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The Way of Joy

Ananda Village, California - an eco-spiritual community


“From joy I came, for joy I live, in sacred joy I melt again”—Paramhansa Yogananda

 

It takes a village to raise a child.  It takes a conscious community to grow and thrive as a human being.


I was fortunate to have grown up in a little village in central-west India in a large extended family of 19, all living under one roof. Not only my family but also the entire community looked after me. I felt rooted to the land, and seen, heard, known and cared for by everyone in the village.  At the same time, I roamed freely and explored the natural world. That is how we as humans have lived for millennia—in close-knit tribes, surrounded by abundance of time, space and nature. We were meant to thrive and not just survive!

 

Childhood with village friends in sugarcane fields

Fast forward 30-some years. I am witnessing a degeneration of my village community. With the ever-accelerating forces of market-globalization and rapid urbanization, I sense a gradual loss of the values and structures that have held us together for generations.  This sense of loss led me to a provocative question that Gandhi posed a century ago:  ‘To what end all this (mad rush)? What's the purpose?’ 


With grandfather who would walk me to the village Jain temple every morning


I feel nostalgia, sadness and grief as I write this, with a deep longing in my heart to reconnect with the land and a community, to belong and to contribute to the larger whole. Where do I find such a village, a conscious, intentional community or sangha that continues to renew and re-center itself around service of the larger whole? This has been the quest of my pilgrim heart.  Along the path, I have come across many fellow pilgrims whose hearts too long for a similar sense of community, purpose, connection and belonging.  What gives me hope is to witness and partake in a growing movement of eco-conscious communities in India and around the world.


On my recent visit to the United States, I was blessed to be able to spend a month at one such community called "Ananda Village"–which literally translates to "Village of Joy". Located in Northern California, Ananda was inspired by Paramhansa Yogananda and founded by his direct disciple Swami Kriyananda. The community has stood the test of time for over 5 decades since its inception in 1969.  Spread over 900 acres, more than 200 residents live together in this village, many in small clusters of families.  The community also attracts thousands of short-and long-term visitors and guests throughout the year for various programs and retreats.


With Ian, my new friend who serves at the Yogoata Farm

I discovered Ananda when I watched "Finding Happiness" while on a self-retreat during monsoon season in India in 2023.  This documentary film on Ananda Village instantly resonated with many of the deeper longings of my heart.  At first, it seemed almost incredible that a community like this actually existed on planet Earth!  An intention arose in me to visit and experience Ananda firsthand.


Soon enough an opportunity did manifest. I signed up for its "Karma Yoga" residential service program.  Friends chuckled at me for traveling all the way to California to explore Yoga and Indian spirituality.  But this desire felt like a continuation of a "spiritual pilgrimage to America" I had made a year earlier with a stay at Upaya Zen Center in New Mexico. I was keen to understand how deeper spiritual principles and ancient wisdom traditions could be applied in a community and the modern context. I was also curious to see how the East and the West were coming together in their understanding and application of spirituality.


Ananda Village turned out to be the most incredible place to explore these interests and much more.  It far exceeded anything I had imagined a community could be.  The childhood villager in me came back alive, filled with joy and refreshingly high energy, and gave me a glimpse into our highest collective human potential.

 

In this article, it would be impossible for me to capture the immense significance and magnitude of the body of work that both Paramhansa Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda left this world as a precious gift.  The need for intentional community, however, was one of their most central teachings.


In the closing chapter of his renowned classic The Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda expressed this need and his vision for creating eco-spiritual, intentional communities around the world that he called "world brotherhood colonies". At an event in 1948, he proclaimed emphatically:


My spoken words are registered in the ether… and they shall move the West… thousands of youths must go North, South, East and West to cover the earth with little colonies, demonstrating that simplicity of living and high thinking lead to the greatest happiness!


Ananda is a living testament to the power of land-based, intentional community, rooted in spiritual values and higher consciousness. The moment I stepped on Ananda land, I knew I was in the flow of divine grace. People were so extra kind and caring that I found it almost unbelievable! So much joy, art and beauty permeated every moment and space.


One of the key operating principles at Ananda is that "people are more important than things".  Another is "where there is Dharma, there is victory", Dharma meaning righteous action in accord with the eternal laws of nature.


With several years of sadhana (inner practice) under their belts, all Ananda Village residents seemed to blossom into their highest and fullest potential as human beings…modern-day rishis and great stalwarts bringing their unique gifts to the collective good of not just the Ananda community but also the wider world.


As examples, there is a very caring goat farm; a beautiful permaculture field; an annual tulip festival; flower essence remedies; a spiritually-oriented Ananda Yoga program; "Education for Life" and "Living Wisdom Schools"; "Sharing Nature" environmental education programs; Ananda Spiritual Counseling, an all-inclusive, multi-faith, open-to-all Sunday service.  


Ananda has explored deeply and manifested beautifully many of the ways of how we as human beings could design our spaces, heal ourselves, educate and raise our children, grow our food, harness energy, spiritualize our partnerships and marriage, organize ourselves and resolve conflict, magnetize resources, create a wholesome livelihood and much more--in a more integrated way of living. 


With Virani, who manages the Yogoata Farm at Ananda Village

The most inspiring was how every thought, action, and intention was viewed as a sacred offering to the divine or the highest good of all and was imbued with prayer. Be it cleaning toilets, cutting vegetables, washing dishes or weeding gardens, every activity was an opportunity to grow inwardly as much as to serve outwardly. The community culture was infused with the highest excellence and caring action for collective joy and well-being.


“As you forget self in service to others, you will find that, without seeking it, your own cup of happiness will be full.”—Paramhansa Yogananda


Dishwashing, gardening and Sadhana time with the Karma Yogis



Ananda offers great hope for humanity. May many more such communities take birth around the world. Each would have its own unique flavor and expression. Our times call for it!



The Temple of Light at Ananda Village, CA

The Temple of Joy

My explorations and experiences of living in diverse communities across India and elsewhere have offered me insights into some of the key ingredients that make up a wholesome community, although they are not set in stone. 


  • Philosophy – a core set of values that act as a north star and bind everyone together. It may revolve around a religious or spiritual belief system or a clearly articulated common, higher vision.


  • Practice – a set of rituals or practices that the collective dedicates to on a regular basis.  Practices that help cultivate the inner field of silence and guidance.  Practicing together creates a powerful field of collective energy and supports one another to go beyond our ego selves.


  • Purpose – a collective sense of purpose that the community continues to revisit on a regular basis, reflecting on deeper motives for "why we are here?" Purpose to serve the larger whole is vital.


  • Project(s) – various creative expressions and applications of the core philosophy and purpose – in real world settings and often even in the practical, mundane aspects of human life.


  • Processes – methods, systems, tools and guidelines that continue to support the collective endeavor.  These maybe co-creative, dynamic and ever evolving.  A few examples are processes for membership (if any), for decision-making and for conflict resolution.


  • People – how are people called to a specific community? How does a community continue to position itself and put out the invitation in such a way that it magnetizes and selects people who feel aligned with its core vision?  Does it create space for more inclusivity and diversity? It is ultimately the people that make up a community. 


  • Place – where is the community located and how is it designed? The aesthetics, the access to nature, the facilities and architecture with basic comforts create an inviting, warm, welcoming environment for all.  I have also been a part of some of the most amazing virtual communities–grounded in kindness and service–"Service Space" for example.


  • Patience and Persistence – a community is a constant work in progress. (As are human beings!) There is no perfect utopia on Earth. Any process of birthing and growth inevitably involves challenges and difficulties. People need to feel empowered and committed to persist with patience.


  • Proper Size (Small is Beautiful) – although the optimal size of any community may differ depending on numerous factors, a community that is large enough to realize its fullest potential and small enough to remain grounded is crucial.


  • Practicality — A sense of collective abundance is one of the key indicators of a healthy community. How does a community navigate finances and other issues that require practicality?

  • Partnerships a community can aspire to expand beyond its own "idealistic bubble" by engaging with individuals and groups in its local surroundings as well as in the larger world, in meaningful, harmonious, and collaborative partnerships.

  • Playfulness — a sincere community doesn't always have to be too 'serious' all the time.  Playfulness, lightness, joy, humor are the secret sauce that make up healthy human relationships :)


I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences, reflections or ideas on this!


With much gratitude and peace,

 

Vipul Shaha

Pune, India


Educator-Facilitator

Presence-Oriented Psychotherapist

Gap-Year Coach, Youth Mentor

Yoga and Mindfulness Trainer



@mindful_being_india


 For further interest–

 

1.    Ananda Sangha Worldwide: https://www.ananda.org/


2. Ananda Village, CA : https://anandavillage.org/


3.    Ananda Sangha, India: https://anandaindia.org/


4.   Cities of Light--A New Vision for the Future;

Cooperative Communities How and Why by Swami Kriyananda:




5.    List of conscious communities in India:



6. The relationship between Gifts and Community - Charles Eisenstein



7. Thich Nhat Hanh on the 'Collective Body of a Community'



With Nayaswami Jaya - one of the founding members of Ananda Village
Bharat led a powerful Nature-based meditative practice and runs eco-spiritual programs called 'Sharing Nature'

2 Comments


Guest
Mar 31

it was a joy in your company Vipul. It was great to have our paths cross.

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Guest
Mar 29

An inspiring blogpost that shows your passion towards communities. Hoping one day you will be the driving force for one such community. Aum

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