We have read many explanations for the Earth’s environment, collated thousands of data for climatic issues and heard a lot about ecology. We are aware that climate change is caused by us, it is an anthropogenic matter.
But, how often do we look at our inner ecology, why are we made and how do we think and act? Is it important to connect a possible spiritual exploration with a sustainable physical environment – both with an ecology of its own? Will such a synthesis lead to a position where we can explain the failures of physical solutions to ecological crisis through spirituality and in turn, the meditative spirituality will benefit from an ecological context outside?
The Buddhist Vipassana Centre at Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu is quietly attempting such a synthesis. It is an ashram for introspection, yet a place for exploration of nature. Right from the earthy architecture to the kitchen management, every step the teachers at the centre take has to do with nature.
Rammed earth walls, tiled roofs, stone slab floors, extensively exposed surfaces, ample light and fresh air in all indoors mark a studied approach to how to design in a water-scarce land. RO water treatment was replaced by eco-friendly approach, shredders make all waste bio-degradable, biogas consumes all the kitchen waste and the outlet from biogas waters the plants. Nothing goes waste here.
Participants live a simple life here not out of compulsion, but out of choice. While the architecture is minimalist, so is the idea of comfort, which nowadays has been so hyped to create all of the consumerism. Organic vegetarian food mostly grown within the campus using traditional recipes which retain nutrients is the staple diet.
It is not that there were no experiments. Thirty-feet-long ferro-cement roof channels, rammed earth foundations, circular hollow stabilised mud pillar blocks, vortex system for sewage water treatment and such others developed by Auroville find a place here.
Alongside, all the known solutions like skylights, perforated walls, steam cooking and solar power are found.
Of course, timber was ruled out for construction due to budgeting, but steel fabrication has been kept to the minimum. Semi-dry mud with low water content has led to intense termite attacks, in a way to justify minimal use of timber, including in doors and windows.
Planting done when the centre started 4 years ago adds greenery, though only closer to land at this nascent stage. Rain water collection happens right from the high point of the sloping land, goes through gravel filters to flow into lower fields. Once a water-scarce area, today it is enjoying near sufficiency in annual water needs.
Just like a spiritually inclined person is bound to attempt Vipassana meditation, someone inclined to eco-living also needs such a meditation.
Ecological sensitivity and awareness cannot come by merely reading books, seeing news and watching documentaries about climate change. It demands an inner exploration and transformation to the way we are living.
(The writer is an architect working for eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)