leslie-cow“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Gandhi

As ho ho ho time looms again, perhaps you’re open to giving away a wee bit of what’s been lavished upon you by this spectacular cosmos—and I’m not talking about special gifts to family, friends, clients and other people/causes connected to your own well-being and way of life, but this time to dogs, cats, cows, snakes, monkeys and other animals in dire straits in a far-away world—marvelously sensitive and vulnerable beings who’d likely bless your heart of gold if only they could—for making the rest of their lives just that teeny weeny bit sweeter.

Pity most Indians don’t hark to the profound words of the Mahatma—possibly because the great majority of us are still ignorant of the wisdom he poured into the coffers of this vast and paradoxical nation that bristles with such sharp inequities. Based on what I see here in Tiruvannamalai, the rural poor—many illiterate and struggling to keep it all together in a rapidly changing world—don’t treat animals as if they even had rudimentary feelings—except when those animals are of commercial use. As for the wealthy—contrary to standard international thinking, there is a large segment of Indians who enjoy far higher standards of living than their counterparts in the west—they tend to treat their pets exceedingly well, some spending great amounts on gourmet food and vet care, but those are in the minority.

Now for a brief segue into the past….one of the incredible things I cherish from my years of plunging into the treasure trove of Gautama Buddha’s teachings are the Paramitas, the supreme virtues one is urged to cultivate if one seeks moksha or enlightenment; the first of these Paramitas is giving, or generosity.

Radically different points of view separate mainstream notions of giving from the eastern philosopher’s: for instance, while the regular world would scorn you as an idiot for giving generously when the wolf is pounding on your door, the radical seeker of enlightenment is taught to give especially when the chips are down—for it is giving, minus the ego, that burns the bad karma that weighs one down.

Now the act of giving is no simple thing: a wannabe Boddhisattva is urged to investigate the motives that lead her to want to give, and to make sure that gift goes to the right person, at the right time, for the right reason, and with right intention.

Back in Manhattan, I knew a stockbroker who regularly forked over hard cash to his addict pal for his next fix—with the sheepish excuse that he hated to see his precious friend suffer the agonies of withdrawal. A wealthy lawyer I worked for bought his pampered niece an expensive car right after she totalled the one he’d recently bought her—this despite knowing she had a serious drinking problem and urgently needed counselling—and not another fancy toy which could lead not just to her own death, but to that of others. Other rich folk I happened to meet during my stints on Wall Street and in New York law firms donated big sums of money just for kudos or publicity or to feel better about themselves or whatever.

By the standards set by the ancient Paramitas or transcendental virtues, none of the above would figure as acts of real giving—for each act was linked to a sense of identity, or inspired by ulterior motive, and therefore none meet the standards of a pure act of generosity—where the giver, the receiver and the gift are all empty of having an egoic load.

animal-shelter-teeamAs for me, after a lifetime of being conned in little and big ways, I have a healthy respect for this energy we call money; as we all must know by now, money in the wrong hands, or used with evil intention, can wreak terrible destruction.

That said, all unrepentant Scrooges be damned! It is such a delicious pleasure to be able to give! And while I am a zillion miles away from that exalted state where one gives without expecting even a simple thank you, I can honestly say that it’s always given me a super thrill to rustle up little gifts to all sorts of people—and not just to those I am emotionally attached to, or who can make my life easier in some way.

Here in Tiruvannamalai, home of the sacred mountain Arunachala and the incomparable sage Ramana Maharshi, I’ve found an organization I genuinely wish to support. It is the Arunachala Sanctuary for distressed animals; here’s the link: http://cms.arunachalasanctuary.com. Please especially do take a look at the “straight from the heart” messages from Leslie Robinson, who founded this sanctuary years ago, and who has kept it running, against all odds, with the ardent support of a few dedicated men and women, especially Vishwa, his assistant, and skilled and compassionate Dr. Raja, a master of surgery and so much else. (Donation details are at the end of this post!)

I’m going to end this post with excerpts from Leslie’s latest missive, written on June 20, 2013:

Dear Ones…

So much has happened since last I wrote. One of the major things was a shelter money crisis. It’s the first time ever we’ve had to deal with something like this. We actually ran out of money. Fortunately I was able to get a personal loan of $15,000 that gave us enough time to move towards our supporters to get money in. Survival itself was on the table.

The thought of us going down is almost unthinkable. Thousands, literally thousands of animals would fall into unbounded suffering. All the animals we care for through rescues, emergencies, adoptions, clinic visits, and hospital activity would come pouring onto the streets.

leslie-dogIn the first month alone there would be 20 to 50 suffering and dying animals on the street. After a year there would be over 250, which is where it was when we first opened. The good relationship between the homeless dogs and the humans amongst whom they live that was so hard to get would collapse. When there’s that much suffering it’s overwhelming and people can’t deal with it. They just cut the dogs out of their awareness. Rabies would re-manifest. In three or four years the population would once more be out of control and at least 7,000 more puppies would be born each year – most of whom would suffer and die.

It took us six years of focused effort, and many, many blessings, let alone an enormous amount of money to get to this point. Where all the animals—homeless, owner, domestic, wild. large, small, are cared for. Where the relationship between homeless dogs and the humans amongst whom they live has been transformed. (Tiru is probably the only sizeable municipality in the nation where this has happened). It’s unlikely that this would ever again happen, It would simply be lost. There might be sterilization programs, and perhaps a clinic, but nothing like what has magically unfolded here.

The pressure was enormous. We reached out in so many directions. And thank God there were enough of you out there that responded to carry us through. Immediate survival is no longer on the table. We have a three or four month platform to get things together. But we now carry a debt in excess of $25,000.

There were many, many others (who donated to keep us going). Some who were financially pressed themselves sent in modest donations. But money gets much, much more mileage here and every dollar really helps. All were sent in from the Heart and give us the energy to prevail and persevere.

There were some that were able to give enormous amounts. $1000, $2,500, $5,000. There was a bodhisattva yogi from Dubai whom I had only heard of. I was aware of his activities. That he was a yogi. And that he had a very beautiful heart. I sent him an unsolicited plea. Told him about us. And heard nothing for two weeks. Then Dr.Raja called from the post office. A check had come in the mail. He asked me to guess how much it was for. And then he told me. Five lakh. That’s equivalent to $10,000. Bless you. I think that you would like to remain anonymous.

Thanks to each of you. For those who are not inclined to donate, send us your good wishes. Say a prayer for us. Tell others.

Thank God for Dr. Raja and Vishwa. It’s simply humbling. The limitless energy and devotion that goes into their work. So much suffering is being lifted. Being inside the shelter is a deeply moving experience. All these vulnerable creatures. Feeling safe. Cared for. Resting. Playing. Chasing. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you Dr. Raja and Vishwa. My gratitude. My feelings for each of you are so vast and deep.

We could have put together a decent shelter without them. But never, never like the one we have with the two of you. It’s the energy. The love. The unassuming, unpretentious commitment that is operating all the time.

To you out there. I wish you could experience it. I wish for you the blessing at some time in your life of being in a situation where the efforts you put forth are able to lift so much suffering.


Hello again precious ones…if you don’t already know, according to certain teachings on karma, what goes around does not just come around in equal measure, but is multiplied at least four times; not that I’m suggesting you should give just so you can receive. But still, it’s reassuring from the human point of view to know that the cosmos showers abundant grace on those who acknowledge the fact that, in the ultimate analysis, we all originate, and must eventually return, to one inconceivably luminous source. And so, if you are even a fraction as moved as I am by the brilliant efforts of this valiant team, please make a donation, even if it’s a tiny amount.

For Direct Online transfers, please visit the website: http://cms.arunachalasanctuary.com/compassion

For Mailing Cheques:

Make cheque payable to “Arunachala Animal Sanctuary & Rescue Shelter” and mail to:

Arunachala Animal Sanctuary & Rescue Shelter
Chengam Road, Next to Government Arts College
Tiruvannamalai 606 603 Tamil Nadu, India

Important: Please do include a note with your name, address, and email address

For Wire Transfers:

Please email (arunachalashelter@yahoo.com) and we will send you instructions.

With much love and gratitude for being an integral part of my little life!

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  1. Lovely post Mira .. I love that quote by Gandhi – how we treat our animals is indicative of the greatness or not of a nation.
    I recently read ‘Freedom at Midnight’ by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. ‘The electrifying story of India’s struggle for Independence’ as it says on the cover. Grafton Books, 1982. It was indeed all that – close on 600 pages in small print. I found it so fascinating, and very troubling.

    • I loved Freedom at Midnight too…what a series of traumas, invasions, whatnot India has endured….my current novel, work-in-progress, deals partly with this aspect. Thanks for your comment — Gandhi was a wise wise soul…

      On Fri, Dec 13, 2013 at 10:07 PM, mira prabhu

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