The Need for an Alternative, by Swami Kriyananda

(From the book Cities of Light by Swami Kriyananda)

History shows people coming together in communities for basically one reason only: economics.

There may be a convenient harbor, so commerce flourishes, and a city springs into existence. People flock there to work, and a community develops from their need to live, shop, and find recreation.

The economic motive is so much taken for granted that people rarely question the possibility of other motives.

Yet surely there are many people who have wished, if only fleetingly, that their lives could be centered in some higher vision; that they could have neighbors who shared that vision, and who were close friends – people with whom they could interact in harmony and happiness.

There is a growing need for an alternative. The shrugging off of higher values that has been the hallmark of the Twentieth Century is causing a reaction in many people. They are beginning to want to center their lives more consciously in God.

Today, total renunciation is not what is being asked of mankind. The present need is for a life of dedication, yes, but in simplicity, not in poverty; in creative self-expression, not in unthinking submission and obedience.

In the 1960s, hundreds of communities were started in a great “back-to-the-land” movement. Why did almost all of them fail?

They failed for lack of clarity. First, their intentions were unclear. They didn’t put spiritual principles first in their lives, but concentrated on outward, material goals: solar energy, new economic systems, revolutionary architectural concepts. Their idea of heaven on earth was of a system where everything would function perfectly on the material plane.

Given this approach to the ideal of finding happiness through matter, they were bound to fail.

One of the most persistent human delusions is the belief that good systems will produce good people. It is people, not systems, that need perfecting.

Good systems will function well if the people running them have the good will to make them work. But if people have good will, even a bad system can be made to limp along somewhat successfully.

A body cannot survive without the head. The body of society, similarly, cannot survive without the guiding principles that flow downward from man’s higher nature. Man must be guided by inspiration from above, or else find himself lost and struggling through a dark swamp of confusion.

The time has come for people to live lives of even higher dedication than that which inspired monks and nuns in the past.

And the time has come now for people to direct their spiritual awareness also downward into matter – to apply the principles of a life of spiritual dedication to everything they do: to their work, education, family life, friendship, to their communications with strangers, to the way they build their homes – to all of the mundane, practical aspects of daily, human life.

People need now to become God-centered from within, and from that center to see God everywhere, in everything.

Ananda’s notable success as a community is owed to the observance of these principles. It is an experiment not only in community living, but in the creative application of the principles of spiritual living to all aspects of human life.  


Swami Kriyananda’s first book on communities helped start a growing movement that Paramhansa Yogananda said would eventually become “the basic social pattern of the future.” You can read the book free online here.

Swami Kriyananda’s first book on communities helped start a growing movement that Paramhansa Yogananda said would eventually become “the basic social pattern of the future.” The book is presently out of print.

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