Bald Mountain Association

[Listen to Asha read this story]

The first land Swamiji bought for Ananda is the area known as the Meditation Retreat, six miles from the Village. He purchased the land in 1967 in conjunction with four other men. It was strictly an economic arrangement. They had no interests in common except that each wanted a secluded piece of land as a place of retreat, and they could get a better deal if they went in together.

Richard Baker, who was at that time the head of the San Francisco Zen Center, was the one who put the deal together. The others—two poets, Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg, and an attorney, Dick Wertheimer—were his friends. Swamiji didn’t know any of them before he joined with them to buy land.

Richard had found one large undivided piece that they could get at half the going rate if they bought the whole thing. When Swamiji went to see the land he felt the Masters had already blessed the Eastern portion of it, and that he was meant to buy it.

The agreement was that Richard would purchase the land with the money the others gave him, and register it in his own name. He would then subdivide it into seven 24-acre parcels and give each man title to the one parcel he wanted. Then the partnership would end.

Swamiji was the fourth person to come in. Richard had a little more than a year to find buyers for the remaining three parcels or the whole deal was off. Ten months later, only one of the three parcels had been sold. Swamiji was concerned that Richard wouldn’t be able to find buyers for the last two and they would lose it all. So he offered to buy the parcels himself.

“It is a lot of money and more land than I need for myself,” Swamiji explained to Richard. “But I also want to start a community. I have a friend who would donate money for that purpose.

“It isn’t ideal. The land is too remote. And a community is not what you had in mind when you included me. I could start there, however, and then, after, say, five years, move the community to another location.”

Richard was not enthusiastic, but he didn’t want to risk losing the land either, so he reluctantly agreed. However, when Swamiji began to develop the community, Gary Snyder raised a hue and cry against it. Gary and Swamiji were the only two owners actually living on their land.

Instead of standing by his word, Richard sided with Gary, and so did the other two owners, who were Richard’s friends. Richard then told Swamiji not to do anything more until they all agreed on how the land should be used.

Richard had not yet carried through on his promise to give each man title to his portion. He was still the sole owner of the entire piece.

“You are a guest on my land,” Richard told Swamiji, “If you go to court, you’ll be evicted.” Then he added, “I could consider the money you paid as rent.”

Since it was four against one, a lawsuit was Swamiji’s only option. The very idea of a lawsuit, however, was anathema to him.

“I would never sue you,” Swamiji said.

As Swamiji explained later, the dispute was just about land and money. No eternal principle was involved. And land and money were of no importance to him compared to ahimsa – nonviolence, or, more accurately, harmlessness. In fact, now that Richard had made his position clear, Swamiji had no intention of disputing anything they asked of him. He would build the community elsewhere.

Assured, now, that there would be no lawsuit, Richard scrapped the original purchase agreement. Instead of each buyer owning and controlling his own land, it was now decided that they would own and manage all the land together under what was called the Bald Mountain Association, after a prominent local landmark.

Forty percent of the total acreage belonged to Swamiji. He owned three times as much land as any of the other men. But the Bald Mountain Association was set up to be one man, one vote. The four of them were united against Swamiji on every issue. They had taken control of his land.

“The Association feels that the land is held in common,” Gary Snyder declared. “The intention is to establish ground rules for land use.”

Earlier it had been agreed that each owner could have one hermitage with two residents per acre of land. Swamiji was still well below that limit. Now Gary told Swamiji, “Our original estimate for development was much too high. The permanent structures you have already built amount to full land use.” Then he added, by way of explanation, “We should all be able to learn and change our ideas as we go along.”

Gary then proposed population and development limits that left no room for what Swamiji had intended to do when he bought the land. He had no choice, however. He had to go along.

“I’ll sign anything you want,” Swamiji told Richard, “as long as you don’t destroy what I have created so far.”

* * *

That was in 1973. Swamiji had already moved his home to another part of Ananda, and now he also withdrew his creative energy. Until then, Swamiji had played a leading role in the planning and development of that property. Since then, he has left it entirely in the hands of others.

Swamiji had worked hard to pay off all the land so the community could start debt free. When Gary and Richard objected to any community being started there, Swamiji bought another piece of land for it, six miles down the road. He didn’t have the money so he took on a debt of $250,000.

Later, when Richard and Gary objected even to the presence of the Meditation Retreat on what was now “their” land, Swamiji added an additional $350,000 of debt to get other land for the Retreat as well.

“If they had made any effort to work with me,” Swamiji says, “I would have been happy to cooperate with them.”

* * *

Swamiji encouraged those who were in charge of the Meditation Retreat to comply with the guidelines of the Bald Mountain Association. Considering the circumstances, though, he felt it was sufficient if they complied with the spirit of the agreement. The population remained low and development was kept to a minimum.

Gary, however, insisted that every provision be followed to the letter and he kept constant watch to make sure it was done. Any violation, no matter how small, he took as proof that Swamiji could not be trusted to keep his word.

Gary made no secret of his disdain for Swamiji. He broadcast his views throughout the county and beyond. He even wrote a poem ridiculing Swamiji and Ananda, published it in one of his books, and presented it at poetry readings. Of his own part, and that of Richard and the others, in taking the land from Swamiji in the first place, Gary made no mention.

It is largely because of Gary’s insistence that Swamiji “cannot be trusted” that many of our neighbors are suspicious of Ananda. Even those who moved to the area long after these events took place, accept as true the commonly held belief that Swamiji “violated the Bald Mountain Association agreement.”

“I don’t care about my own reputation,” Swamiji says. “I am here to get out of my ego, not to defend it.”

When the issue of the Bald Mountain Association comes up, his usual response is, “Richard Baker promised to give me title to the land that I paid for and he never did.” Then he leaves it to his listeners to put the pieces together from that one clue.

“Why fight with them?” Swamiji says. “It just isn’t worth it. It is unfortunate, though, that Ananda has had to bear the brunt of it all these years.”

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