Asha Praver's Monthly Letter
February 2005

Dear Friends,Asha Praver photo

One of the governing principles of Ananda is: People are more important than things. Many other organizations endorse this principle, but few practice it as conscientiously as we do. We are breaking new ground and it takes time to understand the implications.

At first, people naturally think in a personal way. “This means I will always be treated with kindness and consideration.” An attractive idea, and not entirely false, but too simplistic. Swamiji adopted this principle almost as a definition of Ananda. He was thinking of more than just being courteous to one another.

So many organizations stray from their original purpose. They start out thinking of the people they can serve and end up simply serving themselves. Especially if they become prosperous and successful their own continuing existence often becomes their primary concern. Swamiji wanted to avoid this pitfall.

People are more important than things helps us remember that the only purpose of Ananda is to serve and inspire people. As Master said, even the most beautiful hive is worthless unless it is filled with the honey of God.

In the context of Ananda, to serve people means to help them grow spiritually. For a person to grow on the path of Self-realization, he needs the freedom to be creative, to expand into new areas of self-expression, to make mistakes, to learn from those mistakes, and to try again. You can’t be a completely buttoned-down, pre-determined, this-is-how-we-do-it sort of place.

When people have freedom, inevitably they will make organizational or individual mistakes – sometimes big mistakes. Many groups react by saying: Let’s make a rule. Let’s declare a dogma. We have to make sure nothing like this ever happens again!

Even at Ananda, people have tried to “protect” Ananda from future mishaps by following that very course. It is just human nature. But Swamiji would have none of it. “I’d rather a new group of people make the same mistakes every five years,” he said “then make rules to prevent it from happening. People need the freedom to make their own mistakes. How else will they grow? We must have the courage to let them do it.”

It takes a lot of courage to run an organization this way. Swamiji’s courage comes from his faith in another of Ananda’s guiding principles: Where there is dharma, there is victory. In other words, if we make every effort to do what is right to help others, then God will take care of the rest. And He has.

Sometimes at Ananda you have people in positions of responsibility, even of great influence, who are still learning how to do the job they’ve been given. One woman answered her critics – of which there were quite a few – by saying: “If I already knew how to do this job, do you think I would still be doing it?” It wasn’t an excuse it was just a fact.

The opportunity Ananda provides for people to keep learning and growing is what has kept it vibrant all these years. There is always a new challenge – whether its learning to arrange flowers, or getting up the courage to tithe a full 10%, or accepting a job for which you have no qualifications except the willingness to learn, or giving up everything to move to India.

As devotees, we need to push against the edge of our present understanding. If we aren’t yet Self-realized, by definition we need to be moving into unexplored inner territory, and often outer territory as well.

The inevitable flip side of this, however, is that, sometimes, one person becomes cannon fodder for another person’s learning curve! The expectation that “I will always be treated with kindness and consideration” doesn’t necessarily come true. It doesn’t mean that people are being deliberately unkind, or that Ananda has abandoned its principles. It means the system is working. People have freedom, so mistakes happen.

Now it is your turn to be on the giving end of the attitude implied by People are more important than things. This is a rite of passage that everyone at Ananda has to go through. You have to learn not merely to endure it, but to welcome it as a delightful challenge.

It isn’t really that hard to accept, because of another principle not unique to Ananda, but so well known as to be part of popular culture: What goes around, comes around.

In other words, today you are asked to be patient with others, tomorrow it is they who will have to be patient with you. “God reads the heart,” Master said. Swamiji put it this way. “What I look for is purity of intention, the willingness to admit a mistake and try to make amends, and the determination to do better the next time. That is all we can expect of one another.”

On another occasion he said, “It takes a long time to learn right attitudes.” In the meantime, people are more important than things. Even if those things are a project we are working on or our personal feelings. We are all here to grow. The success of Ananda is not based on how perfectly we do anything. The success of Ananda is its ability to serve and inspire people.

At the beginning, Ananda was just an experiment. What would happen if…..?. Now the experiment has proved itself. A community based on the idea that people are more important than things can do wonderful things. Even more important, it can be the guiding force for the development of wonderful people.

Look around, in this community, and Ananda world-wide. What great souls, gathered together in a common purpose. And what beautiful things those souls have done for God.

Over the years, we have all made many mistakes. “The past lives of all men,” Sri Yukteswar says, “are dark with many shames.” Most of us don’t have to remember past incarnations to feel more than a tinge of embarrassment! We do our best not to remember, which is just fine. What happens to us, doesn’t matter. All that matters is what we become through what happens to us.

Nobody at Ananda promises to be perfect. The most we can promise is to do our best to devote ourselves whole-heartedly to the process of becoming perfect. Swamiji said, “If I expected perfection of my friends, I would be a very lonely man.” We walk the road together. Grist for the mill is the need to be kind and patient with others as they make their way up and down the same hills we have to climb.

A helping hand, a gentle word, a stern warning if needed, all the little acts of friendship. People are more important than things. A beacon of light in the darkness. A pathway from delusion into Self-realization.

Joy and blessings from David and me,

Asha