Whenever I think of what Master meant when he said that small world brotherhood colonies would be the way of living for the future, I think especially about what his purpose was.
Because, as we know, his real concern was our freedom in God, our spiritual realization.
So he wasn’t just talking about these small communities as a solution on a practical level; I think he really saw that for our growth, for our expansion in consciousness and all aspects of our life … that somehow these communities were going to be the best way of living.
And so I want to talk about this spiritual part of community, about why Master would even say that living in communities in this way would be the absolute best thing for our growth, as human beings, as individuals and as groups that could really make a difference, bring light into the world.
So, why is that? And for those of you who’ve had any living experience with others, whether it’s being married, have a family or living with other people at sometime in your life, you know that living with others gives us mirrors to ourselves.
And I think what Master saw, was that living together especially as Anand said, with like-minded people, with simple living and high thinking, that those mirrors would be a direct expression for us of where we need to change in order to grow.
And that’s certainly in the 40 years that I’ve lived in community, ten years in Ananda Village, California and 30 years here, so very true.
And it’s not what you might think that it would be; ‘Oh my God, everyone’s going to be reflecting back to me the terrible things that I do and what I have to change.’ What I see that happens, with a spiritual community, an intentional spiritual community: the people who come to live at Ananda know perfectly well that they are coming to change themselves.
The True Reasons for Joining an Ananda Community
We don’t come to Ananda to change everybody else, so that we can be comfortable because everybody does what we think is right. They’re not coming to change other people, and not coming either to change Ananda, because many people do come thinking they have their own idea about what Ananda should be, and with that thought they may have a lot of ideas about how to do things differently. And that’s actually one of the plusses of having new people coming into Ananda, but it’s very important to realize that Ananda does have a purpose.
It is not, as Swami said to a group of people who were talking about building community and Ananda was one of the few places that actually existed as a community, and as a spiritual community, and Swamiji was asked to speak and I think everyone expected him to be raving about everything beautiful that happens at Ananda. What he said was, “Ananda in and of itself is not important at all. Its only importance is as an environment for people to grow.”
As an environment for wherever someone is at who arrives, if they have the commitment to spiritual life and living the teachings, then wherever they are at the moment they arrive at Ananda is the point that they have to grow from.
One of the things we learn at Ananda is accepting others as they are – it’s one of the essential qualities, aspects, attitudes that we want to have for living together in community: accepting people as they are, so that they can feel at home, grounded in who they are and then feel good about looking at what they themselves know they need to change.
So I think all of us, if we are considering creating community, if we are considering living in a community, we want to know that we are doing this because we know that we need to change in order to be able to come to our goal, which is Master’s goal for us as well, of finding God. So with that as the basis, we are able to understand that none of us is perfect, that there is no one living in an Ananda community anywhere that is perfect. As Sri Yukteswar said, if we were perfect we would be adorning another planet somewhere that has perfect souls. We know that we aren’t perfect and so we learn to accept each other and accept ourselves where we’re at.
The Key to Success for Communties
And that is a key to the success of any community. The ability for the leadership and the people who are living there to truly accept people as they are, not wish things – the community and the people – were other than they are.
Simply as a starting point we have to accept where we are. And then the individuals and the community can grow, because the community is not perfect either.
Sometimes it happens that people come to Ananda Assisi and they see the joy and the light and the love and the open hearts and the acceptance, all of those things, and they get the feeling that Ananda is a perfect place to live.
And it’s not. Because it also needs to, and will, grow, change, expand and become ever more a perfect reflection of the people who live in the community. And so it’s important to realize wherever your community is, it will be a reflection of all of you – and the consciousness and the heart of the people who are living in it.
And that helps to keep the high ideals, because we know that we don’t want to get caught up in focusing either on our individual problems, or on another person’s problems, or the ‘problems’ of the community.
We want to recognize what needs to change; we want to recognize where there is a lot of room for growth, but not just concentrate and focus always on the problems. It’s very important to see what is needed and then to work together toward what is needed.
Swamiji always called our communities ‘co-operative spiritual communities’, and that is another quality which as devotees together we want to realize…that on every level of our life we need to learn to co-operate together in order to really build community and I’m sure that Mahiya will also be talking about that because we’ve come into a whole new level of learning how to co-operate with each other as we go through this pandemic.
So it can happen, and it actually happened at some point in the life of Ananda Village and sometimes there’s a discussion about that kind of thing here, which is that, in the beginning of Ananda Village there were maybe 19 or 20 people living together and more and more people were wanting to come.
And as that was happening Swami was gone for a period of time; he was always in the beginning helping to make money in the cities, teaching so that he could help pay the bills. So at Ananda Village there were people – there was a meeting – and people decided we really need to cut the influx of people, new people coming in. We need to get ourselves together before we can really be of help to others who are coming both for the community aspect of what we are doing and for the spiritual side of things; we need to have time to get ourselves together.
So Swami comes back and he hears this and he calls everybody together and says, ‘You can’t close off the flow of energy coming in; that is part of the lifeblood of our spiritual work. We can’t decide that we have to be closer to perfection if we’re going to help others to achieve that.’
What Swamiji was trying to say and what Ananda continued to do, is that wherever we are in our path toward enlightenment, we have things that we can share; we have wisdom that we can share; we have experience that we can share and we want to open the community to new energy, new people, new experience, always, at least for Ananda, with the basis of being devotees of this path and wanting to live the teachings of this path.
Everbody’s Path is Individual
But from there we are all so very different. If you ever get a chance to spend a long time (and we hope you all will if you’re going to try to do community), a longer period of time here at Ananda, and many of you who have left have done that; you know that there is no marching together in lock-step toward the goal; everyone, everyone’s path is individual, and that’s why we need to be able to accept each person where they are and as they are. And as we each grow we become more able to share what we have learnt from our gurus, from Swamiji, from the other teachers in the community and even from the very last person to have arrived in the community. Our open hearts and our open consciousness have to be able to receive, to process, to attune what we’re hearing with what we know from the Masters and from the teachings, and then to be able to share that.
And our opportunities living in a community are almost limitless; we always have more opportunities to be able to share even just in our experience of cleaning the kitchen; our experience of maintaining the physical plane; our experience of working in the garden: all of that becomes the basis for the practical side of our life together. And so in working and serving in your community whether it ends up being a community where there’s also a retreat or it’s simply a community where all of the aspects of community life from school to church to the gardens to growing the vegetables… whatever aspect we’re involved in becomes the platform for our spiritual growth and for helping others also…
When we have our program together for teaching about living together in community all of these qualities will probably have at least an hour of discussion, but having patience, with others and with ourselves, to be able to always support others rather than judging or criticizing them. To have respect for each individual’s place where they are and the way that they can best learn and become evermore the perfect being that they eventually will be. Accepting others as they are: I already mentioned that Master said it’s a waste of time to wish that things or people would be other than they are. Wishing it is not going to make it happen and sometimes we try to… we put people in a box of our own thinking about them and it’s, they feel that, and it’s hard for them to work their way out of that. So being able to not put people in a box by our own thoughts about them.
The Importance of Loyalty, Co-operation and Harmony
Loyalty. Being loyal to our path, loyal to our Gurus, loyal to the teaching and as far as individuals and friendships go, especially being loyal to the soul of each individual. That when, you know when Master said, “I love crowds but I especially love crowds of souls,” because he would see the soul of each individual and it’s something that in community you have a great opportunity to do, to always look for the soul qualities of the individuals and not focus on their imperfections and what they don’t do well. To always give support to the soul striving for perfection.
One of the things that Swamiji talked about a lot for community -and I’ll finish with this- he talked about the importance of co-operation; the importance of having the ability together to create harmony, because, he said, if there isn’t harmony – in fact Master said this – that in a world brotherhood colony, without brotherhood, without harmony together with the people that are living together, it just won’t work.
And so Swamiji placed a lot of importance on working and living and serving, singing, meditating together in harmony with each other.
And always trying to look for ways to put energy in the direction of the flow that is taking the people and the community ever more towards a perfect reflection of what an Ananda community and a world brotherhood colony is.
About harmony, I want to mention this one last thing. I want to give you an example of how we try to work with people when there is disharmony, because people are human and of course there are times when things happen that are not harmonious.
What can happen every now and again in a community is that a couple is together and then something happens and they split.
Sometimes it’s because one of the people falls in love with someone else, or it’s simply that they’re growing apart.
The tendency, a very human tendency, is to want to support the person that’s your friend; to support more the husband or more the wife in such a situation.
One of the things that we really work hard to try to help people see, in any situation where there’s conflict between people, is not to take sides, not to feel like because one is more your friend than the other you have to show the one support and not the other.
Because you see somehow, that the person that you like best is losing in this situation because the other, the partner, is leaving them.
And this idea that there is someone who is “winning” and someone who is “losing” in a situation where two people split up is one of those things that we try very hard to help people see in a different way.
To understand that we are all gurubais; we are all friends, Divine friends; we are all trying to support and help each other.
And in a situation where a friendship changes, where there’s a relationship that breaks up, it’s important to know that there doesn’t have to be ever a loser; that everyone is a winner as long as they are supported in learning whatever their lesson is in this difficult situation between people.
Because if (and I’ve been in this situation myself, several times) we are understanding that our purpose in being in an Ananda community is to grow, to learn our lessons and to become ever more our perfect self, then whatever comes to us, even these kinds of difficulties, is for our growth.
And so instead of focusing on what someone is losing in this situation, help them to see, and we ourselves want to see, that if one door is closed there are other doors that open.
And we look for where those open doors are. We look for where our growth and our deeper understanding and our greater compassion, and our deeper love can expand.
We learn to love even in a situation where we’re hurting, because we are learning to be more, from whatever situation we are faced with.
So within the community you can help harmony to remain by helping people to understand where their growth may be in this situation.
And I have had so much help in the situation at the Village where my marriage broke up and I had such a plethora of friends who did not try to blame the other person; that simply helped me to reflect back what there was for me in this situation, and it was what I sought to always do even when the heart wanted to close down from being hurt, to be able to actually even physically feel and say ‘Open, open, open.’
Master doesn’t want us to suffer. There are always times in a community where people can be suffering. With the pandemic now, for some of us it’s been a time of more activity, and for some it’s been a time of feeling isolated and cut off.
And so in every situation that comes, community can help, individuals can help each other. Community, the reality of community and spiritual family can help each individual to become more, through every challenge, through every beautiful experience. And this is really what community is, being together as a spiritual family is.
It’s a great wonderful adventure, and adventures are full of difficult moments as well, and challenges, as well as those moments of great beauty.
If you think about climbing a mountain there’s a lot of challenge, but also great beauty. If you think about river rafting down a big powerful river there are wonderful moments of feeling the power of what is happening and there are moments that can be dangerous and difficult.
An adventure – you don’t know exactly how it’s going to end. And living in community is like that; we don’t know exactly what Ananda Assisi is going to become. We just know what the possibilities are. And we do our best, individually and as a group, to work toward fulfilling those possibilities. And this is what we wish for all of you. If you start a community, if you come to live in a community… may you always be able to direct your energies towards the possibilities!