Earthaven Ecovillage Podcast
Broadcast November 1, 2021
Featuring: Swami Ravi Rudra Bharati
Swami Ravi Rudra Bharati, formerly known as Dr. Rudolph Valentine, has been very committed to the integration of Eastern thought, particularly yoga and tantra, and permaculture, and all that implies, as well as it relates to healing.
Swami Ravi shares his background as a physician and holistic healer of Ayurvedic medicine in clinics in India and the US. During his medical career, he studied tantra, which he began teaching after retiring from medicine. In 2004, he moved to Earthaven, continued teaching, and developed the Dancing Shiva retreat center.
Most of the conversation explores a holistic view of soil health, plant health, the health of people and the planet, including the implications and challenges for healing the people and Gaia.
Recent Earthaven Ecovillage Podcast Episodes
We discovered that Tantra and permaculture were really based on very similar principles. My long-term interest has been in the interface between these two disciplines and all that implies, as well as how that relates to healing. So, yeah, we’re here at Earthaven, where this intersection of different disciplines is what it’s all about.
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Earthaven Ecovillage Podcast, where we meet people and hear ideas contributing to Earthaven Ecovillage’s Living Laboratory for a Sustainable Human future. I’m Debbie Lienhart, and today I’m excited to talk with one of our Earthaven members and elders, Swami Ravi Rudra Bharati. So, would you like to introduce yourself?
Introducing Swami Ravi Rudra Bharati
My name is Swami Ravi Rudra Bharati. And I was formerly known as Dr. Rudolph Ballentine. I’ve been living at Earthaven for 17 years, and I have been very committed to the integration of Eastern thought, particularly yoga and Tantra and permaculture. And in fact, at one point, Patricia Allison and myself offered a nine-week live-in workshop or event on the integration of permaculture and Tantra, and that was very exciting and very fun. We sort of discovered that tantra and permaculture were really based on very similar principles, and that’s what we played off of during that event.
My long-term interest has been in the interface between these two disciplines and all that implies, as well as how that relates to healing, because in my previous incarnation, I was a physician and practiced holistic medicine for 45 years before I retired. So, yeah, we’re here at Earthaven, where this intersection of different disciplines is kind of what it’s all about. And as we work toward a sustainable way of living, we need to weave in all these things that we have learned over the centuries to create something that is truly alive and enlivening as a way of life.
Swami Ravi’s journey through medicine
One of the things you bring is that you’ve been a real physician in Western medicine and then had quite a journey through different kinds of medicine. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I went to medical school at Duke Medical School, not far from here, and received my MD degree. And then I did a residency in psychiatry in New Orleans in Louisiana. Before that, I did a rotating internship where I had an opportunity to use all my skills — delivering babies, doing surgery, and so forth. Then, I did my training in psychiatry. And in the course of that, I became interested in yoga. And at that point, yoga was something really new in the US. This was 1973.
And so the only way you could really find out much about yoga was to go somewhere else to learn it. And so I ended up going to India, and that’s where I met my teacher. And I also was involved in studying Ayurveda because that was a holistic medical system.
Yeah, that’s the traditional system of medicine in India, which would be comparable to Chinese medicine that comes from the culture of China. So I studied that and lived and worked at an Ayurvedic hospital for some time. And then I became interested in the integration of those things, and my teacher invited me to come back to the US. He was already established in the US, and we created a program of what we call combined therapy, which combined many Western holistic techniques, Ayurveda, yoga, meditation, and so forth. So I did that work for 20 years. And then I set up a clinic in New York City, which I ran for a number of years and then wrote a book to summarize what I had learned about how all these traditions fit together. And that was called “Radical Healing.” And once I had completed the book and could offer it to the world, I retired from medicine and began to devote my time to teaching Tantra, which was something that had been part of my training with my teacher from the beginning.
Starting to teach tantra
So I had 20 years of intensive training in tantra and began to teach. I taught at a school called the Body Electric School, which was in California. And then I taught increasingly on my own. And then I came to Earthaven and eventually created this retreat center where we’re sitting today Dancing Shiva, which is part of Earthaven and thereby had access to an environment — both a learning environment, because it’s embedded in Earthaven, but also surrounded by nature and surrounded by beautiful forests, which is the ideal place to teach tantra and the ideal place to help people improve their health. So I’ve had the joy of being here for all these years and continuing to do that.
Tantra is in one sense, you could say it’s advanced yoga, but many of the teachings of yoga come from Tantra, like the idea of Kundalini Shakti and the concept of the chakras, and really a lot of the understanding of breath. But these are what are called in India sister sciences, like yoga and tantra and Ayurveda are all so closely related, but kind of based on the same foundations and therefore really easily integrated. But that is also characteristic of most of the teachings that come out of India, whether it’s philosophy or science or whether it’s medicine or spirituality, they aren’t really so separate as they are in the west.
And that’s because the thinking in the way of dealing with life is much more holistic. They are holistic, meaning that it thinks of it all as a whole rather than separate pieces. And that’s one of our great stumbling blocks in the west is that we fragment everything in the interest of analysis, which is very valuable. But then there’s another thing called synthesis. And if you do all analysis and no synthesis, then you end up feeling scattered.
Relationship to the holistic aspect of permaculture
I’m looking on the wall over there, the diagram done by one of the founders of Permaculture, David Holmgren. He has a flower-like diagram with all the different aspects of permaculture. And there are so many. At the very bottom is holistic medicine, the foundation of it all. When we step into permaculture, we step into holistic thinking, which is refreshing.
A story from the tantra and permaculture workshop taught with Patricia Allison
There were so many wonderful events. I remember one of the participants was from a very different lifestyle, doing healing work. And somehow he got interested in permaculture. And he came and it was very difficult for him because to pull together all these different ways of thinking was almost painful. And he used to come to my place where I stayed and kind of sob and weep. And like, “I don’t know whether I can do this.” But he did. And I think changed his life in a lot of ways.
Patricia was so broad and her scope of thinking, it all was exciting for her to bring these different things together. And so we just had a lot of fun.
About building Dancing Shiva at Earthaven Ecovillage
Now you’re up here and we’re in this beautiful Dancing Shiva place that you’ve built and some other people had started some things. But you’ve done a lot with it. So can you tell us about developing this site?
For many years, I was doing weekend workshops on tantra, especially for men. And it was a life-changing experience for a lot of people because such a different way of thinking about themselves and their bodies and the relationship between sexuality and spirituality, and all of that. And the way that we did the workshops was everybody helped produce the workshop. So when we cooked meals, different people took shifts to help cook and then to clean up and then to empty the compost. And then all the things that make a workshop go.
Everyone was doing it. So we were functioning in a weekend as this little mini community. And at the end, people would always say, Why do we have to leave? Why DO we have to leave? This is the way I would like to live. And so after doing that for six or eight years, I thought, Why do we have to leave? And so maybe we can create a place where we just live that. And so that’s how Dancing Shiva came into being. We wanted to set up a place where you could live the teachings.
And then it occurred to us eventually, of course, that that’s the basic idea of a monastery. Can we live the teachings? And can we all participate in growing the food and cleaning up and cutting down the trees and hauling the firewood and doing all the things that need to be done to make life possible and still remain in that state of mind and in that environment that is conducive to this other way of living. And so that’s what we have been striving to develop here at Dancing Shiva and now are able to enjoy it.
I had the privilege of coming to a recent retreat here. Deep ecology and yoga retreat. It was a very sweet environment to be retreating in.
And so that makes such a difference. I mean, these things like yoga and permaculture, you just can’t teach them in a hotel meeting room. You can try and you can get across some of the concepts, but you can’t feel it. You need to be out in the forest. You need to be in the woods. You need to be in a place where your surroundings are supporting what you’re learning.
The relationship between soil health, plant health, and the health of people
I think the punchline, which I will give you first, is that we really aren’t separate. We think of ourselves as separate, and they’re the plants, and they’re the people. And then there’s the food. And these are different issues, but they’re not in a way. Our challenge is to put the pieces back together and try to understand it as a whole functioning system. So we know, for example, that in the body, in the human body, there are somewhere around 200,000 different proteins that need to be synthesized for good health, for really, not just to stay alive, but to have vibrant health.
The human genome only contains 25,000 genes, and one gene oversees the production of one protein. So how on earth are we supposed to get all the other things that we need? It turns out that our tissues of our body are actually teeming with microbes. Bacteria have probably, now I’m not remembering the figures, but hundreds of thousands of genes among them, because there are many different varieties of bacteria. And then in our tissues, also are fungi, and they have even more diversity and more genetic material, up into the billions of different genes. And then they are parasites, which we are always trying to identifyo s we can take strong antimicrobials to kill because we shouldn’t have parasites in the body. But actually, we should have what we call parasites. They’re not really parasites. They’re actually allies. They are manufacturing some of these 200,000 things we need that the body can’t manufacture, and so are the bacteria, and so are the fungi. So our bodies are actually very similar to the soil.
So where do we get these microbes? Well, they used to be everywhere, but we permeated the planet with antimicrobials and pesticides and chemicals that will kill microbes. And we’re always obsessed. There are advertisements on television about how you should use this detergent for your wash, because otherwise, bacteria might be on your clothes. You can’t put clothes on your children with bacteria on them.
Well, actually, there are bacteria all over the surface of our bodies and inside of our bodies. And we need a wide variety of them. In the scientific community now, and that part of the scientific community that’s studying this issue. They have developed this term of postbiotics, not prebiotics or probiotics, but postbiotics, meaning the substances that the microbes produce in our bodies that supply those other 175,000 substances that we need for good health. So the postbiotics are really where the important information is and the important functions are. So in order for these microbes in our bodies to produce those things that we need, we need several things. We need them (the microbes) and one of the best places you can get them is from the soil. So if you go out into the garden and you grow your food, you’re not just growing the food that has all this richness, but you’re inhaling the microbes that your body needs to be able to produce the things you want from that excellent food. So this is where the boundaries blur. Like, where does this organism of life stop? And where is some different thing happening? Because actually, they’re bleeding into each other because we need the food from the soil.
But we also need the microbes from the soil. If the soil has been poisoned with pesticides and is using chemical fertilizer, we won’t get that from the soil, and neither will the plants. So the plants will be lacking in trace minerals, for example. But they’ll be lacking in other substances as well that microbes are producing.
Plants and mycorrhizae
In fact, the roots of the plants secrete a sugary sweet substance that feeds the microbes so that the microbes can then feed the plants now. So where does the plant stop and the mycorrhizae start? It’s all one system. So all these microbes living in our body that need to produce all these wonderful things, they also need raw materials to produce them from. And that has to come from the plants. So what we’re eating should contain a wide variety of different plants, substances and different kinds of molecules that different plants produce.
Problems with loss of diversity
When we have a diet, like in the United States, where there are, like, six or eight plants that most of our food supplies are made from, then that impoverished source of nutrition can’t really support the work that all those microbes living in your body and your own cells are trying to do. So there’s such a loss of diversity. This is just how the world expresses the issues that… We have trouble with diversity, we can’t accept people that don’t look like us. Well, the same thing. We’re destroying the diversity in the soil.
We’re destroying the diversity in the food crops. We’re destroying the diversity of microbes in our bodies with antibiotics that kill microbes. So if you take antibiotics for sore throat or for whatever, you’re killing off a huge number of those microbes that live in your body. And then when you dump Roundup on your soil, you’re killing all the microbes in the soil. So the plants rely on the microbes in the rhizosphere of the plant. That’s the area around the root. There are these fungi that are called mycorrhizae.
And without the mycorrhizae, the plants can’t absorb the nutrients that are in the soil. So you’re cutting them off from their food supply. It takes 2 grams of roundup to destroy all the mycorrhizae on an acre of land, and we’re spraying on, I forget how many billions of pounds a year on the soils in the United States. So when we disrupt, we actually fragment nature and cut the pieces apart from each other where they can’t join and function together. Then we are creating dis-ease. There is a disease on the planet.
And there’s a disease in our bodies because we aren’t getting what we need. So we have in our kind of mania and our fear of microbes, we have been really destroying our health. And so what we need is to begin to have more respect for the integrality of nature. This is an integrated system that is beyond our current understanding. A little by little, we’re learning more and more and more, but we’re still so far from grasping both the wide scope of it and the intricacy of each detail and how everything is interlinked with everything else.
So instead, we split it apart in pieces. Well, that part, meaning those microbes, are to be feared. So we have to destroy them. Well, now this is a bizarre kind of thinking and a very disturbing and destructive way of thinking. This is what leads to wars. And so it’s the same mentality and we use that terminology. It’s the war against cancer. The war against the viruses. It’s the war against the bacteria. We’re at war. And so the war always tends to destroy both the people that you’re trying to kill and yourselves.
And so the war mentality is not where it’s at. It’s a misstep like Oops, that was the wrong way to go, let’s step back and see. Well, how can we approach this? Not as a war, but as a kind of marveling at the collaboration of all aspects of nature to create this planet. It’s so incredible and beautiful and magnificent and brilliant. And can we just be in awe of that and grateful for that? And then we can become healthy?
The relationship between human health and planetary health
In one session I gave once near Atlanta, everybody’s talking about global warming back now, people backed off and they said climate change. But still everyone’s thinking global warming. Gaia, which is the planet earth, has a fever. She has a fever because we are really hacking away at her. And we’re doing so many things that are destructive to her that she’s falling ill and has a fever. This is one angle to think about it from, which is quite valid, I believe, if we want her to be well. And here’s the whole key to this. She is us. I mean, we’re part of her. It’s not really us over here and Gaia over there. Gaia includes us. We’re part of that network of living things. And that living organism, Gaia includes us. And so by making her sick, we’re getting sick because we’re part of her. Yes, it’s all one challenge. And to think you can address climate change without addressing what are you doing to the fields of the agricultural lands of the whole planet? When you’re dumping poisons on the land and you’re killing off the microbes?
And how does that affect what goes into the air and the levels of carbon dioxide. Plants take carbon dioxide and make oxygen. But when you spray herbicides on the land, it kills the plants. So the plants can’t convert the carbon dioxide into oxygen. And then we say, oh, we have rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Well, could that be that you’re killing the plants that used to convert the carbon dioxide into oxygen and water? Maybe that’s such an obvious point, but that doesn’t seem to get into the discussion.
Part of our fragmentation, our fragmenting tendency is that we look at every issue as an isolated issue, and we don’t see how all the issues are interconnected. “That’s just too much. Can’t deal with that.” That cripples us in our attempts to really do something productive and constructive for our health and for the planet’s health. And the two are the same.
So when we talk about nature now, people are talking about forest bathing, like using connection with the forest as a healing process. Well, yeah, it really does work but we are making the forest sick. So we have to heal nature before nature can heal us with the efficiency that it could because we are damaging it. So it’s a self destruction thing because the whole thing is us. And yet we’re destroying it. And we think that that makes sense, but it really doesn’t.
So we have to kill the viruses. Well, guess what? Viruses are not alive. Scientists have been saying that for a long, long time. They’re not living creatures. There’s no life in a virus. You can crystallize it and put it in a jar and come back in 100 years and it’s still there. Viruses are not living entities and so we have the idea that the viruses come in. Now, I don’t know who came up with this way of thinking, but the viruses come in and they sort of take over the cell and make it produce more of itself because it can’t reproduce because it’s not alive. Well, how can a non-living thing try to take over your cells? I mean, what would that mean? How could it have the intention? But we project onto the viruses, these monsters, and they have ill will toward us, and they want to destroy us. But they’re not even living things. They’re just a chemical compound.
So this is a bizarre kind of human tendency. And the technical term for it, of course, is paranoia. There are these little things out there. They’re trying to kill me. Well, I don’t see. Oh, they’re out there. I know they are. And they’re trying to… That’s called paranoia.
So our paranoid tendencies have led us to destroy a lot of nature. There’s a fear of nature. There’s a book called “The Problem of Civilization” by Derek Jensen. And he says that we, particularly people in North America, we have a fear of wild nature, like the dark forest. There’s evil things that go on there, and it swallows you up, kills you. And so we have been dedicating ourselves since we landed on the shores of Massachusetts or wherever it was, Plymouth Rock and so forth to conquer nature.
Well, what does it mean to conquer nature? We are part of it. So we’ve really destroyed a lot of the integrity of the life forms on the continent and out of fear and projecting that fear. So fear is not the answer. And war is not the answer. That’s a bumper sticker that the Quakers will offer you if you want one. War is not the answer. War has never been the answer to anything. So, yes, we need to step out of that paranoid position, that paranoid place, into more of a sense of awe and respect and cherishing the richness of the nature that we are and that we inhabit. And we are because we are the one big system that’s called nature.
Programs at Dancing Shiva
We have a website, dancingshivatantra.com. You can find all the information there. You can also email us at . We are offering all kinds of programs on the interface between deep ecology, permaculture, yoga, meditation, and tantra. And we have programs at all kinds of levels. We have entry level programs. We have an advanced program, a three-year program for training teachers to teach this. And we’re in our third three-year iteration of that.
We are here to work along with our other neighborhoods at Earthaven to try to offer the world a sustainable future and see if people will become as fascinated by that possibility as we are. We also have some online offerings and we’re organizing more.
This podcast is produced by Earthaven Ecovillage’s School of Integrated Living in Western North Carolina.