“Do you ride them? Are they smart? I’ve heard they’re mean and dangerous. Will they pull stuff?”
I used to stumble a little with how to explain what we do with our camels, at the Sacred Camel Gardens, because it is different.
These days I just reply, “We love them.”
It starts and ends with that.
Some still wonder, “… but you must do something with them… don’t they have to be productive, functional, make you money or something… do you sell them?”
“Human beings propagandize themselves to the point where they don’t have to be sensitive to where they are, or what it’s laws are, what’s really happening there. Human beings dehumanize one another. They select some group to hate, and ‘We’re the good guys, you’re the bad guys’—they do all this kind of stuff all the time. Well, they do the same thing with the non-humans. You’re desensitized to the point where you can treat them like they’re just stuff. You know, so what does a chameleon do that makes any difference? Why ‘chameleon’ it then, you know? It doesn’t seem like it has any real purpose to the human view often, it seems…
‘It’s not human. It’s sub-existing, you know. It’s not a person. It’s not aware. It’s just a thing…’
I mean, the animals or the non-humans may look to you like they don’t really have much to do, what’s the point, you see. They can live a whole lifetime without doing anything that you think is creative especially. They just seem to exist somehow. It doesn’t look productive at all. It’s extremely non-human. [mild laughter] You think, ‘What difference does that make? Bump it off, whatever, abuse it.’ [laughter]“ ~ Adi Da Samraj
Together, we (the camels and me, and all who support the Sacred Camel Gardens) have assumed a unique position and direction here on this land.
Over the years Adi Da has guided me in a process, through both life and death, where I’ve come to feel these camels, and any being, human or non-human, to be my equal – not just philosophically, but altogether – spiritually, practically, physiologically, culturally. And my fundamental way of relating to them has gradually changed. We don’t sell them. We don’t force-train them. I will not betray their trust in us. Instead, we try to honor everything about them, who they are, how they feel, what they want, and need. I try to take their real needs into account. If our relationship is to be equal then everything I do has to honor the sacred in them, in myself, in the interactions between us, in all life.
My engagement with them isn’t about training them to do what I need and want. It’s about allowing for a relationship of understanding and trust that will see us through the joys and travails of life together, always deepening and becoming stronger. I value their wanting to do things with me, to walk with me because they want to, to let me ride them because they want me there, to sit with me because we enjoy sitting together, to run because we’re playful. I want them to learn to look out for me, to keep me safe, to care about my welfare. And this is mutual. I strive to respect their moods, their individual issues with things, their preferences, their need to be alone today, or to engage with me. As I move among them I want to serve their relationships with each other. I’ll step in sometimes to break up squabbles. I’ll protect one who’s being bullied. I’ll discipline those who are bullying others. And through all this they have learned to come to me sometimes with their issues, seeking my help with their concerns. I’m kind and firm and fair, always looking out for their best interests as individuals and as a group. Sometimes if one camel is dealing with another and I know it’s warranted then I might assist and support. Through all this I build my standing among them, and they trust and value me, and want me among them, almost as one of their own, a servant, a friend, a leader and a follower, a listener and a whisperer.
I’m daily disarmed by their openness, their hearts warmed wide beneath sky and stars on open fields. I’m moved to protect and care for them as the Sacred Herd they are, and have become. When others visit they feel something special here, too. In its heart the herd is happy. They like and enjoy people. Three of them prefer not to interact much with humans. This is fine. When they want to they do.
I’m always learning more about how to honor them, where I fall short, where I might improve, how I can be a better steward, a better influence, how to guide the young ones to be good and safe with humans, and with each other. They watch and learn a great deal from me so I must set the good example. The more human I am, and the more human I become, the more my influence supports them in who they are as camels, individually and as a herd. They are always teaching my heart, reflecting to me where I need to feel more fully, listen more, become still or active, firmer, clearer or more patient.
Adi Da and the camels have gifted me with the opportunity to learn a different way of being. And this is fundamentally changing my view of life and death, meditation and love. It’s also opening my heart. Today I live more aware and sensitive to the knowledge and reality that nothing is mine, that nothing and no one can be held onto, ever. To do so is illusory and inevitably always painful.
No purchased animal has ever really been owned. No human being, bought and sold, has ever been owned. The idea of ownership is a man-made illusion. Any supposed owner of any apparent ‘other’ is as much entrapped as the one owned.
Wherever and whenever ownership of an other is assumed, no one is free.
If there’s a slave in our midst, human or otherwise, we’re all enslaved, always enslaving ourselves.
Only a trapped man seeks ownership of another, or any thing.
For a human to buy and own animals, or other humans, his heart must first bare a grave misunderstanding of everything – life, who we are, what other beings, things, places and natural processes are…
Original primitive man may have owned his wooden spoon, his sandals, his bow and arrow, but not much else. He didn’t own the land, the rivers, or the sky. His prey was gifted to him by the life around. (Even his spoon and sandals were seen as gifts.) He didn’t own the animals, the plants, the water. These things were given and received, not taken, and they were shared with everyone and everything else.
In all times there have been people, in groups and tribes, who fought over territory, owned women, took slaves, and so on. But there were also other cultures who managed to live beyond those basic sub-denominators. These people nurtured an understanding of life steeped in respect for the sacred, viewing themselves as caretakers and protectors of land and sky, and everything between. In the face of the always reappearing, bludgeoning, ‘Orcs of Middle Earth’ such benign and wise cultures stood little chance. And this is equally true now. Look around.
Almost nothing is sacred now. There are more humans in terrible slavery today than ever before. There are more non-humans in slavery than at any time in the history of the earth. The rivers are owned. The oceans are disrespected. The earth is stripped bare. The skies are owned. Vast numbers of people who think they are free are owned. Politicians are owned. Media is owned. Religions are owned. Conservation organizations are owned. We’ve all been forced into a culture of owning and being owned. And we’ve even required it.
But it’s all imagined. We make it up. It’s a terrible lie. A secret to many. But deep down we know we’re participating in a made-up existence. Good, honest, free relationships are rare these days, and more rare. They exist, but not so much anymore. There is great and growing doubt, and distrust, in the human world. But this is not any one person’s fault. The fault rests in the way we’re choosing to live, in the ways we are, and are not, together. It’s a larger, always present-time, human fault.
The non-humans are not ours. The trees are not. Nor the rivers, or the sea and sky. We’ve stolen them, right from where they stand, while our hearts sleep.
The camel is not ours, the horse is not, the dogs and cats are not, nor the parrots or the whales. No thing, and no one, is ours in this life. We exist here like everything else, in profound Mystery, while our bodies and intimate life stories move in and away in perpetual cycles as painful and beautiful as morning light.
So it is best to simply love these camels. I love them like brothers and sisters. And they love me. Together we look into the unknown now, and the unknowable tomorrow, breathed by life, ignorant only of everything.
The potential for something different does exist. We might even consider the bold possibility of the actual integration of human and non-human cultures into one great, diverse, sacred culture of the earth, where all beings are allowed, at heart, to be equal, where death is an accepted and beautiful transition, not a terrible, benighted, ending, where mortality informs the heart rather than crushes it, where understanding and reality supplant clumsy imagination, man-made religious ideas and scientific stuffiness.
And maybe then, the camel will truly have delivered all of us into the desert of experience as wise men and women — every single one of us, not merely those few beards on the sands, in that holy book…
This is what can be learned from the sacred cultures of the open fields, and of the forests and water.
This is the thread of real life gesturing to exist and develop here at the Sacred Camel Gardens, in this world where human beings, increasingly insane, are always only wandering off, bewildered, into separate lives, afraid and dangerous as only humans can be.
Yes. All the camels are Sacred.