Vanessa Turner: Dream in Sarnath

In February 2005 Vanessa Turner wrote an article about Buddha’s Smile School for Yoga & Health — Europe’s best selling Yoga magazine. Jane Sill, the Editor of Yoga & Health kindly agreed to send us the article so we could make it available for download here.

Here is a excerpt:

Dream in Sarnath: Buddha’s Smile School

by Vanessa Turner

I have seen miracles in action here and hope our dreams will come true.

First, let me begin by saying that until I saw it with my own eyes, I had no conception of the intensity of the poverty, destitution, and sheer starvation that beset many of the local poor in the area of Ashapur, Sarnath, and the larger city of Varanasi. The suffering here is so prevalent it is almost nightmarish. I have seen far too many beggars’ children, age five and below, walking barefoot and nude under the scorching Indian sun, their bodies so emaciated and ruined by hunger and malnutrition that you can see the cracks in their bones and the outline of the skeleton frame against their dry and pallid skin. Many have swollen stomachs, a sign of severe malnutrition, and these sights have become so mundane and banal to the local affluent (upper caste) people of this area as to become inconsequential to those who are not affected by such poverty. The lack of attention and sheer humanity to this epidemic of childhood poverty and mortality among the shudra, or untouchable caste of Uttar Pradesh (the larger state within which Sarnath and Varanasi are couched) is truly astounding to me, for I cannot understand how any human being could bear to walk past a starving young child and not even feel a minor pang of sympathy and an almost innate impulse to pick them up and carry them to a restaurant and feed them for the mere forty rupees (one US dollar) it takes.

Now the situation of the shudra castes in this district is much more severe than many other areas in India. The caste system, though ostensibly outlawed by the Indian government years ago, is acceded to religiously by the locals of Uttar Pradeshian society, and their glaring lack of concern for the increasing number of starving, dying children in the poorer areas of Varanasi is simply tragic. I became involved in Buddha’s Smile School for Underprivileged Children after meeting Rajan only a month into my stay in Sarnath. I am here on a Fulbright scholarship, as encouraged by my teachers, including Alan Wallace and his inspirational wife and my Sanskrit teacher, Vesna. Meeting Raj and her family was like finding a diamond cluster of jewels amidst a narrow-minded society of self-involved people. I was immediately taken by her warmth and open- mindedness, her gentleness and her kindness to me. I was homesick and confused, and she and her family immediately accepted me as a part of their family and insisted I take my every meal with them and their family of husband, wife, and two very young adorable daughters, ages 7 and 2. Our karmic bond and the uncanny feeling of familiarity that we shared led me to believe that it was no accident that I had become so instantly close with this exceptional Indian family, the kind of people who always invited the Rickshaw walas and other beggars and poor locals to their home for chai and food, who would not kill even the smallest insect if it crawled on their floor.

Getting to know Raj even better, I soon became aware of her great mission and current project, a recently-started free school for underprivileged beggar children in the surrounding area that would provide a comprehensive education covering Nursery school to Grade Five, giving them hope and encouragement for a brighter future, opening their young minds and stimulating their innate creativity, teaching them to think critically and to always question everything, to learn the ways of the previous great thinkers of India’s past, such as Gandhi and Mother Theresa.

You can download and read the rest of the article here.

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