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The ashram garden (image via Yasodhara Ashram's Facebook page)

Food has a central role at Yasodhara Ashram. The daily work is structured around three meals, which are eaten in silence to encourage an atmosphere of contemplation and connection. Much of the food served from the ashram kitchen is grown in the abundant garden. In many ways, the garden is the heart of the community, and it also connects the ashram to the surrounding community.

I sat down with Paris Marshall Smith, an ashram staff member in her mid-30s who works as the food flow systems manager. She explained the role of the garden within the community, both literally and metaphorically.

How does the food move from the garden and the orchard to the kitchen and on to our plates?

We have this food flow. It actually is ideally a flow. In terms of areas, we have the garden, the orchard (which is in the garden but also on the periphery) and then there’s the summer kitchen. The food moves through here, to the kitchen.

When we hire people to work in the kitchen, we want them to have a strong ethic around local food. The kitchen builds the menus around what we’re producing in the garden and we encourage receptivity as much as possible. For example, we came in today with a bucket of turnips, so they’re making a turnip and radish cake. Who knew? We support them by planting things that are interesting and easy to use. And which people want to eat.

How much of the food in the kitchen comes from this land, if it’s possible to quantify?

According to the most recent figures, 17% of the food we consume is from the ashram proper, including our orchard and garden. An additional 17% comes from within 100 miles, for example the East Shore. That makes up about 35%. Another 40% comes from BC, and the rest is from elsewhere in the world. So 75% comes from within an 8 hour drive – and we serve about 25000 meals a year! Read the rest of this entry »


Mandala House, the ashram's main building (image via

Hola from western Canada! I fled Montreal just before the heat wave hit and have been enjoying the cooler climate of British Columbia (where it’s unseasonably cool and rainy). I just spent a few days at the beautiful Yasodhara Ashram, where I had the full intention of blogging and taking pics. However, I had limited wifi access and a full schedule of karma yoga (selfless service in action), enjoying nature, thinking about my life and reconnecting with old friends. My photography ambitions were thwarted when my camera battery died and I realized that I’d forgotten my charger.

Yasodhara Ashram is a spiritual community on 120 acres of woodland resting on the shores of Kootenay Lake in southeastern BC. Founded by Swami Sivananda Radha (a disciple of Swami Sivananda and one of the first western women to be initiated in the yoga tradition) in 1963, the community continues to uphold her teachings while staying relevant to modern life. The ashram is run by initiates, but these are swamis who wear cardigans and khakis and pack around laptops. Rooted in tradition and simple living, the community also thrives on innovation and progressive ideas ~ collaborative working styles, sustainable building design, integrated food systems, new business models. The ashram has won provincial sustainability awards and aspires to be carbon neutral by 2013, when it celebrates its 50th anniversary. Read the rest of this entry »

From the frontlines of the G8/G20 summit, Michael Stone reflects on nonviolence and engaged living. The third in a three-part series.

My son wanted to come to the protests because he heard that water privatization was on the table and he wanted to do what he could to learn about the issue and speak up for the fish. He loves fish. When he saw rows upon rows of police and hovering military helicopters he realized that there was no way of protesting or even learning about issues. (He did think the helicopters were really cool, especially Obama’s green chopper, which landed in a tight corridor between two tall buildings.) When our friend, journalist Naomi Klein, brought him out to a talk on G20 issues on the first day of the summit, he took it as a chance to tell people that water and fish need help.

What action was skillful that day? Writer Pasha Malla speaks about the sheer number of people who protested: “Simply to isolate and punish the violence of G20 protests in this way is to deny the unpunished violence done in our name to the natural environment, to the poor, to people affected by our military and corporate excursions all over the world.”

If we value the interdependence of all life, and if we see that our body is dependent on the health of our rivers and ecosystems, then we must recognize that to be silent and indifferent is to be complicit with corporate violence. Even if corporations or countries have laudable ideals, often their accountability to ecological well-being does not come into play. There is no ledger sheet for ecological debt in our economic calculations. Read the rest of this entry »


Nonviolence in the face of riot police (photo by Marc Dunne, via Flickr)

From the frontlines of the G8/G20 summit, Michael Stone reflects on nonviolence and engaged living. The second in a three-part series.

If my commitment to the dharma demands that I place non-harm in body, speech and mind at the core of my actions, then what is my stance on protesters venting their anger at shop windows and police vehicles? When the media jumped on the images of burning police cars, our collective attention was, once again, drawn away from political, social and ecological issues and into the fetishization of violence. But where is the real violence? Do Buddhists turn away from the issues at stake when the G8 and G20 meet, or do we embrace those issues and stand up for what we believe in?

There is no overall Buddhist social theory. We can gather that a Buddhist vision of is not about Left or Right but about waking up to all forms of suffering and the interdependence of all things. If we value interdependence, then what is the appropriate response when uranium is mined from native land and sold to India to run Canadian-built nuclear reactors? Or when depleted uranium from spent fuel rods are being turned into weapons and dropped on the people of Iraq and  Kosovo, with disastrous long-term health consequences? Read the rest of this entry »

Peaceful protest: sangha members at the G8/G20 summit, Toronto.

From the frontlines of the G8/G20 summit, Michael Stone reflects on nonviolence and engaged living. The first in a three-part series.

When I search for an image to describe the core of my spiritual practice, the one that presses up through the other narratives of my life is this one: June 26, 2010, carrying my six year old son away from a burning police car in front of a bank tower on Bay Street in downtown Toronto. Three young protesters using “black block tactics” jumped on the roof of the car as my son and I turned away and walked towards the empty street behind us to make our way home.

I lead Centre of Gravity Sangha, a thriving community of Yoga and Buddhist practitioners in Toronto. Our community formed five years ago with the intention of integrating Yoga and Buddhist practice, everyday urban life and social action. When I first read the teachings of the Buddha, I connected with his full engagement in life – not just with internal states of mind, but how he taught that our actions sculpt who we are.

Karma is not something that happens to you, it’s the ongoing choices and effects that determine who and what we actually are. We must cultivate an awareness of and responsibility for our actions and their consequences. This is the lived experience of karma. I see both the Buddha and Patanjali (the seminal author of the Yoga-Sutra) as enlightened beings committed to a life of social and political engagement.

If learning to work with anger and greed can teach us how to respond creatively to our inner struggles, can this same skillfulness help us interact with institutional greed and imbalance and global forms of suffering? Read the rest of this entry »

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