Living in harmony with the land at the Sunburst Sanctuary

Imagine a “divine society of beings that no longer pollute” this garden of beauty, creating heaven here on Earth. A tribe who abandons the notion of coveting material things and becomes caretakers of the land of each other, seeking divine wisdom and knowledge. If that sounds like hippie talk from the 60s, that’s because it is. It’s the legacy of Sunburst Sanctuary.


Actually, the green movement has much in common with the goals to preserve and protect the Earth so loved by hippies, and practiced on their communes. Today, many people think that the hippie movement started so long ago died out, destroyed by the excesses of drugs and free love perhaps.


Yet this is not true. In fact, one of the largest hippie communes to ever exist, the Sunburst Sanctuary of California is still going strong today. If was first established by founder Norman Paulsen in the late 1960s. Today it lives on, “pioneering a vision for a New Earth.”



Paulsen, who survived a 30-ft fall, began seeking the spiritual guidance from Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian yogi, and guru who traveled to America and introduced millions of westerners to the concepts of Kriya Yoga and meditation. Paulsen incorporated yoga, mysticism, Christianity, as well as Native American Hopi symbolism into ceremonies that had their humble beginnings in an old ice cream factory in Santa Barbara. What started out as “The Brotherhood of the Sun” was declared a Christian non-profit despite the infusion of so many different beliefs, thus achieving tax-free status.



Although the hippie movement is often associated with free love and drugs, the group was actually socially strict, abstaining from drugs, forbidding outside possessions, and forbidding sex outside of marriage.


Current leader Patty Paulsen says the idea was simple “to meditate together.”


Paulsen wrote his autobiography, Life, Love, God: Story of a Soul Traveler, in which he explains his “journey into cosmic consciousness that reveals the unlimited possibilities inherent within each person.”


By 1971, Paulsen’s following became so strong that the group began buying hundreds of acres of California farmland, growing from what one would think of as a commune, to becoming the largest organic farm in America. Living out of tepees and adobe houses, the followers planted orchards and vegetables, raised Nubian goats, and plowed fields with French Percheron draft horses. They were creating a Utopia where everyone consumed only what was needed.


The hippie community was based on religion and spirituality.


“God is everything… Yes, there is salvation for this planet through God’s children,” said Paulsen.


By 1975, the commune grew into a $3 million dollar business, Sunburst Farms, that shipped organic food across the country. The Los Angeles Times reported on the group’s astonishing growth into “four ranches, three organic food markets, a bakery, two restaurants, a trucking service,” as well as sailing vessels restored in San Pedro.


The commune was more like a town with its own school, a blacksmith, and a 3,000-acre ranch next to land owned by Ronald Reagan. The community began expanding across the country to Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. Meanwhile, their founder was embroiled in scandal after investigations found he had been spending upwards of $60,000 on narcotics. Police found a stash of M-14 military and Belgian assault rifles. A former Green Beret trained reluctant commune members to defend themselves from a possible attack in the isolated mountains.


You might expect that the last of the great hippie communes would have gone out with a dramatic and violent end, taking on the reputation of an armed cult. Instead, the commune saw a resurgence in the 1990s. A group of long-time followers came back to California where they farm the land, only now only for themselves.


Now with new technology, they are able to teach online courses in meditation and yoga and sell books by their founder, Norman Paulsen. Sunburst is still going strong after Paulsen’s death in 2006. Patty Paulsen, his former wife has carried on as Sunburst’s spiritual director as he asked.


Living in harmony with the Earth and with each other has never been more important than it is today. What the hippie communes of the 60s started has continued into modern times, and just maybe they will be part of our solution to the epic environmental issues of today.


Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube



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Matthew Silvan

Progressive liberal from the American south. Working to educate and inform on issues like preserving the environment, equality for minorities and women, and improving the quality of life for mankind and our ecosystem. Following the facts in the face of a movement to follow only the money.

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