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You see that you can’t see

Last Monday morning at about 6 AM, my friend, Visakha and I set out from Mumbai to travel by car to the Govardhan Eco Village, about two hours outside of Mumbai. The usual deadlocked traffic is less at this time, so we drove through the early morning fog and smog with relative ease.

India is a land of extremes, as are places like New York. It’s just more raw and in your face here. To me, India always seems to be in a perpetual state of construction and deconstruction. Driving across a bridge in the barely visible city, Visakha asked me if I knew the name of the river we were crossing. “There’s a river here? You can see that you can’t see it.”
As we drove on, we passed billboards enticing the wealthy to luxury high-rises, Swiss watches, and diamond jewelry. Behind the billboards, we see the meant-to-be-unseen slums of Mumbai. Where thousands dwell in shantytowns of differing degrees of squalor. Some of them are farmers who’ve left their land in desperation due to failed harvests. Many of those farmers have committed suicide, having sacrificed their grandfathers’ heirloom seeds to pressure from companies like Monsanto; many have come to cities like Mumbai to beg and somehow subsist.
We are traveling Govardhan Eco Village to attend a conference called Hinduism and Ecology that’s being co-sponsored by Yale Divinity School. Environmental activists and scholars from the US, Europe and India are here giving papers, forging coalitions and offering hope for solutions to daunting environmental problems. GEV has been listed by UNESCO as a World Green Travel destination. You might have a look at their website (govardhanecovillage.org) to see the innovations they’ve come up with there to date.
Radhanath Swami opened the conference quoting Bhagavad Gita’s many verses about seeing God in nature: Bhagavan Sri Krsna says, “I am the taste of water; the light of the sun and the moon; the ability in all people…” He spoke of how environmental contamination begins with contamination of the heart: when our hearts become polluted with greed to acquire more than we need, the external result is that the rivers, the mountains, and the air become polluted as well. Isopanishad advises us to accept only what we need, knowing well to Whom all things actually belong.
A Bengali Vaisnava scholar named Abhisek Bose quoted the third Siksastakam prayer of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu:
“One should be more humble than a blade of grass; more tolerant than a tree; one should be ready to offer all respects to others and not expect honor for oneself.”
He said that in this way Caitanya has inverted the anthropocentric pyramid to place grass and trees at the top and human beings at the very bottom.
Srivatsava Goswami was the keynote speaker. He spoke powerfully of Krsna’s love for the holy land of Vrndavan; and about the selflessness of the earth as the ever-giving sacred feminine goddess.
After dark each night at GEV, there is an aarti ceremony (a ceremony offering prayers with kirtan, lights, and incense) offered to the River Yamuna, the river goddess who has been recreated there, although she is disappearing from her own native Vrndavan landscape.
Bridget Cappo was there visiting from Supersoul Farm in Chatham, New York. During the beautiful Yamuna aarti Brij felt so conflicted feeling the pain of the original Yamuna River goddess who is being so exploited by corporate interests. The sacred river is being dammed up at Haryana to grow rice for export, leaving Delhi and further on Vrndavan only a trickle of polluted runoff water. (Please go to YouTube to watch the trailer: Rescuing the Stolen River)
We left in moods of introspection:
Let me see what I can do to see more clearly: what can I do to live more simply, to reduce the unseen greed in my heart to acquire more than what I need? Until we can open our hearts to love, we see but we don’t really see.

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