Dhyanavanam – A unique experience

January 1, 2017

An entirely new experience was in store for us last week. We had gone for a training workshop, organised by Dr.Raja and Kalpana, the couple who work in Gandhigram University, and have become close family friends over the last few years. This time, the training was held outside the University campus, at Dhyana Vanam, an ashram nearby.

Dhyana Vanam is run by Father Korko Moses – a saffron-clad Jesuit Priest. He manages the ashram, spread over 6.5 acres, mostly alone and with the occasional help of priests who come for training. It has been 5 years since the area has received decent rains; the adjoining dam is dry; yet, there is a bit of greenery left. The mercy of the small showers that morning had added a glow to the green.

Father Korko lives a simple, monastic life. His bedroom offered a sight that I’ve never come across. In the room, built as a pyramidal structure, there was a cot, over 4 feet tall, and a thin mattress over it; there was a makeshift bathroom at one corner. There was nothing else in that room.

“For the first time, I am seeing a room with no material objects,” I commented.
“A few of my possessions are in the office,” he clarified.

The program started after four girls lighted a lamp, and Mahirl Malar sang a song from Thirumurai.

In the large hall, where the program was held, there were pictures of Dalai Lama, Vivekananda, Francis of Assisi, Rumi, Mahavira and other spiritual leaders. He shared with the children, an outline about each of them. There was a picture of Jesus, seated in Padmasana. He said he sees Jesus as a Siddha saint.

Father Korko considers Swami Sadhananda Giri to be his Guru, and has spent many years in Bengal, learning Yoga from him. This Catholic priest has also assumed another name – Swami Saranananda. He has written a book, Yesu Nama Japam in Bengali, and has translated it into English and Tamil.

There is a separate hall for meditation, set amidst serene surroundings. The wall facing the door, has in its middle, a picture which brings together symbols of 12 different religions. On top of it is, inscribed in bold fonts, the Tamil phrase from Thirmoolar, “There is but one religion, and one god.” In the middle of the picture, the figure of a meditating saint is seen.

Founders of all religions attained an enlightened state after deep meditation, says Father Korko.

In front of the picture, Gita, Bible and Koran, are placed open. On the book shelf in the room, several copies of these scriptures were present.

On the first day evening, the 30 children, aged between 10 and 15, quietly sat through a 1-hour session of bhakti songs, the multi-religious song of Vinoba Bhave, meditation, reading of a passage from Bible (related to the couplets from Thirukkural that we saw that day). Father Korko briefed the children about the 12 religions represented in the central picture. He told stories of Buddha.

The meditation ended with an ‘arati’ for the central picture.

We assembled again, at 6am the next morning. After a few physical exercises, we had another round of meditation and singing for an hour. This time, instead of Bible, Father Korko chose a few passages from Gita, and asked me to read aloud. Dr.Raja sang the song of peace, ‘Shanti nilva vendum.’

Later, when I cited Dharmananda Kosambi, who in his well researched and reverent work on Buddha, disputes some of the popular tales as improbable, Father Korko agreed, “Yes, they are myths. Myths are built around all prophets within a few years. These myths are useful to explain their philosophies.”

In between our training sessions, he taught the children Korean dance. They were thrilled.

When Nedya took a session on birds, the children could easily appreciate the connection between people and nature.

The task of taking classes based on Thirukkural was now simplified. In a way, it seemed redundant. When children could see righteousness and love personified by a simple man, right in front of them, what is there to express through words.

The children were split into small groups and sent into the village, to visit at least 5 houses, converse and mingle with the villagers. At some houses, dogs barked at them; at a couple of houses, people did the barking; but largely, people were friendly, invited them inside and offered them something to eat. Though the drought has robbed them of all revenues and jobs, there is moisture left in their hearts.

There is nobody willing or trained, yet, to take over the Dhyana Vanam from Father Korko, and, though he is not someone to be too fussed about future, his longing for a potential successor can be sensed. He feels that this place will be more ideal for seekers than devotees. Though there is no organisational resistance to his work, there doesn’t seem to be any great support either. He travels abroad every year to conduct meditation sessions, and also conducts retreats at the ashram. He raises sufficient funds for running the ashram through these activities. He also holds alcohol de-addiction camps.

He wanted to learn the song on Shiva (Oli valar vilakke) that Mahirl had sung. He asked her to sing again, and recorded it, and noted down the lyrics. He opined that the raga of the song must be Ananda Bhairavi. We didn’t know for sure, who the author was (Thirumaaligaithevar). He took us to his library. The library had the entire collection of Thirumurai in over 20 volumes. He also had the complete collection of Max Muller’s works on Eastern sacred texts. Having left for Bengal at the age of 18, and having spent 38 years of his life there, he felt that he couldn’t gain sufficient exposure to Tamil works.

At the end of the two days, during the feedback session, one young girl mentioned, “I asked the Father if Hindus can read Bible. He said yes. I liked it very much.”

That openness and appreciation for other thoughts is one of the key insights the children would have gained in those two days.


Being with birds

May 31, 2016

Many have asked me, and my wife, about who took the decision to move to the village and how Nedya is coping up. This album has been shot and compiled by Nedya over the last many months. Such a labour of love should indicate who calls the shots at the farm.

 In Nedya’s words:

“Bird watching gives me much energy and happiness. It shuts out the external world for me and I am completely with the birds. Over the last couple of months, the river around the farm dried up under the hot sun, and gradually my birds stopped coming. One evening, our neighbour across the river was burning something and our old silk-cotton tree caught fire. In the dim light and glowing fire, all I could see was a white-cheeked barbet flying around the silk cotton tree. I was worried that it may have had its nest there.

After a few spells of rain, my birds are back. I am hearing a Koel now, for the first time after we had moved to the farm. To find the Koel, I moved towards its call. Two black headed Orioles were chasing each other around the silk cotton tree and across the river. Two Mynas joined their chasing game. A Black Drongo, which was sitting quietly on the silk cotton tree, suddenly turned aggressive when an Oriental Honey Buzzard came to sit on the same branch. Finally the Black Drongo won and chased the Oriental Honey Buzzard away. A couple of Grey Hornbills flew high up over the coconut trees. A family of white headed babblers chattered loudly. Two red-vented bulbuls were busy taking fibres from the coconut tree to built their nest. An Asian paradise flycatcher was moving from a neem tree to a coconut tree. A Rupous treepie was flying here and there with something in the mouth. Two Rose-ringed Parakeets were enjoying each others company. Suddenly the Rupous treepie started chasing a House crow. How could I forget the national bird? A peacock danced beautifully, proudly opening its feathers. A flock of Egrets was flying over the river. To add to all this, a family of four freshwater turtles (or terrapins?) were happily swimming in our open well. All this within a few hours and on the same day, at our farm. Yes, the magic was created by a few showers of rain. Rain has brought back my birds and our friendly farmers have happily started sowing in the Chithirai pattam. This time, we have sowed a few varieties of millets and pulses(Kambu, Ragi & Chollum). I know, we may not be able to harvest anything. But my birds will have a wonderful feast.

I dedicate the following album(collected over the last few months) to Arun , who opened my doors to the world of birds.”