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Celebrating Alferd Packer

Today, as the grass begins to green for spring, we remember that the grasses, and indeed so many plants, are not only nutritious foods, but that they are healthful medicines in the treatment of disease. We see the changing season, and remember this is the time for setting forth in our wandering practice: both in a literal sense, and spiritual sense of Sannyasa. To do this, we will praise the plants as instructed by the Vedas, enjoy something of the wild plants to eat and drink, and also remembering the terrible choice made by Alferd Packer.

Remembering Alferd Packer

Alferd Packer was paroled today, on February 8, in 1901. His crime was manslaughter. He killed his companions one by one so that the remainder might eat. His infamous acts of murder and cannibalism remain notorious today because he was at the time surrounded by edible plants, possessed of the tools required to harvest and even prepare them to culinary perfection. Yet he and his companions nevertheless starved until they were compelled to kill and eat each other to survive. There are times unspeakable wrongs are required of us. Their ignorance blinded them to all other alternatives, and so they believed this was one of those times when an atrocity might be committed.

Alferd Packard was forgiven of the greater charges against him, especially of murder. Yet he was punished for his crime of manslaughter, and then forgiven, and paroled, permitted to rejoin society. Nevertheless, he lived out the remainder of his life filled with regrets, for he could not forgive himself. After his parole, Packer went to work as a guard at the Denver Post. He died in Deer Creek, in Jefferson County, Colorado, of the stressful effects of his profound shame and regret, troubled and worried. But here, again, his ignorance was to be faulted: regret leads to shame, and shame earns wisdom and reform - but regret after reform profits nothing but trouble and worry. Ignorance, and any lack of strength, is regrettable - but may become a cause for growth, and even pride. Alfred Packer became a vegetarian before his death, and in every other respect was an honorable man, worthy of veneration and emulation. And forgiveness.

Can you emulate him? Try to forgive yourself, and relieve yourself of a long-held regret which you have long-since corrected. Try to abstain from animal products today. Vow to expand your strength of mind, increase your knowledge against ignorance, and practice resourcefulness and opportunism. Had Alferd Packard attempted to subside upon the wild plants he found about him in those snowy mountains, he would have found success. At very least, today learn a few wild plants to eat in case of emergency, or while out on your wanderings. We must continually explore our resources, and expand our knowledge through new application. Practice strengthening your body against hunger, and tolerance of cold, and all kinds of discomfort. Try to learn from Alferd Packard.

Wild Plants to enjoy today

On our walking yesterday about the Ashram, our Teachers saw grass (leaves and roots), willow and cottonwood (inner bark), prickly pear cactus (fruit and pads), rosehips, pine (leaves and inner bark) and a few other seasonal plants to enjoy. Be careful in harvesting in a city, as some of these plants may have had harmful chemicals applied to them. Consider digging through the snow to observe the good things growing underneath! Maybe make a delicious tea? Pine tea was a favorite of the early western settlers whom Alferd Packard lived among and was judged by.

As you enjoy this tea, think upon your own life: have you made decisions you regret, thinking there was no alternative? Reconsider your options: there is always the choice of avoiding making a bad decision - just as the Sannyasis renounce the wrongness of the world and wander the wilderness, confronted by hunger and cold. Or was your decision the right one to make at that moment? Even Krishna once had to break his vow, and commit wrong. Read the Mahahbharata, a story whose motif is the exceptionality of circumstances. Know, as Yuyutsu eventually did, that it is the act of reflection, the act of this meditation, which will be a cause for growth. This is good Jnana Yoga.

Consider right diet, and how you can eat better. Do you eat out of necessity? Do you treat all your food with the same respect as Alferd Packer, who came to understand food was for the necessity of life, and treated every being he consumed with the respect of a sacrifice? Animal, plant - or even human - what we eat gave its life for yours. Honor that sacrifice by living rightly, and accomplishing great things with that sustenance. Perform Karma Yoga; you owe your food this duty.

The Vedas

The Atharva Veda, 15.11

When you come to a house of a Vratya, a vow-taker, ask them: how was your night? Here, Vratya, is water: refresh yourself! Let things be as you wish, let things be as would please you, may you accomplish all your desires! When you come to the house of a Vratya, and they ask how your night was, the Vratya gains rest; when they offer you water, they satisfy their thirst; when they extend to you their good will, they become beloved, contented, and desireless, having accomplished all their desires. Help the Vrayta attain their desire if you would attain your own.

Atharva Veda, 11.6

We call upon Agni, the trees, their forest, all the herbs and plants, on Indra, Surya, Brihaspati, Vishnu, Bhaga, Mitra, Varuna, Ansa Vivasvan, Savitar, Pushan, Tvashtar, the Gandharvas, the Apsarases, the Asvins, the Brahmanaspati, Aryaman, all the Adityas, Vata, Parjanya; we call to all four directions, to the ground and sky, from day to night and dawn to dusk, we cry out - help, deliver us from misfortune! Chandra, free me! We cry out to the animals of heaven and earth, the birds, the fish - help, deliver us from misfortune! We cry out to Rudra, Lord of the Beasts, may the animals forgive us, we feel the same pain as the arrows we once shot at them. May they be kind to us now. We cry out to the constillations, to the spirits, to the hills themselves, to the seas, rivers and lakes - help, deliver us from misfortune! We cry out to the Rishis, to Yama - help, deliver us from misfortune! We cry out to every world and every being, to the sacrifice, to the sacrificer - help, deliver us from misfortune! We sing every hymn, every song, every superstitious charm in the hope that it may deliver us from misfortune. We look to the five kingdoms of plants: we cry out even to the hateful demons, and the cold-hearted snakes, we cry out to every being of every existence, in every season, in every year, across space and time - help, deliver us from misfortune! Come to our aid, help! We cry out to the maintainers of right, the maintainers of wrong, to Death itself - help, deliver us from misfortune, as water heals and balms.

In a moment of misfortune, look to all the world for help - it is likely Alferd Packer would have found some help from his misfortune from the trees, the grasses, and the other wild plants, even if no animals passed by to give him food, and every god deserted him. When you see someone struggling, help them - and in doing so you will help yourself.