In 2007, Ananda Tara Shan was selected for the Hepburn Shire Council Women's Honour Roll. The reason for her selection is outlined in the following nomination form: 1. How has the nominee provided leadership and sharing of skills and knowledge? In her three decades of work as a spiritual leader and teacher, Reverend Jeanne Dara DeMurashkin, better known by her spiritual name, Ananda Tara Shan, provided strong leadership and the sharing of skills and knowledge through her dedicated work in the area of spiritual education and service for peace and the helping of humanity and the Earth. Her work in this field began in 1975 in Denmark, and she emigrated to Australia in 1982, moving to Daylesford in 1991. She passed away on the 16th of November 2002, following a brief illness. Ananda Tara Shan established three spiritual organisations that are international in scope and that continue to thrive today: the Society for Maitreya Theosophy (1991), The Theosophical Fellowship (1994) and Heart Flow Worldwide (2001). As well, she was an ordained Minister of Religion and founded two churches, the Church of the Resurrected Life and the Church of Maitreya for All Faiths, both affiliated with the denomination, Associated Spiritual Churches of Australia. All of these bodies were created to strive to help educate people to work together in peace and harmony, to recognise their spiritual origin and nature, and to encourage world service, that is, voluntary actions to help others and the Earth. The spiritual tradition within which Ananda worked is Theosophy, the philosophical perspective that acknowledges that there is truth in all faiths and that we can learn from them all. In a time when the world is often divided by religion, Ananda’s leadership invited people of all faiths to work together for peace, to work out of the goodness of the heart and for the good of all. Ananda shared skills and knowledge through her teaching and her writing. She established a meditation system and a healing system, as well as systems for voluntary world service and ceremonial work within the church. She wrote and taught tirelessly, always finding time to work on the urgent problems of individuals, the community and the world. Her leadership and sharing were practical – it was equally important to her that meals were healthy, that children were educated, that parents took their responsibilities seriously, and that the ill were cared for as it was that people learned to meditate and studied spiritual development. Ananda led by example – she planned community meals, wrote letters to the editor, gave money to worthy causes, established businesses, looked after those in need and cared attentively for her own family. At Ananda’s passing in 2002, in addition to the organisations she founded, she left a legacy of thousands of texts and audio recordings about spiritual matters applied practically to contemporary issues, a legacy that will serve the community long into the future. The Theosophical Fellowship is now preparing Ananda’s extensive work for publication. 2. How has the nominee expanded the lives of individual women and their families ? Ananda Tara Shan was sincerely committed to equality for women and men, and she believed that education and service were keys to progress in life. She assured that women had roles of responsibility within the spiritual organisations she founded. In many religious traditions, women have not had the opportunity to take key roles; in The Theosophical Fellowship and the two churches Ananda established, women as well as men are service conductors, priests and ministers. Ananda wrote about guidelines for living a spiritual life, and here she made it clear that women and men must take responsibility for their own actions and for taking care of the family and children. She taught that each person has a special role to fulfill in life, and that we must each develop the feminine and the masculine principles within us, as each principle brings wonderful strengths and a necessary balance to a life lived according to higher principles. Ananda encouraged each person within the Fellowship to pursue peace in his or her own way. For example, she encouraged and sponsored one woman to attend the first international meeting of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, held in Geneva. That work has led to continued involvement in this work for peace, where the next stage was held this year in Taiwan, an international retreat for women spiritual leaders to work on finding ways to bring more compassion into world affairs.
3. How has the nominee created long term sustainable change? Ananda’s work has created long term sustainable change by teaching thousands of people to meditate and to look within for higher principles and values by which to live their lives. She created an international vigil for peace where people all over the world commit to meditate daily for peaceful solutions to be found to world problems. The work of The Theosophical Fellowship, which Ananda established, is dedicated to the bringing about of peace and the healing of humanity and the Earth. Ananda was totally committed to the work for peace, being almost constantly in prayer for this purpose. She created special meditation forms, mantras, prayers, journeys, church service forms and vigils focused on working for peace. A central principle within the work she established is: “let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.” A keynote of the work of the Fellowship is voluntary service, giving freely from one’s heart for the cause of the healing of humanity and the Earth. This Ananda did: give freely, with courage and fearlessness, to pursue the cause of peace and justice. She was completely honest and spoke her mind, writing to world political and spiritual leaders as a fellow human being, petitioning for peace with justice. She understood the esoteric significance of world events, and worked on the inner and the outer levels to preserve the Earth for current and future generations. Ananda worked constantly to develop new ways for every person to be able to contribute effectively to the mission of peace, healing, and protection of the Earth. Always a new mantra, a prayer, a little service, a guided meditation – ways to reach out to a suffering humanity and a suffering Earth. Always encouraging those who wish to help to learn to become active transmitters of light and love, peace workers. Ananda also encouraged people to work on environmental problems – many years ago before global warming was a household term, she asked people to pray that the hole in the ozone layer over Australia would be repaired. She encouraged environmentally sustainable living, and the Fellowship under her leadership has tried to model this – building the church in Daylesford, the Sanctuary of the Heart, out of rammed earth, using solar panels for electricity generation and heating of hot water, and so on. Long term sustainable change begins within each individual, and Ananda’s teaching locates the responsibility for such change squarely within the person. She created comprehensive systems to help individuals grow and develop – through meditation, healing, study and voluntary service – and through these practices, individuals do grow and change in positive, sustainable ways.
4. How has the nominee advanced the status of women? As mentioned before, Ananda’s work has encouraged the development of women and men. Within the spiritual organisations Ananda created, and through her writings and oral teachings, Ananda has made it clear that women and men are equal, and that all people need the opportunity to develop and serve according to their innate gifts and their dharma or life’s purpose.
5. To what extent has the nominee contributed creative, unique or innovative ideas or initiatives in the community? Ananda Tara Shan worked tirelessly to bring people of all faiths and all philosophies together to work for peace and healing of the Earth and humanity. Her founding of the Church of Maitreya for All Faiths, and its physical home in Daylesford, the Sanctuary of the Heart, has contributed to an energy for openness and tolerance for all perspectives. She always reminded Fellowship members that the Fellowship is just one of many groups working in the world for peace and harmony. She was always attuned to the world – she held a focus of global awareness, and at the same time, she was focused on the needs in the community. Ananda recognised the good in all people, and seriously admonished the slightest tendency of those around her to exclude anyone. There is no place for the judgment of others; welcome all, she taught – and lived – as one co-worker wrote, 'Thank you for your open-hearted acceptance of an Anglican priest.' Throughout her career, Ananda sponsored numerous visiting religious leaders and speakers and performers of many points of view and many arts. For example, on her initiative, The Theosophical Fellowship provided public concerts with pianist Boris Guslitzer, the Ormond College Choir and a Tongan Choir, the 'E-Tags', and hosted a public lecture with author Sir Laurence Gardner. The annual Spiritual Forum offered in the Christmas period brings several hundred visitors and residents together to share in a diverse program of lectures, meditation, music and creative activities. Ananda established the Spiritual Forum to be an opportunity for people of goodwill to come together, learn and reflect on individual, community and global issues. Public retreats and schools have also been offered at Easter, in winter and in spring. All teaching and speakers have been offered essentially without charge, only occasionally requesting a very small contribution to administrative costs, as it was Ananda’s belief that teaching should be offered for free where possible, and everyone should have the opportunity to take part in education and cultural events, irrespective of income. One of Ananda’s creative contributions to the community has been her focus on practical Theosophy, that is, applying spiritual concepts and values to all aspects of life. She taught about 'right human relations' – the ways to deal in harmony and love in day to day situations. She had a special interest in bringing the ageless wisdom of all faiths into the business world. She even established several businesses to have the opportunity to try out and model ways of working practically for peace and harmony. She wrote Guidelines for Living a Spiritual Life, and when a student came to her with a problem, she would often take the person back to the Guidelines, to see if the teachings were being lived, as she felt that failing to put spiritual wisdom into practice is the source of many if not most problems. Ananda taught that spirit needs to permeate all aspects of life, and she modeled that principle par excellence.
6. Describe the difficulties or challenges the nominee has overcome. Ananda Tara Shan faced many difficulties over the decades of her work, and she simply carried on, focusing on the good. As one may imagine, to talk about the inner worlds and spiritual life is itself difficult in today’s world, although this is getting easier as the work of leaders like Ananda and many others reaches more people. Ananda also faced challenges as she established new spiritual organisations and new churches – for some reason, these were perhaps seen as threats to other organisations and leaders. Because what Ananda taught and how she worked seemed new and unfamiliar to some people in the community, there was negative feedback in the early years, and neither Ananda nor the organisations she started were invited to or included in some community gatherings. Ananda just focused on the work and on the light in all, accepting these challenges as part of life. Ananda is the mother of two daughters and three sons, and naturally balancing the demands of her career and the demands of her family provided challenges. Ananda’s understanding of the centrality of family life and her deep sense of responsibility to her family as well as to the world community led her through these challenges. Ananda also faced difficult physical challenges. Her family attests to the fact that although Ananda was rarely out of physical pain, she wasn’t one to complain. Instead she focused on others and was eager to lend a healing hand to anyone in need. Ananda dealt with ill health for quite some years, and had to use a wheelchair as her work took its toll on her body. This was accepted with grace and the work kept going, until the challenges to her physical health finally led to her passing in November of 2002.
7. What are the major Achievements or Projects of the nominee? Ananda Tara Shan’s inspiration, leadership, group-work, and organisational abilities enabled her work to evolve over more than 25 years, resulting in the establishment of three vibrant international spiritual organisations, the Society for Maitreya Theosophy, The Theosophical Fellowship and Heart Flow Worldwide, and two churches, the Church of the Resurrected Life and the Church of Maitreya for All Faiths. The international headquarters of this work is located on Table Hill Road in Daylesford; the Mother Church is the Sanctuary of the Heart, on Ballan Road; and a retreat facility is located in Glenlyon. There are affiliated centres based on Ananda’s work in Melbourne, Canberra, New Zealand, Iceland, Norway and Denmark. Visitors from Victoria, interstate and abroad come to Hepburn Shire to study and to work with the organisations and churches Ananda created. Ananda created many tools for spiritual development and practice, and her extensive teachings in writing, audio and video format are now being catalogued and prepared for publication. In addition to these teachings, Ananda created a comprehensive system of meditation (the Shan Theosophical Meditation System), a system of healing (Udana Spiritual Healing System), and a system of Church Services and Service Conducting, involving Earth Healing Services that use music, meditation, prayer, and ceremonial work for world service. Many tributes were received upon Ananda’s passing. In these tributes, Ananda’s contributions are often beautifully described, and we will present two here. 'Ananda, you have taught me the beauty, the splendour and the ecstasy of the spiritual world, but also that sadness, pain, and disappointment are an inevitable part of walking the path and opening the heart. You also taught me that joy and laughter are the best remedies to see us through the hardships. You have taught me that the Masters are not in some inaccessible plane but right here within the heart of humanity, ready to help anyone who wishes to work for the Earth and humanity.' An international visitor wrote, 'It is said that one can tell a great teacher by the qualities displayed in her students. The fruits of the teachings manifest in those who gather around to assist in the fulfilment of the teacher's vision. After many journeys to be a guest at The Theosophical Fellowship I can honestly say that I have never encountered a more warm hearted and mature group of spiritual seekers. A welcoming note was struck the moment of our arrival with the community and sustained throughout our time in their midst. A complex system of care and assistance was arranged to ensure that all our needs were attended to. This kind of detailed consideration is so rare. In Sufism we call it "Adab", our manner of being with each other. There is a level of impeccability present in the community that is so appreciated as we travel the world offering our sacred music and dance. We were so well taken care of that the gifts of the spirit could flow. All of these qualities were exemplified and emanated from Ananda Tara Shan. She always knew of our arrival and always blessed the work that we offer to the world.' Perhaps Ananda’s greatest achievement was the courage to hold an unwavering vision to stand always on God’s side and to teach about God as a living, practical reality in life, as a good, loving, caring and real Presence. The body of teachings and the legacy of organisational and spiritual life she has left are a true testimony to her strength, courage, vision and service and to her love for God, humanity and the Earth. Thank you for the opportunity to present this nomination.
[Mary Faeth Chenery 2007]
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