Ananda’s Colony in Europe
My wife Lahari and I have had the privilege of serving in many of the ashrams Ananda has established around the world.
Since our arrival in the 1980’s, we had 15 years at Ananda Village, 2 in Portland, 2 in Ananda Ashland, 3 in Palo Alto, 1 in Ananda Rhode Island, 2 in Sacramento, 5 in Gurgaon, 3 in Pune, 10 more back in Palo Alto, and most recently 1 in Mumbai. One might rightly say we have been some of Ananda’s wandering sadhus!
Each Ananda location has its own strengths, and inevitably, its own quirks. But all have encompassed the same underlying threads: Master, Swamiji, meditation, service. The readings are the same, the prayers are the same, the chants are the same, the kriyas are the same. The languages used may differ, but Ananda FEELS the same everywhere you go around the globe.
Previously, we had never spent longer than two weeks at a time in our sister ashram in Assisi, Italy. But current circumstances have offered me and my wife the gift of spending three consecutive months there.
What are some of the things that make the ashram at Ananda Assisi so special? It has so many elements, too many to write about in one short article. How can you not mention lunches at the Terre di Luce farm, the boutique, the ashram program, the courses they teach, or the seva program? Each person’s perspective on Ananda is bound to be unique. Acknowledging that, I’m going to focus on only three aspects from the many that could be written about the ashram at Ananda Assisi.
The first of my personal favorite aspects is the Ananda Assisi choir. Peter Treichler has been the director for the past decade, and the schedule he sets can be daunting. Just listen to the choirs’ schedule for this week just concluded. There was a 4-hour retreat for every singer on Tuesday, a 1 ½ hour rehearsal for the larger choir on Wednesday, a 2 ½ hour rehearsal for the smaller choir on Thursday, then a 45 minute concert for all the guests at the retreat that same night, a 15 minute sing during the Friday night introduction for new classes starting at the retreat, and a major 90 minute launch of their newly recorded album on Saturday evening. The choirs’ usual three songs for Sunday Service rounded off this stunning week of music. Now, admittedly, this week had more choir events than some, but it suggests how central the choir’s work has become for the whole ashram. About 25 members of the Assisi ashram take part actively in this aspect of Ananda’s work, attuning more and more subtly to Swamiji through his music.
I realize that the second aspect of the Ananda Assisi ashram I want to highlight might sound a little irreverent. It is the chats that take place over espresso and cappuccino! Almost daily I have had deep conversations while sipping espresso drinks at one of the two “bars” that Ananda members frequent. One is directly across from the guest’s dining hall, where Rasamayi serves. The other is the bar in Morano, a mere 5 minutes down the road, where Simone and her family serve. For those unfamiliar with practices in Italy, “bars” here serve a tiny bit of liquor and a whole lot of espresso drinks! In both places there is much warm banter going on. It has been amidst these joyful surroundings that my most meaningful spiritual conversations here in Italy have taken place.
Temple of Light (Tempio di Luce)
And on a more serious note, the third of my most favorite aspects of life at the Ananda Assisi ashram is that Tempio di Luce! How does one describe the experience such a place gives us? It is still. It is quiet. It is sweet. It enfolds you. It is full of presence. It is dynamic. It is soaring. It draws you upward. The light comes in from all directions. The cupola seems to radiate light. Those beams coax us toward that source of Light above. It’s difficult NOT to meditate deeply in such surroundings. Everything in this temple is conducive to surrendering yourself easily into an upwardly altered state. To put it succinctly, the Tempio di Luce meditates FOR you…
And of course, what other Ananda center has the place where Swamiji took his last breath? The Moksha Mandir makes clear to me that everything that’s important about my life comes through Swamiji. That every principle he taught I now take as my own. That my thoughts about how to be and how to think in the world come from him. In those surroundings I realize that the same tangible silence I feel in the Moksha Mandir is the same silence I feel at the shrines for the Catholic saints in Assisi—for Francis, and Clare, and Joseph of Cupertino. There is NO difference! Profound peace. Profound stillness. Emptiness that is completely full. Stillness that is pulsing with dynamism. It’s like my skin tingles without physical cause. That’s what the Moksha Mandir is for me.
So yes, all Ananda’s colonies are the same, in essence. But I can’t help having a special place in my heart for Ananda Assisi. You in Europe who live so close to such a holy spot are greatly blessed. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit often!