The living philosophy of Amish is simple — back to the basics and nature. They even forgave the killer of their own children

here are communities who voluntarily shun the modern way of life and opt for a simple, old-fashioned traditional way even though living amid an affluent society. The Amish people came from Germany to New England, in the U.S., to escape persecution. They speak a dialect of German-English. Their customs, traditions and culture have undergone minor changes during the last 250 years of their existence as a separate community with little interaction with the outside world other than unavoidable. Their living philosophy is simple — back to the basics and nature. Living in harmony with nature is what they preach and practise.

It was a revelation to visit one of their villages in Lancaster County of Pennsylvania. The Amish are about 250,000 in population residing in about 25 States of the U.S., Ohio and Pennsylvania being the most populated. These villages do not have electricity, hence no TV or fridge or any electrical device, do not have automobiles but only horse-drawn buggies and agriculture and raising farm animals are their main occupation. Women excel in making quilts, which are in great demand. Men grow beards, wear hats and jackets. Women are distinguished by their jackets and skirts and they also wear caps. They are not expected to have make-up but lead a simple unostentatious life.

Elected bishops are supreme — not only in religious matters but in settling civil disputes and giving rulings. Litigation is rare. Crime is non-existent in these villages. Children study in Amish villages up to the eighth grade and give up studies to take up farming and other vocational jobs within the community. Those who work outside the community return to their villages after work. It is rare to find anyone leaving the community to settle down to a ‘normal’ life outside.

Marriages are strictly within the community. Any one daring to marry a person from outside is “shunned”, that means the villagers do not socialise with such renegades. Every week a church service is held in one of the homes led by the local bishop. The family is expected to provide space for the service and make arrangements to feed the congregation after service. Since every one has to take turns in having the congregation once a week, the burden of such meetings is shared by everyone at his/her turn. Slow but small modifications, without any drastic change in the basic tenets, are seen in the villages. The Amish are a secluded lot and they do not mix with the mainstream people. So taking pictures of any Amish is taboo as well as a visit to any Amish household.

A tragic incident in October 2006 illustrates how the Amish community reacts. A deranged man, not Amish, barged into a small school in a village in Lancaster County. He was armed to the teeth. He shackled eight small girls aged between seven and 12. He was prepared to molest them but an alarm was raised and it upset him. He shot the girls spraying bullets that killed seven of them on the spot, while the eighth died in hospital. Knowing that his game was up he shot himself to death. This shook the peaceful community and the village was the centre of attention in the entire U.S. for a week. After autopsy, the little girls were buried amid mourning and prayer by a shocked community that had not witnessed any violence. This was a traumatic event for the entire community.

However, village elders met and decided to forgive the killer. They met the man’s wife and his children and consoled them. They promised all support for the family and they wished her to stay in the same village nearby. There was not one bit of hatred but only compassion for the family of the assassin. In an extraordinary gesture, a few Amish men and women attended the funeral of the killer just to tell every one that the community harboured no ill will towards a dastardly killer who snuffed out young lives.

Noting that the village and the school where the killing took place had become a visitors’ attraction, the Amish elders had the building razed to ground overnight. All that was visible the next morning was a plain field with grass spread over the land, indistinguishable from the surroundings with no trace of the building. It was a wonderful gesture that showed how the elders and the community reacted so maturely and philosophically to a cataclysmic event that had shattered their peaceful lives.

(The writer’s email: dbnvimi@gmail.com)

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