The Power of the Garden

Swami Prembhava Saraswati

In 1995, I finished my degree in Environmental Science. I was feeling frustrated at the academic community, realizing that the field of environmental science was aimed at cosmetic jobs in mining companies and government agencies. Could I let go of my values and beliefs for the sake of a good job with a good wage? My fears over the future of the environment on which we, as a race, and all other species depend were still strong and, in fact, probably through greater knowledge, had been reinforced. There seemed little hope and science didn't have all the answers.

Degree over, what now? I had been practising yoga throughout my time at university. I loved yoga and loved my experiences while at the Australian Satyananda ashrams. I decided to go to India to study yoga, and enrolled in the four month Certificate Course in Yogic Studies at Bihar Yoga Bharati, a course I hoped would teach me 'everything' about yoga. I saw no connection to Environmental Science.

The course was a life-changing experience, every day full of new experiences and challenges, from 4.30 a.m. to 8 p.m. No time to rest or think. Looking back, I realize now that I didn't truly understand what karma yoga was and the power of it. Gardening for one hour every afternoon didn't fit into my idea of studying yoga! By the time summer began, gardening became a drag, (and I called myself a greenie!). I couldn't understand why the swamis were enjoying their time in the garden. Why, at gardening time, did they appear to smile and come alive, while I was hot and wanted to lie under the fan in my room?

I was ready to leave after my five month stay, ready to be home with all my comforts and family. However, as soon as I was off the plane I wanted to be back! I missed the garden! I missed the lifestyle, I missed the beauty of ashram life.

On my return to Ganga Darshan one year later things were different. I realized how much I had changed and all the aspects of ashram life started to make more sense. Bihar Yoga Bharati – the soon to be first Yoga University in the world – had more courses available and many different departments. One department I had only heard about was the Department of Yogic Ecology. It excited me. Could there possibly be a link between yoga and ecology? Slowly I started to realize the vastness of yoga and the path of yoga as a solution for the state of human society and its impact on the planet's environment.

Karma yoga was no longer something I was made to do, it was what I wanted to do, it was the way I could serve, and, in particular, my experiences in the garden began to change. Gardening, I realized, is not only to keep the ashram clean, it is a time of bringing ourselves closer to nature. Closer to the aspects of our lives that we as human beings, as modern societies, have cut ourselves off from; the trees, grass, birds, soil, worms, flowers, and weeds. We've created a world of concrete roads and buildings, technologically advanced cars and computers, and shopping malls the size of towns.

I began to feel the duty I had to the garden, the responsibility I had to care for it, to nurture it, to thank it in some way. Thank it for taking care of me. Just as a mother nurtures and cares for a child, the mother also has needs: physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, and somehow I felt the garden needed that from me. She is the provider, I was the taker, I wanted to give something back. All aspects of nature deserve the love and respect that we give to ourselves, that we give to our loved ones, our children.

One meaning of yoga is union, the union of individual consciousness with universal consciousness. It is this universal consciousness that runs through everything, every aspect of creation, and being in the garden helps us to connect to this essence – the water, the air, the earth, the fire, the elements that make us who we are and what every aspect of creation is. We are not separate from nature, we are it. Yogic philosophy sees God in every aspect of life, all is a manifestation of God. If we can aim to see God in everything (even the mosquitoes buzzing around our heads at night), to see the inter-connectedness of all aspects of nature, surely this will lead to environmental and world peace?

At Ganga Darshan I am very lucky to live in the Akhara, a special place where Swami Niranjan has spent many hours doing pooja and sadhana, and it is obvious to me that the plants are happy there. They sparkle with life; it's as if the leaves on the trees are dancing in the wind. The prana, the vital force in the Akhara, is so strong that everyone who enters can feel and see its beauty.

Swami Niranjan speaks of nature spirits, of devis and devatas, the spirits that keep nature alive and creating – in the Akhara they are happy and thriving. Even through the difficult dry season when the soil appears dry and lacking vital nutrients, the plants flourish.

In Findhorn, a community in Northern Scotland, a dry, seemingly non-arable part of the world, a community has been created, based on these nature spirits. The community began through one lady communicating with the spirits of trees, of plants, of the land. They guided her, they showed her what they needed. All she did was allow herself to stop, listen and feel them. They spoke to her, not in the way we communicate, but in the way nature spirits communicate, with love, giving and selflessness. A thriving spiritual community was built through this communication and is still successful today, teaching people to reconnect with nature, to reconnect with self.

It is so easy to become separate, isolated and distant from nature, but through gardening, through watering a seed and seeing it push through the soil, seeing it bear flowers and fruit, simply watching the processes and essence of life in the garden, this can bring us back in touch with nature and with ourselves. The devis and devatas of nature are crying out to us, they are suffering due to our ignorance and greed, due to our modern way of living. We are a society that demands more and more from the resources of the planet. We are an economic society that sees the worth of a tree only through the paper and wood it produces – not through the tall majestic tree supporting, protecting, providing, recycling and living!

Our values are wrong; we value only the aspects of nature that will give us material wealth. We have not always been this way and many people of the planet feel a deep connection and reverence to mother earth. The following Cree Indian prophecy describes this:

Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

We have lost the ability to see the spirit, the God, the life force in everything. We have forgotten to see and we have forgotten to listen. Not only to ourselves, but to the world around us, the world that we are so much a part of. All is connected, the life force, the consciousness is within everything. This is the teaching of every indigenous culture and every ancient spiritual text. It is not a new concept – it is as ancient as the planet.

We have simply forgotten – and it is time to remember, not mentally, not through words, but through feeling, through the heart and action. We owe it to mother earth. Come out into nature, come out into the garden and serve, give some time, get your hands dirty, pour some water on a dry parched soil, plant some seeds and watch them grow, see the garden smile. Discover your connection with nature, your connection to God.

In yoga we are taught to be aware, awareness of breath, mind and spirit. The practices slow us down to feel who and what we are. In a society moving so fast, we must use this awareness, this understanding of our own consciousness to merge with the consciousness in every aspect of creation. This can take place in every action, in every part of our daily lives, including gardening, and it is this that will reconnect us with the world around us. It is this aspect of karma yoga that is so powerful, the aspect that is giving me a deeper understanding of and connection not only to the garden, but to the world around me.

“We have inherited this planet from our children and grandchildren who have not yet been born. It is our dharma to return it to them in better condition than it was when entrusted to us.” These are the words of Swami Niranjan-ananda. We must return what we have borrowed. The thought of returning a dried, parched, lifeless planet, empty of morning birdsong and flowing rivers, fills me with great fear and sadness. We cannot allow this to happen, we must change our ways now, before it is too late. We must reconnect with nature. I feel this is happening to me. Now, every day I walk to the garden and smile – I thank it, I bathe in its peace, I ask for its guidance and I try to listen. All we have to do is listen.

I feel my attitude towards the global environmental crisis is changing. I have come to realize that fighting and protesting will not change the masses, the change must come from within each individual. A deep respect and under-standing for nature which can only come from purifying our inner world and taking time to be with nature.

This is the path of Yogic Ecology, and the greatest lesson that the newly formed BYB Department of Yogic Ecology can teach. For each individual to care for the world around us, to see God in every aspect of creation, and to deeply feel the interconnectedness of everything. Any other aspects of the environmental movement is just talk.

We must make a personal, individual effort to connect and purify our own inner nature, and through this see the beauty of the world around us and care for it as we would care for our dearest loved one.

In the words of Sri Swami Sivananda:

Smile with the flowers and green grass.
Play with the birds and the deer.
Shake hands with the ferns and twigs.
Talk to the rainbow, wind, stars and the sun.
Converse with the running brook
and the waves of the sea.
Develop friendship with all your neighbours,
dogs, cats, trees and flowers.
Then you will have a wide, perfect and full life.