A Search for Community

by Jill Lawless and Kevin Rossy

In this issue’s “Sustainability” section of the Gurukula Network, we are featuring a couple’s personal account of their visits to a number of Master Units (MUs – comprehensive rural projects) and ecovillages around the globe.  Their experience challenges us to think “green” and practically about how different people, including Acaryas and members of Ananda Marga, married and unmarried, will participate in developing Shrii P. R. Sarkar’s vision of Master Units, and what we can learn from the global ecovillage movement.  With the growing interest in developing Master Units, we will begin an exploration in the next issue on how to apply comprehensive sustainability, including how to incorporate Neohumanist and Proutist concepts on Master Units.  

Some topics that will be explored in future articles include:
1. The distinction between the Ananda Marga community based MU and the Wholetimer (monks and nuns of Ananda Marga) based MU. How can the former accommodate those interested in living together while also contributing to MU activities? How can the latter become a model for integrated and progressive development? We will also discuss in more detail the relationship between the two.
2. Practical information on major themes, including environmentalism, sustainability, community, land/housing, economy (agriculture, industry, energy, coops, etc.), service/spirituality, etc. Showcase existing examples of MUs and other communities that demonstrate the best practices.
3. Examine how Shrii P. R. Sarkar explains the balance between all of the issues above. That is, how can we practically achieve Prama (i.e. a conceptual framework for balance and equipoise in all spheres) on the individual, collective, social, economic, environmental and spiritual levels on MUs?  This section will focus on how these aspects are integrated and become sustainable.

We invite readers to make suggestions about other topics to be addressed in this series of articles on sustainability and Master Units. 

By: Jill Lawless and Kevin Rossy

As a newly married couple we are concerned about the quality and state of the present world. Where can we begin to have a family? Where can we live that will nurture the livelihoods of our children and our spiritual well being? What options do we have to ensure a safe and loving environment where we can progress as a family? Last autumn we went on a sustainable community quest, firstly to find these answers and secondly to broaden our vision for the expanding Master Unit movement (rural development centres) in Europe .

Our quest brought us to the United States and India where we visited leading examples of sustainable communities and projects. Some of the places we visited set great examples in Permaculture, Non-Violent Communication, Consensus, Co-housing, Eco-village living, and spiritual values. All aim towards the same goal of creating a better world. By visiting them we realized even more that when ecological, universal, compassionate approaches such as these are implemented, they have an awesome power to lead and attract humanity towards ecological balance, social change, and spiritual fulfilment. It is through all of these that we will achieve the balance needed for future generations. Our travels opened our eyes to the pioneering people and movements that are manifesting the inevitable Neohumanist future.

To achieve this future, people are moving towards a more sustainable and ecological lifestyle. Sustainable environmentally conscious practices create an inspiring, low impact, earth friendly community and home. A family home next to Ananda Girisuta Master Unit, North Carolina , is a great example of this. They have created a beautiful “Ëarthship”, which is unassumingly made from used tires and soda cans. This spacious handcrafted house cools and heats itself naturally, as well as catches its own rain water which they reuse in the home. We visited them on a freezing day and entered surprised to feel its 70F
temperature inside. Its main source of heat comes from the sun which heats up the thick tire walls and radiates it back within the room. Their home regularly attracts local university architectural classes and on lookers looking for alternative examples bringing more awareness to the sustainable movement.Earthaven Eco-village , North Carolina , (www.earthaven.org) is another example on a larger scale. It is founded on the principles of Permaculture (Permanent- Agriculture) and is a radical and beautiful example of what is possible while keeping within nature’s laws. The village of about 50-150 people, depending on the season, is tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains amongst babbling streams and over 320 acres of abundant forested land. The homes and buildings are warm, inviting, efficient, and inexpensively built almost entirely of local and recycled materials. Their labor force usually consists of interns, volunteers, and students. It has regular courses and workshops on various topics from Permaculture Design to Herbal medicines. Through this they are able to support their livelihood and infrastructure without having to leave their community.
Another reason for people to choose to live sustainably in community is for a more positive social and family environment. This is achieved through innovative techniques in communication and decision making. These are used to encourage positive relations and facilitate the harmonious well being of individuals as well as the community. Non Violent Communication, NVC (www.vnvc.org) is one of the methods used by various communities. At Yulupa Co-Housing in California (www.yulupacoho.com), there are weekly NVC group discussions to instil this difficult but worthy process of communication. Another technique is through consensus. Many of the communities visited have required courses that people attend before entering the community. At ‘Écovillage at Ithaca ‘, NY, (www.ecovillage.ithaca.ny.us) the process of consensus is the core of their governing body and enables all voices to be heard. Conflict is inevitable, but through an educated communicative approach a solid foundation for the whole community is created. Not only is this important for the adults, but it is a wonderful and inspiring example for our children to learn to communicate and resolve conflict through empathy and compassion.
However, living sustainably involves more than just environmental or social issues. What truly nourishes and sustains us is our connection to the Divine. Some communities are specifically developed to cultivate this connection. At Ananda village, California , (www.ananda.org ) a community following the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, the effects of a common spiritual outlook can be felt. Although less environmentally sustainable than other communities, their focus on the spiritual aspect of living in community is very strong. Here, daily collective meditation provides the support needed for each individual’s progress. Paramahansa Yogananda is one of many great spiritual masters who were adamant about the need for collective living in a spiritually aware community. He said:‘”Start now building colonies, and stop industrially selfish society from gambling with your destiny. Get away from the perpetual slavery of holding jobs to the last day of your life. Buy farms and settle down with harmonious friends….have time to constructively exchange Divine experiences and meditate.”
Another great advocate for a spiritual community was The Mother. Her inspiring vision of community is still manifesting at Auroville (www.auroville.org) in southern India . There are approximately 1500 people living here making The Mother’s vision a reality. The core focus in the community is represented by the awesome Matrimandir, a large golden sphere specifically built for meditation. It symbolizes the “birth of a new consciousness seeking to manifest.”
The Mother believed:
“There should be somewhere upon Earth a place that no nation could claim as its sole property, a place where all human beings of good will, sincere in their aspiration, could live freely as citizens of the world, obeying one single authority, that of supreme Truth.”It is through spirituality that true sustainability can be achieved. If the basic necessities of life are covered, i.e. food, housing, medical, and education, then a great platform is created for the expansion of consciousness and creativity. Although spirituality has not been such a central focal point for some of the communities we visited, it is an underlying theme that permeates all. No matter what path we take, if we choose a moral, ecologically sound lifestyle with respect for all life, then the spiritual goal is within reach.It is a revolutionary step to create environments such as these. The great news is that this revolution is happening all over the world. Written here are but a few examples of the inspiring work that is being done. These examples have expanded our vision of Master Units and our concept of community. We have seen what is possible when you combine sustainable living and compassionate communication with spirituality and we see a bright future before us. Anything is possible and when we dare to begin to put sustainability on all levels into practice, the attraction of people and resources is inevitable. Success is inevitable.