Friends- This is my first post from India, which covers some ground from a few weeks ago. We should be up to date by next Saturday (the time I’ll post) when I’ll describe what it’s like to be here in Auroville. Enjoy!
“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself from concepts and keeps his mind open to what is.
Thus, the master is available to all people and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.
What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost, however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.”
Tao Te Ching
It’s always an exciting rush to be plopped down in this country, which actually feels like a different planet. It’s hard not to laugh when you realize just what passes for normal here- minutes after leaving the airport, we passed by a police academy that had a half dozen chickens roaming its grounds. As exciting as it is, however, I have the feeling that I’ve just taken some kind of drug and am now wondering, did I really want to do that? I’ve crossed some kind of threshold, gone down the rabbit’s hole, and there’s no turning back. We’ve undertaken a little experiment in an alternative mode of living, following Thoreau’s advice to “simplify,” but it’s much easier to advocate a simple mode of living than to actually do it. I thought I had overcome the thoughts of “how am I going to survive here?” on my previous trips, but this sense of panic and fear really gripped me these first few days.
One big factor in all this is the abrupt change in material living conditions. Although Giulia and I have done well to make our little hut a home, it still is a hut- and one that had been home to legions of ants before our arrival. After opening the door, the first thing we noticed was a storage box on the floor which seemed strangely out of place. When we opened it, we realized that a colony of thousands of ants were using it to incubate their eggs in this cool, dry spot. Giulia reacted in horror; I had to hold my disgust at bay as we moved the box out into a field.
As shocking as this was, it got me thinking: what if the roles were reversed, and a pair of ants (or other space creatures) stumbled onto the earth? What would they feel about the writhing, procreating mass over humans taking over every possible space and leaving a terrible mess in their wake? After all, the ants were only doing what life programmed them to do, exactly the same as every other species, including our own. Yet we humans feels so judgmental when it comes to dealing with these “pests” who endure a scrutiny and antagonism that no cuter or cuddlier creature would ever receive.
After disposing of the ants, I went to take a shower. Ah yes…I had forgotten that all my exigencies for comfort, cleanliness, and safety have to be lowered. Our shower is really no more than a large bucket with a smaller one inside. After arriving, this experience was quite annoying, but by the second day, I had begun to see what Dostoevsky meant by “man can get used to anything.” Now I don’t really mind at all, and actually kind of enjoy it.
The shower got me thinking: when you’re forced to clean yourself using small buckets of water you pour over your body, you see just how little it takes to get you clean- and just how much we’re habituated to wasting in the west. Showering these past few days has made me realize how much we take our tremendous luxuries in the west for granted and wasting massive amounts of resources doesn’t even seem to make people happier. There’s an idea in Tibetan Buddhism about a realm called “the jealous gods”- beings who are really powerful, but are always lusting after more. I recently read a comment that said that most people in the west were jealous gods, but I didn’t quite understand or agree until this shower experience. If I grew up in conditions like these and then visited people in the west, the first way I’d describe them would be “they’re living like gods, with their showers and refrigerators and steady electricity.” It might take some time to realize that even these powers are not good enough for most of them, and that nearly everyone is clamoring for more when they already have more than enough. In this sense, it’s really important to come to places like India, since even after having spent so much time here in the past, I still need a reminder of how good I normally have it.
Overall, though, I’m very happy to undertake this experiment. Like all experiments, I have no idea how it will work out, but that’s the fun. I realize that there is really no such thing as an experiment that “doesn’t work”, since even failed experiments teach you what doesn‘t work. From this perspective, the conclusions are inconsequential- it’s the process that counts.