The Road that Lead to SatVan

A Centre for Nature and Harmony

The Valley School Campus Bangalore India

The Road that Lead to SatVan: A Centre for Nature and Harmony

by Skanda Subramanya

“Integrated life and action is education” –  J Krishnamurthi

My journey as a teacher of biology and environmental sciences for nine years at The Valley School, Krishnamurthi Foundation India, Bangalore has been a very fulfilling one. This journey has been filled with multiple moments of epiphany and insight where I think I saw some critical connections between the crisis in the environment and a crisis within human society. I could also witness the potential of an educator and an educational space in addressing both these crises in an integrated manner. 

Experiential Education

Radical Change of Perspective

One of the most significant potential within education is its ability to create an atmosphere for a radical change in perspective. A meaningful engagement with the crisis in the society goes hand in hand with consistent radical changes in the perspective of an individual. An atmosphere that provides a space for individuals to challenge dogma becomes very essential in this respect. 

Coltan and cassiterite are minerals used in almost all the contemporary electronic devices. I have used the case study of the mining of these minerals in Africa as a part of our Environmental science course. The case study is a hard hitting one where we come to see the violent consequences of the demand that the world has created for these minerals due to the modern lifestyles. There has been an extreme amount of violence in the countries where these mines exist on the people who live in those regions. Everytime we have done this module, I have observed my students being deeply moved by it. They are able to see the dark side of commerce and globalization and how each one of us are contributing to this violence. Anyone who is concerned about Nature and the environmental crisis arrives at a point like this during their exploration. As a teacher I have had the good fortune of being in the company of many young minds that arrive at such points of contemplation. Very often this contemplation triggers deep and uncomfortable questions in the students about themselves, the world around them and the society. I noticed that our educational systems are designed in a way that it is not able to provide space and time for us to pay attention to this discomfort. The pressure is always to move on and abandon introspection. The questions that are encouraged by the system are the ones that have some academic potential in them. This might be the case because deep introspection often results in a radical change of perspective. It often leads to a critical examination of education and the education system itself.  This is often looked at as an undesirable consequence. Students have been able to recognise and point out this limitation within this system in many explicit and subtle ways. One very common feeling expressed by them is how society around them has made certain patterns look inevitable. Patterns such as going to college, choice of certain subjects and careers based on how they are an assured route to economic success and respectability. There are many examples of violence and stress experienced by students who have attempted to question these patterns.

There is a famous quote by J Krishnamurthi which says “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” I feel that the Krishnamurthi schools like The Valley School have had a great degree of freedom built into their educational system to encourage students to question dogma and the authority of established patterns. However these institutions are under constant pressure from the larger society to conform to a certain pattern and design. Krishnamurthi’s work and its influence on the people has always kept the negotiations alive and has so far never let the schools to completely conform to a prescribed  design. 

SatVan as a space can be considered as an attempt to add strength to their ongoing negotiations with the larger society. A collaborative educational space without the general limitations imposed on a school. 

A Class in progress
Classroom being built by students using locally available materials

The Dangers of Unconsciousness and Immediate Gratification

Questioning modern lifestyles and life choices has not often been an active part of the school curriculum. Human society today is plagued by a desire for lifestyles that are tilted towards unconscious and immediate gratification. My decisions are often made on the basis of short term gains. I can do this because I remain unconscious about its long term consequences. I feel that immediate gratification has found its validation and justification through a sense of arrogant and narrow rationalism. The gradual build up to this kind of narrow rationalism has happened with the emergence of a culture that has an unreasonable amount of belief in the ability of modern science and technology to solve any crisis. Our obsession with modern science and technology has resulted in a narrow and arrogant rationalism which refuses to look at the long term consequences of our actions. A few of us who are inclined to look at it are often faced by challenges within our circles. 

The Willingness to Take Consequences of What is True

Truth is timeless. A pursuit of truth accounts for both long term and short term consequences of our choices. If we are only concerned about our own narrow benefits, we might be away from the truth. We as a society seem to be mostly indulging in our own short term gains and refusing to look at the long term consequences of it. A compassionate, non judgemental space is very essential for us to acknowledge and accept our tendency to live lives driven by the fear, lust and greed of our narrow self. A compassionate space is a space that allows for multiple perspectives to co-exist with each other in a constant dialogue. Dialogue is when multiple perspectives are shared and understood without any sense of competition. Satvan as a space wishes to create an atmosphere for such a dialogue. An atmosphere for an honest acknowledgement of the state of our relationship with nature. I feel that the movement that follows this acknowledgement is a genuine self motivated movement. It is not driven by a trend, pressure or any kind of self fulfilling desire. 

The difference in our lifestyle and life choices are not necessarily an indicator of the difference in our intelligence. Our upbringing, circumstances, life experiences and narratives play a vital role in determining them. Satvan is imagined as a space where we could look at our own narratives with compassion and attention. I believe that a movement towards right action and right relationships can emerge from this kind of an observation. 

The word SatVan is derived from sanskrit words ‘Sat’ which is a common prefix that means ‘the true essence’ and ‘Van’ means ‘forest’.

The Intent

  • Satvan is a centre dedicated towards facilitating a free, self motivated and voluntary exploration of different aspects of human life and their relationship with the environment.
    • An exploration that helps in the movement towards reconnecting with the natural world. 
    • Facilitating a  journey towards greater harmony with nature. 

The intent of Satvan as a centre is to create opportunities and space for such an exploration through collaborative initiatives, research projects, workshops, long term and short term courses, online content, community engagement, festivals and retreats. 

Themes

SatVan wishes to create an atmosphere for people to undertake a self driven inquiry. To complement this journey the space will have a few themes as a starting point. The approach to these different themes would be with an intent of integration and collaboration rather than fragmentation. 

  • The relationship of human beings with their environment in the past and the consequences of this relationship on humans and their environment. Observing and appreciating the interconnectedness in nature – History and Natural History
  • Human lifestyle is a result of human behaviour. An understanding of human behaviour is necessary to understand the complexity of human lifestyle. The influence of History on Culture – Psychology and Sociology
  • The relationship between arts,culture and environment. How art can influence human behaviour? – Craft, Fine Arts, Performing Arts and literature
  • The relationship of Arts, Sciences, Culture and Human Lifestyle with Economics – Economics, Entrepreneurship and Self Reliance
  • Role of Science, technology and research in creating harmony between human beings and Nature – Science, Research and Innovation
  • Understanding the value of manual work and working with the body – Working with the land and Manual work
  • Role of Philosophy, Spirituality and Self inquiry in understanding the complexity of human behaviour and its relationship with the environment – Philosophy and Spirituality

SatVan is a Space for:

  • Any individual who would like to explore the above mentioned themes and any other themes that complement them.
  • People from the neighbourhood.
  • Students who would like to do projects that are related to these themes.
  • Teachers
  • Mature Students
  • Students taking a gap year

Please write to us at satvan@thevalleyschool.info and share your thoughts and feelings. We would be happy and excited to collaborate with you. 

Sincerely

Skanda Subramanya, Coordinator – SatVan

Hindu Dharma, Identity & Its Role in Global Awakening

In early March of 2020, the Global Peace Initiative of Women convened a gathering entitled ‘Hindu Dharma, Identity & its Role in Global Awakening’ on how we can reframe the conversation around Hinduism to focus it on deepening the understanding of Dharma – the upholding of universal principles of life, the foundational principle being that of love. The meeting brought together swamis and spiritual teachers, scholars of Yoga and the Vedas, along with young filmmakers, writers, educators and ecologists. 

The meeting was held at the Govardhan Eco Village, an ecological self-sustaining retreat center and spiritual community about two hours northwest in Mumbai. Radhanath Swami, a spiritual teacher in the Bhakti Yoga lineage who is originally from Chicago, had the vision to create a place for spiritual practice built around an ethos of “simple living, higher thinking”.

Radhanath Swami addressed the participants and shared the intention behind the eco village- how it was created in a spirit of devotion for the Earth and ultimately to God,  and built to encourage others to live in a spirit of gratitude for life and Mother Earth’s gifts. The eco village functions in a way that is entirely self-sufficient. Environmental engineers from top research institutes have helped the community employ sustainable practices such as water harvesting, grey water recycling, animal protection and care. It serves as a spiritual reflection of Vrindavan, a holy place of pilgrimage for devotees. More and more spiritual communities are seeking to live in greater harmony with the natural world and at Govardhan the interconnection between ecology and spirituality is a joyful and lived experience.

Hindu Dharma and its Role in Global Awakening

Hindu Dharma and its Role in Global Awakening
– Retreat and Dialogue –
A program of the Global Peace Initiative of Women
March 6th–9th 2020 
in Govardhan Eco Village, India

A Reflection on the Gathering by Janani Pratap

Prithivim dharmana dhritam’ means this world is upheld by Dharma. Dharma refers to the underlying cosmic order within which everything exists in balance, harmony and equilibrium. It is also referred to as the ‘divine law’ and ‘law of being’. This divine law ensures that human life is in harmony with nature. Dharma is that which unites us all, cultivates divine love and universal peace. As human beings, we fulfill our Dharma by living in harmony with ourselves, towards others and with Mother Nature. The ultimate purpose of Dharma is to attain union of the soul with the divine. 

So, what happens when Dharma isn’t upheld? Our world today reflects a disorder of Dharma. Our economic and political structures, financial systems, our lifestyles, our relationship with Mother Earth and even our actions toward one another reflect disharmony in relationship to the ‘divine law’. 

During our two and a half day gathering from 6th to 9th March 2020, at the serene Govardhan Eco Village in the outskirts of Mumbai in India, we met to explore together the essence of Dharma in today’s world and the path to global awakening. 

 As I reflect on this gathering, the many topics that were discussed unfolded the deeper meanings of Dharma for me. One of the key topics that we talked about during the gathering was the deep pain that we carry within us and the need to free ourselves from this bondage of pain. We all carry hurt within. Some of the pain can be from past lives and some pain can also be from our ancestors that has been passed on to us. Such deep pain can become blockages for us to flow with life.  During our gathering, we together perceived that when we allow ourselves to be in a state of acknowledgment and be present in our pain, we release the baggage that we carry. Even though, the memory of the pain might never go away, being present in the pain allows us to forgive and let go. I have often asked myself – why do we have to experience pain in this world? I have come to the realization that in many ways we are here not to heal our pain, but rather our pain is here to heal us. For me, Dharma teaches us to have the capacity to be present in our own painwith non-violence and without judgment or anger. Dharma also teaches us to forgive and be compassionate. It is said that compassion is the seed of Dharma. Although I agree that it might not always be easy to practice compassion, forgiveness and non-violence, I also truly believe that these heal us and the world. I hold this essence of Dharma close to me.

Another aspect that our gathering highlighted the need and importance of the coming together of the old and the new. The old represents the wisdom, which the spiritual teachings, ancient scriptures and indigenous knowledge hold in them. The new represents current times that we are in and the know-how of today that we have. In today’s world, there seems to be a disconnect between the old and new, and this gathering reinforced the need for these two worlds to meet. We do not need to prove one superior to the other or deny one to have the other but to understand the importance of both. The coming together of these two hold the answers to many of the problems which we are facing today. The key to any wholesome change is union. I feel that to reach a union we need to free ourselves from all separation that we have created not only outside of us but more importantly within us. It is only when we come together as ONE can we fulfill our Dharma as human beings. 

We are standing at a point in human evolution where we can see that we are moving towards a global awakening and this gathering was meant to delve deeper to explore this awakening. One can see around the world that more and more people are coming together to create a new world that embraces harmony and the wellbeing of all. There is a growing collective shift in consciousness towards living in alignment with nature and recognizing the oneness that we all share.  There is immense power in such a collective effort. At the same time, the individual journey of going deeper within towards self-realization and self-healing is equally part of the global awakening. I feel that the unfolding of a global awakening and shift in consciousness lies in the understanding of our interconnectedness and, being compassionate and loving towards oneself as well as towards others. For me, the individual awakening is the essence of a global shift. The love and compassion one has for oneself is what one can give to others. When each one of us is able to have compassion and love despite our differences, then together we will be able to create the shift in consciousness that will heal us and our nature. 

These aspects of the gathering have stayed with me and I feel grateful that I could be part of it. 

I pray that may there be divine light and peace within us, and may we all be always guided by divine love and compassion. 

Asato Ma Sad Gamaya

Lead me from the unreal (worldliness) to the real (eternal self)

Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya

Lead me from darkness (of ignorance) to the light (of knowledge)

Mrityorma Amritam Gamaya

Lead me from death (limitation) to immortality (liberation)

Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi

Om Peace Peace Peace

Essential Conversations, Brooklyn, NY 2020

We met for brunch on a freezing cold Saturday morning in Brooklyn. This was back in February, when we could still gather together at a table, meet face to face, and spend time in each other’s presence. There was this feeling in the room of being with family. As we talked, some of the themes that came up were around spirituality being commercialized. How mindfulness is a thing now, but what does that mean without a spiritual foundation? How spiritual communities are often homogeneous and do not seek to understand why or to actively welcome diversity. We also explored ideas around wellness, self-care, and how to stay sane when you are on call 24/7. There were a lot of shared experiences, laughter, and even tears.

The idea was simple. We wanted to bring together a small group of spiritual teachers and practitioners to share their stories with each other. To break bread, connect, and talk about the things that matter most to them.

Thank you for being the beautiful, courageous souls that we have the privilege to support and be with. Leslie Booker, Adam Bucko, Justin von Bujdoss, Allegra Lovejoy, Gopal Patel, Monique Schubert, and NaRon Tillman. Thank you for your work and for being part of a new generation of spiritual teachers and practitioners who are doing things a bit differently. Thank you for helping to remind us, our traditions, and our communities, that spirituality is for everyone, equally, and completely. Thank you for your willingness to be uncomfortable for the sake of truth and positive transformation. Thank you for being of service to humanity. Thank you. 

Essential Conversations is a new program by the Global Peace Initiative of Women. The intention is to create a safe space as well as a brave space, where people can connect and collaborate. To bring together individuals who seek to be of service to others, and to find ways to support and amplify their gifts.

Spring Buds in a Time of Crisis

By Angela Fischer

Every morning, these days, we wake up to an unfolding spring, even more birds singing, new buds in the trees, more flowers blooming. And every morning we wake up to the news about the current pandemic in the world. Infection rates rising, death toll rising. More countries closing their borders, more individual restrictions in order to slow the infection rate.How do we respond? How do we respond to the birdsong, the gifts from the Earth, the beauty of life? And how do we respond to the news about the pandemic crisis? Is there something that connects both? How does this crisis affect our attitude and our spiritual practice, as it certainly affects our lives? I recently noticed that over the last few weeks I had changed my personal view every single day and realized there is and maybe must be a process, for each of us. A little ashamed about my different reactions – rather than responses, like counter-reaction to collective panic – a certain attitude emerged from a growing awareness that stayed with me: Listening, listening deeper. What are the “signs on the horizon”? What is asked from us, from me individually? Is there a deeper meaning, deeper than fear and anxiety and the attitude of “war against the virus” that we hear and sense in the world? I tried to listen to something deeper, an inner light – which is always there, whether we are aware of it or not. And others are listening too, of course, and we find out that there is a chance for us, an opportunity.

Oneness and Interconnectedness

We know, when the astronauts were seeing the planet from space for the first time, this was a shift in consciousness. There is one Earth, one planet, utterly precious. We are all interconnected on this beautiful blue marble. One destiny, one soul.But decades later we as humanity find ourselves being caught even more in a mindset of separation and domination toward the Earth, all species and each other. We would not have thought that it is, of all things, a contagious virus that becomes the space shuttle for all of us. From which we watch the planet as one organism. That teaches us that we are interconnected in ways we do not realize and have completely forgotten. Interconnected, of course, over the whole planet. Not as consumers or as global corporations, but as vulnerable human beings on a vulnerable Earth. There are two different ways to respond: We have the opportunity to decide, if we respond with love and compassion or with desires of the ego and instinctual drives, that is, with separation and division. The virus brings sickness and even death, and suffering. If we allow for the pain reaching us, instead of anxiety and despair, we will feel it in our hearts. And we are asked to respond with compassion and love. To respond with love and care requires us to witness what is happening, to face it consciously and not to ignore it. We are asked to grow up which means to be able to witness suffering and darkness without falling in collective despair and anxiety.

Awareness of the Inner World. Intuition and Inner relationship

The physical retreat and isolation which is, from a medical point of view, required from us and necessary, does not mean we are really separated.One reason of our present state of the world is that we have focused on the material world in a way that we have forgotten the immaterial, the inner worlds, and how they both, matter and spirit, belong together In other words: We as humanity have forgotten the sacred within life, within creation, within our bodies, within the body of the Earth. The light, the soul.Materialism and consumerism have eaten up and choked the sense of a nourishment for our souls and the soul of the world. It is no more part of humanities’s consciousness that we have the power and capacity to relate to the inner, invisible world and to each other, invisibly and beyond the physical plane and physical connection. As mystics we know and do experience that we can “meet in the night”. Which means, not in our physical bodies. We are not separated through space, nor through time.This inner knowing, and to live this knowing, can be awakened and affirmed in these times of quarantine. When outer borders are being closed we can begin again to open up our inner borders. And the borders we have built between the inner and outer world. We can devote ourselves again to the feminine wisdom inside of all of us that shows us how to communicate, to be in relationship to each other and to the inner worlds. Yes, we have internet (and hope it remains like this), so we luckily have non-physical possibilities to connect. So it is easy to believe that we do not need to activate intuition and our relationship to the inner worlds. Yet this does not nourish our souls in the long run, as it cannot replace meaning and light that is shared in a personal touch or smile. Also, of course, an inner connection does not “replace” a physical hug, but like a physical touch it carries love and light and gives us meaning and nourishes the soul.

For the Earth, With the Earth

You might have seen the satellite views, the before and after pictures. Clear skies over China after weeks of dealing with the Corona crisis. We have been choking the Earth with our CO2 emissions as a result of our way of life, our consumerism and materialism. The greater awareness of a “climate crisis” (which is an understatement, because it is more than a crisis) did not lead to the acceptance of the need to fundamentally change our way of life. To step back from our consumerism and ever growing economy, the so-called “freedom” to take an airplane whenever we want, and to live more simply. Green economy yes, green technology, yes, but please no change of life, no renunciation. No politician dares to speak about this, even a green one, it is just completely unpopular. But suddenly, humans are prepared to renounce this life- style. We can witness, it is possible! Even if the main cause of our willingness to step back from superficial pleasures that distract us, as bars and clubs in cities close down, and to refrain from holidays flying all over the planet, even if the cause might be fear of being contaminated and getting sick, we see and watch, for the first time, it is possible. The chance is: If we are able to transform that fear into a deeper feeling of care and love for the Earth and each other, we could be able to transition to another way of life.We have the chance to listen to the birds again, to be thankful for what the Earth is giving us. There is more space in our lives to do so, as the usual noise slows down. And if more of us can return to experiences like this, pathways could open to relate to the inner light, to the soul. We can again listen to the Earth herself.If at this moment we do not cover the Earth with a dense veil of collective fear and despair and even more growing egoism (nationalism), we can be able to listen to her voice, the voice of the Earth that at the moment is being carried by some air to breathe. It is only a very small gap, a small opportunity, a door that is open for a very short moment.

Solitude as a Vast Space for Light

For centuries solitude was reserved for monks and hermits, and a few people in contemporary spiritual environments. Solitude does not have a place in modern life,except for her shadow brother called loneliness. But solitude is different from loneliness. In a noisy and too busy world, we have unlearned to be in solitude, we are even afraid of it and tend to run away from it. Now countless people in the world, on the entire planet, are forced to retreat to their homes and to stay there in more or less solitude. After the first shock in the wake of something completely unusual, we can realize there is a space that opens up. There is air to breathe. Whereas the outer space is constricted, the inner space expands and widens. The heart has a chance to be listened to. The body has a chance to be listened to. So do our dreams in the night, our reflections on our lives.And if we have children and they need to stay at home, due to shut downs of schools, they too have the chance that we really listen to them. Yes, it is not easy to change our daily routine, and it is a big challenge for families, single parents especially, for people who still need to work in service to public health and services of general interest, and also a challenge for many people who are artists or self-employed to maintain their living. Those difficulties cannot just be removed. Nor can we avoid the worries about loved ones who might be sick or the grief of losing those who might die. And yet we can live our daily life now from another place inside, from that vast, spacious place that offers a certain light, a meaning of life. In solitude we have space to pray, to meditate, to sing and play, to cook our meals with love. To care for others. We can get a taste of a new (and ancient) way of life, sustainable inwardly and outwardly. We can breathe as well as the Earth can breathe. From this space that is given to us at the moment, from love and care, healing can be born. There is always an individual choice.


Angela Fischer

The Sacred Feminine for Life

Request for Blessings and Help

by Rev. Doju Dinajara Freire

I Honor the Cosmic Harmony. I bow before you and invoke your blessing. 

Oh Mother,

Oh Father,

Oh Sacred Space of Non-Separation

The time has come to be transformed and to transform all things for the better

The time for humility has come, offering us a way to learn, to see as well as to listen

The time has come for true awareness of the interconnection of all 

In this time, we humans face an army of crowned microorganisms very capable of bringing upon us inconceivable and unprecedented burdens

In this time, their power throws humanity into an unknown vortex of evolutionary intensity, filled with risks and pain, uncertainty and fear. But equally it brings unspoken precious and excellent gifts such as the awakening in us to respect all Life, respect for Mother Earth, and for every human being and our own role within the cosmic game we are all a part of.

In this time, today, these numerous microscopic crowns frighten and swiftly annihilate many thousands of human lives, but also annihilates our ignorance and pride, the arrogance we held of thinking we are in control and wasting what does not belong to us.

In this time, now, while we are fragile and completely stripped of illusory certainties, rest in the finality, in the Time that makes us stop and the Space that reveals our fragility and human unity.

Oh Mother,

Oh Father,

Oh Sacred Space of Non-Separation

We need blessings and help because the lesson is difficult and the timing is perfect. 

We do not want to make mistakes! 

We cannot make mistakes!

The present and future of our loved ones and everyone has already changed and we cannot doubt it!

Please help us to proceed in a sane and healthy manner, help us put the army of the crowned virus to rest — our brothers who are also sons of Mother Earth — their extraordinary effort, towards which I feel compassion, is immense and painful!

Please be a Light for everyone – Humanity and crowned virus – showing us the way so that we may complete the evolutionary transformation that the universe is forcing upon us, and the rest can disperse their heavy load without doing further damage!

May this frightening vortex become the the dance of vitality instead!

May the deceased follow in peace and rest assured by the Love to which we entrust them!

May those who heal and save lives in hospitals be blessed forever!

May the survivors never forget that we have been allowed to go on – transformed into more conscious and better human beings than before!

EMAHO!

On the occasion of the 2020 pandemic inflicted by the coronavirus on humans on the planet.

(Prayer written by Doju Dinajara Freire by the kind request of Kesang Marstrand)

Three Questions with Ali Ahmad Felhi

How can we reconnect with our deeper selves, our essential nature? 

I think the answer is in the question posed: stating that we need to (re)connect with our deeper selves presupposes the preliminary existence of a ‘connection’ to an essential nature, and that this connection was ‘lost’. This reading imposes a specific chronology of first an authentic, created, primary human truth, then a moment of loss, and finally a phase of recovering. To use a more platonic terminology, What we are required to adopt here is a simple act of ‘remembrance’. The truth to be remembered is a simple one: there is nothing in you to be known, you only exist in the other, and if there is a reconnection to be made, it is not through an inquisitive look towards yourself but through a loving gaze towards those surrounding you.

How do you feel and live your connection to the earth? 

Earth is an interesting word because of its modern polysemy. Earth goes from the cosmic level to indicate the planet itself, to also describe a little handful of mud or sometimes simply a color or a perfume. with this multiplicity of uses, the ‘spiritual’ meaning of the word has been eroded ( to remain within the same lexical field). The scientific modern hijack of language makes it difficult today to understand earth as a ‘spiritual matter.’ And I think we are very much in need today of a ‘re-spiritualization’ of earth ( we are, should we remind ourselves, at the brink of an ecological catastrophe). For that matter, the Abrahamic use of earth is interesting. The three monotheist traditions understand it as the origin of all life (Quran describes humans as made of mud) but they also consider it as the perfect locus of death (these traditions requiring their adepts to burry their dead in the ground). Earth is where all starts ( the cosmic material constituting humans is brought from earth) and where all returns ( dead bodies come back to what they have all always been; dust). Monotheisms offer a perspective where earth is the Locus of both the ‘eternal return’ and of the ‘eternal restoration”. Earth, in that understanding leaves the realm of the ‘commodity’ and enters the sphere of the sacred. and it is this linguistic and conceptual sacralization of earth that will, I think, start a new and much needed ‘ecological imaginary.’

How can we create or reimagine a more compassionate world from within the current structures? 

I don’t think it is possible to do it within the current structures. A system built around an intensive commodification of human relations and an emphasis on ‘competition’ as the major social engine cannot be more compassionate. Today, it sadly appears that the only way for the existing system to be more compassionate is to transform ‘compassion’ into a commodifiable item ( Buy a Starbucks cup of coffee and we will help the Colombian lady in the picture have a better life ). You then buy a brief and joyful moment of good conscience with your espresso. Placebo. A radical, all encompassing and revolutionary reconstruction of our social relations is, I think what is needed. What I am stating here is not meant to be sheer nihilism. I just wanted to recenter the ‘political battle’ within the humanitarian project. The noble act of compassionately helping the other should also be paralleled with a healthy struggle against existing political systems that reveal themselves to be an obstacle to a more compassionate world.

Ali Ahmad Felhi. Architect, author, and Sufi adept

Peace is Not Boring

by Khentrul Jamphel Lodro Rinpoche

Khentrul Jamphel Lodro Rinpoche

I am fortunate to travel and meet with many interesting people. One subject I often discuss with those I meet is our common wish for greater peace and harmony in our lives.  It seems like a rather obvious statement to make – who wouldn’t want to be happy and be free from conflict?

I am surprised though, that while some claim that they seek peace in their lives there are others who tell me they prefer the challenges, without which they feel life would be boring. They tell me conflict gives their lives meaning. I have found this view to be so prevalent that I think it would be beneficial to take a moment and reflect on whether this statement is true or not.

Many regard peace as being a state of relaxation or a calmness. It is often understood in a relative way, as being absent of action, that which is present when we are not engaged with something else. It is still, quiet and non-confrontative. In other words, even though it feels nice, if you were to spend all your time in this sort of peaceful stupor, you’d end up either asleep or very bored.

I feel this understanding of peace is limited and misses a fundamental point. Peace is not something that you do. It is something that you are. It is your primordial nature. That nature is not a mere absence of doing, but instead an essence of bliss that pervades each and every moment of our existence.  The experience of such bliss is not boring, but is in fact invigorating, rejuvenating and inspiring.

Most importantly though, such blissful peace means that no matter what situation you may find yourself in, there is no reason to suffer. You can be living a fully engaged life, working with people and helping them in whatever way you can, and at no point do you ever need to feel sorrow, anxiety, fear or depression. Who needs confusion and anger? None of this is necessary for you to live a meaningful life.

In the Kalachakra tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, reality is non-dualistic in nature and cannot be defined by relative terms of ‘this’ or ‘that’. Within the infinite sphere of reality, all qualities exist in co-emergence, free from limitation. While we may temporarily experience only a tiny fraction of our true nature, Buddhists believe we each have the innate capacity to reveal its complete and perfect truth. We call this capacity “buddha-nature”.

Buddha-nature binds us together as a single universal family. Rich or poor, big or small, male or female—no matter who you may be, we all possess buddha-nature. Regardless of the spiritual path that you have chosen to follow, if that path is rooted in this deeper truth it will provide the means to reveal an aspect of your inner true nature.

Recognizing that some paths are more suited to specific types of minds, there is no need for us to take extreme positions that hold one path as superior. Instead, we endeavor to cultivate an attitude of mutual respect toward one another, an attitude that values the diversity expressed within our societies. This unbiased view will allow us to create conditions where peace and harmony can thrive.

In the root text of the Kalachakra Tantra, there are prophecies of a golden age of peace and harmony. This period, it is taught, will arise when humanity reaches a tipping point in our global consciousness; learning to harness the infinite potential we each hold and making the experience of our deeper truth a priority in our lives and in society.

In the root text of the Kalachakra Tantra, there are prophecies of a golden age of peace and harmony. This period, it is taught, will arise when humanity reaches a tipping point in our global consciousness; learning to harness the infinite potential we each hold and making the experience of our deeper truth a priority in our lives and in society. At such a time, not only will we come to know the profound peace that lies within each of us, but our actions will naturally express peace.

 When we train the mind through the practice of meditation, we learn to relax the body while maintain a lucid state of awareness. A tiny taste of bliss begins to grow becoming stronger and stronger.

An effective technique to develop this skill is to lie flat with the head slightly raised on a pillow. Let the arms rest naturally to the sides so that your shoulders drop down. Legs should lay relaxed.  With the eyes closed, become aware of the breath flowing in and out. With each out breath, relax the body, releasing all tension. Then, with each in-breath, arouse the mind slightly by paying attention to the sensations in the body. Alternate like this for however long you like. Exhaling, relax. Inhaling, paying attention. It is the combination of the two—relaxed but vividly aware—that will help us find the balance we need.

Something as simple as watching one’s breath can become the doorway to a much deeper sense of peace. As you come to connect with aspects of your buddha-nature, that nature begins to permeate more and more of your experience. When you are just starting to train, you will find the peace of mind will eventually carry over into the periods between sessions. This begins a process of bringing harmony into every aspect of your life.

These two—peace and harmony—are ultimately inseparable. We each have the ability to make such a practice a personal priority. We create the cause for peace to arise in our mind and when we know true peace we interact harmoniously with others and help them discover peace in their own experience. In this way, the world will change one mind at a time.

Reflections on COP 25

by Dena Merriam

Since 2009 The Global Peace Initiative of Women has been attending the annual UN COP (climate change)  meetings and has seen the gradual shift from a language of prevention to one of adaptation: how will the human community adapt to potential scenarios that lie ahead and can we avoid the worst of these possible outcomes?  The calls from scientists become more urgent as each year new data is uncovered and governments fail to take the necessary steps for transitioning to a carbon neutral world. This year, at COP 25 in Madrid, the goal of the official meeting was to resolve article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which deals with carbon markets, the trading and off setting of carbon emissions — a complicated matter with many opposing views.

One story we heard was of a certain large corporation planting a pine forest in Patagonia, Argentina to offset its carbon emissions in a distant part of the world.  While this may on the surface seem like a good thing, the land, which had previously been accessible to the indigenous people of that region, was now off limits, and the trees planted were not native to the area, and so there was much local opposition. In a panel with indigenous leaders from various parts of the world, the leaders pleaded to have a voice on article 6 as often it is their communities that are most affected. As one indigenous leader from Kenya said, “we need nature-based resilience actions and not market-based actions.”

At sessions devoted to the cryosphere (ice and glaciers) we discovered how much scientists still do not understand and how much more research is needed.  We learned that the last time earth’s atmosphere had the co2 levels of today was 3.5 million years ago when global temperatures were about 3 degrees Celsius higher. We also learned there is much at stake with even a half a degree further increase in temperature.  The threshold for big ice loss in the Antarctica ice sheet is 1.5 degrees Celsius, which would cause sea levels to rise 4 meters (approximately 12 feet) by 2100. A rise of 2 degrees would lead to a 10 meter (30 feet) increase by 2500. In terms of human casualties, the difference between 1.5 degree (Celsius) rise and 2 degrees is 150 million human deaths, and with each half degree this loss is multiplied.  Even with the current modest rise in temperatures (about 1-degree Celsius), indigenous leaders testified to the big changes they are seeing in agricultural cycles and the need for adaptation. As one scientist claimed, the longer we delay, the more likely we will see long term irreversible climate conditions. Another stressed that a long-term whole-economy view is essential, and a full transformation is needed across all sectors of society.

Of all the regions, Europe seems to have progressed the most.  We heard from a German official that their government will have phased out all coal by 2038.  There are still 20,000 coal workers in Germany, and they are being brought into the transition process so they can gain the skills needed for new jobs.  When comparing this to the conversations about coal in the US, it was sad to realize how much precious time is being lost. At this point, Europe may be the only region to meet the Paris Agreement target of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. As one speaker said, there is increasing risk of the goals of the Paris Agreement slipping out of reach, and those goals were modest at best. 

There has been increasing focus of what is being called “climate grief” and this was evident among the many young people who participated this year. The fact that there is already so much biodiversity loss and that there are so many unknowns about the future is causing fear, anxiety and anger among young activists. Again, this year there was tension between the small island nations, for whom climate change is a current not future crisis, and the wealthier nations who are unwilling to make commitments that may impact their economies.

One striking feature of this and all COP meetings is how they tend to be human-focused.  Yet, we are far from the only species who will suffer from the climate crisis and ensuing ecological decline, and yet all discussions revolved around how we humans will be affected.  But if we are not willing to act to save our fellow humans, those most vulnerable, it is unlikely we will act to spare the whales or any other species.

There were bright spots to the meeting.  Because Chile was co-chair of the summit, there was a large delegation from Latin America in the civil society section, and many indigenous representatives who spoke of earth’s ecosystem, with us humans only being one part.  On one panel with indigenous leaders, a speaker from Kenya was asked what it means to be indigenous. He replied, “being indigenous, to me, is about the right to self-determination, the right to shape initiatives to self-determine who I want to be.”    Another of the speakers said, “we are fed up with tokenism. While it is politically incorrect not to recognize indigenous knowledge at the policy level, it has not translated to practical action on the ground. We need equitable partnerships.”

Our small delegation of spiritual teachers held a session with two other NGOs — Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association and Sustaining all Life – on the theme of Reclaiming Sacred Earth.  For us it was a continuation of the many dialogues we have been organizing around the world on the Inner Dimensions of Climate Change, which focus on the shifts in mindset needed to help us address the climate and ecological crisis. We speak about awakening love for the earth, for the rivers and oceans, mountains and forests, plant and animal life and coming to see them as living beings, not commodities to be traded and abused.  As one of our speakers Swami Atmarupananda from the US said, “If we silence our minds, we begin to experience a unity that is holy, the sense that the earth is a living conscious being. That is a reality….. it is only when we begin a real process of inner transformation that we can begin to solve the problem of climate change. The solution is inside of us.” Another speaker, the Buddhist teacher Ricardo Toledo from Argentina expressed, “Something has to die for something to be born.  Our destructive way of life must die. The civilization that is dying is a paradigm of separation and superiority.” A certain way of thinking and living must die for a more ecological and spiritually aware way of being to be born.

One of our speakers from Greece spoke about how she moved from the rural area to the city to bring her connection with nature there.  “I heard the voice of nature calling me to the city. Part of the sacred is to be alert, to see where I must be. It’s not what we do but how we do it.   We have to ask, am I fully present.” It is the consciousness we bring to the climate crisis that will make the difference.

We deeply believe only a change in consciousness will enable humankind to evolve into a new partnership with earth’s community of life, one of respect, appreciation and gratitude.  Despite the frustration and despair these meetings can evoke, we continue to attend in the hope that we as a human community will come together to act out of love for the earth and gratitude for all she gives to each and every form of life.

Three Questions with Judy Lief

Acarya Judy Lief, Buddhist teacher and author

How can we reconnect with our deeper selves, our essential nature?

Our true nature, our inner depth, is a thread that runs through all of our experiences, from the most mundane to the most profound.  It can be discovered in the midst of our ordinary everyday activities. It is always possible to connect with this deeper reality; we can do so at this very moment.  

In the midst of the busyness, distractions, and pressures of life, it is easy to lose this connection. We may have glimpses, but they are unstable. However, our link to something deeper can be nourished and restored. We can reconnect again and again, repeatedly bringing ourselves back to that deeper level of trust within ourselves. We can engage in the provocative, dynamic process of returning—and then returning again.  

It is so simple: stop, remember, connect.

How do you feel and live your connection to the earth?   

To feel and live such a connection, each day I try to make time to get out of my head and step back from the ongoing plans and concerns of the moment. I come back to my body at a very simple level.  Sensing, feeling, experiencing. I touch in with the reality of aging and dying and the passage of time. I feel grateful for the support of the body, its pleasures and its pains.

I go outside and look up at the sky.  It is so vast and inconceivable. Somehow, looking at the stars and planets or the blue sky brings me back to my connection with the earth. I feel held by gravity, grounded and simple. 

Stopping and looking in this way opens my connection to fellow living beings, humans, plants, animals. I recognize my placement in the structure of life, as an animal, a mammal, a sapiens, a planet Earth dweller.  That recognition is so pure, so simple and literal. Ironically, when I stay with the simplicity and don’t try to overlay either a scientific or a spiritual interpretation, a feeling of awe and sacredness arises naturally and spontaneously.

How can we create or reimagine a more compassionate world from within the current structures? 

We can begin close to home, by doing the work of self-examination.  How deeply do we know ourselves and our capacities? How honest are we about our limitations? Given who we are, what is the best we can offer to help shape a sane and compassionate world? In the Buddhist tradition, the first challenge is quite modest: it is to do no harm. We may not be able to fix things, but we can at least not add to the chaos. We can reduce harm. That is the bottom line. 

It is hard to accept our flaws and limitations, but when we do so, we become more accepting of others and more able to work with flawed structures and institutions.  At Naropa University, this is described as “meeting the world as it is and changing it for the better.” 

We can’t fix everything, but we have countless opportunities to make a difference.  We make choices all the time, and those choices have impact. 

The world needs help. Every gesture of kindness and compassion, small or large, has force. Your circumstances may be quite constrained, and you may have few resources, but you can still do something. If you relate to whatever you do through the lens of compassion, you will be able to make a difference.

There are so many things wrong, so much entrenched injustice, so much needless suffering. It is easy to be overwhelmed. But we are called to engage, to be willing to get messy. How to begin? We have to start somewhere. In response, the advice I have found most helpful is: If you have the circumstances or ability to do something about a problem, don’t hesitate or cop out, but get involved. However, if you do not have the right skills or strength to help, just let it go. Appreciate what you can do and don’t dwell on what you can’t. You need to be realistic:  help where you can, and don’t get bogged down in despair at all the problems you cannot fix.