A syncretic spiritual community born from the visions of a yogi disciple, blending mysticism with sustainable living.

Founded in 1969 by Norman Paulsen in Santa Barbara, California, Sunburst, also known as Brotherhood of the Sun, is an intentional community rooted in the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda. Paulsen, a direct disciple of Yogananda, envisioned a society that harmonized alternative spiritual beliefs, including ufology, theosophy, esoteric Christianity, Hopi traditions, Kriya yoga, and meditation. Over the years, this community has evolved, both in its spiritual practices and its physical locations, eventually settling on a 4,000-acre ranch near Lompoc, California, which serves as its permanent home.

The early years of Sunburst were marked by a blend of mysticism, Christianity, and Kriya yoga practices, with a significant focus on sustainable living and organic farming. This holistic lifestyle attracted many followers, and the community quickly grew, operating successful organic food businesses, including a café, a juice factory, a bakery, and a wholesale warehouse. Their operations expanded to the point where Sunburst became a leading grower and retailer of organic foods in the United States during the late 1970s, generating substantial profits and media attention. They also experimented with non-polluting energy sources and engaged in educational activities for members’ children.

However, the community faced significant challenges in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Accusations against Paulsen of brandishing guns, stockpiling firearms, and allegations of substance abuse and financial mismanagement led to internal strife and defections. This turmoil, coupled with increased scrutiny from law enforcement and anticult groups, financial difficulties, and a changing market for organic foods, resulted in a significant decline in membership and financial stability. By the early 1980s, a majority of the members had left, and the community had to liquidate its assets in California.

Despite these setbacks, a core group of dedicated members followed Paulsen to Nevada and later to Utah, where they transitioned to other forms of employment while maintaining their spiritual practices. Over time, the community refocused its efforts and, in the mid-1990s, returned to California’s central coast, purchasing the land that would become Sunburst Sanctuary. Today, Sunburst continues to offer spiritual practices, community living, and workshops on sustainable living and meditation, emphasizing the teachings of Yogananda and Paulsen.

Throughout its history, Sunburst has exemplified the complex dynamics of a spiritual community seeking to live out its utopian ideals amid the challenges of the external world and internal governance. Its legacy is a testament to the enduring appeal of combining spiritual practice with sustainable living, and the community remains a unique example of a modern intentional community with deep spiritual roots​​​​​​​​.

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