Peggy's Letter From India Chapter 1
When one travels to exotic lands such as India, there are revelations that take one by surprise. From past travels to India, I knew to expect chaos and confusion, mystery and awe. Anyone who has traveled there knows what I mean.
But in the midst of chaos all around, there is a place that is the center which is "I", a center of peace and presence (just as the eye at the center of a hurricane is a place of powerful peace and stillness).
My experiences in India have taught me that regardless of what is happening around me, I can move into a center that is perfect peace. I can meet others who live from their center. Those meetings are extraordinary, transcending ordinary time and space.
My India Experience with the Yoginis
The place I stayed in India during my spiritual retreat did not have hot running water.
My bathroom was a small, very simple cement room that included a western style toilet and sink, a water spigot, and a cold water shower. Below is a picture of a tiled room with Indian style toilet.
I really did miss having hot water in the bathroom. Towards the end of my three-week stay at the retreat, I found I could get a bucket of hot water from the kitchen. From then on, I happily chose a warm, bucket bath over a cold shower.
Perhaps because of my preference for warm water, I thought a lot about my bathing experience. When I felt sorry for myself, I reminded myself that I was lucky to have a private bathroom, with or without hot water.
Not having what I was so accustomed to gave me particular sympathy for the orphan girls' situation: They had no shower facility, hot or cold!
About the Orphanage Ashram
Sri Lalita Mahila Samajam is an ashram run entirely by women monks, or "virgin yoginis," to be more precise. I believe it is the only community of its kind in South India.
The nuns have dedicated themselves to providing schooling, as well as health & medical facilities for destitute women and girls. They house 150 girls in an orphanage, and run a school for 400 females, which include the poorest of girls from the community. The place is unusually well tended, bright and clean.
I was most interested when I had the opportunity speak with the nun in charge.
Jayamba willingly answered my many question: what their daily spiritual practices are, what the daily routine is, how successful the schooling is for the girls, etc. Then I asked, "What is your most pressing need at this time?" Jayamba replied that other than sponsors for the girls, she wanted to build a bath house.
She told me that the girls now bathed in an open area. Hearing "an open area," I formed a picture in my mind of many girls bathing in one big room. I thought she was talking about wanting privacy for the girls when she said she wanted to build 15 showers and 5 new toilets. But no! Then she took me to see where the girls bathed.
Down by the road there was a large pipe that brought water to an area used for washing clothes in buckets. It was here that the girls took "bucket baths," in their clothes, for privacy. They had no shower room.
I was undaunted when I heard how much it would cost to build a new facility with proper water and drainage. I told Jayamba, "I don't know how I will do it, but I will raise money for that shower building!" . As soon as I told our pilgrimage group, one generous woman named Sally reached into her purse and gave me $100 in Travelers Checks. I am so thankful for her immediate response; her gift became the seed of all the money to follow.
Since then, I have raised about $2000, and I need your help to make it all the way.
Would you open your heart and find resources to help these children, as I have?
My new commitment is to provide the funding to build a shower/bathroom facility for an orphanage in S. India, which houses 150 girls abandoned by their families.
I fell in love with these girls.
I am gathering funds, one donation at a time, to raise $20,000. This is a cause where 100% of the donations I receive go directly to benefit these needy recipients. How rare is that these days?
You and I can make a huge difference in the daily lives of the destitute and orphaned girls I met on my trip to India. I have raised 10% of the money needed so far, just by asking everyone I can. You are part of my larger community. If I can find 18 people who are able to give $1000 or more, we can meet the goal right away. I'll need 180 people who are willing to give $100, or 18,000 people willing to give $1. Every $ will make a difference.
All of your donation will go directly to the orphanage, you can send your check to me.
P.O. Box 745,
Peterborough, NH 03458.
Please mark "Donation" on the memo line of your check. I will personally acknowledge your contribution.
Please read on about how I arrived at this decision to help.
Please think about my request for your donation the next time you're in the shower. Imagine not having a shower or bathtub for bathing. Our building codes require bathroom facilities before a house is even considered habitable.
But you can relate to this:
- When you last took a bath or shower, were you able to adjust the water to a perfect temperature?
- Do you take that warm shower for granted?
- Have you ever been showering when the hot water ran out, and you had to finish up quickly with only cold water left to rinse yourself?
- Now imagine if there wasn't even cold water.
What You Get
I must tell you this unfortunate fact about the donation you make to this worthy cause: You will receive no outward monetary advantage from your gift. I am not a tax-deducible institution; and therefore your contribution will not be tax-deductible.
But please, do not let that diminish the amount of your giving. Please give fully. In return, I will do this: I'll add your name to the list of donors and ask the yoginis to keep you in their prayers. And I will update you on the success of the mission.
Who knows what we can accomplish when we put our minds and hearts into creating something worthwhile like this project.
Peggy's Letter From India
- Chapter 2
<go to Chapter 3>
What does it take to keep curiosity alive? To be open to new adventure? How do we maintain our ability to grow and learn? What experiences can best promote both external and internal exploration?
I found an answer through a pilgrimage to South India. I went with a small group of other seekers to explore three weeks of the Yoga of Sound (nada yoga), and added an additional week of silence and meditation.
It is unusual and a blessing to be able to suspend normal activities and participate in a retreat that focuses on prayer and meditation. I found a beautiful simplicity at the Christian hermitage where we were guests, Saccidananda Ashram at Shanthivanam. That translates as “spiritual abode of Being, Knowledge, and Bliss at the Forest of Peace.
The day’s first morning bell rang at 5 am. I had no trouble waking then, dressing and attending a morning chant in the darkened chapel nearby. Afterward, I proceeded to a small hexagonal building open for those who wanted to practice hatha yoga. The first morning there were many of us, enough to fill the space, but in the next few days, only two or three of us kept up a daily practice.
We each did our own thing, and I developed an affectionate bond with Adele. She and I seldom spoke, but practiced right next to each other, both of us comforted by the sound of the other’s breathing. The light from a single candle created a soft atmosphere for us, and the temperature was warm enough to enjoy the soft breeze that flowed through the screened windows. It was beneficial to be wearing insect repellant as a great many mosquitoes waited at the door to enter at any opportunity.
As dawn came each day, birds with amazingly exotic calls heralded the new day. One birdsong sounded like the successive notes of a flute that rose in pitch and intensity. Other bird calls seemed raucous and wild. One morning the cawing sounds of crows or ravens filled the air. There seemed to be a convention of ravens, and their shrieks got louder and more insistent. The ravens continued to gather and caw until suddenly, something caused them all to take off simultaneously, leaving an eerily quiet forest for a few minutes. The silence was astounding.
By the time the bell rang for breakfast at 7:30 AM I was more than ready for a cup of Indian style coffee and the South India breakfast specialty of Idily (steamed rice cakes) or dosa (rice and lentil pancakes) with Sambar a spicy sauce. All meals were simple. We sat on a mat on the floor and most ate with fingers, the way most Indians eat. I never found the feeding-by-hand method very comfortable and prefer using a spoon. I think some in our group tired of the ubiquitous rice, spicy sauces, and bananas, but the food really agreed with me. Soon after returning to the U.S. I found an Indian grocery and bought many pungent-smelling spices and different kinds of beans and rice. Everyday I cook with the aromatic spices and now the house is permeated with a delicious fragrance that I notice whenever to return home from outside.
When I think about the most significant events of India for me, many specific occasions come to mind. Two types of activities stand out. One was the visits to ancient, but still active, temples where daily prayer and ritual imbue the structures, even the air, with a palpable energy, fertile ground for “Ah-ha” moments of revelation. I cherish those "understandings" that developed in a flash. Profound realizations that I can't even effectively describe, though I know them now in my heart.
The other very important times were my experiences with long periods of meditation both at the ashram, and especially in the caves we visited where great beings had meditated and become "enlightened".
I am appreciative for my extensive yoga training, for I can quiet body and mind, so important for turning the senses inward to explore inner dimensions. During the week of silence, we had the opportunity to meditate for six hours a day! Wow. I loved it.
Peggy's Letter From India - Chapter 3
In Chapter 2 of my India notes, I mentioned that many of the people I met in India were truly joyful, even those who were destitute, and that their joy seemed unrelated to what material possessions they had. Many have not even what we consider the essentials—enough food to fill the belly, a bed, and/or a roof over their head.
My experience is that all happiness is generated from within. I got a sudden flash of insight about this while visiting one of the ancient temples in India. And now that I know that, all I need do is remember, and joy becomes my companion.
I feel the joy, and I look out my window at the bird feeder which is full of birds. I think, “I am happy to see those birds.” As if seeing the birds created my happiness. But really, I am projecting my happiness onto the birds when I think that way. What is more accurate is: “I am happy and I see those birds.”
Let me tell you a little about a group of gypsies that we met during the earliest days of the India trip.
Several years ago on an earlier trip, our trip leader Russill came upon the gypsies when he was looking for an ancient temple in the countryside. These people had lost their homes during the tsunami and had traveled inland to safety. They had petitioned the government for a parcel of land on which they could live. It was granted, but the paperwork did not go through without fees, and perhaps bribes, necessary to complete the transaction. But they had no money.
My understanding is that Russill’s group took up a collection for these people. It was enough to secure the land. And each subsequent year, Russill returns to the gypsy group to see how they are making out. Russill and his group usually give a small donation and it is used for the collective benefit of the gypsy group.
My group continued the tradition of a visit to the gypsies and it was one of the first encounters of our trip. As soon as we arrived, that group spread a large plastic tarp on the ground for us to sit on. They sang and danced, first the children, and then adults joined in. Them and many of us. We laughed and played together. When it was time to leave, we parted with hearts full of love, and smiles all around.
Before we parted, I had a gift to hand over from our group. We had collected donations while on the bus and I had counted the contribution to see what our accumulated total was. Our group leader told the gypsy head man that we had a large gift of money and asked what major improvement they would want to make if they had the funds. Without much deliberation, he said they would put the money into roofs for the houses.
I wish I had a photo of the tiny brick rooms that were homes for them. Until then, I hadn’t realized that the gypsies were living without roofs on their dwellings. Turns out that the sum of $425 that we collected would be just about enough to give all 20 families a roof over head.
As I ate my dinner that night, I reflected that for the cost of a nice meal, dining out at home in the U.S., I had instead provided funds to roof someone’s home. Wow!
Later, while at Shantivanum, we found that the Christian brothers had a house-building program in the village near by the ashram. When Brother Martin had saved enough funds towards that aim, he arranged for the building of a new house for a family. Here is what is amazing. You won’t believe how little it takes. $1500! I am saving already.
I had thought of asking those who come to my website if they would freely give $1, or even the price they’d spend on a cup of coffee toward such a venture. I’d keep a running total. I bet it wouldn’t be long before we had our first house. I would have the builder’s plaque say “from the people of the United States of America”.
Next posting I will continue sharing my thoughts on this adventure. I want to tell you more about what understandings have come back, and stayed, with me.