call depends on how ensnared they are by desires.
The less they think of serving themselves, the more they can expand their
consciousness into the Infinite.
Modern society, alas, is committed to an almost diametrically opposite principle. It firmly believes that the more one owns, and that the more one experiences of outward diversity, entertainment, and excitement, the happier one will be. Consumerism is propounded as if it were a moral value: "Spend more, so that there will be more jobs, and more things produced, so that you can spend still more." It is not wrong, of course, per se, to possess the conveniences that modern civilization has made available to us through its highly developed methods of mass production and distribution. What is wrong is the amount of energy that is directed toward these outward goals, at the expense of inner peace and awareness. What is wrong is that the quest for possessions tends to fool people into thinking that getting is more important than giving, and self-aggrandizement more important than service; that one's commitments need be honored only as long as they continue to serve one's own ends; that the most valid opinions and ideas are those which have gained the widest circulation; and that wisdom, fulfillment, and happiness can be mass-produced, like the parts for a radio. What is wrong, finally, is that people are losing touch with themselves, and are thereby losing their happiness, not gaining more of it. Probably there has never been an age in which so many people felt alienated from their fellow men, and from life itself, so unsure of themselves and of their neighbors, so nervous, fearful, and unhappy.
Consumerism, elevated as it has been in modern times to the status of a moral law, sets aside as old-fashioned some of the fundamental teachings of the ages÷as if the ability to build airplanes and TV sets qualified us to say that we know better how life should be lived than Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, or Lao-tzu. Were a prophet of modern consumerism to give us his Sermon on the Mount, he might start with, "Blessed are they who dig in and get theirs." But at least we have had an opportunity to observe the results of this sort of philosophy, and they are not pleasing. Human nature has not changed. Those who ignore its guiding principles pay all the usual penalties, whether as restless and unhappy camel drivers or as restless and unhappy jet airplane pilots, or corporate executives.
It is not that what we have nowadays is wrong. The solution lies not in reverting to primitivism, or to any other culture that imagination may cast for us in a romantic glow. Those cultures had their problems, too. We are living today. What is needed is a change in our priorities. We need, as every age has needed, to subordinate material to human and spiritual ends. The principles taught by Paramhansa Yogananda will, if adopted, correct the spiritual imbalances of our times.
One of the pressing needs nowadays is for what Yogananda called "world brotherhood colonies," as places to facilitate the development of an integrated, well-balanced life, and as examples to all mankind of the advantages of such a life. Such cooperative communities ought not to be isolationist, like medieval villages, nor in any sense a step backwards in time, but an integral part of the age in which we live.
Cooperative spiritual communities are needed especially as a means of fostering deeper spiritual awareness. Paramhansa Yogananda used the simile of a young sapling, which requires protective hedging against herbivorous animals until it grows large and strong enough to stand exposed to them. The devotee, too, he said, requires the protection of a spiritual environment until he can develop the strength in himself to be able to move through the world unaffected by its swirling currents of worldly desire. People today who recognize the need in society, and in themselves, for a more spiritual way of life need hardly have pointed out to them the difficulties involved in such a development. For every affirmation of spiritual values, the world cries out a thousand times from all sides that opulence is the answer to all human needs. The result is spiritual confusion. In a recent survey, children in America were asked who their heroes were. The largest number named actors in their favorite television programs. The next largest chose prominent athletes. Then came well-known politicians. Only two percent chose famous writers or scientists. None chose people for their spiritual qualities. When Dr. Radhakrishnan was vice-president of India, he once told me, "A nation is known by the men and women its own people look up to as great." By this standard alone it must be clear that America's spirituality, though potentially, indeed, enormous, requires careful cultivation. Cooperative spiritual communities, or "world brotherhood colonies," provide a vital solution to one of the most pressing needs of our times÷an opportunity for those who want to develop spiritually to do so in a supportive environment, and a dynamic example to the rest of the world that spiritual principles really work.
One of the fundamental needs of our age is for putting down roots again. We have extended ourselves too far outward, away from the Self within, and away from the natural rhythms of the planet on which we live. Even in our outward, human associations we have lost touch with reality. The average person in America today moves fourteen times in his life÷not to new homes in the same community, but to different communities altogether. Loneliness has become chronic. Friendships tend to be of the cocktail party and patio barbecue variety, and not the deep bonds that people form as a result of trials and victories shared. We know people to smile at, but not to weep with, not to confide in, not to go to for help in times of physical, emotional, or spiritual distress. Small, spiritual villages offer a viable alternative to the depersonalizing influences of our times. People living and working together, sharing with one another on many levels of their lives, suffering, growing, learning, rejoicing, winning victories together, develop a depth in their outward relationships as well that helps them, inwardly, to acquire spiritual understanding.
Small, cooperative communities offer more than a simple opportunity to demonstrate the value of already-fixed teachings and techniques to the world. Throughout history, the greatest advances have always come from the cross-pollination that occurs when relatively small groups of people with similar ideals have interrelated with one another. We see it in the golden era of Greek philosophy; among the small bands of early Christians; among the artists and writers of the Italian renaissance; in the golden age of music in Germany; and in the days of England's great colonial power. Again and again, cultural advances have been defined by small groups of people with the opportunity to relate meaningfully to one another, people whose relationship was one of friendship, of give and take, people with an opportunity to know whom they were talking to, and not only what they were talking about. On a mass level such interrelationship is impossible: Nobody can know well more than a handful of people. But elitist cliques like that of England's aristocracy during her colonial days are no longer feasible. Ours is an egalitarian society. The solution now is for small groups of people to set themselves, not in a position of superiority to the rest of society, but somewhat apart from it in meaningful relationships to one another.
It is already happening. During the late 1960s and early 1970s many people went out into the country, bought land, and formed small cooperative communities. To be sure, thousands failed, but a few proved remarkably successful. And the lessons these few learned in the process are making it increasingly easy for other, similar communities to get started.
Among the successful communities, moreover, there is developing a consciousness of community with one another, of sharing in an experiment of national, even international, dimensions. New definitions are slowly emerging, and are being shared among them÷definitions of marriage, education, friendship, cooperation, business, life's true goals, and other departments of life, definitions that are meaningful for people living in cities as well as in the country. It is a movement of potentially tremendous importance to modern civilization as a whole.
More than most people realize, the communitarian ideal was given its modern impetus by Paramhansa Yogananda, through his lectures and writings, and by the sheer power of his thought, which, he said, he was sending out into "the ether."
To further his ideals, I myself have founded what has become one of the handful of successful new communities in America. Its name is Ananda World Brotherhood Village. Ananda, a Sanskrit word, means "Divine Joy." Ananda Village is a place for devotees of all walks of life, whether married, single, or monastic, who feel a need to integrate their work with a life of devotional service to God, and of meditation. The members of Ananda are all disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda. Taking his teachings as our basis, we study how to relate them to every aspect of life.
Situated on 650 acres of land in the Sierra Nevada foothills of northern California, Ananda presently comprises over a hundred full-time residents, a meditation retreat (to which the public is invited), three "how-to-live" schools (from preschool through high school), a farm, various supporting businesses, private homes for families, two monasteries÷in short, the essentials of a complete spiritual village.
Ananda's most obvious inspiration was Yogananda's "world brotherhood colonies" ideal. But it is possible also that I, as his destined disciple, acquired early in life a special attunement to this aspect of his mission, for even at fifteen, long before I met him, the strong thought came to me someday to found such a community. In a sense, indeed, I believe there never was a time in my life when this idea was not somehow forming in my mind.
In college I pursued the dream further, through months of thinking and study, and actually tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to get my friends to join me in founding a community. Later, when I abandoned my previous, outward goals in life, and accepted Paramhansa Yogananda as my guru, I was thrilled to find that he himself shared this particular goal. The day of his forceful lecture in Beverly Hills, when he exhorted "not only those who are here, but thousands of youths .╩.╩. to cover the earth with little colonies, demonstrating that simplicity of living plus high thinking lead to the greatest happiness!" I vowed to do my utmost to see that his dream became a reality. Thereafter, I took every opportunity I could get to study his ideas on the subject. Through the 1950s I researched other communities, past and present, consulted people who I thought might help me with suggestions on various practical aspects of communitarian life, read and meditated on the reasons many such communities had failed, and took whatever occasion I could find to visit active communities in Europe, Israel, and India. My very work as head of the monks, in the center department, and in the ministry afforded me ceaseless opportunities for studying the intricacies of group dynamics.
I had always expected that, if I started such a community, it would be under the auspices of SRF. After my separation from that organization, and once I'd sorted out the problem of personal seclusion versus service to others, I realized that if I was to continue working for Master, this was one aspect of his mission that could be fulfilled without intruding on anything his own organization was doing. Indeed, of all the disciples, I was, as far as I knew, the only one dedicated to the fulfillment of this aspect of his work.
In 1967, by a series of extraordinary events, I discovered and purchased sixty-seven acres of beautiful, wooded land in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. There, with the aid of a few friends, I began constructing what finally became Ananda World Brotherhood Village.
Then, in the spring of 1968, finding a growing interest among my friends in forming a spiritual community, I wrote and published a small book, Cooperative Communities÷How to Start Them, and Why, to explain the sort of community that I envisioned.
The difficulties I faced in the beginning were twofold: financial, of course, primarily, and secondarily the fact that, because my ideas were still "in the air," many people with substantially different ideas tried to sidetrack my energies toward helping them to fulfill their ideas. One person offered me $70,000÷enough money to get the community off to a good start÷on the condition that I build the kind of community he wanted. But I saw that our ways were not compatible. Even if I failed, I decided, I must go on as I felt Master wanted me to. Indeed, success or failure alike mattered little to me. I only wanted to serve my guru.
The financial crises, especially, that we faced were considerable. They included two attempts to foreclose on us and seize our property. God, however, always gave us the money and help we needed to pull through. One reason He did so, I think, was that I refused to subordinate the welfare of individuals to the needs, however desperate, of our work. One man came to me with $200,000, a sum we certainly could have used, and asked whether I thought he ought to join Ananda and give this money to the community.
"Your place," I told him, "is India."
By placing primary emphasis on spiritual values, and on God-contact in meditation, Ananda developed, gradually, as a place of selfless dedication to God, and to God in man. In his letter to the Galatians (5:22), St. Paul wrote, "The harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control." These attitudes are difficult, if not impossible, for man to develop to any significant degree on his own, but they evolve naturally in the hearts of those who attune themselves to God.
Often I have felt Master's smile in my heart to see his "world brotherhood colony" dream a material reality. His blessings on the land, an almost tangible aura of peace, are felt by all who come here.
The spiritual energy that is developing here extends far beyond Ananda's boundaries. Thousands in America and abroad find in Ananda's example the inspiration, and also the practical direction, for spiritualizing their own lives. This, indeed, is the broader purpose of cooperative spiritual communities, for while relatively few people may ever live in such places, everyone can be helped by examples÷augmented by the large numbers involved in a flourishing community÷that spiritual principles are both inwardly regenerative and outwardly practical. Every devotee, moreover, can be helped by the realization that he is not alone in his spiritual search. Thus, Ananda already provides people in many lands with a sense of spiritual family, a sense which serves them as a bulwark in times of trial, and of encouragement and shared inspiration in times of joy.
Often, as I stand and gaze out over Ananda's green fields, woods, and rolling hills, I am reminded of a poem I wrote in Charleston, South Carolina, not long before I came to Master. Since then I have set it in the legendary golden era of Lord Rama, whose kingdom of Ayodhya, in ancient India, was a place of universal harmony, peace, and brotherhood. Thus may all men learn to live, wherever their paths take them outwardly. For now, as then, true, divine peace is possible only when people place God and spiritual values first in their lives.
June in Ayodhya
June is humming in the air,
Musing on these words, I recall with gratitude the people here whose lives exemplify its meaning so beautifully. Embodiments they seem to me, truly, of Babaji's words to Sri Yukteswar in Autobiography of a Yogi: "I perceive potential saints in America and Europe, waiting to be awakened."
By odd coincidence, as I write these lines it is my birthday: May 19, 1976. Exactly fifty years have passed since the life here chronicled began. Community festivities celebrating the event have, in one form or another, taken up most of the day. This afternoon, gazing on the smiling faces that were gathered around me in blessing, I thought of our Divine Beloved whose love they reflected. "Blessed are they," I quoted, "who come in the name of the Lord!"
It is evening now. I sit peacefully in my home. My gaze takes in an expansive view through the large living-room window: hills, sky, and slowly wakening stars. Such, I reflect, is The Path: Wherever man stands upon it, his soul-evolution stretches out before him to infinity. The stages on the spiritual journey are only temporary. Temporary, too, are its tests, as also its fulfillments. God alone is real.
"Lord," I pray silently, "may I never become attached to Thy dream of creation, nor yet to the path that leads out of the dream, but only to Thee: to Thy love, to Thy eternal joy!"