Network Weaving with Kashi Ashram

Findhorn in the north of Scotland and Kashi in central Florida are over 4,000 miles apart. Yet they are closely connected now since Findhorn resident and Holistic Centers Network Executive Director, Christine Lines, enjoyed a recent stay at Kashi Ashram. She arrived in early December, initially for one month, and then extended into February before returning to Findhorn for the spring.

Durga Das, Christine and Baba Ram, wearing their HCN caps!

Christine thrives on connecting with like-minded people and met Kashi’s Executive Director Swami Durga Das at the 2017 Centers Gathering in Hawaii. The following year she also met Kashi’s Retreat Director Baba Ram at the Omega Gathering. They became instant friends and she was enthusiastically met upon arrival at Kashi.

“We had an initial immediate deep connection,” explained Acharya Durga Das. “During her stay at Kashi that connection deepened both with the deep love of Mother Kali and in the embrace of the Kashi community. She weaves into Kashi with grace. I was astounded by her ability to be present on the day-to-day details as well as being able to speak about the divine esoteric work of bringing the global planet together in kindness”.

Founded by Brooklyn-born Ma Jaya in 1976, Kashi is an interfaith spiritual community where all people are welcomed. When Christine arrived in December there were plenty of activities to participate in. First there was the Christmas “Feed Everyone” program which involved giving away food, turkeys and gifts at a low-income community nearby. This is a program started in 2000, and named in recognition of Neem Karoli Baba, Ma Jaya’s guru. By “Feed Everyone,” he meant both actual food and spiritual nourishment, and Kashi has tried to follow that instruction. We visit this community every two weeks with food, gifts, and occasional medical services. In doing service, it’s important to be consistent.

Next came Christmas Eve. At Kashi, “interfaith” means whole-hearted celebrations of many holidays, so in the main temple there was a 40 foot Christmas tree between a large statue of the Hindu goddess Kali and another representing the Buddha of Compassion, Avalokeswara. Many traditions are recognized in the same room; as people crowded in tightly, Christmas brought joy and laughter. Christmas Day was celebrated with a community bandhara – a community meal shared with 150 or more Kashi family and friends. The vegetarian turkey was delicious, as expected. Kashi’s vegetarian food has built a great reputation even among its local carnivore neighbors.

Finally came the New Year’s Fire Puja, an ancient fire ceremony to let go of negativity and anything that no longer serves us. The pujari pours ghee on the flames while chanting 108 names of the Mother, while everyone throws handfuls of seed toward the flames. (In India it would be rice, but Kashi uses bird seed in acknowledgement of world hunger). “It was a wonderful way to step consciously into the new year,” said Christine. “I am so grateful for how warmly I felt held by the community as I came back into balance after an intense twelve months.”

Kashi has had a permaculture program since 2011 and welcomes a changing crew of young eco-volunteers from all over the world. In January Christine enjoyed spending time with them on various outings, including sailing on the Intercoastal Waterway and a voyage along the Indian River in an electric gondola, seeing alligators, birdlife and manatees. There were also mutual learning opportunities with the playing cards about the four dimensions of sustainability from the Global Ecovillage Network.

“Christine made such a difference during her time here”, said Terry Hanuman, Manager of Sustainable Kashi. “She created learning spaces and connection in everything she was involved with. I was blessed to spend quality time sharing thoughts and ideas about the environment, nature spirits, community, and global eco-villages. Her smile brings light into my heart and Kashi has been touched with her presence.”

Christine immersed herself in Kashi life, helping out with different programs; she spent time in the archives and helped write a proposal for at least one new project. It wasn’t all work though, there were outings to the beach and daily yoga classes. She felt drawn to Kashi to create a dedicated time for self care and spiritual practice. Her daily schedule included an experience of Kashi’s unique form of yoga, Kali Natha Yoga, as well as arati (sharing of the light) at the Kashi temples, and evening programs that often focused on Ma Jaya’s teachings, with audio or video tapes. “I found Christine to embody love and joy. When we greeted each other or spent more time talking and sharing together it was a wonderful, happy, and uplifting experience,” said Swami Himalaya. “I admire her passion for bringing communities together in the way that she does.”

Christine was invited to sit with the Kashi Swamis around a sacred dhuni (fire pit) before she set out to visit other HCN communities. Yashoda, Ma Jaya’s close friend and Kashi matriarch, who has lived in the ashram for many decades, said, “I so enjoyed meeting Christine, she entered into our hearts and our family. What a delightful, deep and refreshing person. I still look for her at her desk in the office. We shared about our spiritual journeys as we did a pilgrimage into Ma Jaya’s temples. Christine’s invigorating questions and her love for engagement were inspiring. She has left me with much to ponder and offered courage to challenge life’s moments with joy and gusto. I am looking forward to her return; I carry her sweetness and love with me.”

Ma Jaya’s Sacred Art

One Friday night she gave a presentation and inspirational talk to the broader Kashi community about Findhorn. It felt very fitting since Kashi literally means, the City of Light! “I loved Christine representing not only Findhorn but holding the thread that weaves together Communities of Light,” said yoga teacher Shivani Matthews. “She received Kashi beautifully and feels like family. Her service is inspiring and grounded. I enjoyed her softness in my Healing Yoga classes and the contribution her presence offered. Everyone was very taken by the “communities of light around the world.”