This article is graciously provided for republication by the author, Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati (Dr. Christa-Maria Herrmann), German by birth, naturalized British, originally studying Theology, her university studies soon expanded to Education, Psychology, Philosophy and Art and Design (Ceramics). Different teaching jobs (in colleges and universities) in various countries followed. At the center of her studies (as well as her teaching) was always the subject of 'Self-awareness'.
Community, sounds as if, it means coming together in unity, which would be a very similar meaning to the path of Yoga; however Wikipedia has it from the Latin as: com- with, together... and 'munus -' gift.
Interesting, one way to interpret the latter would be: together we are like a gift for each other. Other interpretations are: people who share the same values... or even in a wider sense: "a group of living organisms". I will come back to this last one, later.
An ashram, in the first instance seems the opposite, a hermitage, often in a remote natural area where people come together to retreat, work and usually do spiritual practices - or share knowledge and simply living as a community. In the sense of the above (for example) they come together as people sharing the same values. Another form of an ashram might be one that has a Gurukula, a school for children/or adults to be taught ancient wisdom. Yet other forms of ashrams evolved around a special teacher, even a teacher of the royal household, or a Sage. Wandering renunciates would find shelter in these "communities" for the month of the monsoon. Sometimes ashrams were not so peaceful places, but places to go for instruction in some art, especially Marshall- Arts, or warfare... There are many variations, but yes ashrams are communities in the sense of the above definition of community.
Both forms of living together have a long history. However the world has changed beyond recognition. Let's not go into judging whether good or bad. It just is. Today we live in a world of Individualism (Latin for undividable)... the word has in the last few hundred years changed to mean... its opposite. An individual is one, who is or wants to be as separated from the rest or any idea of community as possible. His/Her intention is to be as different from all others as possible. His/her values, thinking or actions revolve around "Me and Mine". This is the prevalent mode of the Materialistic society of today, and that is spreading across the globe. Indeed this attitude is characterising our global society. In the moment I step out and separate myself... it's all about "me and mine". At best that covers the family. This present dominating world-view is against all we know from ancient cultures to present indigenous cultures, and it includes various religious perceptions and even most modern insights into society, biology or physics.
We have become as removed as possible from the idea of Community. The illness of separation, of looking at the world, through the glasses of me and mine; i.e. of my family, my religion, my bank account, my country, my conviction, my possessions etc. - ignores the fact that we are living in a world of ever more interconnectedness.
Even sipping a cup of tea links me with the entire world. Someone had to put the tea bags on the supermarket shelf, someone had to drive the lorry to the supermarket, someone had to ship the goods to the distribution centre, oil is needed for both means of transport; tea pickers in a different country are needed to pick the tea; generations of people in other countries are needed to plant, pick, dry the tea... earth, rain, sun all are connected to my cup of tea... I could not even have a simple thing like this... without interacting, relying, using, being with other people and that across the globe.
Separating each facet of life, each part of nature, has enabled the individual to destroy the earth, down to genetically modified food... which through the needed pesticides destroys the bees, destroys pollination, destroys future apples and pears... I.e. by isolating one thing we are ignoring the fact that everything is connected and create a worldwide food shortage... even a possible future world-food-war!
What has this to do with Community? Over and above the already mentioned, community has been defined by four elements: membership, influence, integration and fulfilment and a shared emotional connection. The problem is... we live today in a global community - and the definitions have to be expanded. Membership is one of the world; influence is the effect every one of our actions has on the globe; integration is what we must achieve if we want to survive as a species; and sharing emotions, means waking up our hearts and minds, letting compassion flow to all of life.
How can we start to build such open hearts and minds? By developing the sense of community in its original meaning i.e. gathering together in a shared spirit, with common goals and ideas. This one opening to others in a shared spirit or consciousness is one of the most important things to cultivate in our modern world. Without starting to build a sense of community away from the Egoism of so called Individuality - humanity might well be led to the brink of existence.
People realise this all over the globe; and so we find many new communities that have this very idea at heart. We must learn to live together; we must learn to look after each other, to care for each other... and that not just in our little corner or family, but on the global scale. We have no choice in this matter, if we want for our children and children's children to have life. Why? Because in our times... community is global; nothing can exist anymore by itself in a protected corner.
See the extinction of the indigenous people in the Amazon - not in the history... but NOW. There is no safe isolated place, where to build hermitages... and forget the rest of the world! As the trees get chopped down by the Millions of Hectares in the Amazon, simultaneously this changes the very atmosphere we live in and might eventually deprive us of Air; and that wherever we live. (In deed we can also site 3000 of Old trees that are right now being threatened to be cut down in the Tansa valley in Maharashtra/India, in a sacred valley in order to build a highway!)
We face so many same similar issues, today. We forget: one world, one community... everything affects everything else. There is no corner of the world that remains unaffected by what happens on the globe. In Physics it's called the Butterfly -effect. Every anger expressed, every person killed, every tree felled, every plastic bag thrown into the Ocean... effects everything else, just like the flicker of a butterfly's wings travels in subtler and subtler waves across all Space.
What happens in our communities or our ashrams, whether in a hermitage or learning centre too is effected by all the waves of energy set free in the world; there is no safe place anymore, anywhere. The first step to get out of this cycle of destruction, in which we live, is to become aware. It means changing our mind, no more thinking of separate communities (my group, my ashram, my people, my country, my nation etc. etc. etc...) but awareness of the relationship between communities. Meaning awareness of how we affect each other. We must realise our interdependence - not our independence!!!
Independence does not exist! It's a fallacy, a dream of the Ego! The worst enemy of any religion, culture, country, tradition or community and now the globe!
Modern Biology makes us aware, that the theory of the survival of the fittest is not true, instead what made life unfold and flourish, was co-operation! And that was so, from the first cellular organisms, and is still so with today's complex life forms. Learn from the cells of your own body!
If the liver cells don't co-operate with the blood-cells you are dead. Co-operation from one community to another community, and within the community itself - is life! Separation i.e., modern understanding of individualism, means death. And in a global community that means, not any more death of the individual, but death of the species.
The principles of life are the same, the world over. Communication and co-operation is the base for evolution of life. Renewal can come only from these two. New communities, from Auroville in India to many smaller communities all over the world start to understand this. (Such as, Tamera in Portugal, the Gaya Foundation in Australia; Kaikoura in New Zealand, various groups around Ontario and the Willits community in California; even a model sustainable town in China: Huangbaiyu).All over the world, people wake up to build communities with a new awareness.
These communities enable people to focus on solving the problems we no doubt as humanity at large face right now and furthermore we will be facing probably more of in the future. These problems can only be solved by putting "our heads together", sharing wisdom, learning to accept other opinions, plan and think as One - and most of all, by opening the heart!
For that the individual has to change its mind, its perception of itself and the community. It's not enough to talk of being one family! So does the Mafia...; a family with a strong father can be a dictatorship...not a com-unity, a coming together in union. Family has a structure of authority, sometimes it lies with the father, sometimes with the mother, sometimes with the elders... but it has Hierarchy. Hierarchy, the word comes from the Greek meaning "the leader of sacred rites." In a more abstract way it means: an arrangement of items/categories/people into below and above...
In a community, in a coming together of equals, coming together in a way where each one is a "gift for the other", in union - there needs to be communication, sharing, and co-operation.
Co-operation means what? Different cells in your body have different tasks. A liver cell does not do the job of a bone cell; a muscular cell does not have the same skills as an alveoli (a cell in your lung) but each, though different, co-operates in the one body. That is what we need to learn... for the communities where ever they sprout up, whether in the ashrams and or other communities, whether in societies, in economics, in religion or any other corner of existence.
If we can change the communities in which we live to be more open, more aware of the shared existence - then maybe the global community will also change. Maybe we can be pioneers for a society, or indeed a global community that acts with an open heart. We can start acting from an open heart towards our partner (let your fears, your insecurities , your need to possess, behind) ; we can act with an open heart at the work place ( allow yourself to listen, to be there for your colleagues, to feel your kinship, the shared humanity); we can act with an open heart to the people we meet on the street, a smile lifts the heart - or we can even have an open heart to the unknown when we go shopping.
How? Be aware of what you need and what you don't need, and give to those who need more than you! When you are aware and open your heart, you can no longer be a consumer, destroyer or "idiot" (one that doesn't know) who lives an individual live at the cost of others. We are at the centre of the new global community. We are the parents of the future; we give birth to it, or death.
Tomorrow begins with us! We are the stewards of a new community.The community is one where the gift is each other's existence and yes where we share similar values. When we live that, the sense of belonging and purpose that is missing for so many people can take on a new definition.
Youth everywhere feels a lack of direction, a lack of purpose, a sense of uselessness... they move to drugs and alcohol and even suicide at an alarming rate and that in "modern" societies as well as indigenous societies. In a community, we are there for each other... in a community we are part of an intelligent web, we are not independent. We are neither passive recipients of a condition called life, nor dominating controllers, but participants in the process of creation.
What we need to do is open our Heart. The Heart Chakra in Yoga is the decisive point, of choice. It's depicted with two triangles, one pointing up, one down. There is much symbolism attached to this, but here a single version, we can choose the downward energy and thus stay on the manifest level, cater to the more animalistic traits or ascend (with the upward pointing energy) and sacrifice our individual wants and wishes to the collective good. Opening the Heart -Chakra means to connect, we could say, it connects the two realities: the relative reality and the absolute reality; to choose the latter is to connect to something higher, be it humanity en large, or even wider.
As inside so outside says the perennial wisdom. As our physical heart makes it possible to bring energy into every cell, so the "global heart..." connects the many civilisations and levels of existence. When our heart widens, we connect to greater love and find common ground with all of existence. From the heart we integrate rather than separate. The heart is the centre of the organising principle. From it the power of love changes all things, it renews, it inspires, it strengthens. We take care of what we love and serve it. From here a new sense of community grows, which takes care... of ALL.
From the heart harmony grows, harmony of opposites, between man and women, between the male and female principles in creation, between earth and space, between matter and spirit.
If we stop splitting the world into "them and us" we save an enormous amount of energy, we can invest that then instead in integration in working towards harmony for the benefit of the human community. We have achieved so much, but we have lost real community. In order to regain our dignity, in order to become: "truly human", we have to rebuild our sense of community i.e. seeing each other "as a gift for each other" - (com -munus).
"Remain true to yourselves, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge" (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man)