Short on Money, This Man in Bali Runs an Orphanage on PositivityNone By Matt Alesevich
A few winding streets away from some of Bali's most luxurious tourist villas, contributors to the island’s $7-billion-dollar-a-year tourism trade, there's a children's home that operates on a mere $15,000 per year.
The home is run by 47-year-old Bali native Dada Sutapananda, a yoga teacher with a neo-humanist philosophy of selfless giving who, admittedly, never truly knows where next month's operating funds will come from.
With 25 children aged 6 to 20 counting on him, one would assume he's a pretty stressed out guy.
Through yoga, meditation and service to others, however, Dada maintains his equilibrium, happiness, and confidence, and he’s always found a way to make ends meet with a smile.
Eager to discover what makes Dada's unwavering optimism tick, Happify caught up with him at his Ananda Kuranja Ashram and Children's Home outside of Singaraja, Bali.
Is it true you run a children's home with no fixed funding or support?
In the beginning, I [found out I] had eight boys coming to my place, so I said, "Okay, I'll take care of them." Actually, I didn't know where the money would come from! I thought I will just start and go with the flow. It's been two and a half years, and I haven't had a problem. Money sometimes lacks a little, but I don't have a problem with the minimum requirement of food and clothes. We have simple accomodation. Casually people come and give donations or food or clothes, but it's never fixed.
Doesn't this worry you?
I talk to parents and they always say this: "I have two children. How do you take care of and school 25 children and pay for this and that and just laugh?" It's because I know that whenever you do good things, there will be a way. I have a very strong confidence in myself. I'll do something and get a donation or contact or find people who want to help. It just happens. I don't have a website. I don't have a leaflet. People get to know me from meditation or talking somewhere and things happen naturally.
How are you able to sustain the home on such limited resources?
Well, our rice comes from the rice paddies we have. It helps we never have to buy rice. Some people or the department of social services will bring a few sacks of rice or oil or books or money for tuition fees. We grow our food on our land, and we do karma yoga with a worker bee mentality. Every day the boys and girls do karma yoga of planting and home scale farming for our consumption of vegetables. We grow jackfruit, papaya, chili, bananas and all sorts of veggies. I tell the children that here we learn to live simply but healthy. That is my motto: healthy simplicity.
The children here learn yoga and meditation. How did you get into that yourself?
I started doing meditation when I was in high school. I learned from my school teacher who was doing meditation, and after I finished high school, I met a [spiritual teacher] from the United States. I was doing [English to Indonesian] translation for him and being around him, I realized that I wanted to be like him.
What were the early effects meditation had on you?
When I started doing meditation at this time, a lot of people didn't like it and thought, "What is this? What is he doing?" People were talking about me, but it didn't bother me. I felt like my mind was beyond disturbances from the outside. That's when I thought: I have to do this for my life. I can't stop now.
Are meditation and giving back to others one and the same?
They really go together. The more I meditate, the more I feel like I have to take care of people. If I have food, I'll give it to other people first, and I feel satisfied. I'm more satisfied inside giving than taking food myself. I'm more happy when other people are happy.
Many spiritual tourists travel to Bali to find happiness. Being a native, how does that make you feel?
A lot of people come to Bali to do spiritual things and sometimes in a week pay three thousand dollars for a yoga retreat and its glamour. But outside the glamour, a lot of Balinese can't even go to school. The glamor is not shared by all people. I advise people that maybe they can help a center like ours. To make the mind peaceful, it takes not only meditation. The more you do service, the greater and better your meditation and mind is.
Can you define “service” for us?
Service means helping people without expectation. Doing service and getting something back? That's business. Paying three thousand dollars to stay in a good place and learn meditation is a spiritual business. The one that will purify your mind is when you help people and the only expectation is to make them happier and better. Don't expect anything from the people you help. Have a duty to make them a better person. That is real service and the kind that will purify your mind.
So when you serve the children, you don't have any expectations?
I help them. Later if they come back to the center and help—okay. If not, okay—as long as they are happy. Whether the kids remember me or I don't even get a thank you, it doesn't matter to me. As long as they are happy, I will be happy. This is the spirit that makes me happy. My success is if my children are a success. My mind is free. I'm free. I tell the kids that they should thank the people that helped them—that they have to help others, but if they don't, I'm ready for that. I'm happy even if they don't say thank you. That is the key to happiness.
What is an example of an expectation leading to unhappiness?
Let's say someone comes to a [spiritual] retreat. They think: "I will be very happy when I come." Then they get what seems like nothing. They get 10, but they were expecting 50, so they never feel happy. When you go to a meditation center, you have to say, "I will go to the center. Whatever happens, I will be okay. If I don't feel good, I will be okay because I'm trying. If I feel good, I will be okay too." The secret of happiness is different than the secret of business. With happiness, you have to develop very little expectation. You should focus on making other people happy. If you can make 100 people happy, you will be very happy.
After morning meditation, one 18-year-old boy said, "I feel so blessed, relaxed and nice during meditation." He’s had a tough life, no?
Yes, but not only him. Our children are accustomed to meditation. We have one girl who is the same age from [a nearby children’s home]. A few nights ago she came to me and said, “Dada. I had a very good meditation. I felt so good that tears of happiness were coming down my face.”
What exactly is happening when people have intense feelings of wellbeing?
When we meditate, breathing is controlled. We call [breathing control] “pranayama.” Between inhale and exhale, there is a natural pause. Over time, the pauses will be longer, and as they accumulate, it will allow your concentration to be longer. I’m not saying to hold your breath. It’s about the accumulation of that space of relaxation in the mind. The more relaxed the mind [is], the more relaxed the nerves [will be], and you will feel bliss.
This doesn’t sound like something that will happen overnight.
People think one hour of meditation will be like a miracle. It’s not a miracle. It’s a practice. It’s a regular practice, and it can’t be done in one day. Only when meditation is your lifestyle, part of your everyday life, will it bring a good impact on you.
How can we make meditation a lifestyle?
You have to meditate whether it’s difficult or easy—you have to continue. Then slowly, slowly you will get into a flow. You have to be patient with meditation. Patience is very important. It's not instant like clicking on Google and getting all the information at once—it’s like pounding an iron to make a sword. If you want your mind to be happy, you have to mold it into happiness.
Matt Alesevich is a New York City-based travel, relationship and human interest writer. His work can be found at www.mattalesevich.com and he can be followed on Twitter.
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