This is part three of a series of four articles on Windhorse:Evolution, the FWBO’s largest and most successful Right Livelihood business, based in Cambridge, UK. The articles will look at the ethos of the business, recent changes and challenges it has faced, the experiences of some individuals working in it, and some of the many projects funded by their current dana or generosity.
Most of the articles are taken from the W:E magazine, and are reprinted by permission.
I came into contact with the Western Buddhist Order ( in India TBMSG) in my childhood through the Asvaghosa project. They go from village to village, teaching drama, singing songs and telling stories to the most underprivileged children, to build their confidence. I went to those classes in my village when I was a child, and I loved the singing, drama and playing games, and I was inspired by their activities. They pick up some incidents from the Buddha’s life and tell a story or do a performance. Most of the songs are about the spiritual life. I made a connection with the teachers and Asvaghosa leaders, who are practising Buddhists involved in TBMSG. In the classes I started to explore things myself, which is sometimes difficult to do in your family in India, and by expressing myself through activities and drama, I built up my confidence. It was a turning point for me.
Asvaghosa then asked me to join their community, and work with them in Pune city, 275 miles away from my village. It was very difficult for me when I arrived in Pune, as it was a big city, and I was young and didn’t have a lot of confidence. It was difficult to speak sometimes – even though it’s the same language there is a different accent in the city. I had a village accent. I struggled for a year until I got used to it. At first I was a student with them, but later I became an instructor and taught drama and songs to children.
Living in communities has had a big effect on my life. Living in a community with people who value the spiritual life and who have experience of practice helps you learn many things, and also to be independent and make your own decisions. In India, if you are at home, most of the time you are dependent on your parents. Whenever you have to make a decision, you ask your parents. You are not independent in the home. Also, there are many limitations and things you can’t express to your parents. In the community I could express my thoughts and feelings very easily. You can speak your mind. Home and our parents are important too, but in the community you meet people who are committed in the same way as you are. Most people live in communities because they want to practise: they want to meditate together, they want to maintain a spiritual life, to discuss and to make friends. The friends I met in communities are very deep, very close friends. Even now I feel close to them.
I met a number of people in India who had worked with Windhorse. They had had a good experience. Also there was some attraction about coming to the West. I was looking for adventure and to experience new things. I was interested in a right livelihood business where Buddhist people create conditions to live, work and practise together. When I came here, I struggled my first year because I couldn’t speak much English. I could do the physical work and I had it in mind that I would be able to learn everything in two or three years, but it wasn’t like that! It’s not easy to learn about right livelihood, or the ordination process; or to fully understand other people because of different cultures, language problems and sometimes confidence. I was a bit disappointed at first, but now I know I have to be patient, and also my English is better now which makes things easier. It’s very easy to make connections with people at Windhorse because of working together, and living in a community together, and so you get to know people well and you form a close connection with them.
In one way it’s very good working in windhorse and doing spiritual practice, but if you come from another country there can be other problems as well. When I’m at work I get a lot of energy from people, but when I am on my own I feel the tendency to droop a bit. Sometimes I get worried thinking about what I will do when I go back to India. I don’t feel that much confidence in my ability to work there at the moment. If you are in the UK, people in India sometimes think you are getting lots of money and are rich. They have high expectations of people who go to England.
Since I’ve been in England my spiritual life is more solid. Windhorse is a great place to get inspiration for our spiritual life and I can see that very clearly. Right livelihood meetings and the friendly atmosphere really help. I’m glad I will get ordained at Guhyaloka, where we have a four month ordination retreat. It’s a great opportunity that we don’t have in India.
I’m used to working in the FWBO/TBMSG now and would find it difficult to work elsewhere. Recently I was interested in Karuna Trust and did a Karuna appeal. I’d like to stay working in Windhorse for a few more years after ordination. When I go back to India, which I definitely want to do, I’d like to work perhaps with social projects, or with Dharma activities. If we could start a right livelihood business in India, that would be great. We could share our experience of being here. It’s not one person’s work; people would have to come together to make it happen. I’d like to see that.
Note: since this article was publshed, Santosh has been ordained into the Western Buddhist Order. He is now known as Sanghanatha, 'Protector of the Sangha'.
2. Who knows what my future holds...?
I joined windhorse:evolution in April 2004 and I have loved every minute of it. Previously I had worked for a few big name retailers, the likes of TK Maxx, Internacionale and The Outdoor Group to name but a few, but Evolution is by far the best and it’s been wonderful meeting so many interesting people along the way.
I started as manager at the Birmingham shop and progressed to my current position of Area Manager of the seven "A" type shops. It’s a job I really enjoy as it can be so variable: supporting the shops in different ways, helping them to grow, seeing people develop – it can all be very satisfying.
On a personal level, I have recently taken the big step on the property ladder and bought my first house, which is quite scary but it’s a really satisfying thing to do.
I must admit I can be quite a workaholic at times but that’s only because I love my job so much, thanks to Evolution. I have to discipline myself and, when I do, I relax by spending time on my dad’s boat. Messing about on the river on a summer Sunday afternoon is really enjoyable. I also love visiting the Lake District to relax and unwind.
I’m looking forward to the Evolution expansion and being part of its exciting future, but who knows what my future holds? You never know - if they let me, I may even decide to become a Buddhist, god help them - can I say that ?