Ahimsa Silk: An Interview with Cecilia
I would like to tell you something of the businesses we are establishing in India. This is an interview with Cecilia Patitucci, an Ananda member of many years from our center in Assisi, Italy.
She came to India as part of the first wave of Westerners with Swami Kriyananda in 2003-04, and has been part of Ananda India community ever since.
Cecilia is a person of great warmth, sophisticated sense of fashion, and a marvelous Italian charm, difficult to convey in print. Her story is fascinating.
You have started a clothing business in India. How did this come about?
Swami Kriyananda asked me if I would start a business with “khadi,” a fabric handwoven with the “charkha,” the spinning wheel.
When you see a flag of India, in the center you see the charkha, a great symbol of Indian independence, and one of the tools of revolution used by Gandhi. It was through the silent revolution of the charkha that Gandhi was able to call the people of India back to their historic roots of hand-weaving fabrics rather than having them imported from England.
Khadi holds a big symbol in the hearts of Indians, but it is something that has been forgotten because khadi is now considered a poor fabric, reminding people of past times of poverty.
Swamiji had the idea of using khadi because he has good friends involved in the khadi movement.
I met these people and through them, I began to study.
The word “khadi” has the same roots as “kare,” which means “making.” Khadi is about making — “handmade.” I started studying these fabrics, especially cottons, but also silks, and was inspired to create a line of clothing called the “Ananda India Yoga Line.”
These would be very simple clothes inspired by the Indian dress you see on the street: a simple kurta, which is a shirt with very few buttons and simple trousers, westernized to be more easily worn. I created a line for men and for women, both in cotton and in silk, and started to promote these in Italy through our cooperative at Ananda Assisi where it was well received. Soon after, I began to learn about organic cotton.
When you enter into the khadi world, you not only meet people interested in helping weavers and spinners in the villages but also people interested in the environment.
Organic cottons are those that are grown without the use of pesticides and without the use of chemical fertilizers. I started to meet these kinds of people, and a new world opened up for me. I wanted to work with organic cottons in order to create a yoga collection that would be extremely contemporary.
Organic cotton is grown and dyed without chemicals. The white fabrics are the result of soaking in water, soaps and other natural elements and then exposing them to the sun. The cotton is grown in Madhya Pradesh, in central India, and the fabric is dyed in Gujarat, the land of Gandhi.
I wanted to use vegetable dyes, and learned how to use these in the organic cottons, but found that not every dye is good. Some colors burn the organic cotton, so I am still in the process of learning about this. We have presented these fabrics in Italy and they have been very well received.
Then another world popped up into my life. This was the world of “ahimsa” silk. Ahimsa silk is obtained without killing the worms inside the cocoons so that they can become butterflies. It is a silk traditionally grown for yogis because yogis use silk for its vibration, and ahimsa silk, meaning “non-violence,” is a pure vibration fabric.
Many Jains (a religious sect) cultivate ahimsa silk in India. I met a Jain man who produces this ahimsa silk in a very poor region of India called Jarkhand, a place in Bihar. It is called Jarkhand because 60% of their land is covered with forest and “jarkhand” means “land of the forest.” This land of Jarkhand has many, many trees where this friend of mine started a social work 15 years ago to gather poor women together to harvest silk cocoons.
If you help the village women, you help the trees, because the trees are needed by these women to make their living out of the silk cocoons. They are not boiled, these cocoons, or suffocated by a heating process. They allow the worm to develop naturally into a butterfly. This means you cannot reel a thread out of the cocoon as is normally done in silk production to produce a perfect, unbroken thread. You have to keep the cocoon intact so the thread will be a little thicker, not perfect, but it will have the vibrations of ahimsa.
This story or helping women, helping the trees, and helping the environment, inspired me to make a new product — ahimsa silk-covered cushions for meditation and ahimsa silk-covered cushions for the neck. These two products were marketed successfully in Italy.
I developed a fabric without color, using the color of the silk as it comes out of the cocoon, and for another product I used the blue color of indigo, discovered in India thousands of years ago. Indigo is called this in the West because it was coming from India and it became the first widely used blue dye in the world.
In yoga, blue is symbolic because it is the color of the sky and the color of Krishna, making it perfect for the meditation and yoga. Ananda India now has a business called “Anjali Khadi Clothing.” I gave the company the name“Anjali” because in Sanskrit anjali is the act of offering something to the altar, and this company is an offering to God. “Anjali Khadi Clothing of Ananda Sangha India” develops the different lines of products.
Ananda India Yoga Line is the khadi clothing made of silk and cotton. Lotus Bio is the product line made from organic cotton. The products for meditation using ahimsa silk are called Ahimsa.
Each of these products comes with a beautifully designed tag showing an open lotus and the symbol of Ananda Sangha. We include the story of the product, a history of the fabric and where it is from. Customers see that there are people from several religions working together — Jain people, Muslim people, Hindus all working together.
I also include with each product quotations from Gandhi and Yogananda, because Gandhi saw khadi as a symbol of simplicity, purity, sincerity, calmness, and of love. He wanted to create a symbol of these qualities for everybody through khadi. This is a fabric bridge of love and peace between East and West. A bridge of qualities, the essence of India, passes through the fabric and comes to the West.
It sounds like a great adventure. What have been your obstacles?
The big thing has been the transformation of my person into the symbolism of these fabrics. The obstacles were many but they showed me how to expand my heart to face them.
I’ve had to do business with people who have a very different way of dealing with other people, a different way of dealing with work, different way of dealing with loyalty, sincerity, commitment, punctuality, and honesty.
All these things made my journey extremely difficult, but I discovered there was only one thing which could be transformed, and that was myself. I realized that just as it was so immensely difficult to have this fabric cleaned, cut the way I wanted, stitched as I wanted, or altered when it had been cut wrong, I understood that it was all just a symbol of what God is doing with each one of us.
I wanted my clothes to fit perfectly, so God wants us to perfectly fit our true nature. He has to cut us many times because we are never perfect the first time. Then He has to stitch us to make the perfect dress out of us. And the stitching is painful and it has to be done many times before becoming a perfect cloth. Then He has to clean us one, two, three times because this perfect fabric, cut and stitched, is full of spots. Then He has to iron us.
The process of making clothes out of fabric is simply a symbol of how we have to become something beautiful for God. Clean but simple, sincere, peaceful.
What have you learned that you didn’t anticipate?
First of all, you learn about your own mind.
You learn how you thought you were in peace, but discover you were not. I thought I had reached a point of joy and inner peace because I was coming to India every year for two months, going to all the spots of pilgrimage with a big inner joy, doing my sadhana (spiritual practices) and meditation, and loving India to the tips of my fingers
And then one day I began to see how my mind was agitated, how calmness was not there at all, how upset I could become with other people.
Before, I thought I was the biggest lover of people in the world. I had always been able to get through any experience just with love. Now I began to see how peace was not in my heart, how I was attached to events happening in a certain way, and how I was completely dependent on external situations in order to be happy, peaceful, and joyful.
I was completely dependent on how other people behaved in order for me to love them.
I came to see that there was a big work to do in expanding my heart and calming my mind.
So, what did you do?
I went deeper into meditation, especially becoming regular in the Aum Technique in order to hear the true sound of everything. I had to go back to Aum to get beyond the noise I was hearing every day in those noisy, burning factories with 47C, 50C degrees temperature, no fans working, all kinds of people coming, going, shouting.
I deepened my meditations because I realized that I was many times on the edge of madness, both from the craziness of the situation, of everyday fighting to have things done, and because of the incredible environment of heat.
The heat was impossible. The first time I came was in summer and it was 47 C (117 F) degrees. The external environment was extremely difficult and the internal environment began to burn my mind and my heart. I realized through this experience that I had a big job to do inside.
You mention the Aum Technique. What else did you do?
Meditation, Kriya Yoga, the Aum technique, prayer, and never giving up.
At the beginning, when I came to India, around Swamiji there was an enormous flow of energy poring out of him. Enormous! There was a wave of Master (Paramhansa Yogananda) coming through him needed to break the ice, or maybe I should say “fire” in such a country as this.
Being with him meant having all this karma coming up for each of us and we couldn’t be indulgent. We could not take care of only ourselves because we had a job to do every day. I could not say “No.” Without affirmations and prayers I couldn’t make it. Everyday was a fight.
It was difficult just getting out of the door. Taxis were constantly late, one hour to an hour and a half, or not coming at all, with drivers not understanding English, and us not speaking their language and getting lost. So many tears and feelings of desperation! You can only make it if it occurs to you that there is only one thing worth it, to liberate yourself. There is only one purpose for which we are here — to get free.
I have given my life to the Kriya Yoga path and I have been able to contribute with money, so this path has been my only purpose and I never gave up. Through the money that has come through this business, we have been able to publish Swamiji’s Essence of the Bhagavad Gita. We were able to do this entirely from India without other money from elsewhere. We paid for all the printing. But it has not been easy.
I learned a big lesson. It was not me that worked. That was a lesson that Swamiji helped me to understand. “Cecilia, here there is a big lesson for you. Ego! You have to learn that it is not you who is doing all this. Master will take it all from you until you understand that it is not you who is doing. God is the Doer.”
My second lesson was when I was extremely, intensely challenged by the people I was meeting every day. It was a world of men, naturally. Not only were they thinking that women are inferior, but a blond, young, single foreigner woman is something completely strange to them. I was constantly alone. I learned that if I wanted to survive, I could not try to transform anyone. The only thing I could do was to transform myself.
By expanding my heart, so that I could love more. That doesn’t mean being stupid or naive, but loving more with wisdom, so I would not be affected by so many arrogant men, so very proud.
You feel that you had these troubles because you are a woman. Would it have been the same if you were a man?
It is the same with foreign men, but being a woman is worse. There is a different way in India of dealing with precision, commitment, client service, and time: the crucial things when you produce something. I found myself with a mind extremely agitated, and a heart becoming dryer and dryer.
How did you deal with that?
I have been praying. I have a very strong faith and I am a very stubborn person. It doesn’t occur to me to stop. Never. If Guru gave me something through Swamiji, I have to do it. Indeed, this has been my biggest blessing. No question.
Here you must learn to be detached. In the end, you understand that it is not those outward things that are important, but rather how your mind reacts to them. When Master throws to you, every day for three years, fifteen examples of non-punctuality or non-precision, maybe there is a lesson in that. It is my daily work to not identify with what I do. It is a high challenge, and I am still praying every day that my life can become sweeter and softer, more peaceful in my mind, and more loving in my heart.
What do you see as the future of the business?
It is expanding. I want to reach more markets. Now I have one employee where before I was alone. I want to have even more people. I think it is worth it because I see that the organic world is waiting, especially in America where there is a huge, enormous market. I want to explore the production of more organic things.
I would like to start a line of organic cotton bedsheets, cotton bathrobes and towels. I see a beautiful future for the business, with a team.
How would you sum up your experience?
My experience has been about making a connection with the deep reality of India. It is a reality of 750 million people living in 750 thousand villages, a reality where 75% of the population lives in an environment opposite of the big cities where we live. It is a reality of doing something connected with the soil of India, a soil being destroyed by pesticides and fertilizers, and a reality of farmers forced to take out loans they cannot repay. We have put our finger into the villages with khadi, organic cotton and silk. We are helping poor women have something sustainable by allowing them to harvest cocoons.
Ananda Sangha has a connection with the country of India through working with the fabrics produced by these three different realities: khadi from villages, organics without pesticides and fertilizers, and ahimsa silk, helping both the environment and the women of Jarkand.