posted by Kamala on Jul 19
Dearest Friends and family,
We are all evolving precious works of art, in the Hand of Life. This rambles a bit, but, I feel a need to bring out these points for us all to think on.
As a younger person, with my parent’s strong support, I was strongly against anything that I perceived as restrictive to women. I accepted and still accept, NO Restrictions. Living for the last 11 years in a community that has a sizeable population of both male and female monastic components, my views have changed on lots of things, although, I still adhere firmly to this stance.
I really respect the Baha’i insistence on one’s responsibility to personally investigate Truth. I love what the Buddha said,
“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
Asian cultures in general, have all come from India originally and historically in different forms. Hinduism or really Sanathana Dharma, Jainism as well as Buddhism started in India and spread their idealistic fragrances throughout Eastern Asia, and the Middle East, parts of Africa, Central Asia and Europe, as well as North, Central and South Americas centuries ago in different formats. There were backwashes also, as Zorastrianism, Christianity, etc. came back in more structured philosophical robes influenced by centuries in other atmospheres.
There is a system of behavioural prescriptions, that can, at first glance, seem repressive. But, if one digs a little more, into the “WHY on Earth!!???” subtler and subtler meanings come out of innumerable seemingly miniscule behavioural etiquettes, that are scientifically, and simultaneously, ethically based, and have their ultimate basis in a Law or Fact which appears universal in its final analysis.
I remember once, Amma had addressed some students in Malayalam only, at an Aug.15- India’s Independence Day - celebration in the ashram. When I asked later what She had said, one student told me, that Amma had told them (not actual quote),
`When you are told to remove your shoes before entering a place, just do it, even if you don’t understand why we have all these customs. Later on the reason will dawn in your mind.’
Anni’s reactions to lots of these subtle rules for behaviour as my female child, were intriguing to me. Somehow, she was able to grok a deeper, bigger, picture, that my years of growing up in a more immature human society had denied me a view of. She never accepted anything which was repressive and also lived by NO Restrictions.
Around my Mother, I always had the awareness that somehow I was dimly inappropriate in one way or another socially in her eyes. This used to frustrate me endlessly, and I rebelled strongly. I remember her telling me once in a scolding,
“Whats wrong with you? We always knew how to act around others. We saw how the world was working. Why are you so_____” she didn’t use the word `dumb’ but, I remember feeling that I just didn’t get something. And, I knew why. My mother had grown up in a community of people, all interacting with one another, each a witness to the life saga of the other community members….they got to know a lot of people, in great depth, with their hearts, with different views and beliefs, well. They saw the rhythm and stream of life, babies, to schools, accidents, sickness, marriage, old age and death. This caused a general degree of acceptance, as well as a general degree of caution. You learned ‘how to behave’ in a community of people that lived, and kept on living around each other.
My country was different. We didn’t have to learn that. We could just leave, up and go, shut the door. We didn’t have to ‘take it.’ My family was a nuclear family, after my Grandmother left, and we were geographically isolated from most people, in our very rural village as well as racially and culturally distinct. Liminalist, to say the least.
Presh grew up in Trinidad, in the rural highlands, first generation, fresh from India, and still pining for Her. The family, by the time she came had established a large plantation on the hillsides of banana, citrus, coffee, cocoa, all kinds of things I haven’t seen elsewhere – a root called cassava, bread fruit, a type of orange that was like a purple fig inside, and ever so fragrant and tasty, avocadoes, coconuts, and along with other families were involved in the work of processing, marketing, etc. all these gifts of Nature.
As a child, I was aware that she knew much more than me, about lots of things. She had a way of ‘talking with the neighbors.’ I would see her at the top of the driveway in her house-dress, her arms crossed over her chest, deep in a ‘talk’ with the neighbor on the other side of the road, who was similarly engrossed. Most often, it was a talk that was to verify values, and they would find points to agree on, and then sort of cluck together about them. One phrase I heard often was, “….I tell you” said in a sort of, `Can you believe it’ tone. “I tell you, how can they raise the house taxes so much? Or the price of groceries?” or , “I’m telling you, that was enough for me!” about something.
As a child, I found this all very boring, and vowed to not waste my time talking with the neighbors. These talks could go for long, and didn’t accomplish anything, so it seemed to me. But, they did. They accomplished synchronization, community feelings, neighborliness, and, importantly, an ethical view of our relations together, a host of things which in our isolated neck of the woods, made us a very small community. Later, when I managed the properties by myself, I would keep tabs with the neighbors, but, could feel that my way of being was much more abrupt and to the point – action was calling me, I didn’t have time to chat long.
My mother was the only one in the neighborhood that I could see doing this. On Christmas, she would find a way to give hundreds of families in our village a gift from what she called, the Willey Farm at Shantineketan. One year, I remember it was these pine scented christmas candles, we paper wrapped hundreds of them, then put cards, and stickers, and went on delivering sprees. The candles were a good kind, that would burn for long.
I think it was because she grew up in community, and was ever conscious of the interdependence of lives, personalities, etc. that she had that way of being.
But, all this was done in rural Connecticut, USA. Where everyone lived in nuclear, or partial nuclear family patterns. Where grandparents were put in nursing homes, and everyone was busy with the hassles of their own castles, as my Dad would say. And the village changed from a farming community, to a sleeper town for the University in the next town over. And then the town population became more intellectual, and everyone was busy with their own careers, and very few, unless they were of the same socio-economic class, and were on political agendas in town, had time to talk or even know one another or to farm even their own vegetables.
40 years after my childhood there, the town began to show the symptoms of having a sick community. A few elders were found dead in their homes, died in their sleep, some days back. A man murdered his wife, the neighbors didn’t respond to her calls for help, didn’t even hear them….
My country, with privatization, moblilization, fast transportation, has lost the closeness of community life, and all the riches that it brings to us as human beings…the most valuable of which is found in heart understanding….and as a result, we grow up more emotionally and intellectually immature in our individual understanding and approach to life than older cultures. And, it seems that those countries and cultures that embrace the monoculture of consumerism all end up suffering this immaturity amongst their citizens – this inability to cope, to include, to be wise with one another, to sacrifice self interest enough to create community with ethical parameters. It all begins with respect. If we are really respectful, we don’t have time to push our way of being ourselves on others, ‘out there’, we are too busy being respectful….
Its another one of the amazing things, that started with Presh, and I’m still thinking on it over here.
I feel we need to turn to the creation of ethically based community life again, all over the world, and share what we have in our hearts with one another, and that way, we’ll find it for ourselves.