March 3rd, 2007

Full Moon Sadhu

The next portion of my journey has begun!  I am in Tiruvannamalai, a Shivaite town that sits below the mountain where Sri Ramana Maharshi meditated for many years.  Today is the full moon, when pilgrims (and tourists) come to the town and walk 14km around the base of the mountain.  After I write this, I'm taking a nap, then going to start the walk.  It is supposed to be quite a celebration, lasting through most of the night, with vendors and holy men and chai.  There are also people who came from Sadhana Forest like I did, so I'm hanging out with them.

Now that I am venturing out of comfy Auroville, I am really starting to see the poverty that exists here.  SO many people are sleeping on the streets, day and night.  When I walk around the market today, there was an almost constant stream of women and children coming up to me with their hands outstretched, motioning for food or money. "Ma.  Ma!"  (translation "woman" or "mother" or sometimes "divine female principle").  It's the word I've used many times in meditation, to calm my mind, and now I hear the words spoken to me.  I really honestly don't know what to do with it.  In the States, to me, poverty felt manageable.  It felt like I could do something.  Many times, I had kept a stash of bread or fruit in my car and handed it out to people at freeway offramps.  Here, poverty feels way bigger than me.  There are so many people who are born with nothing, live with nothing, and die with nothing.  And here I am, not considering myself rich by any means when I am at home, but having obviously so much more to be able to sit around and drink chai and buy a pretty new shirt.  It's really a lot to see.

I ended up spending a total of 3 weeks at Sadhana Forest.  I definitely got what I wanted out of being there, and a few things that I didn't expect, but am also grateful for.  It was a great place to ground, to talk with other travelers (especially comforting was talking with women traveling alone), and to take day trips to nearby cities and villages.  One thing I didn't consider beforehand was the joy, intensity, and sometimes frustration of living in community.  It helped me to see just a little bit more that community living is something that I will continue to pursue.  It was also interesting to watch myself participate in a community--to notice which things I took too personally, when I did or did not confront an issue, who I felt really irritated by and who I naturally gravitated towards.

As for Auroville as a whole... maybe I should explain Auroville (also, you can Google it).  Auroville is an international intentional community that was established in the late 1960s by Sri Aurobindo and his devotee, a French lady called The Mother.  They welcomed people from all countries and backgrounds to live together as what they call "an experiment in human unity."  Today, there are about 1,700 people living there in many different settlements.  About 1/3 are Indian and 2/3 from other countries (I noticed a lot of Europeans).  It really is a huge undertaking, and a great vision of many kinds of people living together.  Of course, with any place that sounds like utopia, you can find the faults that exist between theory and practice.

In a few days, I will be meeting up with someone I met at Sadhana.  We will be traveling together to Hampi.  I am excited!  I'll try to write again soon.

All my love,