This is the transcript of my second interview with Wolfgang Werminghausen, for his podcast Faster Than Expected, episode 20, which has been published last night. Smaller corrections have been made to clarify the core message and to give a more pleasant reading.
Originally, the conversation was supposed to happen as part of the 19th FTE podcast with Kevin Hester co-hosting but was postponed due to technical problems.
FTE: I want to talk with Jürgen about living with animals. Since some years Jürgen is living in India in the small town Auroville. There he is working as a farmer and librarian. We had a talk in the 16th episode of the Faster Than Expected podcast.
How does working as a farmer and living with goats and other animals change your life?
Me: Hi Wolfgang, thanks for the opportunity to throw a few words into the conversation. I really appreciate that.
I’d like to add that it’s an organic farm within a spiritual commune, which is not at all comparable to industrial agriculture. I think that organic farming and industrial agriculture are actually two very different activities that only can be seen on the same level if you think both of them are about keeping animals or planting food crops. Apart from that, they got nothing in common. Our animals are part of the family, which means we have a symbiotic relationship, not the kind of exploit-then-throw away situation of a typical cowcentration camp.
On a physical level my work is of course completely different from anything I ever did within my life as a wage slave or as a self-employed retailer. It sort of reconnected me with the realm of true life, basic needs, eye-to-eye interaction and so on; these elements in our lives have been largely lost. I can say that because I am currently going through the experience of regaining them, finding them again in my life, and finding a place for them in my life.
The work takes some discipline, the kind I expect Kevin to know closely, because as much as you sometimes would like to leave the boat – to jump ship – you can’t. Kevin has physical barriers in the way; there is a vast ocean all around, and I have emotional barriers which I cannot cross.
FTE: Like a lifeboat.
Me: Yes. You got to be there, day by day, event by event, whatever happens. It’s three o’clock in the night and I hear some of the animals shouting in some sort of distress, eg. there is a predator in the cage or someone stepped on their toe. Whatever it is, I go there and look. I can’t say, “It’s night time, I want to sleep and my working hours are long past.”
And it’s a very direct thing: There is no space for electronic gadgets, or complex ideas. Another element that is also important from that perspective is: We use to throw money at a problem, like, something is missing and you go into the shop to buy what we need. That’s not possible in this case. You can’t throw money at a problem an animal has, or at a problem you have with an animal, and make the animal behave as you want it to. Meeting their needs, that’stheir currency, and to become aware of what the need of the moment might be I have to be with them, meaning, I have to be with them very often, repeatedly, and also mentally I have to be prepared to be present with them to understand what’s up. By that practice I learn their expressions, the signing, the body language, and communicate with them. Though it’s not like the twitch of one eye means the word so-and-so, and the blinking of the other eye means, I’m hungry. It’s not as direct as human language, rather some intuitive kind of communication. It’s not coherently the same all the time. The same sign may mean something different in a different context. Understanding is a matter of intuition, I think. By being together with the animals they learn what I am up to. Do I understand them? Am I ready to meet their need? Or am I rejecting it?
I am entering into a mutual relationship with them which means, I acknowledge them as people, as characters, as unique personalities. It’s not all that complicated and you could compare it to instances when people understand each other without words. Everybody has them. You have a friend, a partner… you don’t need to speak but you know what the other person is thinking or what they want to do. Like in a good rock band, the guitarist and the drummer know exactly their timing. We like to refer to this as „magic moments“, but that’s really just because spoken and written language has so removed us from our original state of consciousness and from the things that truly matter. Ok, in a way it’s “magic” because it’s not rational, but it’s not special in the sense of being a rare thing. You could have it every day.
So I highly recommend people to consciously enter into close relationships with someone whose psyche is not fucked up by civilized thinking and by thinking in linguistic terms. We find those very rarely. When are you able to get in contact with a wild person – with a tribal human? It’s hard to find them anywhere. So the only people left that are sort of unspoilt are animals who are available to us for that purpose.
If you let yourself – just for a minute – feel the sorrows of another being you get an understanding of the heaviness of the burden that’s hanging from the world’s neck, this civilized madness which is to me a mental disorder, a derangement even. I don’t know how else to get rid of this. It’s something no shrink can ever heal. To me, the way out of this madness is to reconnect through beings that are less impaired by it.
The fate of the biosphere is depending on us because we are the dominant species – or rather, the dominant culture, because it’s not humans as such, it’s our culture, civilization, that’s fucking up the planet, and therefore we do have a responsibility for the wellbeing of everyone else: plants, animals, ourselves of course, for the pain, the suffering, and the survival of everyone else in this world, just like we do have a responsibility for our children and our pets, or to phrase it in another way, we have a responsibility for the captive children and the animals that we domesticate for civilized use; that’s what we do to our own species even.
FTE: Thank you very much for your touching and impressive words. In Western industrial agriculture animals are a product kind of thing. Is there a different way to view animals in India?
|Blister beetle devouring an ocra flower|
Me: Yes, certainly. There is this funny story told by Arnold Stadler, about a calves extermination program that an agricultural minister of the German Green party has set up to curb an outbreak of BSE. I think it happened in 2001, I’m not sure. 400 000 cow babies were to be culled, meaning, killed for health issues; potential health issues even, to stop an epidemic, and most of those cow babies were not actually sick. In India, there were people and organizations who thought about how to save those animals from their pointless death. Like there is civil war in some foreign country and we think about how we could help these people. The Indians were thinking about how to help these animals that we were mindlessly killing.
To understand the Indian way of seeing animals one may look into Karma. Karma means that the depth of your insights gained throughout your lifetime and the extent at which you are putting those into practice define the situation into which you are going to be reborn. For Indians, life does not end with death; it doesn’t start with birth either. It’s an endless cycle in which we come back again and again, and that can be as a demon, a god, an animal of some kind, or as a human.
That means that animals are regarded as relatives. It expresses in language, when, in Tamil, we call a young female animal ‘paapa’, younger sister and a young male animal ‘thambi’, younger brother.
Indian philosophy has it that physical pain is a normal, natural phenomenon. Our nerve endings help us sense the world, see the world, hear the world. The same nerve that can feel the texture of a book or a peace of clothing can also feel pain which is just an increase in intensity of the same impression. Pain happens to everyone and it cannot be avoided. So it does not matter much if we beat a cow or keep a calf from having its milk and make it feel hungry, because this pain is a natural thing. Our duty in our karma as living beings is to understand this and to surrender to the necessity of pain. To understand this necessity and surrender to it means that you do your yoga.
If we don’t do our yoga, if we don’t understand, we suffer psychologically. Suffering and pain are different. The suffering is in your own responsibility. You cannot avoid pain but you can avoid suffering by understanding the necessity of pain. And as long as we suffer we cannot leave the wheel of rebirth. We are caught in the world of pain.
But as all life is also yoga, ie. the search for the Divine, Ultimate Consciousness, God – however you want to call it – and therefore we must not interrupt this search by cutting a life short. Sure, you can do it anyway but it has an impact on your karma. That’s why people on one hand have no problem with heavily beating a cow while on the other hand making efforts to saving its life, no matter how miserable that life is.
[To repeat a story given in my last blog here:] Just a few days ago I came to the house of my Tamil sister where two hibiscus bushes are standing in front of the door which were a gift from one of our friends. The flowers were full of blister beetles which were eating the flowers. I said, “Look!” by just pointing at them. She replied: “What shall I do? They are hungry and they need to eat. We can’t just go around and kill everyone.” This illustrates their view on animals, encompassing both the domestic and the wild animals. This is of course going away the more India gets industrialized but it is still present within the countryfolk.
FTE: I see. We can learn very much from the Indian attitude towards animals and towards life. Thanks for your insightful words and the metaphors; now I imagine you with a goat rock band in a lifeboat[both chuckle]with your brothers and sisters. Thank you very much for this talk.
Me: Thank you for having me on the show!
Karma is, of course, a way more complex topic than described here, and the ramifications of inflicting pain and causing sufferings on others must not be neglected, but killing weighs heavy on the karmic balance sheet.
With all the generalizations made here, I must amend that, for anything you may say about India, the exact opposite is true as well. Its culture is enormously rich and diverse; as a civilization, it is almost as old as the Western cultural lineage. Indians’ basic assumptions on the nature of existence and therefore on the proper way of treating the living planet, as fundamentally different as they are from Western views, are certainly not perfect but at least they keep the door open for each individual life to improve its situation. With the influx of Western ideas and technologies, though, this culture is developing into one of the most explosive population bombs the world has seen.
Sheila Chandra: Lament of McCrimmon/Song of the Banshee