“Les humains rêvent en permanence. Avant notre naissance, les humains nous précédant ont créé un grand rêve extérieur que l’on appelle le rêve de la société ou le rêve de la planète.” — Don Miguel Ruiz
When visiting Amirtha Herbals and learning about the organization, I cannot help but to recall author of Toltec spirituality and shamanism, Don Miguel Ruiz’s Rêve de la Planète in which he explains that the collective dream results from billions of individual dreams that together form the dream of the family, the dream of the community, the dream of the city, the dream of the country, and finally, the dream of all humanity.
This, though, is an illusion, or maya, as known in Indian Hindu culture. The belief goes: the world as we know it is an illusion of reality. Everything around you that you call life was made up by people no smarter than you. You can change it. You can put a dent in the universe. That being said, should we continue to accept a ‘dream’ that is harming ourselves, other species and the planet?
After touring Pitchandkulam Forest, it is my understanding that Amirtha is overcoming the maya that has become a universal nightmare and detriment to existence, and here’s why.
A Capitalist Cauchemar.
Let’s talk neoliberalism. This Western dream became a global nightmare when renegades Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher introduced policies like outsourcing abroad, privatization and deregulation—an economy redesigned to benefit big business and capitalist gurus. The problem is, it was successful: neoliberal-capital became the main cultural identity and exotic products and spiritual customs became commodities for profit. Jeremy Carrette in his work Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion describes the shift towards free-market capitalism:
“Neoliberal ideology seeps into the very fabric of how we think, indeed into the very possibilities of our thinking to such an extent that people now live as if the corporate capitalist structures of our world are the truth of our existence. Capital determines thought, like Newspeak in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and the very act of thinking otherwise becomes ever more difficult.”
But doesn’t free-market capitalism mean freedom of trade? More consumer purchasing power? And economic growth? Does it not mean Western opportunity for underprivileged 3rd world countries? Does it not mean development and cultivation of rudimentary economies and ‘savage’ cultures? More wealth opportunity? Does it not?
Here’s the other side of the coin.
The ugly reality looks like global exploitation and subjugation of peoples and cultures all over the world for their resources—whether its diamonds in Sierra Leone, bananas in Honduras, or crude oil in Nigeria. It looks like the Dow chemical spill in Bhopal where no compensation was offered to the thousands of local people dead and injured. It looks like 300,000 and counting suicides of Indian farmers after Monsanto pressured them into loans for genetically modified seeds that didn’t reproduce, promising them dreams of Western success.
“Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.”
John Lennon famously sang these words and now, some four decades later, the message could not be more urgent.
We can’t afford to live with eyes closed anymore. In an age where there is more trash in the sea than fish; in a an age, where in cities like Dehli, there is more gray smog than blue sky, it’s the time for an awakening.
Awakening, or samvegana in Indian Hindu culture, is when an individual undergoes a paradigm shift in his awareness and thinking. Samvegana is what happened to Buddha when he left the luxury and comfort of his palace to discover the sickness and suffering in the streets of Kapilavastu. Similarly, samvegana is what happened to Jesus when he confronted temptation in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.
How Amirtha reenvisions sustainability in holistic wellness, beauty and community.
In India, the people practice a ritual called puja, worship of the Divine through idols performed to keep us in harmony with cosmic forces, our true nature. Not disregarding the idols, what matters here is the manner of executing the ritual, the way in which the people say: I love you, my God. Auroville was created to realize the ideal of the Karma Yoga of work. Through servitude, we achieve yoga’s goal of yuj, unison with the divine. Through work, we love and fulfill our dharma.
On that notion, Noam Chomsky in Requiem for the American Dream says, “The way things change is because lots of people are working all the time—in their communities, workplace, or wherever they happen to be, building up the basis for popular movements, which are going to make changes.” And Amirtha Herbals is doing just that.
The NGO promotes the sharing and cultivation of traditional, local “elder knowledge” in reliance on nature for sustainment. By building up the Pitchandikulam Forest with local vegetation, they created an “agroforrest” that supports their culture and practice in a sustainable and holistic way where food is medicine, no chemicals are used and composting is eco-friendly degradation and fertilizer.
The NGO’s team asks questions like can you eat your toothpaste? Can you ingest the shampoo you use on your hair, or the make-up you put on your face? The skin is the largest organ of the body the body and with contemporary products we are constantly absorbing dangerous chemicals and washing them away into the water system.
Not only is Amirtha addressing sustainability through wellness, but also beauty. The organization works to shift the paradigm around the idealization of western white beauty in Indian culture, and the dangerous effects of skin bleaching. In their Dark Is Beautiful campaign, they educate on the evolution of skin color, explain the beauty of the soul, heart and person, and work to change the mentality of dark skin.
But it doesn’t stop there. They are planting the seeds that give back to future generations. The NGO employs rural women as a sustainable social enterprise; children plant and make their own food; jobs are provided for locals; and traditional Tamil healers distribute herbal medicines not only to people but also cattle.
In a land that was once barren 50 years before, the Pitchandikulam forest serves an exemplary model of sustainable development of and organizations like Amirtha’s Herbals working in unison with the rich biodiversity of nature, not against it. After all, when it comes to designing solutions to the problems of the future, authors Terry Irwin, Gideon Kossoff & Cameron Tonkinwise, in the article “Transition Design Provocation” argue that sustainable development should look to “design solutions that protect and restore both social and natural ecosystems.”
A prelude to a new dream: collectivism.
Just as Krishna is working to share his dream on sustainable farming and food, just as Upasana is redesigning the harsh reality of the fashion industry, Amirtha Herbals is tackling the wicked problem of harmful products for wellbeing in beauty.
Through community, solidarity, and advocacy, the people possess powerful agency to make change and restructure the future. After all, that is how society has accomplished many great changes before—from freedom of speech to women’s rights—people worked tirelessly in their communities and outside the commonly accepted infrastructure created by an in-egalitarian system. Chomsky claims the power ultimately rests in the hands of the governed, in which he advocates, “What matters is the countless small deeds of unknown people who lay the basis for the significant events that enter history. They’re the ones who have done things in the past. They’re the ones who will do things in the future.”
So, my friends, imagine. John Lennon has asked us to do it before. I’m asking you to do it now. Be a dreamer. Imagine how you, we, can work towards a sustainable world.
“Imagine all the people sharing all the world/You may say I’m a dreamer/But I’m not the only one/I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will live as one.”
By Marissia Tiller