Indian management skills
The idea of this special dossier on the environment
germinated during the "Restore the Earth" conference organised in April
2002 by the Findhorn foundation, amidst a beautiful northern Scottish
setting. Hundreds of persons coming from all parts of the world had
gathered there, between the hill of the witches and the seals' sandy
shore. That evening, we were listening To Winona LaDuke telling the
story and struggles of her people, the Anishinaabeg. I was impressed by
the way they learn from bears, eagles and geese the fundamental rules
of community life. For centuries, generation after generation, this
Ojibwe people have been practising a quite sophisticated benchmarking
method, observing and letting themselves be inspired by those of the
other living families who behave most successfully.
If our western society has been generating so many disasters for some
time, isn't it because we have forgotten this elementary rule of
management -taught in the best business schools-: never believe that
you are alone -or necessarily the best- in the world, keep comparing
your methods and results with those who do best, make sure that your
choices remain valid and sustainable and if not so change them, and of
course, do not finance running costs by wasting your capital. Basic,
isn't it ?…Why don't we apply it to the management of the planet
The law that binds all together
The situation of the planet is worrisome and needs urgent action.
People at all levels must become conscious of both their responsibility
and ability to contribute to successfully face the tremendous
It is scientists and activists' role to offer new visions that will
make action possible; those must be realistic and mobilising, and help
us to understand, dream and act.
This is, among other convergent initiatives, what Alan Watson, Roger
Doudna and their Scottish friends of Trees for Life imagined, when they
decided to launch the "Restore the Earth" international movement, and
to invite the United Nations and the peoples of the earth to jointly
declare the XXIst century "Century of the restoration of the Earth".
Thank you Alan to have reminded us that so simple and
nevertheless magic key: by restoring the Earth, through thousands of
small well rooted actions, we can begin the work which will teach us
some of the answers we need to get out of the over consumption trap:
By reconnecting to the earth, I can learn again to reconnect to myself,
my health, my true needs, to the human beings who surround me and to
the other passengers of the blue planet. I can learn again to
experience respect and reciprocity. If many of us discover this anew,
then "the law which binds all together" might allow our children to
benefit from the treasures of wisdom bequeathed to us by the wisest
among the peoples of the earth.
A special thank to Roger for his help and to all the speakers and
authors whose texts are presented here.
A NEW ECO-SOCIAL PARADIGM
The premise of this piece is that the vocation of each human
being is to be pro-human and pro-earth at the same time.
Poverty, industrial pollution, climate change, acute water
scarcity, population explosion, religious conflict, and the
commercialisation of values- these are the major challenges of the 21st
century. Where do we find the vision and the political will to deal
with these awesome tasks! As our secular ideologies appear to flounder
there are many who believe that the earth, from whom we have evolved,
is likely to give us the strength to deal with our many afflictions.
This is hardly a new idea although, as we shall see further
on, modern evolutionary theory has come forward to give it firm
scientific backing. The dalit poet Siddalingiah recently spoke to me of
an old Kannada folk song:
Waking at dawn
Whom should I remember with reverence?
My first thought goes to mother earth
Who grows sesame and cumin.
In 1854, from another part of our planet, the native American
Chief Seattle, was asked by the American President to sell him some
land. It was a strange question to put to a red man for whom the earth
was sacred, beyond buying or selling. In an inspired rejoinder,
amounting to a rebuke, Chief Seattle purportedly told the President,
"… the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls
the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon
themselves. This we know: The Earth does not belong to man; man belongs
to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood
which unites one family."
The notion of dependent co-arising, or paticca samuppada,
which is central to Buddhism, reaffirms the idea of interconnectedness.
It suggests that no one is an island, that we are all " interwoven
threads in the intricate tapestry of life". Using the image of the
Jeweled Net of Indra to explain these interconnections the Buddhist
writer Joanna Macy says, " In the cosmic canopy of Indra's Net, each of
us, each jewel at each node of the net, reflects all the others and
reflects the others reflecting back. This is what we find when we
listen to the sounds of the Earth crying within us- that the tears that
arise are not ours alone; they are the tears of an Iraqi mother looking
for her children in the rubble; they are the tears of a Navajo uranium
miner learning that he is dying of lung cancer." Interexistence does
not mean that we have no identity, that we are merely part of an
undifferentiated whole. What it means is that we are autonomous beings
and parts of a larger whole at the same time.
A new vision.
An influential body of opinion all over the world is now
stressing that the cause of our civilisational crisis lies in our
disconnectedness with nature. We have forgotten where we come from. We
see the Earth, from which we have evolved, as little more than a mere
'resource', a storehouse of minerals and other raw materials, inert
matter which we need to use in the furtherance of our physical and
material needs. The earth is a mere producer of food and a garbage
dump, not our larger body. Obviously, nothing could be further than the
truth; nothing can exist as an outsider, in isolation. Quantum theory
has revealed that even subatomic particles are not things, but
connections between things.
What is needed is a change in our cosmovision, to see the
earth as our mother, like indigenous peoples all over the world have
done from the beginning of time. There is no question we have deviated
from our nature by exclusively worshipping the technological creations
that so passionately stir and preoccupy us. Science and technology are
not inherently wrong but if we humans do not encapsulate them in the
right vision we will use them to manipulate and exploit the earth and
other fellow beings. We already see the emergence of an aggressive
win-lose mindset, where some are positioned to win and others are fated
We can veer away from this malaise through the recovery of
the nurturing bonds that connect us to the natural world. Each day that
we walk on the grass, on the hills, through verdant fields, desert
wastes and even our garbage-strewn city pavements, we are walking on
our mother. Walking is thus a respectful and meditative act, where we
reiterate our commitment to the earth. If the earth is our mother, it
follows that we cannot violate her or her human and non-human offspring.
Two contemporary thinkers, Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme, have
attempted to build a new cosmovision through integrating evolutionary
theory and a spirituality of connectedness with the earth and the
universe. As already mentioned this spirituality is not new; most
tribal societies are even today familiar with it. What is new is the
integration of evolutionary theory with it in a new teleological
paradigm. Let me paraphrase Miriam MacGillis from Genesis farm, New
Jersey, who has attempted to summarise these evolutionary ideas: The
universe came into being 15 billion years ago. First there was
hydrogen, which was around only for about seven seconds. From the union
of hydrogen atoms came helium. From helium came carbon. The process of
differentiation continued. Our earth was formed about five billion
years ago. This is a long long time ago. For purposes of elucidation
let us say that 5 billion years equals 12 months. Then, in these twelve
months of the earth's existence life appeared only in the last four
months. From single celled organisms the process evolved and
differentiated into more and more complex forms of life. Again, this
took a long time. If the earth was born 12 months ago the human came
into being only in the last day, in the last twenty-four hours! We know
hardly anything about these twenty-four hours. Most of it is buried in
a great tribal age where no detailed record exists. We only have some
information on the last five thousand years or so- the period of the
great civilisations. In the 24 hours that the human has been around our
great civilisations are only 30 minutes old. And our modern scientific
age is only about a couple of minutes old!
Several significant conclusions may be drawn from this
explanation. We have evolved from the earth and the earth is therefore
our primary mother. Nothing in the scheme of evolution has stated that
there is a hierarchy in the universe. If at all there is a reason for
according the human a special place it is because it is through the
human that the earth has finally attained consciousness of itself. This
places a serious responsibility on the human- to be true to the
consciousness that is given him. The possession of this consciousness
necessarily means that the ontological vocation of the human is to
enhance the journey of the universe through time. By polluting and
violating the biosphere the human is going against the unfolding of the
universe. This violation is not only against the earth but to all her
human and non-human offspring. Enhancing the journey of the universe
means that we move away from a linear and mechanical understanding of
progress and market fundamentalism, and the false values of consumerism
that tell us that one is human only in the measure that one can buy,
sell and accumulate.
Earth spirituality may be an important way out of the present
predicament. The sense of fulfilment that accompanies a reverential
relationship to the earth may give us the strength to frequently step
back from our man made world of gadgets and consumer seduction and see
their serious limitations. In 2000 the world spent 435 billion dollars
in advertising. Advertising deludes us into believing that unless we
buy what is being advertised we are condemned to be lesser human
beings. The power of advertising is such that many millions of people
now feel that we can be free and democratic only if commercial
advertising is curtailed and governed by ethical norms.
Earth spirituality does not imply that we turn our backs on
the scientific and modern world. That would be futile and uncreative,
apart from being regressive. But modern science and technology can find
their true purpose only when they enhance the journey of the universe.
Enhancing the journey of the universe means being pro-human and
pro-earth simultaneously. The failings in our present cosmovision do
not allow us the conviction to align with this journey. One may argue
that the origin of the present global crisis does not stem from
inherent human weaknesses or human evil. The roots lie in a serious
defect of vision that allows us to be callous to the earth and our
fellow human beings.
The journey of the universe further tells us that we must be
humble and accept that all our gods and religions are only about five
thousands years old, or half an hour in the life of our planet (i.e. if
we take 5 billion years, the age of the earth, to be one year, as
mentioned earlier). We will have little or no justification to wage
religious wars when we realise that human beings have been around for
hundreds of thousands of years before our present religions were
formed. The human is much older than our present gods and religions!
Besides, the universe journeys from simplicity to complexity, from
single celled organisms to more differentiated life forms. Religious
intolerance is therefore wrong because it goes against the diversity
principle of the unfolding universe.
The major religions are not unequivocal in their appreciation
of our interconnectedness with the universe, but all of them offer
valuable insights and experiences even if these are sometimes
anthropocentric. The Thai Buddhist monk Buddhadasa Bhikkhu said: "The
entire cosmos is a cooperative. The sun, the moon, and the stars live
together as a cooperative. The same is true for humans and animals,
trees, and the earth. When we realise that the world is a mutual,
interdependent, cooperative enterprise then we can build a noble
environment. If our lives are not based on this truth, then we shall
perish." A Western Buddhist has referred to Buddhism as a "religious
The Hinduism of the Vedic period is replete with texts and
rituals that celebrate the earth (bhu), the atmosphere (bhuvah) and sky
(sva). Gods and goddesses are also associated with the earth (Prithvi),
with the water ( Ap), with fire (Agni) and the wind( Vayu). These Vedic
insights were later formalised into the mahabhuta (the five great
elements). They were the earth (prithvi), water(jal), fire(tejas),
air(vayu) and space(akasa). The tree was considered sacred from very
early on. From the Indus valley seals to the edicts of Asokha to the
Chipko movement the tree was nurtured and protected. Many families and
communities have their own sacred trees and show particular attention
and reverence to them. My friend Dr.Shivshankar, an agronomist, tells
me that his family venerates the pongamia tree. He has two of them now
growing in his garden.
More than any other tradition the thinking of indigenous
peoples all over the worldwide is permeated with the notion, so
eloquently expressed by Chief Seattle, that "all things are connected."
In 1933 Luther Standing Bear, the Lakota thinker, wrote: " All this was
in accordance with the Lakota belief that man did not occupy a special
place in the eyes of Wakan Tanka, the Grandfather of us all. I was only
a part of everything that was called world." Commenting on Standing
Bear's reflections John Grim ( Bucknell University, USA.) states that,
" To distinguish the human 'camp' is not an ontological separation of
beings, or an ethical judgement about superior and inferior relations
between species. To think of human, animal, plant, and mineral bodies
as separated by consciousness or personality is a category error." Not
only did the human not occupy a special place but the human is also not
separate from the earth and the universe.
There are many who think that we are veering to the brink of
ecological and social disaster. The recent collapse of the United
Nations conference on climate change (The Hague, 13-24 November 2000)
is another indication that we do not have the will to steward our
planet. Is this because we are inherently hedonistic and licentious as
a species or does the problem again lie in a defect of vision, where we
have lost the essential connections that underlie our humanity? A North
American conference on Christianity and Ecology had a poem as a report.
An extract reads:
How much of Earth's atmosphere must we contaminate?
How many species must we abuse and extinguish?
How many people must we degrade and kill
with toxic wastes
before we learn to love and respect your Creation,
before we learn to love and respect our home?
St.Francis of Assisi and Teilhard de Chardin are two of the
most ecologically minded Christian thinkers. Paul Santmire writes, "
Francis climbs the mountain of Gods creation in order to stand in
universal solidarity with all God's creatures, both in this world and
the world to come." (The Travail of Nature: the ambiguous ecological
promise of Christian Theology. Fortress Press, 1985, Philadelphia).
Recent Christian ecumenical thinking states that "all beings on earth
make up one household (oikos) which benefits from an economy
(oikonomia) which takes ecological and social stewardship (oikonomos)
seriously. (Dieter T.Hessel.)
My brother died several years ago after a prolonged
depression. He was an agnostic and he would not have wished to be
buried in a cemetery. I had him cremated and a few days later, in the
presence of his friends, we journeyed to my fathers farm and placed his
ashes in a freshly dug pit. A few of his friends reminisced fondly
about him and one planted a sturdy sapling over his ashes. The tree is
now eight years old. I have nursed it with devotion, putting a row of
prickly bush around to prevent goats from eating the branches. My
brother now lives in the tree and I spend a few moments beside it each
time I am on the farm. The tree has also made the farm invaluable to
me; I could never think of selling the farm and parting from my
A writer friend from Kerala tells me that in her community
they follow the practice of planting a tree over the dead. It is
probably a practice as old as life itself. Planting a tree over one's
body or ashes has other meanings as well. It recognises one's
primordial bonds with the earth, our primary mother. From an ecological
angle it rejuvenates the life-systems of the earth, serving as a carbon
sink, converting carbon dioxide into life sustaining oxygen.
(Obviously, this is only a short-term solution. Very soon, we need to
go to the heart of the problem and eliminate the toxic gases that
threaten life on the planet.) It also prevents soil erosion and
Instead of cold tombstones and expensive 'samadhis' we could
have living trees commemorating our lives. We are now one thousand
million people in India. I presume about four million of them die each
year. If even a quarter of that number left instructions that a tree
should be planted over their remains we would have a million new trees
each year. If the same proportion carried out the practice worldwide we
would have over a billion new trees each year. What better gesture to
the significance of our lives than this act of greening the earth and
connecting with our primordial mother.
On the subject of death the French Philosopher Pierre
Teilhard de Chardin wrote: "Blessed be you, mortal matter: you who one
day will undergo the process of dissolution within us and will thereby
take us forcibly into the very heart of that which exists."
individualism to inter-existence
Extreme forms of selfish individualism now combine with
aggressive commercial pursuits to create a worldview that may lead to
human self-destruction. Gregory Bateson has referred to this alarming
individualism as the epistemological error of western civilisation. How
does one move from this corrosive individualism to the healing
influence of interexistence? It seems likely that we will have to fall
back on the immanent intelligence of the earth if we are to radically
change course and return to the state of interconnectedness with
non-humans and humans. The human does not make sense outside this
connectedness. Ideologies alone, however open and non-dogmatic, cannot
lead us from self-destruction. Even altruism may be unnecessary, for
interconnectedness implies that when we do good to another human being
or the earth we are only doing good to our selves, to our larger body.
Only the common spiritual field of our interbeing with the
natural world can give us the fulfilment necessary to distance
ourselves from the over-determination of material and technological
props. Lamenting our tendency to neglect the natural world and to "
participate almost exclusively with other humans and with our human
made technologies' the philosopher David Abram writes, rather
provocatively, " we are human only in contact, and conviviality, with
what is not human." He means that our humanity can be completed only
through a sensuous and fulfilling relationship with nature.