Search for inner peace at core of Ananda’s teachings

BOTHELL — Nearly 20 years ago, a run-down apartment complex near Lynnwood, plagued with crime, was given new life.

The 32-unit building was bought by a group of people who wanted to live together in a spiritual community.

The Ananda Church of Self-Realization brought some stability to the complex at 20715 Larch Way, between Lynnwood and Brier. The apartments, in turn, provided a base of operations for the church’s community to grow in Snohomish County.

Ananda — an organization with roughly 10,000 members worldwide — is based on the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian yogi who played a prominent role in introducing meditation and yoga to the West in the 1920s and ’30s.

The Ananda group was founded in 1968 in Northern California by J. Donald Walters, later to become Swami Kriyananda. He died in April at age 86.

Prior to the group buying the Lynnwood complex, Ananda activities in Western Washington were centered in Seattle. In recent years that has shifted.

“The presence of that residential community has really been the heart of Ananda,” said Nayaswami Hriman McGilloway, who along with his wife, Padma, serves as the group’s spiritual director for the Seattle area. The couple has lived in the Larch Way complex since the group bought it for $1.5 million in 1994. It’s home to 50 Ananda members — about a quarter of the 200 regular, dedicated Ananda members in the Seattle area.

“It’s allowed people to develop friendships and an esprit de corps that has helped the work flow more dynamically and creatively,” McGilloway said.

For years, the group’s Sunday services took place in a small building in Seattle’s Roosevelt district.

In 2006, the community finished construction on a $3.5 million, 6,700-square-foot temple at 23305 Bothell-Everett Highway, just south of the Canyon Park shopping center.

The building is patterned after Ananda’s “Il Tempio de Luce” (The Temple of Light) near Assisi, Italy.

About two-thirds of the Bothell temple’s cost was financed by one member who sold his interest in a business, McGilloway said. The Ananda community scraped together the rest.

The group regularly gets 80 to 90 people for Sunday services in the temple’s sanctuary, about double what it was 20 years ago, McGilloway said. The services are open to anyone.

The group’s mailing list of interested people, students and supporters in the area numbers about 5,000.

The group offers classes in yoga and meditation at the temple, and fundraisers and other events at various locations.

Ananda operates several endeavors, including the popular East-West Bookshop at NE 65th Street and Roosevelt Way in Seattle; the Living Wisdom School for children in Shoreline; Living Wisely Thrift and Gift, a thrift store, also in Shoreline; and a new community garden on Camano Island.

The bookstore — owned by Ananda since 1980 — carries books, CDs and gifts from a multitude of spiritual traditions and offers classes and meeting space.

“That’s our interfaith outreach arm,” McGilloway said.

The Sunday services in Bothell feature prayers, songs, chants, meditation and readings from scriptures, including the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, the primary book of Hinduism.

Portraits in the sanctuary honor leaders in Ananda’s spiritual lineage, including Paramhansa Yogananda and Jesus Christ.

According to the tradition, Mahavatar Babaji, an Indian saint in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, received guidance from Jesus to bring the inner peace of meditation to the West.

That inner peace is the core of Ananda teachings, McGilloway said.

“The message is universal,” he said. “It’s about becoming our higher, calmer, kinder, wiser self. When people get calmer and kinder, we act in harmony and with respect toward the planet and other people.”

The emphasis on self-cultivation was a big draw for Zach Abbey, 28. He recently moved to the area from California with his partner, Everett native Hailey Anderson. The two serve as caretakers for the Camano Island garden.

“Everyone at Ananda is trying to work on themselves,” he said. “It’s a perfect place to be when you agree on that as a starting point.”

Jamuna Snitkin and her late husband, Vasudeva Snitkin, came across Ananda in the early years of its first U.S. community near Nevada City, Calif., in 1971.

The couple later managed Ananda’s bookstore in Palo Alto, Calif., for about 13 years until 1996 when Vasudeva Snitkin was asked if he wanted to move north to help run East-West.

Jamuna Snitkin worked in the Seattle church office for seven years until her husband passed away in 2003.

Now in her 70s, she’s a resident of Ananda’s Lynnwood complex.

“It’s a marvelous way to live,” she said. “You get a lot of support and you are around people that you get to know deeper and deeper.”

McGilloway attributes Ananda’s growth to the quickening pace of life.

“This globalization thing is pretty interesting as far as it goes, but it’s pretty wild,” he said.

“We’re so overstimulated and things are changing so fast that humans are looking for grounding and connections to one another. We’re rediscovering our archetypal and ancestral roots.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439;

The Ananda Meditation Temple is located at 23305 Bothell-Everett Highway. For more information visit; email or call 425-806-3700.

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