World Was a Library

World Was a Library

"Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library…"
--Chief Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux

These wise words of an American Indian sage remind me of my own life's knowledge learned from sources outside of the books. I learned in this way almost all my life, but the process became more conscious when I lived in rural settings for several years beginning in 1952. Let me illustrate by describing experiences of my second long sojourn in a village.

My family and I lived 8 years in a small village (1979 to 1987) in Central India where I led a natural farming experiment at a Quaker Center. Though it was a small institution we managed to generate our own big and small crises. At such times my wisest friend and counselor was a 100+ years old Pipal tree growing in the back of our house. I would meet him with a hug and quietly sit down leaning my back against his massive trunk. He spoke to me and often taught by sharing his own experiences. "Look at me," he would (of course quietly) say. "I have lived through bigger problems; but without fail, life dissolves them as butter on a hot pan."

Dogs taught me many things about health. For instance one or more of them would always come with me for morning walks. Sometimes when I over slept, a waiting dog would bark to wake and remind me. By this and other actions they taught me that exercise was as important for good health as right food. During these morning walks the dogs every day defecated on the ground; they would scratch the ground, drop their excreta, smell and examine it, then cover it with dirt. Following their good example I did as they. From them I learned the importance of checking excreta every morning to know if the food one ate the previous day was properly digested, whether the quantity and content were right, and how to adjust all these during the dawning new day. Vinoba Bhave who ate healthy diet in measured quantities all his life and also carefully checked his own body's functioning without help of pathologists endorsed this experience of mine. He used strongly to recommend "prabhate mala darshanam", i.e. every morning examine your own feces.

A bull taught me love. We had a young bull in our dairy named Bali. I had brought him from Jaisalmer, in Rajasthan, when he was less than one year old. Every morning and evening I would have a session of my petting him and his licking me. He expressed displeasure when I failed to visit him. At age 3 he was very big and strong like a full-grown breeding bull, but his actions were like a child's. Occasionally, when by mistake his enclosure's gate was left open, he would walk out to prance around and explore the world. People would get excited and try to send him back by shouting or brandishing sticks. These threats had as much effect on Bali as barking dogs on a passing elephant. As the last resort I would be called to intervene. Bali would come straight to me and licked my hand. We would walk around together for some time and then go back to the dairy. Once in his enclosure, Bali would start feeding from his manger. I would leave him never forgetting to say goodbye in our normal style.

I learned a great deal more from plants and animals then and am continuing to do so. The enduring lesson I leaned is that nature's wisdom is written clearly all around us, including our own bodies. Reading it can teach us more than the words heard from teachers or read in books.

September 23, 2006