Sunday, June 12, 2005

Asok, Dhammananda Bikhuni, Thoughts on Alternative Communities

Yesterday was an incredible day. We woke up early and took a two hour bus ride to an Asoke Buddhist community. It was a wonderful little self-sustaining village. It had everything from a mushroom cultivation house, to a tofu factory, to a machine that converted plastic parts to gasoline and methane. The man who invented it was a member of the Asoke community. He only recieved two years of formal schooling. We talked to this radiant ever-smiling monk there. he told us about the community. The basic idea of the community is to follow a pure Buddhism. The monks there, while not officially ordained, practice ten precepts. The entire community is vegetarian, even the lay people. All work done there is done without pay. There is a belief in the community that doing work for pay is impure, and bad karma. The idea is that if you work for pay, you work for selfish and egotistical reasons. We were told that anybody can come live in the village, and everyone there has all they need. They all have food, shelter, clothes, and there are doctors living there as well. The village is mostly self-sustaining. They have lots of land, and grow all kinds of organic fruits and vegetables (in addition to the mushrooms and tofu). The community also produces all kinds of natural, organic, medicines, beauty products, and cleaning products. Finally, the larger Asoke community has set up a number of vegetarian restaurants around Bangkok, and other places in Thailand. This is how they make most of their revenue. However, because all work there is done voluntarily, the money can be put to good purposes such as helping out other engaged Buddhist movements, taking the community children on fieldtrips, or travelling to areas in need of help (such as southern thailand after the tsunami). After just a short time there, I decided I would split my independent research time between Bangkok and this community.

Afterwards, we visited an incredible female Thai monk named Dhammananda Bikhuni. She has gone through all sorts of struggles in becoming ordained. Yet she does not seem to have any anger about the subversive efforts the Sangha (monk community) has taken to keep her from becoming a monk. She has an incredible wealth of knowledge, and compassion. Allison, one of the group members, is going to stay with her for a couple of weeks to pursue independent research. That should be an incredible experience.

Finally, here are just a few quick notes that I want to jot down about the idea of alternative living communities. These are largely observations from just a short time at the Asoke community.
* mushroom cultivation seems incredibly intelligent, especially for a vegetarian community. Since it is a decomposer, it is not only a food, but a trash remover. Shrooms can grow on natural organic 'trash' that one would otherwise have to collect and throw away. Furthermore, they are high in protein, which is important for vegetarians.
* A functioning self-sustaining village needs a lot of land for plant cultivation. I guess this is kind of obvious.
* The asoke community had a lot of guidelines for its monks including everything from what clothes you wear (no shoes allowed, walk mindfully!), to when you wake up and go to sleep, and when you eat, etc. I have been wondering what kind of balance you strike between free willy-nilly no rules hippie land, and strict stringent monastic life. I wonder whether the people attracted by an eco-village would have a natural work ethic such that no rules would really be necessary for the village to function, or whether certain rules would need to be in place to make sure work gets done.
* The plastic to gasoline machine made me think about how important efficiency and ingenuity are to an eco-village. Try to find a use for everything on your land. No such thing as trash. If its trash now, try to find a use for it.

Thats about it for now. I'm sure after a week at Moo Baan Dek and the Asoke community I will have many more ideas about how a sustainable village can run effectively.


Blogger janiter77 said...

Hey Chris, sounds like a great experience so far. The Asoke(how do you pronounce that?) community sounds really interesting. I really like the idea of being that committed to your set of beliefs. It was also just kind of unbelievable to hear about a community, in this day and age, that has been exposed to the "wonders" of technology and chooses a radically different path. Not just with being vegetarian, but at this point the idea of being almost entirely self-sustaining is pretty much impossible, it seems. And it seemed as though there wasn't a great sense of isolation from the community, from the restaurants elsewhere and the field trips you mentioned, which would seem like a pitfall of a community like that. From other similar situations groups like that, having chosen such a different path, then stay away from other communities because the sizeable differences they have. I got the same sense of struggle from your poem, and it looks like that community might have part of the answer. Good luck in finding out how to balance it all, let me know when you find out.
Joe V.

10:01 PM  

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