Ananda Family News

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Post-Christmas Roundup

The final lap of our annual Christmas marathon began with our all-day meditation on Saturday the 21st. Some additions to the altar this year were some items of Swamiji’s — a shirt and a pair of slippers that he wore in the last days of his life. These were in the right-hand niche, where they will later have a more permanent installation, and they were the source of much inspiration and devotion for everyone gathered there. More photos of the day are here.

Our caroling expedition around the neighborhood the following evening was a delight, as usual. This year we even absorbed a few neighbors into the group as we made our way around the Monroe loop. These included three small children with plastic trumpets, who provided an enthusiastic fanfare for the end of each carol.

Our Christmas Eve service came next in the ever-alternating Christmas dance of inward and outward energies. This beautifully devotional evening comes across well in the photos, but to fully appreciate them requires a vivid imagining of the exquisite music by a small ensemble and several soloists.

And then finally, Christmas Day. The family service was a glorious pageant full of angels, shepherds and kings of all sizes, and we got it filmed this year, so you can watch the entire thing here. And if you enjoy the photos, you can even peek backstage for the costuming and some outtakes.

The Christmas banquet had more tables full of people than we had days of Christmas, so we had to double up on the seven swans a-swimming and a few others just to get through the song. The entertainment also included a brand-new play, written by Marilyn and involving 12 actors, a director, a pianist, a sound technician, and the baby Jesus. It was quite a production! (Cliff's notes version: Santa and baby Jesus do indeed manage to share some Christmas cheer with a number of folks who very much needed it. Two thumbs up!) And, as a final number inspiring us all to help clean up, the three wise men were paid a return visit by a king of a different sort. (Okay, so we didn’t look remotely like Elvis, but we did our best.)

Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pre-Christmas Roundup

Ah, December... that magical month when there’s just too much fun to keep up with. In case you’ve managed to miss any of the recent goings-on, we’ll catch you up here before we get started again this weekend.

A couple of Sundays ago we enjoyed a post-service lunch of our traditional veggie chili and cornbread, and then a post-lunch choir concert. In addition to many of our Ananda Christmas standards, we also had a rousing medieval Alle Psallite (in Latin and German both), and an Ave Maria (in Russian) by Rachmaninoff. There are a few photos here, lots of mp3 recordings here, and we even managed to get a fun video of the men’s ensemble singing Riu Riu Chiu.

Last week we enjoyed the Bay Area theater premiere of our Finding Happiness movie. We rented the Aquarius Theater in Palo Alto for a Wednesday night and a Saturday morning showing, and had about 400 people total come see it. (Photos here.) Some of the crowd was “us,” of course, but there were also many new people, as well as many friends and family who didn’t really know much about Ananda. And many positive reactions from people as they left the theatre, from smiles to tears (the good kind). Tons of people bought DVDs for Christmas gifts, and one new person walked out and registered for 3 classes, including the 12-week Raja Yoga class. A very successful debut all around!

And finally (for the moment) we had our Members’ Christmas Parties over the weekend. Two potluck evenings at Chela Bhavan enjoying the three S’s of the spiritual path: sweets, savories, and songs. (Did I get that right?) Photos are here.

All caught up? Ready for the next week? See you soon at the all-day meditation, the caroling party, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Our Thanksgiving festivities last Thursday had a number of fun new elements to them this time around. Shanti led the service, but shared mic time with Brahmacharis Vinny and yours truly, and so we got to look at the topic of gratitude from a few different angles. (Videos of our respective talks are here, here and here.)

We got some audience participation going as well, when Rita and friends led the congregation in some simple dance movements to the chant “Door of My Heart.” And at the end of service, we each got to take an autumn leaf, inscribed with one of the 8 aspects of God, and offer it at the altar. Later these leaves were taken to Ananda Valley Farm to be added into the soil. That should result in some pretty tasty veggies by next harvest season.

In between courses of our fabulously scrumptious Thanksgiving banquet (thanks to Robert and a host of volunteer cooks and helpers), we had another opportunity for creative expression. We all got paper and pens and did the “vertical poem” exercise (from one of Bharat’s famous Sharing Nature activities). One holiday-related word written vertically down the side of the page provides the starting letters for each line of a poem, which then comes to life almost magically, no poetry experience required. Several people shared their poems at the microphone, and we posted them on boards for everyone to read, as well. I have to say, I’m dying to know what Thanksgiving is like in the home of whoever chose the word “warthogs” to base their poem on.

Want to see some more poems, and more pictures? Check out all the photos of the day here.

And finally, I’ll leave you with a couple videos of amusing songs from the banquet entertainment. First, a list of things, some of which we are more thankful for than others:

And second, an amoeba love song. No, that has nothing to do with Thanksgiving. Yes, you should definitely watch it anyway:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More Updates from Ananda Valley Farm

We had another community workday up at Ananda Valley Farm this past Saturday, with about 30 folks coming to pitch in. Some of the notable accomplishments include transplanting 250 calla lilies and weeding in the hoop house, clearing a hiking path to the top of the ridge (with a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean), designing and installing a much needed drainage ditch behind Seva House, measuring and installing metal fence posts around the orchard, and most important of all, preparing the orchard for planting. Check out this fun time-lapse video of the day's work:

And have you seen the new farm website yet? Give it a visit, see some more photos, and subscribe to the newsletter if you want to keep up-to-date on all the happenings there!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Farm Brainstorming

[Guest post courtesy of Trisha. See all the photos here.]

What do rotating seed banks, chickens, and Ananda-brand teas have in common? They were just some of the many ideas generated on Saturday at our Palo Alto temple when a group of over 50 devotees joined creative forces to brainstorm ideas for our new farm. Karen G. and Robert Z. creatively led the group into coming up with ideas in six major areas including: our vision for its use, how to market products, farming and what to grow, the buildings and equipment, security and a safe haven, and communication. Ideas were shared on what we would like to see happen on our farm, and every person that added an idea sparked more ideas from others. At the end of the day, presentations were given on the ones generated. There were too many to list here (they will be published soon), but some included raising bees for honey, sustainable farming and permaculture, having seasonal celebrations, sharing farm news on the web, what emergency supplies to have, and how to brand our name.

What we may lack in farm experience was made up in life experience and enthusiasm. Asha ended the day with beautiful words on how this farm has reconnected us to nature and to each other. How perfect our farm is, not just having everything we need it to, but also being so beautiful, and if we were all there camping out with no power but we had a harmonium with us, how much fun it would be.

We felt Divine Mother there on this most uplifting and inspiring day, moving her children along lovingly to help us get our farm going. At Ananda, when we are attuned to what is trying to happen, the possibilities are endless and as much creativity that had occurred on this day, the amount of joy coming out of our temple far exceeded even that.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Ananda Valley Farm Dedication

Saturday was a momentous day for Ananda in the Bay Area. Yes, we’d already bought ourselves a farm, through no small financial miracle. Yes, a number of us have already been spending a great deal of time there, even beyond the two recent community workdays. But Saturday was the day we officially gave it to God and our gurus. And Saturday was the day they gave it back to us with their blessings. And that makes all the difference.

Over a hundred people from around the Bay Area, and even from the  Village, gathered at our new farm on a gorgeously sunny afternoon. We assembled in one of the greenhouses, with a large altar set up along one wall, folding chairs brought in for everyone, a sound system, recording setup — the works.

David and Asha spoke, sharing the story of our farm up to the current moment, and we also heard from our official farm staff members Biraj, Lahari, and Warren. James, our realtor, shared how he’d felt Swamiji’s presence “whispering from the trees” to him, all throughout the process of buying the property. And we were honored to meet Caín, the foreman who has lived and worked on this land for 39 years, and is now taking on the new challenge of teaching us all how to be farmers. A potentially daunting task, but one he’s facing with admirably good humor.

To bless the land, everyone received an envelope containing small items to distribute or bury around the property as we roamed and chanted for half an hour. We had pictures of Swamiji and the Masters, small ziplocs of Ganges water, tiny stones from Babaji’s cave in the Himalayas, and packets of soil from Crystal Hermitage. Asha had kept a large container of the finely sifted Crystal Hermitage soil for a long time, ever since someone gave it to Swamiji many years ago, and had just been waiting to see what its ultimate purpose would be. This was perfect.

To end, we gathered in a central area for a fire ceremony, and then closed by singing “Channels,” Swamiji’s song of gratitude to Divine Mother and to Her presence as expressed through all the infinite, joyful variety of creation. And a song of opening ourselves, as well, to be Her channels. It was  beautifully uplifted occasion, and the feeling of the day was that Ananda Valley Farm had clearly and unmistakably been launched on its Divine mission. Appropriately, Asha commented that the day’s photos are the first we’ve had that truly do justice to the land.

Mother, we thank you,
Your joy shines in ev’rything!
Open these channels
That the world once more may sing.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Seva in Spades

Few people probably spend as much of their free time hard at work as Ananda folks do. But then, few people have nearly as much fun at it as we do, so it’s hardly surprising.

The Saturday before last, we had our second workday out at Ananda Valley Farm (photos here, including a few from the previous week, showing the walk up to the Babaji Grotto). We had pouring rain most of the time, which apparently comes along with our valley’s nifty little microclimate, and is the envy of the other farmers in the area. So we appreciated that and moved ourselves off to more indoor projects.

The bunkhouse team cleaned and spackled walls, in the first of many stages towards making it a more inviting habitation. We also had a lot of folks working in one of the greenhouses (where the sound of the rain on the roof was deafening). They got some more seeds planted, and transplanted all the calla lilies that were growing in the ground into pots. We set aside the very first one, to do something historical with at some point.

Then this past Saturday we had a workday at the church (and those photos are here). The much sunnier weather was a boon for all the landscaping work. Team Shiva had a big day, taking out giant pampas grasses and other overgrown or otherwise unneeded plants, but the green thumbs came along behind and made sure we left things looking nice.

The un-sunburned team cleaned and organized the flower pantry and the ministers’s room, including a closet full of vases and many drawers full of decorative cloths. We even polished the candlesticks and ironed the candles. (Apparently this is a thing they need. Who knew?)

So the next time you’re at the farm or the church, take a look around at some of the shiny new energy. And get in on the fun next time!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Farewell Concert for Dambara and Manisha

On Sunday, we celebrated a remarkably enjoyable sad occasion. (Tough to do, yes, but we’re professionals.) Dambara and Manisha are moving to Laurelwood, and so we brought everybody together for farewells with an after-service concert.

We started with a sandwich bar lunch in the courtyard, along with carrot cake (for Dambara’s coincidental birthday), AUMs, blessings, and neither the first nor the last rendition of “Go With Love.” And then it was back into the temple for the concert proper.

In an effort to squeeze every last bit of song out of Dambara that we possibly can, we naturally packed the program with him. His solos ranged from classic favorites (“I Wonder as I Wander,” “To Death I’m a Stranger”) to more recent favorites (“Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind”) to seldom- or never-heard songs of Swami’s brought out for the occasion (“Melody’s Everywhere,” “Wartime Lullaby,” and more). He managed to work in a barbershop number with the guys, too.

The “Most Adorable” award, however, goes to the Dambara-Manisha duet, when they sang “Divine Friendship,” the song they skipped in their wedding ceremony 12 years ago because they weren’t sure they’d be able to make it through. Well, unfinished karmic tests have a way of cycling back around, and I’m pleased to report that our dear couple is just ever so slightly more married now.

As nothing is too good for our friends, this concert was not even limited to solely musical content. Saranya recited a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar which has to be heard to be appreciated — reading alone won’t do it. And our intrepid choir put on their dancing shoes and performed Pavani’s recent choreography to “Mañana, Friends.” Check out the video!

If you’re wondering what the off-camera laughter is towards then end, some of the singers were flinging roses, like joy, at Dambara as he sang. For further vicarious experiences, we’ve got some photos and even a full-concert mp3 you can listen to.

Dambara and Manisha will be greatly missed by all their Palo Alto friends and gurubhais. (The line for goodbye hugs filled the church aisle for an hour after the concert ended.) But we’re happy for them in their joyful, expansive transition, and we know the Portland-Laurelwood community has a lot to look forward to with the two of them up there.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Farming, Hiking, and Discipling

Well, maybe you thought last month was busy, but this past weekend certainly gave it a run for the money. (Any aspiring writers out there who want to help me keep up with all this? Drop me a line.) Here are the highlights (click the links for photos)....

Swami Kriyananda’s 65th discipleship anniversary on Thursday evening was the first we’ve celebrated since he left his body, but as many have commented, in some ways he’s more with us now than before. We had a very sweet and simple ceremony, with short talks from several folks who don’t usually frequent the microphone, but who shared their thoughts on Swamiji and discipleship. Some chanting, meditation, and a community offering of flowers at the altar rounded off a quietly devotional evening.

On Saturday, a group of 27 enthusiastic hikers took a trip up to Tomales Point for a joyful 9-mile satsang by the sea. The day began in fog, but a meditation break took care of that, with eyes opening up to sunny skies by the end of it. There were many herds of elk around, mostly in “harem” formation for mating season, but with the notable exception of an all-male herd of brahmachari elk. Vidura led some Sharing Nature games, and Shanti provided gourmet sandwiches for lunch. (Chris hosted a delicious dinner at his home afterwards — we don’t let our yogis go hungry around here!) The highlight of the day was the final destination — the tip of Tomales Bay that offered a 360-degree view of endless blue.

Also on Saturday (that was a tough decision day), we had our first workday at the new Ananda Valley Farm. Forty volunteers spent the morning doing a lot of the early stages of work required to turn the property back into a functioning farm. We cleared out a huge dumpster’s worth of old, broken farm equipment, furniture, and other abandoned items from the barn and from the bunk house. We also got rid of a broken-down shed, started clearing a trail up the hill to the spring (and what may one day be a meditation spot), and we even got a few seeds started (that’s how you can tell it’s really a farm).

Fun weekend! If you’re ever bored, give us a holler. There’s a lot more where this all came from.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

August Roundup

The month of August was not nearly as dull as the lack of activity here on Ananda Family News might suggest. Luckily, if a picture is worth a thousand words, our trusty Ananda photographers can easily pick up the slack. Click each event name below for an album of photos. Enjoy!

The month started off with a gourmet fundraising dinner to raise money for improvements to Master’s Kitchen. It was held at Chela Bhavan and featured Ramani’s daughter Danielle as the chef who prepared such an inspiring meal that it resulted in donations to the tune of $9,700 for the kitchen!

Erica and Craig’s wedding on August 10th, was so popular that it literally outgrew the church, and we held the ceremony and the following (enormous) potluck on the community green. And fittingly enough for the wedding of two teachers, it was absolutely overrun by the most well-behaved small children imaginable. 

You may have heard already, but guess what? We bought a farm! A group of Ananda investors signing legal documents may not make for the most entertaining photographs, but... well, it’s pretty awesome anyway. (If you haven’t been following this particular saga, Asha summarizes it all beautifully here.)

And to round out the month, we had our annual Krishna Kirtan outside in the community courtyard... a balmy summer evening filled with the names of God.

Not bad for one month! What's next?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Guru Day

Swami Kriyananda has taught us that we can be divine channels to receive and transmit inspiration in any area of human endeavor. A musician will find a melody, a writer receives words, a mathematician discovers new equations. And when an Ananda community comes together, we draw to ourselves a very special kind of inspiration that is uniquely ours, born out of our deep connection to this spiritual family and to our line of gurus.

Our annual Guru Day celebration is a beautiful experience of this, with all our collective energies coming together for an evening to focus so one-pointedly on each individual guru in turn. Through five rounds of chanting and meditation, guided by Asha’s words, we come to feel each guru’s influence at every level of our lives, from our own personal thoughts, to buying a farm for the whole community, to behind-the-scence guidance of world events. Each of these threads running through our lives from the masters weaves us closer together and closer to God.

Gathered in the afternoon sunlight at the Jesus shrine.
A constellation of candles around Babaji.

There are many more lovely photos of the evening, and Asha’s talks on each guru have been posted as well. Download them here: Jesus, Babaji, Lahiri, Yukteswar, and Yogananda.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Unheard-Of Concert

Our choir concerts here are always very special events, but this Saturday’s was a particular extra kind of fun. From Swami Kriyananda’s vast collection of compositions, we pulled out a magnificent selection of songs that are rarely — if ever — performed. Shakespeare featured prominently in the program, Swami having written a whole album of songs based on his lyrics. We also enjoyed a few children’s songs, as well as selections from Mystic Harp, Rumanian Memories, and more.

The evening included just a few well-known favorites, but even those came with some surprises. It turns out that the solo for “Mother of Wisdom” is beautiful in Italian. And with “Home is a Green Hill” as the closing song, the audience was invited to join the choir up at the altar. With the choir around and the masters above, it was just sublime.

As well as having some great photos, the entire concert was recorded (through a new system that should give a much better rendition of what the sound is actually like in the temple) and you can download all the MP3s here. Not only that, but we got nine of the performances on video. All the links are below, but first, you absolutely have to watch “Big Frog, Little Frog.”

Here’s the complete list of the videos:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fourth of July

Our Fourth of July celebrations at the community this year kicked off with a pool party. The choice of “in” or “adjacent to” the pool was left to the individual, though judging from the photos, many smaller individuals opted for “above,” as well. That variation didn’t last long, but was enthusiastically repeated, at least as long as Craig’s arms held out.

After a bit, the center of activity migrated out of the pool and onto the field with a water balloon toss (and, more excitingly, drop). The water balloon race that was to follow was abandoned when we realized that no one was quite sure what exactly a water balloon race is, and that the ammunition stores were becoming more depleted with every moment spent thinking about it.

An attempt at croquet nearly degenerated into outright Calvinball, before morphing back into something that might actually have approximated croquet. The three-legged race was even more successful. In fact, it seemed that we weren’t hampered nearly enough by the limb restriction, as the entire line managed to launch itself out the starting gate nearly a full second before the signal. With every competitor thus disqualified, we ran a rematch.

Our late-afternoon potluck feast took place under the trees, and was accompanied by a “Variety of Talent Show.” This included such notable acts as: Thomas Jefferson the Time-Traveling Yogi and his Declaration of Interdependence; the National Anthem (Indian); and Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto, Yin-Yang edition.

We wrapped up the day with ping-pong competition finals, all-ages water polo back in the pool, seconds or thirds back at the dessert table, and general contented merriment. Lots of fun photos here!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Nirmoha and Rosalva's Wedding

A few weeks plus one honeymoon in Hawai’i ago, our extended community joyfully celebrated the wedding of Nirmoha and Rosalva. The ceremony at the church opened with a prayer by the father of the groom, as the ranking clergy member, very sweetly welcoming Rosalva to the family. The image of families joining together is a lovely reminder of how lucky we all are to have come together as a spiritual family with both of these gurubhais, and we were only too delighted to support them with our presence, love, singing, and rose petals on this special occasion. Even Asha remarked that, as cynical as she may seem at times (during, for instance, certain sermons on non-attachment), she still always winds up with happy wedding tears.

The reception afterwards took place in the community courtyard and featured such incredibly tasty pesto-stuffed mushroom appetizers that some of us were in severe danger of not even making it to the main course, never mind the cake. But we don’t shirk our duties around food here, and nothing was neglected. To work it all off, Rita led us in several fun circle dances (rated “E” for Everyone) to the accompaniment of some favorite chants.

The musical theme throughout the afternoon was an open mic with an invitation for anyone to sing any song with the word “love” in it, thereby inducing a state of osculation in the newly married couple. These ranged from some songs of Swamiji’s, to miscellaneous show tunes, to an original song by Nirmoha’s son John. (Singing a song about love in Hawaiian also happened to result in hula dancing.) The “Best Costume” award, though, went to Chaitanya and Supriya, who sang the adorable duet from Fiddler on the Roof, “Do You Love Me?” (Since we didn’t get a video, we’ll spare you the suspense: the answer is “yes.”)

And how more about photos? Also yes!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Free & Clear Italian Dinner

[Thanks to Karen for the guest post and the photos.]

Fifty-eight people dropped into an Italian evening of delicious food, music, and inspiration on Sunday evening. We’ve been having one fabulous fundraising event after another for many years now, and this one was splendid, indeed.

Almost exactly $30,000 was raised that evening! That leaves just $231,000 remaining of the original $1 million goal. We really are almost free and clear of any debt remaining on Ananda Palo Alto’s Temple property.

Asha spoke a bit at the end, remembering the long history toward this point. There was a small, not very well-maintained building that came with the property when we bought it. It was rented for awhile, but finally, we were able to take it down in preparation for the new school building. It was a big hole in the ground for a long time, into which we threw rose petals, prayed, and began moving forward bit by bit, whenever we had money in hand to continue the process. The lawsuit intervened, but then gradually we started up again, finishing the school against all odds. With the remarkable help of many people giving what they could over a long time.

Then this Free & Clear campaign began to raise $1 million. Within the short time, the Village announced their campaign to pay off $1 million of old debt from the lawsuits in one year’s time (which they succeeded in doing just when they said — by the end of 2012). And within that same time frame, the Ananda movie raised $2.2 million — everything it needed to finish the film. More will be needed to fully do the marketing portion, but the film is done. Amazing.

“Even though many of us are doing meaningful work,” said Asha, “the waters of time close in over you. It’s hard to leave something behind of lasting value. But when you leave a temple behind, it’s a real legacy, both individually and collectively. Every time I walk into that Temple, I feel an immense sense of gratitude. So much happens there. Each of you has divine memories of what has happened to you in that space.”

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