Jhoolan Utsav, the swing festival of Radha and Krishna, was celebrated at Rikhia in August. Attending this festival opened my eyes to a world so beautiful in its simplicity. Driving back to Munger after the festival, I sit reflectively looking out the window of our expensive car. I see such happiness and simplicity in the eyes of the poorest people on the planet. The children play together outside in the mud, climbing the huge mango trees, with freedom to play and laugh wherever they please.
The men struggling to make a living in the fields have the time to sit together and talk; the women dressed in coloured saris carry ten bricks on their heads with such elegance and dignity, working so hard to keep the family fed and dressed. How incredibly strong their bodies are to be living in conditions that are so intimately influenced by the seasons. When it rains, their mud brick houses flood, when it is cold their bodies shiver, when it is hot they lie and wait for the Indian sun to set.
My feelings of sadness do not go out to these people, I do not feel pity for them. I wonder why? Somehow I feel I should feel pity, but my feeling is the desire to experience what they know, what it is to live so close to mother earth, to nature. They truly know what it is to live day by day. What they could teach me!
Paramahamsaji tells us that 80% of the Indian population live in these villages, the rest of India, the remaining 20%, live in the cities, and a small percentage of these are sickeningly wealthy. This is the situation not only in India but globally, where the rich affluent countries, who make up 20% of the total population, misuse 80% of the resources and leave the remaining 20% for the struggling masses. The word 'struggling' suggests suffering and I wonder do they suffer more because they have less material wealth?
Every person on the planet has the right to a decent standard of living, food, clothes, housing and a means of supporting themselves. This is the right of every human being and nobody should be denied it. I wish this for all, but I do not wish for the simplicity of village life to change.
My pity, my sadness, goes to the places where I was born, to the upper and middle classes, the rich affluent people of the West. The family that has everything, a three-storey house, swimming pool, cleaning lady, expensive school, children dressed in the most fashionable new clothes, the annual holiday in the high-rise by the sea.
Do they take time to talk, do they know how their children feel? Do they know the feeling of mud between their toes, of hunger, or the total acceptance and trust in the will of God? Or is it that so many of them know only of what they want next, of where they can spend and make their next dollar?
Excess food leads to health problems; they become over-weight, they go on diets, or make their way to the expensive gym. They drink and smoke themselves into a stupor in an effort to feel joy and peace. This uneven distribution and misuse of resources is one of our major environmental and social problems.
My most vivid memory of the festival of Jhoolan is of the face of a three-year-old boy, of his intoxicating smile as he listens and dances to the kirtan, as he gazes into the water fountain such joy and happiness out of something so simple and pure. He teaches me something so special, so alive he is with innocence and wonder.
If only I could experience this happiness out of such simplicity. His life is uncomplicated, without expectation, without disappointment. Living totally in the moment. This feeling was not only with the children but with all the villagers who came to the festival, whether male or female, young or old. It was a highlight in their life.
The spirituality within them is so strong, the devotion, the bhakti, the joy and wonder at the devis sitting on their brightly coloured swings, surrounded by flowers. Yet they have so little, their clothes torn and wet from the rain, their hands clutching the infinite supply of Paramahamsaji's precious prasad.
What is the solution to such poverty? Is this poverty a problem? Haven't the great saints always chosen a life of poverty and renunciation to realize God? Buddha renounced a life of wealth. Jesus said, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God. St Francis adopted poverty as a way of life to prevent himself being distracted by worldly possessions, as did Mahatma Gandhi. This has been the path of all the saints and sages. Paramahamsaji walked out of the gates of Ganga Darshan, leaving everything behind. He renounced all he had created, even the ashram and his role as guru. Why? To experience God?
It seems that to have wealth is to feed human greed; the more we have the more we want and the more we use the resources of the planet. It is only when we have had everything that we realize that material wealth does not make us happy. In fact it makes us sick mentally and emotionally, polluting the mind with distractions and desires and poisoning the body with overconsumption, leading to heart disease and high blood pressure. It seems that there is struggle and suffering in every society, with or without money.
The Jhoolan festival was organized by Paramahamsaji and all the villagers were invited; it was open house, no one was prevented from coming. Paramahamsaji is living so closely with these villagers, guiding and encouraging them to support themselves and encouraging them to trust their spiritual heritage, the spirituality which is so much a part of each individual. Would this fade if materialism takes over?
Their spiritual relationship with nature is strong. Living so closely with the elements and having a deep understanding of the laws of nature. Paramahamsaji is also encouraging them to use their traditional farming methods they know the land, they have lived on and with the land for centuries.
I feel the humbleness and respect that these villagers have towards nature. There is acceptance of their simple and natural lives. For more people to live this way seems to be the only solution to the environmental crisis with which we are faced. The villagers do not waste anything, everything that comes their way is recycled. They make use of everything they have and never seem to complain about what they don't have.
So how can we find a balance? How can the people in the rich countries of the world help the poor and how can the poor help the rich? The rich must see how the others live, they must open their eyes to the world outside of their comfort zone. There must be a change from searching for external material happiness to inner peace. This will change the way we see and exploit nature and hopefully increase our love and respect for the natural world around us.
We must learn the way of Swami Sivananda serve, love, give rather than the continual take, take, take. To serve, love and give to nature, as well as each other.
We are slowly but surely depleting the earth of everything we need as a race for survival, and it is such a small percentage of us that are doing it. If we can learn the simple, natural life from these village people, surely this will solve many of our problems, individually, and globally.
The village people can learn from our mistakes. If only we could warn them and tell them not to follow our lead, that material wealth is not the path to happiness.
The future of that little boy with the intoxicating smile is unknown, as with all of us, but I know that the power of guru, of Paramahamsaji, will always be with him. He has been blessed to be living in a village so close to Rikhia. He has the blessings of living close to God in every possible way. Where his life will go, I do not know, he does not know, but may he always know that he is missing out on nothing! Everything he needs is there for him, as he lives under the umbrella of one of the world's greatest masters.
So how can I find this happiness and simplicity in life? How can anyone find this? Is it through living in a mud brick hut in Rikhia? No, this is not my dharma, I was not born there, but I can learn from seeing that life. I feel so fortunate to have a guru who has given me the opportunity to experience how so many people live, and to live a simple ashram life in India.
My path now is as a sannyasin aspiring to live a yogic life naturally and simply in tune with the rhythms of nature. (As so many of the villagers already do.) The villagers live as a part of and very close to each other. They have so little yet they seem so happy.
I pray that we may find the balance on the planet, where the poor can find shelter and food, and the rich can find the peace and happiness in living simply and close to nature.
Paramahamsaji is offering this sacred teaching to the world. He serves the villagers through his endless giving and love and in this way teaches the rest of the world what they need and how they too can serve. Not just to serve others but themselves. Inspiring them to remember that they are more than just a physical, material body, but a spirit that is deeply interwoven into nature and the forces of nature around them. This is the path to world and environmental peace.