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Garbage in Mumbai Bay.

Karma Yoga – That Invisible Dust, and India’s Garbage Problem

Main gompa, Tushita Meditation Center, Dharamkot, Dharamsala,Tushita’s Gompa (Main Hall). Picture source: Tushita’s newsletter

Karma Yoga

In July 2018, I spent ten days at the Tushita Buddhist Meditation Center, Dharamkot, in a silent retreat. This was the iconic Introduction to Buddhism course

On our first day we were given the rules (lots of them!), and were assigned our Karma Yoga tasks. 

I was already familiar with the concept of Karma Yoga from my days in the Integral Yoga Institute, San Francisco. On one retreat in Santa Barbara, I scraped and painted an external wall of a dilapidated structure. Needless to say, I did it with great enthusiasm and dedication I don’t always apply in my own home. 

Do we do karma yoga to improve our individual karma “score” for the next reincarnations (the individual spiritual view)? Or do we do it because it needs to be done for the betterment of the environment – in other words, for everybody’s sake (the socialist view)?  It won’t hurt, of course, if it serves both purposes, but I opine that the emphasis makes a difference.

[You can read more about my Tushita experience here, and more posts are up and coming.]

That Invisible Dust

Myself and a wonderful older lady from New Zealand were entrusted with the task of cleaning the Gompa – the Main Hall (see picture above). It was the easiest, as well as the most respected, of the karma yoga jobs. We were the oldest in the crowd, so given the honor. Not a difficult undertaking by any measure. There were spots where real dirt had accumulated, but those were located behind heavy furniture pieces, or high above. We were not expected to reach them with the simple tools we had at our disposal. 

Nonetheless, it was interesting that the Indian participants in the class kept offering to do my karma yoga for me. They simply could not see me clean those windows at my age. I declined with a smile and explained that it was my karma, and hence I was going to do it.

Actually, the karma yoga was one of the fun parts of the day…. It was mostly cleaning an already very clean room, picking invisible dust, organizing well-organized books, etc. I almost wished I was given some dishes to wash like the younger folk…

Leaving Paradise

Tushita Buddhist Center is clean and spotless, set up in beautiful Nature.  

The monks and nuns residing there are, of course, minimalists in their requirements, and their ecological “imprint” is negligible. Naturally, well-intentioned people are drawn to attend the classes. Karma Yoga is performed dutifully by everybody as a sacred task. All garbage goes into the bins. 

Towards the end of my stay, however, I realized I needed more time to digest the Tushita experience before heading on. It was, therefore, necessary to re-book my bus ride to Manali, scheduled for Thursday’s evening, our last day. Lamentably, it was not possible to reach the agency using the office’s phones. After serveral failed trials, the nice German guy at the office allowed me to leave the grounds.

I walked out of Paradise and into “the world”… 

Environmental Shock

I was in for a shock, even though I have only been to Tushita for a week by that time.

It was not that people were nicer or more considerate inside Tushita’s walls. Everybody in Tushita is, of course, making a conscious effort to be forthcoming and helpful, but many “regular” Indian folk “outside” are naturally respectful, polite and friendly. I knew from past experiences that “spiritual” behavior does not necessarily last for long outside an ashram’s walls. Driving an Israeli road can be enough to wipe out all traces of a great festival’s camaraderie spirit.

No, it was India’s mess that hit me like an earthquake’s aftershock. I was, of course, already familiar by then with how dirty India was, but the impact now was even more overwhelming. (For clarification, Israel is not that clean either, but the situation in India is acute. More on that in a future post).

Perhaps it was a week of cleaning invisible dust that triggered my reaction. Is there a sense in ignoring “the rest of it” while concentrating one’s efforts solely on one spot? Is a refuge a solution? Historically, they always were. Open question.

As I walked out, garbage was everywhere, right up to Paradise’s gate. 

So where is the “trickle down effect” or any effect at all? How do you move a mountain? And a mountain of garbage at that???

As we were wiping our karmic dust in the beautiful Tushita setup, the monsoon rains kept washing down those mountains of garbage into India’s rivers, and onwards, straight into the world’s oceans… 

Garbage in Mumbai Bay.Garbage floating in Mumbai’s Bay

Getting Out Can Also Be Fun

Getting out of Tushita was also fun. I exercised my legs after hours of sitting, climbing those familiar up-and-down mountain paths – Dharamkot, Upper Bhagsu, Lower Bhagsu – trying to ignore the garbage for the sake of my own well-being. I could even talk!

Visiting Hezi at his Israelis-specialized travel agency was a positive experience as always. He will never let you down, always looking for the best and cheapst solution for any of your problems.

Legendary Hezi sitting at his agency with Israeli products on the shelves, Bhagsu, Himachal PradeshHezi’s travel Agency, with Israeli products in the back. Bhagsu, Himachal Pradesh

And just as I was heading back on the higher Dharamkot trail, I saw a group of young Indian folks making music in the middle of the path – drumming, strumming guitars, singing. I was welcomed to join and was given a sitting drum I used happily. We sang some English folk songs and the Beatles’ Let It Be. Soon another Israeli girl joined in (Dharamkot after all is an Israeli colony…). The fun lasted for a few minutes until the recurring monsoon set us all back on our feet to look for refuge…

And I went on to Tushita to complete my spiritual training…

Unfortunately, I could not take a picture of the jolly jamming session, since my phone was confiscated by the office, along with my credit card, money and passport, for the duration of the course…

The following picture of Dharamkot from another walk gives a general idea of the  beauty of the area.  

Dharamkot viewed from shrine on way to waterfalls after monsoonDharamkot viewed from shrine on way to Falls

This Post Has One Comment

  1. When you walk in Jerusalem’ old city the narrow streets are very crowded and noisy. When you enter one of the monasteries the minute you enter the gate you get into something very different, into an enclosed protecting cubic space. It works like a miracle.

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