On October 29, I am embarking on a return journey to the banks for Mother Ganga to spend a month at an ashram located in Rishikesh India (aerial video). While reviewing the past twelve months of my life, the most cherished memories and significant life lessons originated from my previous visit to this area. I enjoy testing and expanding my boundaries by placing myself in situations where everything is on the outer edges of my comfort zones. Many of my friends have expressed concerns about the pollution and poverty that thrive in India.
Last year, at the end of most days, we gathered in the private garden of the spiritual guru in the ashram for Satsang. This is a very common Indian tradition where groups of people sit with enlightened leaders for conversation, meditation, and questions. One evening an inquisitive man opened with a statement about the beautiful nature of the Indian people. Casting a net can be dangerous, but the physical and spiritual beauty of the Indian population is contagious. The eyes tell the story. While the people exude beauty, the exterior pollution is obvious and overwhelming. Delhi is covered in a never receding cloud of smog, Ganga is the fifth most polluted river in the world, and half of the country does not have access to a toilet. The man’s question was to locate the disconnect.
The leaders quickly acknowledged the external pollution and listed many ongoing efforts to improve the environment. Swamiji was intimately involved in passing national legislation banning the burning of rice husk. The annual accumulation now exceeded 4 billion tons of previous waste that is being used for environmentally sound projects like clean energy and compressed building materials. This is one of a plethora of projects aimed and improving the external world.
Environmental ignorance is rooted in Indian culture because for thousands of years the focus has been inward. The Hindus believe that the we are all part of a universal divine. Yoga and meditation are methods to disconnect the mind and engage the inner soul. They also have deep feelings that no particular religion teaches the only path to salvation and that all deserve tolerance and understanding.
Without being offensive, they began to identify a sharp divide with the Western World. Beverly Hills is carpet bombed with manicured lawns and ridiculously expensive shiny red Ferarris. Youth is coveted, porcelain veneers cover teeth, boobs and ass are filled with silicone, and bling equals status. Balance is the key to life and we seem to be skewed to the outward view.
Is it possible that our interior pollution rivals the piles of rotting rubbish along the streets of India?
There is no question that poverty is rampant in this country. During last year’s trip, one of the highlights was my favorite street vendor inviting me to his house to meet his family. I entered a very humble home and saw three generations sharing cramped quarters. They barely had enough money to feed themselves but found a way to share a mountain of Indian delicacies. As I grazed on a seemingly endless number of courses, I watched this family interact with each other. There was no shortage of love or connection in this household.
Many people think that the Indian people suffer because they lack material items. They realize that we lack love because of our attachments to the same.
This story reminds me of a recent anonymous quote, “There are two sides to every story until you take one.”