Master Units and Cooperative Communities

By Ac Vishvamitra

There has been a yearning on the part of many spiritually and community minded people around the globe over the last 50 years to recapture some of the finer elements of rural community life and adopt new green models of cooperative life styles. The experiments of intentional communities, often designed as eco-villages, differ widely in their attempt to combine ecologically friendly or permaculture designs that meet the needs of heterogeneously defined populations of residents living in harmony with each other and the environment. Those which seem to have had the most success share a set of spiritual values and a socio-economic structure that respects the local economy and bioregional characteristics.Within the global Ananda Marga Yoga Society our intentional communities called Master Units (MU) distinguish themselves among this global eco-village movement as being focused on spiritual goals that include self-realization and service to the surrounding community. These communities employ a spiritually based socio-economic model called Progressive Utilization Theory. This socio-economic model strives to promote self sufficiency and sustainability on physical, socio-economic and spiritual levels not just for the residents but also as a service center (schools, medical services, development consultation, and disaster relief) for the surrounding community. These MU’s are of two types, one run by nuns on the one hand and monks on the other. These monks and nuns have dedicated themselves to a life time of service to the society as “wholetime” workers.

What has become evident over the 40 years of developing these MU’s is that the initiation and sustainability of these wholetimer run communities is dependent on support from members of Ananda Marga and the surrounding community. Even though the members of Ananda Marga don’t live on the master unit they may live nearby and invest in many ways (financially, board membership, fund raising, maintenance and directing programs such as schools, medical services, coops and seminars,) in the development of the MU and its mission. For the application of PROUT principles to the running of the MU and to have the MU provide it’s services to the community this mission requires the coordinated cooperation of the wholetimers, the margii community and the surrounding community which it serves.

Ananda Nagar, in West Bengal was Ananda Marga’s first Master Unit, located on110 square kilometers in Purulia District, West Bengal. This land, donated to Ananda Marga in the 60’s, was a barren land, denuded of trees where a former jungle inhabited by tigers and elephants had flourished. The area of Ananda Nagar today is inhabited by tribal villagers who manifest the typical Third World problems of unproductive farms on an arid land, no electricity, no industry, malnutrition, chronic disease, and illiteracy.

P. R. Sarkar and his followers initiated decentralized economic planning in this desolate area of Ananda Nagar to demonstrate how planning aimed at local self-sufficiency can succeed in creating a vibrant community. The plan first introduced small irrigation schemes using hand dug wells, small ponds to catch rain water and the construction of a dam on the main river that ran through the area thus providing jobs for local villagers. Thus the sterile farms were transformed into vibrant farms that produced two crops a year of rice and vegetables.

As Ravi Batra, noted economist at Southern Methodist University points out, “Ananda Nagar is a model for an integral approach to planning, aimed at creating a balanced economy within a small block of the Amra Bengali Samaj.” (1989) Samaj is a Prout concept referring to a group of people who are living together for the mutual benefit and development of all. Samaj bears some resemblance to our western concept of “bioregion”, a geographical area that shares cultural and socio-economic issues that warrant working together for the mutual cultural, environmental, social and economic progress.

The foundation of a balanced economy for Ananda Nagar includes a comprehensive educational system from primary school through degree colleges, including an Institute of Technology as well as adult literacy centre, printing press and book store. Along with educational activities there is housing for orphans and handicapped children; medical care that includes staffed out-patient care and hospital facilities as well as a leper asylum. There are cooperative industries that produce clothing, medicines, toiletries, utensils, fertilizers, paper and building materials. Green energy systems include solar and wind energy installations for irrigation and lighting and biogas plants. Progressive agricultural research centers and water management and fertilizer techniques support an agricultural system of intercropping and crop rotation. To insure the protection and propagation of local biodiversity reforestation projects; zoological and botanical gardens have been instituted.

Currently over a hundred Master Units around the globe, like Ananda Nagar, may have single and family people working part time on the MU but not living permanently on the MU. Most family people and single margiis live nearby the MU on privately owned land or on cooperatives which are often structured as a land trust legally where the ownership remains with the cooperative. Some of these communities neighboring the MU are not cooperatives but private individual landholders or small developments of several private lots governed by a landholders association. In some instances the residents on these small developments are not all margiis but a collection of individuals who share an environmentally friendly covenant.

In this article we are focusing on the possible healthy symbiotic relationship that can exist between the wholetimer run MU and the different types of margii communities created to work cooperatively with the MU. Obviously the needs of a service oriented MU run by wholetimers and margii communities for single and family people differ widely. Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, the preceptor of Ananda Marga, had encouraged margiis who were interested in working on MU to work for a period of time as purna kalik bandhu, “full time friend” and for families working on the MU to live in nearby towns or villages. When the rector of the central MU at Ananda Nagar in West Bengal and his officers presented a plan to Baba to allocate land to build homes for doctors in the MU hospital and their families as well as for teachers and their families in the schools and colleges, Baba vetoed that plan to avoid the confusion of the administration trying to meet the needs of family life and a service community run by sannyasiis. The same restrictions would apply to the sister’s MU, Uma Nevas adjacent to Ananda Nagar run by the sannyasiniis. Thus the tone was set by Shrii Shrii Anandamurti in respect to the boundaries between the different requirements of family life and wholetimer life invested in the service community that MU’s represent. The question now follows as to what are the best designs for theses two communities of margiis and wholetimers to serve one another through some model of coordinated cooperation as well as how both would serve the community beyond their boundaries.

It might serve us well to look first at existing models that represent attempts to create coordinated cooperation between the MU and margii / nonmargii communities. One such model is developing in Asheville NC where there is an effort to integrate planning for an existing brother’s MU, bordered by a small private development of margiis and non-margiis with an environmental covenant; a newly forming sister’s MU and an attempt to conceptualize the development of a cooperative margii community near both MU’s. To initiate this integrated planning the margiis of the Atlanta Region have created a Coordinating Council consisting of three brothers and three sisters to serve and a planning and advisory council to the two MU’s and the developing cooperative community. This council will work closely with the respective MU boards of the sister’s and brother’s MU’s and the family and single margiis interested in investing in the development of the cooperative community adjoining the MU.

Currently the brother’s MU consist of 27 acres with a house, trailer and a 6,000 square foot jagrti serving as a seminar center, the Prama Institute, which serves as an income stream for MU development along with rental income from the house and trailer. There is another 100 acres recently acquired, half of which is to be developed for the sister’s MU and margii cooperative for families and single people. The other half will be used to expand the brother’s MU. There are 17 acres adjoining the brother’s MU that consist of the private development for margiis and nonmargiis who share an environmental covenant under the name of the Raven Ridge Landholders Assn. This mixture of elements of brothers and sisters MUs, margiis and non-margiis coops and associations provides challenges and opportunities for developing a coherent model of coordinated cooperation among a number of disparate boards representing each entity.

The twenty year old “Prout Community Settlement Cooperation”, as it was initially named, located in Maleny, Queensland, Australia, population 5,000, consists of 50 acres rolling hills with a large river flowing through its center. Twenty five acres have been devoted to the River School which has 300 children attending it and twenty five acres are devoted to the family community. All of this land is considered the MU but the legal lines are blurred regarding family land, MU and inheritance. Clear legal and contractual arrangements are of great importance from the inception of these communities to avoid unnecessary conflicts regarding the needs of families and MU’s. This is no doubt the reason Baba clearly separated the two entities of members and wholetimer communities- separate legal structures but coordinated and cooperative.

The River School is a very successful service of the MU run by a wholetimer and a “family management committee”. They embrace coordinated cooperation with the wholetimer rector, Dada Ratnadevananda, who is in charge of the MU. The school’s 300 students constitute three early childhood programs and grades 1 thru 7. The school pays the rates/taxes for the whole 50 acres.

Families represent shareholders in the family coop. There are 6 shareholder members of the family coop who make decisions collectively by consensus. These shareholders pay monthly dues for maintenance of roads, dams, rain water tanks (two 5,000 liter water tanks collecting from roof) and septic systems. The water collection from the roof is subsidized ($1,000) by the government.

In an effort to maintain continuity of a members community, when a margiis family chooses to sell their home or have a family member inherit the home a letter of intention to resell or pass on to heirs, who are presumably members as well, a new shareholder must be approved by other member shareholders. There are member families who have entrepreneurial businesses to sustain themselves but there are no businesses other than the school for this MU.

The issue of sustainability for these MU’s looms large as they struggle to acquire the initial capital for infrastructure and commercial projects to fund their development in order to achieve the position of being able to serve the surrounding community. The obvious compromises for both families and MU constitute a blurring of the lines of separation of land and investments in order to start development and maintain themselves. The model for coordinated cooperation that allows both the MU and member communities to grow and at the same time maintain their needed independence is still being sought. No doubt the solutions to this conundrum must be solved locally as every situation begs for different approaches.

As conflicts arise between the different needs of the wholetime run MU and the adjacent member communities we need a conflict resolution model that honors what these two communities have in common which is far greater than their differences. They share a common ideology that entails a commitment to self realization and service to the community. They have a family relationship which transcends the ordinary partnership where they are committed to the treasure of unity in diversity.

A model of resolving the differences between these two communities to make them function as one community is offered by Dudley Weeks in his book The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution which views conflicts as opportunities to strengthen a relationship. (1992) This approach unlike most conflict resolution approaches does not focus on the differences at the expense of what groups have in common in terms of mutual interest and needs; focusing more on working in a partnership as a unified community.

Weeks “partnership” model views conflicts in the following manner:

  • 1. Rather than perceiving conflict as a disruption of order, a negative experience or a mistake in a relationship, conflict is perceived as an outgrowth of diversity that might hold possibilities for mutual growth and improvement in the relationship.
  • 2. As opposed to a battle between incompatible self interests, it is perceived as “part” of a relationship that involves individual and collective needs, values, perceptions, power, goals and feelings.
  • 3. Conflicts are occurrences that punctuate a long term relationship and can help clarify it rather than involving isolated events that we allow to define the entire relationship.
  • 4. Contrary to being perceived a conflict between right and wrong, good and evil, a confrontation between differences in this model focuses on issues related to certain aspects of a relationship but not at the exclusion of other aspects still there to build on.
  • 5. This model focuses both on developing conflict resolution skills and relationship building skills for the present and the future.
  • 6. As opposed to “I-versus-you” competitive battle resulting in domination by one party, conflict resolution involves a shared “we” set of responsibilities and opportunities to improve the relationship for mutual benefits.
  • 7. Focus on the present-future first and then learn from the past so as to avoid repeating unsuccessful patterns. The present-future focus empowers people to envision and implement a positive future.

The eight essential steps to conflict resolution in Dudley Weeks’ model include:

  • 1. Create an effective atmosphere which includes preparation, timing, location and opening statements.
  • 2. Clarifying perceptions and communications in a manner that allows for the sharing of everyone’s sentiments; revealing the true nature of the conflict and opening to working as partners in the context of the overall relationship.
  • 3. Focusing on individual and shared needs; examining where needs conflict and are mutual in seeking to strengthen the relationship.
  • 4. Build shared positive power, re-defining “power” as “consisting of the attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors that give people and groups the ability to act or perform effectively together.
  • 5. Look to the future, then learn form the past. Focusing on the present-future defines conflict resolution as a process, not an event.
  • 6. Generate options by making use of all the conflict partnership skills acquired in the previous steps leading towards identifying key options that compatibly meet shared needs and are endorsed enthusiastically by all parties.
  • 7. Developing “Doables”: the Stepping Stones to Action- specific acts that stand a good chance of success and contribute to building trust and mutual confidence in working together to achieve success around individual and shared needs.
  • 8. Make Mutual-Benefit Agreements that are capable of resolving specific conflicts within improved relationship patterns which take care of the self, the other partner and the relationship. Relationship building continues in the presence or absence of conflict and serves to address new conflicts immediately.

This model of conflict resolution is very compatible with Ananda Marga philosophy which favours “coordinated cooperation” rather than ‘subordinated cooperation” and views obstacles and diversity as helping forces in reaching our goal of unity. P.R. Sarkar the founder and preceptor of Ananda Marga has said that “If the common sentiments of human beings are given prominence and the points of unity are made the basis of collective development, diversity will enrich humanity rather than tear it asunder”. (1992) Sarkar has further stated that “Human beings have no control over the past events. They can only build their future by making use of the present. God has put eyes in the front of the person’s head. Hence the sages of the Upanisads say, “Caraeveti, caraeveti,” “Proceed on, proceed on,” make proper utilization of the present and build your future.” (1988)

Weeks does not ignore the past because as he points out many conflicts can’t be resolved until people in conflict feel that the insults of the past are understood by all parties and serve as guidepost for restitution and forgiveness in the present to overcome obstacles in achieving unity. However, he states that if we allow ourselves to be defined by the past, we deny our own power and the power of our relationship to achieve mutual positive development and change in the present-future.

Our MU and allied communities would greatly benefit from adopting conflict resolution, communication models and strategic planning to strengthen the day to day planning and execution as one community. Dudley Weeks’ approach to conflict resolution and Marshall Rosenbergs’ popular non-violent (benevolent) communication methods are models that are compatible with spiritually oriented communities. In addition to having these tools it is necessary to have individuals to apply them. (2003) For the Ananda Marga communities we can have individuals within our organization or sympathizers, who live outside of the communities proper, offer assistance with strategic planning, conflict resolution and communication skill building. This approach has been applied at the MU in Asheville where a member of Ananda Marga, who lives in another city and is trained in conflict resolution, offers consultation to the process of developing the MU and nearby family cooperatives in Asheville, NC. Members of the local unit involved with the MU and family cooperative that can serve as internal consultants for conflict resolution and improved communication include the bhukti pradhana and family acaryas. These individuals have the organizational responsibility of resolving disputes and supporting the Ananda Marga member and wholetimer community. A blend of these internal and external facilitators and guides can greatly contribute to developing and sustaining our communities.

Reflecting on the issues described above on the Ananda Marga MU’s and allied family communities at different stages of development around the globe we can see the need for the application of a conflict resolution to clarify some of the following issues:

  • 1. The allocation and sharing of resources for the simultaneous development of a sister’s MU, a brother’s MU’s, and a family cooperative community adjacent to the Asheville MU.
  • 2. The sharing of profits of cooperative enterprises on Asheville MU run by members of Ananda Marga to benefit both the members and the MU which would benefit from Week’s conflict resolution model ending with a Mutual Benefit Agreement as well as a legal contract concerning profit sharing arrangements.
  • 3. Inheritance issues regarding the succession of property ownership by practicing members of Ananda Marga on the MU surrounding the River School in Australia.
  • 4. How MU’s can support families who teach in the schools and work in the hospital at Ananda Nagar MU in India.

The next article on “Prout Models for Ananda Marga Communities” will throw further light on how Ananda Marga members and wholetimer run MU’s can achieve a balanced working relationship by applying mutually shared Prout socio-economic principles to developing local economies designed to serve the individual and collective needs of these developing communities.

Batra, Ravi, “Progressive Utilization Theory: Prout”, Dallas: Venus Publication, 1989.
Rosenberg, Marshall B. “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Chicago: Puddle Dancer Press, 2003.
Sarkar, P.R. “ Ananda Marga Philosophy in a Nutshell, Part 4”, Calcutta: Ananda Marga Publications 1988.
Sarkar, P.R. “Proutist Economics”, Calcutta: Ananda Marga Publications 1992.
Weeks, Dudley, “The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution”, New York: Tarcher/Penguin Inc. 1992.