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

TECHNOLOGY, CONSCIOUSNESS & the FUTURE

Spiritual Leaders meet with Leaders in Science and Technology

March 27 & 28, 2015

Half Moon Bay, California

Since 2008 the Contemplative Alliance has convened contemplative practitioners and concerned citizens in conversation around the pressing social, ecological and economic issues of our times. We have traveled to ten cities across the nation joining groups across faith and wisdom traditions, as well as other sectors of civil society, to advance the notion that contemplative practices and/or deep self-inquiry can deepen our understanding of interdependence as a global community.  A common thread has emerged from these conversations the past seven years.  It is the unified belief that some of the best outer solutions to societal challenges arise from consistent inner reflection on one’s individual purpose/being, and the potential to altruistically impact the whole is boundless when informed by this inner knowledge.

From March 27 to 28, 2015 we continued this journey with sixty leaders from the technology, science and spiritual communities in Half Moon Bay, California for a free-form think tank called TECHNOLOGY, CONSCIOUSNESS and the FUTURE near Silicon Valley.  Our dialogue addressed the following sub-themes:
  • The Role of Technology in Fostering Greater Human Unity and Interconnection
  • Emerging Technologies That Will Shape the Future
  • Are We Transitioning From a Nature Based to Digital Based Civilization?
  • Technology & Social/Economic Transformation
  • The Convergence of Science, Technology and the Consciousness Movement
  • Balancing External Technology with an Inner Technology

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Sufi teacher opens the two day conversation

Prominent spiritual teacher, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Founder of The Golden Sufi Center, opened the dialogue with a talk titled ‘Mystics and Scientists – The Convergence of Science and Spirituality’ (click for audio of talk), which stressed the importance of global human interconnection made possible by technologies like the Internet. He shared a little of his background that has included nearly forty years of dedicated meditation practice with deep mystical experiences, including being awoken on a plane of consciousness where all is light, sometimes referred to as the ‘plane of the Self.’ He then shared with the contemplative and technology leaders in the room, a vision in which he saw the internet as a gift given to humanity, that would one day awaken to its full potential to give humanity access to an inner level of reality, an interconnected web of light that would bring about the coming together of human consciousness. A state where human consciousness can come alive to function as a living organic whole. “The internet is not designed as ‘information technology’; it is designed as ‘relationship technology’. It is about people coming together.” And we have yet to understand fully the significance and potential of the internet in terms of a global awakening and the concept of Oneness.

There were other technologies of the future that he has been shown; the energy of the future would use light, similar to the process of photosynthesis, non-polluting and be almost free. He stated the technologies are already present and waiting to be given, but can only be given to those of the right attitude. The knowledge cannot be accessed through greed, but will be given to those who hold deeper core values of inclusivity and service.   He offered the example of Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist who invented the World Wide Web. He did not do it to make money and took no royalties.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee said, “The real innovations that belong to the future should be in service to life and in service to humanity.  Then they will be given. If you have that attitude, your consciousness can be aligned to where the information is, to where the technology is waiting. You don’t have to work for it. It’s effortless.”

These opening remarks were followed by comments for discussion by three young people who are working on interconnectivity in their fields:  Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, who is sharing the diversity of the human community by the telling of stories through his films at the Global Oneness Project, Dharmista Rood at Code for America who is making government services more universal through open source technology, and Vincent Horn, who is bringing together the Buddhist and technology communities through his annual conference Buddhist Geeks.

Tiokasin Ghosthorse of First Voices Indigenous Radio

Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Host of the First Voices Indigenous Radio in NYC and a Sundancer spoke to the importance of remembering Mother Earth and the ways in which her resources are used.  He explained that the Earth is the foundation around which all of creation is birthed on the physical plane, and it is therefore our sacred duty and responsibility as humans, who are an interconnected part of the Earth, to respect this symbiotic relationship by not misusing its generosity, gifts, and perhaps most importantly, not ignoring the intricacy and intimacy of this balance.

Tiokasin’s message opened space for the group to address the inner conflict that arises when considering the benefits of technology, yet knowing the dangers resulting from the manufacturing process, for example.  Some participants specifically inquired about the Resource Usage Cycle, as well as raised the issue of mining, often in places of conflict, where minerals are sourced to power smart phones and basic appliances.  Another very present challenge is the Digital Divide, those who have access to technology and its benefits versus those who remain at distance because of social, racial, age or economic disparities.  It is clear the many problems that exist, but perhaps it is with turning inward, looking to our higher selves and Mother Earth – the living being that is holding the shifting energy of civilization – that we can find true answers.

Mr. Frank Phoenix

Birju Pandya of Service Space with Zakia Harris of Hack the Hood

This two-day dialogue between technologists, scientists, contemplative practitioners and spiritual teachers, yielded many moving and impressive moments, but one development stood out in particular:  the degree to which the mindfulness movement is penetrating Silicon Valley.  The initial purpose may be stress reduction in a highly competitive industry, but we heard from many that the end result is greater introspection and a reassessing of priorities.

It was clear among the young technologists present – heading startup companies or leading groundbreaking research – that many were motivated by the desire to make a meaningful impact in the world.  They offered great emphasis on the current and future potential of technology to do good works, such as:

  • The power of scalability to create & strengthen platforms for the unseen/unheard
  • The Internet as a convening portal for communities of change
  • Advance engineering/robotics to solve medical conundrums

An example of altruism and social good that was motivated by a deep inner calling was shared by Jim Fructerman, Founder and CEO of Benetech, the largest maker of affordable reading systems for the blind.

Jim gave a moving account of how Benetech came into being – by enhancing technology created for an optical recognition missile launching into something that could serve humanity.  An idea that was said not to be profitable is still around after 26 years, employs 80 people, and engages a community of volunteers in human rights, conservation and global literacy issues.  Also with us was Zakiya Harris, a shapeshifting maven and Co-Founder of Hack the Hood, which provides technical training in high demand multimedia and tech skills to youth, enabling them to take on real-world consulting projects with locally-owned businesses in their communities.  The story of World Pulse, founded by Jensine Larsen, mirrored the impact of network scalability; the organization is providing digital empowerment training programs to build online movements and promote female voices for change around the world.  And finally, Adam Pumm, the Co-Founder of Hive in San Francisco talked about applying his expertise in computer engineering and design to help connect and educate extraordinary mission-driven leaders and entrepreneurs who are working to create a better world.  These leaders showed us the possibilities of marrying heart centered wisdom with the gift of technology to serve with deep intention.

The conversation also tapped into the history of this rapidly evolving industry.  Many tech affiliates in the room shared that the technology movement was started by innovators and creative idealists, but since the influx of venture capital, a different energy has influenced the sector.  This background provided greater context for the motivations behind the race for the next $1 billion product often heard in media soundbites today.  Within that reality, however, there are still those looking for deeper purpose, a return to the optimism of the earlier days but now with the awareness of technology’s far greater reach, demand and sophistication.

Federico Faggin, Italian physicist and designer of world’s first commercial microprocessor

Moderator, Tom Callanan speaks with young technology leader, Min Lee of PlayMoolah

Through this gathering, the Alliance also saw great hope in a new generation of technologists, who are incorporating contemplative practice into their daily life so they can find a way to make a satisfying contribution to the future – to do good by being aware and engaged. Perhaps no other industry is imbibing into their corporate culture the principles of mindfulness practice as much as these technology companies.  We left the conversation inspired by the idea that perhaps they can lead American business in a new direction.

Nandu Menon of Intel and Metta Center for Non-Violence

Among our discussion of the social and ethical dimensions of technology, it became clear that there is much thinking in the Valley about the potential benefits as well as dangers of artificial intelligence (AI).  This gave way to a deeper exploration of intelligence versus consciousness.  Some technologists in the room acknowledged that consciousness based on data and information patterning is possible, but the ability to feel, experience, and self-reflect is an entirely a different matter.  Expanding on this debate, a number of participating scientists talked about the need to shift the scientific paradigm from one that believes matter precedes consciousness to a paradigm that understands it is consciousness that precedes matter.  These ideas opened a whole new avenue of exploration for the Contemplative Alliance, and deepens our understanding of the ongoing conversation between physicists and contemplative leaders.

Acarya Judy Lief, Kurt Johnson, Nicole Bradford

 

We are grateful to everyone who shared space with us and helped to bring to light the intricate aspects of technology and science that directly impact the Earth community.  This conversation will continue with another gathering planned for 2016.

Technology, science and thought leaders who also offered opening remarks:

Nichol Bradford, Co-Founder, Transformative Technology

John Briggs, PhD,  Prof. Em., Author & Poet, Co-Author,  Quantum Mechanics, Chaos Theory and Fractals

Federico Faggin, President, Federico & Elvia Faggin Foundation

Rich Fernandez,  Co-Founder, Wisdom Labs

Ari Goldfield, Meditation teacher, Founder, Wisdom Sun
Gurucharan Singh Khalsa, PhD, Author, meditation teacher & designer of applications on meditation & controlled breathing

Anasuya Krishnaswamy, PhD , Scientist on experimental solid-state physics & Yoga Teacher

Birju Pandya, Managing Director, Armonia, Volunteer, ServiceSpace

Jim Phoenix, Poet, Vice President Metta Center for Nonviolence

Christine Peterson, Co-Founder, Foresight Institute

This program was made possible with the kind support of

Kalliopeia Foundation, Fenwick Foundation and The Fetzer Institute.

 

The Contemplative Alliance – A Call to Inner Reflection for Societal Transformation

Launched by GPIW in 2008, the Contemplative Alliance is an inter-spiritual movement grounded in contemplative practices and approaches with the goal of heightening awareness and generating actions to address the critical issues of our times. We seek to accomplish this by creating an alliance of organizations and individuals from across religious, faith and worship traditions who believe that inner development is an essential element in the positive transformation of the global community.  By sharing this message, our vision is that individuals and organizations will act from a place of deep inner wisdom to advance the wellbeing of the global community. Currently the Contemplative Alliance is being organized under the auspices of the Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW) http://www.gpiw.org