The Sri Aurobindo Press

(sriaurobindosociety.org.in)

Yesterday I went to check out the Sri Aurobindo printing press with Sushanto. I cycle past it every day, and am always curious to discover the technical secrets of book publishing. The society produces compilations of Sri Aurobindo and the Mothers’ writings, as well as books on spirituality, education, and self-discovery. The books printed here get sent to the Sri Aurobindo centers all over the country and around the world, in dozens of languages. Once the society’s new website is launched, their products will soon be sold online. The day I came they were working on next year’s spiritual diary.

(sriaurobindosociety.org.in)

The tour did not disappoint. I saw the many steps it takes to make a beautiful book. I saw the metal plates that are created to make each folio, the machines that stitch the folios together, fold the sheets perfectly, and the one manned by three people that puts the glue and cover on the spine. For hardcover books, the ashram makes beautiful handmade paper, which I am told is a bit of a chore to make, especially in such large quantities and sizes.

I saw the giant Heidelberg machine, a German printing press that has been at the ashram for decades. Sushanto told me that once the machine was broken. A worker came to unlock the building in the morning, and noticed in the corner of his eye saw some small gnomes all around it. When he looked again they were gone. The gnomes were its caretakers, coming to fix the broken machine. I wonder if they spoke Deutsch?

A Heidelberg machine

 

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Unsettling Survival

“The infinite wonders of the universe are revealed to us in the exact measure that we are capable of receiving them.” –Helen Keller

I had a check-in meeting with Vijaybai yesterday, and I have been given a very exciting new project. But I will start at the beginning.

An hour earlier I had been meeting with Shivakumar, and he was answering my many questions on spirituality. We were talking about how each culture has a unique capacity in the physical, emotional, and mental bodies. For example, the culture of England and France were very developed in technology, the physical capacities of force. When they came to North America, the Native Americans were more developed spiritually, something that the foreign invaders would not have even noticed, let alone valued.

Shivakumar told me I had to read a letter from Chief Seattle in a book called Whispers of Nature, edited by Vijaybai.

So then an hour later, I had my meeting with Vijaybai. I told him that I wanted to go again to the organic garden to experience and learn more of what it has to offer.  We started talking about the importance of holistic farming, and he said, “let me give you something to read.” What book did he pull out but the Whispers of Nature! Within an hour, I had received two copies of this book from two of the wisest people I know. Weird, huh? I think this book must have been intensely trying to find me.

In 1854, the US federal government wanted to buy a large area of land in exchange for a promised ‘reservation’ for the people to live on. Chief Seattle has some beautiful advice and words of warning for the white man to remember our relation to the land. Chief Seattle asks, “How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?…All things share the same breath.”

I don’t necessarily think that owning land is inherently bad, but if it must be so then we should take a serious look at how we treat our land that we “own.” Is it necessary to cut down every tree on the lot to build our house? Where will our water and electricity come from? Do we really need to build a pool, or to clear the brush for manicured lawns? Could we even build living communities that share spaces, such as the bathroom and kitchen, so that we don’t all have to build new houses?

Chief Seattle also comments on the limited understanding of the white man in spiritual and religious matters. Europeans had the uncanny ability to ignore the intent behind the spiritual views, focusing only on the material manifestations of religion.  Any belief system that didn’t have monumental structures or texts was automatically considered barbaric. Didn’t anyone understand that religion is a cultural construct? That man is so desperate to label and categorize right and wrong, bad and good, that he will build walls of morality around him to pretend he understands how to live? But I digress…

Chief Settle issues a warning to the white man:

“We may be brothers after all. We shall see. One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover-our God is the same God. You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own the land, but you cannot. He is the God of man, and His compassion is equal to the red man and the white. The earth is precious to Him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator. The white too shall pass…but in your perishing you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of the God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man. That destiny is a mystery to us…The buffalo are all slaughtered…the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. The end of living and the beginning of survival.”

We are now in the age of survival. But God is nothing if not full of grace. So too is the earth. We can fix the damage if we start fixing ourselves.