Towards an Ecology of Consciousness – by M.S. Srinivasan

An integrated approach to ecology, sustainability and development is the need of the hour. But this integration cannot be achieved on the basis of a predominantly physical concept of Man or Nature. This article presents a deeper approach to ecology based on a more integral vision of Man and Nature, and explores similar perspectives of some eminent Nobel Laureates in Science.

Is Nature She or It

In modern environmental thought, Nature is physical and biological. This raises some important questions. If Man is part of Nature, in what sense? For Man is not only a physical being but has a consciousness. What is the source of our consciousness? Is it part of physical nature and a mere epiphenomenona of material evolution? But why does modern ecology, which has given a higher orientation to modern thought and moving towards a more and more holistic approach to development, accept such a grossly materialistic view of consciousness? Will it not be more logical as well as holistic to conceive of consciousness as inherent in Nature and our consciousness as part of the universal consciousness of Nature or Spirit or God, in other words, part of the higher dimensions of Nature beyond the physical? In fact many eminent scientists are now dissatisfied with the materialistic concepts of traditional scientific view and are veering towards the spiritual concepts of Eastern thought. For example John Eccles, the Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology, uses strong words when he says:

“I maintain that the human mystery is incredibly demeaned by scientific reductionism with its claim in promissory materialism to account for all the spiritual worlds in terms of patterns of neuronal activity. This belief must be classed as superstition—- we have to recognize that we are spiritual beings with souls existing in spiritual worlds with bodies and brains existing in a material world” (1)

Similarly another Nobel Laureate and a pioneer of quantum physics, Neil Bohr. states:

“We can admittedly find nothing in physics or chemistry that has even a remote bearing on consciousness. Yet all of us know that there is such a thing as consciousness, simply because we have it ourselves. Hence consciousness must be part of nature, or more generally, of reality, which means that, quite apart from the laws of physics and chemistry, as laid down in quantum theory, we must also consider laws of quite a different nature.” (2)

So the environmental movement should not dogmatically cling to the traditional, materialistic view of Man and Nature but have the courage to include the religious and spiritual dimension. This is now beginning to be recognised among some scientific thinkers. For example, the well-known physicist and author Fritjof Capra states, “Ultimately, deep ecological awareness is spiritual or religious awareness. When the concept of the human spirit is understood as the mode of consciousness in which the individual feels connected with the cosmos as a whole, it becomes clear that the ecological awareness is spiritual in its deepest essence” (3)

Similarly, Brain D. Josephson, Nobel Laureate in physics from Cambridge University, makes the following interesting suggestion:

“Now there are two ways in which one could approach the issue whether God has an influence on Nature. One is to continue following the traditional, materialistic line of explanation, seeing if it really explains everything. That would be a very long job. It might be couple of centuries; perhaps, we would get the answer that way. An alternative approach for the scientists to say, ‘Let’s investigate the opposite view, that perhaps we should be taking God into account in science’; what would a science look like which had God in there playing a part, accounting thereby for particular phenomena” (4)

Why should not the science of ecology and the environmental movement explore this alternative approach suggested by this Nobel Laureate scientist? However, the success or effectiveness of this alternative approach depends on the concept of God on which it is based. If we consider God as an extra-cosmic creator sitting in some remote heaven and creating or overseeing the Universe, it may not lead to any positive scientific results. On the other hand if we conceive Man, God and Nature in the Indian spiritual perspective, then it can give an entirely new and higher orientation to modern ecology and environment. In this Indian perspective God is the infinite, eternal and universal Consciousness, the creative source of the Individual and Universe, Man and Nature. He is the deepest and innermost Self of our own being and the universe and in which we can feel our unity with all creation. Nature is the creative Energy of God and the source of all energies in the Individual and the universe — physical, psychological and spiritual. Thus God in this concept is the spiritual Unity and Wholeness — Unity of Being, Unity of Consciousness and Unity of Energy — sustaining all creation.

The Consciousness Perspective

This brings us to the aims of sustainable development. The aim of modern environmentalism seems to be perfect attunement of the outer life of man with the ecological laws of physical nature. This is a perfectly legitimate aim for the development of the material and economic life. But is this the highest aim of human development or human consciousness? Why should the growth of human consciousness be tethered to the laws of physical Nature? The development of our consciousness, in other words, our psychological and spiritual development, has to be in harmony with the laws or ecology of the higher non-physical and more conscious realms of Nature, which may not follow the laws or ecology of physical Nature.

There may be a certain amount of correspondence between the laws of the various dimensions of Nature. For, as the ancient Vedic sages of India perceived, there is an essential unity and correspondence between the laws of the different planes of existence. In this Vedic concept, according to Sri Aurobindo, “……it is one Law and Truth acting in all, but very differently formulated according to the medium in which the work proceeds and its dominant principle. The same gods exist on all the planes and maintain a different aspect and mode of working and to ever wider results.” So a clear understanding of the laws of ecology of physical Nature provided by modern science, can throw some luminous clues for a better understanding of the laws of the supraphysical realms of Nature in the domains of consciousness. But correspondence does not mean sameness. Laws of consciousness and inner development of the human being in the realms of consciousness cannot be the same as that of physical Nature and outer development.

So an integral approach to sustainable development has to include not only the development of the outer life but also the development of consciousness. And the development of consciousness has to be based, not on the ecology of physical nature but on the laws of psychology and the higher laws of the Spirit, in other words Ecology of Consciousness. The environment and ecology movement has to carefully consider the following suggestion by Charles H. Townes, Nobel Laureate in Physics and the inventor of Laser:

“Understanding the universe, I think is somewhat parallel to our understanding of our relation with the Creator. In this search for truth, it will be certainly beneficial if scientists can incorporate the spiritual principles in their scientific works.” (5)

When we undertake this deeper study with the same amount of scientific rectitude with which modern science has examined physical nature, we may perhaps find that moral and spiritual values discovered by the higher wisdom of humanity has the same significance as the laws of physical Nature discovered by modern scientific ecology.   Ethics and Spirituality are part of the ecology of consciousness, that is, the inner ecology of our moral, psychological and spiritual nature. Just as the quality and sustainability of outer life depends on attunement with the ecology of physical nature, quality and sustainability of our inner life depends on attunement with the ecology of the psychological and spiritual dimensions of Nature.


  1. Singh T (quoted by), Vedanta and Science, Savijnanam, Journal of Bhakthi Vedantha Institute, Vol.1, 2002, p.51-65.
  2. ibid.
  3. Fritjof Capra, The Challenge, Steering Business Towards Sustainability, p.3
  4. Josephson B.D, Science and Religion: How to Make a Synthesis, Savijnanam, Bhakthi Vedantha Institute, p.15-21.
  5. Sri Aurobindo, SABCL, Vol.16, pp.228
  6. Charles H. Townes, Interview, Savijnanam, p.1-16.

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