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.

Trees Have Feelings Too

           Shivakumar recommended that when the Alternative Break students come they should spend some time in Nature. Nature is a vital part of Indian life. They do not have a concept of human civilization vs. wilderness. Reminiscent of Cronin’s thesis, humans are nature; it is impossible to separate the two. We westerners must retrain ourselves how we see ourselves in relation to nature in order to start shifting our behaviors. In India, people ask permission of the trees before they are cut down. Nature is respected, because we are showing ourselves self-respect.

Samantha and Toodles, a featherless bird she rescued 

         Plants and animals all respond to love, just like humans. Living creatures are much more aware of their surroundings than we think, and they remember past experiences. I just watched a documentary called “I Talk to Animals,” about a California woman named Samantha Khury who communicates with animals, listening to their anxieties and concerns. She teaches others how to talk to their pets as well. The same idea of integrating humanity with the animal kingdom is key, people must not see the two as separate. She said that animals communicate through telepathically sending visual images. All one has to do is visualize an image of what you want to communicate. One woman who raised goats took a workshop from Khury. One of her goats used to kick the bucket over when she was being milked. The goat owner sent visual images to the goat. If the goat kicked over the bucket, she would pour the milk over the goat’s head. If the goat stayed nice and still, she sent an image of her lovingly petting the goat. She said after seven days of this, the goat stayed nice and still when she is milked! Fascinating, and it makes me want to try!

Another key idea I have learned about is motivating people to protect nature out of love, not our fear of global warming. When talking about environmental reforms, fear is not an effective approach. People do not respond to fear, it makes them want to exploit more. Instead we need to foster the love of nature that is within all our hearts. I have yet to meet someone who does not like nature.

Understandably, the issue of climate change overwhelms us. Yet we should not forget love is boundless; it does not know the meaning of impossible. This was a heartening idea for me. Carried out through a positive lens, sustainability efforts seem more hopeful. This might sound hippy-dippy to some, but stop and think for a moment. Of the people you know who work on sustainability issues, or even those who live conscientiously, do they do it lovingly or out of fear?

Last year when I worked with Connecting Eugene to stop the UO from building an office park on the banks of the Willamette River, I saw the committed hearts of unpaid, busy volunteers acting out of love. Last summer I drove to Portland with the Beyond Coal campaign, where a city board was determining the future of the Boardman Coal plant. Dozens of students and caring citizens testified (including Maneesh) in support of closing the plant. From all over the state, they prepared their testimony, traveled to Portland, patiently waited for their two minutes, making their voice heard purely out of love. When we hired the UO Student Sustainability Coordinator, Louisa Deheer, she stood out because she has a passionate heart and a loving attitude towards students and environmental protection.

Think about it: when are leaders most effective at passing policy or changing social behaviors? When you learn about environmental issues, what motivates you to action, learning about innovative solutions, or the threat of a flood or food shortage? Fear is powerful, but love conquers all.

Sri Aurobindo

I realized I have not yet given a ‘Sri Aurobindo for Dummies” overview, so let’s do it.

Sri Aurobindo came upon the earth to teach his truth to men. He told them that man is only a transitional being living in a mental consciousness but with the possibility of acquiring a new consciousnesss…Sri Aurobindo gave all his time to establish himself this consciousness…and to help those around him.

–the Mother

Sri Aurobindo lived from 1872 to 1950, and was born in Kolkata (Calcutta). His father wanted him to get a ‘proper’ English education, and so he was sent to Cambridge for college. He was one of the top students at the university, especially in literature and Greek. Hungry to learn more about his heritage and country, he moved back to India, radicalized about how the British Empire had turned Indians into dependent and disempowered citizens.

Aurobindo was the first political leader to demand complete independence from British rule. He began writing about India throwing off the chains of the British by winning their independence. He became the editor of the newspaper Bande Mataram, one of the only Indian nationalist publications. Aurobindo radicalized the Indian National Congress, turning it into a more relevant body. The British police tried to convict Aurobindo twice on charges of sedition for his powerful words in the Bande Mataram. He was imprisoned for a year, but used the time to do strengthen his spiritual being through yoga and meditation. He eventually moved to the French protectorate of Pondicherry in 1910 to escape the possibility of being arrested again. He thought that he would come back to India at some point, but that was not to be. The Mother, a french woman named Mirrha Alfassa, came to Pondicherry in 1920 and became one of Aurobindo’s students, eventually becoming his closest collaborator. He was the philosophy, she was the action of how to put it into practice.

The ashram has a photo of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in almost every room, even our bedroom in the guesthouse.

In Pondicherry, he left his political life behind and devoted himself to his yoga practice for the next 40 years. He left behind hundreds of poems and stories, journals of his spiritual journey, and thousands of letters to spiritual followers.

Long after he is dead and gone, he will be looked upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism, and the lover of humanity.”

-Deshbandhu C.R. Das

Here are the links for the Sri Aurobindo society:

This site has more of the society’s philosophy, while the second has the concrete programs and amenities of the ashram.