After the Gandhi 3.0 retreat ended, a small group of us visited an Indian village where people live as most people have always lived, cooking over fires, working very hard for food and water, dependent on the help of oxen and camels other animals, dependent on the help of God and each other. My friends and I saw so much, rode on an ox cart, had tea with a saintly man. But after many hours I began to feel weak from the heat and hunger and probably from the sheer exposure to this new ancient world. Just then, a woman sitting on the ground making her daily bread over a small fire waved us over, inviting us to sit down and share this bread.
The next day, in the midst of an urban slum, something similar happened. Starting at Gandhi’s famous ashram in the outskirts of Ahmedabad, the same small group of us visited a school and a pre-school and a center for women–all efforts begun without money or plan, begun with a simple impulse to sit down and listen and witness, to be the change, as Gandhi said. Hours passed and again I grew hungry and thirsty (who travels to India and forgets to bring a water bottle?). Our guide decided to take a short cut back to the Gandhi ashram where we were having lunch. The short way turned out to cross a vast dump where many people live in tents and flimsy shanties. While my fellow travelers greeted smiling people and hugged children, a great stillness descended over me. I began to feel what it might be like here during monsoons, or at night without electric lights, or day after day. How could hope or spirit ignite? Once again, I felt weak and looked up to see another woman gesturing, inviting us to have tea.
I was hungry and thirsty and you offered me food and drink. I thought these words this morning, in the pre-dawn of consciousness when deeper feelings and knowings draw close to the surface. It was as if an ancient sacred proverb swam up from unknown depths, as if a great question of life was being answered. As if it was the question about the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it– does it make a sound? In light of all the suffering and darkness and intricately complex challenges in India and the whole world, do small acts of kindness, small moments of opening to give and receive really make a sound?
Yes. In bed under many blankets in wintery New York, those scenes in India sounded in the depths of me like a big bell. It was as if a sacred truth–a sacred relationship or covenant–was embodied for me. Give us this day our daily bread…How had it not dawned on me that there is something divine about giving bread? I thought of the man who would be the Buddha, the Awakened One, being offered food when he was starving and broken. How had I not realized that receiving this gift was the moment he began to realize the great truth of our interconnection.
In the days to come, I travelled more, flying to the heart of India, to stay briefly at the Vinoba Ashram and Gandhi’s Sevagram Ashram. I attended events in glittering Mumbai (accurately described to me as New York on steroids). I travelled more or less as a child would, clueless about where I was going, surrendering to the large and small kindnesses that were constantly offered.
While at the Vinoba Ashram, I clumsily helped chop vegetables (fumbling around in pre-dawn darkness without glasses or coffee) and harvest turmeric (I was kindly handed big roots to break apart, easy stuff). I learned that I am not much of a cook or a farmer or a sweeper, but I learned that proficiency doesn’t really matter. What matters is participating in an sacred dance of giving and receiving. What matters, in the words of my host Jayesh-bhai, quoting his father Ishwar Patel, is being open to “Create heaven wherever you are.” In a remote village, in a slum, in the moment.
Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Once long ago, I was on the edge of death. In the midst of it, I saw that behind the appearances of things there is a great white light of love and compassion. I saw that we are all held and carried by this great holy force. But it didn’t dawn on me that this cosmic force, this God force, comes to us in the smallest moments and actions, and that these actions affirm our interconnection. And I glimpsed that while our problems are vast and complex, this force is very powerful.
As I left to come home to New York, Jayesh-bhai presented me with a beautiful scarf made from organic cotton and woven by women from the slum. He said, “Tell them we are meant to live in a shared world.”
On the way to the airport, my friend Guri wondered if my trip to India would seem like a dream once I was home in New York. This proved to be true, but not in the sense of being insubstantial. Just the opposite. I woke up this morning feeling stronger, healed in some deep way by what I experienced. I once read that the Old English root of the word “heal” means to be brought to wholeness. In his life and work, Gandhi showed us what it can look like to live in relation to a greater whole, in a shared world. In India, I realized he didn’t invent this, he received it. And he knew it came from a greater Truth that always prevail in the end.
13 thoughts on “India, Part II”
Tracy, thank you for this. Yes, yes, and yes. I particularly appreciate it right now as I enter a “Cure” and “Healing” period with the help of “all helpers.” These messages I received during morning mediation and prayers; and your message today arrives as if from The Kingdom, as if from Thy Will. Heaven on earth, indeed, and may we each and all make it so.
Another beautiful post. I have never visited India but when I hear about experiences like yours, it makes me think about going. Seeing all those people who struggle on a level that the vast majority of Americans do not, yet they are still willing and able to go outside that comfort zone to pay attention to another person, to see that person. I think we all need reminders, every day, whether we can remind ourselves or allow another to help us see, to remember. I loved the departing words “we are meant to live in a shared world.” I agree that this is how we are built. That shared world is the real world – not the grim routine world of everyday survival and “looking out for number one.” Wholeness from remembering we are all connected, what could be more true?
Barb, what stood out for me on this first trip to India, is how isolated we Americans are accustomed to being. We prize self-sufficiency yet it was quite clear to me that this was just a kind of mannerism. I was clearly dependent on others, and as I accepted this other feelings could appear…like gratitude and a new kind of joy.
Tracy I read with interest your experiences in and around the Gandhi Ashram area. I stayed at the Gandhi Ashram in 2005 and was a participant in the 75th anniversary of the Dandi Yatra (Salt March) My experiences brought me to commit myself to doing more for the Poor. I have now visited India 5 times and I am hoping to return again in 2014.
Ah, well done. You’re seeing the heart of things there.
In the tradition, one of the last things Meister Eckhart said to his students is as follows:
I will give you a rule, which is the keystone of all that
I have ever said, which comprises all truth that can be spoken of
‘It often happens that what seems trivial to us is greater in God’s
sight than what looms large in our eyes. Therefore we should accept
all things equally from God, not ever looking and wondering which is
greater, or higher, or better. We should just follow where God points
out for us, that is, what we are inclined to and to which we are
most often directed, and where our bent is. If a man were to follow
that path, God would give him the most in the least, and would not
An extraordinary quote, Lee. What is the source? It really is the key…like finding a door and unlocking it and walking into a new room…a new way of living.
Going one line further “give us this day our daily bread” brings to mind something which was said to me that if I’m trying to live according to God’s will and not my own than my needs will be taken care of. Not my wants, which are a different matter but my needs. Living in a state of surrender leaves us open to receive from unexpected sources-sources me might not otherwise consider.
Thy will, not my will…Fiona, this surrender does open up a new way of life, a new kind of willingness which is not insistence but willingness to be open to what is…which takes more courage than being a kind of closed fist, insisting on myself all the time (which doesn’t work anyway).
Fr Mychal Judge who died at Ground Zero had a prayer
“Lord take me where you want me to go, let me meet who you want me to meet, tell me what you want me to say and keep me out of your way”. Comes in handy for loosening the grip!
A prayer to remember, Fiona.
Tracy, I so enjoyed reading (and feeling, through your words) your perspective on this trip. I remember reading part I some time back now, and just found part II to my delight. :) Jayeshbhai’s parting gift to you was very moving, even just to hear about, I can only imagine to experience. I’m again left so curious as to what comes next!
Look at the website …Parijat Academy ..it is a School for the underprivileged in Assam which is in the North East of India near to Guwahati. This School was started from a family home in the Village Pamohi with 3 pre schoolers and now there are over 500 students. The person who set this up was Uttam Teron and his School is called ..Parijat Academy (Heavenly Flower) It is possible to stay at the School and fully experience Village life and real Poverty. I have visited 4 times. I am sure you would love it.