Do Goldfish Go to Heaven?

Today I got my Ladybird cycle repaired, as my back tire had busted. She is not so happy with me I guess, but I don’t wonder why. Cycling on the roads here is always an adventure, dodging potholes, speed bumps, poop, and bits of trash. And those are the stationary objects.

I also received word from my great friend and ASUO presidential successor Ben Eckstein that one of our office goldfish may not have much time on this earth. Ben and I bought the fish last summer in an attempt to brighten the office, and because I just really love fish. They are so relaxing and low maintenance. Tasty too, I’ve been wanting to cook some fish here… (I currently only get protein through lentils and copious amounts of dairy at the ashram).

Anyway, we have two over-sized goldfish, black, bug-eyed Stu and big, orange Auto. They stand for Student Autonomy. Ben named them. We also adopted some tiny fish at the beginning of fall last year, when a UO welcome event was handing out goldfish as prizes and all of these freshmen were wandering around with plastic bags of fish that they did not know how nor want to take care of. So we adopted six babies, who serve as the tank’s “intern” fish.

lunch time at the ASUO


Since you and I are the original parents of the fish and they are a product of our eternal bond, I wanted to let you know that the fish are not doing great. Stu is probably dying right now, we think he won’t make it to the morning (Consuela and Katie have already cried). We think Auto is alright, but he is really sad for Stu. He even rescued Stu from the filter when Stu just flopped under the filter and was too tired to go on.

 I will keep you posted. Let’s never forget that the fish belong to you and me.

 Love, Ben


Dear Ben,

Nooo!! That is so sad! Please keep me posted on whether Stu decides to leave his body for another realm. Give my condolences to Auto and the rest. 

 Love, Amelie 


At the Society beach office there are some beautiful goldfish in the ponds, shyly swimming under the shelter of the lilypads. Stu’s dance with death got me thinking about animals and reincarnation.  Are animals a less evolved soul that will return to the divine world after it leaves its mortal body, or is it a human who has more work to do to improve its karma?

Kaushal says Hindu and Buddhism philosophy states that all matter is trying to attain to the divine, and souls naturally progress into a more and more advanced body. In the material world we have evolution, and thus in the spiritual world as well. Sometimes souls can devolve, but it is very rare, and only in instances where the soul needs to learn something more before it is ready to manifest in a human body. So as long as Stu has learned what he needs to in this life, he will be born as a more evolved organism. If not, than perhaps he will have scales and gills again.

Humans do not realize that we can evolve into something more because we are at the top of the food chain. But that is the core idea behind the work of thousands of years of India’s practice of yoga. Sri Aurobindo believed that man can evolve into a divine being that communes with God, serving as a vehicle for helping humanity. His main goal was to show us that the purpose of people with a higher consciousness, evolved beings, is to spread the divine love of God throughout the world.




Holy Cow

Yesterday morning, these lovelies were standing outside my front door. I have grown accustomed to cows on the roads, sidewalks and munching the shrubbery/trash at the city park. Yet somehow it’s still a bit startling to see these giant black beasts returning your blurry-eyed stare in the predawn.

Hindus do not worship cows, they are considered sacred because they are a very useful animal. No Hindu text condemns eating beef, in fact, early Hindus were beef eaters. Their milk is consumed by young and old in liquid form of tea, yogurt and cheese. Cow dung is also a natural disinfectant, and is mixed with water by native villagers to wash the floor and walls of their house daily. It is speculated that they also serve as a reminder that all animals should be treated as sacred, as they are created and protected by God.

Sun Salutations and Tilaka Powder

Every day I get up at 5:30 am and go to yoga on the beach office rooftop from 6-7. Then breakfast at the dining hall, visit the samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and go to work around 9 am. (The samadhi is their burial shrine, where followers go to pray or meditate. August 15th is Sri Aurobindo’s birthday, so thousands of people from all over the world will come to the samadhi.)

Yoga is with my friend and colleague Kaushal, who is a great teacher. We do our sun salutations facing the ocean, literally greeting the sun rise over the ocean. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better way to start my day. I took a hatha yoga class freshman year at UO, but many terms of budget hearings instead of gym visits has rendered me very inflexible. I am excited to get my physical body back into shape.  Along with my mind and heart, it feels good to make my body stronger.

Kaushal=way more flexible than me!

For some reason, hundreds of giant dragonflies are always buzzing over our heads. Where do they come from? What do they eat? And most importantly, what do they want from us?

I am NOT a natural morning person, and I am eager to change my natural sleep patterns. When I do get up early, I feel very content and usually have a very productive day. That is, if I get enough sleep, which means in bed by 9 or 10 pm. It gets dark here around 7, so that’s not too hard.

This morning after breakfast I went to the the Ganesh temple with the elephant in front. The elephant’s name is Lakshmi and has been there since it was a baby. It is so cute but sometimes I feel bad for it. It isn’t very healthy for elephants to stand in one place so much, and once its foot was infected. One of the society’s architects, Tripte, has a father who works in leather goods. He made Lakshmi a set of giant shoes, so that his foot could heal.

photo by my friend Aishwarya

A nice man inside the temple taught me how to receive the blessing of red tilaka powder that is rubbed on your forehead. Right hand puts the rupee coin on the tray, waves over the oil lamp flame, left hand receives the powder from the priest, then the ring finger of your right hand places the powder on the forehead.

Me and our taxi driver petting a goat at Chidambaram, a massive temple, 75 km from Pondi. I’m wearing a blessing of white ash, another type of blessing powder. 

I went to the Chidamburam temple with Keri and Dan. (Photos posted soon)

Today I was self-conscious about wearing a blessing, because not many of my office colleagues go to temple in the mornings (or at least don’t receive blessings.) And Indian passerbys stared at me. Did I put it on wrong, or is it just very unusual to see a Westerner with a Hindu blessing walk around town? Will I offend anyone because I don’t identify as a Hindu? Is a temple visit contradictory to the ashram’s beliefs? But when I got to work, people just smiled very genuinely and said, “Oh, you went to the temple?” Like it was no thing, they were just happy that I am diving into it all.

Does this mean that I want to become a Hindu? No, I just appreciate the ritual of it. Back home church is where you go once a week on Sunday mornings. Here the temple is a daily place of community. Yet there is also no worship service, message, or personal relationships forged with the priests or religious leaders, at least not that I have yet observed. There is a lot of smoke chanting flowers incense statues. It’s pretty nuts.

A Sacred Mountain

Two days ago I was feeling a bit down. The last few weeks have been a rush of newness, exploration of sites, tastes, and sounds. But now I’m creating a routine, one in which I currently spend a lot of time By Myself.

When you are on your own, you have to create your purpose, as well as friendships out of the people in your proximity. Everything was exciting and safe and new at the beginning and now I’m on my own. Naturally I have to create a new life for myself. When I started at UO in the dorms I felt like this. After I had decorated my room I didn’t know what to do with myself. Last summer at the empty ASUO, too. Despondent, too much free time. And for someone who loves food, eating the same meal of yogurt, lentil soup, rice and bananas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is a bit depressing. I’ve started sneaking in bits of tomato in plastic tupperware. I know my days will fill up eventually, with both activities and friends.

When I start to feel blue, I am training myself to revert to what I am grateful for. I asked Sampad, one of the society’s resident Sanskrit scholars, what thank you is in Sanskrit: Dhanyavadah. Nice word, one that I can actually say. I think I will use this to meditate on for awhile.

I have much to be thankful for. Yesterday was Sunday, our one day off. I went to a sacred mountain, with Venus and Bini, two cool women from the Media for Social Change team. The mountain is called Thiruvannamalai, two hours from Pondi on a crowded public bus. We hiked up the mountain and had a lovely picnic lunch at the ashram.

Bini and Venus

Venus loves mountains. But who doesn’t?

 green beans, chapati, tomato, guava

The four doors and towers of the temple face north, south, east and west. The ascending levels represent levels of consciousness to be attained.

Below in the city there is a large temple that is associated with fire, because of a centuries-long battle between Brahma and Vishnu about who was more powerful. Shiva, the god who is really supreme, decided to show them that he was in fact the most powerful. Below is the legend:

“To prove he was the most powerful, he took the form of fire which was very big and immense. This fire stood in front of the two and a voice was heard from the fire, which was Lord Shiva himself and told that “Among you two who will first approach the top and bottom of this dazzling fire will be said to be the most powerful forever.” Then Brahma, changed himself as a swan and flew up to the sky to reach the top of the Fire and kept flying for hundreds and hundreds of years. But could not reach the top on the other side, Lord Vishnu changed himself as a boar and starting digging down the Earth to find the bottom. Who also did the same thing over couple of years and could not ever find the bottom. Then both of them realized that Lord Shiva, he who is endless without the start nor an end was only the “Superior” among both of them. Their fight had got a conclusion. They came back to Earth and bowed in front of the Shiva, who was in the dazzling form of fire and requested to stay in the same form on this Earth and bless the devotees. Lord Shiva agreed to stay in the same form and transformed himself as a mountain. From then, every Karthikai Deepam Festival the column of dense fire comes to the sight on the top of mountain. At Thiruvannamalai this is done on the 10th day of this festival Karthikai Deepam.” (

The best part of the trip was seeing the multitude of peacocks at the mountain base ashram, and then monkeys at the top! A whole family, big and small. It was my first time seeing wild monkeys in India. Very exciting.

Monkeys on the temple

I have been reading a lot of books, both spiritual and fiction. I met a lovely American couple, Cambria and Devin, who have been working at the society for the last five months. They left today, but Cambria left me a stack of wonderful books and some soap. The first one I read was The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. It takes place close to Tamil Nadu in the state of Kerala. It’s about a twin brother and sister growing up in the caste system within a dying family. The book’s strength is the dense imagery; I couldn’t put it down. I think A Fine Balance is next.

A Funky Smell

India has a lot of smells. Some are bad, some foreign, many delicious. For the last couple of days our room has smelled horrible. Not like garbage, but simply the smell of decay. We tried burning incense to cover up the smell; the guesthouse staff moved the plant material that was outside our window. We didn’t know what was wrong.

Keri and I had an idea that it was coming from the air conditioner that sat in our window, so they cleaned out the filter for any mold. As Keri’s bed is right by the A/C, sleeping was difficult for her. Still the smell persisted, and much fuss was made. Finally a maintenance man came and took the A/C apart. He found a dead squirrel caught in the front grate. A squirrel! I just about died laughing.

fuss being made