Growing Trees at Arunachala

BACKGROUND:

Arunachala is an Ashram (Monastery) located in the mountains of Perez Zeledón, by the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Central America,  at 1,100 altitude. Arunachala is the rural component of Sat Yoga (www.satyogainstitute.org). The 108 hectares of the Ashram land are blessed with patches of tropical rainforest, an abundance of creeks, a beautiful river and several springs.  Arunachala receives plenty of rainfall from May to December, the temperature ranges from 15C° to 28C° and the humidity varies from 70% to 95% annually .

During the past decades, a large percentage of the land was used as a cattle farm; this activity destroyed much of the forest and left the soil and waterways eroded and unprotected. When Sat Yoga acquired the land in 2009, the first step was to let natural regeneration occur;  namely removing the cattle and beginning the process of reforestation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Besides providing “Food for the Soul” through the practice of Yoga and silence, Sat Yoga is aware that the nurture of our physical bodies with healthy food, and also the restoration of the health of the entire ecosystem, is essencial to the unfolding of a growing, healthy Ashram community, especially in the midst of the collapsing financial, social, and natural systems (i.e. climate change).

Therefore, as soon as the land was acquired in 2009, we began planting trees and other edible crops in small quantities to to see how certain species adapted to the geo-biological conditions of the land. We have always employed principles and practices that work with nature, such as permaculture principles, organic agriculture practices, as well as other approaches, such as biodynamics.
Here is a short summary of the unfolding of agriculture at the Ashram:

  • In 2010, our first food forest, Anaban, was planted: 1-hectare of land that provides all the bananas we consume and some fruit trees like starfruit, soursop, and also some tropical roots like taro.
  • During 2011, small areas were planted of several short cycle crops. A great deal of work was done on landscaping around our Bhavans (cabins). We also continued caring for the previously planted areas like Anaban.
  • In 2012, Hridaya (the Sanskrit word for “Heart”) was co-created, and consists of 2 hectares around Mahatma Lodge, (our main gathering center) which were carefully landscaped as a hybrid between a beautiful garden and a productive farm, with great diversity of crops and trees. Hridaya is a living seed bank of diversity and beauty.
  • By 2012,  approximately 1400 trees of 140 different varieties had been planted, as well as many other annual and short cycle plants, that provide all of our salads and a big percentage of all the carbohydrates we consume.
  • Trees are the main structure of the farm and take a few years to produce (from 4 to 15 years depending on the species). This is why in 2013 it was decided to dedicate our time and energy to tree planting.

tree-chart-1

Our vision as a growing community, is to be a refuge for all kinds of visitors with whom we can share a healthy inner and outer life. This vision includes lots of fruit; therefore, the amount of trees and areas to be planted is abundant.

THE PROCESS

With a clear vision and a well established team of community members and local workers, we then proceeded to the selection of the trees. When selecting the trees, it was necessary  to take into account a diverse community with a need for a wholesome and delicious vegetarian diet. Besides species that provide food, we chose to consider trees that would be healing for the ecosystem.These are some of their  functions:

  • Protection of water sources.
  • Beautiful landscaping.
  • Production of medicines, fibers and oils.
  • Wood for shelters.
  • Habitat for wildlife, flowers for our bees.
  • And many other ecological functions…

During this stage, we had the honor of a visit from  Rafael Ocampo–a well known botanist and naturist from Costa Rica, who contributed his wisdom and guidance in the selection of the species and  planting sites, as well as sharing with us his interesting cosmovision of nature and natural systems design.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

tree-chart-2tree-chart-3Finding all these species took us on field trips throughout Costa Rica, as we visited specialized Education and Research centers like CATIE, INTA and EARTH University that have selected varieties of fruit trees. We also visited commercial nurseries, like La Bonita, Zill Plants as well as trips  to smaller, highly specialized nurseries/gardens, like La Isla Botanical Garden and Vita Verde. Juan Carlos Herrera, the main grafter of Zill Plants, visited us to check our ecological conditions and then selected  specific varieties of mangoes and avocados- among other fruits- that will be better adapted to Arunachala.  We chose varieties based on the flavor of the fruit, hardiness, health and size of the trees. We also reproduced several of the trees at our own nursery and bought locally many living fence posts from nearby farms; at least 30% of the trees planted came from the immediate surroundings of Arunachala. By the end of this stage of the process, we had acquired/propagated around 3000 trees.

tree4

A beautiful and multidimensional phase of the project was to find places to plant each tree, which lead us to taking long walks on the land. In addition, we used many resources previously generated by the Ashram team, such as:

  • The Ashram Master Plan, produced by Francisco Rojas, our architect. This plan is very important since it indicates all the areas where future buildings will be built.
  • The map of all the springs and waterways.
  • Some topographical maps, geological studies and the legal map of the property.

With this technical information and the inspiration from our beautiful tropical rainforest, we continued designing a food forest in each area and joyfully applying planting patterns that blended harmoniously with the existing vegetation, while respecting the specific needs of the species of trees.

tree5tree-box-1On a micro level, there are also the ecological considerations for each species of tree. For example, with the Cacao tree we have many  questions to consider before proceeding to buy it, place it and plant it.  Firstly, do we eat chocolate in our diet? (yes) how much? (a considerable amount). Does the community want it? (yes) Can the cacao tree grow in our climate and at our altitude? (maybe, it needs special conditions and we must find the lowest altitude terrain on the land, as well as being protected from wind)  Does it need shade? (yes) Which trees can be used as shade (bananas, plantain, peach palm, ingas)? How much in advance do we have to plant the “shade”? (at least 2 months).  Where can we get cacao trees that are diverse, free of diseases (monilia) and good quality fruit? (CATIE). When is the best time to plant them so they don’t need irrigation? (August).  What maintenance do they need?.   This is just an example to illustrate the numerous considerations that reflect the uniqueness of each tree.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With the sites and species selected, the next step  is to prepare the land to plant the trees. This preparation involved the application of many permaculture practices, especially soil conservation. Some examples of the practices we used are: compost winrows on contour lines, swales, adaptation of the design to the existing natural regeneration, application of native microorganisms to the organic matter for a faster decomposition.

Finally after these steps, we reached the moment of planting! With great care and after receiving detailed training on tree planting, our crew of local workers began to plant.  With a mixture of worm compost (produced at the farm by some of our community members), good vegetable soil, and activated charcoal and mulch; each tree was grounded in Arunachala. Also, each tree had a painted stake placed next to it, to identify and map it with GPS, so as to create a Tree Map that will facilitate the maintenance, harvesting and future planning.

THE UNFOLDING

The tree planting season finished in late August 2013, but our relationship with the trees will never end, as we will continue enjoying their company, development, and fruit!

These trees offer us an invaluable opportunity to observe, learn and care for Arunachala. May we share their beauty and may they provide all the Ashram dwellers and visitors with their abundance. These trees are becoming another symbol of our own inner and outer growth as a whole community. Namaste

tree-chart-4tree-chart-5

Sat Yoga Ashram: “Paving the Way to Arunachala”

DSC_7842

The long and winding road to Arunachala took another huge turn recently. In May 2012, we began preparations for construction of our new road system. We have come a long way since then.

This project, necessary for any future expansion of our multi-dimensional ashram-eco-village-university-retreat-center-recovery-facility-and-Spanish school, needed to be planned with utmost care so dump trucks could deliver materials without getting bogged down in mud. This was also of course symbolic of our own need to stay out of the mud of maya.

Above a recent picture of Jadish and Marjiva’s house construction at Anaban, which is the first home being constructed at Arunachala.

Above a recent picture of Jadish and Marjiva’s house construction at Anaban, which is the first home being constructed at Arunachala.

The first step was consultation with Engineer Eduardo Barquero from GTZ-MOPT in San José. Mr. Barquero works with a German non-profit organization known as GTZ (Cooperación Técnica Alemana) dedicated to rural road development in communities all over the world. His insights offered foundational principles for our road construction and maintenance plan. They are as follows:

1) Invest in good drainage: Drainage is what keep all roads alive. “No drainages, no roads!” By guaranteeing good quality concrete culverts and drainage boxes, deep enough side-drainages, and maintaining a strong “crown” in the center of the road so rain water can properly flow, the side-drainages carry the water smoothly through the culverts and channels to nearby creeks. In Sat Yoga terms, this reflects the ease in which we learn to let every life situation flow without resistance, so that that consciousness, can return unobstructedly to our Source. Through the practice of staying focused on the center, all limiting egoic tendencies wash away.

4

5

2) Know your material – use good aggregate!: Once your drainages are set, then you can securely lay the road aggregate – cascajo, crushed river stones or mountain rock – to build a stable and comfortable foundation for the entire road. This rocky layer prevents humidity from rising and allows water to drain more easily so the foundation soil remains dry. We can liken this step to the many teachings aggregated and synthesized in our approach to transformation that form a strong foundation for ego transcendence.

6

3) Good compaction! After the aggregate is in place, then it is important to make sure all the material is well “linked” together. This is achieved with proper compaction. The desired result is that the harder rocky river material link with the softer clay, forming a perfect union of soft and hard as well as wet and dry elements. In Sat Yoga, we maintain the integration of opposites as a key requisite for lasting stability and happiness.

7

4) Receiving the light! If a road uses mountain rock as aggregate, it is very important to trim the trees along the road to eliminate shadow over the road. It is essential the road receives the early morning sun to evaporate any humidity remaining from the previous day’s rains. A good tip is to reforest the roadsides with living fences made from poro or itabo which can be constantly trimmed and used for future erosion control projects. If we think of the road as a metaphor for the path to liberation, we can consider the shadow-creating flora as the unconscious shadow patterns of the ego. If we keep the ego surrendered to the divine light, then the rejuvenating and enlightening rays of the Self can keep our life’s road well lit, clear, and strong.

8

5) Good erosion control measures: Very important! All road work should include in its planning a sound strategy for erosion control, and this is something that can be easily overlooked due to budget constraints and unwise planning. The ground above and below the road has to be properly secured with ecological terraces, drainages, gabions, plants, and trees that will prevent future landslides during the peak of rainy season. In the Sat Yoga Approach to transformation, we ensure that our path to spiritual liberation is well maintained and landscaped with the practice of the trivium: transformation (deep inner work and one-to-one transformational sessions), translation (wisdom teachings about the true nature of reality), and transcendence (meditation).

9

pyth pass 2

These five principles have proven to be invaluable to the construction of our new road system that will bring pilgrims and yogis to the ashram for years to come. Mr. Barquero not only imparted specialized practical wisdom to our project, but valuable lessons to be reinterpreted through the psycho-spiritual map of Sat Yoga.

Since receiving the foundation of these principles, our road project has taken off.

With our compass set, we then sailed north to find our road building company. After months of interviewing, we were serendipitously led to a man named Freddy Altamirano. We visited Freddy’s company, saw his work, and after forming a strong connection with him, invited him to Arunachala. After several weeks of negotiations between ALBASA (Freddy´s family road company) and Sat Yoga’s road committee, we were ready to take action.

Above from left to right: Freddy (our road engineer), Cristian (grader specialist), Cesar (Freddy´s brother, on excavator), and Pablo (on road compaction).

Above from left to right: Freddy (our road engineer), Cristian (grader specialist), Cesar (Freddy´s brother, on excavator), and Pablo (on road compaction).

While executing phase one, we realized that it was important to create a new road of about 200 meters that eliminated two problematic, steep hills. Shunyamurti named this new road “Pythagoras Pass,” as it resolved the two hills by connecting them like a Pythagorean hypotenuse, with a healthier road with a smooth grade and proper drainage.

Since Pythagoras Pass is a new road, Durgá (our Ashram  Co-Coordinator and Premaculture Director) and our great team of workers are investing a lot of time and energy in creating proper erosion control measurements to secure the slopes and guarantee good drainage during peak rains.

DSC_7814

So after one month of intensive road work, our infrastructure was transformed into a more intelligent, reliable, and sustainable system. We know there is much more work ahead, but we are happy to have invested in long-term drainage structures as well as in dreaming a new and highly-improved road pass.

Erosion control method with natural terraces and vetiver plants at Pythagoras Pass.

Erosion control method with natural terraces and vetiver plants at Pythagoras Pass.

We would like to thank all who participated in this wonderful project. Their patience and dedication has and will inspire many beings to continue working ceaselessly for the much needed manifestation of Sat Yuga – the joyous and truthful Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. We are on the road to a new world!

pyth pass 3

Update on the Creation of the Sat Yoga Ashram: In-Gagement in Humility

Virtues of a Karma Yogi

Unlike a plant seed that is programmed biologically to germinate, our inner Godseed can germinate only if we will that to happen. The hard shell around the heart must be opened through the earnest desire of the individual for Liberation. Once the ego´s defenses and demands for recognition from others is realized as the real cause of our suffering, we may fall into despair—but it is only then that the quest for freedom begins. At this stage, serious seekers of inner peace may recognize the value of spending time at an ashram. An ashram is a refuge from the ego-world, a community of individuals who have chosen a life of peace and quiet joy. Such a place of solitude, understanding, and power to transform can uniquely offer the nourishment of love and wisdom, the profound communion necessary to support and sustain the miracle of transfiguration and rebirth.

One of the benefits of suffering and despair is that the soul may gain humility. Humility is essential if the ego shell is to be cracked open. Then the shakti, the divine energy of Love can fill the heart, enabling the Godseed at last to blossom.

True humility (the word humble literally means the power of the Earth) gives one the power to dissolve the ego´s delusions of omnipotence, its private phantasies and its denials of the Truth of Being. The process of shedding the ego is aided further by a well-structured life, involving adherence to vows of ethical conduct, physical and psychic hygiene, and widening one’s circle of care. This is ideally accompanied by commitment to a regimen of spiritual practices, including meditation, study of authentic wisdom teachings and deep processing of the ego’s resistances. An Ashram can provide all that is needed to complete the journey to Liberation. Continue reading

Sat Yoga Ashram: An Island of Bliss (San Isidro Del General, Costa Rica)

By the hand of Grace, Disciples of Sat Yoga have been granted an opportunity to usher in a new age of Divine community living.

The Sat Yoga ashram community is a place for those who are committed to transformation of the ego resulting in its death and re-formation, through which the love of the Absolute may flow uninterrupted in a dance of seamless unity.

Based on Prema-culture, the culture of Divine Love, members of Sat Yoga gather in daily meditation to absorb in Agape and prepare to become beacons of light for the darkness that envelopes our planet.

In Sat Yogis’ daily lives, the connection to the Supreme Love manifests as radiant poise inherent in the act of selfless giving,

Continue reading

Arunachala: Sacred Mountain of Light – Sat Yoga Ashram (San Isidro del General, Costa Rica)

The Sat Yoga Ashram at Arunachala Costa Rica

Whenever Sri Ramana Maharshi was asked if he visited any of the many holy mountains in India, he responded that he visited them all the time.  Although he headed for Arunachala soon after realizing enlightenment at the age of 16, Sri Ramana was quick to remind us that Arunachala was everywhere, and in everyone. Arunachala is now being recognized in Costa Rica, on the land where the Sat Yoga Institute presently builds an ashram. Only on the mountain of God, also known as the Mountain of Light, do we come to know the true Self that sits in the Heart, the pinnacle of human manifestation and expression on the spiritual map.

Long before we learn to pronounce it, Arunachala is within us. Some of us are immediately drawn to it upon hearing the name, stirring emotions of peace, joy and tranquility, like the sound of a lullaby to an infant. Arunachala is The Mother that calms all of our fears, heals our wounds, and instills deep seated happiness and completeness in the power of Her stillness.

On the horizontal, physical map of the phenomenal world, the Sat Yoga Ashram is located in the mountains of San Isidro del General on the San Marcos Ridge. Departing from San José, the Sierra de la Muerte is crossed (The Mountain of Death) on the way to Arunachala. Thus it was with Sri Ramana Maharshi, who, upon experiencing death of the ego, attained Liberation. This is the blissful reward of all those who are willing to die to the ego, while the body is still alive.

The ashram land bathes in divine light and mist clouds; holy water showers it year round.

In Costa Rica, Arunachala manifests as an evergreen rainforest comprised of approximately 100 hectarias, or 250 acres, blessed with an outpouring of bio-diversity.

Epiphytes, orchids, and ancient tree ferns are among the thousands of species found on Arunachala. Purusha through Prakriti expresses its majesty in exuberance on the ashram property.

Water abounds on this holy land. From above and bellow, the power of love´s nurturing force flows in divine beauty;

the wonder of God´s expression, often too subtle to be captured by normal sensory perception.

The design is too grand and perfect to deny. The most minute details are perfectly interwoven. And each part is cared for, impeccably. And each is always reflecting the whole.

Master Plan: Sat Yoga Ashram

Although the true Master Plan is a mysterious unfolding directed from above, its revelation comes to light through human thought and actions on earth. When it was time to create a master plan for the Sat Yoga Ashram property, great thought was also given to the needs of the whole, as well as to those of the individual residents and guests. Most suited to help us with the task of creating a master plan for Arunachala was Deppat´s professional services, a company with many years of reputable experience in the field of master plan design. Continue reading

The Power of Love is Invincible – Karma Yoga Ashram Retreat Costa Rica

Creating a Prema-culture Community: “Love is the true essence of all that is.” – Shunyamurti

A wide variety of plants cohabitate on a single fallen log. A community committed to Prema-culture provides a similar support for building human eco (egoless)-systems based on integration, and unity. Such a community flourishes out of the love exuded from the decomposing ego structures of its members, the humus for the flowering of the real Self.

I was asked recently to describe the difference between ´Prema-culture,´ and Permaculture. Sustainability, integration and unity seem to be a common denominator between the two. The main difference arises from the recognition in Prema-culture that the sustainability of an eco-system, be it in nature or in a human community, is dependent on the ´Love´ coefficient. Without Divine Love as the governing principle, knowledgeable, well-intentional egos are too limited and conditioned to sustain natural diversity that is part of the Divine expression. As such, traditional intentional communities tend to disintegrate with time, despite their externalized successes.

Prema-culture realizes the non-dual aspect of life forms. The inner and the outer are ultimately the same with human beings acting as the calibraters of the energy frequency for the rest of nature. As long as the human soul remains split from its origin, the Essence, the sustainability of human efforts will be equally fragmented and weakened, with nature suffering in the process.

We return to the land with increasing love each time, giving our hearts and minds to the building of the Sat Yoga Ashram, overcoming our differences and ever more able to recognize the One in All. As the most depleted natural source in the human soul, love is what we come to plant and sow through every engagement. God has granted us a divine property for raising ourselves, and the rest of humanity from the bondages of the ego. Each nook and cranny calls our attention to the light behind the work at hand. For this week´s trip, landscaping around the lodge, and care for the horses were top on our list of chores.

Landscaping

Beatitude derives from a state of Presence. For too long, humanity has fallen asleep to the Divine Presence in All that is. Like the prince who comes to awaken Sleeping Beauty from her 100 year sleep, we too must cut through the thorny jungle around the heart-palace where nobility of spirit sleeps. The Divine play is being staged on the Ashram land so we may awaken to our own ego´s thorny jungle of projections and fantasies that block the soul from its Royal inheritance.

“When all of that [desire] has been transcended, then we will realize the bliss of what we have always been. We shall see through the mirage of this phenomenal world and recognize the sacredness of it. Its whole purpose was to lead us beyond illusion to the dimension of truth and bliss and light, to the Supreme Power that enables us to transform this world and not be victims of it, but be servants of God, Bodhisattvas, within it.” (From “Tragic Love to Blissful Love: The Path of Sat Yoga”), Shunyamurti. Continue reading