(This is a first version of the article. I shall revise based on feedback, any grammatical errors, or a need for expansion/ modification)
- Evening party at the tribal hut
My home, this small village is situated just behind the Palakmati river, and adjoining the dense Satpura forests. It is a collection of just about forty huts.
Today is the Amavasya of Vasant season, a particularly dark night, made darker by the news coming from the world. We face uncertain times.
The lure of mahua wine and sleeping on the charpoy watching stars, has brought me to Ashok’s hut. In addition, a sweet smell of brinjals roasting in the nearby fire, makes it a feast. My stay or visit to anyone’s place here is still taken as a special occasion. Hence, Ashok quickly planned Baati and Bharta.
I tell Ashok and two other tribals, as they wonder why I look above , “See, that bright one is Guru or Brahaspati, the protector of life on earth. Rig Veda told this thousands of years ago but the scientists confirm that now only.”
They listen silently at this idle talk, and their affection increases with more Mahua servings. It has been 15 years here and yet I am an enigma to all – belonging here more than anyone else, and yet have thoughts that try to look afar. They do not know, but for years when I was weak, I have feared that one day human greed would engulf these last bastions too. The dark and unending universe above, always gave me more hope than the sight of benevolent bureaucrats or businessmen.
This has been my life for 15 years now – growing plants to the extent that now we have a forest, looking at stars and seasons and see how they find our work, reading books and philosophies, traveling to remote villages to feel the lives and the rivers and trees.
- Journey to this place:
How I ended up here is also nothing less than a destiny to my mind. At the age when mind begins to explore the world, the education system was there to adopt me like all others. It told us to ignore the limits of the body, and ignore the soft sound of consciousness or expose us to deep questions of philosophy. Instead, there was history, geography, and so many of them, and then to please minds like mine, there was the aura of limitless math and science. Back then, I do not recall, if my own connectedness with nature or my inner self was a choice.
To fill that gap too, there were rule books, moral codes, value systems – and each school had slight tweaking of it based on the color of their owners.
So, devoid of that connect with nature’s limitless world, earlier part of my journey was exclusively focused on outward success, and that meant competition for scarce resources – time, books, seats in colleges or trains, then profits and coveted positions. For the adept, it was a game of cards – one may draw a good lot but still may lose if the situation increases the bid. It is thrilling as long as there is a next draw, and as long as there is a more successful person in sight.
For those less adept, but still forced to remain in or addicted to the game, there is no thrill in it but a fear of being left out. Left out of what was questionable and that query door is meant to be shut.
I had run well and hard, and had ticked off many desired things in the mental list- five star hotels, flights, weekend tennis club, gambling at Vegas…So I quietly accepted their limitless nature and inadequacy and started pursuing an economics course in US, and reading philosophies.
In 2001, a simple economic question created thought flows in my mind. I wanted to be a (Dollar) millionaire, and I presumed everyone who is not already there, wanted to be one. Assuming a good humane world that allows everyone this opportunity, all it would take is for the world to have that much money, say around 1000 trillion. But that is simple –just print it. Economists would balk at the idea of printing it without backing resources, but that’s what was happening and would continue happening. I just now heard that a virus outbreak was another such opportunity.
But where were the resources to buy so much with that money? Without anything to buy, money would leave a horrible worthless feeling.
That was never a problem to markets – there are unending services, and more can be created – if nothing else then by tweaking laws, just like we have 5 types of lawyers, then there could be 10 types. On top of it, there are dreams –sold as financial instruments. The fear of losing out of a hot property on mars, or the first day first show first row of the millionth movie, or that next super degree post that MBA one which just taught you how to make a tagline for more sale, or that tie with a slightly different tinge showcasing your arrival…the list is already unlimited, but howsoever unreal these are good money absorbents once its printed. Hence they are equivalent of a social service as they keep far more humans occupied than those doing social service ever can.
It gave me temporarily relief to think that all humans can be millionaires, as long as minds focused on outward space.
But what about the physical assets needed to live in that mental outward space, and supporting this mortal limiting body?
Most physical products that we would need to be on a mental flight to remain millionaires and then billionaires ( …defining sentences got longer over time), would have to come ultimately from nature, be it manufactured or not. So the only way for the millionaires to remain floating as millionaires and their children too to remain millionaires, was that all this nature was recycled and ‘restored’ perfectly.
That’s where my chemical engineering troubled me. Thermodynamics was my favorite subject. Its rules are such a spoil-sport. You want recycled and ‘restored’ perfectly and no energy losses !
Its not possible, and humans including me even with all my natural work experience, don’t like it that way either. Disney understands that and delivers an unlimited string of blockbusters around those six infinity stones. On the other hand, the marvelous ‘Interstellar’ that tries to stick close to possibilities of physics, is a poor cousin.
I came across Kardashev’s work who had already spent a life on this question, and found the Sun to be the intermediate answer. That’s when I first thought about the Sun.
Also coincidentally around that time, I was traveling to remote tribal areas just like a tourist and the plight of rivers and the forests too were visible though it did not worry me.
Observing the sun took me to plants, and the rivers, and when at last I reluctantly focused on soil, I saw a beautiful expression of life there. There was the basic layer of life- that managed air quality, water flows, and energy sink. The cycle of elements, and the foundation of pyramid of life were all here.
Thereafter my journey has been focused on this inward discovery. I realized that the sheer beauty and treasure of the first sight itself, pulls one from one step to another. This first step can happen in many ways – ‘selfless’ caring for a needy person or an animal, or caring for a plant, or even an inanimate structure, but in my case it started with trying to find life in the soil.
The interest in the soil, other elements and life became an interest in forest, and then when the question of human adaptation came, it became food forests. I have written a separate article on that work and how Aranyaani chapter in Rig Veda, inspired me.
- The promise of India
I have covered the events and story of my arrival in this tribal village, interaction with humans and animals, and evolution thereof, in a separate book : 'The Diary of a Snake Charmer'. But since this article is about another thought, those details are not relevant here. Briefly put, I left my job, and settled here for good.
When I started getting involved here, the idea was one of progress to….the same millionaire goal, this time applied to the simple hut dwellers. I had a vague idea of a developed India which was still being pursued.
At material level, it started with better food , clothes, etc, but quickly and practically degraded to more junk food and drinks, more movies, more set of clothes, travel, parties, faster bikes, etc.
At social level, it started with human equality and equal opportunities but quickly transformed to access to markets, stereotype education, and aping the consumption of non local products and services.
The path to this higher living, seemed to go through markets; a market which would consume as it wanted, and not as what we back here in the village produced. That was the key to prosperity. If markets value wheat, we had to cut down trees and run heavy machinery to make it into fields. The government and bureaucracy was helping in this transition from poverty to prosperity.
Once upon a time, the hut had two bullocks, a few animals and kept the occupants busy within the premises in making their own food and home. Now, with prosperity around, it had a tractor, that too on a grant from government, bags of new breed seeds, bags of chemicals, water storage and many such symbols of progress. In addition, the children started going to nearby school, and the fewer cows started getting AI in lieu of open roaming with bulls.
But within two years, I started getting uneasy again. I could already see why and how markets were aggressively reaching out- the soft loans on tractors were called subsidy but it was a typical garment seller’s trick – increase the label price, and then pass discount as some to be later paid coupon.
From the seed to the fork, the market seemed to work in tandem in creating demand, and selling the promise of India, which in turn had forced the practices back in the hut and the field.
But these practices were destroying the original asset – seeds, land and water. And I felt that sooner or later, our small hut farm shall compete with similar small and large farms for selling the same grain. Our economic advantage would keep reducing and eventually vanish. It would leave us with damaged assets too. I figured out it would take a few early and large farmers over the millionaire line, but leave the rest in a bad shape.
What I was deducing by way of economics, the farmers had already deduced by intuition and connect to land. Most wanted their children to study, seek better opportunities as this ground looked shaky after supporting the family generations since ancient times.
One day, I decided to teach the children of my tribal village, starting with children who were 10 years or more.
Their curriculum sounded familiar- it almost matched what I had studied in school 30 years back: similar history, geography and math. I was happy to teach them everything I knew. Slowly I started interacting with more senior students- almost all of them were either graduating in political science or nursing, since these were the two courses easily available in nearby colleges.
One day, many of our cows and many villagers too, had a flu. It was natural at the change of weather. However, there was a distinct pattern of behavior – the younger ones went to nearby Sohagpur clinic, while older ones came to our farm (since we had lots of herbs and natural flora), and after some discussion with me, took Vetiver, neem and Tulsi. Same were given to animals.
By morning the latter group was fine but the younger ones were still on pills.
That changed the direction of my interaction with young ones. Over time, I realized that the educated ones knew when Haldi ghati wars were fought or the map of the state, but had no clue about how to tend to animals, or regenerate the plants in their backyard or in forests and their medicinal values.
I was living in a two community village- one that had known about its culture, foods, and medicines, and one that had no clue about their own assets. Unfortunately, the former was getting scarcer each year. And thus a process of village wealth transfer to unknown far away entities was on- in the form of crippling education and health.
To add to it, from gardeners to forest experts, the entire set had become agriculturists- buying seeds and fertilizers, renting tractors and equipments for growing mostly wheat and soyabean. In other parts of the state, there were sugarcane growers also. All these varieties had gone GM changes.
Then I looked at urban malls – the shops had foods that had either sugar or wheat or soya as a base. They had replaced honey, millets or coarse grains or mahua flour , and pulses.
It was amply clear that on one hand village economy had been ruined, and on the other the urban consumer was being fed things that would soon lead to medical problems, that in turn would transfer more wealth.
The troika conspiracy of education, health and modern agriculture were a perfect tool for massive wealth transfer from unsuspecting households and villages to a few.
Such has been the scale of this (what I call a buy-out) that folks have got awards for industrial farming/ green revolutions, massive subsidies are given to run this cycle, and licenses provided for supporting activities.
I asked myself – what was my direction? I was blank – neither could I let go of that great Indian dream, nor could I be just another change agent helping in that exploitation process.
- New Horizons:
So, I started the work on restoring the depleted farm. The old unrealized interest of exploring the soil life, and from there food forests, took shape. Though at a micro level, but the impact of this work was visible on the water flows and kick starting of natural processes too.
It appeared that the many seemingly unconnected problems from drying up of rivers to loss of honey bees, were all interconnected.
On the other hand, the market was full of more expansionist or isolated proposals to solve such issues.
An example was, in case of vanishing rivers, someone wanted planting trees along the main river basin ; someone else preferred the rivers interlinking.
So to learn more, I traveled along many of the rivers, some of Himalayan origin and many from Satpura ranges, but the story was the same: The rivers were in deep stress as most of the small feeder ones did not flow outside the monsoon period.
One reason was foolish reforestation. Because they had removed, say a teak or sal tree, and planted say a bamboo or some non local sapling in the name of reforestation. It will make a mess of the water creating ecology. Similar thing has happened with Himalayan rivers from British times, when non-natural flora was introduced along lower Himalayas. Foolish re-plantation has increased the problem of rescuing the rivers.
The other big reason was Industrial agriculture. The use of heavy tractors and machines stopped many water channels, while the pattern of agriculture consumes a lot of unseasonal water. Another effect of tractors and chemicals is that water pores have closed. So a lot more water flows over fields in monsoon, than on an untilled land with earthworms creating pores. In earlier days, it would go down into the soil as natural soil is like a large sponge.
Hence, planting trees somewhere in the main river basin is of no consequence. It is just a waste of time, while earning some good money. But time is precious now.
That brings me to question of Linking rivers. Let it be sold as another dream, but based on my experience, it will be another expensive cheque paid by masses. During monsoons, even if they are partially good, all our reservoirs are full, and rivers are full during monsoon. The amount of water that gets drained in sub-normal monsoon is much higher than what a giant linking system can bring – that too if source rivers are overflowing in summers, which are none.
So either we want more capacity to store or come back to nature so that trickles start flowing, agriculture starts consuming less and monsoon water does not flow on top of the soil but goes down to recharge.
All of it means, we have to consume what is naturally produced, in order to save the rivers.
Then the market presented another solution to vanishing honey bees – imported boxed Honey bee boxes. Despite all lobbying by economists and government supported institutions running such programs, my instinct said no to it. I asked the promoting folks: What about the 12 month flowers and the host trees and fresh water channels? Do we do away with them in future? My such questions made me a persona-non-grata in planning circles.
I cannot find any reason, other than greed, to destroy natural environments and yet create products that are supposed to come from them.
On this topic, an insight came in a flash while I was traveling along Narmada and visited a small place called Malpur, in Dindori. There I saw Peepal and semal trees loaded with pristine honeycombs. The surrounding area had other conditions favorable for them- flowing fresh water streams, lots of wild and other flowers, etc. Nature was creating valuable products but only when left without judgment and control. On the other hand, vast lands had been cleared of trees like Peepal and the same folks were now wishing for boxed honey equipments!
As much as I got devoted to this, it got devoted to me. The scope and scale increased many fold. Out of the blue, I started getting queries from distant metro folks who wanted some herbs or pristine food. Many of them were either suffering from lifestyle or pollution diseases including cancers, while many wanted a specific thing which could grow only in food forest environments. (see my other article)
The villagers also started taking interest in my work of developing the food forests. I watched quietly as they took some vetiver if their animal was ill, or some forest embedded herb or turmeric for home. It was clear that they had rediscovered a lost association with nature and yet they did not have the holding power or market conviction to do the same on their own lands.
However, I knew we had to go much further. These food forests needed permanence, which could only be ensured if they become mainstream. Else, they would too be cut down one day by the market demand, and these villagers, politicians and officials, would merely act as agents for the highest bidder.
It was very clear that the existing food model did not see many natural assets as perpetual asset but only as a waste or a one time – to be cut and sold- asset. One example of former is a peepal or a banyan tree. An example of latter is teak or sal trees, where we had forgotten how to use their shade and water for higher use, but see value only in the wood part once cut.
(In another article, I have written in length about how a peepal tree is a wonderful perpetual asset in a symbiotic environment)
With that view, I added two more tasks to the natural food forest path – one was to discover perpetual value from it, and two was to discover how communities , both nearby and distant, can be associated with it with a mutual benefit.
I facilitated multifaceted interventions by skill trainers, social workers, bureaucrats, religious saints, etc., looking for way forward. It has been a mixed bag so far and this experiment continues. The all important first step and many thereafter have been taken without even an effort by villagers, so I can see the footprint for the rest.
I tried the same approach in many villages, even at the high altitude of Pauri, and have realized that the pull of nature is still very strong. Given a chance, folks would break the mental bonds of an industrially organized market and revert to symbiotic co-existence models.
Yet, over last five decades, despite this land producing numerous thinkers and so many who demonstrated that path, we had only moved away from it in how our lives were organized.
I had met many religious gurus but since I had already immersed myself in Vivekanand’s Advait thoughts, and had seen firsthand how nature’s consciousness works, my questions were more basic e.g. How does one motivate a farmer to plant the most religious tree i.e. peepal or banyan? How can cows find a meaningful life again?
Then I turned to many social thinkers. Many of them try to solve problems that originated due to the economic model, and yet work using the same mindset that created them in the first place. There are many experiments going on in different parts, yet one that stands on its own feet, devoid of external help, has been eluding my sight. In many case, I felt mislead as great intents were driven by vanity and no real experiment or work.
So I had turned a blank at most places but I must say that in this journey, I have received many pearls of wisdom from many folks and could use them when my mind was ready to see it. In many cases, the same pearl of wisdom was of no further use to the giver. This is where I see the chain of consciousness expressing itself over time– folks preserving some wisdom which is of no use to them but only to pass on at the right time. In nature too, one can see birds eat a peepal fruit and pass on the seed (as excreta) at an optimal place for honey bees to live.
By now everyone had slept. They knew we had reached a dead end, the one I had been reaching in my mind so many times.
I could gaze at stars in silence and use the Mahua effect to think deeply.
Whenever things get dark, we remember the lights like Swami Vivekanand, Gandhi, Tagore, and so many more who have walked on this land and give us hope. We feel humbled that this was the place where Buddha, Shankaracharya dwelled, where the pristine Vedas and Advait philosophy was first observed.
There is still a large percentage of population that still understands that rivers being our mothers, are to be worshiped, and each element and being in nature respected for our own well being.
Yet, the moment we come out of those solemn thoughts, and come back to practical life where we needed to exist in a certain manner, our behavior and consumption is quite out of sync with those thoughts.
Over last many years, I tried many different experiments, in the search for a more sustainable way of life. It included self healing, forest therapy, alternate schooling, and participative natural farming and community service. I believed it would induce larger behavior change beyond the experiment period or focus area. However, it proved mostly futile except for a few individuals, most of whom were already transformed before joining these experiments.
As soon as the effect of these experiments was over, folks reverted to destructive practices. In some cases the aura of market choices was huge, while in some others this was a trial that could not hold their resolve further as it was difficult to follow.
Hence I feel that bringing a change that stops exploitation of nature and so humans, will not be possible through outward changes.
For example, folks don’t steal even when a risk free opportunity is available, as they believe in a value system or religious text from within. The outward books of constitution or penalties are not enough to enforce basic human behaviors.
I also realized that many many folks in our country, particularly of older age, follow as much as possible, a natural lifestyle with minimal destruction and maximum giving they can do, and out of choice and love for it.
Hence the change has to come from inner self, and that is where the markets have penetrated.
One may say that humans can be easily driven to desired consumption and associated behavior by fear or greed, but question is who is creating that greed or fear?
Nature and all the other living beings are not doing it. If at all, nature could evoke a fear of mortality at times but that simultaneously also evokes a sense of renunciation and preservation for next generations, and not greed to consume now. As I have felt by observing the nature and its loss and creation of life every moment, I have felt one with the cycle of going and coming.
So the responsibility of creation of fear and greed stops at humans itself. I tried to point it to the self alone, but there are so many instances, almost every day, where even the most selfish of humans, demonstrate an act to show they can rise above it easily.
When I go beyond the self, it is the family, which in turn borrows its fears and greed from the society, which in turn is taking it from somewhere. There are a whole set of greeds and fears, shouting out from posters, newspapers, and channels. They included very serious ones like losing out on a percentage or a school, health costs, dying a pauper leaving family behind, etc., to very trivial ones like having the whitest shirt in the world, and the wildest perfume to the costliest bags.
All of them are human creations –monetarily benefiting a few, taking from many.
Why do humans participate in these induced fears and greed? Free market are a beautiful concept, but as long they are free of induced behavioral biases or information gaps.
There are role models who motivate them more than noble folks.
One finger pointed at me ! Just by showcasing a few IITians or IIM or IAS folks or senators or moneyed artists and their perks and power (which anyways were a small percentage of the monetary chain), the whole society was convinced to read irrelevant subjects and crafts and not what would have made them self sufficient and proud.
But these are mere role models –just a few ones who played well and were rewarded, and now showcased to lure masses. But why would folks get lured if pre-existing conditions were good? A long period of exploitation – gender persecution, jamindaari, discrimination, had probably created conditions where this nameless, faceless market and its promise of freedom looks alluring.
As many earlier vices were brought down, the minds learnt new ways of being fearful and greedy. These seem very sticky as they come out of one’s own choice rather than being forced.
Can these sticky choices be overcome? Is it needed? Is a better outcome possible?
I had seen so many folks already living beyond these choices of greed and fear. Unfortunately, many who came in contact with me were driven to it by bad events that allowed one to throw away all the mental possessions – a cancer or post its survival, a continued academic or career failure, loneliness.
But a large number of folks still live unaffected by this paradigm, even though they are forced or innocent participants in this market paradigm. For example, most folks in older generation in our country were still valuing small works, daily chores, taking care of fellow life and beings. Their greed or fear was limited to self preservation.
Then there are so many saints in every other home, and that human in each one of us which nature so easily calls out when a small birdie falls from a tree or a plant needs help.
This gives me belief that a better world is not only possible but easy to build.
Is it needed?
Yes, more than ever before, and urgently. We have depleted soils, flora, all kinds of animal life and moved to depleting water flows and air quality.
Humans are natural beings and cannot exist in isolation from nature. Nature has been reduced to greenery in discussions, but it’s more about invisible – the processes and physical forms that make visible happen.
Listing these processes is much beyond my capacity, as even science is not yet there. Primarily of what we little we know, they start from passing on of genes to a seed and then cycle of that seed , maximizing the use of only energy source i.e. sun, circulating water from seas to glaciers (via monsoons in our country) , management of fine balance of air components that make life possible, creating of soils that nurture smaller forms of life and hold bigger forms of life.
A look at human relationships also reveals our deep association with nature– from formation of vitamin D using sunlight, to continuous flows of air and water within us, to such association of mental and physical health with sun, soils, air and water.
When we break down or tamper with these processes for any reason, we become unnatural. But we also start becoming deprived of nature and hence unhappy. Temporary remedies like medication and travel to natural/ scenic places, work temporarily only. They only increase our appetite for filling the gap with more unnatural things which exploit nature more.
In that sense, the current markets like it that way. But it's no longer possible to continue this mode. There has to be a way forward.
To me that way forward appears to first overcome the sticky choices induced by greed and fear.
Does it need a lot of courage or force to do this?
As earlier observed, many folks are able to drop it like a hat and never revert from the path, just when faced with some mind changing truths or for love of life and nature.
So there is something simpler within humans that the exploitative forces switch off, to force our behavior changes. Einstein echoes in my mind, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” So if we really want a change, it shall not be born out of current habits.
Here, I close my eyes , away from stars for a while, and think about simpler daily life things that have impacted us. I also thought about the highest guiding sutras of Advait philosophy, as all answers stand already there, frozen in time.
The moment mind starts looking beyond the inner self, it searches for extension of the self first and finds beauty in such extensions. Defining that beauty, also depends on whether one considers one to be a part of the whole or independent of it. I have felt that former is also easy to see but most human education and social systems have worked on the minds for the latter. The former eliminates need for so many middlemen.
Once convinced of its independence, the mind tries to define and control beauty. If something is beautiful, achieving it becomes success and losing it becomes failure. If something is ugly, defeating it becomes success, and becoming it becomes failure. That drives greed and fear. That is when one hands over the freedom to exploitative forces –the same ones that use market effectively.
Multiple goals of success get defined, for different ages and genders. Each goal being independent of the other, it makes for numerous formulas or market opportunities. At times goal posts themselves are shifted based on where gains are to be made or to overcome the fatigue of chasing goals, lest the seeker realize the futility of it.
Once upon a time, full bodies girls were considered beautiful worldwide; now with the proliferation of junk foods, achieving full body was easy. Surprisingly, now being thin became more beautiful as it benefits exploitative forces more.
It doesn’t look to be a coincidence that the reverse parameters were applied to grains and fruits.
Fairer were promoted in minds as rich, and hence beautiful; so we had a new parameter. I need not even say much about education and health markets. In villages, once upon a time a green shaded farm was beautiful, but once the heavy machines and tractors were available in the market, plain fields with only wheat and its gold color, became a symbol of prosperity and hence beauty. It is a sad fact that villages after villages do not see any utility or beauty in bio-diversity or trees like peepal , neem but only run after a just a few harmful crops.
In fact, the choices provided by nature’s diversity are a great source of happiness to human souls. Exploiters envy it. To overcome that pull and to hide the shallowness of its own diversity, markets have tried many tricks – diversity of brands and sizes and mixes. It gives one the high of decision making and choosing, but be it wheat flour or a loan or a school, its source ecosystem is the same shallow non diverse system.
Another aspect of beauty is to be in sync with nature’s time. It signals slowing down with nights, winters and extreme seasons, and enjoy the rhythm of seasons and days. As the line of great philosophies has shown, it doesn’t mean slowing down, but rather propels one to experience more and think more. But the markets don’t like it. Growth is a now very physical word, and monetary parameters like GDP a measure of it. And going with nature’s pace is in conflict with it.
Progress has wrongly become the synonym for beauty and visible higher consumption its proof. A hard working, content labor with dirty clothes is applauded as a good man by one and sundry, but no longer a source of inspiration or beauty for anyone, even his own children.
Hence, any talk of happiness, or making the human consumption sustainable and natural or markets fair, are empty unless one’s sense of beauty becomes purified. Then one would be ready to internalize all beauty irrespective of its diversity. The dirty cracked feet of a beggar would be as distinguished or indistinguishable as one wearing costly shoes. To me, the former is certainly more pleasant than the latter as I see the nature’s loss in latter.
I also quote Osho’s words on beauty : ‘there is no possibility to grow in sensitivity if beauty is not respected, appreciated, enjoyed. All your sensitivity will die…. To me, beauty is far more valuable than truth. Truth is only an aspect of beauty, a face of beauty. Beauty is God himself. If you are in love with beauty you will not do anything wrong - that is enough safeguard - because to do anything wrong you will have to do something ugly.”
- Benevolence or Kindness
How do we start increasing the beauty in our self and this world?
Beauty leads one to kindness and vice versa. Benevolence or Kindness is an easy way to start opening up to the beauty.
Here I must recall two incidences-
Once, an old gentleman, who was quite depressed, wrote to me. His wife had passed away and children were abroad, and disconnected. He had become melancholic about life and did not see any good out of it. He had tried living in Old age homes, and also participated in group activities to benefit the community, but soon returned back to his solitude as none of it could relieve him of his negativity.
I felt he had spent his life in pursuing very selfish goals, be it for ‘his’ children or family. Now the same selfishness was blinding him and causing this trouble. I am at a loss with professional depth in such matters, but he had great hopes while opening up. So I just asked him to do any one of the two things for a couple of weeks- take care of a street animal that needs care, or go to a nearby garden and take care of a new sapling. He was skeptical but I told him to try for one week only.
He did both. First week effort continued voluntarily into the second one and so on. After a few weeks, it was time to let go one of the effort as the puppy had grown. He did it gracefully. The plants time too would come. But he had lived a wonderful six weeks and now wanted more. I am sure the beauty of the world was calling him now.
In another incidence, a young woman who is very bright, used to have wild mood swings. The psychiatrists diagnosed her condition as one mental disorder and gave her drugs to keep her calm. Soon parents observed that she was normal only under the influence of those medicines. Earlier she had more normal phases than now. So they sent her to a alternate healing places. She significantly improved but still had wild swings. She was quite aware of it but couldn’t control them. By some providence, we happen to meet.
The parents were trying to analyze it via western thought and psychology, but I felt that all of it is limited by focus on body and mind. In fact, most of it links mental issues to physical ailments and procreation. Even the vice versa is not easily accepted in their process.
I felt that soul and consciousness is outside the purview of western system. And we should look there. Soul is nothing but kindness. It has the strength to keep body, mind and consciousness in good harmony. (I also felt another force was disturbing her and advised her accordingly but that can be passed as intuitive and hence not related to the topic here; long association with nature and philosophies leaves one with a different sense of things).
So the simple remedy was to strengthen the kindness. The girl started with a cause of her liking. With such a strong protective cover, she has learnt to handle the swings. Rest has been done by one yogic remedy.
Such is the potential of kindness. When I talk about it, I mean kindness from within, selfless, a letting go of self. It does not mean a need to guide the society or be followed.
That is why, I do not endorse the corporate kind of kindness and governments incentivizing it. Monetary donations are simply trivializing the kindness to external and resource based giving. It just breeds a new thought that social work (run by financial chain) is the way to kindness. Then, one has to define this work, its impact on society, and measurement parameters and control of welfare programs. Where is the thought of letting go?
Also, acts of social good sponsored by the money earned while contributing to the exploitation, has the same level of consciousness and karmic connection. It is better to not earn that much extra rather than route it to needy as per own judgement.
Unfortunately, the governments, corporate and bureaucrats, even religious groups need these programs more than the beneficiaries. Change of opinions, habits and induced behaviors are easy to market in the garb of social benevolence. More often than not, such programs do have an underlying direction which is not free of exploitative market forces.
With the same logic, I also do not endorse activism or any social campaigns to give, even if they stem from good intentions. Activism is more about taking back by force or pushing for something that one group believes in. I believe that Kindness travels in individual silence and feelings, not in vanity and material.
In earlier times, when someone came to the door asking for Bhiksha, the donor had to come out and give. And the seeker need not plead but seek with right. The giver had the right to give what she had but not collect from others.
It was a Sattvik act, needing no energy from the giver and hence no credit and no burden of borrowing.
Sometimes the seeker could see the poverty of the donor, and it put an onus on him to make it useful.
Such a culture allowed great philosophies to be written, great universities to be built. Seekers who grew on ordinary folks' donations had no material belongings but the might to question mighty kings.
It also did not allow anyone to act as organizing agency. Individuals had to ask, individuals had to give.
Both knew each other as it was a regular interaction.
The western thoughts have corrupted our idea of giving or kindness.
We give too far, and hence need others to do it for us. I find an element of Rajas in it. That deprives us of the self illumination that comes with nurturing a needy.
And it hides from the needy what it took a giver to part with it.
Think how this situation came to this pass over decades and how did so many folks went to the edge of financial system?
Can helpers be helpers if they were not on the gaining side in this system?
My belief is that helpers will grow a lot more impactful without using financial resources (or material but essentially a substitute for money) to back the effort.
It does pose a challenge to current mind of helpers but opens up a new paradigm.
Einstein had once said, 'The same level of consciousness that created a problem cannot be used to solve it.'
The monetary power gathered to fuel the effort, shall Have To Be Paid For, in past or future, with added load, by the lowest rung. Hence this equation doesn't get solved but gets more difficult, with that approach.
Hence, kindness is the one experienced by individuals, to beneficiaries within their easy reach, nameless, without taking from another system. It travels everywhere in nature just as a feeling.
This individual force can alone transform us to a beautiful world. This force I call Sattvic Giving or Kindness.
Kindness may open up the universe’s beauty to one but how does Kindness change the world? Where does the first act of Kindness start?
Charity begins at home; so one’s kindness has to begin with oneself.
We are mortal beings, and blessed to be one. We should be kind to ourselves first; slow down or go fast as nature tells us but not on whims and fancies of our goals. The goals shall perish before or after oneself.
It is perfect to be different – be it poor, physically or socially. Let others’ judgments not affect your own kindness to yourself. They need healing, probably through you.
We need to extend that kindness to immediate family. A child who is happy but failing in this system is such a delight compared to an aggressive achiever. Kindness to an underfed animal or a struggling plant is ripple enough in this conscious universe. Surely it will try to reach back.
I see that grace in lives of so many illuminated ones –great sages, humanitarians, scientists and mathematicians. There are better and more profound examples recorded by them but here I share my little commonplace experience.
When I first started on making the soil healthy again and full of life, the idea was that the earthworms will find a good place to live and work. Once the soil was ready, I also added many saplings, with the faith that they shall be able to overcome the heat of summers and frost of winters, with help from soil. While working physically, a person soon realizes the physical limits of one’s effort. Many neem and other saplings that I had planted with hope for a future greenery perished as they could not be cared for in time, and soil was not alive everywhere. After first summer, I thought it’s going to be a long struggle.
But nature was seeing it. Wherever soil had a little bit life in it, the nature sent so many agents from flying seeds, to birds eating neem and dropping seeds, to monkeys doing the same. Lots of deer and cows came to eat the leaves of some green plants that I had planted. In exchange for those few but different leaves, they dropped the manure in much more quantity.
When I came to work again in monsoons, I realized the area didn’t need much help. They had more than replaced the lost saplings, and summer’s dryness had been taken care of by the droppings.
In addition, I also felt that they were guiding it somewhere else. I did not plant Peepal or Banyan or Semal at all , but the birds had done it. In their small lifetime, it was of no use to them, but once these become trees , they are good abodes for bees and many other birds, and snakes. Hence, the birds had started doing it for others too and for many generations later.
My small effort had been compounded by nature, answering to some higher consciousness. I was left to smile at my ignorance, and not spoil their work by imposing my sense of work or future revenue or beauty on it. I did not impose, as kindness guided me.
I remember Albert Eisntein once observed, “The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it Intuition or what you will, the solution comes to you and you don't know how or why.”
This is how Kindness can propel the change in the world as long as we leave it behind and let it work. It will invoke the consciousness in all touched by it.
The world can be changed by a huge leap in consciousness like what Swami Vivekanand or Einstein prepared themselves for and experienced.
But the world can also change massively if more folks just felt its presence within them, let it grow with kindness and be a witness to the beauty.
- Darshan of Bharat
With those thoughts, I revert back to the Karmabhoomi, Bharat. In common notion, Bharat is a land of abundant natural beauty, some unique phenomenon including monsoons, glacial rivers and so many seasons. Each season brings its own colors, life and celebration. Then there is a human civilization history and heritage.
However, such beauty is nothing if it does not reach the self and gets personified. In fact, this beauty is accentuated by the people, and creates a bond that is difficult to break even after generations have lived abroad. I tried to decipher that beauty and it comes to one thing- widespread Sattvick Giving.
My family had a small guava farm in 1980s in a village in Bithoor along Ganga river in Kanpur. I had experienced as a child there that folks used to call and give as much produce or fruits as one can take. They were not afraid of losing money, and wanted any visitor to go full. The visitor could be human, or a bull or a bird. This sense of Giving was omnipresent, and very Sattvic in nature. It did not need any energy to propel this on the part of the giver.
Over last decade, as I traveled , the first observation to strike was loss of nature. Probably, that along with market forces created a fear about perpetual abundance, and it seeped deep into psychologies. The Sattvik Giving has become limited.
How wisely our sages had guided us to remain beautiful: “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, meaning this world is our family. As humans, it gave us a lot more responsibility as caretakers of all others. As we lost it, the mother earth also became a reflection of our deeds. It is easy to connect the exploitation of rivers, forests, cows…to our fall. We continued using them but forgot to give back.
Our sages also gave us the key to the world: “satyam shivam sundaram”. Many similar thought exists in different sects and religions that were born here. One may see beauty in parts – a bird singing, or a plant flowering, but the real beauty is to see the totality. It is possible only through humility and kindness.
In our downfall, one can see that we ignored this path. I feel this is the base of exploitation. One can attribute it to historical upheaval, but that is immaterial, and no excuse to not recognize it now.
My last few years’ journeys were to see if we can revive it now. I have seen bone dry trees burst back into life, if only a minute life remains in them and conditions help them. So this cannot be a hopeless case – that was my premise.
In one meeting by chance, and the only one I had with him, Sh Govindacharya ji heard me out and shared his vast experience. He advised that there is enough shakti and sajjan shakti (good energy) in our country. First look for its where its visible, then bring it out where it is not visible. By former, he meant sages, rivers, folks, farmers who still practiced the above philosophy, and by latter, all those who cannot see it outwardly but it resided within and will come out when called.
I have searched for signs of this energy, and it appears omnipresent – not only saintly folks, but also trees, streams, etc. Despite the onslaught, a lot of good is preserved, sometime lonely and disconnected but it is there. It will only take a genuine effort for the bone dry tree to come alive.
That has been my Dharshan of Bharat – from early days of natural beauty to spiritual and now in search of physical expression of that spiritual element again so that natural beauty too remains intact. It shall also show a path to outside world in their search for a better planet.
- Where to go from here?
This Bharat Darshan is not a goal or a state of the world that needs to be attained, but a daily and individual pursuit that shall always be on, across ages. That is why this land is called the Karmabhoomi.
Whenever this Darshan has become less widespread in our thoughts and karma, the society has been troubled. Whenever this has been more widespread, we have seen humankind progress. One can see that most great scientists, philosophers, artists, have stood on the foundation of this Darshan in their self, irrespective of where they were in the world.
A question is about self. If I were a cobbler instead of my current destiny, I would still be able to see beauty and give. I could still leave a bowl of water for that bird and take my old neighbor for a walk. I could still use my off days to mend that broken park fence or plumbing the neighbor’s leak. One day, I saw the children too coming out for the walk with old neighbor. And the bird dropping a twig too, with some purpose I could not yet see. But there is consciousness at work, and its works well even in these times!
When I extend the self, I deal with my assigned destiny. Here, I work on Aranyaani projects that I have written separately about. But just like a devoted cobbler gives his beauty to the shoe, and not let the outside world affect this relationship, so is my relationship with any work. It shall stand on the foundations of this Darshan. If I falter or err, it would be my fall; I would hurt myself, others and Bharat, but the Darshan shall never fail.
Can the present political and economic systems change to accommodate the behavior change according to this Darshan?
As we observe, this Bharat Dharshan is already widespread and at work, just that it has been outside the realm of economic and political systems.
Looking at it differently, these systems are just an expression of what we allow them to be. Hence the change is within us as humans. The same working systems shall get tweaked in their working to how most humans want.
Assuming no evil to start with, these systems are built on a premise that organizing humans in a certain way, shall lead to higher progress and deeper understanding of this world, hence giving us better lives and security. They work with assumptions that we are separate from other life as a species and hence we can plan separately. As a byproduct or extension of this assumption, they have proceeded to break human bonds too.
And that is where the limitations of the present model – be it manifested in education, healing, consumption, or exploitation of nature come to the fore.
Hence, instead of struggling with designing new governance models, it is best to change ourselves. Let this Darshan be the guide to the change. I believe governance and economic models shall evolve by themselves and fast. The call for contemplating on them, is again appearing to stem from an external need to organize humans in a new preferred way, rather than let systems organize according to elevated consciousness of humans.
Just remember that not long back, before the modern technology came, the taxation systems that were required for some essential common works, were distributed and worked with minimal bureaucracy or intermediaries. The welfare programs, water systems, judicial systems too were localized and worked on collective conscience. It led to a lot of diversity. It was deemed inefficient and sub optimal use of resources. It is another matter that regeneration and sustenance of resources was not within the realm of thought then.
The leapfrog developments in weapons and industry only resigned the masses to accept the inefficiency of being diverse. It led to aggregation of resources in some hands.
Many noted political and social reformers tried to question it in our country . They envisaged that the system be aligned to the weakest person’s needs, and believed it would become non-exploitative in doing so. Most of them reached top positions, but we only saw the decline in society.
On the other hand, thinkers like Swami ji address the self and tried to improve it – irrespective of the economic weakness of a person. Possibly there was plenty of force with the opposite direction and abundant nature for exploitation in that era; hence such thoughts that put onus on the self, were only left for admiration and book shelves.
But we are again at inflection point. Not only there are only limited resources left to be exploited , efficiently or inefficiently, but humans are again waking up to diversity and replenishing the planet. The market shall try to show many dreams and make leaders out of this yearning. But the truth is that the path goes only with the self – beauty- kindness- consciousness paradigm.
Hence it will happen. We can only speed it up to see it happen during our lifetimes.
It has been a night well spent – fourteen years or probably twenty to thirty years. I will have to spare the teenage. Now I need to make the day count before fading out in dusk.