Living Relatedness: An EcoCentric Worldview
An Interview with Satish Kumar
This interview with Satish Kumar was conducted by Dr. Gary Null, noted talk radio host, in June 2009 as one of his Conversations with Remarkable Minds (M-F, noon EST at www.ProgressiveRadioNetwork.com).
Gary Null: Hi everyone. Today we are going to continue our Remarkable Minds series with a spiritual ecologist, an earth pilgrim, a vegetarian who led a civil disobedience movement in efforts to restore humanity’s sense of community. He is Satish Kumar and he is one of the few individuals who fully embraces the principles of Mahatma Gandhi, to promote a spirituality opposed to war and ecological destruction.
At the age of 9, Satish renounced the world to become a wondering Jain monk, but dissuaded by his inner voice at the age of 18, he left his ascetic life to embrace Gandhi’s visions of land reform and global peace. Now, having been influenced by the great British philosopher Bertrand Russell, especially his anti-nuclear war philosophy, he undertook an 8,000 mile peace pilgrimage, having walked penniless from India to America to deliver packets of peace tea to the heads of government of the four nuclear powers, the Soviet Union, France, UK and the United States. He settled in the United Kingdom in 1973 and is now editor of the prestigious magazine Resurgence, which highlights many of our world’s greatest thinkers and visionaries.
Influenced by the “Small is Beautiful Movement” of economist E.F. Schumacher, Satish has founded pioneering schools and colleges that introduce ecological sanity and spiritual values into their curricula. He has written six books and received two honorary doctorates from prominent British Universities. He appears on BBC programs on ecology and he writes and lectures on referential ecology, holistic education and voluntary simplicity.
Nice to have you with us today.
Satish Kumar: It is a pleasure to be with you and appear on your radio program.
Gary: I used to have a friend named Krishnamurti. Were you familiar with him?
Satish: Yes, he was also my friend. When he said, “the truth is a pathless land,” that resonated with me. I also believe in this approach, that we need to be pilgrims, which is not to get dogmatic, not to get fixed, not to get stuck in any one kind of ideology, but always remain open and move on to a new, fresh experience. So that is very much an influence of Krishnamurti on my life.
Gary: I think that both of you share what the Russian gulag writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn described as, “when you have robbed a man of everything, he is no longer in your power, he is free again.”
Now I want to begin our journey today with how our global economic crisis is actually an opportunity to raise our economical awareness and return to a more simple and rewarding life, and also the relationship between ecological thinking and spirituality. We have people who have refused to change in spite of the fact that not changing, not simplifying their life, is only going to imperil them. I would like you to address what I call “watching Katrina.” In other words, we watch the disaster unfold before us, as if we are helpless to in any way stop it.
Also, you have written extensively on a topic that is dear to me: vegetarianism. I believe that vegetarianism is not just about health, but it is a means to live non-violently. When I walk by, say, a McDonald’s, and resolve, “I will not support the destructive and unhealthy food system because I am of a person of consciousness,” that is also an act of disobedience that can motivate others.
Finally, during a lecture you gave at Wimbledon, you stated, “for many environmentalists, global warming has become the new hell that is brandished to terrify people into action, but if we are to make the changes that are needed to bring our relationship with the planet back into balance, then a new relationship with nature is required, one founded on the power of love, rather than the forces of fear.”
Why is focusing on fear aspects of environmental catastrophe less constructive than reorienting our consciousness and thinking about our relationship with the Earth based on love? How would you describe your experience of relationship to nature and how does it compel you to act and live your life?
Satish: When people were warning about Katrina, they were giving a scenario of doom and gloom and fear. That makes people feel impotent, or they get into a kind of numbness. If you create a kind of spirit by which people are inspired to take positive action and that inspiration comes from love of nature, love of people, love of communities, love of good values, then I think people will act.
So the reason people don’t act at this moment is that there is a lot of media coverage about global warming, a lot of government leaders are talking about climate change and how oil is running out and how resources are depleting and how our life will be difficult and water is running out, and food will run out, all with fear, fear, fear. That is causing a kind of numbness and that numbness is causing a kind of impotence and that is when you get the phenomena of “watching Katrina.”
So my solution to that problem is that the inspiration from within each and every human being and within every community, each and every town, and each and every state and each and every country, has to come from inside—that we are not only talking about changing our lifestyle because of the fear, the doom and gloom and disaster, but we are changing our lifestyle because the kind of lifestyle we are going to be changing and transforming to is a good life in itself! When you change out of love and out of desire for elegant simplicity, the new lifestyle will be joyful and delightful, and build a relationship with the natural world and with the human community.
So if we want to move people to act, we have to inspire a positive vision, and that vision is love of nature. We tend to see nature as some thing out there, like rivers and mountains and forests and animals and birds. We don’t think that we are nature; rather we think we human beings are superior to nature, we are the masters of nature, and nature is there only for our consumption, so we can kill the animals as we like for our food, we can destroy the rainforest as we like for timber or fields to produce more meat, or we can pollute the rivers and scour the oceans to get more fish, it is all for us, us, us. So fear, combined with greed, leads to the kind of society we have today.
So, my strategy is not to dwell in fear and a kind of telling people they are greedy, therefore, don’t do this, don’t do that, but I want to inspire people from inside and say “when you love the sea, when you love the forest, when you love the rivers, when you love the animals, you will not destroy them.” This perennial wisdom has been forgotten.
So we need to return to that more positive, optimistic, and intrinsic value of nature, and see that we are part of nature, and what we do to nature, we do to ourselves. If we destroy nature, we are destroying ourselves, because we are an integral part of nature. That way, I think the “watching Katrina” phenomenon will come to a solution.
Gary: I appreciate your insights. Now, let me ask you to go a little further with that. There is a certain element of hypocrisy amongst many of our educators and leaders in that they tell us that our educational system and our other institutions are there to inspire us, motivate us, and help us, and yet they never encourage us to be disobedient or to look critically at those institutions.
Satish: Education at this moment is very problematic, and the problems of the world today are mainly caused by so-called educated people. Global warming, climate change, nuclear weapons, wars, all the kind of problems we face today, are managed or even created by people who have been educated, often at prestigious universities. So education is not a panacea; it has caused many problems, because nuclear weapons are not created by uneducated peasants of Africa, and global warming is not created by uneducated women of India. They are created by highly educated people, but they are half educated.
I was invited to speak at the London School of Economics, which is one of England’s prestigious and well-known universities, where young people come from all over the world to be trained in economics, and I asked them, “You teach here economics, all right, but where is your department of ecology?” They said, “We don’t have one.” I said, “Do you mean to say that you are teaching people economy without teaching ecology?”
Because “ecology” is made of oikos and logos. Oikos means our Earth home, our planet home, how relationships work. Logos means knowledge. And with “economy,” oikos links with nomos, which means management. So you are teaching your students, young people from all over the world, how to manage your home without knowing your home!
Half educated is worse than uneducated, like half-baked bread. And most of our world problems that we face today are created by half educated people. So we have to bring a total transformation to the educational system where ecology and economy are joined, which will also lead to ethics and morality and spirituality. Education is really a double-edged sword, and unless it is more holistic it can destroy as much as it can build so I think we need to reexamine how and what we teach.
Gary: I believe that, with, rare exception, we do not inspire our students to challenge our ideas. And therefore, they may end up knowing some limited skills, but do they know about life?
Wasn’t it Soren Kierkegaard who said, “ Life can only be understood backwards, but it can only be lived forwards.” And Henri Amiel said, “The man who has no inner life is a slave of his surroundings.” Yet in our society today, we are virtually cultish in the individuality that dominates just about every area and discipline, and has been a fundamental cause of the loss of humanity’s sense of community and connectedness.
What are your thoughts about this, and what is the necessary awareness in order to restore the need for community?
Satish: We are individuals, but the word “individual” means “indivisible.” We are not separate, we are not disconnected as individuals—this is a corrupted meaning of individual, that we are autonomous units separate and disconnected from the rest of the world, or the community, or the natural world. So the individual must be indivisible, and the individual does not exist separately.
The French philosopher Rene Descartes separated mind and matter, and individual and community, with “Cogito ergo sum.” I think therefore I am. That is a kind of beginning of individualism and separation from the natural world, and from the community. We are all connected, we are related in this web of life, Indra’s net we call it in India, the network of nature and humans and animals and the sky and the sun and the moon and the stars, all life is interconnected.
We are all connected and we are all related. You are, therefore I am. The Earth is, therefore I am. The forests are, therefore I am. My ancestors were, therefore I am. That message is forgotten. Descartes’ philosophy and his science dominate our educational system, particularly in Europe, and America, and we become so rational and intellectual, at the expense of our spirituality and our emotions and our feelings.
So education for me is only true holistic education if you combine the head, the heart and the hands. So education needs quite a lot of new thinking and reforming so that we truly become holistic. Once we have that kind of relatedness in our consciousness, then we will not destroy the planet that sustains us, we will not cut the branch on which we sit.
If our environment is destroyed, our oceans are polluted, our rainforests are gone, our biosphere is filled with greenhouse gasses, what will happen to humanity? We are not going to feed ourselves with computers, cars and televisions, we have to depend on the natural life and natural resources. So humanity, which genetically engineers seeds, and creates industrialized agriculture, and manipulates animals in factory farms, this kind of technological future that we are building is not going to be resilient and sustainable.
So I am working to create a new consciousness, a new kind of education. This is why I established Schumacher College in England, where we have people coming from all over the world to study and understand the world in an interconnected, interrelated, interdependent way, so that we move on from Cartesian dualism of individual against community and mind against matter and humans against nature.
Gary: Well, I commend you for that. Cardinal Newman said, “Growth is the only evidence of life,” and when I read that years ago, I thought no, it is just the opposite. Our mistake has been that we must always show that we are growing, to establish a sense of the quality of our life, while in fact consciousness is what determines, in the end, the evidence of life. Those who have a deeper consciousness have a profound respect for life.
Satish: Absolutely. If you look at the definition of “consciousness” in the dictionary, it is mutual thinking, thinking together, awareness together, and that togetherness is the lost course at the moment. We are always thinking me, me, me, and what I am saying, and also the magazine that I edit called Resurgence, is that we have to move from this egocentric thought to ecocentric thought.
When you go from egocentric to ecocentric, you are going away from an individualistic, separational worldview to a more communitarian and relational worldview. Then we are in the delight of life, and celebration of life, and joy of life, rather than the domination and control and fear that lead to ownership and possession and acquisition and consumerism.
Our whole philosophy has to be reexamined and re-explored, so that we create a worldview where we can be at ease and relax, and the universe is working in our favor and not against us.
Gary: I really appreciate these insights, and I want to thank you for all the good work you do. Please give people your contact information.
Satish: Thank you. It has been a pleasure to be with you on your program. The link for Resurgence Magazine is www.resurgence.org, and this is my website. If you would like to know more about Schumacher College, visit our website at www.schumachercollege.org.uk, or maybe come and do a course here. That way we can build a more relational world where harmony and prosperity and peace prevail, rather than this competitive, conflicted, dominating, control-oriented worldview that is prevailing at this moment.