SUMMER SCHOOL, 26 July to 2nd August, 2003.
The Gandhi Summer School this year was held in Clopton, Northants, in the Eirene Centre, the head office of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Stephen Petter, from Bristol, gives a personal report:
Though this was my first experience of a summer school with children, and my first practical encounter with Gandhism, I soon felt very much at home. People were friendly, domestic arrangements were great, and the discussions were interesting and very helpful to me. As soon as I arrived I was put to work, helping to do shopping at the Co-op in nearby Oundle, and making a vegetable stew for supper. Next day our cook for the week, Michaela de Winter, arrived and thenceforth meals were more imaginative. I had dreaded a week of vegan food but my fears soon proved groundless.
Every day we had a meeting to share information, problems and hopes. Each of us was then allocated to a work group, taking turns to do cleaning and food preparation. In the afternoons we did voluntary work, either in the garden, where overgrown beds were tamed, or decorating some rooms for our host.
We were about 30 in number - some stayed only a few days, others came later in the week. There were two from India, and three from the Netherlands. Our ages ranged from 8 to 92. The children were lively and uninhibited, certainly not boring! I got the impression that most participants had attended many previous summer schools, but there were several newcomers.
For many of us the day started at 6.30 with yoga, conducted by our resident yogi, Arya Bhardwaj, who runs "Gandhi in Action" near Delhi. After breakfast, the meeting, then the main business. The theme of the week was World Religions and each day we had a substantial lecture followed by discussion. Often the questioning was quite tough. This is where I felt I learned a lot. I knew the main features of the world faiths but had never been able to enquire deeply into concepts such as karma, dharma, reincarnation, and the effects of one's ego. Our principal source of knowledge was Arya, who was deeply steeped in spirituality despite his declaration that he followed no religion. After the afternoon's voluntary work he gave a series of talks on the theme of yoga as a way of life, which again resulted in some deep discussion. Other speakers were Graham Davey on Judaism and Christianity, Omar Hyat on Islam and John Rowley on Buddhism. Arya gave us his slant on Hindhuism. I had mugged up Sikhism and Stuart Ullerthorne rounded off the series with a talk on Quakerism which seemed to have many echoes with the preceding topics. The most incisive questioning, which I found most helpful, came from Asif Hyat.
There were several additional features and events, including an exhibition of pictures of Gandhi done in his unique style by Shailendra Khairnar. One afternoon several of us visited the Peace Garden at nearby Molesworth. On another we saw a Dutch TV programme about a Gandhi ashram and school in Bali. Each day ended with an evening gathering where we not only had fun and games (usually led by the young people) but also more presentations such as our experiences travelling in India, a talk on the Ba'hais, discussion on Gandhian technology, and a chance to sample several types of meditation. At one stage we processed, dancing, to "Hari Krishna". We heard some sensitive poems by Asif. A few tough souls stayed up late into the night watching videos such as "Gandhi" and one on Mahomed.
In the final meeting we discussed ideas for next year's School. One suggestion was that we might celebrate the 20th anniversary of the School, but there was doubt over exactly when it started. Another was that we discuss Gandhism in action - projects, ashrams, and how to bring his philosophy into western daily life. An exciting development is a proposed Winter School at Arya's Center near Delhi.
I felt deeply grateful for the experience of spending this time with lovely people in a beautiful setting, and for being helped to reach new depths of spiritual insight. Many thanks to all those who made the Summer School possible, particularly Graham Davey and the other Trustees, and our hosts, the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Stephen Petter. 9/8/03
(I shall be putting photos on my web site http:// sp37. port5. com)
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