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When 150 free-spirited people got together

April 16, 2011

A revolution was created…

Some called it Learning Societies Conference, some Learning Societies unConference. Rinpoche ji (Prime Minister, Tibet and Monk) called it Learning Societies Gathering. “Let’s not call it a conference, it is more of a gathering, where people full of compassion and courage have come together to discuss, learn and co-create beauty”, he told us on the very last day.

150 interesting people had gathered for 6 days in Bir (a Tibetan village two hours from Dharamshala, the seat of Tibet’s government-in-exile, home to Buddhist monasteries), a place also somewhere up there in the Himalayas.

There was something different about these 150 – these were people who are fearlessly and relentlessly challenging the system itself, the very core of the system. We had amongst us –

  • Artists who believe creativity cannot be taught but only nourished (As Picasso had said, “Every child is born an artist; the problem is to remain one once they grow up”),
  • Alternative educators who are challenging the monopoly of factory-schooling where children are not encouraged to question but continuously fed with knowledge,
  • Home-schoolers, who are letting their children learn the natural way, as they believe that every child is unique and born with great ability to learn and live.
  • Zero-waste champions, people who believe that we can live a life without producing any waste, and not be a cause of the huge dumping grounds outside our city,
  • Organic farmers, do-nothing farmers, who are bringing back the old practices, who believe that if we value and trust nature, nature would value us, who hate looking at anything as resource. “Plants are our relatives, not resource”, they say.
  • Alternative Healers, who urges us to talk to our bodies, take care of it as a temple for our soul, who are working hard towards reviving the lost healing science that greats like Charaka and Susruta had found.
  • Spiritual seekers who believe that every man has to find his own truth, and that today we have forgotten who we are. They feel and fear the road our society is heading to, a complete consumer society devoid of sentiments and trust.

And many more interesting people from varied parts of the world and cultures – people who are nurturing diverse learning communities – from those creating alternative learning platform for children in Iran to freedom fighters from Tibet and Egypt had gathered in Deer Park (a center for learning Indian traditional wisdom).

We all used to meet in the morning, play some games and then organically divide into our short groups, some holding serious discussions on learning and creativity, while some trying to make jewellery out of waste products, some trying their hands at learning through trekking, while others listening to Egypt’s struggle from a person who was a part of it. This was the first ‘no/zero – plan’ conference I had attended.

The best part for me was meeting these 150 mavericks/ free-spirited people, who are out there to question the system, the beliefs, and fight for what they believe in. Let me tell you about 2 such interesting people –

Deepak Suchde – The story goes back to 61-year-old farmer Deepak Suchde’s college days. While answering an examination paper on physics, Suchde suddenly realised the futility of it all. So, instead of responding to the questions, he wrote “there is no sense in acquiring a college degree“. Today Baba, as we all fondly call him, has perfected the art of do-nothing farming. He believes that Natueco (a combination of nature and ecology) farming will lead society to non-violence and spirituality, and has perfected the art in his own farm (in Gujarat). People from all over the world come to visit his farm and are amazed to see the productivity.

KB Jinan – A NID graduate who for the past 21 years has been studying the knowledge system of rural/tribal traditional artisans and is responsible for saving the livelihood of a potter village in Kerala – A very interesting person with very interesting ideas on learning and creativity. To understand him let us read what he himself has to say, “The fundamental difference between indigenous cultures and the western culture is that the indigenous cultures uses intuition as framework for creating, transmitting and sustaining knowledge and the west uses reason. Through the present educational system this shift is being brought about thus cutting us off from our roots in a very fundamental way. So, recovering indigenous culture lies in recovering our intuitive abilities consciously. The present destruction of the eco systems is a direct result of the domination of reason over intuition, conscious over sub conscious, individual over collective, self over self-less, materialism over spiritual, of anthropocentrism over nature centrism and so called scientific (western) knowledge over wisdom knowledge

I spent my 6 days hopping from one discussion to another like a butterfly trying to garner nectar from the variety of flowers all around. On 6th and last day we had amongst us Tibet’s Prime Minister and Monk, who spoke to us about Compassion, Courage, Contemplation and Creativity, as according to Buddhist understanding. He said, “Do not accept anything out of respect without testing it for yourself. This is also what Buddha himself said. He said to his disciples that anyone here who accepts his teachings out of respect for him and without testing is defeating the purpose of his being there“. And that is how we ended the unConference.

I also wanted to share here my learning from the unConference, but I am unable to come up with anything in short. Living among Tibetans, people who are still so spiritually grounded, people who are still so humble, taught me the value of living within and for the community. As Helena Norberg Hodge (Director, Economics of Happiness) puts it – “Young people today are looking for acceptance. They are being told if they want to be accepted in the society, by the peer groups, they should have the latest gadgets, latest running shoes, latest clothings and of course as they go down the consumer path it leads to separation and envy and not to the sense of connection, to the love that at the deep level they are looking for“. 150 people gathered there taught me how to have faith in our ideas and live for them, how to create and find a deeper meaning of our existence. I learnt that we have to seek our own identity and not buy a packaged identity. A friend jokingly and very rightly puts it as, “We have to seek who we really are and were, and not what we become after wearing Nike shirt, Adidas shorts and Woodlands shoes.” 🙂

As Tana Paddock beautifully sums it, “The unConference wasn’t just about understanding deep values but about creating them, not just exploring compassion in an experiential way, but creating more compassion, realizing that the human spirit is primarily concerned not with being or doing but with becoming.

I plan to go back to the Tibetan village for sometime and learn more from them the principles of simplicity, principles of living…

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Aravind permalink
    April 16, 2011 11:41

    “The present destruction of the ecosystems is a direct result of the domination of reason over intuition, conscious over sub conscious” — this would be something I wouldn’t agree with. Have we really consciously reasoned to destroy ecosystems? In fact, were we to reason consciously about what we are doing, we would realize that what we are doing is wrong, and try to undo it.


    • April 16, 2011 11:47

      I would leave that to be answered by the author himself.

      My thoughts are – When I think of it I do partly agree with him. Our reason is limited, and so is our intellect. We can reason out things only up to a limit, limit of our understanding. I do agree with you that nevertheless reasoning consciously would help to see things through (something that most of us have stopped doing). However, I also feel that we should give Intuition, subconscious… its due respect…


      • Aravind permalink
        April 16, 2011 11:59

        I think we have consciously chosen not to reason and somehow convinced ourselves that each one of us is negligible and therefore all of us collectively also cannot be causing too much harm. There is enough evidence for us to conclude through reasoning that we are destroying ecosystems.

        Learning is never complete — we can never say we know everything about something. But reasoning is always based on what is known at any point of time. When new evidence is presented, our reasoning will be suitably adapted. I agree that intuition perhaps plays a role in helping us with reasoning based on extrapolation of what we know, but it surely cannot substitute reasoning itself. It can only complement it.


  2. April 16, 2011 12:23

    @ Aravind – Again, I believe the author would have his reasoning and basis (based on experience).

    As for my personal thoughts, I agree and feel reasoning done patiently, wisely and with a holistic view should result in actions which would be beneficial for both ecology and mankind.

    And Intuition too is not devoid of reasoning, the word comes from a latin word which means ‘to look inside’’ or ‘to contemplate’. It provides us with beliefs which we can not justify at that time (wiki). I fee people who contemplate more, meditate more, think more are more intuitive. They learn to listen to their hearts. Holding its importance, I do feel it should complement the reasoning.


    • April 16, 2011 12:27

      Also the word author uses is domination (domination of reason over intuition). Reason is important, but it should not completely disregard the presence of intuition is probably what is meant.


  3. April 19, 2011 15:40

    Would very much like to witness something like this firsthand


    • April 19, 2011 19:28

      Bangalore is one of a hub for these activities.. you can visit a few


      • Kamal permalink
        August 12, 2012 00:43

        Any suggestions?


        • August 12, 2012 22:38

          Hi, depends on what are you looking for… Why don’t you mail me.. will be glad to put you in touch with a few people I know of..


  4. Rihana permalink
    April 22, 2011 16:56

    Loved the line by Helena – Young people today are looking for acceptance… … … and of course as they go down the consumer path it leads to separation and envy and not to the sense of connection, to the love that at the deep level they are looking for.


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