We care for hundreds of animals, birds, reptiles and fish at Skanda Vale, many of whom have been rescued from abuse or neglect. Our most famous animal is Valli, a three tonne temple elephant from Sri Lanka.
Valli is 35 years old (which means she’s about middle aged) and she’s been with the same keeper, Swami Karuna, since she arrived here in Skanda Vale, over 34 years ago.
As a baby growing up in Sri Lanka, Valli was somehow separated from her mother and the rest of the herd. She was discovered sheltering with a herd of wild buffalo, and was taken to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage to be cared for.
Soon after, Valli was donated to Skanda Vale by President Jayawardena – in recognition of our service to Sri Lankans living in the UK.
Valli has three full time keepers, and an enormous purpose-built elephant house, with heated walls, sandpits, a waterfall and plunge pool.
Caring for animals as a spiritual sadhana
Spiritual life involves the development of our conscience, our mindfulness and our sensitivity. And so we become more attuned to the beauty, and the needs, of the plants, animals and people that surround us. We feel that there is a great sacredness to life. There’s a Divinity in nature, and it’s our duty, and our joy, to nurture it.
We have hundreds of animals at Skanda Vale. Making sure they are kept healthy and happy is a very important part of our training as monks and nuns. It’s not always easy; sometimes the animals don’t want to cooperate (especially when it’s raining).
So this work teaches us to go beyond our personal likes and dislikes. At first we may resent the work. But as we apply ourselves, we can begin to forget our problems. Then, we begin to develop a deeper feeling of purpose.
Caring for animals makes us feel positive and clear-minded because, in offering this service without pay, without reward, we are attuning ourselves to the Divine qualities of Dharma (righteousness), Shanti (peace), Ahimsa (non-violence), Prema (love) and Satya (truth), within us.
We keep practising, and before long these Divine qualities ignite a feeling of bliss in our hearts. Caring for life is a great and powerful spiritual practice, because it naturally harmonises our desires, thoughts and actions into selfless love – the greatest and most precious Grace of all.
It makes no difference how lowly or humble the work may at first appear, it is the consciousness in which it is performed that makes it Divine.
Two spiritual lessons we learn from animals:
Patience: Animals are incredibly sensitive – particularly the less domestic kind, because their survival depends on how quickly they can detect a threat. Working with animals teaches us to become much more aware of the vibration we carry.
Animals feel afraid, and will refuse to cooperate if we are stressed and irritable. We have to be kind and gentle to win their trust and cooperation. They teach us to be simple and sincere.
Mindfulness: Animals are present minded. The real value of this becomes clear when an animal suffers an injury, or a period of ill health. For animals, the injury or illness is predominantly a physical problem.
They feel pain, but they are far less likely to make it such an emotional issue. Compare animals to people – when a person gets sick their whole world turns upside down, “What about money? How will I drive to work…”
It is very humbling and inspiring to nurse animals. Their lack of self pity makes them incredibly resilient, and free.
It’s not just about the animals – a huge part of our work is caring for families affected by cancer and other serious illnesses…
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