Sober but optimistic, Satish Kumar encourages us to understand the universe as a whole, for both material and spiritual development. He will speak on May 21 at the Château de Bossey.
Satish Kumar is one of the great thinkers of ecological transition. A disciple of Gandhi, he was committed from the age of 18 to a “simple and elegant” ideal of life. His approach is at the same time material, spiritual and ecological. Far from being a set of practical steps to reduce one’s lifestyle, simplicity is, he wrote, “a royal modality of access to happiness”. Meeting through interposed screens, before his train journey from the south of England to Bossey Castle, where he will give a conference on Saturday 21 May.
In 1962, you embarked on a march for peace to recognize the leaders of four countries with nuclear weapons. What has this journey for disarmament changed in your relationship with Earth?
I was walking through the height of the Cold War. Despite the enormous tension between the Soviet Union and the western states, I proved that the people were hospitable and kind. I have traveled to 15 countries. Muslim, Christian, communist, capitalist country… For two and a half years, I lived without money, thanks to the generosity and hospitality of strangers. Mankind is good. All rivalry is the result of the foolish minds of leaders who plant their own fear in the hearts of ordinary people. This is happening in Ukraine today. If we can overcome this fear, and I learned in this 8000 km walk that we can do it, we can live in peace and celebrate human diversity. I have crossed snow-covered mountains, deserts, I have crossed forests, I have had foot wounds, knee pain, but despite these hardships I have experienced the great generosity of mankind.
Sixty years later, when you look at the situation of the planet and of humanity, don’t you feel hopeless and helpless?
No, because my attention is focused on the present moment. I could act for ecology, world peace, the welfare of the planet, of others, me, I could write a book, talk to you, grow my vegetables, cook them … The current moment, this is the only one I need to act on. I don’t think about the past. I do not cultivate remorse or guilt. I plan only what is needed, but I’m not worried about the future. Instead, I ask myself what is the best action I can take, right now, where I am.
When you engage for peace or for ecology, don’t you expect any results?
I don’t know what our future holds. I am not the master of time. I accept life as it comes, without expectation. But most of all, I get involved in the life process. This is what brings about change. It is not planning or thinking that changes the world, it is action. However, you will not be able to act tomorrow. Your current action is the only thing you can control. Give it 80% of your attention. And above all, act with love and for the good of humanity.
In your works, you defend simplicity and moderation. Are you a follower of degrowth?
I’m not suggesting that we should go back to the time of the caves or hunters, or that everyone should be a farmer. But the poor must rise above their poverty. Everyone can have nice clothes, nice shoes, nice house, but you don’t have to lay down endlessly. At some point, we must consider that we have sufficient material goods. Simplicity is the middle way. This leads to a balanced and moderate life on the material level. So we have space to develop our creativity, our thinking, our spirituality.
Is that what you call holistic development?
The notion of progress has been overused. Since World War II, agricultural countries, where people work the land to grow their food, have been considered backward countries. We want to industrialize them. This is complete nonsense. Airports, monoculture, factory farms, shopping malls are said to be signs of development. This is not progress. It’s just consumerism! It constitutes the widespread use of fossil fuels. With key, pollution, CO emissions2acidification of oceans, destruction of biodiversity … This development considers Nature as a resource for the economy while it is the source of life.
However, it has improved living conditions …
Poverty may be slightly reduced, but after seventy or eighty years of “development”, millions of children around the world are still sleeping hungry. Millions of people, including the so-called “developed” world, are poor and hungry. This development has not brought equality to the people. This is a total failure because it puts money and profit before the planet and people. We must learn a new sustainable way of life. Real development has an external aspect that provides for our basic material needs. And it is also an internal aspect that has a spiritual origin: it consists in the development of wisdom, compassion, human relationships, a sense of community and reciprocity … These are the values that must be developed. Eight billion people can live with dignity on this Earth. But we need to move from a destructive economy to a “regenerative” economy.
Conference and workshops “Celebrating life, between spirituality and commitment”, organized by the association Les Deux Ailes and the Interior Transition Laboratory Castle of Bossey, c. of Chenevière 2, Bogis-Bossey Saturday, May 21 (2 pm to 6:30 pm) Information and registration: www.chanterlabeautedumonde.org
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