Sadhana Forest : A Paradise So Close

A Mother’s kindness knows no bounds. Maybe that’s why we call our planet ‘Mother Earth’. She’s always giving, without asking for anything in return. For a long time I felt the desire to give back, be more conscious of this kindness. Maybe it was this that led me to Sadhana Forest.

It was in 2011 that I first visited Sadhana Forest and I’ve returned many times since. Before long, I had spent more than a year in volunteering here. It has been a beautiful journey.

Started in 2003 by Yorit and Aviram, Sadhana forest is located in Auroville, Pondicherry. Their goal is to transform a 70-acre dry, eroded land into a forest, through sustainable ways. This is a volunteer driven community and almost all the work is done by the volunteers as ‘Seva’ (selfless service). It’s a simple life built around the basic necessities, yet very fulfilling.

The community aims to be self-sufficient. They pump their own water which is filtered for drinking. The entire set up is solar powered. On days that are cloudy, there can be a power shortage and that’s when we cycle to the rescue. Yes, that’s right, cycles! There are cycles that are stationary and are connected to a generator. Every time someone pedals, it generates electricity. That’s your gymming taken care of! The only thing they probably get from outside is the food. But the manner in which the space is evolving, I won’t be surprised if they start growing their own food too, shortly.

Sadhana forest follows a completely vegan lifestyle. Yorit and Aviram are vegans and they’ve raised their kids Osher and Shalev as vegans too. This idea of compassion starts with food and extends to clothing, construction and even items of daily use like soaps, shampoo, etc. They are all natural and plant based (that’s 0% Cruelty and a 100% Compassion).

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One of my favorite additions to the community was the starting of a ‘Goshala’ (a home for cows). We had rescued three cows and they have an incredible amount of space to roam freely and graze the whole day. Just what cows are meant to do! It gives me a lot of comfort to know that they will spend the rest of their days at Sadhana.

The story that I narrated here can only be from a volunteer’s heart. So I spoke with Aviram to get his story. After all this is his baby, and no one understand the child like a parent. This is what he had to say:

Dhaval: “How do you sustain your living at the forest, without monetizing it?”

Aviram: “Sadhana Forest is based on the principles of gift economy. Gift economy is a form of flow, outside of traditional economic markets, where goods and services are given freely without monetary exchange or expectations of a return or reward. We are not a business and do not generate income, so all of our work is supported through gifts (donations).

Our entire team works voluntarily. Sadhana Forest believes the world can be a richer and a more beautiful place, if we give of ourselves freely. We plants trees to grow forests, for the future generations, for the well-being of all the living beings, without expecting anything in return for our work”.

“Individual contributions have been largely responsible for the success of Sadhana Forest. Sustaining members together with donors provide constant and reliable support to Sadhana Forest. We need support to grow Sadhana Forest globally and plant many more forests worldwide.

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Dhaval: What drives you to do this every single day. What keeps you going?

Aviram: “I feel living here, you’re really connected with nature through direct experiences and can see her needs closely. The dryness of the soil, the difficulty for plants to grow. When you see this, you want to help. It’s like when you see a sick person, you feel something, some compassion is naturally awakened.

Dhaval: What made you start a forest ?

Aviram: “We moved here on Dec 19th, 2003 I, my wife and our daughter. The objective of our project was simple Reforestation. Our vehicle was a small bullock cart carried by a tractor. People told us that a vegan place, with no drugs or alcohol would not be very attractive. And we’d be lucky to have even 10 people visit us in a year. But what life has brought us was something else.

We are receiving a large no. of volunteers and the no. is increasing with each passing year. In 2016, we had 1060 volunteers who were residential and over 4,000 others who visited the project.

The project too has evolved with time. We’ve met people along this journey who have given us new perspectives. There was a volunteer from Switzerland, Katerina and she said, “you know this is a forest to grow people”. That was our first realization.

We realized that people grow in so many different ways being here. They make all kinds of changes in their lives, changes that they are afraid to make. They find hope and strength to take that leap in the direction they are dreaming of. And I think that’s the most important message of Sadhana Forest, that you can change and you can help others to change.

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Then there was a professor from America, Steve Whitman. He said “No, this is not a project, this is a model”. That’s when we realized that it can be replicated, that it’s something of value, maybe for other people. So we thought let’s try to do this in other places. Since then we’ve started two Sadhana Forests one in Haiti and one in Kenya, managed by young and enthusiastic people”.

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