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Untested Simplicity of the Villages

--by Ram Dass (Sep 13, 2010)


Is the vision of simple living provided by this village in the East the answer?  Is this an example of a primitive simplicity of the past or of an enlightened simplicity of the future?

Gradually I have to come to sense that this is not the kind of simplicity that the future holds.  For despite its ancient character, the simplicity of the village is still in its "infancy".

Occasionally people show me their new babies and ask me if that peaceful innocence is not just like that of the Buddha.  Probably not, I tell them, for within that baby reside all the latent seeds of worldly desire, just waiting to sprout as the opportunity arises.  On the other hand, the expression on the face of the Buddha, who had seen through the impermanence and suffering associated with such desires, reflects the invulnerability of true freedom.

So it is with the village.  Its ecological and peaceful way of living is unconciously won and thus is vulnerable to the winds of change that fan the latent desires of its people.  Even now there is a familiar but jarring note in this sylvan village scene.  The sound of static and that impersonal professional voice of another civilization -- the radio announcer -- cut through the harmony of sounds as a young man of the village holding a portable radio to his ear comes around a bend.  On his arm there is a silver wrist watch, which sparkles in the sun.  He looks at me proudly as he passes.  And a wave of understanding passes through me.  Just behind that radio and wristwatch comes an army of desires that for centuries have gone untested and untasted.  As material growth and technological change activate these yearnings, they will transform the heart, minds, work and daily life of this village within a generation or two.

Gradually I see that the simplicity of the village has not been consciously chosen as much as it has been unconsciously derived as the product of centuries of unchanging custom and tradition.  The [villages] have yet to fully encounter the impact of technological change and material growth.  When the [villages] have encountered the latent desires within its people, and the cravings for material goods and social position begin to wear away at the fabric of traditional culture, then it can begin to choose its simplicity consciously.  Then the simplicity of the [villages] will be consciously won -- voluntarily chosen.

--Ram Dass, in Voluntary Simplicity


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9 Previous Reflections:

 
On Sep 26, 2010 Brandi Remington wrote:

Simply, Thank you.



On Sep 24, 2010 dipti vaghela wrote:

"Is the vision of simple living provided by this village in the East the answer?"  Not an answer. It is more a reflection for us to understand the impacts of our actions and inactions.  Where do the radio and wrist watch come from?  Where does the root of their importance lie?  I think they lie with those of us outside of the village.  Then who would have the ability to change the importance of material wealth?

(...And what is "traditional culture"?  Ceremonies, rituals, etc,--Are they not also a form of materialiasm??  100 years from wrist watches and radios will be "traditional culture")

btw, there is no way to judge a villager, unless you are one.



On Sep 24, 2010 kuldip singh wrote:

I spent a major chunk of my life solving the puzzle of life and God.

In the process I learnt about myself a lot that there wasn't a lot and out there every thing is mind boggling.

It has calmed me down and I seem to go in nothingness for a fleeting moment. It has given me such a feeling that at times I walk in wonder, I see the wonder and sense the wonder. It is a very purifying experience. I wish such incidents were more frequent and more lasting.

But if wishes were...............................................................!

Kuldip



On Sep 17, 2010 Pancho wrote:

My family calls me Pancho and even though some of you don't know me, I'd like you to know that I love you all. Last Wednesday, people shared many beautiful and profound insights during the circle of “aha-moments.” When it was my time to share, anybody could have surfed the wave of collective wisdom that had developed by that point. After listening with attention to my fellow meditators, I saw how intimately related was the interaction I had had earlier that Wednesday with brother Matthews and the insights shared at the Kindness Temple. This time I shared a story about inner simplicity, kindness and wise farmers. Inner simplicity, a place you have not heard of, we are what we eat and happy communities. Also on Wednesdays, some of us volunteer at the Free Farm in San Francisco. At noon all the volunteers have lunch   together preceded by a mini-circle of sharing where we introduce ourselves and give thanks for the meal shared and cooked by volunte  See full.

My family calls me Pancho and even though some of you don't know me, I'd like you to know that I love you all.

Last Wednesday, people shared many beautiful and profound insights during the circle of “aha-moments.” When it was my time to share, anybody could have surfed the wave of collective wisdom that had developed by that point. After listening with attention to my fellow meditators, I saw how intimately related was the interaction I had had earlier that Wednesday with brother Matthews and the insights shared at the Kindness Temple. This time I shared a story about inner simplicity, kindness and wise farmers.

Inner simplicity, a place you have not heard of, we are what we eat and happy communities.

Also on Wednesdays, some of us volunteer at the Free Farm in San Francisco. At noon all the volunteers have lunch   together preceded by a mini-circle of sharing where we introduce ourselves and give thanks for the meal shared and cooked by volunteers. We were holding hands in this circle formed by close to about thirty people when an energetic man in his thirties with dark black skin and with a huge watermelon (almost as huge as his smile) joined the circle. Everyone had already shared their names, so it was the perfect timing for him to say: "my name is Matthews."

When we broke up the circle to start ingesting the food, I felt pulled to his "electric feel" :-). I wanted to welcome him for his presence. But I was not the only one interested. He was already engaged in a conversation with two of the volunteers who have worked in the farm for many months. I noticed that one of my fellow volunteers was approaching Matthews with some sort of a presumptuous tone as if there was nothing we could learn from this man. While it is kind of a miracle that the Free Farm has become, in less than a year, a very productive piece of land, there are so many things we need to learn from Mother Nature in order to keep facilitating the grow of flowers, trees and healthy food, let alone how to learn to kindly treat each other!
 
Despite of this not-welcoming, inquisitive tone, brother Matthews remained calm. "Where are you from?" "I never heard of this place, where is that?" asked my beloved "experienced" volunteer brother who already forgot Matthews' name and later referred to him as the "black man." Calm and with a bigger smile, Matthews replied: "I'm from Malawi... you probably have not heard of this country because it is a peaceful place and we are not in wars. The [corporate] media simply doesn't pay attention to us." Then, with superb teacher's skills and an immense kindness, he went on and described the location of Malawi, using his hand as a map to describe the African continent. Matthews said, at the same time as he was pointing to the tip of his fingers: "Do you know where is South Africa?... if you go up, there is a country called Zimbabwe and another on the coast called Mozambique. Malawi is three countries up from South Africa." He continued,  "Are you familiar with Madagascar, the big island? Well, Malawi is right in front of it, passing through Mozambique in the in-lad."

Our volunteer sort of appreciated the geography lecture, but got distracted. Little did he know that when he left, I had with Matthews one of the most enriching talks I ever had at the Free Farm. 
 
Brother Matthews is a nurse and he is currently attending University of California, San Francisco. He is part of a larger crew that is taking a class on sustainability and permaculture, a class where the students will get engaged to volunteer in one of 
the many community/project gardens in San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area. He is very interested in organic farming and he wants to share with us not only huge watermelons but the wisdom of his community back in the part of the planet we call Africa.

Always kind, always present, hermano Matthews told me that he felt sad and sorry for the "people in [the part of the Planet we call] the U.S.A. who are in their fifties or older, and yet they don't know how to cook, or anything about healthy food." As a nurse, he deals with a lot of these people. He said: "You know, in my community I don't remember a single time when we held a class about farming or cooking food because that is our way of life. I just took it for granted. I thought this was a common practice in most parts of the World." 
 
Growing up in a community of farmers, Matthews made a statement: "we are what we eat." He has been around some hospitals in California where he had a revelation: "People wonder why they get sick when they have been eating chickens and cows and animals that have been mistreated and finally killed. All that suffering goes to the eaters. Also, some of the [immigrant] cooks are experiencing great pain for the ruptures in their families. All that suffering goes into the food too. It is not the same as if one cooks food full of love, a basic ingredient of any meal."

I mean, this man was talking "Wednesdays' language," and I could hardly contain myself to remain equanimous while letting the magic completely unfold from this being. I decided to keep learning from him. And what a class!

"A lot of people are eating all this junk food, and they are centered in individualistic activities that isolate them even more. That's why depression is so common in the U.S. As a matter of fact, in our language, Chichewa, there is no word to describe a 'depressed' person. We don't have a word for 'depressed.'" 

He saw my surprised, happy, and intrigued face and, as if he had read my mind, he continued: "Yes, we have a word for 'pain,' and a word for 'sad,' but there is no word to describe a _continuous_ state of sadness. That's crazy!" "In our community if a person is sad, we all come together in a circle, prepare and share a meal, share stories and support this person until [s]he comes back to the [natural] happy state." This beautiful story reminded me of the documentary Children Full of Life.

"But we are starting to lose these precious traditions" brother Matthews said. "Now some people in Malawi are migrating to the cities and many of them want to adopt and mimic the Western way of life. Many farmers are buying chemicals for their crops to be more productive [in short term]. A lot of the land now is suffering from the pesticides and fertilizers used on the land. Not only that, due to this agribusiness now some farmers who have been doing this for centuries (if not for millennia!) cannot afford to farm any more." 

When Matthews visits Malawi, he is recollecting some of the ancient wisdom as he asks the elder peasants: "How did you used to farm before all these pesticides and fertilizers?" Then he affirms: "Progressive people in the U.S. are doing these practices. Let's do it again! Let's start again!" :-)

This was the story of brother Matthews who, through inner simplicity, radiated kindness and touched the core of my being. Hermano Somik briefly mentioned in his comment the story of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, a man who formed an army of one hundred thousand satyagrahis—one tenth of one million love warriors. It is my hope to see the many Matthews of the Planet, and the many Khan Abdul Gaffar Khans of the Earth Community, to proliferate in small acts to listen to each other and to act nonviolently, for this is truly the weapon of the brave. I only hope that we all can learn the ancient technology of farming and of sitting in a circle to heal each other and to inspire each other as the "happy man with the big smile" did with me last Wednesday.

 
May all become compassionate, courageous and wise.
Pancho

 

 

 

 

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On Sep 16, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Pavi opened the circle by sharing that the piece appeared mischievous to her. I felt something similar, although I’d use the word "cheeky." I like cheeky. On the first reading, I found myself agreeing with Ram Dass completely. Indeed, we must be careful before romanticizing the village simplicity. I had a friend on campus who used to live a very simple life and cook everyday. Being impressed, I asked to be assigned as a roommate. By the time the assignment came through, my friend had landed a part-time job and no longer had financial issues. To my surprise, he completely gave up his simple lifestyle, and stopped cooking altogether. I asked him why his lifestyle had changed, and he told me very honestly that he was living simply because of financial constraints. This was a big wakeup call for me, not to judge exterior appearances, while also recognizing that I had no business judging someone else’s life choices.    On a subsequent reading, I realized t  See full.

Pavi opened the circle by sharing that the piece appeared mischievous to her. I felt something similar, although I’d use the word "cheeky." I like cheeky.

On the first reading, I found myself agreeing with Ram Dass completely. Indeed, we must be careful before romanticizing the village simplicity. I had a friend on campus who used to live a very simple life and cook everyday. Being impressed, I asked to be assigned as a roommate. By the time the assignment came through, my friend had landed a part-time job and no longer had financial issues. To my surprise, he completely gave up his simple lifestyle, and stopped cooking altogether. I asked him why his lifestyle had changed, and he told me very honestly that he was living simply because of financial constraints. This was a big wakeup call for me, not to judge exterior appearances, while also recognizing that I had no business judging someone else’s life choices. 
 
On a subsequent reading, I realized that this piece was not about villagers at all. It was about me. I am the villager, romanticizing my own freedom (or simplicity), which means absolutely nothing until I’ve been battle-tested with temptations, and chosen to remain free (or simple). This passage is about the testability of our assertions to ourselves, in the spirit of the old adage, “Smooth seas do not a good sailor make.” :)
 
In the spirit of cheekiness, our monk-mind can take us on a monastic journey and gobble up inner peace all it wants, but until the monk-mind enters the monkey realm (one example would be the householder realm) to test its attainments, our claims to ourselves stand hollow. Indeed, we would be deceiving ourselves if we remained in a pleasant environment with little exterior turmoil. How do we know we are not escapists? The conclusion of this line of thinking is that as householders, we are in the most authentic space possible to develop our monk mind, much more so than the monastic space, if we could only recognize the opportunity. Reason to rejoice. :)
 
Cheeky and Gandhi go together, for our "be-the-change" grandmaster had a lot of cheek. Early on in his experiments with truth, Gandhi felt that nonviolence was the best tool for the Indians for they were weak, and did not have the strength to fight wars with the British. His views underwent a sea-change and later in life, he felt that nonviolence was a weapon for the strong, not for the weak-minded. Continuing his cheekiness, he exhorted the Indians to get beyond their cowardice, and go fight wars, shed their own blood and shed other’s blood. Then, they would know the value of nonviolence, and stood a chance of becoming ahimsa warriors. Very much embodying the spirit in this passage, Gandhi had severe tests of ahimsa for himself. He said once to his niece Manu, "If I die of illness, you should declare me a false or hypocritical Mahatma. And if an explosion took place, as it did last week, or somebody shot at me and I received his bullet on my bare chest, without a sigh and with Rama's name on my lips, only then you should say that I was a true Mahatma." Prophetic words. He did not take his own attainment seriously as he felt he wasn’t tested enough. 
 
Gandhi’s cheekiness continued when he declared that his own nonviolence was nothing compared to the nonviolence of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan (lovingly called Frontier Gandhi, as he came from the Northwest Frontier Provinces; also called Badshah Khan, or Emperor Khan). Khan was a full-blooded Pathan from Afghanistan. Eknath Easwaran’s biography on Khan, "A Man to Match His Mountains," recounts how it was normal in the Pathan culture to kill for honor or be killed for honor, and cycles of violence between tribes was quite common. The British were really afraid of the Pathans and did their best to keep the region divided. In this backdrop, when a Pathan declares that he will choose the path of nonviolence,  Gandhi felt that he could be believed, for he fully knew and was capable of violence. Indeed, the stories of the nonviolent resistance of the Pathans is shamefully forgotten by history, were it not for Easwaran’s remarkable account.
 
The real message in this passage for me is to be aware of my "villager-tempted moments." Regardless of my decision, am I acting from a foundation of freedom, or do I find myself compelled to act? Do I see the value of my values even when the difficulties in my external circumstances appear insurmountable? 

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On Sep 14, 2010 Steve wrote:

Mr. Holmes was prescient beyond his understanding. The "technological change and material growth" Ram Dass describes are a direct result of cheap energy. As the age of fossil fuels draws to a close, it will require a return to a simplicity few can comprehend. (And no, alternative energy sources will not replace oil.)

Put another way by some famous scientist/philosopher dude:

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction."




On Sep 14, 2010 Lawrence wrote:

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. had a similar line:  "For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn't give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have."  



On Sep 14, 2010 Niranjana wrote:

This is a wonderful story, thank you for giving us the wonderful story

 

Regards,

Niranjana....................................................................Thank You



On Sep 14, 2010 Swara wrote:

This has exactly been my experience and had shared in one of the Wednesday meditations. I stayed in a remote place for almost a one and a half years. And had liked that place a lot for its simplicity, closeness to nature etc. But while my stay there I realized all this wasn't valued by the people there. Given a choice mostly everyone would want to transform the space into a city. So the space wasn't the reflection of the mindset of people.