by Jason Francis
Share International Magazine
SI: What is the personal background like of many of the children who are helped by Ramana’s Garden?
PD: For them to live in Ramana’s Garden they have either no parents or a justifiable reason why they couldn’t remain with a single parent; a drunk and abusive father would be a reason, especially if he was involved in the mother’s death, or a widow with absolutely no way to sustain themselves or their children would be another reason. We also have a number of refugees who have come to us after the Maoist Guerilla war in Nepal. Because of wars going on in Nepal many children have lost their families. And girls who were sold into prostitution, we rescue them before they can actually get used in brothels. There is no one in the home itself who isn’t coming from a severely traumatic background or they wouldn’t be here.
SI: How are the overall mindset, self-esteem and self-image of the children being changed?
PD: We notice a huge change. The main thing is the kids empower themselves through their creativity mainly. We have a dance troupe that danced in the number one _Spa/Resort, Anand Himalaya. It was rated number one in the world recently. And they present cultural programs there every week so that’s very confidence building, creates a lot of self-esteem. The dance troupe was been invited to Tour England in summer.They traveled to England to present “Giving It All Back”, cultural presentations for one of England’s oldest resort chains called “Butlins” as well as offering presentations in Omand Street Children Hospital and many underprivileged schools.
The children who live in Ramana’s Garden make most of their own clothes and clothes for the poor children. As part of our vocational training we run our own bakery and Organic Café; so the children are very empowered. The beautiful baked goods are desired by so many people. The children are with the customers when they are actually serving in the café. The children also have their own gift shop where they make jewelry and sell it. These things are very empowering. Once you recognize your self-worth and your self-value than you come to an understanding that whatever has happened to you in the past has given you the strength and courage to be where you are now. And they begin to see what a tremendous advantage they have.
SI: You were going to leave India at one point but you had quite an experience with The River Ganga (Ganges) flooding the cave you were staying in and sweeping all of your belongings away. Could you tell us what you learned from that experience?
PD: I believe what the master intended for me to learn was that you can never put your foot in the same river twice being that change is infinite and never-ending. The message of the river was to understand that everything is in flux, everything is in constant change. And to come to really not only understand but live in impermanence and non –attachment, because it’s is only there that you will truly find what is needed to be at peace within oneself. I believe that’s why he sent me there. The impermanent part was the river rising and taking my cave and all of my earthy possessions. I feel whether I actually accomplished everything he sent me there to do I’m not sure I can answer that. What it did give me is a tremendous trust in life and existence and certainly an ability to live much more in the present, in the here and now.
SI: Could you describe your concept of an inner, rather than material, “abundance” and why you feel that type of abundance is important?
PD: For the children it’s essential because no one can know what our future will be. No one can know when something could take the walls down around us and send the children back into the street. There’s nothing that I can give them on a material level that can ever give them true security anymore than I could say that if we had million$, which we certainly don’t, in the bank that would give us true security. The only thing that’s going to give myself, the children, or anyone for that matter, security is, when they understand that it isn’t about what they have on the outside. It’s about knowing who they really are. It’s about having inner gratitude and you can’t take that away from them even if the outer stuff collapses around us if they really have trust in who they really are and their self-worth. They’ve come from nothing; if you have a rich comfort zone you fear losing that; you have a lot more attachments. The kids came out of nothing; some of them came really right out of the gutter; they know that they survived there. And we try to make them understand their misfortune was a divine gift. I believe, that you learn what you live. And through living they’ve had the opportunity to see the darkest of the dark. That will give them eyes to appreciate the life they’re living now. Not to fear that they might return to the dark, but to understand what they have within them can never be taken away. I mean we are very happy if we have walls around us, a bed to sleep in, and lots of food to eat but our being, our true happiness, isn’t going to depend on that. Life gives us enough opportunity to understand and experience that when we really don’t have enough money to run this project. When money is getting really tight I see the kids really make do with what we have and I don’t see anyone being depressed about it. We had a really meager Christmas where we just almost had no presents, and everybody made things, made cards, and recycled things. They was much more gratitude for what little we had, that we were together, that we were able to have anything at all.
SI: You claim this hardship is part of the teaching. Could you explain what you mean?
PD: It must be part of our lessons to learn from, it keeps happening and happening. I’ve been traveling for funding this project for eighteen years. I usually do a full around the world, eighteen or twenty cities. I meet the CEOs of companies everyday that could write me a single check and take care of this project for the next twenty years of its life and no one has done so. So, there must be some teaching in the fact that we go up and down and in and out of hardship otherwise the material abundance would have arrived; it could happen today. We can only accept that it hasn’t happened yet because we are supposed to become better surfers with what is.
SI: What do you mean by “Say YES Now”?
PD: Exactly that; that is the name of the whole project. It’s saying “yes” to “now”; now when there’s abundance, now when we have cake and ice cream, and yes to the times when we just have enough to eat but with the same yes. Not just saying yes to the way we would like it to be because then we’ll suffer because there is always going to be conflict and things that are not the way we would like it to be. And just accepting whatever is happening now. That’s so important to these kids because I can’t promise; I don’t know how long we’re going to last. And people get really “freaked out” with me: “You have no financial security at all. How can you be doing that?” Well, because we are doing it, that’s just how it is. So, we try to constantly keep the focus on the “now”. Now saying we have enough—maybe not as much as yesterday, maybe tomorrow there will be more, but neither of those things are a reality. Right now we have enough and we have enough to be grateful for. That is what really matters: living in gratitude.