East and West

Neelkamal Bhawaney, London

I am an Indian living in the West. My opinion of the people from the East was one of total disbelief; their barbaric way of life - their eating and sleeping habits, their choice for a much simpler living. I could never live like that. What about my comfortable bed, my luxurious room, access to the telephone and other materialistic things. Not in a million years would I change my pattern of life. That is what I thought until I came to the ashram.

At first I thought I would never adapt to the food. I was used to eating meat three times a day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I followed a vegetarian diet every Monday due to tradition passed down into the family and that was just bearable. I used to retire to bed feeling quite miserable thinking of all those succulent joints I had missed out on. Slowly, but surely, I started looking forward to meal times. Rotis, dal and subji - definitely a stomach's delight. We were conditioned to believe right from the beginning, that meat was highly essential as it contained all the necessary proteins that were not present in a vegetarian diet. But do you see any vegetarians falling sick from malnutrition? If anything, you see non-vegetarians suffering from an unbalanced diet. The most interesting aspect of ashram life is karma yoga, something I've never experienced before. We are all given daily duties which we perform quite happily and chirpily. My attitude towards my work is to achieve 'mental cleanliness' and of course, getting rid of any excess body fat which, in my eyes, represents ill-health and laziness.

Ashram life is parallel to the life led by the average man in the East. They work from dawn to dusk with no time remaining for mental pressures or tensions to form whereas in the West your main, objective is to progress in society. This leads to competition with fellow neighbours and being caught in jealousy, greed, anger, etc.

Day to day ashram life enables you to become a better and stronger person both mentally and physically. You tend to leave your inhibitions and weaknesses behind; opening the door to new hidden qualities. You develop your inner personality, breaking away from a programmed role in today's society.

My negative feelings about the orient have turned out to be positive ones and my positive feelings of the Occident into negative ones due to a new understanding and awareness. Who needs a television or a car when you can five in total peace and harmony with only the bare necessities. I have found my path to a better and more meaningful life, following the example set by the East.