Jesse walked along the dry dusty track which was bordered by lush tropical vegetation; palm trees, ginger plants with sweet smelling flowers, the occasional coconut tree rising above a variety of ferns and plants with huge fan shaped leaves. On one side the sea washed up onto white sands, cool and green and on the other small plantations and farms stretched out to the base of fluted lava formations. “This is so different from Vermont!” He thought to himself for the hundredth time since he had landed on the small island.
“Man, you’ll have to go to this far out ‘communey,’ woofer type place once you get off the main island of Oahu,” his friend Tim had enthused, when Jesse was making plans to visit Hawaii. “They have the best food in the world. You’ll see the sign, just follow these directions.” Tim had drawn a map for Jesse and so here he was, wandering off the beaten track, looking for an old painted sign inviting anyone and everyone to drop in for a meal and Kirtan. Jesse wasn’t sure what he was getting into but Tim made it sound really cool and Jesse’s stomach was growling. Free food sounded like a really good idea right now. Jesse could have easily missed the sign. It was fairly high up in a coconut tree, on a small board with faded words that said, “Free meal and Kirtan chant, every Saturday, 4.00 pm, 500 yards.” Underneath there was an arrow pointing down a track and Jesse turned into it and soon came upon well structured gardens, with a few people kneeling and tending plants and beyond them a rambling wooden house with a few sheds scattered here and there. People were standing around on the veranda and one of them waved to Jesse as he spotted him walking up the path.
“Hiya, welcome to ‘Welina Farm,’ you are just in time for the meal.”
“Sounds good, are you the owner?” said Jesse as he came up the steps.
“Oh no, I’m a ‘haumana’ a student but I have been here for a few years.”
“A few years,” Jesse thought to himself, “Tim was only here for two days. What does ‘Welina’ mean”
“Oh, that’s Hawaiian for welcome!”
“We are starting Kirtan soon, you know what that is?”
Jesse shook his head, he knew it was some sort of singing because Tim had mentioned it but hadn’t gone into any details.
“Kirtan is spiritual sounds, we all take part in it before we eat and we have Kirtan evenings through the week as well.”
Jesse looked around him. A variety of people were sitting and standing along the veranda. Young people, some older folks, some people who looked like they had just walked out of the seventies, others who had that earthy look of gardeners with their rough hands and plain clothing. “Is there somewhere I can wash up,” he asked.
“Yep, just inside the door to the right is a bathroom. My name is Rama, by the way, it’s great you found your way here. I think you’ll like it. The deal is that you can stay as long as you like in exchange for work throughout the day. Afternoons we can go to the beach and into the market in town, the life is simple but good. Plenty of fresh food and stimulating conversation. I’ll wait for you to clean up and show you where to go.”
Jesse splashed warm water over his face and dried off on his towel. He could hear the strains of music coming from further inside the house. Stepping out he followed Rama down the cool hall and into a large room where many people were seated on cushions on the floor or standing against the wall. Some people were squashed up together on chairs and sofas along the walls. Cooking smells wafted through the building. At the front of the room a man and woman were sitting at musical instruments; the woman had a guitar and the man a small organ like instrument that droned and hummed as he sang very loudly to the crowded room. Rama pointed to posters on the walls and told Jesse that all the words he would hear being sung, were on them. Jesse stood just inside the doorway and leaned against the wall. He listened for a while until his ears became attuned to the unusual words, ones he had never heard before. ‘Aum Hari Aum, Aum Hari Aum.’ Jesse looked at the poster and made sure he was singing it correctly. The man would sing and then stop and then the crowd would respond with the same sound, then stop and the lead singer would sing again and then the crowd once more. Sometimes the tune and the words would change but the method was the same. Jesse closed his eyes and listened to these sounds. “Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana” was the song they were singing this time and they had been singing it for ten minutes or so.
Jesse had been to a few concerts where the crowd would sing with the band and he always felt that was pretty cool, to be in amongst a huge crowd all singing together but this was different to that. He couldn’t figure just how it was different but then he wasn’t trying too hard, he was allowing the sounds to wash over him and as he joined in, he was exhilarated somehow by the words and the music and just by being down a country track with a group of people singing spiritual songs.
The singing came to an end and people came in with plates of food which they handed out to the crowd. Jesse plopped himself down onto the floor from where he had been standing and looked at the amazing spread of food before him. Rama came and sat beside him, “You a vegetarian, he asked?” “Yeah, I am, said Jesse.” He had been a vegetarian most of his life, his parents were environmentalists and they maintained that if a person really cared about changing the way the earth was being utilized, then one had to stop supporting animal farming practices. Jesse was in his third year of environmental science and forestry studies but had decided to take a year off before completing the next two years. His passion was to plant forests and trees wherever he could. To somehow give back to Mother Earth, new life in the form of trees; in his dream of the future, he saw great barren expanses changing through the vast spreading of forests. Hopefully by his own plan and his own hand. Vermont was covered by such beautiful forests and Jesse wanted the world to look like that.
Jesse couldn’t believe how good the food tasted. Rice and salads, spicy pineapple fritters, mango bread and vegetarian calzones all washed down with a delectable tropical soda all made from locally grown produce. “Do you guys eat like this every night?” he asked Rama. Rama laughed, “No way, this is our special meal night when we invite people in to experience a different way of eating and in general living. We eat pretty simply the other days but it is all just as delicious.”
“It tastes fantastic,” said Jesse, “Mind you I was pretty hungry, and it’s a bit of a trek into here.”
Rama laughed again, “Yep, but nice and peaceful once you are here and what we practice here is the action as well as the idea.”
“What do you mean?” asked Jesse.
“Well you know how people want solutions to all the daily stresses,” Jesse nodded. “Well, if you ask them they usually say something like, ‘I just want to go and live on a tropical island, or I just want to get away from it all.’ We are doing it here, this is a tropical island and we are away from the frenzied city life but it’s not escapism, in fact, we are learning about and solving life’s bigger problems, not just what new car will I buy or what do the people across the street think of us.” Jesse was intrigued. “What do you do to figure that stuff out?”
Rama pointed across the room to where the two people who had been leading the singing were sitting. “They are husband and wife and they have lived here for many years running this ashram and inviting people in. Some people stay a day or two, some people stay a year or two. They are Nama das and Satya dasi, the names are Sanskrit and in a moment, after we have eaten, one of them will give a small introductory class on the Vedic teachings. Jesse was spooning the last of his food off his plate and finishing off the delicious drink. “I’ll take those for you,” said Rama, taking the plate and glass off the floor, standing up and going around several other people, picking up their plates and glasses as well and disappearing behind a curtained doorway into the kitchen. Jesse got up to help him and he and Rama and a few other people quickly cleared the dishes away to be washed up. While people were getting themselves settled for the talk, Jesse heard the music start up again and he plopped himself down against the door. The singing was just as melodic and soothing as before and after only a short while, Nama das stopped the Kirtan and announced that Satya dasi would give a short talk.
Jesse wasn’t sure what he was going to hear, he had no expectations, he felt comfortable and a bit sleepy after the food but very relaxed and content.
Satya dasi folded her hands in front of her and said “Namaste” to the crowd. “Namaste means, ‘I offer my respects to you the self dwelling within the material covering.’” She went on to explain that the whole world is racing toward one goal or another, and some of those goals might be for the greater good, but some people’s goals might be for greater evil. It did not matter what the goal was because ultimately if the goal you were chasing was in connection with the material world and it did not in fact wake you up to your real identity as a spiritual being, then the only end-result would be the death of the body. If this was the culmination of your lifelong struggle then you would be compelled to again take another material body and start the whole process all over again. But if somehow or other you had the good fortune to come into contact with spiritual sound vibration such as was being offered this evening, then you could eventually come to understand the real meaning of ‘Namaste.’ You would be able to see that all living beings are spiritual in essence but temporarily covered by a mortal shell. Satya dasi continued with some of the finer points of this understanding, giving examples of the science behind these great Vedic truths, explaining the differences between the inert material energy and the eternal spiritual energy. “And this is why we have this wonderful Kirtan, we engage in singing together as often as we can, because these sounds are not ordinary. They have a long lasting effect on you the person dwelling within and in fact they are the food that each and every one of us desires. They are the medicine which will soothe our restless hearts. As spiritual beings we need spiritual food and if we use these sounds on a daily basis we will become content and our goals will encompass spiritual ideas first and then other things will fall into place. Let’s sing a little more and thank you for coming. Please come again. You are all most welcome, most welina.”
Jesse knew within himself that what he had just heard was exactly what he needed to hear. His goals to plant trees were good ideas but he had always seen some emptiness there as well. He himself had had the same thoughts that Satya dasi had spoken of: so, he would go off and spend his whole life planting forests and then he would die. He knew it was a worthy cause but in his heart of hearts he knew he was looking for something deeper, something that would help him grow somehow. He had spent a lot of time wanting to know more but he just hadn’t figured out what it was. Now in a nutshell Satya dasi had defined what his goals should be. Not to give up his desire to plant and grow things but to add another dimension to it. To have spiritual goals and to see all life as spiritual.
After one year…
Rama and Jesse were stretched out under one of the large spreading mango trees. It was late morning, the heat of the day steadily rising. They had been in the gardens since sunrise and now they had stopped for some water and a late breakfast. “You remember when you first came here?” asked Rama.
“Yep, I sure do,” said Jesse, “It has to be a year and a bit now, why?”
“Oh, I just remember you asking me, if we always ate like kings, and I am looking at these delicious pies and fruit salad and I believe the answer is, yes, we do!”
They both laughed at the old memory.
Jesse had arranged to finish his degree by long distance learning so he could stay at the farm. He had also started the permaculture course offered by Nama and Satya. He wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. His life had changed so much since he walked down that dusty road just over a year ago but it seemed like a lifetime. So much had changed in his life and he felt blessed. He had a better understanding of who he was, not his physical or mental capabilities but who he actually was. His life had taken an unexpected turn and because of it he had found a place where he could grow in all the ways he needed to. Jesse looked over at Rama, he couldn’t believe the world he lived in now. He felt very grateful that he had been given these opportunities.
Nothing was missing. His material needs were being met in relation to his forestry ambitions but more especially his spiritual journey was being fulfilled.
Jesse picked up the bowl of fruit salad. Pineapple, banana, mango, paw paw and oranges with some lilikoi thrown in for good measure. Great food, great people, great lifestyle, nothing wanting. He had been attending the Vedic knowledge classes every day since he arrived, he enjoyed the Kirtan singing so much he didn’t want it to end and he would fall asleep with the mantras in his mind.
Rama had shown him how to practice japa yoga using beautiful wooden beads made from the holy basil tree called Tulasi. Each morning everyone had the choice to join the japa yoga session in the Kirtan room or just spend time alone with beads using the sounds of “Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana.” Jesse liked to sit under one of the big trees around the property and chant his japa there. He liked the way he could say the sounds softly to himself and place his whole attention on them. ‘Gopala,’ he would start, listening to the way the word felt in his ears, ‘Govinda,’ followed, softly soothing him, ‘Rama,’ dropping into his mind and taking up his concentration and then flowing together, the two words as one, ‘Madana-Mohana.’
In this process of meditation, he spoke the mantra over and over, touching each individual bead and lightly closing his eyes. He found that after a period of time he felt peaceful within himself, that the sounds themselves were nourishment for him, the self. Jesse put the beads into his pocket, stood up and stretched and made his way to the fields where Rama and others were starting the daily garden work.
Many people came and went. Jesse had made friends with others like himself, young people wandering around looking for solutions to the problems they saw around them. Some stayed for several months, others stayed for a few days. Everyone was welcome to stay or leave as they wished. Jesse knew there would be a time when he would go off to pursue his dreams but he knew that when that day came, his spiritual goals would be his guiding light and all other things would follow. For now he was content to learn, to grow, to accept the gifts Mother Nature and his companions were offering him. He had been given a gift and he had accepted it in its fullest measure and was now receiving the benefits of that gift of love and care.