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The Story of Robin Singh: Reducing Suffering Footprint by Geeta C Yadav

What is the purpose of my life? This question usually comes from a seeker who wants to evolve and grow spiritually. The answer to this question comes after being in a constant state of struggle that comes from striking a balance between personal needs and responsibilities. Money beckons, materialism flocks around in its varied avatars and one lives to chase the mirage of happiness that is hooked to people, situations and things. Time flies and confusion is replaced by utter frustration. Is life a pursuit of happiness?

Slowly another question pops up and that is Who am I? This question is the beginning of a journey of exploration which is no longer about winning or losing in the outside world but all about looking within to know and understand the higher purpose of life. The answer to this question lies in realising that ‘less is more’. At this juncture, life becomes an expression of happiness and one seeks kindness for its selfless nature and tries to reach its formless centre. It is like a drop becoming the ocean.

Robin Singh, the co-founder of Peepal Farm, dropped all his baggage that reeked of unresolved emotional turmoil, the hopelessness of being anxious about whether or not he would know or find happiness and picked up life as it thrived in the innocent eyes of the voiceless animals and re-purposed his life around them. From being an ethical hacker who successfully led an e-commerce company in the United States, Robin now works to spread the philosophy of reducing suffering footprint. He finds complete and unconditional support from his partner Shivani who heads Peepal Farm Products where she works with the local women of the village and his team at Peepal Farm. Together they strive hard, lead a simple, sustainable and purposeful life in a small village near Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh.

Let’s know more about Peepal Farm from Robin Singh.

WP: Share the story of Peepal Farm and why did you call it by this name? RS: Our mission is to alleviate and prevent the suffering of as many beings as possible.

In December 2014, we began by building a place where people who wanted to share our mission could have the space and resources to do good work, and where we could involve and inspire others. We expanded to build our stray animal rescue, farm, product line, and media team!

The Peepal Tree sprouts in the most unfertile climates, including in the sides of buildings. If left there, it will eventually grow so large that it will break down the structure it rests on until it reaches the ground. Like the Peepal tree, we are breaking down the societal structures which cause the oppression and suffering of beings.

WP: What is suffering footprint? Can you guide us to reduce or reverse our suffering footprint? RS: Suffering footprint is the trace of physical harm caused to life and liberty of other creatures in our pursuit of food, clothing and shelter. When you buy a kilo of rice from your local grocer, for example, to begin with it carries the history of pain in soil organisms — from rats to earthworms — when the earth was tilled to sow the paddy. Then there is the transportation of water and exploited, under-paid labour, which involves the mining and burning of fossil fuels. At each further stage, harvesting, transportation and storage, until the grain arrived at the grocery, there has been physical pain, no matter how minuscule, caused to some or the other life form. It is heart-wrenching to imagine all the bits and chunks of suffering that add up to bring a single chapati onto your plate.

There is apparent suffering, like the slaughter of animals for meat, and there is hidden, implicit suffering, like in a kilo of rice. Every act of survival, even the most benign, causes some physical pain or loss of liberty in another creature. Whether you see it or not, our hands are always covered in blood. This is the inevitable truth of existence on earth. For someone to live, someone has to die. As a conscious and choice-empowered species, what are we to do about this? What are the choices we have?

If we must exist despite this bitter fact, we could begin by reducing our individual suffering footprint. One direct and verifiable way to do it is to simply reduce our consumption. Limiting the consumption to needs and avoiding indulgence. The first step towards reducing consumption would be figuring out our bare necessities — the bare minimum food, clothing and shelter needed for our survival. But living by calculating the suffering footprint implied by each and every one of our actions can become a complex and paralysing task. As a beginning, along with reducing consumption, it is simpler to eliminate actions that cause direct harm to others. WP: What makes you focus on pain and suffering? What according to you are the 3 basic reasons behind pain and suffering in human life and also what makes the lives of animals painful? RS: Physical pain is something that all sentient beings avoid. It is the common denominator between all. Pain is universal, everyone feels pain. This is why we have dedicated our lives to alleviate physical pain. For humans, some of the reasons behind pain and suffering are - - existential pain and suffering

- having expectations from others - ruminating over the past and the future For animals, the reasons of pain and suffering are - - being born an animal, as they lack the ability to think and reason like humans. - our attitude towards them - all the exploitation the world does to them WP: Why are humans, in general, cruel towards animals? Share from the sad experiences of stray or pet animals rescued by your team at Peepal Farm. RS: People often pick on those who are weaker than them. Humans tend to exploit these beings because they can, and also because some of them are not even aware of the pain and suffering their actions cause. Laws around animal welfare are so weak and have not been updated in decades. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA), 1960 currently stipulates a penalty of Rs 50 for any act of cruelty against an animal. We see many heartbreaking cases here at the farm. We have seen many breed dogs being abandoned. Once the family has fulfilled their desire of wanting a breed dog for a bit, they don’t even think twice before leaving them on the street when the dog needs them the most. These poor dogs have no idea of how to live on the streets and end up starving or being hit by vehicles. These cases break our hearts. Just like abandoned dogs, we also see many abandoned male calves on the streets, starving. This is also a direct result of the dairy industry. WP: What are the evident changes in animals when you remove physical pain from their lives at Peepal Farm? RS: Our volunteers help us plenty with enrichment of our animals. When an animal comes here for the first time, a lot of care is put into them being treated for their wounds as well as giving them the love and affection they deserve. When we spend time with an animal, not only are we treating their physical wounds, but also some deep emotional trauma. We see them opening up and their real personality starts to shine through.

WP: How are veganism and no-till farming instrumental in supporting your philosophy of causing minimum harm and living a life to do maximum good work? RS: Our goal is to minimize our suffering footprint and alleviate physical pain and suffering. The most evident way to do this is by eliminating animal products from our diet, but another not so obvious way is by growing our food by no-till farming. We are trying to grow food with a no-till/low-till method, and we try to save seeds. Most of the year, we manage to grow veggies and herbs needed in the kitchen. We are learning how to store root crops and make them last longer. We also preserve our produce by dehydrating and fermenting.

We have an emphasis on beauty, to temper suffering with beauty so people who are not used to seeing it, can be exposed more to the animal rights issues.

WP: How can we bring up children to live with virtues of kindness, compassion and empathy towards one and all? RS: Our schooling system needs to be less human centric and include all beings. Parents too need to put in extra efforts to sensitize their children towards animal welfare. If they did not have exposure to animals, they need to make sure that this is not passed down and the chain is broken. The least we can do is start eliminating animal products from our diet, and living by the mantra “do no harm”. WP: What are the basic ingredients of a happy life? RS: Knowing what your purpose in life is the basic and key ingredient to a happy life. Also knowing that doing good feels great, makes life happier!

WP: How has sustainable living changed your life? Is minimalism the cornerstone of sustainability?

RS: Minimalism and sustainability has not only decluttered my physical space, but also my mind. I now have more time to focus my energies on things that are more important. My mind is not drawn towards trivial matters such as what the latest fashion trends are, but more on how I can use my energy to make the world a better place!

WP: What are the virtues that animals can teach humans in order to simplify life in general? Has your life with animals at Peepal Farm diminished your ego (feeling of separateness) and increased your naturalness and sense of belongingness? RS: Animals just need food, love and a safe space to sleep in. That's really about it. They teach us that life is all about these simple pleasures, and not much is needed to be happy. When volunteers come here, interact with cows, pigs, sheep, etc. they start to notice that they are not very different from dogs and other animals they are comfortable and familiar with. This breaks many barriers and helps people make connections that they would have not made otherwise.

WP: Who can volunteer to work at Peepal Farm? RS: Anyone can volunteer here at the farm, as long as they are okay with doing repetitive tasks. We are a place of karma yoga, and if you find repetitive work boring, instead of finding it meditative, then this volunteering program might not be for you. WP: How do you involve people to spread your message of kindness towards animals? RS: Our motto is to involve and inspire. Our volunteers can choose to work in Animal Enrichment, Farm work, Teaching and Products. More specifically, assisting in stray animal rescue (dog walks, brushing animals, poop scooping, flea and tick removal, baths, laundry, feeding infant puppies, playing with dogs and teaching the kids from the village) and assisting in the farm (weeding, mulching, preparing new farm patches, digging, planting, moving rocks). We have noticed that people are more likely to take home learnings when they are physically involved in the work we do. WP: What made you think of Peepal Farm Products? RS: The quest to reach out to more people for spreading our message and getting them to join in the cause gave birth to Peepal Farm Products. Starting with farm grown herbs, the product line kept growing gradually into a vast range of categories with a major aim in mind - to generate more employment for women.

Our ethos is "Consume less, harm less", so we even encourage you to NOT buy our products! We have recipes and how to's for almost everything on social media. But if you don't have the time for that, we got you covered. When you buy from us, all of our profits generated from the sales go towards saving animals in our rescue.

White Print wishes Robin and team Peepal Farm all the very best as they walk the talk every minute of their lives by loving animals, being kind to them and leading a sustainable life.