Last night we had a farewell party for Jean White at the Raman Gardens in Tapovan. The oddly shaped buildings are clustered along the side of a steep hill just above the Ganga, with a path winding through them. I immediately thought of Paramadvaiti Maharaj and his "truly" fetish when I saw a couple of small, conically shaped huts. Most of the buildings have been constructed with the flat shale that is taken from the local ground itself, in the way that traditional village huts would have been built.
Towards the bottom of the property is a round deck with built in concrete and mosaic tile tables. This is where we sat down. We had to order in the rather comfortable coffee shop which resonated for me with long gone hippie days, but decided to eat by candlelight on the deck in the fresh evening air.
Deva Dwabha, the owner of the complex, was sitting at the next table, and Nalini rather boldly invited her to sit with us and talk to us about the Raman's Garden project, and talk to us she did.
Much information about her life and this project can be found on her website, so what follows is simply a summary of what I can remember from this conversation, in which several of us asked questions, but where Deva Dwabha kept us enthralled with her narration.
Though she has another name, Prabhavati, she introduced herself as Deva Dwabha. The name, meaning "divine chaos," was given to her by Osho, from whom she received her introduction to India and spiritual life. She spent more than 18 years with him, a lot of it at the Pune ashram, much of it traveling and teaching meditation in the Osho method around the world. After Osho left the world, she spent time traveling in India and meeting with other sadhus until she was told by one to do a year's silence in a cave by the Ganga. This was in a place not far from the current Raman's Gardens.
Her contact with the local people and the sight of their difficulties inspired her, with the help of some NGOs, to set up the orphanage and school in 1998. The need is so acute, she said, that she accepts only those children who are in imminent danger of death and have absolutely no social safety net whatsoever. Even so, the hostel now houses over 60 children. In a most matter of fact way, she told us that one of the sweet Nepali teenage girls who had served our meal had been saved from a white slave trafficking ring when she was nine years old.
Apparently a major source of financing for the Maoist rebellion in Nepal was the kidnapping and selling of young girls into India, where there is apparently an insatiable market. In particular, she told us, that the Nepali girls are in big demand in Mumbai, where thousands of wealthy Arabic tourists come every year to wait out the hot season. Deva Dwabha did not spare us her familiarity with the seamier side of Indian life.
She said that the Indian economic miracle is built on the back of what is almost slave labor. That is the dirty secret of the current building boom. In Rishikesh also, local workers are supplanted by imported labor from Bihar, which is much cheaper. The only problem is that once a project is completed, the workers are left to fend for themselves, with little work or opportunity available to them. Moreover, many of the men are sadly irresponsible with their paltry earnings, drinking and gambling it away and leaving their families destitute. All this contributes to the increasingly difficult social conditions that she sees on a daily basis. And it is not, I imagine, much different from what is going on in Vrindavan.
At the same time, every accomplishment is the result of a determined fight, and without expectation of any sympathetic help from local government or industry. Just next to the school is a new hotel of several stories, built, she says, on ashram land that was purchased illegally after bribes had arranged for corrupt bureaucrats to adjust property lines. No one should think that doing good will be rewarded by sympathetic benefactors if it conflicts with their interests.
Trying to get the students, who are all untouchable, through to higher levels of education is another great challenge. She has not been able to get permission to build a high school, despite many efforts. Part of the reason, she suspects, is that Indian society is in fact reluctant to give equal opportunities to outcaste children, as this would disrupt the kind of slave or indentured labor economy that is currently dominant.
She also lamented that students are taught to cheat and that it is even encouraged in the schools. The ashram students who have to go to public schools after finishing junior high there find themselves at a disadvantage for their honesty--and also their inability or unwillingness to pay bribes, what to speak of their caste. Nevertheless she proudly pointed to several successes, and some students from the hostel will be starting studies towards medical degrees at HIHT this year.
Since we came from Swami Rama Sadhaka Gram, she told us of her admiration and appreciation of Swami Rama, who had helped her a great deal in the beginnings of the project. She told us how she met him 16 years ago when she was first starting her own activity in Rishikesh.
A mistry named Rama got involved with some village thugs involved in alcohol and gambling and they put a stick of dynamite in his hand, blew off most of his arm, an eye, an ear. They dragged him into the forest and dumped him there to bleed to death, then went and told his wife that he had run away. She did not believe them and went into the woods looking for her husband. When she found him she had to carry him as he bled to the road four kilometers away. I am not exactly sure how Prabhavati got into the picture, but she arranged for Rama to be taken to HIHT.
Dynamite offenses are criminal in India, and hospitals cannot treat anyone unless the police are informed and a FRI has been filed. In view of this, Swami Rama was awakened. By now, Rama was in a coma and in urgent need of care. Swami Rama gave the order to proceed despite the possibility of problems from the law enforcement officials, and called the best surgeons available. The man's arm was amputated and the ear and eye were lost, but his life was saved. He still works there at Raman Gardens as a security guard.
After than, Swami Rama helped her to get the orphanage started and supported the project in many ways. She knew him from HIHT, which continues to treat the children from the orphanage and school for free, even though in many ways the policies there have changed from Swami Rama's time.
Her first question about SRSG, by the way, was "Besides yoga and meditation, what seva is done there?" Because, "Swami Rama was all about seva."
With regards to that question of seva. There is something called the andha-pangu nyaya, which means "the logic of the blind and lame men." Bhaktivedanta Swami would say the West was blind and India lame. That may be an oversimplification, but there is some truth to it, at least where we students of yoga and Indian spirituality are concerned.
The success of yoga movements in the West is because some there, despite having all facility for material enjoyment, are still looking for and indeed are in a position to seek out and devote themselves to the goals of spiritual development.
It is a cliché that you cannot preach to a hungry man without first giving him food. Even now, some parts of the rising middle class in India are beginning to show increasing signs of interest in spriituality as their material anxieties subside. But in general, material anxieties have been exacerbated by the current mad rush to prosperity, with the result that the entire moral fabric of Indian society is under great stress. And projects like Raman Gardens or Rupa Raghunath's project in Vrindavan are tremendously important in redressing the balance and creating an equitable and just society.
These are things that will actually become more and more important to us as we become free from that last stress--the stress for our individual salvation or emancipation.
The fact is that the East-West exchange is one in which there is a most vital, mutual service. If we are unable to serve seekers by providing guidance in the spiritual culture of sadhana, any other service we do will ultimately lose its connection to the sacred and then, whatever its external value, be ultimately unsatisfying and directionless.
On the other hand, spirituality divorced from service to the most needy, who are deprived of all opportunities to even remotely experience the bliss of contemplation, is a sad failure in love, the true fruit of all spiritual practice.