“NO MASK NO ENTRY” – Ivan Illich and the exercise of freedom

The early Christians made … community by sharing the simple communion meal through which they remembered their Lord, and by a mouth-to-mouth kiss through which they shared their spirits in a conspiratio or breathing together,

states Canadian radio broadcaster David Cayley in a book on Austro-American social philosopher Ivan Illich’s views. [David Cayley, The Rivers North of the Future. The Testament of Ivan Illich. House of Anansi Pr., 2005]

 

So this is what it means to conspire. Rather than theorizing on others doing it, we are called to do it ourselves. Which brings me to a message published in our local gazette, the News & Notes 839. It says,

Mask dilemma

The Covid Task force in its weekly communication with the community in the News & Notes, on Auronet and through many Bulletins has done a heroic job! The Pandemic in India is  certainly  not  yet  under  control  and  we  are asked  to  take caution;  It  is  required  by  law  to  keep  social  distance, wear masks while going out and in public places and do not hold or go to large gatherings. As Auroville and Aurovilians, we have to follow the law.

Lately there are more voices of dissent, people who absolutely refuse to wear a mask in Auroville’s public places: going to the Financial Service, PDTC or Pour Tous, (despite clear signs that say: ‘NO MASK NO ENTRY ‘. Unpleasant, jarring, impatient and hot arguments were heard in PDTC at the entrance attacking the amazing people, who keep this service going since March, in a spirit of selfless service, wearing their own hot masks all morning!! and providing us with all our food needs, meanwhile keeping a beautiful atmosphere.  Over the carrot-and onion displays someone went ballistic: shrieking to another customer who dared to inquire why she wasn’t wearing a mask. This was shocking painful and hurtful to everyone present. If some Aurovilians feel so strongly not keeping these simple rules, they of course have the freedom to stop shopping or use Auroville services and do their errands and business elsewhere. It  would  great  if  these  simple  rules  could  be  accepted  and followed by everyone -whatever people’s private opinions are- without the necessity to enforce them.

Stay Healthy!  ~ L.

I have a lot of questions about this piece of writing. What exactly is heroic about sitting in a self-appointed group passing down rules from the Central Government to The City The Earth Needs?  Why are those who work for a wage called selfless, and inhowfar does their self-torturing behaviour make a good example for everyone? It is certainly not ok to accuse or even shout at them, but where is all the rage coming from, did you ever wonder? From the threat of enforcement of ‘voluntary’ obedience, perhaps? Where can they go when all public doors are marked with Get-lost signs? Can they visit alternative offices when there aren’t any? Are they supposed to starve to death in their homes? What has become of the Aurovilian pride in all the non-allopathic methods and ways of healing we once practiced? Once there were Chinese, Tibetan, Ayurvedic, Homeopathic, Yogic, Shamanic and all kinds of ways, now there is only one, the control-obsessed Western-orthodox approach, or rather a perverted politicised version of it that defies all scientific and common-sense understanding.

Despite the many questionable points in the above opinion piece, I’ll focus on the topic of obedience alone. Mirra Alfassa, the founder and “Mother” of Auroville, also called the place The City At The Service Of Truth, and she made clear in many of her statements that laws, rules, traditions, morals, or religions alongside money, police, courts, politics, governments etc. should not rule its ways. A life divine, but no religions, as she famously said.

source: Pixabay

As can be seen from the following quotes, to no surprise, the New Testament as a spiritual document anticipates some of the things that the Mother, along with many other wisdom teachers, said about proper relation of the truth-seeker to rules.
Let me quote from Cayley’s book [in italics]; not in order to establish yet another authority or to argue theological points, but to give a perspective on what the insistence on obedience might mean.

What the Samaritan does is to step fearlessly outside what his culture has sanctified in order to create a new relationship and, potentially, a new community. He does not seek God within a sacred circle but finds him lying by the road in a ditch. His possibilities cannot be predicted or circumscribed. He lives, in the apostle Paul’s words, “not under the law, but under grace.” [Cayley]

“We are released from the Law, having died to what was binding us, and so we are in a new service, that of the spirit, and not in the old service of a written code.” [Paul, Letter to the Romans, 7:6]

In other words, the spirit defines our relationship, not our man-made arbitrary rules. One of Illich’s central tenets was that even the duty to help and the obligation to solidarity eliminate empathy and spirit from the good work. Before everything else, there ought to be compassion, not judgment. The person that comes to your doorstep is a person in need. Right action does not draw its direction from the norm or from fear of breaking rules.

 

“If I had not come and spoken to them they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.” [Jesus, Gospel of John, 15:22-23]

While modern political and social theory has it that societies are shaped and held together by their rules, the bond of community is understanding. It doesn’t mean that laws, traditions or rituals are absent in community, but that they do not have precedence over compassion. Through the message passed on by numerous voices such as the Buddha, Jesus, or the Mother, we have been made aware of our freedom to act compassionately, and that the strict application – not the breach – of rules is a sin:

 

Sin, in this new context, no longer means just a violation of the law, but something more — a coldness or indifference to what has been revealed and made possible. [Cayley]

Don’t take ‘sin’ for the religious crime codified by the Roman Church, but for the betrayal of the relationship established by the loving trust of the Samaritan into the commonly despised stranger.

“Sin,” Illich says, “is refusing to honour that relationship which came into existence between the Samaritan and the Jew, which comes into existence through the exercise of freedom, and which constitutes an ‘ought’ because I feel called by you, called to you, called to this tie between human beings, or between beings and God […] It is not in any sense offensive of a law. It is always an offence against a person. It’s an infidelity.”

To value the law over the person, that is sin. Freedom, though, is not about permanent rebellion against rules in general, but about unrestrained acting in the spirit of the good: compassion, truthfulness, community.

Sin, on this account, is not simply an evil, or a moral fault. It is a failing against the Spirit, possible only for those who have heard and ignored what they have heard, and visible only in the light of that freedom that Paul says is identical with “the forgiveness of sin.” [Cayley]

The Yoga of Reconnection

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!

P.S.
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

Cow days

I go to sleep at shortly after seven, no videos watched these days, no music heard, not even a book read. I haven’t read books in quite some time, which is hilarious, knowing how much of a book person – a librarian, a translator, a writer even – I, my ego personality, am… was… Or am I still? Things at the library have come to a halt with the mess-up of a programmer who didn’t deliver what he had promised, and I couldn’t care less. The book I currently translate starts to annoy me, and I can’t tell why. And the book I am about to write bores me before it really took off.
This, too, shall pass, I guess. I don’t mind these things too much. They tend to come and go in waves, though I suspect some of it is here to stay.

Me, I am here to stay in the farm. Before I sleep – and immediately after I wake up, and also all through the day – I listen to the birds and crickets, to the toads and the dog packs, the thunder and rain, the occasional firecrackers on somebody’s birthday or on one of the many festivals scattered all across the calendar like in medieval Europe. Just now it has been Diwali, also known als Deepavali, the Indian festival of lights. Not so many lights here in Tamil Nadu, rather aircrackers the size of bombshells. No kidding. Don’t go anywhere on Diwali. Children put the damn things in the middle of the road or in a hollow tree trunk by the side and light them just before you are passing by. If your Karma is tied to the tree both of you are going to pass. Just pass. Not by.

Bodhi the villain
Someone from the Farmers’ group has come to write a whitepaper, a collection of asset data. The group wants to make an assessment of the situation after an arbitration has torn the plot into tiny bits. It is to show to the Council what has come of their cronyistic decision, for all (nothing) it’s worth. The conflict has been announced ended because we have gone through all the motions that make it technically so. The fact remains that forced conflict resolution is a fine recipe for perpetuating the dispute into eternity. Speaking of Diwali, our lovely neighbours caught one of our cows trespassing into their untended plot which they call their farm. They took the poor thing and were about to throw it out the gate onto the main road where it would likely have been hit by a bus or otherwise lost. We caught the guy just in time to save the cow from getting sacrificed to their hate of us, and him from earning himself rebirth as a dung beetle. The cow alone is worth more Rupees than their veggies make in a whole year. The milk she’s giving within a year doubles that value. And by the way, she’s a family member, as far as I’m concerned. But I know what would have happened: the Council would have scolded us for making them do it, and the Farmers’ group would have scolded us for letting it happen. The Council calls this a commune of the good-willed, our neighbours call it holistic permaculture. Me, I have no words for it any longer. The civil and basic human rights situation is worse than you’d expect. The repressive democracies of the West at least keep a thin coat of legality. In this town “at the service of truth” there is no such thing. Those who shape the rules are also judges andappellate instance, and if you want to get anywhere you better make friends with them.
Events like these have me think there is no reason to believe there will ever come a time when people change their ways. Have I changed, since I woke up? Has my writing changed anybody or anything in thirteen years of pondering, ruminating, considering, pleading? Ain’t I just another Obama, a hypocrite, a talker, a make-believe?
There are two new maadu (cows) and their kutti (calves) in the farm. The one born on 10th August is a healthy red-furred male, 78cm chest circumference; the one born on 7th October had an infection of the navel which we cured with natural remedies; it is a sand-coloured girl and I call it Kuttiwutti, which is silly, of course, but that’s the way I feel when I’m near her. She takes the treatment like a man and then continues to chew on her thoughts – or dwells in meditation, whichever it is that keeps her as calm as she seems. The kutti stay with the aadu (goats) in their new, beautiful, airy thatched range. One of them, Marie – short for Marianne, because she was born on 14th of July, but the Tamils have trouble pronouncing that – thinks herself to be aadu. She likes to huddle with the goats during the cold nights and goes grazing with them into the forest during the hot days.
We’ve had twice as much rains since July than in ordinary years. The weather here on the twelth parallel north of the Equator felt almost Central European. Now that the Northeast monsoon is traditionally expected to fill the tanks and aquifers it becomes dryer again, though. Climate change? Aw, gimme a break.
It is two months since I… did what? Reduced internet time? Well, sort of. The new balance I was looking for, between browsing and farming, between dwelling in virtual reality and living real virtues, resulted in an almost complete withdrawal from the web. I sometimes look at facebook and skim through the headlines of the first few pages coming up; I find nothing new, just more of the same madness that runs the world these days, and the denial of it. Rarely do I feel the urge to comment, never does it inspire me to write an essay of my own. It’s not that I suddenly look down upon what seemed so interesting and important just a few weeks ago. The thing is rather, human communication has become increasingly void of meaning – not necessarily by its content, although I have to say that, in terms of real needs (i.e. survival), we communicate a lot of non-sense. The problem is on the side of the receiver. There is simply nobody there to communicate with. All brains are stuffed with concepts, words, ideas, plans; no way to get through to anyone, everyone is entangled in their own spider webs. It’s true for my closest friends, it’s true for combatants on the climate front, it’s true for everyone else. And this is not to complain about a fault that anybody were to blame for. Humans just do what they understand and they understand just as much as they already do. No help shoving words into their ears, or truths down their throats; though it sometimes makes me mad. Why cant they… why can’t we… ?!
Forget it. I don’t even know what I’m asking of them… us… the world… who?
just being unique
The mixed chickens we have bought to revive the poultry farm are developing fine. There are Australian chickens, Indian chickens, all kinds of crossbreeds, Guinea fowl, a turkey lady named Aïshe, black chickens – feathers, cockscomb, toes, eggshells and all – and some ducks. The ducks, who have recently laid their first egg, and one or two more every night since, roam the place together with the Guineas and Aïshe (whom I also call Schlachtschiff, i.e. German for battleship, for her size and gravity), eating dropped cow food, grass, herbs, frogs, insects, and invertebrates from the mud puddles around the cowshed. It makes for happy poultry; very visibly they are enormously alive. And the eggs taste phantastic, though not much different from chicken eggs. Three weeks ago we discovered the nest of a cetti kuruvi, a bush warbler, woven between the stalks of a cowgrass bush. Four tiny red eggs lay inside, each no more than one centimeter long. We didn’t fry them, although we wondered whether warblers like to eat the kambu millets that are growing in the field right next to its nest. Just a few days ago we went to see what’s become of the new bird family. Three hungry orange-coloured beaks gave deep insight into the interiors of warbler chicks. I’d never exchange views like this for the rupees in crop loss which might disappear into those beaks. None of us would. And yes, warblers are insectivore; they don’t eat millets, but parrots and other birds do. Certain insects do. The principle of do-no-harm remains. Pointing out some blister beetles on her hibiscus bush to my Tamil sister, she replied, Yes, I saw it, but what can I do? They are hungry, and we can’t just go around and kill everybody.
Watching the animals closely, repeatedly, and for extended amounts of time (of which I have plenty since I dropped out of the rat race) I notice that it’s true what Daniel Quinn said in one of his books, The Story of B. I didn’t notice it before he said it and I would likely have not believed it anyway, but each animal, from bacteria to mites to beetles and lions, is unique; not in the sense of the kind of separate individuals civilized humans think themselves to be, but in their body shapes, their movements, their general behaviour, their personality, and their preferences. No two of them are alike! None of them is disposable. They are also intelligent, no doubt. Our farm animals have the kind of skills you need to survive as a cow, a goat, a chicken, and they are streetwise. They are loving if you let them, and they make good use of their relationships, asking favours here and there: Scratch my forehead, say the cows by turning their head towards me; Scratch me between the horns, indicate the goats in the same way. Want fresh water, quack the ducks bobbing their heads; What’s that in your hand?, ask the chickens by their focussing on it, and Marie comes to greet me when I enter the goat place. She looks me straight in the eyes. I notice the beautiful lashes on hers, and the fine hair along the rim of her ears. It’s not like they have nothing to offer in return. Did I really sell bovine body parts to dog owners once? Yuck!
Humanimal communication usually works better for me than trying to meet my allegedly sapient conspecifics. It’s free of civilized ballast, therefore it’s rarely getting complicated, it’s usually straightforward in exchange of signing, and it speaks the language of stick and carrot. Part of the dialogue is deciding which one it will be. They are not always playing nice. I am not always in a patient mood. Like in all families there’s disagreements and excitement. Yet in the end we come together, no matter what. By living on the same land and feeding each other we have become the same flesh, the same blood; and by loving each other we became one soul.
Try that on facebook.

Return from Friesenheim

Some thoughts on ‘the other’ and on ‘being different’

The following is a synthesis of some thoughts collected at a three-days discussion at the Friesenheimer Sommeruniversität last week-end and at another discussion simultaneously happening at the facebook group “The Six Blind and the Elephant.”
I think it is necessary to point out that, if we are actually desiring human unity, the path to its realization cannot imply divisiveness and fighting-against. In my community we are talking about ‘unity in diversity’, meaning, we accept that we are born, and have evolved, differently; all of us are diverse expressions of the One, and it doesn’t take for all of us to look the same, think the same, act the same. We are already one, whether we notice this or not. In the early stages of becoming aware of it, as an intellectual concept only, there is sometimes the desire to manipulate or force others into complying with this concept. What if we got everybody, every single individual, to accepting this idea? But that’s not unity, is it? We’d get a collection of seperate beings at best, mental tyranny at worst, so there is no use in this.
The Universal Consciousness oberves itself through the varied lenses of our individuality. It laughs at our attempts to stuff parts of its infiniteness into arbitrary boxes arranged into random hierarchies of ‘better’ and ‘worse’, and it is amused in the same way about efforts to counter the unfolding fragmentation with levelling differences down. Both movements, discrimination of differences and denying differences, are an expression of the notion that we are separate, independent beings.

Mountain Chief
listening to recording
with Frances Densmore
1916 (public domain)
The path to unity leads through acceptance of, and respect for, our many differences, our diversity. There are no two people on the planet, no two stones, no two trees, no two bacteria, or even two electrons that are the same. There is always something to distinguish two entities by, if only by their position in space. There are things that make us alike, though, which allows us to say, This is a human who is sharing common human traits, and this is a tree showing similar characteristics like others of its kind. To focus on the set of attributes which makes each of the readers of this essay a human being means to focus on our fundamental unity as humankind. But to value those attributes over other sets of attributes separates us from other beings. And to value certain characteristics like white skin, leftist ideology, or middle-range income, higher than other characteristics, again, results in separation. Yes, we are diverse; but it’s the judgment of our differences as higher or lower, better or worse, that sets us apart and makes us think we were incompatible with each other.
As for ‘narcissists’, ‘thieves’, ‘destroyers’ and other groups we have identified as ‘problematic’, it helps when we apply different language. Instead of sticking a label to somebody and thus saying that eg. thiefing is a certain person’s particular character, we could say that s/he has stolen, or that s/he has shown thiefing behaviour; this small change in grammar changes our own reality big time and allows us to believe that this person has other character traits as well. S/he is not only about stealing and s/he has the capacity to change their way. Instead of prohibiting (and finally eliminating the ‘problem’, and the person with it) we may ask, which unfulfilled need drives this person or group to acting as they do, and what can I do to help meeting this need differently.
This, of course, takes some time and is a matter of personal interaction; it can rarely be achieved on a large scale with thousands or milliions of people, though a supportive environment may help with fostering change. On the other hand, from what I understand, it is important to know that manipulating somebody into doing something, the top-down approach, and the demand for immediate satisfaction are part of how the world arrived at its current state. Do you see how all of this has implications for what we can or cannot do to establish a more balanced, harmoneous situation?
When we perceive ourselves as different from, let’s say a ‘thief’, or when we are being labelled ‘thieves’ , it always takes a reference point perceived as ‘normal’. But that makes the ‘other’ and the ‘normal’ obverse and reverse faces of oneand the same leaf. So, in all our diversity we are basically one. We could say that the common denominator of being normal and of being different is being — what an amazing realization to have…

To the organizers and participants of the Friesenheim event, I’d like to express my thanks for the many questions put, help offered, food shared, kind words spoken, and inspirations given, and all of that so freely. This was one great gathering of people willing to support each other in our search for truth and freedom, and I guess most, if not all of us agree that there is an intimate connection between the two.

I’d love to offer those who’d enjoy to continue our discourse on ‘Being Different’ — contact me by commenting to this blog or by writing me a mail. Marianne and Reimer know my address and may pass it on.

On another note, a few copies of my booklet on life in rural Tamil Nadu are still available for free. Would you like to have one?

Messing with habitat

The founder of our settlement provided a general idea of how the future city was supposed to look like. An architect came up with a few models one of which imitated the shape of a galaxy. Based on that, a layout for the city, the so-called masterplan has been drawn by our town planning group. Population development in the surrounding villages and land speculation are now massively interfering with said plan, but also an increasingly bold environmental movement within our community itself is making the realization of infrastructure according to the masterplan more difficult. Currently under discussion is, imposing a government-approved land use plan through the application of authority, but —

“There’s an issue which almost nobody writes about or talks about, and yet it’s perhaps more fundamental than any other issue at all, which is soil. Soil is the basis of human civilization. Soil is the basis of human existence. We do not exist without soil. Everything we eat, everything which contributes to our body mass comes from soil. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation we have 60 years of harvest left at current rates of soil loss and degradation. And this is a marginal issue. It doesn’t feature in politics, it doesn’t feature in debate, it’s not on the news. No one is talking about this, yet it’s the most fundamental issue of all […] the biggest bias is the bias against relevance. Those things that are objectively most relevant to our lives are marginalised while trivia is put in their space, is put front and center as the thing we ought to obsess about.” — George Monbiot, author of “How did we get into this mess? Politics, equality, nature” in an interview with Verso
A few days ago I had the privilege of getting a glimpse of the discussion around the NTDA* for our township here. The mail exchange I saw – I hope the authors are going to share it with a wider audience as well – left absolutely no doubt that forcing the masterplan into practice is a pretty bad idea.
Without going into the details of their convincing arguments I would like to point out that our physical bodies require physical habitat for their survival, habitat which allows for the growth of food, collection of water, and regulation of body temperature. Habitat is not the supermarket shelves most of us refer to for food, not the money we possess, not the technology we use, not the good books we read, nor the inspiring ideas and visions we derive from them. Habitat consists of the landbase with its shape, its hydrology, its soil, and its living organisms and their larger cultures and communities (what we call ecosystems). Habitat is what provides us with food, water, oxygen, shelter and literally everything else that is absolutely essential for our survival. The elements herein are not interchangeable, none of them dispensible, and one cannot manipulate any of the variables without affecting the whole habitat. You mess with it — you don’t eat, period.
Much of the future city’s area still looks like this.

Our founder centered the city around a banyan tree on top of a hill, and that led to massive reforestation of the local watershed, as the first settlers needed shade urgently. I don’t know whether the founder was aware of it — most pioneers certainly weren’t, and the advocates of the masterplan still aren’t — but the new ecosystem came into existence in exactly the right spot for most of our basic needs to get met — provided we respect what has developed over the last 50 years on this once barren plateau. Tremendous effort by thousands of people contributing countless hours of hard physical work went not only into the re-creation of this forest of several million wooden souls with its diverse fauna; the same is true for many of our farms as well, where committed people enabled natural processes to heal the wounds human ‘development’ had cut. Thanks to half a century of organic farming some places have built up not just inches but a foot and more of healthy, carbon-rich top soil.

To sacrifice these achievements in order to build paved roads, offices, factories, and houses in their place is not merely disrespecting of the creative energy of humans and non-humans alike — what kind of spirituality is this supposed to be? — it is highly destructive when it comes to habitat. As long as we dismiss the information and understandings painfully gained through the history of civilization we better dare not speak of higher consciousness. We cannot impose abstract visions on a real landscape and expect to have a habitat tomorrow. Global environmental degradation forbids us to trade habitat for development any longer without immediately endangering our very existence up here. The city on the hill would become home to the fool on the hill… a dead fool, for that matter.
It is our duty to act according to our best knowledge and our highest consciousness as a species. Knowing what we know about watersheds, climate change, aquifers, ecosystems and their degradation, and so forth, a new vision for our township is urgently needed, a vision that does not speak of imposition of structure — dead geometrical objects — upon a living ecosystem with its human and non-human community. What we need is the (re-) enactment of an understanding how to (re-) integrate the human sphere into the community of life. The brackets point out that historical precedence for non-separation does exist.
The galaxy model was never meant to constitute the ultimate word on the settlement’s shape. Our founder did not say, Repeat after me. Instead, we have been called to take advantage of new developments and pieces of knowledge as we proceed. We are supposed to work out the functioning of our society as we are walking forward — on the go, so to speak — and that certainly includes the physical manifestation of “the city at the service of truth”. Barring a direct lie, you cannot strive farther from truth than dwelling in architectural dreams that are denying the significance of habitat and that have no connection with what-is: ground reality, empirical reality, the reality of the land.

To nobody in particular

“I’ve thought hard on what was emotionally so different about McPherson’s short timeframe versus my unquestioning belief in a much longer one. Obviously, the longer timeframe means I’d get to live out my natural life.

I had never, for one second, consciously entertained the idea that human extinction was conceivable in the near term.

In other words, I’m basically okay with the sadness and anxiety about some far-off future generation seeing the collapse of humanity. Just not this one. My one.”Rachel Stewart: What to do when your days are numbered. We carry on, as humans are no good at facing up to possible extinction. New Zealand Herald, 30.11.2016

A great introspective piece by a journalist, mentioning a few thoughts I had as well in that first moment of dawning, showing that, even as we are expected to stay professionally distanced and objective, we are still human beings wanting to live, wanting to thrive and be happy.

I recently caught a few questionable remarks from the Aurobindan community which really make me think that the stage of ossification into a religion has been reached. Something along the lines of, “XY foresaw another future, so it cannot be true”, or, “If you do this kind of yoga you cannot believe this pessimistic stuff”, or even, “You are doubting The Master. What are you doing here?”

Well, I’m not a pessimist; I don’t live in the physical world alone. I don’t “believe” in that stuff because believing is really a bad idea when it makes you stop looking for yourself. Read your master’s works; s/he will tell you a word or two on “a life divine, but no religion.”
Scientific data, as well, can only take you so far before you are on your own. Words, figures, opinions, predictions, holy scriptures — none of those is truth as such, At best they can point at the truth. Every time we try to limit reality to a guru’s, a teacher’s, a politician’s, a philosopher’s, or anybody else’s words we step off the path of truth.

I see what is going on around, and inside of me – not just since this morning; I do that because I have a rotten gut feeling about people’s ways as far back as I can remember. I look at the world, I look at the data, and I think to myself, “Hm, that McPherson fellow got a point. Thanks for offering this perspective” — which means I go about finding out what it means in relation to my life.

Does it mean I cannot enjoy a joke? Does it mean I despise people with a different opinion? Does rejecting “The Master” as my supreme master mean I am off the Path? — No, no, and again no, quite the opposite in each case. I am still among those of goodwill; more than ever, I’d say, because this thing literally shook me up.

Do I fail sometimes? — Yes, absolutely. Quite often.
Can my assessments be inaccurate, or otherwise wrong? — Absolutely. It wouldn’t be the first time, either.
Yet it is I who has to find my way, like you have to find yours, and no one else can walk the walk for any of us.

Good grief!

Tamil Nadu stares at water crisis as rain fails

“Tamil Nadu is staring at one of its worst water crises. Going by data put out by the public works department, the major irrigation reservoirs in the state have a combined storage of only 15% of its total capacity, which continues to dwindle. The northeast monsoon has been deficient in most districts with the meteorological department recording a 66% deficiency. The state had [already] suffered a deficit rainfall during the southwest monsoon between June and September this year. ‘Both agriculture and water supply will be adversely affected given the present scenario,’ said a senior government official, seeking anonymity.”Times of India, 16 Nov 2016

India has severe problems with a Monsoon that has become increasingly erratic over the last two decades. Two months after the Winter Monsoon’s regular starting date, 1st October, the local plateau here has seen but a handful of rainy days, only one of which resembled somehow seasonally normal conditions.
Yesterday we had a full-day powercut which low pressure in the hydroelectric powerplants may have contributed to. As the farm is allowed to pump water from the well only every other day, and as – thanks to a biased arbitration decision – we have lost all storage capacity to neighbours who are making no proper use of those, nor of the land we had to hand over to them, this poses a threat to the existence of the place. And it is just the beginning of what seems to be part of a steep decline into global destruction. Forget about food security in a town where the little farming we have receives an abundance of contempt from a society in which a sizeable fraction of the population believes tourists’ money and government grants equal sustainable living.
I know that the Californian drought is going on for more than five years already, causing almonds and nuts shortages and price spikes in farwaway Germany. I know that places on the American plains and elsewhere in the World have been hit much earlier and much harder already than Southeast India, but that newspaper article, which I read only yesterday in the evening drove it home; drove it home to the deeper place where it belongs, beyond the mind.

I read it, and I cried.
I remembered having looked at sea ice graphs and global temperature figures and jetstream projections and polar weather maps just a few hours before, and I cried.
I looked up at the starlit raintree canope in front of my hut, and I cried.
I am not afraid of dying, and I know that all things shall pass; yet I cried for the untimely demise of all that beauty, considering how each of us has contributed – and is perpetually contributing – to its impending extinction. The cows, the crickets; the goats, the grass; the hares, the humans; the paddy birds and the palmyra; this beautiful, garbage-strewn, sun-baked land of India which in the not-so-distant future might face civil war over precious water crossing hate-based state borders.

I can feel how quite a few believe that I’m nuts (likely not those who made it this far into the text; thanks for still being with me). I am very aware of the fact that I am standing in a millennia-old tradition of doomsayers, all of which have been graced with being spared the real thing; 2012, after all, has come and passed not that long ago. And this as well is part of why I am crying: because the writing’s on the wall, in capital letters, everywhere around us, still everyone carries on as if those were just minor glitches on a TV screen. Seen it before; won’t happen to me. It’s a conversation you can’t have unless you seek to run into a wall of escapism, denial, and unfounded hopes.

I have been grieving before and I have been crying before. Understanding the inescapability and necessity of it all leaves no other choice, apart from closing my eyes. I do close my eyes sometimes, though not for a childlike kind of hiding; it is to connect to the joy of being alive, to focus on the love from which right action will come, and to be present for what needs to be witnessed.

A solid hammering

When you are reading a book like “Born in Tibet”, what you are getting is not so much a description of the country and its history, but what they meant to Chögyam Trungpa and how growing up in Tibet felt like to the author. I should warn you that it is the same with what I am writing here; it cannot prepare you in any way for what you would see and feel and experience on coming to Auroville. My writings do not provide you with facts, either. They rather tell you a lot about what is on the writer’s mind, and what this place means to him (and maybe why he uses to talk in the third person about himself).
My fellow Aurovilians may back me up on the fact that, regarding descriptions of the joys and difficulties of living in Auroville, there is a very close connection between the observer’s world view and their experience of events in this township. It seems as though Auroville is magnifying psychological challenges, philosophical puzzles, or, if you prefer to express it in these terms, karmic conditions which dominate a person’s life. One might say that, in Auroville, you are getting a solid hammering of the exact issues that call for getting resolved.
The intensity of it all seems unbearable, even torturous, sometimes. Auroville, some folks observed, is not exactly the place of smiling people; betrayed of their dreams and bewildered, many choose to leave. But if one is willing to face the heat this pressure from an unknown source can become a powerful drive for working out the issues oneself, finding out what they mean, overcoming the self-inflicted internal suffering, and translating all of that into a way of life in a close-knit community. Irrespective of “Divine Consciousness”, ” eternal youth”, “human unity” and all the rest of it, this is, to me, what AV’s four-point-charter is all about, and why the Mother could boil it down to one single, all-inclusive sentence, “All people of goodwill are welcome”…
…to learn how to embrace the other 95%

Going round in circles

While it is true that two paper manufacturers invented the first piloted ascent of a balloon, and that two bicycle retailers invented and flew the first successful airplane, and that a patent officer revolutionized physics, it is also true that these people did not put other people’s wellbeing at risk in doing so. Picking up a task that you have little or no previous knowledge about can be regarded as a noble thing. It may indicate that you are courageous and eager to learn something new, and your fresh mind may help improving established practices, but it comes with a responsibility for those affected by your actions.

A society which is protecting people from having to take the consequences of their actions is not only undermining the idea of responsibility, it keeps people from learning their skill, improving their level of consciousness, and/or to function as part of something larger. The history of educating children has many according examples for both responsible and irresponsible training.

There must be personal consequences for those failing to act in the best interest of everyone concerned, be it intentionally, carelessly, or just ignorantly so. Not as a punishment, not draconically imposed, but in order to deepen the experience of having found out about something that has not worked. Bygones must only become bygones once the lesson is learned; otherwise the wasted opportunity for understanding the causes of a problem tends to solidify the malpractice.

But in certain circles we just run away from responsibility. We fail, and then we cannot even apologize. Usually we deny the failure altogether, blame it on the affected person who must have attracted the mishap through „bad energy“ or „wrong behaviour“ somehow. Soon enough, we even must not talk about the incident at all, for it belongs to ancient history.

Because we deny ourselves to take a closer look at what exactly did not work out, we rarely find a constructive solution; because we shy away from having people get confronted personally with the results of their decisions or actions, we go through the same situation again and again and again, until one of the silly ideas we randomly use to replace other dysfunctional ideas with happens to work out.

Yes, we rant a lot, incessantly. There are grievances that want to make themselves get heard, and we’ll be incapable of growing out of this mood until the need for getting heard is being met.

The trouble with the global structure of society is not so much that outdated, dysfunctional patterns have been adopted and perpetuated; the trouble is, that the system is dysfunctional and there is nothing you can do about it – unless learning is encouraged to happen in a manner in which failure-induced grief is a part of the normal stages of fully comprehending the nature of an event rather than getting labelled as „egoistic“, „complaining“, „negative-minded“, or „backwards-oriented“.

This understanding happens inwardly, individually, before it can express itself collectively, and no system imposed from above, or from without, can make a difference. Systems cannot comprehend. Only humans can.

Zhampa travels the German way

Yesterday I finished the raw translation of “The trouble with wisdom“, a novel by Thomas Henry Pope. Its German title has not yet been determined; that will be discussed later. The thing is definitely worth reading, otherwise I wouldn’t have picked up the task.

I also received a couple of proofing copies of my previous two works (Greer, Star’s Reach & Quinn, The Story Of B) the publication of which has not yet happened due to legal issues. I warmly recommend reading them as well 

Today I was in another meeting with BOSS (not the company) which went unexpectedly well, though they couldn’t resist trying to intimidate my companion, which basically means that they didn’t believe us. That’s fine; take the next step and get your fingers burnt. At least I didn’t have to read them from my original 1948 Edition of the “Universal declaration of human rights” that was sitting in my bag –just in case.
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