Ananda Family News

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Services

Our always-gorgeous Christmas services had some new tweaks this year.

Christmas Eve featured a live creche scene that built up throughout the Festival of Light. Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus were summoned “by the call of aspiring love” as it says in the Festival, embodied in the song “Cloisters” and Rita’s dance of a devotee. The family was then joined by angels, shepherds, and wise men, all accompanied by appropriate music. Having actual, living presences up on the stage, all so consciously holding the vibration deeply intensified the unfolding of the story. And it gave a powerful focal point for the audience’s devotion, when everybody joined in the arati and offered their candles to the baby at the altar. (See all the photos here.)

The family service on Christmas Day featured the same live creche, but with an extended cast of smaller angels, shepherds, and wise men enacting Asha’s telling of the Christmas tale. This year also included a sweet new scene in which Asha donned a yarmulke and played the part of the rabbi marrying Joseph and Mary.

After the service was the Christmas banquet. The grand finale of the day involved a rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas” that outdid even our enthusiastic attempts at the Christmas parties. The days were assigned to different tables, and the gifts were acted out with great alacrity and gusto!

More photos of Christmas Day are here. Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Continuing Celebrations: Meditation and Caroling

This weekend we celebrated what may traditionally be known as “Duality Awareness Week,” in which we juxtapose our most inwardly-focused and outwardly-focused Christmas celebrations. Representing the inward direction, Saturday was our annual 8-hour Christmas meditation. Many devotees gathered in the temple for a day of meditation, interspersed with chanting and recordings of Master and Swamiji. A few lovely photos are here.

On Sunday, we directed our Christmas cheer outward again, with a huge caroling party serenading the neighborhood. Also, in complete contradistinction to last weekend’s party, rather than having a potluck followed by singing, we went out singing first and then ate. Well, to be perfectly accurate, we sang, then ate, then sang again. It was just that sort of a night. (And there was some lovely a cappella harmonizing toward the end of the evening.)

May you feel Christ’s presence within you and around you this Christmas season!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Carols and Calories at the Christmas Party

This weekend was the annual double-header Christmas party at Chela Bhavan. Having the party on both Saturday and Sunday evenings ostensibly allows people who can’t make it to one come to the other, though they’re enough fun that a huge number of people just came to both.  The many potluck dishes included such Christmas miracles as: orange-enhanced brownies that melted in your mouth and in your hand; pumpkin cake, a magical combination of cake and pumpkin pie; and what became known as Asha’s “Jesus Cookies,” that she spoke about in Sunday service. (If you weren’t there, she described the making of them in relation to Meister Eckhart’s quote, “I move my hand and Christ moves, who is my hand.”)

After the eating, socializing, and satsanging, came the singing (an excellent warmup for when we’ll take the carols around the neighborhood next week.) “The 12 Days of Christmas” was a particular winner, both nights. Helen got us organized into 12 groups to coordinate the singing of all the different gifts, and would have had us acting them all out as well, if we’d had any space to maneuver in at all. Shanti led the charge the second night, in what became an even more rousing rendition, thanks to our previous practice. A glitch in the very last verse tempted some people to start it over from the beginning but they were, luckily, outnumbered.

We did manage to get a group photo, but only on the second night. Imagine this times two. More photos can be found here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas Concert

On Sunday, the Ananda Palo Alto choir put on its annual Christmas concert, following service. Well, following lunch following service, that is, which is a very popular way to have concerts around here these days. Many volunteers provided the main dish of vegetarian chili and cornbread, along with numerous other potluck items. We probably fit over 100 people into the yoga studio with all our tables deployed, but the weather was nice enough for folks to spill out into the courtyard as well.

After lunch, we shepherded everyone back into the temple for the concert (much of which was videotaped and photographed). The festivities opened with a women’s ensemble marching in with a rousing rendition of “Alle Psallite,” complete with drum, tambourine, and kirtals. The rest of the program was arranged thematically, starting with songs to Divine Mother (Mary), and moving through the birth of Christ, the rejoicing, and culminating in His Power (you can guess which song that was).

One of the fun things about the Christmas concert every year is that the choir gets to add a few new songs to their repertoire. And lots of good Christmas music has been written over the centuries, so we always manage to find a few gems. Dambara’s spellbinding performance of “I Wonder As I Wander” in the middle of the program really seemed to shift the experience of the entire concert to a deeper level. An ensemble sang Bach’s arrangement of “In Dulci Jubilo,” in a mix of Latin and English. And the whole choir plus numerous audience members sang the tremendously glorious — you guessed, right? — Hallelujah Chorus.

Inspired to start singing yet? Join us for Christmas caroling on the 18th!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Celebration

Thanksgiving day at our temple started off with a service in which Nirmoha led us in a special ceremony of giving thanks. Two tables had been supplied with pens and a large number of fallen leaves of all colors. During the chanting of “O God Beautiful” we each got to take a leaf and write on it something we were thankful for, before taking it to the altar to offer back to the Masters. As an additional dimension, for those so inclined, we were encouraged to give thanks not just for something obviously good or enjoyable, but for something that we found challenging. Knowing that everything God sends us is for our own ultimate growth helps us to reframe a situation and be grateful for it,  even in a moment when it might not seem so desirable. The colorful leaves not only complimented the altar beautifully, but reminded us that change itself can be beautiful.

The Thanksgiving banquet that followed the service was a masterpiece, even by Ananda standards. And I’m sure we were all glad to be eating nutloaf rather than turkey, as we enjoyed a reading from Master’s 1934 Thanksgiving letter. (One of many choice quotes: “Be sure to thank God for forgiving you for compelling the quickening of the turkey’s evolution against its own will. And also thank God that you are not the turkey, to be used for the festivity of Thanksgiving.”)

Other entertainment for the afternoon included “Praise Ye the Lord” performed by a small ensemble, followed by “Zen Gospel Singing,” with Trish and Graham. Accelerating the progression of divine silliness, Steven stole the show with “If I’d Only Meditate,” sung to the tune of “If I Only Had a Brain,” and performed complete with scarecrow costume. This one very much deserves a full reading of the lyrics. (There’s a video, too!)

If I’d Only Meditate

I’d be pious, I’d be humble,
Walk the path without a stumble,
And radiate with joy.
Never dreary, always cheery;
I could be the next Lahiri,
If I’d only meditate.

I’d cure that rash of desperation
’bout my earthly situation,
By hearing Master’s call.
My heart would stop bein’ so fickle,
When I felt my Guru’s tickle,
If I’d only meditate.

Just think how it would be
To wake with God instead of sawin’ Z’s.
Clear the chakras and reside in ecstasy,
Instead of pining for that 50 inch TV.

I’d invigorate my dharma,
Obliterate my karma,
Illuminate my soul.
With my bright and saintly aura
I’d kick darkness out the door - a
If I’d only meditate.

I’d be done with courtin’ maya,
Give up my last desire
For a good cigar and brew.
Wouldn’t carry any baggage,
No more eatin' like a savage,
If I’d only meditate.

Oh, I could tell you why
There’s a star in the spiritual eye.
Or talk with God about that Praver guy.
Pay off the church, he’d say, and make your tithe.

As I seek that destination
Infused with inspiration,
I’ll know that home is near.
Livin’ life just like the Gita,
Sippin’ cups of sweet amrita,
If I’d only meditate.

The banquet wasn’t the only part of the afternoon to be regaled with music, however. Dambara and Michael managed in a single song (to the tune of “My Girl”) to detail every aspect of cleanup and takedown that needed to happen afterwards. And as Anandans are never inclined to shirk an opportunity for service or a good laugh, the banquet hall was transformed back into a temple in no time.

More pictures are here. Thank you everyone (and Everyone) who made the day such a delightful celebration!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Church of All Religions

When Paramhansa Yogananda was living, he called his places of worship, “Churches of all Religions.” In this way he wanted everyone to understand that even though the temples were dedicated to our particular line of gurus, the principles of Self-realization are not unique to this line of masters.  Self-realization is the unifying principle behind all true religions.

To illustrate this, Master included symbols from various religions at Lake Shrine, and in other temples. And now, our Palo Alto temple follows in that tradition with seven beautiful new adornments to the walls of the main sanctuary. 

Sunday service included a ceremony to welcome and bless these symbols. We chanted “I Will Sing Thy Name,” with the “Aum Guru” chorus being modified as appropriate for each religion. During the chant, designated congregation members took turns carrying candles from the altar and leaving them with a blessing at each symbol. You can see photos of the ceremony and all the symbols here.

Going clockwise around the room from stage left, the religions and symbols are:
  • Hinduism - Aum
  • Judaism - Star of David
  • Islam - “Allah” in Arabic calligraphy
  • Buddhism - The Wheel of Dharma
  • Taoism - Yin Yang
  • Self-Realization - Joy Is Within You
  • Christianity - Cross
Each one is beautifully carved in wood, and painted blue and gold, and they are all marvelous additions to our sacred space. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Free and Clear Fundraising Dinner

Our “Free and Clear” campaign to pay off our church mortgage has been having a great year, and I’m sure you’ve all been filling up your special spare-change boxes and avidly watching the progress puzzle being filled in on our altar. (Just $25,000 per piece -- buy yours today! Excellent Christmas gifts!)

We recently had a fundraising dinner at Sapore Italiano in Burlingame that brought a whole new burst of energy to the project. 65 people showed up for good food, good music (some of Swamiji’s Italy-inspired songs, of course), and devotee satsang. And we each got our own little magnetic refrigerator puzzles, variously decorated with our Free & Clear affirmation, joy symbols, and other designs. (More photos here.)

The evening was a success not just as a meal, but as a fundraiser as well. Those 65 people together brought in a very impressive $52,000 at the event itself, with an additional $1,000 and two 1-oz. gold coins pledged. All that plus some other recent gifts (unrelated to the fundraiser) mean that David will be adding three new pieces to our puzzle this Sunday at service, bringing the total remaining on our mortgage down to $700,000!

We started the year still owning a million dollars on our church. Shall we aim to cut that in half by the end of the year? That would put us at $500,000, and the way we’ve been going so far, I think we can make it!

Divine Mother,
manifest through us
Your divine energy
to make this
Ananda temple
of Self-Realization
Free and Clear of all debt,
a gift of love to God and Gurus,
and to truth seekers
now and forever.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Halloween Festivities

We’ve all seen jack-o’-lanterns carved from pumpkins before, but how about ones made from cantaloupes, oranges, and pineapples? Kids of all ages had fun bending traditions to greater or lesser degrees at the Halloween weekend carving party. (More photos here.)

And then, of course, we had Halloween itself, when 20 or so kids swarmed like adorable piranhas through the apartment complex, reducing the community candy supply to a skeleton in a matter of minutes. Some of those kids seemed awfully tall, too, but they did have costumes, so it must have been legit. (More photos of that evening are here.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

CSA Report: Success!

Ananda Palo Alto’s CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture program) wrapped up its first season this Saturday, after 26 straight weeks of supplying 12 boxes of fresh produce to 23 members. We celebrated our achievement with (what else?) a potluck, sharing memories of the last six months, and making plans for next year.

Blessing the garden before the harvest.

The success of this project was due entirely to huge amounts of joyful service from a host of volunteers. Many remarked that the satsang with our gurubais and neighbors was at least as satisfying a part of the experience as the actual food we received. 

Ramani and Darlene in the garden.

Not only did we harvest from our own garden and orchard, but we also visited our neighbors around Monroe Drive, many of whom have fruit trees that they don’t harvest. So we had the opportunity to make new friends, help them maintain their trees, and share the produce with them. 

Tomato harvest!

We’re planning on expanding next year, so if you’re interested in joining the CSA, talk to Ramani and Amara. And if you like gardening, more volunteers are always welcome! Even though we had our last official harvest already, we’ll be working this weekend on taking out old plants, adding compost and cover crops, and otherwise preparing for the next season.

Darlene, Sharmila, and Amara, showing off
our eggplants, pumpkins, and Jerusalem artichokes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Painting the Teaching Center

With the matter of the fraudulent colors having been settled, the teaching center is now beautifully garbed in its new palette of orange, yellow, and red. Nirmoha led a team of volunteers in the painting on Saturday morning, with several dedicated souls staying well into the afternoon.

The job is mostly done now, though there’s still a bit left to finish up. If you’re interested in helping out with some detail work, contact Nirmoha.

[You can find more pictures of your paint-spattered friends here.]

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Puerta de Mi Corazón

We held a discipleship ceremony at Sunday service this week, welcoming 5 new members into our spiritual family. There was a fun twist to it this time, though.

Over the past couple of years, Edwin has been teaching the introductory meditation classes in Spanish, doing a great job making these teachings accessible to more people in this area. And he just recently finished teaching his first Meditation 3 class in Spanish as well, so all the people in Sunday’s ceremony were his Spanish-speaking students.

Edwin gave the short talk that accompanied the ceremony, and while I personally couldn’t follow every word, I did like how he described the occasion as “súper especial.” No matter what language you take discipleship in, that rings true. And as the participants took their offerings to the altar and received their blessings, the chanters led us in the Spanish version of “Door of My Heart.”

Puerta de mi corazón
Tengo abierta para tí
Ven a mi, ven a mi
Una vez ven a mi

Pasaran mis dias
Sin verte mi Señor
Noche y dia, noche y dia
Yo te busco noche y dia

Asha remarked that it gave most of us native English speakers a chance to appreciate what some of our friends go through every week here, listening to services or classes in a foreign language. To push it just a bit farther, she then asked Edwin to lead the offertory prayer in Spanish. There were a lot of mumbles as the congregation prayed responsively, but the OM at the end was resounding!

(P.S. While we’re being multilingual here, did you know that the upcoming meditation class in Fremont will also be offered in sign language? Thanks to Saranya for that one!)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Celebrating Ananda

September has always been a significant time of year for the Ananda Palo Alto community, and so we like to roll a number of celebrations into one big “Celebrate Ananda” event. Some previous Septembers of note have been:

  • 1980 - Purchase of East West in Menlo Park
  • 1989 - Purchase of the residential community in Mountain View
  • 1992 - Beginning of Living Wisdom School
  • 1994 - Purchase of our Temple property
  • 1995 - East West moved to Mountain View

Over 100 people attended this year’s party at the residential community, which began with delightful circle dancing created and led by Rita.

Fine food, of course, is never far from an Ananda celebration. Lunch included tofu and paneer barbecued skewers, Indonesian rice salad, Anika's mother's famous baked beans, a mixed greens salad bar, and desserts extraordinaire lovingly baked and brought in by Marie and Simoné.

The festivities also included the world debut of Ananda Samadhi Bingo. The squares were filled with spiritual qualities and names of our gurus, and completed lines were marked by cries of “Samadhi!”

Congratulations to the winners: Anika with one complete line, and Kasey, Suman, & Eric, with two lines intersecting. (Though all participants are, of course, welcome to achieve samadhi, regardless of the state of their board. Contact your guru for more information.)

Many more wonderful photos of the day here!


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