[Published in Rbhu, Aug 2012]
Man and Nature: The Eastern Ecological Vision
The modern science of Ecology has given birth to one of the most influential movements of our modern age: the “Green” Movement. The central idea of the Green movement is the harmony between Man and Nature. But what is Nature? In the modern scientific perception it is the universal physical Nature. But the Indian conception of Nature covers a much broader range of the universe than the physical. To understand this eastern perception of Nature, we have to grasp the eastern view on the dynamic and creative aspect of the Reality. We have discussed the concept of Unity – Consciousness which in the eastern conception, is the most fundamental and essential nature of the Reality. But the Unity-consciousness is not only the sustaining ground of the universe but also the creative and governing power behind the Universe.
The supreme Unity-Consciousness, manifesting itself as a living Cosmic Intelligence and Energy is the creative and governing Power and Wisdom behind the universe and the terrestrial life. This discovery is described by vedic sages of India in a pregnant and impersonal language as “The wisdom is the Eye of the world”: In our eastern synthesis Nature is this cosmic Intelligence and Energy of the Reality which creates and governs the universal and terrestrial life. We must note here that in this spiritual perception of Nature is not confined to the external physical environment. All the energies in Man and the Cosmos, physical, psychological and spiritual, are part of Nature. In the Indian spiritual tradition, Nature is the One Indivisible Energy of the Supreme Consciousness which is the source of all energies in the individual and the universe.
What is the relation between Man and Nature or in other words my own individual human self and the universal Nature? In the deepest spiritual core of my being I am one with the Supreme. In other words, the Unity-Consciousness and its cosmic Intelligence and Energy is not something other than or external to our own consciousness and self. The supreme Unity- Consciousness is the deepest and innermost self of the individual and the universe; Our individual consciousness is at once part of and one with the Universal Consciousness. In other words, individual I and universal I are one. In the innermost and deepest core of my consciousness I am one with the universal Unity-Consciousness and its creative Energy which sustains the Universe and can feel all existence as a part of my own universal self.
Our human nature is made of the physical and psychological energies of cur Body, Vitality and Mind. These energies of our natural self, physical and psychological, are part of and derived from the physical and psychological energies of Universal Nature. But in our deepest spiritual self beyond our natural self we are something more than a part of Nature. In this highest part of our being we are one with Universal Consciousness of Nature and her supreme creative Intelligence and Energy which creates, sustains and governs the world. Interestingly this ancient oriental ideal is echoed in the thoughts of a modern American prophet and philosopher, Emerson; who said that when the human being receives the influx of the spirit. “Man has access to the entire mind of God, is himself the creator in the finite.” (4) This means that someone who has attained to a state of identity or conscious union with his highest spiritual self has access to the universal Wisdom and Power which creates and governs the world, and therefore, has a direct insight into the eternal and universal laws of Nature. So in the ancient Indian culture, the spiritual man, the Rishi is held in highest respect as the embodiment of supreme wisdom, a human representative of God and a window through which God can shed his Light into the world. The Rishi in ancient India is considered as the best guide of not only the religious and spiritual life but also the mudane life of man.
The modern ecologist argues with a convincing logic, supported by a fund of scientific and practical fact, that to ensure a sustainable development and well-being of the human Society, the socio-economic development strategies of communities have to be in harmony with the ecological laws of physical Nature – our material Mother from which we draw all the resources and energies needed tor our economic development. But the Indian sages, with a deeper and vaster vision of Nature, found the laws of ecology of terrestrial of Nature is only a reflection in the physical plane of the ecology of the higher psychological and spiritual dimensions of Nature. For in this Indian spiritual vision, Nature is not only our material Mother but also our spiritual Mother from whom we derive all our physical and psychological energies needed for our very existence, survival and also for our higher evolution and development. So Indian thinkers held that for the highest and integral well-being and fulfillment of humanity, human life as a whole has to be lived and organised in harmony with the total ecology of Nature in all the dimensions- physical, psychological and spiritual.
The Laws that Drive the Wheel of Life
This brings us to the great laws that govern the world. Just like there are certain ecological laws which govern the physical and biological dimensions of Nature, there are ecological laws which govern the psychological and spiritual dimensions of Man and Nature. In fact these deeper and higher Laws of Life, not solely the laws of ecology discovered by modern science, which will eventually determine the “quality of life” or “sustainable development” or well-being of humanity.
What are these laws? The first and the most fundamental, essential and immutable Law is the Law of Unity, Mutuality and Interdependence of Life. The Unity-Consciousness of the spirit manifests itself in the diversity at Life as the Law of mutuality, interconnectedness and interdependence. Nothing in this universe exists in isolation.. The nature of each individual thing in the universe is determined by its relation with the rest of other things and the un1verse as a whole. This relation of a thing with other things and the whole is an integral part of its existence.
The second law is the Law of Karma. This eastern doctrine is much misunderstood in the popular mind and even among some of the learned minds, especially in the west. The law of Karma is constantly equated with fatalism. But what is precisely this “Karma theory”? To put it in a simple language, the doctrine or karma postulates that our present condition is determined by our past actions and our future condition will be determined by our present actions. But the popular misunderstanding of Karma theory makes much of the first part, that is the present is determined by the past and ignores the second part that is, future is determined by the present. But rightly understood in its totality, karma theory is far from fatalism. The law of Karma ordains that we are what we are in our present condition because of our past action and will be in the future what our present action makes us, in other words, we can shape our future by our present action. This is far from fatalism; it is virile humanism because it says Man can be a master of his future destiny if he so wills. The fatalistic idea of Karma was found mainly in Indian mythology. But most of the spiritual and Yogic texts of India had preserved the true meaning of Karma and viewed the soul of man as the master of Fate. For example an ancient Indian Yogic text says, “The current notion that one cannot escape from the destiny is applicable only to the weak. Yogis who practice control of breath conquer Fate… Destiny seizes and holds only the cowards”.
But even after clearing the misconceptions of Karma theory and a arriving at a clearer understanding of its meaning we have not yet arrived at the deeper truth of the Law of Karma. What is the rationale and foundation of Karma theory? The main principle behind Karma theory is that the long-term result of our action depends on the inner quality of the energy released 1n action. The energy we release returns upon us with a similar inner quality and content. The energies which inflicts harm, pain and unhappiness to others returns upon us with a similar result, on the other hand energies which bring happiness and well-being to others return upon us with a similar positive result. The actual working of the law may not be as mathematically precise as the Newton’s third law of motion. For according to Sri. Aurobindo there are higher dimensions to the law of Karma which goes beyond cosmic justice; an element of progress which leads to the spiritual evolution of ind1vidual. We will not enter at present into this higher conception of Karma because it will plunge us into the intricacies of spiritual philosophy. But our purpose here is not to have a complete philosophical understanding of the law of Karma but to have that much of understanding to grasp the practical consequences of the law in our life.
The other important truth of Karma we have to understand is that the Law of Unity is the spiritual foundation of Karma. It Unity is the fundamental law of life and others are a part of my own self, then by harming others I am harming my own self and by doing good to others, I am doing good to my awn self. Karma is one at the cosmic mechanisms by which this Law of Unity is enforced and worked out in human life.
This Law of Karma applies not only to the Individual but also to the collectivity like that of a group or an organization or a nation. These collective entities also have Karma and bear the Karmic consequences of their decisions and actions. The Law of Karma brings its highest beneficial long-term results to the individual or the collectivity when in their personal or corporate life, all their decisions and actions are based on the law of unity; or in other words on the Idea, feeling or intuition that others are part of one’s own self.
So in this eastern perspective, the “quality of life” of human beings depends not on technology, ecology or economics but on the quality of their Karma which in turn depend on the nature of their values – not professed values but lived values. The eminent historian Arnold Toynbee displays a deep insight into this eastern doctrine of Karma when he says, “Karma, not scientific and technological progress is the factor of human life that produces well-fare and happiness or alternatively misery and sorrow” and adds “human dignity cannot be achieved in the field of technology in which human beings are so expert, it can be achieved only the field of ethics.” (5)
The third law is the Law of Sacrifice or a better word would be “Law of Giving.” For the word “Sacrifice” gives a sense of painful self-immolation. But sacrifice need not necessarily be a painful act; it can be a joyous or even an ecstatic self-‘giving. Here again the foundation of this law is the law of Unity. For in a cosmic system governed by the law of interconnectedness and interdependence, we cannot have or take anything from life or Nature without letting go or giving. The more we give, the more we have and grow. And the more we give voluntarily and gladly with full understanding of the law, we grow faster. For when we do the “sacrifice” voluntarily, and consciously, our consciousness expands into and in harmony with the consciousness and rhythms of Nature and her creative energies flow into us. This law of giving applies to our inner as well as outer life. Our giving may be physical like wealth or psychological like knowledge, skill, talents, capacities, love, kindness, empathy, protection or power.
But there is another form of giving which is essential for the evolutionary progress of the Individual and the collectivity. It is the giving or rather giving up of our attachment to things, people, ideas, feeling, experiences and all systems of thought and practice which are no longer useful for our further progress. In the Indian conception evolutionary progress of human beings is affected by a progressive renunciation of attachment to all that is narrowly personal, ego-centric and exclusive and a progressive self-giving or “surrenders” to more and more impersonal, inclusive ideals and values.
The fourth law is the law of spiritual evolution of humanity. In the Indian perspective evolution is primarily an evolution of consciousness, a progressive manifestation of the consciousness involved in Matter; it emerges first in the biological kingdoms as the vital responses of the plant; it progresses further as the sense-consciousness in the animal; advances further to become the self-conscious thinking mind in man. She is already marching forward towards her next great step in evolution, which is to evolve a supramental consciousness beyond mind. And the enlightenment – experiences of the yogis and mystics allover the world give a glimpse of the nature of the higher consciousness which Nature is proceeding to evolve and generalize in the whole of humanity.
This inner spiritual evolution of humanity proceeds through many stages of mental, moral and psychological development. The final stage of this evolution is a quantum leap of our human consciousness from its present ego-centric desire-driven mentality to the desire-free and universal consciousness of the spirit or higher self beyond Mind.
Yoga: The Science of Inner Evolution
We are now brought to the greatest “practical” discovery of eastern wisdom: The Science and Technology of Yoga. 1n a precise and scientific sense, divested of all its philosophical, religious mystical and esoteric trappings, yoga is a form of applied psychology. “Yoga” says Sri Aurobindo “is nothing but practical psychology.” But practical for what? For the psychological and spiritual evolution of the Individual Yoga is the process or discipline by which the psychological and spiritual evolution of the individual can be accelerated. As we have discussed earlier, evolution and progress is one of the eternal laws of life. There is a slow evolutionary process of Nature which works in the mass of humanity through the normal experiences of life, mental education, thought, culture and other methods. But Yoga speeds-up this slow natural evolution in the individual through an intensive concentration of his psychological energies. This does not mean yoga is something unnatural or supernatural. Yoga is also a method or process of Nature, but employed by her in the higher stage of human evolution and for the realisation of her higher evolutionary aims.
In our eastern synthesis, all systems of knowledge or Sciences will be viewed and studied in this evolutionary Vision of Yoga. In this yogic perspective, the aim of all pure sciences -physical, social, psychical or spiritual — is to discover the laws, processes, methods and objectives of Nature in each human and cosmic activity. The aim of all practical sciences is to discover the paths and methods by which human life can grow consciously towards its highest spiritual aim in harmony with the laws of Nature.
Value-driven Human Development
We have said while discussing the law of Karma that the quality of life of human beings depends on the quality of their Karma which in turn depends on their values. This is the reason why ancient Indian development model was founded on Values as the prime-mover of human development.
Ancient Indian “development” thinkers asked what are the values which will leads to the inner development of the individual and what is the right social structure which will channelise thin inner development of the Individual in his outer life? In otherwords Indian thinkers asked what are the values which will lead progressively to a better and better human being, better not only in terms of the “bottomline” “values, a more productive, efficient, skillful and employable citizen, but also a more creative, balanced, harmonious, wise and compassionate human being; and finally as the culminating point of this development, highest inner perfection and fulfillment of the human being in the spiritual consciousness. To a modern change-obsessed and technology-dazzled yuppie this ancient Indian idea may appear as an old fashioned and traditional idealism which has no relevance to the modern world. But this old-fashioned idealism has acquired a crucial relevance for the survival and progress of humanity.
There is a growing consensus among perceptive thinkers all over the world, that the present humanity, if it has to survive and progress further into its next stage in its evolution needs a new development paradigm based on a predominant emphasis on the psychological, moral and spiritual well-being and development of the human being. This new trend in the emerging development paradigm, is reflected in the WHO’s definition of health as a state of “physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being.”
In the evolution of our modern civilisation, until now the primary emphasis or thrust of human development is on the life of the outer material, economic and social development of man and whatever inner development which helps or supports this outer development. As a result, most of the individual and social values which governed human-development until now, like for example, efficiency, productivity, profit, commercialism, consumerism and others, reflect this modern concept of development. We would like to remind here that we are not making this statement in a judgemental and condemnatory sense. This phase of development may correspond to some universal evolutionary need of humanity. Many nations in the Eastern parts of the world are still going through this phase of evolution and have not yet accomplished the evolutionary task or need it is intended to fulfill. This task or need is a widespread and diffused material, economic and social well-being and the creation of instruments and institutions which will make this well-being secure in the outer life of man.
The emerging social and economic trends indicate that this task may hopefully be achieved within the first few centuries of the New Millennium. This may sound a little too optimistic. But the trends like the collapse of authoritarianism, spread of democracy, awakening to the need of equity, social responsibility and ethics and the tremendous potentialities of New Technologies like the Information, bio and energy technologies indicate that our optimism is not ill-founded.
But this realisation of a diffused material economic and social well-being is an unfinished task of the past and not the task of the future. This task of the Future or the Mission of the present millennium will be the moral, psychological and spiritual awakening of humanity or In other words the full and complete development of the inner being of man in the same scale as the past millennium developed the outer material economic and social life of man. The task of the past millennium is to prepare the outer being and life of humanity for the Inner spiritual awakening and development of humanity which will progressively unfold in the present millennium. We can already see glimmers of this awakening in every activity of humanity. There is in every field of thought and in every section of society an awakening to the non-material needs of life and the “transpersonal” dimensions of consciousness.
Here comes the importance of the eastern spiritual synthesis on values. Ancient Indian philosophy always held this inner development of Man as the central aim of not only the individual human development but also the collective social development. The function of human society is to provide a frame work of life for this inner development of human beings. Ancient Indian civilisation made a great attempt to create a social order, system of values and institutions, or in short a social synthesis which will help in this inner development of human beings.
In general, while modern western culture relied mainly on the physical energy released by science and technology and the vital energy released by the motives, interests and desires of the physical and vital ego in man for building society, ancient Indian culture relied on the mental, moral and spiritual energy released by the values of the deeper and higher self 1n man. The lower motives, desires and energies of the physical and vital being in man is not denied or suppressed; they are disciplined, restrained from degenerating into license, lust and greed and harnessed for building the society under the uplifting guidance of the higher values of the mind and spirit.
The mental and social forms created by this ancient Indian synthesis may not be relevant to the present or the future. Even some of the principles need to be modified to suit the needs of the future. But the central vision of the Indian development paradigm has a living relevance for the future.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Transcendentalism Web, http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/authors/emerson/essays/naturetext.html
- Arnold Toynbee, quoted by Anand Das Gupta, Human Values Management, Ashgate Publishing Co., p. 89