Friday, January 18, 2013

Letter from Goa, India: Showing Swamiji the Ananda Movie

Dear Friends:

The week before I left for India, I was in Los Angeles working on the Ananda Movie, formerly Cities of Light, now called Finding Happiness. The filming finished in October, and since then the director, Ted Nicolau, has been working with two talented editors (who also contribute as well as implementing on the computer the directions Ted gives), have been hard at work preparing what is called “The Director’s Cut.”

The variations that are possible from raw footage are literally infinite, and a movie is created as much in the editing room as it is in front of the camera.

At one point, in the midst of filming, I expressed some question to Ted about how some of the scenes had developed. He said to me, “I have never met a film that couldn’t be saved in the editing room.” He has been decades in the film industry so this was reassuring.

For months it had been on the schedule that on January 7 the first screening of this first version would be shown to a small group, including Shivani, Santoshi, and me, as well as a handful of the key professional filmmakers who have been on the project since the beginning.

Naturally we have been eagerly anticipating this moment. An appropriate screening room was rented and we all assembled at 10 am on that Monday in a very classy room with comfortable leather chairs. The first screening of the director’s cut is a big deal in the movie making business. And we were no exception.

The moment the screening started, I felt a rush of joy. Nothing was showing at that moment except the words “Hansa Productions” but somehow the power of the film was already there. My “intuition,” in the moment, for whatever it is worth, was that this movie would touch the lives of countless people all over the world.

I also felt, interestingly, in the same moment, that cynical people would be compelled to reject it. The positive, joyful innocence of it would be more than they could accept. Wherever there is light there is also darkness.

That instant positive reaction was only reinforced as the movie unfolded. Ted never appears in the film but he is without doubt the star of the movie. He took the raw footage and edited it together with consummate skill and sensitivity.

The best way I can describe it is to say that we have made a movie about Ananda, as it really is. It was a fine line to walk, to make a movie about our own community and not have it come out as an “infomercial” or merely self-promotion. I feel we avoided all those obvious pitfalls and instead simply, sincerely, and beautifully presented ourselves with humility, intelligence, humor, and joy. In other words, we played ourselves.

Unfortunately, the protocol of movie making is that these early versions are kept strictly under wraps, because a movie evolves a great deal from that first screening to what is finally released. They say a movie gets 50% better in that cycle. So you’ll all have to wait until that is done. But it is only a few more months -- late March or early April we’ll all be able to view it.

After the first screening, we sat in those comfortable leather chairs, then over a lunch table and made a list of what needed to be done to improve the film. The heart of the film -- the interviews with Swamiji and the Ananda people -- needed some tweaking here and there, but no substantial changes. Ted had already done a superb job with it.

But many of the interviews are illustrated with archival footage and still shots of Ananda at various stages of its development. We had not provided Ted with sufficient material for some of the scenes, so we had to mobilize a gathering of more material. By the time all the changes were enumerated, Ted and his co-workers had a solid couple of days of work.

Santoshi, Shivani, and I also took a copy and spent all of a day going frame by frame, making notes of everything we thought could be improved, which we later shared with Ted.

Shivani and Santoshi have been working with a publicity and distribution company, planning out a campaign for getting the movie in front of the public. The head of that effort, a woman named Penny, has not visited Ananda, or met Swamiji, and was not part of the filming team. Her husband, Frank, is a key person in the production, but she hasn’t been involved.

So all the planning that they have been doing has been based on what Penny learned through the internet about Ananda, and what Shivani and Santoshi have shared with her. She has experience of this genre of film -- something intended to raise consciousness -- but of Ananda she had no experience.

They had a meeting set for Thursday, and on Wednesday Penny received a copy of the Director’s Cut with some of the recommended changes already incorporated. That evening for the first time she saw the film she has contracted to distribute. She loved it. After watching it, she said she just wanted to get in her car and drive straight to Ananda!

At the Thursday morning meeting, the whole distribution strategy was changed, because Penny felt the potential of the movie was far greater than she had imagined. Before, she felt we would have to generate our own “buzz” around the film, building interest from the ground up. Maybe, after we did enough of that, a distributor would see that it has traction and would take it on.

Apparently the movie from a few years ago, The Secret, got going in that way, as well as others whose names we would now recognize.

After seeing it, Penny felt that the movie could go straight to a global distributor, that it would be sufficiently magnetic right out of the gate. That is a huge change in strategy, with enormous potential for a much quicker and larger global response.

I should add, Penny has been in the business for decades. Her mother was in the business before her, so she knows whereof she speaks. She herself is a perfect example of the broader audience we are trying to reach. No previous experience of who and what we are. She came to the movie as an open-minded, intelligent, successful business-woman, and enjoyed it completely. Wow.

At the Friday screening, Penny came, and also three members of her team, seeing it for the first time. Elisabeth Rohm, the actress who plays Juliet in the film, was scheduled to come, but at the last minute had to cancel. Too bad, it would have been delightful to see her and to share with her the fruit of our labors.

This time, the film as even better. After that screening, more good suggestions were made, which Ted is working on now.

The production schedule is very tight. Ted and his colleagues are working out of a rented editing room, one room out of a whole building of editing studios rented out to various movie-makers in town. It is a whole karmic universe that we have stepped into.

Just as a by-the-way, when I flew to Los Angeles I ended up having to take a taxi to the ashram from the airport. I chatted for a moment with the driver as we set off and heard myself say, “I’m in town to work on a movie.” I was tremendously impressed (and amused) but I don’t think the driver even noticed.

We only have that editing studio till the end of the month. A good thing, really, not only for the budget, but also to prevent us from tinkering forever. One can see how that could easily happen.

Every frame of a movie counts. Just like every note matters in a piece of music. You at least try to make each image, even if it is only on the screen for a few seconds, the best it can possibly be. The audience may not consciously notice each frame, but the cumulative effect is what makes a move effective.

After the Monday screening, conversation quickly went to showing the movie to Swamiji. Obviously we could not finalize it without his approval. It is important now to “lock” the movie because the soundtrack still has to be created. The music is done frame by frame, so you can’t make any changes once the music is added.

About the soundtrack, the idea is obviously to use Swamiji’s melodies but they will have to be orchestrated and arranged in such a way as to match the movie frame by frame. No small task. That project is just getting underway. David Eby will be “musical director,” working with a professional composer/arranger who knows the specific art of making a soundtrack. Keep that effort in your prayers. The music is a vitally important part of the success of the movie.

It had long been planned that I would take a copy of the movie in whatever stage it was to Swamiji and share it with him in India. Everyone felt it was important that I be present when he viewed it. There are so many details. I needed to be there to explain and answer questions.

I planned to see Swamiji soon after I arrived in India so that would be no problem. But when we put our minds to it, and communicated a bit with Narayani, it was obvious that my scheduled meeting times with him, first in Chennai, later in Pune, were unsuitable.

He is only in Chennai for two days and has a major program each day. No time there or bandwidth to give the movie the attention it needed. After that, I would not see Swamiji till the end of the month in the Pune community, much too late for the production schedule.

During our week in Los Angeles, Swamiji was vacationing and resting in Goa, at the beach resort where we have sometimes spent time with him. This trip has been very secluded for Swamiji, only Narayani and Shurjo are with him. But it became obvious it was the place to show him the movie, and he agreed.

My plan had been to spend this week in Bangalore, but a little tinkering with the reservations soon set up a flight to Goa the morning after I arrived in India.

I got to Goa on Wednesday afternoon and the plan was we would see the movie as soon as possible that day. Anand and Kirtani are also here, staying in another hotel, occasionally intersecting with Swamiji, and I am in their hotel. So on Wednesday at 4:30 in the afternoon the three of us walked the five minutes to where Swamiji is staying, movie in hand.

I had two versions. One a DVD and the other on a small hard drive. It took some tinkering to get it all set up so that we could all watch it on the big TV screen in his room, and Swamiji could listen through headphones and we could hear it through the TV speakers.

I was ready with a notebook. Swamiji had his phone set on record so we could capture all his suggestions. He said, as if it was obvious, that he would comment as we went along. I hadn’t even considered that, and told him we’d have to stop the movie each time because otherwise we would miss the next scene.

I had a little trepidation about viewing it that way, that we would lose the flow, but whatever he wanted was fine. I shouldn’t have worried.

We never had to pause even once for him to comment. During the showing, his words were few, and all of them superlatives. Swamiji is not given to hyperbole. He uses words carefully and always speaks the truth. So when he said as we progressed through it, “Fabulous.” “Fantastic.” “Perfect.” I knew he meant exactly what he said.

There had been some concern in Los Angeles before I left. “Will Swamiji like the movie?” Even then I felt, “How could he not?” This is a movie of who we are and who we are is Master’s grace and there it is on the screen.

Still, Swamiji has surprised me more than once in my life! I didn’t want to be presumptuous. But I felt such good energy had gone into this movie, and it was so sincerely an expression of Ananda’s true reality, that I expected him to be positive about it. His response, however, overwhelmed even my most positive expectation.

I was sitting next to him on the couch, and in the last half hour of the 90 minutes of the movie, I glanced over at him a few times. He was looking at the screen with that expression of pure bliss that we see on his face so often now.

When the movie ended, he was weeping, I was weeping, and perhaps everyone else was weeping, too. I was too overcome too look around. I weep now even thinking about that moment. It was several minutes before we could speak.

After offering superlatives again, Swamiji commented about the many Ananda people who speak in the movie, “Everyone is so eloquent. They don’t seem like they are acting at all. You can’t find anywhere a community full of people so intelligent, so sincere.”

That deep sincerity, he said, you could feel in everyone’s voice and how moving that was in itself.

He also commented on his own voice. Because he is so hard of hearing, he no longer hears either his speaking or his singing voice accurately. So it was interesting for him to hear himself in the movie. He thought his voice sounded very nice. And we all agreed.

Again he said, “Fabulous.”

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Shivani was almost literally holding her breath waiting to hear. Fortunately, Narayani got right onto her phone and texted the essence of Swamiji’s response. You could feel Shivani’s delight (and relief!) all these miles away!

Swamiji said, “Everyone played his part perfectly.” He was speaking not only of those on-screen but everyone who helped make it happen. “Please thank them for me.”

He particularly said, several times, “Please tell Ted how deeply grateful I am to him.”

“It is very, very, very good. It is more than good. It is great. Fantastic job.”

About David Eby he said, “He did splendidly.” About Elisabeth Rohm, he said, “She did beautifully.” Again he asked me to be sure and tell them.

Then he began to talk about the impact the movie will have.

“Master said this ideal [of spiritual communities] would spread like wildfire. This movie will do that. It will change the world.”

It was scheduled for the six of us -- Swamiji, Kirtani, Anand, Narayani, Shujo, and me -- to go out for a celebratory dinner after seeing the movie, to a hotel a few miles away that has perhaps the best Indian food in India. It is the Leela Hotel, for those of you who may want to know.

Naturally, all through dinner, we kept talking about the movie, mostly about the effect it will have.

Swamiji said, “This movie will put Master’s ideal on the map.” He left the table for a few minutes and when he returned he said, “Master is very pleased. It is his dream fulfilled. Millions will see this. I feel that Master is absolutely thrilled.”

Recently Swamiji had a Brighu reading. (Brighu is a sage from a higher age who wrote about many people who are living now -- thousands of years after his incarnation. “Brighu pundits” in various places in India have copies of these writings and you can go and see if there is an entry for you.) Apparently in that reading, Brighu said that Ananda would cease to be a place and would become a movement. When he was reminded of this at the dinner table, Swamiji said, “This movie will create that movement.”

Several times in the course of the evening, Swamiji said, “This was Master’s dream.”

One specific comment about the movie itself had to do with the singing of “Go With Love.” Toward the end of the movie the community sings that song to Juliet just before she leaves Ananda.

At the filming of that scene, David Eby spent time making sure that everyone in the room knew about a certain note that is often sung incorrectly. The song was prerecorded but our live singing would also be part of the film. David made it clear to us that Swamiji would not be pleased if we messed up that note.

At the dinner table, Swamiji specifically commented how, when the song started in the movie, he anticipated that note with some trepidation, and how relieved he was that it was done correctly.

I told Swamiji that David warned us that the “consequences of singing it wrong would be dire indeed.” Swamiji agreed that they would have been dire, but we were spared!

Swamiji said, “I feel that my life’s work is fulfilled. Everything I’ve tried to do for Master was right there in the movie.” This was particularly touching, because I know for Shivani, this was her goal in helping to make this movie. To provide for Swamiji the satisfaction of seeing that he has done for Master what Master asked him to do.

Swamiji said, “I can’t praise the movie highly enough. I think even the most materialistic person will like this.”

Again he said, “I was moved to tears. Please tell everyone who worked on it how much I appreciate what they have done.”

One of the interesting features of the movie is that, even though Swamiji plays a prominent role, the focus is dispersed among all the Ananda people. Clearly, everyone has embraced as his own the vision of Ananda.

Swamiji commented that he appreciated that we did not continually bring the focus back to him, that we didn’t just give him the credit. “It was all of you,” he said, speaking of the Ananda people, which is both true, and also more magnetic in terms of the film. Clearly we have lived everything we say.

He said, “I can’t think of any way to improve it. It is just perfect.”

The question of dubbing it into a foreign language came up. “The sincerity you feel in everyone’s voice,” Swamiji said, “would be lost. I can’t imagine it.” He spoke strongly in favor of subtitles, a question that will have to be sorted out later, since dubbing is a common practice.

He said, “I can’t think of anything that makes me happier than this movie. It can change the planet. When people in the movie say that helping others makes you happy, you can see that it is true. People will see that this way of life works. It is the very opposite of competition. Completely genuine and absolutely convincing.”

Although that evening he was not certain about the proposed title, Finding Happiness, the next morning he wrote, “I wasn’t sure of the name last night, but I woke up this morning with the thought that Finding Happiness is exactly right.”

Great to have that important issue settled. Then he added, “I am still on ‘cloud nine.’”

As you can well imagine, I was pretty elated. After dinner I had a long Skype call with Shivani. And it was many hours before I fell asleep! Long into the night, and much of the next day, there was a flurry of e-mails back and forth among the production team. Finally, though, it seemed as if the energy, at least for me, crested and for the first time since going to Los Angeles, the responsibility lifted I was able to look around and say, “Oh, here I am in India. And I have something completely other to do here!” I haven’t yet begun my part of it -- sharing the teachings -- I know when that moment comes, the grace to do it will also descend.

Blessings and joy to everyone.

P.S. Here is the letter Swamiji wrote later that night:

Dear Ones:

Please tell everyone -- I have just returned from a celebratory dinner after watching Finding Happiness. I am still teary eyed from the experience. This movie is the culmination of so many years of ardent efforts to serve Master. I can’t begin to tell everyone how proud and happy I am for you all. You were so natural, so eloquent, so intelligent! In fact, the most beautiful thing about the movie is that all of you were so YOU!!! It was completely genuine: not a false note throughout.

Ted did a magnificent job. Shivani and Asha did magnificent jobs. The whole crew did a magnificent job. Roberto did magnificently. And even I -- you know, I can’t hear myself clearly when I speak or sing. I was quite surprised! Truthfully, not only my voice, but no one’s voice could be satisfactorily dubbed into another language. The depth of sincerity would be lost. Subtitles are the only answer.

Really, I am not only proud of all of you for helping so outstandingly to bring Master’s vision to the world, with this movie I see the realization of Master’s prophecy that this ideal would “spread like wildfire” throughout the world. The movie’s impact will be global. As an ancient prophecy foretold for me recently, “Ananda will become no longer a place: It will become an ideal.”

May God bless everyone who had anything to do with this project. Its impact will be far reaching and profound.

with deep love,
swami kriyananda

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Cities of Light

Dear Friends:

First, let me apologize for the long gap in the writing of these letters. Some of you have been waiting quite some time for me to answer your questions. My intention was to write one a week all through 2012. My excuse for not doing so is a fairly good one. Over the months when I haven’t been writing these letters, I was finishing the book Loved and Protected: Stories of Miracles and Answered Prayers.

I tried to write both at the same time, but I found my mind didn’t appreciate being split in that way. So I gave up the letters in favor of the book, which I am pleased to say is now finished. It will be published in India within a month or so (!) and in America in early summer.

The letter which follows here is not the usual format. It was written to help raise the money needed to complete the Ananda movie, now called Cities of Light. To find out more about Cities of Light, google “Ananda movie” and you’ll find lots of information.

This is not a newsy letter so much as philosophical musings about what the movie means in terms of Ananda’s mission for Master. The movie could well be an important turning point in Ananda’s history and it is interesting to reflect on that.

The hope also is that some of you will be inspired to contribute financially so we can bring it to completion on schedule in the next few months.

Even though the book is finished, question and answer letters may not resume right away, because for the next two months I’ll be on a lecture tour in India. However, I intend to write about that adventure, so you will be hearing from me.


Dear Friends:

In the more than forty years since Ananda’s founding there have been many watershed moments that have expanded and directed our energy in new and often unexpected ways.

Each of these watershed moments has come about through some creative initiative launched by Swami Kriyananda. (The only exception might be the forest fire of 1976, which burned down much of the Ananda Village community.) The fire might, of course, be considered an act of God. Still, it was Swamiji’s response to the fire that redirected the energy of the community – when he immediately seized the initiative with an outburst of expansive energy, by taking Ananda “on the road” with speaking tours across America.

A few years ago, Swamiji felt inspired to take Master’s message to the world through the medium of movies. Although Master himself never made movies, he always related creatively to whatever medium was at hand. “If Wrigley can use advertising to sell chewing gum,” he famously said, “why can’t I use advertising to sell good ideas for people to chew on?” In India, it wasn’t considered “seemly” to advertise a spiritual work, in America, Master saw no reason not to use it. His teachings were ancient, but his methods were modern.

Swamiji has always followed the principle of not merely asking, “What did Master do?” but, “What would Master do?”

When Master went to India in 1935 he took with him an American automobile.  In Autobiography of a Yogi, he tells about driving that car into remote areas of India, on roads that were little more than ox-cart trails, to places where cars had never been.

When Swamiji went to India in 2003, he quickly understood that the way to reach the millions of people in that country was through television. Soon, Swamiji had a daily program that ran for several years. The national recognition that came through that show laid the foundation for much that has happened since.

Movies are an even more universal medium. The musical soundtrack, and the visual images are of equal, sometimes even greater importance than the words that are spoken. Subtitles can translate the words – and music and visual beauty need no translation. The channels for global distribution of movies are also well established, as is the market. Everywhere people go to the movies.

The movie about Ananda communities, with the working title Cities of Light, is the first, but by no means the last movie in this most recent creative initiative by Swamiji.

At the 25th Anniversary celebration of Ananda’s founding, back in 1993, Swamiji told us that the changes we had seen in Ananda’s first 25 years would pale in comparison to the changes that would manifest in the 25 years to come.

The Cities of Light crew prepare to film a scene with Juliette, played by lead actress Elisabeth Rohm. Movies can reach a much wider audience than books, and can convey a vibration through images and music.
At the time, sitting in the beautiful outdoor amphitheater by Lotus Lake, those of us who were old enough to remember thought about the early days at the Meditation Retreat. They were glorious days, but Ananda at the time was nothing but an isolated ashram, with a handful of people who lived mostly in trailers and tipis. The idea of a global movement – the idea even of electricity and indoor plumbing – what to speak of paved roads! – was very far from our thoughts.

By 1993, branch communities had been started, even in Europe, but we were in the throes of the lawsuit with Self-Realization Fellowship, and the future was far from certain. The idea of a work in India wasn’t even in our consciousness, nor were the many books Swamiji has written since that time. His writings are distributed now in more than 100 countries and have been translated into 33 languages.

Think about that. All around the world, in their own language, people can receive Master’s teachings on a wide variety of subjects. And, of course, there is the Internet and all that Ananda does through that medium. In 1993, we could never have imagined that such things would be possible. And the list goes on and on.

Still, there is one significant shift that Swamiji has often mentioned but that has not yet manifested. That is a shift in our entire concept of Ananda, from the idea of being a place, or even many places, into a global movement. We affirm that reality by describing ourselves that way, but the actual consciousness remains more astral than material.

This movie, Cities of Light, may well be the catalyzing force that launches Ananda as a movement. The purpose of art is to bring to a clear focus, states of consciousness. At this time, even we who are part of Ananda are a bit like fish swimming in water. We have a great deal, but we don’t know what we have.

To a large extent, as Swamiji puts it, Ananda is still one of the best-kept secrets on the planet. This movie may change not only the world’s concept of Ananda, but also our concept of our selves.

It’s no surprise that the inspiration to make this movie came to Swamiji at a time when forces are converging to create planetary receptivity, not only or even primarily to Ananda itself, but to the ideals that are being manifested through Ananda.

Some 40 years ago, a group of dynamic, mostly young people turned aside from conventional society, convinced that they could build a better alternative. Guided, of course, by the vision of Swamiji and the power of Master, we have worked together, drawing many brothers and sisters to make it happen. What was at first a mere hope has now proved to be a practical reality.

At the same time, the condition of society has deteriorated, and the concerns for our future have increased. Economic, social, ecological, and political systems are increasingly unstable. Crisis is looming.

Unstable conditions, plus the advent of advancing Dwapara Yuga, have opened many people to the principles upon which Ananda is based – yoga, meditation, community, cooperation – to name a few.

Crisis, awakening, and solution – the solution being the proven ideals of Ananda – are converging today to create an enormous, and deeply receptive global audience for Cities of Light.

Every creative initiative that Swamiji has launched has been done to further the overall mission of Master’s work, not merely by bringing new potentials into manifestation, but also by giving the ever-increasing number of devotees of this path opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way to that mission. Every project has its own “karmic group.”

Although we are united in our overall purpose, each one of us is, as Master put it, “dowered with individuality.” He was referring to each atom in creation, but the concept applies to each of us. Over the years, we find ourselves in the right place at the right time to make the contribution we were born to make. Whether that contribution takes the form of time, talent, prayers, enthusiasm, or money, each of us, inspired by God, gives what we feel called to give to Master’s mission.

The joy of Ananda, for which we must thank Swamiji every day, is the enormous variety of expression open to us. And this variety, as we move into the Ananda’s future as a global movement, will only increase.

For myself, from the moment I heard about this movie, I had a deep desire to participate. For a long time, however, the opportunity didn’t come. The movie was always being actively manifested in some other city, often on a continent far from where I live. It was not dharmic for me to abandon one set of responsibilities to embrace another merely because I wanted to. Still, the thought was always there for me.

Then, the movie literally came to me, in the person of Shivani – the individual most responsible, after Swamiji himself, for bringing Cities of Light from the ether onto the Earth.  She brought the script to my living room – the door opened, and from then on I have had the privilege of watching from a front-row seat as this project has unfolded.

Much more is needed, not only to finish the movie itself, but to distribute it, and to follow up in creative ways on the energy and interest that the movie will generate.

At the moment, what is needed is another $300,000 to complete the production and marketing budget of $1.2 million. This can be given in the form of investments as well as donations. If you feel you can help financially, or in any other way, contact Santoshi, at

Cities of Light is flying close to Earth now, but it hasn’t yet quite landed. If you feel that you are part of the karmic group responsible for this movie, now is the time to respond.

Nayaswami Asha