On this page you can read the experience of participants from a variety of the activities and retreats that have been organised by SanghaSeva since 2004. If you have been on one of our retreats we would love to hear from you again please share your experience with us
Read Jessica's article about her time in Anandwan Leprosy community, published in Vogue September 2007.
Or view as a PDF Vogue Article - The Magic Touch
Soft irregular patter of olives as they drop on the tarpaulin,
guttural Arabic stuttering, plop, plop, plop go the olives, branches gently
swaying eyes surveying distant hill and terraces, a face the colour of
brick dust cracks into a smile, a hunched bent shapeless figure bends to
pick up plum coloured olives from the dusty ground. Plop, patter, patter
plop, plop, donkey starts to eeeor, sueak, squeal and gasp asthmatic sigh.
Olive oil the colour of nectar or honey and bread as timeless as the hills; flat; warped and soft, hands deftly darting in, tearing, dipping, smearing creamy hummous and shiny black olives, licking lips everything tastes so good, appreciation all round as tastes of earth, fire, wind and water, mingle with the smoky tea. It dosent get better than this. I dip my bread in the beige hummous as humour surrounds me and the hubbub of people sharing a meal that’s being torn apart appreciatively.
But I soon miss the olives, a welcome slurp of sunset coloured tea and I am back in the swaying tree tops joyfully stripping the precious bitter fruits and letting them fall. A Kestrel catches my eye as its deadly eye scrutinizes the land for a movement that could be its meal, twisting and turning like a balletic dance, circling joyously on the invisible warm thermal. The continuous drone in the blue heavens, the angry roar of F16's- 'boys with their toys' I sigh to myself. I look up and only see the azure sky and the disappearing kestrel as it soars higher and higher. The sun pierces greyish clouds covering the surrounding hills in dark shadows; sullen hills now as the sun descends into late afternoon.
Ba’rtaa - Jodats welcome, each persons funny little ways, the sound of airplanes flying over,
Palestine, the kitchen in the clinic, people arriving from Middle-way, Janet and Aviv, Benoit talking, me
crying, Nurit laughing, Ism, young guy talking fast, strange stories, changing identities, love for life, on
buses with friends, holding hands in the sun with friends, no enemies, living life in the right way, tired of
dharma, mired in karma, supersonic silence, walking in the rain, the bell ringing in the morning,
Muslims marrying Jews, bad breath, people wanting everything to be perfect, being touched by the generosity of strangers, see no evil, hear no evil, worrying about things we cant change, lost in a sea of progress, going back to school, Gabi sniffs, energy in space without any explanations, looking for answers, meditation or action, must be one or the other. "The other" always round the corner, but we never get to meet them, racism in a new country.
Countries are backward, but no one wants to go forward. Losing lives for imagined concepts or distant dreams, but it’s all ok in the end, no reason for despair, living and dying going on and on, why do people only want half the deal. so much love for some people, less love for others, doesn’t seem fair. If we dropped all our concepts, how could we make a problem?
Mudras on a daily basis. Growing a beard. Walls and checkpoints and young soldiers with big guns. Nobody seems to think this strange. Lila's hospitality. Always rushing to try and make sense of things but the answers never last.
Words of wisdom from a prophet, but who cares about the future, when all that’s past is never coming back.
Israel Palestina postcard by Gabi
Read Steve's account of Picking Olives in a War Zone
Being in Sadhana Forest is an intense experience. Not always easy
in the surprising heat of late winter.
In the last two weeks of January, only a few weeks after the end of the winter monsoon, a group of 19 of us joined the young community to help bring new life to a barren area of South India. Their dream is to reforest 70 acres of land in the most sensitive and vegan way.
The community is led by the visionary Aviram, the ever-giving Yorit and their full of life daughter Osher. Their watchmen from the local community are felt to be both members of their community and their family. All of them work with the tireless passion of people following their dream.
Our homes for these days were thatched huts and an enormous canvas pulled over 100 year old towering native palms. Our beds were made in the traditional way jute-rope hand-woven over wood. It was beautiful, humbling and very very simple. Our home was a statement of the intention of the community; spirituality borne of simplicity. In the kitchen they don't use sugar or oil as they are cash-crops that deplete the earth. Nor do they have dairy products because they feel it is wrong and unnecessary to cause suffering to another living being. In every moment we were encouraged to look deeply at the consequences of our lives, and to allow our connection to nature to blossom.
Our work over the fortnight was to nurture the young tree saplings planted during the recently passed monsoon. Some had been buried in silt the now invisible river had left behind. We divided into teams, and in twos and threes we silently worked among these delicate but strong trees. One group re-revealing the bowl of earth each plant sits in, another following with a watering can with natural fertiliser in, giving each tree a good feed before the long wait to the next rain, and the last group adding the mulch; dead leaves we collected from the non-native trees.
This gentle nurturing work was possibly the single most transformative part of our time here. A love flowed through us for each tree as the earth is cleared, as the water is offered, as the surrounding area is delicately decorated.
In the second week we were joined by Gemma from Opendharma. Which allowed an even greater emphasis to dive into our inner process. Sitting in meditation in the last remaining few metres of the ancient forest. Still standing because it was protected by the gods themselves, the British, who destroyed much of the native forest, knew better than to destroy the forest temples. Having individual and group discussions in the shade, simply sharing our lives, where we are, how we are.
Of course we also had time to rest, jump into the pool, and sing together in the evenings. The whole retreat was physical in a way retreats are so often not, but rewarding to the heart in a way they so need to be.
(Sponsored Walk for Polio Affected)
Our friend Sanjay runs this charity mostly with local volunteers, who on their days off work travel out to one of the poorest areas of Bihar state. There they offer basic medical care through a Homeopathic doctor, and physiotherapy to children who have or had polio, cerebral palsy and meningitis. Also they are able to relieve the discomfort of older people who have suffered strokes. The work of the charity is most obvious in the cases of Polio where the involvement of the team can be the difference between walking and not.
Our walk began near Exmouth with a day of meditation and connecting to nature through activities and discussions. On the next day, a Sunday, we were joined by additional friends for one day and we began the walk. The feeling of silently walking alongside the expansive sea is so precious. To be doing so with a group holding the intention of positive change set the mood for the whole walk.
Some of us were walking to the edge of our limits, red faced and tired limbs, heavy breathing in the shade. But yet uplifted by the feeling that my limits are being met to help expand another’s.
On Sunday night many of the group who came for the one day walk left but the sense of purpose they helped grow remained with us. The route of the walk continually opened into amazing beauty of hidden vales, silent woods and enormous views. It also offered us timely reminders of our intentions through challenges both physical and emotional. It has been a satisfying experience of deep transformation.
Together we raised over £1,000 which will be enough to run the charity for 8 months. Although this is short of our dream of raising enough for the year, the satisfaction that so much good has come of this action encourages us to continue this fruitful path. We thank all of you who have made this possible. We bow to your generous spirit.
If you were not able to help before but would now like
to support the work of Sanjay and his team, please contact
Namaste dear Friends
Very many thanks for the people who helped us in such
Please say thanks to everyone you know, and special thanks to you all who are such great persons in the
world who want to support the suffering people in the world.
It was really great help to fill energy in our workers becouse we were not paying them for long time. We did not have money but we still had material to work, the staff knew that they will get salary in the end. I am very much thankful to them for doing continue such good work without pay.
Weather is crazy in Bihar now everyday storm and rain coming which will disturb the monsoon.
I hope you all are doing ok there, I wish all the best for all people who are supporting the work,
Namaste with love big hug,
Sanjay Kumar Shailendra
Sitting by the waters of the River at Inverness.
I feel that this that I call myself life is not fully commited to life.
Whilst I have worked towards a more balanced life and commitment it still
feels like this is only watching the water from the bank and not going
with the flow towards a fully liberated life.
What is it? Why is this so? My life three years or so ago was in turmoil, now things are settling down more and there is an understanding between the disillussionment that was, and in some ways still is, and the truth that really pervades this, what this calls, existence. Well I am pretty good at fooling myself and that is all this fool seems to do most of the time and whilst I feel more comfortable in myself I am only a little more at ease. When one looks at what has been done in the desire for more comfort it is no wonder that ease with being seems rather distant, fear and doubt seem to undermine heart and the mind is constantly unsettled but for some reason one chooses to ignore this heart felt call and life is numbed, comfortably numb (alas Pink Floyd, the Wall).
Each of us are reponsible for our actions and the illussion of comfort and it's pursuit has cost us dearly. What became of the Beaver, the boar, the wolf, the Lynx, the bear and of course the trees, what has become of our connection with life? Scotland, like most of the UK, like most of the world was once covered in trees a cosmic web of life and whilst this remains part of history doesn't the saying go that history is in the making. The disconnection with life and the minds constant pursuit for comfort and pleasure, has created much suffering both to that which I call myself and to all that is percieved to be beyond 'life and living' the construction of which has created a hugh chasm in my heart. Healing the heart and following it's call even through the thickest of doubt eventually brings some insight and ease to the situation. The triple gem and it's light that shines through the bodhisatvas will warm and come to the call and slowly my heart warms from the deep freeze. One begins to realise that there is the dharma to be followed and work to be done not for this and that but because that is what is right for what is.
Finding a way and the Buddha points to a middleway that is non dual and of complete compassion, between all extremes being at ease with what is and not being pulled along by the desire for comfort at the expense of living. Now can this really make a full commitment to what is and give back what this has falsley identified as me, myself and I? Can we give back to that which is unknown and of complete wilderness, the Beaver, the boar, the wolf, the Lynx, the bear the trees? Healing can be a long process and the trees for life project is I think something like 250 years in which time we could easily be in another ice age, but maybe it won't matter because all would have been done that needed to be.
Thank you to all those Bodhisatvas who work with life for life. Trees for Life through the dharma for the dharma with the dharma helped to shed a little more light on this heart and life that this calls me.
The children live together, hearing impaired with visually impaired, in dormitory rooms surrounding a
large play area. I would come here when school was over to just be with them.
eagerly into their life?
The truth is there is nothing better than being with people who want you around, and are happy to take you as you are.
We brought drums, flutes and chimes for the visually impaired boys, and watched them distribute the instruments then dance off in a circling pattern to a delightful cacophony. Some days when the energy was a little lower, and the instruments fewer, we could sit on the wall together and exchange songs. I loved to hear their young voices filling the air in call and response.
At the same time one or more of us would join the hearing impaired daily cricket match, and lose. The skills of the players would make them professionals in most western countries. It took a while for them to realise that I was really nowhere near their ability, despite being twice their height, but eventually the ball was bowled slowly to me, and I managed to hit it.
We communicated together in a "give us a clue" based sign language we all seemed to enjoy chatting in. Every day we could attempt more advanced concepts and even get a little abstract. And although neither side could be certain the other fully understood, how much does that matter when the conversation is so much fun?
With the visually impaired we were on more shaky ground they did not know much English, and we didn't know much Marati (their language). But once one knew our intentions, the Marati whispers went fast. Also we learnt a little Marati as time went by, but the universal language of touch and music communicated the most.
With the hearing impaired girls our connection was quite different, we were just hanging out. Although we played games sometimes, even more emphasis was on conversation. I would say they were more talented than the boys at explaining themselves, and we got to know more about their lives, their families, their ambitions and dreams. I feel they got to know more about us too.
The girls were full of opinions, especially about the visual world. They would always let us know when our clothes were scruffy, and ask the women why they hadn't brushed their hair that day. But they did this with such caring that it was never offensive, and more loving than if they hadn't.
My heart softens when I remember them. When visitors would come to look around Anandwan, the girls would sometimes be asked to line up and receive sweets. Each time they would demand a few extra sweets and bring them over to share with us. Then we would all sit on their beds smacking sweet fruity chews together, while the TV played silently, and our fingers danced.
The best days of my life.
Leaning into the wind
Somewhere not far away
Flying with the wind
Open moor lands, dark woods.
Not so wild wild boar, like cuddly toys,
Tired evenings by the fire
Estar una semana con la sangha, a restaurar el bosque fue una experiencia maravillosa, a todos los niveles. Primero estuve haciendo algo que para mi significa mucho, plantar árboles: dar oxigeno a la Tierra, darle vida, agua, dar sombra o casa para los animales, y sobre todo devolverle a los highlands su antigua forma de bosque. Al estar una semana en la naturaleza, a conectar con ella, a sentir el viento, la lluvia, el sol, al admirar los arco iris y todas las tonalidades de verde que se encuentran allí, hizo que me llenara de energía, de paz. Y sentía que hacía algo que beneficiaba a todos, sin tener expectativas de resultado ya que estaba haciendo algo que tiene una dimensión temporal muy diferente a la que estamos acostumbrados: estaba haciendo algo que tenía consecuencias a largo plazo.
Además, compartir ese trabajo con la sangha es algo que me ha llenado aun más, porque he podido conocer a personas que han elegido un cierto camino en la vida, y eso me ha inspirado mucho. Y las charlas del Dharma también fueron interesantes, al compartir nuestras experiencias y opiniones sobre temas muy diversos, y apoyándonos los unos a los otros.
Lo que más me ha gustado es que no había ningún tipo de presión, me he sentido muy libre aunque estuviéramos en grupo. Al trabajar a veces en silencio, que sea solo o con otra persona, me ha permitido conectar mejor con la naturaleza y conmigo mismo. Poder vivir el momento presente, hacer las cosas a mi propio ritmo.
Otra cosa que me pareció muy interesante, es que estuvimos haciendo trabajos muy diversos, desde recoger semillas, plantar árboles pero también cortándolos. Estuvimos trabajando en todos los diferentes ciclos de vida del bosque, y eso me llenó muchísimo.
Fue una semana muy especial para mí y ojala
muchas más personas vivirán esa experiencia que me ha aportado
An experience of service as Dharma practice in Anandwan Leprosy Community, India
Yesterday afternoon after a relaxing and very joyful time working in the fields we met an old man and a group of people on their daily walk around Anandwan. We were asked if we wanted to join them. As we started walking it occurred to us that we were walking in the footsteps of a man who has radically dedicated his life to selfless service and through that created a place that seems to continuously breath a breath of love, kindness and care to all those who live here or visit. Anandwan is a community dedicated to a dignified life for all. Started fifty years ago by Baba Amte and his family to heal leprosy patients, it offers all outcasts and rejects of society an opportunity for a full and independent life. As Baba Amte walked, supported by a nurse, he took in every sight with a sense of delight. Everyone he passed stopped to bring their hands to their hearts, silently acknowledging what a refuge this place had become for them. Baba Amte’s intimacy with everyone and everything seemed to shine.
Ten friends have been here for three weeks exploring the relationship between inner inquiry and outer action. We have been working along side the people of Anandwan while supporting each other through daily sitting practice and dharma discussion. Our work includes helping in the kitchen, organizing activities for the blind and mute children in the school, dressing wounds in the hospital and working in the fields along side old women and men whose fingers and toes are no longer there. Forgetting the differences between them and us, we have become oblivious to the fact that limbs and fingers are missing.
What seems to shine through every blind face and distorted body is the wholeness of a human life. Many of us came here with an agenda of how we would help, wanting a purpose and physical concrete evidence of our contribution. We soon realized that although Anandwan runs very smoothly, and is not in desperate need of our help, there is still value in us being here. This provoked a deep investigation into the notion of giving. One insight that has been very powerful is the understanding that just by being here and participating fully in the daily rhythm there is a transformation: letting go of expectations and connecting more to the simplicity of life living itself. Not needing to know the outcome of our actions, whether they seem concrete and obviously helpful like changing dressings in the hospital or as intangible as simply working together in the fields.
Being touched and moved by the people here, by the earth and by each other and trusting in the love that flows through us all. What we do doesn’t seem as important as the way in which we do it.To use the words of Baba Amte ‘The joy in Anandwan is more infectious than the disease in Anandwan’.
We feel deeply inspired by the simple joy of life here. Deeply infected by the love here. We have learnt that there is a very simple way of giving, of being, not as a separate action but as part of a greater whole. Both of us have been dipping in and out of service work for the last five years. We have found during the time in Anandwan that service combined with meditation and sangha support is a profound and rich experience and as heart opening and liberating as a silent meditation retreat.
Images of swept roads in the early morning, people walking the streets
on their way to work, collecting chai in a small metal container from
the communal kitchen before the sun has even risen.
White houses with round roofs and broken coloured tiles that reflect the heat and keep the homes cool.
Rose gardens, lanes with big trees full of birds, lakes full of fish, banana and chilli fields, pink flower bushes framing the road, schools full of laughing children, hospitals with doctors that are committing their life to the service of others.
Scenes of truly humble people raising their broken hands to a sincere namaste, people with big smiles showing gratitude to be alive.
people of Anandwan have gained back their self respect and live a harmonious
respectful life among each other and somehow I feel a strong aliveness
radiating from their being.
I feel inspired, overwhelmed, touched by what I see and feel in the Forest of Bliss.
My heart crumbles under the intensity of the beauty and love I see and feel around me. New worlds open up and my view widens.
I feel this place is shaking every cell of my body, turning everything upside down, leaving me on a new plane, somewhere where I haven't been before but somewhere that offers more possibility and gives enormous freedom.
Coming to Anandwan to serve people I have first of all served myself.
Coming here to help I have helped myself.
Coming here to give to others I have given to myself.
I feel it's been a great privilege to have had the chance to come to such a special and unique place, to meet such beautiful people and to be part of their life for just a little bit.
I feel deep gratitude not only because Anandwan has helped me to look at life in a different way but also because it has changed something deep inside of me that is changing the way I live my life.