Cycles and Their End

One morning last month we woke to find our entire bed of lettuce had been eaten to the ground by a bear and her cub (we saw their pawprints). Also last month, my husband suffered a severe backache, our daughter got a painful sunburn, I had a toothache that caused a fever, and it was over a hundred degrees for weeks together.

after a black momma bear and her cub visited our garden last monthNow it’s August. The lettuce has grown back, all three of us have recovered, and the weather is glorious. Our little garden is prolific, providing lunches of salads and steamed greens, which, combined with dressing and homemade whole wheat bread, fully satisfy us. But this phase will also be short-lived. Soon approaching hibernation time will make the bears ravenous, the lettuce will go to seed, and our daughter will be leaving for her first year of college.

The Gita tells us miseries and pleasures come and go like the winter and summer seasons and that we shouldn’t be gloomy in one and elated in the other but equipoised in both. Although it seems like we’ve been in this world forever, we’re here only for a lightning-strike visit. This place is not where we’re supposed to be.

“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery where repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains My abode never takes birth again.” (Bhagavad-gita 8.16)

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Rite of Passage

Last Saturday here at Sharanagati Village in British Columbia, we had a ceremony for the three students who graduated from our small, K-12 school. All the village parents, children, friends, community members, teachers, and former teachers attended. Many spoke at the event.

Ms. Cummings said, “I’ve been teaching for nineteen years, and that one year some eight years ago when I taught at the Sharanagati school remains my best teaching year. I don’t expect that to change in my teaching career; my year here will remain my best year.”

graduation gratitude and ecstasyGopal Fournier, one of the graduates, said “At first I didn’t want to be emotional at this time, but then I realized when I see all of you, the beautiful people who have sheltered, supported, encouraged, and loved me my whole life, I couldn’t help but be emotional from the gratitude and love I feel for each one of you.”

Afterwards, some of the teachers and I talked about how small village schools are healthy for both students—who, with their friends, are nurtured close to home—and the community—which is infused with the youthful energy of their own children. Students at our Sharanagati school are happy, which means discipline problems are virtually unknown and academic achievement is often high. Schools like ours aren’t experimental but were the norm a century ago.

I also considered that for those who accept the idea of reincarnation, high school graduation, which marks the end of childhood and beginning of adulthood, is a bit like death: it means stepping out of one stage and into another—it’s a change of bodies. In the words of the Bhagavad-gita:

“As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from childhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.”

family, friends, teachers, neighbors, students

Resilience

I notice with dismay that an apple tree my daughter and I planted seven years ago as well dead for no apparent reasonas my dear Montmorency sour cherry tree that my friends and I feast from each summer aren’t leafing out this spring. It was a mild winter, so it wasn’t the cold that killed them.

I’m discouraged. Why buy trees, chip holes for them into the rocklike soil, plant, fertilize, water, and prune them only to have them die for no apparent reason? I’d rather lie in the sun reading the Bhagavad-gita.

That reasoning wilts before my wise, pious friend Patricia. Now nearing 60, she’s successfully battled serious cancer and today has the buoyancy and brightness of a youth. Unhesitatingly she tells me, “Try again or try something else.” Her simple words lift me from my defeat. She’s right. Two trees died but ten lived. Why not see that?

Humans are not meant to give up—on trees, problems, people, or ourselves. In consistently, optimistically trying to bring health and spirituality into the world and its occupants, we gain the same for ourselves.

I can try again. And then I can read that book in the sun. And when I do read, the Gita’s words will enter my heart – the heart of a budding optimist – and resonate there, as they would never do for a cynic.

Behind the Scene

Armed with chutzpah and other people’s credit, Marc Dreier, a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, hatched one ingenious scam after another and used the proceeds to maintain a lavish lifestyle, including owning a $10,000,000 apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, beachfront properties in the Hamptons, a valuable art collection, several expensive cars, and an $18,000,000 yacht.

Gita Nagari farm, Port Royal, PABefore he began committing his crimes, Mr. Dreier earned about $400,000 a year. So, one may ask, why did Mr. Dreier engage in fraud? The classic spiritual treatise, Bhagavad-gita, explains that a person in the grips of the mode of passion (called raja guna, in Sanskrit) has unlimited desires and longings.

Gita Nagari farm, Port Royal, PAA guna is a quality that, due to our desires and activities, entraps us. In the case of Mr. Dreier, after pleading guilty to his crimes he wrote a letter to the judge explaining that he began stealing in 2002, taking money from the settlement proceeds owed to a client. He had hoped to repay the money quickly, but instead he stepped into “a quicksand of spending” and found himself “running a massive Ponzi scheme with no apparent way out.”

When there is an increase in the mode of passion, the Gita tells us, uncontrollable greed develops.

In his letter, Mr. Dreier also told the judge that colleagues and clients were doing “better financially and seemingly enjoying more status” than he was, and he felt “crushed by a sense of underachievement.”

A person in the grip of passion is never satisfied with the position he or she has, covets higher positions and more possessions, and becomes disturbed by not having them and envious of those who do. Then, the intelligence smothered, that person ignores morality.

Or, in Mr. Dreier’s words, “I can’t remember or imagine why I didn’t stop myself. It all seems so obviously deplorable now. I recall only that I was desperate for some measure of the success that I felt had eluded me. I lost my perspective and my moral grounding, and really, in a sense, I just lost my mind.”

Greed, the Gita tells us, is one of three gates to hell, and any action done under its influence tastes like nectar in the beginning and poison at the end.

Mr. Dreier was convicted of fraud for bilking hedge funds and other investors out of at least $400 million and sentenced to twenty years in prison. He commented: “It’s easy to say you would never cross the line, but the line is presented to very few people.”

And it’s true. Anyone can succumb to greed – and have to experience the misery it brings.

There is a bright side, however. Anyone, including Mr. Dreier, who is sixty-two and may spend the rest of his life in prison, can reflect on and learn from the glorious Gita. This passage, for example, could give all of us pause:

“In the mode of passion, people become greedy, and their hankering for sense enjoyment has no limit. One can see that even if one has enough money and adequate arrangements for sense gratification, there is neither happiness nor peace of mind. That is not possible, because one is situated in the mode of passion. If one wants happiness at all, his money will not help him…” (Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s purport to Bhagavad-gita 14.17)

Ample Space, Divine Opportunities

One of the more noteworthy statements I heard while traveling was, “As yoga enables us to stretch in ways we couldn’t before, so the Bhagavad-gita enables our mind to stretch to accommodate ideas we couldn’t entertain before.”

Recently—and unfortunately—my absorption in the mind-stretching Gita has been disappointing. Although I had great intentions and read the Gita daily, I’ve been preoccupied with keeping my camper functioning, maintaining my stock of books and DVDs, having exchanges and farewells with friends along the way, forging future plans, keeping a wary eye on the weather, and trying to stay healthy and safe.

suburban samenessMy lack of absorption in the Gita may have been due to all that, or it may have been due to my feeling like a zombie after so much driving. Or from feeling suffocated after driving through cities with office buildings and houses so similar I could hardly tell them apart, buildings so close together that children couldn’t play between them.

At Saranagati, where my family and I live, each house is pleasantly quirky in ways just suited to its residents, as if the house and its residents morphed a bit to fit each other well. There’s ample space between them—space that doesn’t separate the residents but draws them closer.

The poet Cowper says the city is made by man and the country by God; perhaps that’s why the mind breathes deeply in the country, expanding to encompass dimensions suffocated elsewhere. And in the country the spirit, stretching toward that unknowable Person who’s within and without, basks in the enchanting freedom of real, divine intangibles.

the joy of enough

Stunning natural beauty captivates the mind and gives solace to the heart.

Happiness means that one no longer has to think of attaining things. —Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Currently, due to unprecedented production and consumption, we humans are using more natural resources than the earth can replenish and are creating more waste than the earth can consume. And throughout the world we’re increasingly depressed and over-stressed. This year the World Health Organization declared, “Depression is among the leading causes of disability worldwide.” And the American Institute of Stress reported, “Time magazine’s June 6, 1983 cover story called stress ‘The Epidemic of the Eighties’ and referred to it as our leading health problem; there can be little doubt that the situation has progressively worsened since then. Numerous surveys confirm that adult Americans perceive they are under much more stress than a decade or two ago.”

While we destroy our planet we’re finding ourselves more and more unhappy.

So it’s become ecologically and psychologically imperative that we make and consume less, that we simplify our desires, but as long as our hearts churn with dissatisfaction we won’t: our desires will force us to continue ripping resources from earth to create products that we often don’t really need and can’t afford to buy.

In our tiny Sharanagati community we’re trying to live more lightly. We use cars and computers, but our electricity comes primarily from the solar panels we’ve installed on our homes, our water is gravity-fed from pipes that tap nearby mountain streams, and our heat comes from wood from the forests around us. We eat vegetables and fruits from our home gardens and we compost, burn or recycle most of our waste. The Bhagavad-gita tells us we have an intimate relationship with the earth, the creatures and things of the earth and God. In participating in the cycle of sowing, watering, mulching, weeding and harvesting, we feel our dependence on the necessities no one on this planet can create or replace: wood, water, seeds, sunshine and soil.

Sharanagati’s ample space and open air form a backdrop where our hearts can be calmed and where the Bhagavad-gita’s message can instill us with a spirit of service to the earth, her creatures and God. Answering that call to service brings us health and something sublime—a feeling of thankfulness for all we’ve been given.

Today dark clouds rumbled overhead and sent hail bouncing off our porch until it finally turned into a steady, straight rain. Now the air is buoyant and the land spongy. For a few fleeting months our woodstove lies empty and cold, but our hearts fill with wonder and appreciation for the designer of this complete and completely beautiful arrangement called Mother Nature.

Beneath a brilliant sky and the setting sun, Lake Sharanagati lies placid.

Our daughter Priya, who just started studying digital photography, took this photo!

The afternoon sun rests on wild flower petals.

our-spiritual-journey.comThe community came en mass to congratulate and support Priya and Kalindi, our two Sharanagati graduates.