November/December is "Kriya Season" at Ananda India. This is when most of our kriya initiations are scheduled, one every other weekend from early November to the end of the year-Gurgaon, Bangalore, Mumbai (Bombey), Gurgaon again, and then Kolkata (Calcutta) on December 30th. Each represents a culmination of one year's effort of classes and visits to the cities outside Delhi and of ongoing activities at our centers in Noida, Delhi and Gurgaon, inside the "NCR" (National Capitol Region-Delhi). Serving these groups far and near has been my main area of focus in India and I'd like to give you a deeper look at what exactly those of us who serve in this part of our work are doing.
Last year, hundreds attended our basic meditation and energization programs, but like everywhere else, large groups of beginners boil down to many less by the time Kriya Initiation comes along. Outside the NCR, only about 10% of those who started the introductory classes last year will take Kriya initiation this season, but the percentage doubles or triples within the NCR. Why? Because we can offer more direct contact with local devotees who attend regular classes and take advantage of opportunities to become involved. This is what we have to find a way to do more of in distant cities.
Last winter, Dharmadas initiated a speaking/workshop tour to four cities to broaden Ananda's reach. Before, almost all of Ananda's energy was focused in the Delhi region to launch Swami's TV program, develop contacts, establish our ashram, open our boutique and conduct local programs. Dharmadas rightly felt a need to reach a national audience because Swami's TV program is being aired across India, generating inquiries from all over. He decided to visit Calcutta, Bangalore, Mumbai and Chennai, taking one person to help with registration and books. As it turned out, these programs were very successful, drawing audiences of many hundreds. More teachers and a larger support team were needed to follow up on what he had started and it was at the conclusion of that first tour that I came onto the scene in December and February. Upon arriving, I went to Calcutta and Mumbai while Dhyana and others traveled to Chennai and Bangalore, each of us following up later with smaller programs for those interested in discipleship and Kriya preparation.
This first year's effort was a good start but I'm sure we can do a lot better. Last year, we were not well organized, everything was new, and we lacked local support, meaning that in spite of the large audiences, we usually lost money. You know the phrase, "It was a learning experience." For many reasons, mostly having to do with our lack of resources to properly follow up on what we started, we were unable to generate sustained interest in Kolkata and Chennai as we had in Mumbai and Bangalore. The shear dynamism of the latter two cities overcame our own lack of coordination. In both, groups formed with a strong core of local supporters and now local devotees are offering meditation classes in Mumbai every month.
I returned a few days ago from Mumbai where Dharmadas and I conducted a Kriya ceremony for 31 new kriyabans (see photo of the new kriyabans). While there, we also conducted a satsang for the local meditation group, visited our national book distributor, scouted out venues for future programs, and spent time with our local sanghis. Mumbai is a huge city where someone with energy could probably give programs every week and I suspect someday we will have an active teaching center there. It is the national capital for finance, business and culture, and of course, there is Bollywood, the home of India's film and television industry. Media gossip, scandal, and movie stars posing melodramaticly in the dailies are all a source of great entertainment for India. I've learned all about "Big B" (Amitabh Bachan to the uninitiated, perhaps India's biggest star), his son Abishekh's (voted India's "sexiest man") impending marriage to "Ash" (Ashwarya Rai, another movie star) and a host of other news bits that, along with the latest cricket match, form the national past-time and mania. Mumbai has a very different vibration from Delhi or Kolkata. It is more cosmopolitan, crowded and very busy, where tracts of modern high-rises abut squalid slums. And, interestingly, cars obey traffic rules more so than in Delhi. They stop for red lights and wait until the signal turns green. Amazing. Plus, there is much less haggling with taxi drivers because most of the cabs have meters that work properly. The meters are calibrated for 1970 fares but each driver has an official chart to translate the meter's reading into today's rates. You need to know this should you ever catch a cab in Bombey. Ask for the chart and make sure the cabbie sets the meter going before you start.
Last year we presented our programs in an area of Mumbai known as "Churchgate." This is where the British first established their fort and trading colony and is considered the traditional, tourist center of the city. The famous "Gateway of India" (see photo) is here, along with the fancy hotels, monuments and government buildings. Unfortunately for us, it is at the extreme southern tip of the city, making it difficult for locals to reach without a 1-2 hour commute. It would be equivalent to our doing programs in New York City in the Wall Street area of lower Manhattan, but without the subway system. Next year we'll continue in Churchgate but also break new ground with classes further north in the geographical center of the city. This new venture will take us into areas that are more Indian with less Western presence and without qualified Hindi or Marathi teachers, I'm wondering how it will go.
When we go to a city, our usual format is to arrive one or two days prior to the event to conduct business, arrange future venues, visit with local devotees and work with group leaders. Then, on either Friday or Saturday night we present a free public lecture at an auditorium or large hall, hoping to attract an audience of 300-500. We set up a book and registration table, mingle with the crowd, answer questions, serve tea and give our presentation. On Saturday and Sunday we offer workshops in the beginning techniques, each one lasting 3-4 hours. Typically, our workshop goes from 10 - 1:30 followed by another in the afternoon from 2:30 - 6:00 pm. Often we serve lunch. As mentioned, last year's offerings attracted anywhere from 100-200 students to each class. For advanced students we offer additional classes in Raja Yoga, discipleship, kriya preparation and the Aum technique. We fly home late on Sunday or Monday morning.
Most of these programs, with a few exceptions, were unable this year to generate enough income to break even. My job is to change this in 2007. I hope to see us expand even further but this can only happen if we cover our expenses because there are so many other Ananda India initiatives in need of funds. Using what we learned this year, I think 2007 will be different. As I devise a tour schedule and budget I can now factor in local help, cheaper lodging, reduced venue costs, and more effective advertising. We'll also raise or prices. We have been charging the equivalent of $8.00 for our workshops, and that price includes books and tapes. This year we'll charge about $15.00 (Rs.600-750) Now that we know the ropes better and have Indians negotiating on our behalf, our costs have come down. For example, last week in Mumbai, I spent one day traveling all over the city by taxi with Seema, one of our Ananda Sanghis, to find venues for our programs. She told me, "When it comes time to talk about money, don't say a word! Leave it to me." Very good advice, I assure you.
One angle we are working very hard on is to attract major sponsors in India. In Bangalore, one gentleman sponsored our Kriya visit with a gift of one lakh (100,000 rupees or about $2,300). Our Mumbai Kriya initiation attracted a corporate sponsor (Essar Group) for two lakh. In response to this generous gift we visited their corporate headquarters and made plans for a free workshop for 50 of their department managers, perhaps on our next visit in February. If all goes well, they indicated a willingness to do more. This would be a fantastic opportunity for us because Essar is one of the very largest business conglomerates in India. If we can attract such groups, it will allow us to do programs similar to what we have done already and possibly charitable programs for those who cannot afford our programs now. Sponsors sometimes see us as one way for them to fulfill their sense of social obligation to those less fortunate, a common feature of large Indian businesses.
During the coming year our intention is to visit four major cities outside the NCR: Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Pune. We'll not return to Chennai and Kolkata with Sangha sponsored programs in '07 but concentrate instead on two new cities where we have hopes of attracting dynamic crowds. However, I'll try to visit Kolkata at my own expense to give support to the small group we started there.
Hyderabad is similar to Bangalore in that it is a booming center of India's hi-tech industry. Such places are like the Silicon Valley in the USA with an educated, mobile, energetic population. Pune is a couple of hours east of Mumbai and less known to us, but it is from there that we have received many invitations and inquiries so we have decided to explore its potential. To each of these four cities we plan four tour visits during the year, culminating with a Kriya Initiation in the fall. If locals wish to arrange and finance additional visits, we will send teachers, ideally Hindi speakers. This will be good training for our Indian ashram members.
In the NCR, we will continue with programs in Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon as we have been doing these last couple of years, but Dhyana and I would like to branch out to at least one additional area in the NCR next year. We'll choose a place where we already have a cluster of kriyabans so that they can form a support staff and possibly form the nucleus of a future meditation group.
As you can see, we have a busy schedule, but this is only one of many energy streams that are flowing here. I'll have to use additional letters to give justice to the others: monastery, guest house, publishing, land search, ashram life, education/schools, Swami's world, our solar business, and many more. Each of us concentrates on one or two areas but pitch in to help with any/all of them when called upon. In the world of outreach, Dhyana, Dharmadas and I have been the primary teachers/organizers but many others help too. Daya Taylor does much of our promotional work. Sadhana Devi, Haridas, Roma, Deborah, and Claudio help with teaching duties. The monks run the book tables and go wherever needed. We are having Indians take on greater responsibility for tour coordination and teaching and we must increase this in the future if we are to reach the huge number of souls we who have interest.
Mumbai leaders: Yogesh, Srinavas & Satish
While I am engaged with tours and teaching, Sadhana Devi has settled into the critical position of paying the bills and keeping track of ashram finances. She sends her greetings and love to you all while I write this letter. I listen to her daily travails with the Indian banking system, vendors wanting payment and the myriad of frustrations associated with life in an economy of "black" money and "white." It is a good thing that she doesn't get ruffled too easily. She is up to her eyebrows in telephone calls and the constant tap-tap-tap on our bedroom door by someone wanting money is starting to drive me crazy. My desk is across from hers in our bedroom until we can both relocate into a space being vacated by the staff of our "Material Success Course." When they move to the basement of the new guesthouse, we'll set up a Sangha Office with Dhyana, Keshava and some of our Indian staff. The move was supposed to happen two months ago, but in India, things take time.
This morning Dharmaraj and Dharmini arrived from America. Hunter and Audie Black come tonight while two or three others from America return home. It's coming and going all the time. If you haven't had a chance to yet visit, please consider it. You can travel elsewhere in India from here or stay and experience life in Gurgaon. We'll put you to work if you like. We have recently leased another house a few blocks from the ashram where Haridas and Roma, along with Tim and Lisa Clark from Sacramento, serve as hosts of a very lovely, multi-storied house with a half dozen guest rooms for our many visitors. The best time of year to come is from October through March. April starts to get warm but isn't too bad. After that, it's HOT. Sadhana Devi and I look forward to seeing you.
While in Mumbai last spring I was shown two very sweet letters Master wrote to a disciple in India who happened to be a relative of the family I was visiting. The family treasures them, as you can imagine. I asked if copies could be made and when we visited last week those who went were given color photocopies of each letter. One has Master's signature and the other doesn't. I scanned the one with the signature and am sending it to you as an attachment to a separate email following this letter. I think you will enjoy it.
One final note. Swamiji just finished his new book on Master's interpretations of the Bible and it should be edited and sent to the printer soon. He is pleased with the result and is a wonderful work. At the same time, his health is very shaky and he is going through a physically difficult period, so please send him your prayers and surround him in light.
That's all for now. Sadhana Devi and I wish you a joyous Christmas and send you our love and good wishes. We'll be thinking of you.
Yours in Master,
PS: Soon it will be one year since Sadhana Devi and I moved to India. This has been made possible by many generous donations from friends on the East and West Coasts. If you would like to participate in our support and to that of the Ananda India Kriya Sangha through me, please send whatever you wish to Larry Rider on the East Coast or Ric Morehouse at Ananda Village. It is much appreciated and very helpful.