10/27/1903 — 04/20/1980
By Nayaswami Anandi
Haanel Cassidy was a fascinating man, who led a richly varied life: from his birth on a farm in Canada to teaching English in Japan, to becoming a chief photographer for the Conde Nast magazines in New York. During his years in New York City, he developed a reputation as a ballroom dancer and was an accomplished singer with a rich, bass voice.
Haanel’s discovery in 1952 of Autobiography of a Yogi was the turning point in his life. On becoming a Kriya disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, he moved to Chile to focus on meditation in solitude, but impossible living conditions there forced him back to settle near San Diego, California, where he developed a successful organic truck farm.
In 1967 Haanel met Swami Kriyananda, who had just started Ananda; he invited Haanel to move there, saying, “Please come to Ananda and use your time to meditate.” Haanel moved to Ananda shortly after this gracious invitation.
Haanel felt that for Ananda to succeed, it needed a garden. And since he’d gardened from the age of six, he felt it was up to him to create the gardens of Ananda.
When I arrived at Ananda in 1971, I joined the garden crew, which consisted primarily of young people fresh out of college. Haanel was the perfect teacher—always patient yet never lowering his standards, despite the fact that we must have seemed constitutionally unable to meet them.
Haanel was a perfectionist in everything. Whether in the garden or in his many other talents, he had studied and arrived at a graceful and effective way of getting the best results. He held up his standards and continually reminded us how to do things properly, whether it was speaking English or handling garden tools.
One of the most notable characteristics of Haanel was his great loyalty to his friends. Over the years, as more people responded to his many free offerings: voice lessons, calligraphy lessons, healing treatments, dinners in his home with his delicious “Cassidy Spaghetti,” showings of his exquisite photography, and more, his circle of friends grew.
Haanel’s lifelong dream was to see his black and white photography published. His photos were unique in their simple elegance and perfection.
In 1979, a friend of his traveled to Canada to appeal to publishers to print the work of one of their native sons. He found success with a museum in Toronto, which began to create an exhibit of Haanel’s work, along with a small book of his black and white photos.
As Haanel prepared for this fulfillment of his life’s dream, he wasn’t feeling well. By the time he saw a doctor, the cancer in his pancreas was the size of a football. It was incurable.
He retired to his bedroom and meditation shrine in his geodesic dome at the Ananda Meditation Retreat. There he lay on a wedge pillow to elevate his head to help him be more alert.
My first visit to Haanel’s room was memorable. As he lay in bed, I reached out to hold his hand to offer comfort. But I felt Master’s blessed energy flowing from Haanel to me. I said, “Haanel, can you feel this energy?” He answered, “Oh yes. As I lie here, I feel the blessings flowing over me.”
I moved into Haanel’s living room so I could take care of him. Though pancreatic cancer is usually extremely painful, I don’t remember Haanel ever speaking of pain. The only medication he took were two Tylenol to help him sleep at night. He didn’t want to diminish his awareness in any way. Most of the time, he was in his room absorbed in an inner world.
After two weeks, my friend Arati moved into Haanel’s dome to help with caretaking. We phoned Haanel’s son, David. Haanel had rejected David at a young age and doted on his daughter. David and his wife came to Ananda from Canada for Haanel’s last days. And they alerted Haanel’s daughter, who took a little longer to fly in from England.
Haanel refused to see his son. Day after day, the son and daughter-in-law sat outside Haanel’s small dome. Arati and I tried to chat with them, but it was an awkward situation.
Haanel’s daughter arrived, and was immediately invited into the bedroom. Haanel perked up and visited with her day after day. She was clearly the apple of his eye.
The day before his passing, Haanel said, “I’d like to see David.” I brought David, a tall man in his 50s, to the door of Haanel’s room. Haanel looked at him and, in a gentle way, said, “I don’t mean you, I mean the little David.” The way he said those words, I believe, communicated to his grown son that he was apologizing to the little David. It seemed to complete the energy.
The next day Haanel began hemorrhaging through the mouth. Dr. Deborah arrived with suction equipment and said to Haanel, “Keep your head turned to me so I can suction the blood.” After a few moments of Deborah’s busy work to keep his airway free, Haanel gave her a glance that spoke more clearly than words: “Don’t try to stop me.”
He turned onto his back and grabbed hold of the iron railing on the bedpost above his head so he could fully face his large photo of Master, and he began his last moments. His breathing was labored at first, but then it became quite peaceful. The room felt filled with peace. Arati and I sat on either side of him on his bed. At one point he reached down to each of our hands and said, “Shivani.” He was both thanking us and indicating to let Shivani know he was thinking of her. He went through some very peaceful long breaths, with long pauses, until he breathed his last.
I seemed to feel him “leave the room.” It wasn’t that he had died, it was that he had simply gone elsewhere. Haanel’s passing expressed the same grace that had been the hallmark of his life. It could not have been achieved more perfectly.
Dr. Deborah commented that most people who face the physical challenges Haanel had been facing would have been unconscious for about two weeks before their passing. Haanel’s great will and devotion kept him conscious until he crossed over to meet his Guru.