Ananda means “bliss” and the first few times I came to Ananda, for short stays of seven or ten days, I immediately felt, as many do, the bliss of living in a spiritual community and in a truly blessed natural environment. In addition, there was all the joy –and apprehension— of discovering a new country, a new language and, not least, a new direction in my spiritual path. And there were enough “inner messages” in those first visits to convince me that Ananda was the next step for me on my spiritual journey, and so my relationship with Ananda began.
But as with any relationship, the “honeymoon period” is quickly followed by the sobering realization in the cold hard light of day that the “other” is not the answer to all your problems or responsible for your happiness. Your happiness and wellbeing should not be dependent on the “other”, if the relationship is to prosper. And so it is with living at Ananda.
What Ananda can provide is a suitable environment for individual spiritual growth. Paramhansa Yogananda, whose teachings Ananda promotes, said that “environment is stronger than will-power” and Swami Kriyananda, the founder of Ananda, explains: “It is necessary to reassure people who must in any case live in the city that they can find truth wherever they are, but there is no gainsaying that anyone who is free to come to a spiritual environment, even for brief visits, will find himself making spiritual progress a great deal more rapidly.”
And connected with environment is another concept, the importance of which I came to understand at Ananda: namely the concept of Satsang, or the company of like-minded people seeking Truth. Yogananda stressed: “Whether one becomes a saint or a sinner is to a great extent determined by the company he keeps”. I have met many like-minded people among the residents at Ananda whom I instinctively know were friends or relatives in some previous existence. The same is true of many of the wonderful souls who regularly visit Ananda or who just pass through. Maybe you are one of them.
Ananda is many things to many people and there are many other aspects of life at Ananda that it would be possible to highlight as sources of joy. But it is important to remember that one of Ananda’s mantras is “Joy is within you”. Just coming to Ananda won’t necessarily give you that joy, but it may help you to find it within yourself.