From The New Path: My Life With Paramhansa Yogananda, by Swami Kriyananda
Some of my most impressive memories of Master are of his public lectures. While they lacked the sweet intimacy of his talks with the disciples, they rang with the spirit of a mission destined, he told us, to bring spiritual regeneration to the world: a new path in the sense of a teaching geared to the attitudes and understanding of this new age of energy.
I remember especially how stirred I was by a talk he gave at a garden party in Beverly Hills on July 31, 1949. Never had I imagined that the power of human speech could be so overwhelming; it was the most moving talk I have ever heard.
“This day,” he thundered, punctuating every word, “marks the birth of a new era. My spoken words are registered in the ether, in the Spirit of God, and they shall move the West. . . . Self-Realization has come to unite all religions. . . . We must go on—not only those who are here, but thousands of youths must go North, South, East, and West to cover the earth with little colonies, demonstrating that simplicity of living plus high thinking lead to the greatest happiness!”
I was stirred to my very core; it would not have surprised me had the heavens opened up and a host of angels come streaming out, eyes ablaze, to do his bidding. Deeply I vowed that day to do my utmost to make his words a reality. Twenty years later, with his inner help and by the grace of God, I was able to start the first of what have since become several thriving communities.
Often during the years I was with Master he exhorted his audiences to fulfill his cherished dream: to found “world brotherhood colonies,” or spiritual cooperative communities—not monasteries, merely, but places where people in every walk of life could devote themselves to living for God.
“Environment is stronger than will power,” he often told us. He saw “world brotherhood colonies” as environments for fostering right spiritual attitudes such as humility, trust, devotion, respect for others, and friendly cooperation. For people with worldly responsibilities who want a better way of life, small cooperative communities offer the best hope of fulfilling that desire, and also of demonstrating to society at large that people can, indeed, achieve heights so scornfully repudiated in this age of spiritual underachievers. Such communities, Master said, would emphasize cooperative attitudes, rather than egoic social and political “rights,” and present-day norms of cutthroat competition.
“Take the best advice I can give you,” he said. “Gather together, those of you who share high ideals. Pool your resources. Buy land out in the country. A simple life will bring you inner freedom. Harmony with nature will bring you a happiness known to few city dwellers. In the company of other truth seekers you will find it easier to meditate and think of God.
“What is the need for all the luxuries with which people surround themselves? Most of what they have they are paying for on the installment plan! Their debts are a source of unending worry to them. Even people whose luxuries have been paid off are not free; attachment makes them slaves. They consider themselves freer for their possessions, and don’t see how, in turn, their possessions now possess them!”
He added: “The day will come when this colony idea will spread through the world like wildfire.”
In the over-all plan for his work, Paramhansa Yogananda saw individual students first receiving the SRF lessons, and practicing Kriya Yoga in their own homes; then, in time, forming spiritual centers where they could meet once or twice weekly for group study and meditation. In areas where there was enough interest to warrant it, he wanted SRF churches to be built, perhaps with full- or part-time ministers. And where there were enough sincere devotees to justify it, his dream was that they would buy land and live cooperatively, serving God and sharing the spiritual life together on a full-time basis.
As I mentioned in Chapter 17, Master had wanted to start a model world brotherhood colony in Encinitas. He felt so deeply the importance of this communitarian dream that for some years it was the nucleus of his every plan for the work. Indeed, ruler though he was of his mental processes, even he on one occasion became caught up in a whirlwind of enthusiasm for this project. He told a congregation one Sunday morning, “I got so involved last night in thinking about world brotherhood colonies that my mind got away from me. But,” he added, “I chanted a little, and it came back.”
Another measure of his interest may be seen in the fact that the first edition of Autobiography of a Yogi ended with a ringing statement of his hopes to found such a colony. “Brotherhood,” he wrote in that edition, quoting a discussion he had had with Dr. Lewis in Encinitas, “is an ideal better understood by example than precept! A small harmonious group here may inspire other ideal communities over the earth.” He concluded, “Far into the night my dear friend—the first Kriya Yogi in America—discussed with me the need for world colonies founded on a spiritual basis.”
Alas, he encountered an obstacle that has stood in the way of every spiritual reformer since the Buddha: human nature. Marriage has always tended to be a somewhat closed corporation. The economic depression of the 1930s had had the effect on a whole generation of Americans of heightening this tendency, by increasing their desire for family security. “Us four and no more” was the way Yogananda described their attitude. America in general wasn’t yet ready for world brotherhood colonies.
A further difficulty lay in the fact that his work was already in the grip of monastic disciples who set the tone for all the colonies. Householders couldn’t match their spirit of self-abnegation and service. Families were, so to speak, crowded out of the communal garden by the more exuberant growth of plants of renunciation. And Yogananda was too near the end of his life-mission to fulfill elsewhere his “world brotherhood colony” dream.
“Encinitas is gone!” he lamented toward the end of his life. It was not that the ashram was lost. What he meant was that his plans for founding a world brotherhood colony on those sacred grounds would not be fulfilled, at least not during his lifetime. He stopped accepting families into the ashrams, which he now turned into full-fledged monasteries. It was in his renunciate disciples that he had found that spirit of selfless dedication which his mission needed for its ultimate success.
Nevertheless, the idea of world brotherhood colonies remained important to him. It was, as he had put it during that stirring speech in Beverly Hills, “in the ether, in the Spirit of God.” Kamala Silva in her autobiography, The Flawless Mirror, reports that as late as five months before he left his body he spoke to her glowingly of this dream. He knew that his dream must, in time, be fulfilled.