As part of the 2021-22 WSRP Lecture Series, Swasti Bhattacharyya (Buena Vista University), Visiting Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies and Ethics, gave the lecture, "Simple Living and High Thinking: A Definition of Spirituality."
SPEAKER 1: Harvard Divinity School.
SPEAKER 2: Simple living and high thinking. A definition of spirituality. October 21, 2021.
ANN D. BRAUDE: Thank you so much for your patience and thank you for joining us from all around. It's wonderful to have you here on this Zoom presentation and I'm really delighted to introduce Swasti Bhattacharyya this afternoon's lecturer. Her project is a very unusual one that she has been preparing for in a way for her whole life. As a child she got to know the group of sisters, the community of women following in the path of Gandhi in India, who she's going to speak to us about today. And she spent the last 20 years, periodically living with them, and studying with them, living with them as a student to learn what they think, what they felt she ought to know.
Swasti is a Professor Emerita from Buena Vista University, where she taught for many years in the field of applied ethics. And Swasti has really lived out the life of a student of applied ethics, she worked her way through graduate school, as a nurse and her first publications utilized her experience in health care, applying them to her work in India in applied ethics. It's been an enormous pleasure having you with us in the carriage house this year. And without further ado, I'm going to let her begin her slightly delayed lecture. Thanks all for your patience with the tech and thank you, Swasti to persevering for through the tech issues. It's all-- the floor is yours.
SWASTI BHATTACHARYYA: Thank you very much. Thank you, Ann for the introduction, for working through the tech issues coming back on. And thank you and Tracy for creating a space for us, research associates here to work on our various projects. I think we're all finding, what a privilege it is to be able to focus on our work, so thank you. And thank you to my colleagues, I've been enjoying getting to know you, and I know my work is greatly benefiting from your comments, and inputs into what I'm doing.
And I'm learning so much from the work that you all are doing, so thank you. And then thank you to all of you who are taking time out of your day, it's fun to see so many familiar faces. And I was just telling somebody that I'm really fortunate because I have people that are good friends across this country, so thank you very much for coming.
A couple of weeks ago, our colleague Delfi Nieto-isabel started us off with her lecture, where she took us back to the Middle Ages and we are exploring the network of defiance between a particular group of women from the Middle Ages. And it was amazing how she combined our modern technology and look back at what the women were doing back then. And in some ways, some of us haven't changed much in other ways we have.
Today, we're going to move to India and get a glimpse of another group of women, who are strong principled women, who are moving forward on their own path. And let me get this started, Oh, wait, I got to share my screen, as I was thinking about how I could share something meaningful and coherent in the time that we have, I started looking through my transcripts and came upon a quotation that is the source of the lecture, I mean, of the title of the lecture that we see today, simple living, high thinking, a definition of Spirituality. This phrase captures the essence of what I have learned from the sisters at the Brahma Vidya Mandir, there's no separation between their living, and thinking, and their spirituality.
I was going to say that they're living and thinking is infused with spirituality. But to say that would imply that spirituality was a separate different entity, as opposed to simply being. For them, their simple living and high thinking is spirituality. I'll share the whole quote behind this phrase in just a moment. But first, I want to begin with a brief introduction to how this group of women came to be and what they're about.
So in the late 1950s, a number of women had been working with Vinoba Bhave and he's a disciple friend confidante and spiritual successor to Mahatma Gandhi. And he was doing-- they were working with him on his Bhoodan Yatra where bhoodan yagna and that's a land grif gift movement. And he was going all over the country and he traveled for 14 years, asking those who had land to give to those who did not have land or have anything. And these women were part of that movement and they walked with him across the country doing different things. And actually that's a whole other story, which actually that's the second part of my project that will be next year after I finish this one.
And this one, I'm focusing on the lives of the women, and these women were challenging traditional cultural norms of India by wanting to pursue a spiritual path. And this was an opportunity that was openly available to many men, but not equally so to women and they wanted to change that. So they went to Vinoba and they asked it, what can we do? Well, Vinoba was one who long believed in the importance of women's power and leadership. He and Gandhi believe that India would advance only when it had the benefits of the women's spiritual leaders in the forefront. Thus, when the women inquired about an opportunity to follow a spiritual path, Gandhi Sahib, excuse me, Vinoba saw this as an opportunity to conduct an experiment in women's power and prepare the ground for a group of women spiritual leaders.
Now a, thing aside on his experiments, he did lots of experiments at this Ashram. Again, that will be in the second project. So Vinoba gave them this Ashram that's on the banks of the river down in Central India in the state of Maharashtra.
And I have to tell you that every time I would land in Mumbai, I'd be on the jet bridge, coming out this plane, having been on a plane for a day and I'm hit with a blast of smells, and sounds, and heat and I always thought, why did I come here? I'd spend the night in Mumbai, and then take a 12 hour train ride to this Ashram and as the rickshaw comes over the Hill and I can look across the river. And this is the vision, the perspective I see, and my heart rests, and I say this place and the women who inhabit it that's why I come here.
So in the 30th of March of 1959, a dozen women came to the Ashram and formed a community with the aim of sanskrit sadhana. Sanskrit means, sitting together in a group and Sadhana is sustained practice for spiritual attainment. They're not simply participating in communal living, but rather they're participating in a spiritual life.
Shiladin one of the sisters who joined in the 60s said that they're staying together, as they work towards sharing quote same thought, same service, and oneness of heart. She goes on to talk about how in the ashram their individuality should be diluted and should eventually be wiped out, that they need to become part of a community consciousness, you reduce your individuality she says to 0. When you can do this, when you can spread, this is reducing to zero the individual ego.
So now, we get to the quotation behind the title, this is [INAUDIBLE] she's one of the founding sisters of the ashram and she's one who spent a lot of time with me, we'd meet almost every day for what we called our lessons. It was funny, they would set me up with different women and I would have an hour or 45 minutes. And then I'd be going to the next lesson and for a place that was supposed to be very calm and slow paced with all my classes, I was pretty busy.
But she and I would get into a lot of conversations and we were talking about what it means to live a spiritual life. And this is what she said "so my simple definition of spiritual life is simple living and high thinking. Unless you have simple living, you won't have high thinking. High thinking means in life, not only in words. This is the simplest definition of spirituality. Now the Bell is gone."
I love that last line in the transcript because it's in a lot of them. She and I would meet often, just before dinner and we'd be having these deep philosophical conversations. And then the Bell would go off and it's time to go on to the next thing and it just fits with how I experience the sisters because their spirituality the spiritual thought these high thoughts are also, just common living, so again, there's a seamlessness there.
There are so many different directions that could go in to show you what they mean, by simple living and high thinking. They live pretty close to the Earth, they grow about 70% to 80% of their food, they really aim to be self-sustaining. And one of the sisters go, Yeah, we have failed in that and I was like, well, 70% to 80% I don't know if I'd call that feeling, right? But they really work hard at that, they produce a monthly journal that gets sent out across the nation. And it's my tree and where they write about things that are going on in the country, they write about Vinoba and commentaries on things that vinoba said.
So there's all these different things and I thought, what can I do? And I finally settled on focusing on one element that demonstrates, there's simple living high thinking. And it's encapsulated in clothing and cloth. The sisters so their own clothing from khadi. Khadi is hands bun and woven cloth.
And I want to briefly share with you a bit about the process of making khadi. So you'll have a better understanding of the appreciation of how our appreciation, of how this khadi is functioning for the sisters. And though, this might be a review for some of you or many of you seeing it in photographs, might give it a different meaning and you'll be able to see this. And it also provides me an opportunity to share more of the photographs that I've taken of these women and what they do.
So you begin with the punis and that's a sliver of cotton. It's been processed and clean and all the fibers are basically, going in the same direction and then you start to spin it. And this is a charkha on this, one it's like, a plank board that has the wheels that are screwed into it with all the different parts. Then you also have what's called a book charkha so it is-- it opens up and all the pieces fit in there. And then you can close it up and take it with you it's really good for when you're traveling you have dropped spindles. This one takes a little longer but you can see it's that same principle where you're dropping the thing and then spinning the cotton as you go.
Something that I really like, about khadi and these pictures, is then you see Bowe here, he's 94 years old and he actually doesn't have the dexterity to do the different motions that are required with spinning the cotton. So they have this one, where he can crank it out. And then you have Ramadi and she has really bad arthritis, she can't sit on the floor, she can't do a lot of different things that enables her to make khadi.
And what this does is demonstrate the flexibility that they have, understand that all of the sisters commitments are grounded in a commitment to truth. And you say, well what is truth? When you hear about talks about how truth can be attained by humility, objectivity, and non-insistence. This is a quotation from here, from him, there is no dogmatism in it, it being truth. There's a flexibility and how they apply their high thinking.
For Ramadi, she uses this electric chidoka and a friend of mine had come with me into her room. And when we left, they were like, wait a minute that's not hands, but how does that count as had spun that's an electric thing doing it. Well, like I said she wouldn't be able to participate in having that she made, if it required that they stuck to her actually doing the hand motions. Now, there are rules that she participates in with, when she uses this, she says she can't plug it in, and then go into another room, and do something else. She has to stay in the room, and she's part of that process still, but I love how that opens up to allow participation in many different forms.
So you've done this spinning and you end up with your spindle that's full of thread. So then you have to take it off and make your skein and here she's starting to make this game. I love that photograph. And then here if you see really carefully, there's a different-- I don't know if you can see me pointing this out, but there's a thread here where they've counted. So as she's putting the thread into this, the order to make a scheme, she's counting it, so you're not doing this mindlessly.
So then you take it off of that contraption and you start to wind it up so that you can have your good or your skein. So you take your skeins of yarn and in the olden days, they would leave it there actually and a lot of the astronauts had their own looms. But now they don't, they go to the ashram up the street, they take their belief at the mill, they put all the threads together, they weave it and then you have the cloth. And nowadays, what happens is if I bring in a kilo worth of spun goodies, then I can take a kilo worth of cloth. So this is looking at this whole process of khadi.
Let's look at how khadi demonstrates this idea of simple living and high thinking. So first of all, when we think of khadi, we think of spinning and meditating. While they're spinning the cotton, the sisters are praying or meditating, or being mindful of what they're doing.
The second prayer in the morning, which is usually around 10:30 in the morning, just before lunch, they're spinning while they're chanting the Vishnu [INAUDIBLE]. And it's again-- and when they meet have meetings afterwards in the evening sometimes, some of them will be spinning. There meditating, while they're doing, it shows again, a seamlessness between their living, how they're making their clothes, and their thinking and their believing in their ideals.
I'll have to tell you when I came back from India, I would spend and I would spend 20 minutes every morning spinning. And there's a real rhythm, a dance between the cotton and your fingers, and the tightness, and the tension, as you're spinning the wheel with the wood knob that's in your hand in the other hand, and the cotton in the other. And there's this noise that you can hear if it starts getting too tight, if it's getting too thick. So it's a real element, where it's having to practice a mind body mindfulness. And it's a really nice way to go, it's a good thing to help you do that.
Secondly, the appreciation of the value of cloth. Now, when I was a kid, my mother would not throw clothes away. And I would get really frustrated because I'm like, Ma this is a piece of trash, she's like, no, no it'd be good for a [INAUDIBLE] good [INAUDIBLE] you can use it. Well, I'll tell when you make khadi, you-- I have a new appreciation for cloth. The sisters have a couple of sets of outfits and they usually sell, well commissioner, the quote, the loose top with the dupatta and then the loose pants that you put on or there were saris.
So they have a couple of them. And one of them is spotless, it's clean, it's brand new, and it's what they wear when they go outside. Then they'll have one that's a little older, it's decent. They'll wear it every day in the ashram, it might have a stain here or there in a patch or two, but it's still presentable. Then they'll have these outfits that are older, that have their full stains, lots of patches, and tears and that doesn't get thrown away because that's what they use when they're working in the garden.
Now, don't think that's the end of the life of this cloth. When I was there earlier and this is what they have for their mops, is that somebody took their old petticoat, that's all stained and ripped and everything. And they tie the petticoat to the end of a broom handle and that was my mop. And at one point and I looked, I spent time looking for the photograph and I couldn't find it, but I'm holding up, what is more space between the strands of thread. And I look at content and I said, we need another mop, it's like, I believe in reuse, and recycle and all this, but this is a bit much.
So when you make khadi, there's a real appreciation that you use it until it's done. You don't just get a hold on something and throw it out, right? We have the phrase here about darning socks, how many of you have ever done that? What do you know about that? I've never done that.
Yesterday I threw away a pair of socks that had a hole in it. Well, if I had spun that cotton that made those socks, I wouldn't have thrown it away, right? So this appreciation leads to decreasing waste and a rejection-- rejection of this consumerism culture that dominates us so much.
A third element, is the equal value of manual labor and intellectual labor, everyone spins, you're not having one person spin for you for something else, right? And somebody else is doing it, when you split, excuse me, when you spin your own khadi, you're investing your own sweat labor into the product, who should this says we try here to live life on men on our own manual labor. Outside, you go edge educated people don't have this value of work and they should establish this value.
Otherwise, there will be two divisions, one intellectual and the other hard working, we should combine it. So that this is how a way that I'm rephrasing her that they're contributing to society. When you see this the whole of India here, can be one and she's referring to there's some of the sisters were teachers and the University ETG taught Sanskrit. And then other sisters are illiterate, but they see themselves, as equal. And this manual labor and physical labor is something that's really, really important to them.
And think about it she says how not she's saying this, but sometimes, people who don't do manual labor, it's because they think they're worth more. And that's often, they get paid more so they're worth more and they don't want to admit that I was on a flight with somebody who's an economist and he was like, why I don't have time to clean my house? I make too much for that.
So then he hires somebody else and he was saying how he tries to get the cheapest price? And I said Oh, so you're worth more than the person cleaning your house? And she's like, Oh, no, no that's not it, but is it, right? In our culture often, the fact that we're paying more means, that we think they are more valuable. But not so in their economy for the sisters manual labor and intellectual labor is equal because all of humanity is equal, an important thing to remember, especially in the context that we're living in now.
The fourth element, Ahimsa non-violent, non harm. Clothing, think about that, right? By wearing khadi, you are circumventing the entire market economy that oppresses and suppresses the most vulnerable amongst us. When you're wearing khadi, you know from where your clothes have come and you have not oppressed anybody in the making of it. You should that talks about how the Gita says that one who does manual labor, his life is innocent because he is not exploiting anybody.
Otherwise, when I live on market, economy is what she means or buying, when I go to the market to purchase this cloth, if it is not cloth, if it is another cloth, then that mill owner he is exploiting the labor, we are part of that labor exploitation. So when we do manual labor, we have the least exploitation in our life because we earned by our own. So that's clearly saying that by wearing khadi, they are circumventing that entire market economy that causes so much harm.
Now, I will say a caveat on that there is a whole khadi industry in India now and there are places where it is being abused. I was talking to some friends of mine about that, is that they're not getting a living wage and this is BS then, they're not living up to it. And her response was that, Yes, there are people who are abusing the system and taking advantage of it and not living up to the spirit of what it should be. But that's not everybody and that the goal is still there. And so she still finds value in the thing of using khadi and to work on those who aren't living it. Also for them, for the sisters they're making their own khadi, right? So then you're not exploiting anybody there because you've done it.
The fifth element is environmental, right? If you purchase the cotton that's grown locally, you spin it, you take it up the street to the place to get it woven, you come back and you've sewn it yourself. The items aren't being shipped all around the globe several times over, [INAUDIBLE] says this explicitly. The other thing behind this simple life thing khadi, all of these things is that we are solving the problem of pollution. Today, there is a great problem of pollution, more need, more furniture, more luggage that means you are contributing to pollution.
So this simple way of living is just to save the problem of the age. Pollution is the problem of this age. And again, there's a book called travels of a t-shirt, the global economy and economic-- economist examines the market power and politics of World trade. And she follows the story of a t-shirt, and all the places, and all the energy and that goes into making a t-shirt. Again, all of that is being circumvented with khadi.
Finally, is this idea of a revolutionary idea. The khadi was and can continue to be revolutionary. Historically, it is a grassroots equalizer and a tool that can be used to free India from the British. Even had of the wheel in the center of the flag in 1932, it ends up getting replaced, but that was his idea. With khadi, your decreasing what you will accumulate because you can only spend so much, so you can't have 50 garments in your closet.
[INAUDIBLE] he says you have so much luggage in your house, where will you put God? This is the position today, people love more furniture, not more God. So if we keep our house free, we will fill-- feel more freedom. Gandhi and Vinoba used to say change the values of your life, otherwise there will be no spiritual life. Spiritual life is a revolution, if you have to change everything.
Elsewhere, [INAUDIBLE] he says you can't have a spiritual life with all these materialism around you, do you want to have a spiritual life or do you want to have a material life? That's the most important question. Now, she does put that in a dichotomy, but remember, that's in the context that there's a flexibility there, and the truth is ever evolving, and ever our understanding of it is ever developing.
And so it's not always this or that, but that's part of it. Khadi-- khadi is the symbol of nonviolence, independence, self-sufficiency, right? From their perspective, from the sister's perspective, it takes seriously the challenges of global climate change and the work for Sarvodaya. Sarvodaya is a term that was coined by Gandhi and it was developed vinoba. And it means the uplifting, and the flourishing of all humanity, of all life and these sisters are all about that as well. And I'm going to back up 1 minute because I did not read one other quotation from her.
Another element of khadi is that khadi act can actually-- this is not from her. Khadi can be expensive in India and so poor people would not actually have access to it, they can't afford it. However, if you're spinning your own thread and weaving it, then you're going to have that clothing and you can be self-sufficient.
And that's where sarvodaya comes in because Gandhi and Vinoba were all about self-sufficiency and people being able to uplift themselves and that everybody gets uplifted, as India moved forward. And if you had your own little plot of land you, could grow your cotton, and grow your vegetables, and clothe and feed yourself. Nowadays, that's not happening, right? With the way we have things so split up and globalized. So that's part of what sarvodaya is about.
So I went really fast because I thought I was running out of time and now, I have plenty of time so I can tell you a lot more stories. But I'd like to share one of the most recent insights that I gained from being with the sisters, that's totally related to this idea of simple living and high thinking. A central teaching of vinoba is to always love, the sisters are always saying always love, always say Yes, always love. And they used to really bother me because it's how do you always say, Yes. And then pretty soon I realized, they meant by that always love because you can't always say Yes, to some things.
But how do you always love? How do I love somebody I don't like? Somebody-- how do I love some of our congressmen and women that aren't living up to truth, who are being deceptive?
I mean, I think there's a difference between being deceived and deceiving. And how do I love them? How do I do that? How do I love and how do I be positive in an environment, when I'm surrounded by negativity?
During my latest visit to the ashram, it was 2018 and I was having this discussion with Rushdie. And in the back of my head I kept thinking, Yeah. But you don't understand, you don't understand what my life is like? What my context is like? And let me back up 1 minute, she does understand, when vinoba went all across the country talking about not owning land, he said who are we as human beings to own land, we don't care, we don't own water, why do we think we can own land?
So that's why he was doing the bhoodan. So I was going to buy a house and I go to [INAUDIBLE] and I'm thinking high and I'm really struggling, how can I own land. I'm going to buy a house that's going against this whole thing, I try to live consistently. So I'm talking to her and I'm expecting her to tell me, Yeah, you should buy the house that's owning land. But she looks at me and she says Swasti, you live in a different context and then in different environments, she said here in India, when you're following the spiritual path there's a place for you, right?
To be taken care of and to have your needs met. She goes in America you're by yourself, you need to take care of yourself. And again, so there's that flexibility, right? Universities don't own land, well what was he saying how does that get interpreted, how do we put that out there?
So when back in 2018, when I'm talking to her about this, I was like, Yeah, you don't understand, I forgot that she did understand, right? I was like, you all don't know what it's like, to live in the Academy, to live in this context where things are so competitive, right? Where people are going to sometimes will try to get ahead at all costs. How do you always love in that context? What does that mean?
How do I take care of myself or do I take care of myself or am I being selfish if I do that, right? There's all these questions in my head and I thought she doesn't get it. The sisters live in this ashram, they have it easy, it's a peaceful place. It's a place that set apart from the rest of the world, what challenges do they have? Everyone lives by the same rules, so what's the problem?
But then, I realized that wasn't necessarily true. They do have tensions, and conflicts and everyone isn't always playing by the same rules. So then I thought, Oh, well at least, everybody knows the same rules. So whether they choose to follow them or not, they all know that. And I said that's a substantive difference between my context in there.
But then I was struck with a moment of insight, after talking to her again and again. The question is not, whether others are-- or are not following particular rules or principles. The question is what rules or principles do I choose to follow? What principles do I want governing my decisions in my life? How do I want to live? That's the question.
Every semester, I begin almost every course and I did that here in HDS. I'm talking with the students and I'll say at its core, at the bottom question for us to grapple with in this class, is who are we? Who do you want to be? And how do you want to live in this world? And attempting to mindfully address these questions, is a lifelong endeavor, and this is what I see the sisters doing from day to day.
And again, the question is not how do others follow or not follow the principles I choose to live by? The question is how am I choosing to live? If I want to get ahead and I want to gain, as much as I possibly can for myself, I can do that? If I want to exploit others, if I want to not be fair, I don't want to have integrity, I can do that, right? Nobody's stopping, I mean, it might be legal, might be unethical, but people do that all the time, right?
But that's not who I want to be. So the fact that others are not choosing to live by my rules or values, is not my problem. And if you notice that goes to one of the bottom line teachings for the sisters as well, which is this idea of non-attachment, right? I have to be focused on what I'm doing, I need to be committed to how I'm living, choosing that's a lifelong endeavor. But I need to not be attached to what other people are doing because that's not my problem, my problem is how am I going to live, right?
And in that moment of realization my entire attitude shifted and I understood that my challenge. My challenge in life are not much unlike the challenges of the sisters in their ashram, on that Hill overlooking the River Dam. Every day, they wake up and choose the path that they will walk for that day, they tend to choose a path of truth love, and compassion and nonviolence for everybody. One of their missions is actually that as they work towards some weeks Iona is to be an example to the world, right? So that you too can live a full and fulfilling life without getting all bogged down in the external trappings of materialism.
Their example has inspired me and every morning, when I wake up in Cambridge I too, will choose the path that I will live for that day. And if I want to be one with who lives with integrity, who loves and responds out of compassion, then I should pursue that path, regardless of what others around me are doing. The sisters are not perfect and they're not Saints, however perfection in sainthood are not their goals. They are simply living carefully thinking through how and why they are living, as they are and their simple living and high thinking. They are demonstrating what aspects of spirituality can look like.
Thank you very much. Oh, I do have one more point here and this is on the photographs. So I'm a photographer and I took all the photos in here in the PowerPoint that except for the Black and white ones. And those were taken by Gautam Bajaj he was 12-years-old, when he joined bar somebody gave him, like, a little brownie camera and he started taking photographs. And he had put together this book called Vinoba Darshan, and I'm looking at the photographs with him and I was like, wow, who's got the copyright on these? And is there a way I could actually get some of these?
I'd like to use some of them maybe and he just looked at me and he started laughing and said there's no copyright. He said I took these and he proceeded to give me 19 gigabytes of all the photographs that he had scanned into that time. So it's again, another example of that idea of non possession and non-attachment connection. So thank you very much. I will close this and we can have time for questions.
ANN D. BRAUDE: Thank you so much, Swasti. I think when the sisters chose you, as the bridge that they wanted to educate to bring their understandings, and their learning to the world they chose well. And I'm very grateful to have you, as a bridge between the sisters and Harvard Divinity School, I really appreciate it.
We do have some time for questions, we have 15 minutes. Let's start with Heather's questions because it's short enough for me to read and then I'll try to figure out what Delphi is asking. Heather white who's one of the research associates asks, what advice did you hear from the sisters about how to reduce individual ego to 0, in a cultural context, like, the US that idolizes individuality?
SWASTI BHATTACHARYYA: They didn't preach, they just live, right? Actually Beth is on this call, did you ask Nirmala do that question? Do you totally putting you on the spot, do you remember what you said?
BEVERLEE BELL: It was a part of-- it was a constant struggle. Yeah, so it's not like, they always achieved it. That was a lifelong struggle, but it was their goal.
SWASTI BHATTACHARYYA: Totally. And I mean, you remember I ended by saying they weren't perfect. So that you remember that photograph with the clothes on the line. So there was one line that I liked because I could reach it easier because it was next to a sidewalk and I would start putting my clothes there. So one day, my cousin who was a member of the community, took me by the hand, and takes me over there, and she points to that.
And there's a sign, there's a permanent sign by that line. And I'm like, Yeah because I don't read Hindi and she said it says venous line. And I looked at her I'm like, what about non-attachment, aren't you getting a little attached to this line? And she looks at me and just smiles. So it's an eternal struggle, I mean, it's not like, they have arrived at it.
But one of the things is to be thinking of others. And some sarvodaya is a way to do that because in several day, your baseline is thinking of how do I make sure, I'm including everybody and not only looking at what I want or what I need and it's not just including everybody. But it's creating it in a situation and atmosphere, a space where everybody can flourish. And if that is your goal that hats of not only looking at what you want, which then can slowly start to have you not increase your attachment to your ego. I don't know if that answers that, but it's a way to look at it.
ANN D. BRAUDE: Right. Thank you. I've started out Delfi's question, which I'm going to pose now. She says, I'm curious about the illiterate sisters you mentioned. Are they excluded from what you called intellectual labor? Are they encouraged to read and to learn to read and write?
SWASTI BHATTACHARYYA: Definitely, if they want to, right? Because remember, they see intellectual labor and manual labor is equal. So it's not that you're better, if you can write and read and if you can't, but they see it. So one of the sisters was illiterate and she was the one that was in charge of the cows, right? But she wanted to learn to read so she had classes, every day, she would meet with [INAUDIBLE] and they were teaching her the alphabet, and teaching her how to read because that was something she wanted, right? They don't push it on others because then, that would assume that you're smarter, you're better if you're educated and they don't believe that.
And who should be, I can't remember if I told this group that this story. But her book came out in 2006 and mine came out and we're sitting there washing dishes or standing there. And she says, you didn't write that book on your own, and I'm like well, what do you mean? It's like, it's not co-authored and she's like well, who cooked your food? Who made your food? Who was growing taking care of your house and all this stuff? And it's like, you're not-- we're not islands into ourselves.
In the US, we tend to think that individual rugged individuality that's not true, right? I mean, we can look at what's happening in Washington and it's directly affecting? Look at how many people have died because of COVID, people would have died, but decisions being made somewhere else do affect other people, right? So we are interconnected, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, and they just really do and they say we need to value them equally, right? Which is something our culture doesn't tend to do.
And I'll tell students, the people who clean our venerable argues that everybody should pay it the same. And I haven't met a person alive that actually agrees with this, but he says the only reason somebody should get paid more is because they're hungrier. Well, when you think about it, those, of us that are in classrooms those classrooms are nice and clean. We couldn't have the experience that we do with our students, if we didn't have people that cared about their jobs that were cleaning up the classrooms. Every time I've come into this office, it's been clean, the trash is gone, I mean, that enables me to do my work. And what their sisters are teaching is that we need to value that, and honor that equally and that we're not any better, just because we have a PhD, or we're the CEO, or something.
ANN D. BRAUDE: Good for thought for everyone on this call. Thank you. There's a few questions in the chat about men. This is a community of women, why is it a community of women, do they have views about gender and feminism? Do they-- how do they think about that and do men live in the ashram? Is another question in the chat.
SWASTI BHATTACHARYYA: So Yes. Men a few men do vino, but did. And he did the bhoodan yatra from 51 for 14 years and then when that was done, he moved to the ashram and the last 12 years of his life. He died in 82, that was his home and he had a room, he has, I mean, his room is now one of the places that they pray, right? And right outside the window of his room is the common place that they meet to pray and that's where they met when he was alive.
So he was a man, although what's funny is, when I was talking to my cousin one day, she was just ragging on his bed and she kept going on about how bad men were. And then, I said well Vinoba is a man and she goes no, he was a woman. So I mean, he-- they do, I mean, gender is an issue, there are women that are there, Gautam by lives there, he still does. And it's funny because he complains that he's the one that has to go in to do the banking and all that stuff. So he feels like, he's doing the grunt work for the sisters, but he's got a lot of power there, right? And he's helping them with that.
Vinoba had some male attendants that were there, and some one of them came back in the last couple of years and is living there and then visitors that come can stay there in a different space. When it comes to sexuality and those questions, I actually am looking forward to going back this summer or this next year and I want to explore that a little more with the sisters. I think while I was there, that wasn't a question that came up, I mean, they don't call themselves feminist, they don't call themselves peace activists, they don't take it on any of those labels, but they live it, right?
And so when it comes to those specific questions, I actually want to go back and explore what they would say, but their bottom line is several data, which is for everybody, right? Not just for women or just for men, they do want to have this group of women because it was something unique, you had men that were going off of that spiritual life. But women didn't have that capability and that opportunity, as much.
And so by coming together, they were able to do that. But the different thing for them as well, is that they're trying to gain enlightenment, as a community of women, as opposed to just going off into the mountains by themselves. And they'll argue, and I alluded to this that in the community, you can start to decrease your ego because you're paying attention to how others are responding to what you're doing.
Whereas, if you're up in the mountains by yourself, you almost could be reinforcing your ego, right? Thinking, Oh, man I think I'm arriving, I think I'm getting to where I'm not attached and then you get too attached to being not attached. And the sisters when you're living in community, it's a little harder to do that. So that is a question I'm going to be exploring more.
ANN D. BRAUDE: That points into Regina's question. She asked, could you please say more about the Cody and the manual intellect versus intellectual labor? By spinning and meditating, is there any expectation for spiritual rewards for the sisters?
SWASTI BHATTACHARYYA: Well, mine went in five different ways, I mean, the spinning there's not a separation, right? I mean, so the spinning is the reward, the meditating is the reward, the cloth in the end that you clothe yourself is the reward. But when I'm talking about manual labor and intellectual labor, you should be-- she was a teacher in a University, she's spinning the clock that's making-- she's spinning the thread from which she makes her cloth. So
She has that intellectual stuff, but then she's not just doing it just so that she can be dressed. So she's not naked, she talks about how and the high thinking part of the khadi, is that they're not participating in that global market economy that is suppressing so many, right? They are practicing non-attachment, they are practicing nonviolence, they are practicing sarvodaya of the uplifting of all, by making their own cloth. so that's where it's an intertwining of the two. Does that help?
ANN D. BRAUDE: I have a feeling you and Regina are going to be talking more about this. We just have a few more minutes and before I close out with the last question, I'm going to ask Tracy to post in the chat. And there it is, she always has 10 steps ahead of me, an announcement of our next lecture the female voice in the Koran, which will be on November 18 and we very much look forward to seeing many of you there.
I just love the question that Maureen Shannon Chapel put in the chat, which I think is the perfect way to end today's conversation. She asks, can you share a childhood memory of living in this community? I have to admit Swasti, there was a-- I think one of the very first pictures that you showed, there's a little girl with short hair in a print dress and I wondered, is that Swasti?
SWASTI BHATTACHARYYA: No, it wasn't. Because those were from before I was even born. So I'll share two real quick ones, one is I invited Vinoba to my six-year-old birthday party. And I have vivid memories of-- at the time, I didn't know who he was and I knew he was the leader, he was this guy. But now today, there are times I'm like damn and I wish I could talk to him because there's nuanced questions I have to ask that don't quite work with the sisters and my inability to speak in Hindi well enough.
But I remember going to him and I had written out my little invitation, and he looks at it, and he reads it, and then he speaks to me in Japanese because he knows my mom was Japanese. And he pats me on the head and I'm just looking at him because I didn't know Japanese and he says come to my room later. And so my brother and I go later and he hands me this thing, it's a rock, a carved rock.
And the ashram have in their excavations, they have-- excuse me, in digging up to plant things, they ended up excavating all these different statues. And so this thing that he gave me I'm looking at it, as an almost six-year-old and I'm like, Oh, it's a weird shaped duck. And for many, many years, I thought it was a duck. And it wasn't until I was in high school, when it fell on the floor and I could see, it's the bust of a statue where it's cut off at the neck, and the waist, and what's on the arm that I thought was the head of the duck is actually a jar that was on the shoulder of the person holding it. And I just remember him accepting me that way and seeing me.
And the other thing, I remember is I loved going that-- I hated the walk because we would walk from [INAUDIBLE] to pono, which is about a five mile walk. But when we got there at the time back then, they were making little miniature loaves of bread and we would each get our own loaf of bread. And I remember, just measuring that and it would just be out of this stone oven that they had, and I'd break it open, ans then I didn't know what it was then, but now I know it's the Gore. So it's a less processed sugar that's a syrup that you can put on it, and, that I would eat that and smell that and I loved going there because we would do that. And the sisters always welcomed me and I have to say, as an adult I took students and it was fascinating to see how they experience that space.
And in their journals, they talked about not having ever experienced that love from somebody who was a stranger and that's the thing that permeates that place. And I have friends that are like, Oh, it's so difficult, how can you live there? And I'm like, no this place is the only place that I can stop and think. I'm not running around to the next appointment to the next thing, from 12 to 2 is quiet time. And somebody was saying, Oh, they're so not progressive and that it's like, well, what's your definition of progress? How many times have you spent from 12 to 2 being able to reflect on the meaning of life? So thank you very much.
ANN D. BRAUDE: Thank you, Swasti. I can hardly say anything in response to that except to express my gratitude, to the women who invited you into their community, to be their student, and to be able to share their teachings and I'm so grateful to you for doing that. And thank you all for coming this afternoon and being part of this very rich conversation.
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