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Date Posted: 22:38
Author: Anonymous - 4 May 2002
Subject: Inside Ananda Assisi
Inside Ananda Assisi:
The core community, settled by members that have fully accepted the pledge to Walters (including the obedience pledge), is comprised of less than thirty persons. The rest, as Ananda Assisi’s marketing confirms, is about fifty persons, including those who have NOT signed any pledge to Ananda or to Walters and who live in their own homes in the neighbouring community. These people tend to see Ananda more in the light of a community rather than a spiritual path to which they can devote their energy. In fact, many are people who have left the city to gain a different perspective on life, desiring to experience peace living in the hills. So while they live alone they still need the contact of neighbours, and Ananda gives them the opportunity to socialize. While this is not a sharing of a spiritual pursuits, but more a convenience, Ananda is pleased to call them “members”.
Since the beginning, Ananda Assisi has had limited growth, not many new members, not much money. The historic estate is “Il Rifugio,” an old flat three-story building bought with American donations and a large loan, not yet paid back. The loan was made by several Italian disciples that supported the birth of Ananda Assisi. Years later, in the tradition of Ananda America, they are still waiting for their money to be paid back.
Ananda’s pattern is to create a debt with a person and, as is the case, for some of the first contributors this acts as a magnetic force to keep them in Ananda’s orbit as they wait to recover their loan monies. The banks and the homeowners of many homes and buildings, which Ananda uses to accomodate vistors, are knocking at the door trying to collect their debts and threatening to cease their financial largess to the community.
The community’s activities are based on the Guru’s name, history, and are creatively exploited. Ananda has a commercial section called Inner Life to sell various objects everywhere: articles, pictures, books based on a spiritual subjects. A second activity is the guests’ accomodation, bed & breakfast, restaurant, tour guidance to Assisi, lessons and techniques on yoga, counseling and psychological support are all the services included in the package. Naturally the bulk of Ananda’s income is generated by donations, that people give when asked, thinking that it will be used for the spreading of the Guru’s teachings. The main focus of attraction for this channel of funding is Swami Kriyananda, presented as a living guide, in perfect attunement with Guru’s will.
Inside the Ananda Assisi grounds, nearby the old structure, ìIl Rifugioî, was built the Temple of Light, an example of how it is possible to “make a miracle” with devotee’s donations. This new building was built in a very short time, arising on the ground surrounding the old shelter. The manpower was recruited from devotees, using the karma yoga time they must give during their stay. As the “Rule” prescribes, “Work is service”.
The money was gathered by continous requests, by phone calls, by letters, during visitors’ stays, or using the more charming members to obtain the goal.
Even the designer, a Swiss named Ramatou Wintsch, was not payed for his work, since he felt blessed (by Yogananda) when he first envisioned the project in meditation. Much of the materials for the base, filling and the tools were recycled from discard or payed for at very low prices from different manufacturers. The temple is proof of effectiveness of marketing strategies, using the name of Yogananda. For a long time in the Ananda Assisi’s mailed fund raising appeals, the need for a Temple to spread Master’s teachings was emphasized.
The rest of the community’s activities are supported by rent from homes. Villa Gioia, Villa Pace and the old temple (where the member’s rooms are) are owned by local townspeople. It is sometimes necessary to remove the altar and other furnishings because the owners hold banquets and meetings for the Hunter’s Association of Perugia-what should be a sacred place becomes, effectively, a pub.
The other cabins (about 320/430 square feet each) are built nearby the “Il Rifugio”, and serve as the American members’ homes. They have been built illegally, so have been placed out of sight. The community arose on a natural (preserved) area, so the areas in which new housing can be built is very limited.
Looking from the outside, members appear to be happy. They give their hearts to everyone and are always smiling. This kind of behavior is felt as a very welcomed message, which impresses town people strained from hard living and needing to recover in that heavenly site. Unfortunately this is clearly a forced attitude. In private, members are not so disposed and open. Some confess discomfort in the way things are managed and organized.
The reader should try to venture out of the standard routes made for guests, to understand the behind scenes’ realities- When one is “parked” in the boutique, in the temple, or in the lunch room all the members may target him with their “love bombing”. But just go out and try to enter into the inner activity and you may discover iron rules which are hard to accept.
The recent lawsuits filed in America have left a scar, and the residents’ old disagreements about the leadership have resurfaced. In fact, in Italy, the leadership makes up 4/5ths of the Assisi residents. They are faithfully confident of Walters and, until a few years ago, were spending a fortune in trans-oceanic phone calls to receive guidance and instructions from “Swami”. For those who remain, an enormous amount of daily work is rewarded only by their personal love for Master and, while they will occasionally will call a meeting to “ask residents their opinions” on certain matters, the final decision has almost always made with regard only to Kriyanda’s wishes.
There ís no democracy in all this, only an implicit agreement that goes like this: If you stay here is because we permit, work to gain the right to remain and do not discuss what we are doing, because it is being done in the best interest of the community.
This doesn’t mix well, however, with Italian tradition. In Italy there is less enthusiasm than in America about social experiments like Ananda’s, “world brotherhood colonies”. Here in this country, tradition is strongly tied to family, to home, to wife and children, and it isn’t as easy to choose a new style of life such as community living.
Individuals who have had contacts with Ananda Assisi has been repeatedly called to join the community, especially those having property and money, but for Ananda the results has been disappointing. The few who have joined are young, relatively free from commitments and with a little or no money in the bank. They are the spine of the community, their hard work continuosly feeds the furnace of Ananda’s existence. Without this huge commitment in exchange for token pay, a bed, and something to eat Ananda Assisi will be just a remnant of 70’s ideology.
The real value of Ananda Assisi is stated in their promotional advertisements-a nice place to recharge the batteries and recover from the chaotic life of the city. This is the same offer that any holiday agency can arrange (and we find the prices are quite comparable!). But the spiritual promises of closeness to Guru and other disciples of Ananda are false. Those who wish to go further in the Kriya path of Babaji can grant themselves a “spiritual holiday” to any one of Assisi’s many other monasteries or ashrams for reflective contemplation. The spiritual aspirant should never feel the need to live in a Walters’ “world brotherhood colony” to obtain enlightment of the Guru’s guidance.”
Remember Master’s saying:
“Solitude is the price of greatness.”
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