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That meant all the water was running off the land. So we started working to trap the water, to keep the water in our land. So you've gotten more water now? After six years, for the first time this year we did not buy water in summer. There's a movie about water called, Elemental. In part, it tells how a man from India, a doctor, went out to a village and set up a clinic to help.
It's a long story, but eventually, one of the elders taught him the old ways of farming, so the rainwater would be captured.
That knowledge had been lost. And using that the doctor ended up being able to help the villagers bring a dried-up river back to life. That was the real help the villagers needed. Have you found that these old ways have been lost by the farmers? Unfortunately the farmers are all guided by modern farming techniques; they're not caring for the environment.
For example, after we got the water, we said let's start some farming here, just on a small piece of land. It was eggplant season, so we planted eggplant and the neighbors also planted eggplants. They were using fertilizers and pesticides. We were not using anything—at the most we used worm compost.
And all the pests from the neighboring farms came into our farm and destroyed the eggplants. You should have used pesticides. Let the pests have the produce and be happy.
We were beginning to handle things like this. So we planted it again. They also need to live, and their droppings are fertilizer for the plants. So let them eat. There will be diseases; there will be insects.
Don't bother about that. Let the plants become the seed. So on this whole campus, we have not used any fertilizers, any pesticides—whether chemical, or even natural. At the most, what we have done is the agnihotra every day in the morning and in the evening. You know, the small fire ritual they do. So the ash from the ritual is mixed in with water and used for the plants.
And we get a little more ash from the kitchen, also, after cooking—which is good ash—and we spread it out for the plants. And the place has grown as you can see. We also enjoin every visitor to Vaidyagrama to plant a tree. We make that a ritual here at Vaidyagrama, and everybody who has come to Vaidyagrama has planted a tree. And the trees that you provide, you've chosen them because they're useful?
They're all medicinal trees. Either they're fruit trees or medicinal trees. So today you'll find more than 50 neem trees, for example. The table that you lie on in the treatment room is made of neem wood. Neem is antiseptic and de-infectious. It is very good for the skin. You can brush your teeth with neem twigs. You get fresh air in the neem trees. You can chew neem leaves. The juice is very good for a lot of the metabolic issues. Neem has a whole range of properties. We've got more than 50 neem trees on this campus.
Mangoes are here; pomegranates are here. More than varieties of medicinal plants are here on this campus. And it's beautiful how all the plants are here and growing. Now the other important thing is, we did not remove a single weed here! We did not remove the bacteria here. We only kept planting. And as we kept planting, they found that they had no space. Here at Vaidyagrama, even one-and-a-half years back, this area, which had not been developed, was full of this weed.
Once we developed and started planting, the weed made way for the plants. Earlier I heard you mention Fukoaka, the Japanese farmer, and so you had read his book, I take it? Yes, many years back. It's quite an inspiring book—and the whole concept of how we improve the quality and quantity of rice, through similar methods. Nobody takes care of a forest. And in the forest the only thing that happens is that the dry leaves that fall down are not cleared. The soil is always covered with dry leaves and twigs.
Which means that the sun's rays are not hitting the soil directly, and that means the water in the soil is not evaporating quickly. Other than this, we don't see any form of caring that is happening in the forest. But here we let the soil be covered with the leaves and the twigs. That itself will take care of the moisture in the soil and help ensure that we don't need to water those days when we have very little water. Here, we don't need to water more than once in a week or once in ten days in summer.
These days I don't normally see anybody watering.
You haven't seen anybody watering the plants, have you? So we keep experimenting and learning; as long as every one of us keep learning, this community will keep moving towards self-sustainability.
A forest grows and takes care of itself and regulates naturally, a natural life cycle. If we can appreciate that life cycle, then we will not be too bothered about protecting the plant or destroying the plant. Because as long we don't interfere in the life cycle of the plant, or the building…. It just goes back to the soil and can be used again. Maybe the banyan tree will uproot the foundation 50 years from now.
Even 25 years is a good enough lifespan for a building like this. And the last and most important point is that, around the banyan tree we have planted four other trees.
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So the chances for the roots of the banyan tree to spread laterally, as opposed to going deep down, are reduced. The chances are that they go down further rather than spreading laterally. And if they go down, the building is safe. Those are good points. I wanted to touch on something that Geetha talked about. You've reached out to a neighboring village and offered them Ayurveda and they said, "No, thank you.
Instead, they wanted money and you said, "We don't have money. But Geetha said you discovered there's a caste system, even in the village. Can you talk a little bit about that encounter and how you're dealing with that? Again, like we said, the vision is authentic Ayurveda and we continue to discover the depth in its meaning. So as we move toward this, we unravel more of its meaning.
As we created the hospital, we realized that yes, we can create a hospital. But first, to create a healing environment, an entire community has to be created. Otherwise, the hospital can be nice, but if our farmer next door is using pesticides and fertilizers and is living a chemical life, the healing energy will be disturbed at some point. So that is how we began expanding the meaning of the word authentic.
We realized that the outlook of the current generation of elders of the working people in the village was going to be difficult to change. So we thought we'd work with the children and create a spirit and attitude in them that they're not thinking about caste and they're not thinking about alcohol or thinking about going to the cities, but actually being proud to be a villager and proud to live off the land, proud to do farming.
In the initial days, when Geetha went to the village, she would try to put the dream of becoming a collector in the students—you know a collector?
The Collector would be head of Coimbatore City, for example. He takes care of the entire administration of Coimbatore. So he's a pretty powerful person. It's a dream that a lot of people nurse as students. And we said, "Don't do that, Geetha.
Put the dream of becoming a farmer in their heads. Make the children feel happy to be a farmer, happy to be able to live off the land, happy to be able to do everything themselves—build their homes, everything they should be able to do. Our idea was to create a community kitchen where villagers would bring the vegetables from their farms and everybody would cook together and eat together at least once a month, if not once every week. We discovered that only one section of the village was being invited because if they invited the entire village, this section would boycott it.
The higher caste would boycott it. So we said, no. Even if only one person takes part in the community kitchen, it will be fine. We will not avoid inviting anybody because of fear. Fear will not be a base for our work. Fear will not help the community to develop as a healing community.
So we have to keep doing the small things. We have to continue to work with them. Geetha, Somu, Kavitha, Aparna and others — all are doing a great job of patiently working with the community. Today we are giving food every day to around old and disabled members of the extended community; when we started everybody wondered how this can be sustained; one year later, it is still continuing thanks to the support of many patients, friends and well-wishers.
You have a long range view, I take it. We believe that if we will be able to create this community within the next 15 years, we will have done well. So how did you get the villagers to let the children come to be educated? That was a little easier, because for the villagers it was less trouble.
And then, you know, we were giving these children pencils and erasers and books and clothes and everything. So the villagers were happy at that. Many of the villagers had by then started to work with us in Vaidyagrama.
And many of them were seeing that there was a slightly larger commitment than just running a hospital here. It was not just about running this hospital. So some of the villagers began to be involved here? Many of them are involved in the kitchen and the housekeeping and the laundry. One girl is now well trained as a therapist; her mother also works with us.
And that's an ongoing development? What do you do for the people who work here? I get the feeling you must have programs for them or something? Honestly, as of now, we don't have any major programs. The only thing that we are committed to, and which we have shared with them, is that for life they will be taken care of.
They can stay here, even after retirement. We will have the senior citizens community. For the children we will create a school; we have the children's home. We want families to stay here. We want the whole community to develop. And if they are unwell, we will take care of them. We encourage them to take treatments here during the time when there are fewer patients in Vaidyagrama. Having said this, it takes time for them to understand, because many of them are coming from deprived backgrounds.
For many of them, the thought is still on money. They don't see anything else. So it takes time for their thought process to change. I get the feeling it extends generations. For example, I'm no longer involved in the hospital activities here.
And my constant feeling and request to everybody is, let us learn something; let us apply it; let us share it, and let us move on to learning something new. So when different generations—like, take Doctor Omprakash. I don't know if you met him? Not officially, but he's teaching some of the cooking classes, I think.
But he does everything. And earlier, you met Doctor Aruna? Now, these are two young Ayurveda doctors who came into Vaidyagrama as their first job. And over the last four or five years, they are becoming truly Vaidyagrama people. They have imbibed the spirit of Vaidyagrama because they are not contaminated. They are fresh in this space, and that is why you can see them doing everything with no ego.
Now, that was the other big thing that we discovered in the word authentic. That if we are going to do authentic Ayurveda, then ego has to be far away from us. There's a big difference between the two. I wanted to ask you about the people who are coming from the village—they're having the experience of this authentic way of living.
But how do you help remove the stratification? I mean, there are people who are bending over and working in the ground, and there are the doctors, and the tendency is toward stratification. So what do you do to try to encourage self-respect, and respect for every aspect of the work here? Well, there are a few things. And everybody goes and washes their own plates.
Everybody is doing it. And every afternoon at 2 o'clock, everybody gathers in Mandepan hall. All of the staff come together for ten or fifteen minutes, sit together and talk. Again, everybody is on the same level, either sitting on the ground, or those who can't sit on the ground, sit in a chair.
So everybody is on the same level.
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They talk and discuss if there are any issues, or share good news, or whatever. And anybody who has something to celebrate, everybody celebrates together—you know, if somebody becomes pregnant or a baby is born, any activity.
And when we had a conflict here, everybody sat together and agreed on a solution for that conflict. Somu is completely involved in the creative process of Vaidyagrama. On Thursday nights, the doctors are serving food to the patients. Omprakash is doing cooking and bringing water. Everybody is sharing in all the work. We also share with those who work in the garden, or with cultivation. We told them that today we can only use our hands to eat food, and that their hands have so much of magic in them that they can actually create food.
I believe we should, we would all like to, be doing cultivation—which is the plan, as we go along, that every single person who lives in the Vaidyagrama community should cultivate at least four or five vegetables. Farming has to become the core fulcrum of the community. And slowly, slowly, they are beginning to see that.
Some people have different areas that they cultivate the way they want. Why don't you put in drip irrigation? It's a small piece of land. But for less than a quarter of an acre, cultivating it is good exercise for the whole system. So everybody has their little plot of land for growing things. We say, "Put love into what you do and whatever comes up, let's all be happy and share it.
That's really very special. I saw how skillful she is and gave her with a big smile and a thumbs up. I mean I was amazed. I don't know her name, but it's quite fascinating, you know? The kind of skills they have are phenomenal.
salonjardin.info: Vaidyagrama and the Punarnava Ayurveda Trust, by R. Whittaker
They just need to respect themselves. They just need to know that they have something that we don't have, and to be proud of what they have. It's a tremendous gift if one can do that, and if only more people could understand that. Once I got to be behind the scenes in a restaurant and I was watching this dishwasher.
I soon realized I was watching a maestro, I mean a total expert at what he did. Later on I thought, "This guy should be honored. But these things don't get recognized, you know? So the idea is that slowly, slowly, we should become one big family. And there should be trust and faith in our ability to support each other, not just our immediate family, but the entire family. So that, I must say, that is a challenge. It does take a little more work to help people go beyond their immediate families, to think of the larger community.
For example, one of the doctors whenever he went into town, he would bring drinking water back from the town. So one day we saw it and we asked him, "Why are you bringing drinking water from the town? Now, don't we need to inquire further? Because if this water is not good enough, it should not be going to any of the people who are living in this community.
How could you think only of yourself and bring drinking water for yourself from the town? So if the water here is not good, what do we do to improve the quality of this water on a permanent basis so that everybody can drink it? And how do we take care of the entire community?
Even this last week, as we prepared for the conference, toilets were being planned. There were a couple of young event organizers. The students dorms were being created. It's a small example.
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Because of the drains, they had a problem locating the toilets nearby. So they put the toilets further away; they decided everything. The only question that we asked one of them, a lady, was, "If you were staying here and you had to walk to there for the toilet and the shower, and it was in full public view, would you use it?
She said, "I wouldn't use it. With anything that we think for others, the first question is, "Would I use it myself? That takes a little bit of doing, for all of us, to develop that attitude of thinking for the community at large. That's a big step. Now I see that there's a Hindu culture here. And I'm sure you have a conscious attitude about the aspect of religion, and people are coming from other places, also with other religions.
What are your thoughts around that? We want every one of us to be spiritually conscious. But we encourage people to bring their own prayers. In the Ramadan period, Muslim patients come together and do a prayer.
As a community, we all do it together. At the end of this month, you will find a crib, the reading from the Bible and everything will be done. So generally, with any religion—if anybody's here who can help us celebrate the festival—we will celebrate it because festivals are around the community coming together. On a daily basis we practice what we know best, which is our prayers, our mantras, our meditations. We do make it a point; we repeatedly tell all our patients and colleagues and everybody, the religion does not matter.
Just invite the spirit and do your own practice, whatever the practice is. Just keep doing it. One of the earliest incidents we had was that our first therapists here were all Muslims.
And one of our first patients here was a celebrated Hindu priest from a very famous temple. It was a time of Ramadan and, at that time, we didn't have all these buildings. There was a house and a building next to it, nothing else. It was all empty. So the patient was sitting there, and one day he saw one of the Muslim therapists hiding behind some bushes and doing something. So the priest called and asked him, "What were you doing? So the priest asked, "Why were you hiding there?
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