Steering our Sustainable Evolution

In our earlier articles we have made a brief review of the institutional and technological solutions to the present ecological crisis and also their limitations.  We have also indicated a third, evolutionary remedy as a more lasting solution to the problem.  This article presents a perspective, which can lead humanity safely and surely towards its sustainable future.

Rethinking Nature

The evolutionary agenda we will be presenting here requires two basic cultural changes: rethinking Nature and rethinking Development.  The first step has to be a rethinking of our cultural attitudes to Nature.

Ecological awareness is an inherent and inbuilt instinct in the ancient mind.  It is a religious instinct based on reverence and worship of the sustaining source of their life.  In some of the more mentally and spiritually advanced cultures like India and China, this ecological instinct developed further into an aspiration to understand and live in conscious attunement with the laws and rhythms of universal Nature.  Modern ecology is only a partial recovery of this ancient wisdom at the physical level.  Partial because, in the ancient Indian and Chinese thought, Nature is not only physical, but also psychological and spiritual.  Man is a part of Nature not only physically but also psychologically and spiritually.  Nature is not only our material Mother from whom we draw all the physical energies needed for our material and economic development but also our eternal divine Mother of the world who is the source of all energies in Man and Universe, in all levels of existence-physical, psychological and spiritual.  Each part or level of our human organism-physical, vital, mental and spiritual-derives its energy from the corresponding levels or planes of the Cosmic Nature and is governed by its own unique set of laws.  Thus, there is a greater and a more integral ecology beyond the ecology of the physical Nature which remains yet to be explored.  The aim of this integral ecology is to arrive at a holistic understanding of the laws of human and universal Nature in all the dimensions-material, psychological and spiritual-and explore their mutual interactions, similarities, differences and correspondences and their practical implications for human wellbeing and progress.

This cannot be done entirely by the scientific and rational mind.  We must have the spiritual intuition of the seer, sage and the mystic.  If we don’t have it, we have to draw upon the spiritual wisdom of the past and present and based on it, use our rational, scientific and pragmatic mind to arrive at a flexible framework of thought and practice, action and application.

So neither a superstitious reverence and worship nor an arrogant and heartless exploitation can be the right attitude to Nature.  The divine Teacher in the Indian scripture Bhagavat Gita gives the highest value to the “Knowing Lover”.  So in our attitude to Nature we have to combine knowledge and devotion, which means a synthesis of an aesthetic, emotional and spiritual devotion to the divinity and beauty in Nature and an understanding attunement and obedience to the laws and purpose of Nature.  So the attitude of modern ecology, which is that of understanding and attunement, is part of the spiritual attitude to Nature.  But this understanding has to be widened and deepened to embrace all the dimensions of Nature and it has to be synthesized with the attitude of the deeper heart of the artist, lover and devotee.  One of the main causes of the present environment crisis facing our modern civilization is the loss or lack of the sense of reverence and sacredness of Nature: As the Brazilian environmentalist Josi A. Lutzenberger states:

“Most important and certainly most difficult of all is the necessary rethinking of our cosmology.  The anthropocentric world-view westerners inherited from our remote Judeo-Christian past has allowed our technocrats and bureaucrats and most simple people, too, to look at Planet Earth as if it were no more than a free storehouse of unlimited resource to be used, consumed and wasted for even our most absurd or stupid whims.  We have no respect for creation.  Nothing in nature is, nothing except us, humans, has sufficient inherent value—.  Mountains can be razed, rivers turned around, forest flooded or annihilated, unique life forms or whole living systems eliminated without qualms or patented for personal or institutional power.”(1)

But mere thinking, understanding or “love” without corresponding actions is ineffective for sustainable development.  One of the positive features of the modern environmental movement is that it not only insists on awareness and understanding of the laws of Nature but also emphasizes that this awareness has to be translated into appropriate decisions and actions which help in preserving the purity of the environment or in other words, I must do whatever I can within my capacity to preserve the environment.  For example if I say I am a lover of Nature and travel in a car which causes the highest pollution, then my “love” for nature is only an ignorant sentiment.  If I am a true lover of Nature, I will buy a car only when it becomes a real need.  Before buying I will make an extensive research and enquiry to know which of the available car models or brands are the most environment-friendly in terms of petrol consumption and emission, and I will buy this model or brand even if it costs a little more than other models.  I will use the car only for long-distance journey and for shorter sojourns I will either walk or use a cycle.  Similarly, as far as possible, I will not use products which cause maximum damage to the environment and I will not buy goods or services of companies which are insensitive to their ecological responsibility.  As the environmental activist Alan Sasha Lithman points out:

 “What good is it, after all, to attend conferences or workshops on global warming, the control of CO2 emissions on renewable energy systems, grasping the conceptual level of the problem, if we drive to those meetings in gas-guzzling dinosaurs?”(2)

Rethinking Development

The second step is a rethinking of the aims and values of development.  This rethinking is already happening in economics and in the environmental movement.  One of the most forceful exponent of this new thinking in economics is the Swedish economists E. F. Schumacher.  In his well-known and influential book “Small is Beautiful” Schumacher presents a powerful critique of the traditional paradigms of development based on endless material growth and consumption.  He calls modern humanity to return to the eternal values of truth, beauty and goodness and to Buddhist economics which aims at “maximum well-being with minimum consumption.”

Schumacher advocates a work-culture of simplicity  where there is less toil for acquiring more and more material wealth and as a result “more time and strength is left for artistic creativity”.(3)

Commenting on the biblical passage “seek first the kingdom of God, all else will be added on to you”, Schumacher argues that the modern humanity, afflicted with maladies like “terrorism, genocide, breakdown, pollution, exhaustion”, is in such a condition that “unless you seek first the kingdom of God, these other thinks which you need will cease to be available to you”.  In the concluding para of his book, Schumacher delivers the following message to modern humanity:

“The type of realism which behaves as if the good, the true, beautiful were too vague and subjective to be adapted as the highest aims of social and individual life or the automatic spin-offs of the successful pursuit of wealth and power, has been aptly called ‘crak-pot realism’—People ask ‘What can I actually do’.  The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting; we can each of us, work to put our own inner house in order.  The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology—but it can be found in the traditional wisdom of mankind”.(4)

In the field of Environment also some thinkers have come to a more or less same conclusion as Schumacher.  One of them is Dr. Maurice Strong, a former chief of the UN Environmental Agency, who states:

 “We desperately need a new body of ideas, a new synthesis.  This must centre on the need for a new attitude towards growth—.  It will require a major transition to a less physical kind of growth, relatively less demanding of energy and raw materials.  It will be one, which is based on an increasing degree on the satisfaction of people’s intellectual, moral and spiritual needs and aspirations in such fields as culture, music, art, literature and other forms of individual self-development and fulfillment.  These are the areas in which man can achieve his highest level of growth in human terms” (5)

Interestingly Sri Aurobindo, looking at human evolution from a deeper and broader spiritual perspective had come to a similar conclusion when he wrote in one of his early writings: “In the next great stage of human progress, it is not a material, but a spiritual, moral and psychic advance that has to be made” (6) or in other words Development of Consciousness.  If this view is accepted, then the future of sustainable development lies not in economics, technology or even in ecology but in applied psychology and spirituality, which will lead to the moral psychological and spiritual development of humanity.  This means priorities of sustainable development have to shift from material, economic and ecological sustainability to psychological and spiritual sustainability.  This will not be difficult because there is a much greater affinity between ecology and spirituality than between ecology and economics.  Ecology and inner development can be a mutually reinforcing combination.

Inner development in the psychological and spiritual domain can lead to a deeper and inner communion with Nature, which in turn can bring a deeper suprascientific insight into the physical as well as the supraphysical dimensions of Nature.  Similarly, a disinterested pursuit of the study of ecology or the ecological paradigm in thought, feeling and action can lead to an inner contact with the universal intelligence or consciousness behind physical Nature, which can open the doors to spiritual consciousness.  And the modern science of ecology has discovered two great spiritual principles at the physical level.  First is the unity of Man and Nature, and second is the connectedness and the interdependence of human life.  If the outer life of humanity is organised according to these principles, with a clear understanding of the moral and practical implications of these principles, then it will create a favourable outer environment for the inner, moral and spiritual development of humanity.  Let us now briefly summarise the positive consequences of this inner development for arriving at an enduring solution to the ecological and economic problems confronting our planet.

Benefits of the Evolutionary Paradigm

As the human consciousness grows inwardly and feels more and more the deeper and purer joy of inner fulfillment it will act against the desire for a gross external fulfillment through an increasing material consumption.  When I am inwardly fulfilled I don’t buy whatever I can afford nor do I crave for what I don’t have.  I buy only what I need and the rest of my earning I spend either for my inner growth or give it for the realisation of a higher ideal which I believe will lead to a greater well-being of the community or humanity as a whole.  Similarly as we grow in our mental, moral, aesthetic consciousness we will feel an enlightened and spontaneous sense of ecological and social responsibility based not only on the scientific understanding of the ecology of Nature but flowing from an emotional empathy and aesthetic feeling for Nature, life and people around us.

As we grow into the deeper and inner layers of our psychological and spiritual being it will activate in us intuitive faculties of consciousness beyond the scientific and rational mind.  This will reveal to us the deeper and higher psychological and spiritual dimensions of Nature and their laws and process, which the scientific and rational mind cannot perceive.  In fact, even in the domain of material nature, can the modern scientific mind say it knows fully the totality of physical Nature?  For example does it know fully what are the ecological consequences of splitting an atom or slicing or altering a gene?  No true scientific mind will be so arrogant to make such a statement.  As we ascend into the deeper and higher levels and acquire new intuitive faculties we will get a more total and holistic insight into unity, harmony and interdependence of life and Nature and as a result, better understanding of the consequences of our decisions and action.  When the scientific, technological, professional and managerial mind of humanity acquires these higher intuitive faculties beyond the scientific and the rational mind, many of the problems related to environment, energy, economics or development, will find a quicker and better solution.

And finally when the human consciousness grows more and more into the unity-consciousness of the spirit, in which we can feel our oneness with all existence, it will lead to an unprecedented level of cooperation and harmony among humanity.  And no problem, in whatever domain it may be, can stand against the harmonious and focused assault of the creative energy of the human spirit.  The spiritual intuition will also reveal the deepest and highest spiritual truths of Man, Nature and God in their perfect unity and harmony.  This will lead to a rediscovery of the ancient wisdom which saw and adored Nature as a living Goddess and the divine Mother of us all and an altogether new paradigm of spiritual ecology.

The Path to Sustainable Evolution

This brings us to the pragmatic question: how to achieve this higher evolution? The path involves three steps.  First of all we have to evolve a synthesis of the spiritual wisdom of humanity with the modern secular values of liberal humanism, science, ecology and environmentalism.  Second is to build an outer economic, social and political organisation based on this synthesis.  Third, and the most important, is a system of education, which can internalize the values of this synthesis in the consciousness of the people.  This cannot be done entirely by the present system of mental education.  We have to evolve a new systems of education by which higher values like Unity of Man and Nature are not merely thought and felt as an idea or sentiment but become concrete experiential realities of consciousness, felt as concretely as we feel our body.  There is a system of knowledge or science, which can provide the basis for such an experiential education. It is the ancient Indian science of Yoga.


  1. Josi A. Lutzenberg, NGO as a Driving Force, ed. Fritjof Capra and Guntur Pauli, Steering Business Towards sustainability, p.32
  2. Alan Sasha Lithman, Evolutionary Agenda for the Third Millennium, pp.125
  3. E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful, pp.44-52
  4. ibid, pp.250
  5. Maurice Strong, New Growth Model, Future of a Troubled World, Ed, Richie Caulder. pp.141

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