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Region 3 - Re-SAIcycling and More: Akhanda Bhajans Go Green

The akhanda bhajan is for global welfare – that is to say – the welfare of all beings, the environment and elements that co-exist in this vast web of life. Indeed one could be forgiven for saying that all Sai events and all our activities too, ought in spirit to carry something of that noble motif. It is easy though to lose sight of this. For one, the world is a big place, and a duty of care seems an obscenely onerous mandate to vest on any humble devotee. After all, doesn’t the singing of the holy name; a heartfelt prayer; or service to the needy, absolve one of further responsibility to the world?

All of this is important no doubt. Global welfare necessitates all of these things, but it is also a lot more. That means – extending our circle of concern to things more subtle and bringing awareness into everything we do – from how and what we buy, eat, wear, travel, or anything else for that matter. Whether we like it or not, every act is intimately woven into the fabric of the world. Everything depends on everything else – be it the natural resources we depend on, fellow creatures or human beings locked in the global economy – all are involved in supporting our existence. No man is an island entire of itself. The spiritual activities we engage in and the sacred vibrations we generate fall short, if not accompanied by direct action; especially where we have the power and information to effect change. Every action has a consequence. Our duty as souls on this earthly sojourn is to tread as lightly and as consciously as we can. This is more important now than ever, because Mother Earth is hurting.

There are more of us on this planet than ever before and we are buying, consuming and disposing more rapaciously than all the previous generations put together. All of this uses scarce energy resources and contributes to climate change; but less known and more insidious is that virtually everything we buy contains toxic chemicals – from the pesticides used in almost all the food we eat, to the harsh chemicals embodied in cosmetics, detergents and plastics – this includes all the disposable cups and plates that have so pliantly withstood the weight of tiffin at many a Sai event. Most of these chemicals will ultimately leach into our soils and waterways, poisoning the earth. Worse still, all chemicals are tested on animals in unimaginably cruel experiments, before they are commercialised. The wounds we are inflicting on nature are manifold, and evident all around.

It is a sad contradiction that we can sing in the house of God whilst dumping our muck in his garden. We can no longer afford to sit back. Even if we are slow to make changes to our day to day lives, it is doubly important that the Sai Organisation promotes sustainability in all its events and activities and leads by example. To that end, this year for akhand bhajan, special effort was made by some centres in Region 3 (East London) to make the day as environmentally friendly and ethical as possible. Cups, plates and spoons were sourced sustainably from special vendors, made entirely from natural materials without any toxic chemicals. When eventually thrown (after recycling), they will also rot naturally and not linger in the environment for thousands of years like standard plastics.

Special consideration was also given to waste. The reality is that we are living in a throwaway society. But in truth, there is no such place as ‘away’. Everywhere is planet home. It may come as a revelation but the word disposable does not confer on one a legal duty to discard anything after a single use. That is why particular care was taken to wash and reuse disposable cups and spoons where possible, to minimise our impact on the environment. Designated bins were set up to separate all rubbish for reuse, recycling and composting, with a small, proficient squad of SSE children also helping to police the bins.

Careful thought was also given to the food served on the day. We can all vote for the kind of world we want to live in by choosing to buy food that is produced in harmony with nature. Where it was within the control of the organisers, food for the event was sourced locally from organic suppliers, with freshness, nutrition and ethics in mind. This included prime apples picked in Kent and salads from a community farm on the edge of London. Animal products, including dairy were also restricted. The time has come that we as Sai devotees gradually move beyond abstinence of meat alone. All animal products today are laden with cruelty. Exploitation and suffering is pervasive in almost all modern systems of animal husbandry.

These are all small steps. Much more can be done if only we decide to place more care and attention on these issues. After all, if we can invest time in the choice of bhajans; the precise permutation of fabrics to adorn the altar; or the optimal colour of the floral arrangements; then frankly we can think about sustainability too. Let us start now – the Sri Sathya Sai Service Sustainability Initiative perhaps (SSSSSI – an affable acronym to stand unabashedly amongst all the others we know and love!)

I have a dream that one day the success of Sai events will not just be measured by the opulence of the altar, nor the sincerity of the singing or speaking, but by the content of the bins. I have a dream today.