After more than four decades under the guidance of Ananda founder Swami Kriyananda, the expanding movement has a spiritual successor, Nayaswami Jyotish.
In a June post to the 10,000 followers of the Ananda Worldwide website, Jyotish and his wife, Devi Novak, outlined their goal to continue Kriyananda’s expansive efforts to share the Paramhansa Yogananda’s teachings with the world.
“The future of Ananda is very bright,” they wrote. “Over the years (Kriyananda) trained and put in place many leaders who have already been guiding our communities throughout the world.”
Some of those expansive efforts already come in forms that Jyotish told The Union he could have never foreseen when he first came with Kriyananda to Nevada County 44 years ago, including two high-caliber movie productions and an increased utilization of the Internet to connect with Ananda followers all over the world.
“I think it is destined to continue to spread because our core values and teachings are valid and people feel connected,” Jyotish said. “It will spread by the validity of what it is, and not from magnetism of any one person.”
John Novak was raised in Minnesota as the son of two architects. While he now guides close to 60,000 followers worldwide, Jyotish remembers he wasn’t sure of his path after graduating from the University of Minnesota with a psychology degree.
“I wouldn’t described myself (then) as religious or even spiritual,” Jyotish said from his modest Ananda Village home in Nevada County. “I was very scientifically minded, but I was very interested in consciousness.”
In 1966, Jyotish moved to San Francisco and found himself reading spiritual literature, such as the “Tibetan Book of the Dead,” books about Zen Buddhism, Native American religious studies and, finally, Yogananda’s seminal “Autobiography of a Yogi.”
“Reading that changed the direction of my life,” Jyotish said in a not uncommon sentiment among his peers who represent Ananda’s first generation.
But still, Jyotish did not know where to begin. His brother-in-law found out about a man teaching yoga and mediation in the Bay Area who had been Yogananda’s disciple: Kriyananda. What started with knocking on Kriyananda’s door blossomed into assisting with classes and finally with the Ananda founder asking Jyotish to quit his social worker job to become his full-time assistant.
In the spring of 1969, Jyotish, Kriyananda and a couple dozen individuals moved up to the first Ananda foothold in Nevada County, including the freshly arrived St. Louis-born Phyllis Offstein.
Offstein had just finished her University of Wisconsin finals to wrap up her anthropology degree, but after a lifetime of straight A’s, she said her heart was no longer in it. She didn’t even stay for graduation day and it wasn’t long before an Ananda flier prompted her to travel across the country on what she initially thought would be an “interesting summer,” she said.
She arrived on the ceremonious day Ananda points to as its beginning, July 4, 1969.
In the years following, more land was acquired and more permanent living situations evolved, with Jyotish acting as Ananda’s general manager for the first decade, he said. During that time, he and Offstein married. Now, more than 35 years later, the couple are parents of a grown son.
Having worked closely with Kriyananda since Ananda’s inception, the pair have held many roles in Ananda and have lived and taught in its communities throughout the world.
In recent years, the pair have served as spiritual directors for Ananda Sangha Worldwide and are also Kriyacharyas, those designated to initiate people into Kriya Yoga, the meditation technique Yogananda is credited with popularizing in the West.
In addition to offering regular spiritual talks together in the United States, Europe and India, the Novaks also teach a one-week program designed for serious spiritual aspirants.
Jyotish and Devi Novak are both published authors. Jyotish is the author of a series of books called “The 30-day Essentials,” a three-volume video series on meditation therapy and how to meditate.
Devi Novak is the author of “Faith is My Armor: The Life of Swami Kriyananda.” She also was the editor of Kriyananda’s “The Light of Superconsciousness” and “Intuition for Starters.”
The pair are also regular contributors to Ananda’s various publications, both in print and online.
“In the coming years, we want to reach out to you in many ways,” they wrote in June. “We will be continuing our regular webinars and satsangs (available) online with Ananda.”
Ananda has found success on the Internet, offering free videos of everything from guided meditation and yoga to daily inspirations and music.
The spiritual movement is also pursuing other media through which to share their teachings. Two movies are in the pipeline, “The Answer” and “Finding Happiness,” both featuring segments filmed in Nevada County.
“Visual art can be so much more immediate than written word,” Jyotish said.
While the finished but not-yet released “Finding Happiness” is a docudrama mix of a fictional story of a skeptical journalist who visits the village and interviews real-life residents, “The Answer” is just filming at the village this week, according to Lalaan Hickey, a spokeswoman there. The in-progress production aims to tell the story Kriyananda’s life and time with Yogananda, having cast famed Indian actor Victor Banerjee to play the guru.
Kriyananda appears in both films as his older self and finished filming on the latest film just prior to his death in April.
“(The films) are not attempts to convert,” Jyotish said, noting Ananda’s principle that people are more important than things and an aspiration for unity of the soul with God.
“Ananda is an expression of that message, but not the definition,” Jyotish said.
Kriyananda’s last will and testament provided that a nine-stone astrological bangle, which Kriyananda wore in his capacity of spiritual director of Ananda, should be “worn by my spiritual successor and his successors.”
With Kriyananda’s passing and Jyotish acting as his spiritual successor, the Novaks will continue to act as spiritual directors of Ananda Worldwide in tandem and expect to spend half of their time in Ananda Village and the rest of the year in India, Europe and visiting other of the movement’s gatherings worldwide.
“My core goal would be to help others develop an authentic spiritual practice for themselves and help them aspire to be the best beings they can be,” Jyotish said.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.
“The future of Ananda is very bright,”
— Nayaswami Jyotish, Ananda’s spiritual leader.