“When we realize, “I am a microcosm of the macrocosm,” then we touch the mind of god, free from narrow identities, liberated from sorrow and separation and free from fear and fragmentation.”Tweet
– Satish Kumar
Activist Satish Kumar is a British Indian pacifist and former Jain monk who has spent much of his life advocating for the environment and our relationship to it, both practically and spiritually. In this excerpt from his essay Three Dimensions of Ecology: Soil, Soul and Society, he underscores the necessity for spiritual health and self care when working to advocate and care for the world around us. If we cannot see the fact of our own divinity and nurture that most immediate light, we can break down and burn out before we are able to effect any change. Our souls and the soil are inextricable as co-habitants on planet earth, he argues, and we should treat both with equal reverence.
As we are urged by the Gita to live in harmony with the natural world, soil, we are also guided to live in harmony with ourselves, with soul. As we are at war with nature we are also at war with ourselves. Making peace with ourselves is a prerequisite for making peace with the earth. And making peace with ourselves means realizing our true nature and being who we are.
Each and every one of us is a unique and special being. As the Sri Lankan art historian Ananda Coomaraswami said, “An artist is not a special kind of person but every person is a special kind of artist.” He was talking about the immense potential of every human being. Hindu philosophers have spoken of “aham Brahmasmi”: “I am Brahman-pure consciousness.”
In Sanskrit the word for the individual soul is atman, the intimate being, and the word for the universal soul is paramatman, the ultimate being or god. Similarly the Sanskrit word for the human individual is nar and for the universal being (or god) is narayan. In Arabic we find a similar formulation—the individual person is called khud and the divine being, god, is Khuda—just by adding an “a” the individual is released from his or her narrow identity or ego and is transformed into divine consciousness and united with god.
The way to such an enlightened state is through self-knowledge, selfless service, and the surrender of the ego in favor of the understanding that “I am part of the whole”: I am an organ of the earth body, I am a member of the earth community.
Often we are weighed down by the burden of our narrow identities of nationality, race, religion, class, gender and similar other divisive concepts and mental constructs. We become imprisoned in the idea of “I” separate from the other and “mine” separate from the other’s. Through universal love we are able to break out of this ego and become part of the eco-making a quantum leap by changing from “g” to “c.” The Greek word “eco” is very beautiful. From it we get ecology and economy.
“Mahatma Gandhi integrated into his day time for prayer, meditation, solitude, study, gardening, cooking and spinning and considered these activities as essential as negotiating with the British rulers of India, organizing the campaign for independence and working for the removal of untouchability. “
Eco or rather Greek oikos means home. In the wisdom of Greek philosophers, home is not only where we physically live, our house—with a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, dining room and living room. The entire planet is our home where 8.7 million species live as members of one household, one family; all species are kith and kin. So home or “eco” is a place of relationships whereas “I” as a separate self or ego is a state of separation, disconnection and isolation. Our soul gets starved in isolation.
When we realize, “I am a microcosm of the macrocosm,” then we touch the mind of god, free from narrow identities, liberated from sorrow and separation and free from fear and fragmentation.
Sometimes we become convinced that the world needs saving, so urgently that we force ourselves to work day in and day out to save the planet. As a consequence of this view we neglect our own well-being and suffer from burnout, depression, breakdown of marriage and disillusionment.
Therefore the Gita teaches us that there is no need to separate caring for the soil from caring for the soul. We need to do both. The practice of the latter is called tapas which means taking time for inner purity, meditation, spirituality and living a life of elegant simplicity. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” He believed that there should be integrity between theory and practice, between word and action. Words gain power only when they are backed by a living example. This is why Mahatma Gandhi integrated into his day time for prayer, meditation, solitude, study, gardening, cooking and spinning and considered these activities as essential as negotiating with the British rulers of India, organizing the campaign for independence and working for the removal of untouchability. Thus Mahatma Gandhi was a perfect example of uniting the care of the external world with the care of the internal world. The inner landscape of spirituality and the outer landscape of sustainability are intricately linked. We need to cultivate compassion, seek truth, appreciate beauty and work for self-realization. Thus we can connect outer ecology with inner ecology.
The contemporary environmental movement, in the main, follows the path of empirical science, rational thinking, data collection and external action. This is good as far as it goes but it doesn’t go far enough. We need to include care of the soul as a part of care of the planet.
From – Three Dimensions of Ecology: Soil, Soul and Society, extracted from Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth