Friday, January 27, 2012

The Pune Community

Dear Everyone:

I am sitting at the gate in Dubai waiting to board the plane for the 16-hour (yes, 16!) flight to San Francisco. So by the time you get this I will be snug in my own bed in Chela Bhavan. Already India is fading and my “other life” is coming into focus again.

I do want to write to you though while the impressions of Ananda Pune Community, where I have been for the last week, are still vivid in my heart and mind.

This is my third try at this letter. The first two bogged down in too many physical details, because the physicality of the place is also a big part of the story, but I’ve decided not really the central story. Building a community from absolute bare ground, as they are doing, makes every little accomplishment -- a path, a flower, a building -- something huge to celebrate.

And there is much to celebrate: two lovely homes, one for Swamiji, the other built by Dharmadas and Nirmala, six “kutirs,” little studio apartments for one or a cozy twosome, although, this last week, 4-5 girls were sharing the one next to where I stayed with Lila. A guesthouse with six rooms, a converted existing structure that now serves as kitchen, office, and sleeping quarters for one or two, plus a large covered porch where all the meals are served.

A bathhouse, a temple with a thatched roof and screen walls -- sufficient here where it rains heavily but only gets cool, not cold.

And dust -- did I mention dust? The same wonderful fine red dust of my spiritual childhood at Ananda Village. And also, did I mention steep hills? The community is one side of a valley bounded by modest size hills. Our land starts about half up one side and goes to the ridge top. About 30 acres, nearly all of it steep.

There is also a huge in-progress building project to construct some dozens of flats that will belong to various future community residents from all over India and across the world.

The hope was that the flats would be ready in time for Swamiji’s arrival at the end of 2011. What a glorious plan: to have the community start with Swamiji in residence and in January, Uma and Kirtani were coming from Assisi Ananda to lead a month long community “ashram program,” as they call it there, to bring all the new residents into one spirit for their Ananda life.

Things rarely go as planned, however, and the flats are months from completion. Kirtani ended up with a detached retina in one eye that, thankfully, has been treated with 100% success, but going on an airplane was out of the question.

But when God closes one door he opens another. So Uma came over as planned, and then, the late-scheduled surprise was the arrival of all of us just the day before the program was set to begin.

Without completed housing, not as many of the future residents could come and many for only a portion of the month. Still, it has been a great gathering of the tribe, especially this first week, and I have had the enormous joy of being right in the middle of it.

I am greatly impressed by all that has been accomplished in terms of manifesting the community. Having lived through the early years of Ananda Village I know how much tapasya and sheer guts and will power is needed to turn bare land into a liveable community. But what has filled my heart with joy and my spirit with confidence for the future of Ananda Pune Community is the light of Master shining from the eyes of so many who are here.

This gathering turned out to be divinely orchestrated in many ways. Nirmala and Dharmadas have been key leaders in India since the beginning (2003) and now Swamiji has asked them to come with him to Italy to work on recording a new program he has created, called “Ask Me About Truth.” It is a conversational question and answer series and they play their “Tell me, Swamiji....” role just perfectly. They’ll film in Italy (he leaves for Europe in 3 weeks) and then depending on how much they get done may also come with him to America in May. After that they will make their home in America or Europe.... to be decided.

Swamiji asked Jaya and Sadhana Devi to come from Gurgaon back to Pune (they have lived there before in their India sojourn) to fill in the space left by Nirmala and Dharmadas. He also asked Durga and Vidura to lend their wonderful spirit and creativity to the mix. Jyotish and Devi came to help with the transition. Uma came for the program. Anand (Kirtani’s husband) ran into immigration trouble and was temporarily exiled from Italy (where he has lived for 20 years), and took refuge in India (now it is all straightened out and he can go home). I came just for fun.

The result, as you can well imagine, has been a wonderful mish-mash of energies from everywhere, much to the delight of everyone.

The carefully planned month-long program was immediately scrapped in favor of a more informal opening week, at least, of “let’s get to know each other.”

Many names I had heard and faces seen only in photographs are now friends of my heart. And, because of the internet, I found myself also already known by many through the book about Swamiji and other of the resources we have been passing out for so long.

India is the meeting place for devotees from everywhere, so in our little program of some 40 people, permanent, temporary, and future residents of Ananda Pune, there were eight countries represented: India, America, England, Russia, Switzerland, Italy, Uruguay, Brazil. I don’t think Palo Alto qualifies as a country unto itself, but we are well-represented: Victor lives there now, Ashok and Raj came for the month, and Vijay Bault formerly of Palo Alto was also there. Baljinder and Sonya, and baby Himraj, now of India, formerly of northern and southern California, first met Swamiji at a satsang at the Palo Alto church. Ramani arrived for a visit of several weeks the day I left. And, of course, Biraj (and Lahari) have been part of Ananda India for years -- although soon he’ll be heading back to California, where Lahari is already ensconced.

Even more than usual, there was a sense of one heart, one spirit, one mind. National origin just didn’t enter into the discussion, except as an interesting aspect of “many expressions of One Spirit.” We were all there for God and nothing else mattered. Sometimes we needed a little “English to English” translation, however, with the variation of accents and pronunciations. And impossible not to smile when our friend fresh “off the boat” from England spoke of the “Hoosband” that she “loooves.” But that just lends spice to the soup!

In the week that I was there, the morning classes were led by the more recently Nayaswamis. Then in the afternoons for several days we had smaller group informal discussions, really just to give us all a chance to get to know one another.

After all these years I’ve come to be able to recognize a certain look in the eyes of Master’s children. And when you see that, you know that the call from Guru has been heard, and those responding have both the sincerity, and the will power to carry out what Master asks. Success is assured. It is just a matter now of the not-inconsiderable hard work needed to bring the ideal manifestation from the ether into this world.

A few days after we arrived Narayani organized a Sunday morning brunch. Anand made his “special pancakes” (they are yummy!). The dining porch was decorated lovingly, and Swamiji joined us for a festive breakfast.

He didn’t give a speech or satsang, but just sat quietly at his table, gazing lovingly at the devotees there. He looked around carefully at each one, greeting those who came to him or smiling at others from across the room. With a blissful smile he said to those sitting next to him, “They are all wonderful people.”

Dhuti is also visiting here (I forgot to mention that) and she has pulled the choir together so they sang for Swamiji. “They are all angels,” he said after the first song.

They sang some lighter numbers then performed “Blessed.” I don’t think I have been more deeply moved by that song (and it is already one of my favorites). Every word carried such profound meeting there, in this newly-forming community, where we are planting Master’s ray in the country of his birth. “Blessed the life that is given to God.” Yes. Yes. Yes.

A small school is also starting, both with some of the “village” (i.e., local) children and children of the soon-to-be residents. At the breakfast, a group of children also performed with great enthusiasm a few of Swamiji’s songs, much to their delight and the delight of all the adults watching.

After that event, for the rest of the week, Swamiji did not participate in any public way. He prefers to stay mostly in his home, working now on the script for the movie about the life of Yogananda. And also, amazingly, editing yet again the book “Yogananda for the World.” I didn’t think it could be made any better, but he did, and he did...make it better. I don’t know if the new version is yet on the website. He added a chapter called “Character Assassination,” quite interesting. So check and if you see that chapter listed you know the newest version is there. Even if you have read it already, there are enough changes that it is worth looking over again.

Swamiji said he was still slightly discontented with the book before the latest editing, but now he feels it is done. What he did was make it even more impersonal, saying there are two ways to approach Master’s legacy -- sectarian and nonsectarian. SRF has taken the sectarian approach; Ananda the nonsectarian. Very interesting.

After that he started working on the script for the movie about Yogananda. He is about half done and needs to finish that soon (before he leaves India, I think) so that work can get underway. He is working with the Italian director who did that movie we all enjoyed so much, “Moscati,” about a saintly doctor. So everyone is expecting this to be a beautiful film...

I’ve only heard about the script, haven’t read it yet myself. Let us all keep it in our prayers, that Master lead Swamiji in just the right way, as he always does. Imagine what it will do for Master’s work if a beautiful film could be made that actually carries his teaching and his vibration. Jai Guru.

In the late afternoons, Swamiji often invited a few of us over for tea. Sometimes for a “walk,” which consisted of a paved path leading from his house to a small pavilion on the hillside. Making this walkway -- completely level so Swamiji can negotiate it -- was a loving gift from Nirmala and Dharmadas. His house is near the top of the hillside where the community is located. From the pavilion you can look across the wide valley to hills on the other side -- a lovely, expansive view of mostly undeveloped countryside.

Heavenly, as you can well imagine, to be perched there under the canopy, sitting around a small table on padded wicker chairs, talking with Swamiji about the movie of Yogananda, the beauty of the setting, the dedication of the disciples gathered there to build the community. Moments in eternity.

Swamiji’s home is well built, spacious, light and airy. The main area is living room and dining room combined, large enough to hold satsangs, which Swamiji often does. When he is not in residence, it serves as the community temple. Off the living room there is a kitchen toward the back, then to the side a large bedroom and after that an office -- everything Swamiji needs for him and his staff to carry on the creative business of his life.

One of the challenges (among many) of founding this community is working out the relationships with the surrounding villagers. Watunda, the nearest one, has been there for 1000 years. Life is very simple in these villages, little or no electricity, many of the houses are made of mud, with thatched roofs and dirt floors. Walking through the village yesterday morning, on the way to the village square, we stepped off the path to make way for cows -- lovely white cows with curved horns -- and passed the village women with their water pots at the community water source, chatting together in a lively way as they all filled their containers. Even though there were signs of changing times -- occasional motorcycles parked in the courtyards, even a satellite TV dish -- elements of life, you could see, had been unchanged for generations.

Yesterday was “Republic Day,” the celebration of India’s freedom, and the school children raised the Indian flag, sang the national anthem, then did for us a demonstration of coordinated calisthenics. Very dear, as children always are.

Having Ananda springing up in the middle of their valley has elements of an alien spaceship landing. Even though we say, “We come in peace,” not everyone is so sure. Or, on the other side, self-interest springs up with astounding determination. Seeing our apparent limitless wealth, many are eager to see -- more often to demand -- that we also do for them whatever we are doing for ourselves.

Much of the community has been built by laborers hired from this, and other villages, so there is nothing secret about what we are doing. Swamiji’s vision for this Ananda Pune community also includes uplifting the lives of these villagers, not so much with direct charity, as with solar electricity, education, job training, medical care.

He bought for the temple in Watunda a beautiful statue of Shiva. It was to present this statue that we went over there together yesterday. It is a good start but it is going to take time.

Fortunately, Aditya, one of the Ananda monks is also a doctor and speaks the local language and has just the right way of presenting Ananda and relating to the villagers with dignity, respect, and also a calm centeredness in the goodness of what we are doing. Jaya is also well known and much liked by the local village leaders, so gradually it will all come into focus.

All part of the adventure of building community.

Here is a link to many photos that Durga took. (A few are from our Goa adventure and also from Swamiji’s trip to Goa in December. I think it is easy to see which ones those are.)

I love being in India. While I was there it was the only reality, and a blissful one indeed. But as soon as I turned my direction toward home, all the joy of life with this community came to the fore, and I am so happy to be back among you all.

Blessings and love in Master,


  1. Thanks, Asha. Informative and enjoyable. You have a future in journalism.

  2. SRF is non-sectarian! Imagine if Jesus started His own religious society and one of His disciples ran off to start their own competing organizations, because he disagreed with St. Peter whom Jesus Himself put in charge. Then told his followers that Jesus' organization was sectarian! I pray Swamiji rethinks his position, because I don't believe this is the right attitude, not the right action to take, nor would it be pleasing to Master. Jagad Guru Yogananda is for all. Loyalty and devotion to Master and His principles sometimes requires a response if a brother is in error. In Divine Friendship,


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