June 2017 ByPunya Srivastava Even as the world slowly and painfully turns on its axis towards a new way of life, dozens of intentional communities show the way to tomorrow’s world, says Punya Srivastava Let every man gather from five to ten thousand dollars, and, in groups of 30, let them build selfsustaining, self-governing colonies, starting with California. Do not spend the principal of the money, except what is necessary to buy land and to start the colony. Put the money in a trust fund. Pay taxes with the interest. If taxes were abolished, people could live by exchange... Time should not be wasted in producing luxuries. Start now building colonies, and stop industrially selfish society from gambling with your destiny. Get away from the perpetual slavery of holding jobs to the last day of your life. Buy farms and settle down with harmonious friends. Work three hours a day and live in the luxury of literary wealth, and have time to constructively exchange Divine experiences and meditate." These are the words of the renowned spiritual master, Paramahansa Yogananda, published in the erstwhile East-West magazine decades ago. In these few lines, estimated to be written in circa 1930, Yogananda succinctly points out the best way of inhabiting this earthly plane. Though his idea might appear far-fetched and Utopian, it is indeed becoming the need of the hour going by the conflictridden lives most of us live. Each day is a struggle to live harmoniously in our bodies, within families, and in society. Peace of mind is conspicuous by its absence. We are living a life of disconnect – with our surroundings, with our soil, with our community, with ourselves. We lead isolated lives in small cubicles and jazzy flats. We move about in various bubbles, depending upon our socio-economic status. “One of the fundamental needs of our age is for putting down roots again. We have extended ourselves too far outward from the Self within, and from the natural rhythms of the planet on which we live. Even in our outward, human associations we have lost touch with reality,” said Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda and Founder of Ananda Sangha – a global spiritual community based on Paramahansa Yogananda’s philosophy. Participating in a tree-planting drive or volunteering for a cause or joining a spiritual satsang may provide us with a few moments or few days of happiness but for a sustained immersion in joy, we have to contemplate upon our life’s purpose and then align our thoughts and actions with it. When our life is not hampered by various distractions, we have a clearer view of what really matters. And to reach it, we desperately need a conducive environment that supports our growth towards our highest selves. According to Swami Kriyananda, spiritual communities offer a viable antidote to thede-personalising influences of our times. People living and working together, sharing the many levels of their lives – suffering, growing, learning, rejoicing, winning victories together – develop a depth in their outward relationships as well that helps them, inwardly, to acquire spiritual insight.Indeed, any intentional community (it may or may not call itself a spiritual community) has the power to offer the individual much-needed space to uninhibitedly explore their interactions with the outer and inner world. Space for evolution Community members preparing for Auroville's anniversary celebrations (Photo Credit: Georgio) Intentional communities are a small world in their own, weaving together their members with the silken threads of a common philosophy or ideology. A community ensures that the day-to-day activities of its members reflect its ideology. The best part about community living is that one is a member of larger group collectively walking on the same path. When, as it usually is, the community has adopted an ideology in variance with conventional society, this support system is hugely important in safeguarding individual idealism and giving each member the strength to prevail against the pressure to conform. Nayaswami Jaya Helin, a direct disciple of Swami Kriyananda and one of the initial builders of the first Ananda Sangha cooperative community in California, states that an intentional community is a spiritual tool for the creation of satsanga – a group of truth seekers. It is a space where members find resonance of thought and freedom to practice self-exploration. “Intentional communities are the optimum way of putting ideals in practice as they are wonderful laboratories to test spiritual/ holistic principles,” he says. Chitra Babu, a resident of Auroville since 2008, shares how she found her life’s purpose of being in service to others after becoming a part of one of the longestsustaining global communities in the world. Chitra’s father-in-law was part of the founding team of Auroville and her husband had spent his childhood there. Once he left the Defence Services, he decided to relocate his whole family to Auroville. Here, after an initial period of reluctance and adjustments, Chitra started exploring her interests. In 2016, she starteda project, ‘Tamil for Everyone’, as part of her endeavour to bring the community closer by way of communication. Mother of two adolescent boys, she found her calling in offering her services first to Matrimandir, followed by volunteering at the Entry Service to interview and guide all those who apply for Auroville citizenship, and then later as an English to Tamil translator for the community magazine, Auroville News and Notes. She sums up her experience of being a part of an intentional community in a self-penned Tamil poem, whose essence can be summed up in these lines: The branch would have dried and become dead if it had fallen down somewhere else; but it fell in a spiritual, divine place, so it started to grow. The purpose of my birth and my being is defined and supported by Auroville. Auroville, as many of us might know, is an international-universal town devoted to an experiment in human unity based on the spiritual writings of Sri Aurobindo and founded by his French collaborator and co-worker Mirra Alfassa lovingly addressed as The Mother. Today, around 2,700 inhabitants from over 50 countries, including India, call Auroville home; living in some 120 settlements of varying size and character spread over a total area of 20 square kilometers. In their day-to-day life, the inhabitants are engaged in the fields of agriculture and green work, renewable energy, education, health care, village outreach, construction, electronics, commerce, the arts and administration. While Auroville is a one-of-its-kind, gigantic underexperiment mission, similar intentional communities, though much smaller in scale, have also been finding their feet in the country since last few years. Govardhan Eco Village (GEV) is one such initiative. An offshoot of the global ISKCON community, GEV is a sustainable farming community located in the Palghar district, 108 kms north of Mumbai. The only philosophy followed in GEV is: Simple living, high thinking. What started off as a retreat centre for the monks, later expanded into an open-to-all space for people committed to a Vedic lifestyle. “We follow the Vedic adoption of varnashrama (a system of classification according to the vocational skills of the people, which got hugely misinterpreted and misunderstood in the last two centuries in India) and in our community, each person serves according to his or her skills and talents,” says Nimai Lila Das, Chief Sustainability Officer, GEV. This dynamic community, with its various outreach initiatives for its neighbouring rural landscape, is home to around 80 monks, 45-odd families, and almost 60 volunteers. An integrated spiritual hierarchy guides the community, a functional management team plans and executes, while practising devotees carry out the day-to-day operations. “The one common thread that binds people in GEV is an intention to lead a holistic life dedicated to service,” says Das. Energy of collaboration Intentional communities sustain on the power of collaboration, giving power to Karl Marx’s quote, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Each member contributes according to his or her capability and partakes of the available resources only to fulfil legitimate needs. Shreekumar’sSangatya Commune is a fine example of such a community. A chemical engineer turned organic farmer and activist, Shreekumar says, “Our common purpose is to lead a life of sustainability and equitably share both work and common natural resources. In principle, we wish to live without using more than our share of the world's common resources. However, since we cannot determine what our share is, our practical goal is to satisfy the needs of as many people as possible with the resources at our disposal.” Sangatya – meaning comradeship in Kannada –came into existence in October 2007 when Shreekumar bought a 6.6 acre land using contributions from seven friends, most of whom have been involved in environmental and peace activism. Located in Nakre village of south Karnataka, Sangatya is often visited by environment enthusiasts and his former students (he used to teach at the National Institute of Technology Karnataka) who stay for weeks to volunteer in the community. He states, “Ours is, in principle, a non-hierarchical community. All of us share the work of cooking, housekeeping, and farming. Farm work usually takes between four to six hours a day, sometimes the entire day. Division of labour is not based on privileges. Work that doesn't require any special skills is shared by all – with due regard to age and physical ability. Decisions are taken by consensus.”
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