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Integrated Worldview for a Sustainability

Prof. Lynn Townsend White in his lec­ture titled: The His­tor­i­cal Roots of our Eco­log­i­cal Cri­sis (1967) said that “What peo­ple do about their ecol­o­gy depends on what they think about them­selves in rela­tion to things around them. Human ecol­o­gy is deeply con­di­tioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny–that is, by reli­gion”. White’s talk was point­ing at how west­ern reli­gions had turned very anthro­pocen­tric and dual­is­tic. Though White’s talk had drawn much crit­i­cism, his ideas on the dynam­ic link between man, soci­ety and nature moti­vat­ed by cul­ture are very sig­nif­i­cant.

Inte­gral Ecol­o­gy Con­fer­ence, Nor­way, May 2016


Ancient cul­tures view them­selves as a part of a wider ecosys­tem of beings that include flo­ra, fau­na and nat­ur­al resources. Ancient cul­tur­al prac­tices, that have stood the test of time, are based on a long peri­od of exper­i­men­ta­tion and obser­va­tion and hence based on diachron­ic data. This makes their knowl­edge and prac­tices very invalu­able. Leanne Simp­son, in her arti­cle titled Anishi­naabe ways of know­ing (2000) out­lined sev­en prin­ci­ples of Indige­nous world­views. First, knowl­edge is holis­tic, cyclic, and depen­dent upon rela­tion­ships and con­nec­tions to liv­ing and non-liv­ing beings and enti­ties. Sec­ond, there are many truths, and these truths are depen­dent upon indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences. Third, every­thing is alive. Fourth, all things are equal. Fifth, the land is sacred. Sixth, the rela­tion­ship between peo­ple and the spir­i­tu­al world is impor­tant. Sev­enth, human beings are least impor­tant in the world.

Such an inter­con­nect­ed and inclu­sive world­view has been pre­served by Sanatana Dhar­ma for many gen­er­a­tions. Var­i­ous cus­toms and rit­u­als can be seen as expres­sions of these inclu­sive prin­ci­ples. The expres­sions have been local­ized and con­tex­tu­al­ized over a peri­od of time but are based on the fun­da­men­tal core prin­ci­ple that every­thing is Brah­man (con­scious­ness). One con­crete expres­sion of this uni­fied under­stand­ing of life is Shak­thi Wor­ship. Shak­thi refers to the fun­da­men­tal ener­gy that gov­erns all of man­i­fest real­i­ty. In a way, it rep­re­sents a dynam­ic bal­ance that sus­tains the uni­ver­sal flow. On a more prac­ti­cal lev­el, “Shak” in San­skrit means “to do” or “to act”. Hence Shak­thi can be seen as actions that are in tune with the Uni­ver­sal flow and doings that are joy­ous and vibrant.

The Prob­lems with a Dis­con­nect­ed World­view

Our world­view is influ­enced by our inher­ent qual­i­ties, fam­i­ly, soci­ety and cul­ture. With our world­view we have a con­cep­tu­al map of the world and under­stand things based on that map. Our actions too reflect our con­cep­tu­al under­stand­ing of the world. World­views are not sol­id but dynam­ic frame­works that change with time based on the knowl­edge and expe­ri­ences that we acquire, indi­vid­u­al­ly and col­lec­tive­ly. Hence cul­ti­vat­ing the right world­views is vital to right and sus­tain­able actions. An all-inclu­sive world­view comes from deep­er real­iza­tions from with­in.

Rupert Shel­drake in his book The Sci­ence Delu­sion points out dog­mas in sci­ence that need to be ques­tioned. Accord­ing to Shel­drake, cur­rent sci­ence dog­ma­tizes that nature is mechan­i­cal, all mat­ter is uncon­scious, all of nature is pur­pose­less and the laws of nature are fixed and this thought process per­co­lates into the edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem and sci­en­tif­ic research. These dog­mas show how, over a peri­od of time, devel­op­ments in sci­ence have sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly cut us off from a holis­tic view of life and this had led to sev­er­al prob­lems. We men­tion a few here:

  1. Dis­tanc­ing: Prin­cen and Mani­ates (2002), in their book Con­fronting Con­sump­tion dis­cuss the issue of dis­tanc­ing. Dis­tanc­ing is caused when man is total­ly cut-off from his envi­ron­ment. As an exam­ple, many peo­ple in devel­oped nations and con­sumerist soci­eties are dis­tanced from the source of their food. They find it dif­fi­cult to relate to the com­plex­i­ties of grow­ing food and hence food is looked at more of com­mod­i­ty than an ecosys­tem that nour­ish­es human beings. Mas­sive food pro­duc­tion is pro­pelling the eco­log­i­cal cri­sis that we are fac­ing today but this is invis­i­ble to the com­mon man

  1. Eco­log­i­cal Cri­sis: Prof. Johan Rock­ström (2009) and his col­leagues have iden­ti­fied 9 plan­e­tary bound­aries name­ly: Cli­mate change, bio­di­ver­si­ty, bio­geo­chem­i­cal, ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion, land use, fresh­wa­ter, ozone deple­tion, atmos­pher­ic aerosols, chem­i­cal pol­lu­tion. Accord­ing to them, we have already raced past 4 of these bound­aries with­out being con­scious of it and cross­ing the plan­e­tary bound­aries can be cat­a­stroph­ic. Cross­ing these plan­e­tary bound­aries have not hap­pened because of a sin­gle action but by a com­plex net­work of ideas, poli­cies and actions over a peri­od of time.

  2. Eco­nom­ic Val­ue Focus: In today’s mar­ket econ­o­my, where man is dis­con­nect­ed from his envi­ron­ment, there is a huge focus on the eco­nom­ic val­ue of things than the real val­ue and need. Leonard in her book Sto­ry of Stuff points out how to make a ton of copi­er paper it takes about 2 to 3 tonnes of trees and this is not fac­tored in into the real val­ue of paper. We look at paper as an inex­pen­sive and use-an-throw com­mod­i­ty.

Dharmic Prac­tices lead­ing to Inter­con­nect­ed World­view

Sev­er­al aspects of Sanatana Dhar­ma instill this inclu­sive and expan­sive world­view and also help us put these prin­ci­ples into action in a very prac­ti­cal man­ner. Yoga, Ayurve­da, Jyoth­isha, Agri­cul­ture etc acknowl­edge the bond that man has to his envi­ron­ment.

Mahavakyas

The Mahavakyas that are the quin­tes­sence of Indi­an Phi­los­o­phy remind us of the fun­da­men­tal inter­con­nec­tions and how the micro­cosm is not dif­fer­ent from the macro­cosm

  1. Pra­j­nanam brah­ma: brah­man is con­scious­ness

  2. Ayam atma brah­ma: the self is brah­man (which is the all per­vad­ing con­scious­ness)

  3. Tat tvam asi: you are that (con­scious­ness)

  4. Sar­vam khalvi­dam brah­ma: all of this is brah­man (con­scious­ness)

Yoga

Yoga is a sci­ence and way of life that leads to expan­sive state of con­scious­ness through sys­tem­at­ic effort on the phys­i­cal, men­tal, emo­tion­al and spir­i­tu­al dimen­sion of the indi­vid­ual. The word Yoga is derived from the san­skrit word yuj which means to unite. Yoga involves sys­tem­at­ic prac­tices that help to achieve a bal­ance between the mind and body. On a larg­er per­spec­tive, Yoga helps us to turn inward, real­ize our­selves and there­by con­nect with every­thing around us. Swara Yoga which is part of the Indi­an Yog­ic sys­tems aims at devel­op­ing an inter­nal bal­ance through the intel­li­gent reg­u­la­tion of breath in tune with the cycles in nature like the lunar, solar and oth­er cos­mic cycles. The changes in flow of breath dur­ing changes in the time of the day, moon phas­es etc helps us to align with events in the cos­mos. Just as we choose the right sea­son to sow seeds so that the plant can grow to its fullest poten­tial, we reg­u­late the breath to sup­port actions aligned with nature’s cycles that can lead to suc­cess. Swara Yoga has a clear map­ping of the rela­tion­ship between the micro­cosm and the macro­cosm. The pri­ma­ry prac­tice in Swara Yoga is tattwa sad­hana that involves ana­lyz­ing the con­nec­tion between the breath and five ele­ments in nature. The elab­o­rate yog­ic prac­tice of Surya Namaskar helps us to align with the solar cycle and derive ben­e­fit from the envi­ron­ment that is cre­at­ed by the sun around us.

Ayurve­da

Ayurve­da is a deep and intu­itive Indi­an sys­tem of med­i­cine that helps indi­vid­u­als to attain per­fect health by the prop­er bal­ance of the three bio­log­i­cal ener­gies: Vata (ener­gy that reg­u­lates move­ment), Pita (ener­gy that reg­u­lates trans­for­ma­tion) and Kapha (ener­gy that reg­u­lates sus­te­nance) which inturn are bal­anced by the fun­da­men­tal ele­ments name­ly air, water, fire, earth and space. One way of achiev­ing this bal­ance is through con­sum­ing foods that nat­u­ral­ly grow in a par­tic­u­lar sea­son there­by being in attune­ment with our sur­round­ing. Ayurve­da makes use of resources in nature for health and well-being. Ayurve­da con­nects the five ele­ments, sea­sons, cos­mic forces and plant life to our per­son­al health. The prin­ci­ples of Ayurve­da are so intu­itive that they have been inte­grat­ed into the day to day cook­ing of food in Indi­an kitchens.

Pan­cha Maha Yaj­nas

In order to be able to inte­grate this all-inclu­sive vision into our dai­ly lifestyle the Pan­cha Maha Yaj­nas were rec­om­mend­ed in Sanatana Dhar­ma. Pan­cha means five, Maha means great, Yaj­na means action per­formed with the atti­tude of ben­e­fit­ting every­body or towards a high­er pur­pose. The Pan­cha Maha Yaj­nas are Deva Yaj­na, Pitru Yaj­na, Rishi Yaj­na, Nara Yaj­na and Bhuta Yaj­na.

Deva Yaj­na refers to the action of recog­nis­ing the pres­ence of high­er intel­li­gence gov­ern­ing real­i­ty and our grat­i­tude towards it. We express our grat­i­tude to the high­er intel­li­gence also referred to as Devas through actions such as Homa — fire sac­ri­fice and puja — rit­u­als for wor­ship with devo­tion. One impor­tant part of this is med­i­ta­tion. Med­i­ta­tion opens us up to the inner and sub­tler real­i­ties. Through med­i­ta­tion sub­tler process­es of func­tion­ing become vis­i­ble and we become more sen­si­tive and open to every­thing around us and with­in us.

Pitru Yaj­na refers to the action of recog­nis­ing the role of our par­ents and fore­fa­thers in whose lin­eage we have tak­en birth and our grat­i­tude towards them. Pitru refers to our ances­tors. Many of our phys­i­cal fea­tures and char­ac­ter traits are inher­it­ed from the lin­eage that we are born into. Specif­i­cal­ly actions express­ing grat­i­tude include tak­ing care of our par­ents and elders dur­ing their old age and tarpana which is a rit­u­al where water is offered with cer­tain mantras (sacred chants) in grat­i­tude to the ances­tors who have depart­ed from this world.

Rishi Yaj­na refers to the action of recog­nis­ing the role of teach­ers and Rishis for hav­ing giv­en knowl­edge. Rishis are recog­nised as the seers of knowl­edge of real­i­ty and who hav­ing seen it help oth­ers see the knowl­edge of real­i­ty them­selves. Study­ing of the texts of knowl­edge expound­ed by the Rishis and shar­ing the knowl­edge thus learnt with oth­ers is show­ing grat­i­tude towards the Rishis and the teach­ers as part of Rishi Yaj­na.

Nara Yaj­na refers to the action of recog­nis­ing the role of oth­er human beings in our lives and offer­ing grate­ful ser­vice to them. This also includes feed­ing the poor and needy, offer­ing ser­vice for the wel­fare of the com­mu­ni­ty and soci­ety, show­ing love and respect to all.

Bhuta Yaj­na refers to the action of recog­nis­ing that we are part of nature and treat­ing all the plants, ani­mals and oth­er crea­tures with love and affec­tion. This helps restore eco­log­i­cal bal­ance as we do not look at every­thing as serv­ing our wants and view every­thing with a util­i­tar­i­an intent. This yaj­na includes feed­ing all crea­tures that live around us like cows, goats, crows and spar­rows, ants and tak­ing care of plants. When we view the rivers as sacred moth­ers then we will find it dif­fi­cult to just view them as serv­ing our lim­it­ed util­i­tar­i­an require­ments and hence wan­ton pol­lu­tion will not be pos­si­ble as we become sen­si­tive to our nat­ur­al sur­round­ings. We start view­ing our­selves in the con­text of the nat­ur­al sur­round­ings that we live in. We con­scious­ly adopt lifestyles that flow in tune with the larg­er flow of nature and hence our foot­print on the world around us is min­i­mal if any­thing at all. This does not mean that we can­not progress on eco­nom­ic or oth­er fronts. This just means that we become more sen­si­tive to every­thing around us and view our­selves as non-sep­a­rate from all that is. There is a say­ing that when the left hand gets hurt the right hand auto­mat­i­cal­ly nur­tures it. Like­wise we feel our­selves to be a part of every­thing around us and hence we would nur­ture and not harm it pur­pose­ful­ly.

These dharmic prac­tices refine our lifestyle in such a way that the uni­fied, all-inclu­sive vision that has been devel­oped finds a means of appro­pri­ate prac­ti­cal expres­sion in all aspects of our life. This refines the process­es involved in all areas of life and imbues it with the qual­i­ties of inclu­sive­ness and one­ness that lead to har­mo­nious co-exis­tence with all of nature where human process­es of eco­nom­ics, busi­ness, tech­nol­o­gy do not dis­rupt nat­ur­al process­es but rather flow along with it to cre­ate peace and har­mo­nious growth free of con­flict.

This arti­cle is excerpt­ed and adapt­ed from the paper titled “ Shak­thi World­view: An Inclu­sive and Expan­sive World­view for a Sus­tain­able Future” pre­sent­ed by Adi­narayanan and Smrithi Rekha at the Inte­gral Ecol­o­gy, Earth Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, and Eco­nom­ics held at Bodo, Nor­way in May 2016.

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