Return to the Garden!

I got so engaged in my armageddonesque eco-talk that I forgot to explain my project.

Vijay asked me, “how often do you want to go? 2-3 times a week?” I had been thinking maybe once a week, but okay sure! I’m happier and healthier when I stay busy, so I think it will be good for me. As of now I pretty much at the beach office all the time. It’s beautiful here, but I would more than welcome a chance to balance that time with meaningful excursions to the farm.

Vijay said that the Sri Aurobindo Society would like to start documenting the work of the organic farm, and would I like to help with that? Umm, YES! I’ll be developing content that will become a booklet and go on the website. I might revamp the current training they have too. The goal is to go over the specific techniques used, but to also convey the systems of natural farming. At the Sri Aurobindo Society, agriculture is spiritual. How cool is that?

Farm coordinator Bhavuram = documentation averse

Natural farming” is the new term used to define holistic farming practices, where all inputs matter. Organic farming connotes a response to inorganic farming. Natural farming stands alone. It asks where does the water and fertilizer come from? I believe it is similar to the values of permaculture.

Here the farm stores rainwater, mixing it with cow dung and urine to make a super-powered mixture for the crops. All inputs come from the farm itself.

Food gardens are very important to me.  When I took the Urban Farm class at UO, it was by far my favorite class. Whenever people from out of town visited, I always took them to see the beautiful two-acre farm, tucked behind the major thoroughfare by campus. Come to think of it, I took unacquainted UO students too. When I lived at the Campbell Club I loved helping out at our lovely community garden plot by the river.

My lovely friend Grace, with the Campbell Club tomatoes and strawberries

I have always been fascinated by the plant life cycle. Growth, pollination, fruiting, consumption, then the passing of food that returns to the soil to fertilize the next generation. What is a more beautifully perfect system than that?   Just like humans have a desire to sacrifice and serve others, plants also have an innate wish to give their produce.

The Mother writes about this. When she was in her garden she would never know witch flower to pluck, not wanting to cause harm to some while sparing the others. She sat and concentrated for a bit and started to hear which flowers were calling to be plucked. She went to the vegetable garden and the same thing happened. Some would say “no, no no”, and then a vegetable would call to her, “pick me! I am ready!” Animals do the same. When a cheetah catches a zebra, it struggles for a bit, but there is a moment when it knows it cannot escape and it relaxes and gives itself to the cheetah, to the cycle of the natural world.

Yesterday I had a revelation that food gardens are my sacred places. They have such pure intentions. When I go into temples or cathedrals, I appreciate the fine architecture but I do not feel anything deep inside that connects me to the walls or high ceilings. In a garden, I feel calm yet vibrant, alive and connected. Barefoot as much as possible.

On top of being a meaningful project for the society, I think the garden has many truths to teach me.

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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.” (tiruvannamalai.co.in)

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.

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.