The Enlightenment of the Dumpster

This is one of my favorite stories, and it will be a central chapter in the new book I’m writing.
It’s from the time I was a young swami serving as director of the Los Angeles Sivananda Yoga Community in 1981.  The photo below is of the building that housed the community in the early 80’s.  The Liquor Locker is on the left, and you can make out its green dumpster just below the windows of what was our main yoga and meditation room.  The road in front is Sunset Boulevard.  For those of you familiar with L.A., the cross street is Selma, one block west of Laurel Canyon, and slightly east of Chateau Marmont.

One of the first tasks I had when I came on as director was to supervise the construction of the sign pictured below, which covered the chimney and window on the right side of the building.  It was our way of getting some visibility on Sunset Boulevard for the community and Swami Vishnu’s best-selling book.

Below is a photo from Dec. 2012, when I re-visited the site of the old Yoga Community.  It’s easy to see how close the windows of our meditation room were to the dumpster.

Dumpster 2012
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8 comments on “The Enlightenment of the Dumpster

  1. You asked, “Are there some sounds that are intrinsically disturbing?” I would say that your thoughtful answer is only partially true. The sound of a dog barking, tied up, abandoned without food or water, slowly starving to death, should disturb us because it is this disturbance that spurs us to act. The sound of a human or animal being tortured, the cries of war and all the other sounds in response to the horrors on the earth plane — I find these sounds intrinsically disturbing. If we no longer find them disturbing it is not usually due to inner calm. It is because human beings grow accustomed to sounds and sights that were initially disturbing.

    As for the sound of the dumpster, true, in this case, good to “see” the sound from a greater perspective, but one can’t help but wonder why the ashram didn’t change the time of the morning meditation….

  2. You make a strong case for the sounds of suffering being intrinsically disturbing, but I would stick to my observation that even in those cases, it’s a matter of perspective. One would have to be an incredibly twisted human to hear those sounds as anything other than horrible, but there are indeed horrible humans out there for whom the sound of suffering is literally music to their ears.

    Mother Theresa, for example, valued human suffering. She sought it out, and gathered it to herself in unimaginable quantities. She explicitly taught that immersing ourselves in suffering brought us closer to god. That’s why she didn’t use any of the vast sums of money she raised to help heal the people who came to her, she was only focused on helping them die in pretty miserable circumstances. Pretty fucked, up, huh? More info here: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2003/10/mommie_dearest.html

  3. Thank you, Leslie, as always, your responses are most interesting! Naturally I question throwing Mother Theresa into the same sick pot as those who deliberately cause suffering (in my mind embracing suffering and causing suffering are two different things) but I will eagerly read the article you recommend above and respond after I have time to meditate on all this.

  4. Wow! Thank you, excellent article. Now I see Mother Theresa from a totally different perspective! (I was raised a Pentecostal Christian so I know something about fanatics and missionary zeal. Have had to curb my tendency to be a yoga zealot.)

    This passage really hit me: ” EMT [Mother Theresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”

  5. Wow! I love this story. It rings so true. I had no idea you were a swami in the Sivananda Vedanta organisation. Presumably you took the vows of abstinence etc. as all swamis do? What made you renounce and leave the organisation?

  6. I renounced my renunciation over chastity issues.

    I left the organization over obedience issues.

    More stories for another day.

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