Dear Friends,

From Ananda Shanti we went to a small town called Guardabosone, which is the home of Ananda Giri. The leaders are Janaka and Bharati. Janaka was born and grew up in Guardabosone, and most of his family still lives in the town. Over the past years they have purchased several buildings and beautifully renovated them to provide the core setting for community life. Their sangha has grown to be about 60 people who live in the area, some of whom have also bought houses in the town itself.

View of the town from a nearby hillside. You can see what a picturesque and beautiful setting it is for a community.

The dining room. This was our last breakfast when we were engaged in very interesting conversation about how to build community. A subject, naturally, of great interest to the group. Translation slows things down a bit but it also requires careful thought and in some ways facilitates clear communication since there isn’t as much room just to wander about randomly in words.

The meditation hall. We met every morning and had deep times together.

We were there for the anniversary day of St. Francis, and went to a nearby hillside where there is an old church. Rather superfluous most of the time to add the word “old” to most of the buildings there. A family experienced a miracle healing through St. Francis and put up a statue in gratitude.

Ananda Giri has a regular Thursday night zoom conversation going chapter by chapter through Autobiography of a Yogi. Since I was there, I was invited to help lead the evening. The chapter happened to be number eighteen, A Mohammedan Wonder-Worker. This is about the man who learns how to summon an astral entity named Hazrat who will bring him anything he asks for. He begins to use that power to steal from people, until finally his guru comes and awakens him from delusion. Not the chapter I would necessarily have chosen, but it was fun to try to think of some deeper angle. I talked about how all of us desire things that are not ours by right. Few carry it as far as the Mohammedan wonder worker did, but the same delusion exists.

One day a large group of us went to a nearby lake and spent the day in music, meditation, playing some games, sharing a picnic, and having satsang, mostly questions and answers about the path and community. One of the games was to break into two groups and act out some large concept for the other group to guess. We decided to be the solar system. I stood in the center, being the sun, holding a phone with the flashlight on, and wearing, of course, my Sun Glasses. The others were moving around me as the various planets. Dambara was Mercury whose orbit is quite quick so he was darting around me in a small circle while the outer planets moved more slowly, and Saturn went forward and retrograde. It was quite absurd and great fun! The other group acted out the Big Bang, which we figured out, then dispersed into being all the continents, which was a little harder to read but still absurdly funny.

Another day we went to a shrine dedicated to Mary. Again, it is a very ancient shrine. The statue was put in place many centuries ago by a saintly priest. He placed it in a spot already sacred in the Celtic tradition, putting the statue on a large black rock. Later a church was built around it. And later still, a huge church was built, but the Mother and Jesus remain in the smaller stone sanctuary built next to the black rock. The statue itself is a “black Madonna,” which is something, apparently that is done from time to time in the Catholic tradition. It was thrilling. When we walked into the church and saw the statue it greeted us like the long-lost children we are. We meditated for some time in the sanctuary; could have stayed all day.

This is the smaller church and the statue itself.  I don’t know if these pictures even begin to convey the power that we felt there. It is always such a blessing to be in a place of pilgrimage.

We then went to see the Big Church because it was there and it was, well, so big! You can see the sanctuary here in the distance. On this material plane, there is a tendency  to express the magnitude of our devotion by the magnitude of the structures we create. And this one was truly impressive. And a testimony to the willingness of countless individuals to pour time, effort, and money to celebrate the power of God. It was quite beautiful, but not comparable in power to the smaller church where Mother lives.

After our time with Divine Mother, we walked a short distance through the woods to a restaurant and feasted as you feast in Italy on polenta, and bread and cheese, and pasta. Altogether a lovely, soul-inspiring day of divine and human friendship.

The restaurant was a rustic building with the name (translated into English) of “Old Dry Canal.” Which was a definition of where it was located by the…. Can you guess?  Included in the decorating motif, which was very eclectic and fun, were a lot of stuffies, including Winnie the Pooh. A long time ago, in the 70s, when I lived in the early monastic area of Ayodhya, my constant companion and soul-sister was Seva. I had a striped shirt and for that reason resembled Piglet, and Seva, in her calm kindness, became Pooh to my Piglet. Gradually many of the other sisters there also were named for the characters in the wonderful children’s book. It was a sweet part of our life together.

A few years ago, right after Seva died, I went to her small cottage and there on the counter was a big mug with Pooh and Piglet on it. It seemed to be something she was using regularly. I asked if I could have it and it was generously given to me. After I left Ayodhya and a few years later, moved to Palo Alto, my friendship with Seva expressed itself more inwardly. Circumstances had changed for both of us and the day after day companionship wasn’t possible anymore. Her friendship, though, at the beginning, and throughout my life, was one of the greatest blessings of this incarnation. Seeing the Pooh and Piglet cup on her counter was confirmation of what I knew inwardly, that time had not weakened our bond.

All of this is to say that I was delighted to see Pooh Bear on our table when we arrived at the Old Dry Canal.

Last year we had a public program in the meditation hall at Ananda Giri itself (which is also the expanded home of Janaka and Bharati) but this year they felt the crowd would be too big, which is was, so they arranged to use the nearby Town Hall. The audience was beautifully united in devotion to God and Gurus, so the evening was a joy from beginning to end.

After I finished speaking, Janaka presented me with a beautifully carved statue of Lahiri Mahasaya. This was the second in what will be three pieces of art representing the three wisemen who came to visit Jesus in the manger, as Master identified them: Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Sri Yukteswar. Last year Janaka commissioned a local artist friend to carve Babaji. That statue sits in Chela Bhavan, where I live in the Ananda Community in Palo Alto. In that piece, Babaji is sitting next to a small pool of water with a camel behind him, presumably his transportation across the desert. As you can see, Lahiri Mahasaya is a slightly different motif, and the promise of Sri Yukteswar is there in the future.

Janaka and Bharati then shared a little about a conversation they had with Swamiji about forming the community of Ananda Giri. Their integrity and devotion, creativity and hard work were dynamically expressed through the heartfelt devotion of the whole audience. It seemed appropriate for me to act on Swamiji’s behalf and bless them in the work they are doing for Master.

After the talk was over, we spent almost another hour signing books and taking photos. During that time they used the big screen to project images mostly from LIGHTBEARER. Book signing gave me a chance to talk personally (with the essential help of Gitanjali) to many of those who came. Everyone has a story. And so many of the stories are deeply challenging, but also inspiring to see how God guides and blesses us all.

We had a break in the middle of the event, and went to the cafe to talk informally and have a few refreshments. Then returned after the book signing to have dinner together.

One of the pictures they projected was this one from about 1982 at Crystal Hermitage. Amazing. One incarnation seems so long day by day and so short at the same time. And so blessed.

And another was this classic from 1976. Swamiji left in the Spring of 1976, for seclusion in India and a few months of travel afterward. He had just finished writing his autobiography, The Path, and left it with us to turn the manuscript into a book. Ananda Publications at that time was mostly staffed by the women renunciates living together at Ayodhya, and for the next months we worked as many hours as we could each day to get the book ready for publication. This was before computers and all the systems were much more complicated. We wanted the book for Spiritual Renewal Week at the end of August. The printer was in the midwest, many hundreds of miles from Ananda Village. We managed to get it to the printer in time, but to get it back for Spiritual Renewal Week, three people from the Village either flew to the printer and rented a truck, or drove both ways, I don’t remember now. Purushottama and Nakula were two of the three. They took turns driving or sleeping in the back of the truck on the boxes of books, arriving early in the morning of what I think was the last Sunday of the event. We couldn’t afford to get a sample before it was printed, so just went on faith. We unpacked a few of the boxes and raced up to the Meditation Retreat, where Sunday service was held, and showed the book to the community. It was quite a moment. Later that morning we passed out a copy to everyone present and took a community photo of everyone reading The Path.

It was quite surprised, and delighted to see that moment up on the big screen. Then someone suggested we recreate the scene. It is so much fun to be part of Ananda.

In divine friendship,