After developing, in the second half of the 20th Century, a cosmopolitan consciousness that led to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the first half of the 21st Humanity needs to become aware of its inter-connection and dependence with the biosphere, the natural environment within which it’s evolving.
“If they are not in symbiosis with Nature , the ‘human rights’ alone cannot claim any universality, and will become themselves factors of bio-disintegration, leading to the self-destruction of human life. ”
In Indira Gandhi’s inimitable words: “It is an over-simplification to blame all the world’s problems on increasing population. Countries with but a small fraction of the world population consume the bulk of the world’s production of minerals, fossil fuels and so on. Thus we see that when it comes to the depletion of natural resources and environmental pollution, the increase of one inhabitant in an affluent country, at his level of living, is equivalent to an increase of many Asian, Africans or Latin-Americans at their current material levels of living.
The inherent conflict is not between conservation and development, but between environment and reckless exploitation of man and earth in the name of efficiency. Historians tell us that the modern age began with the will to freedom of the individual. And the individual came to believe that he had rights with no corresponding obligations. The man who got ahead was the one who commanded admiration. No questions were asked as to the methods employed or the price which others had to pay. The industrial civilization has promoted the concept of the efficient man, he whose entire energies are concentrated on producing more in a given unit of time and from a given unit of manpower. Groups or individuals who are less competitive and according to this test, less efficient are regarded as lesser breeds — for example the older civilizations, the black and brown peoples, women and certain professions. Obsolescence is built into production, and efficiency is based on the creation of goods which are not really needed and which cannot be disposed of when discarded. What price such efficiency now, and is not recklessness a more appropriate term for such a behaviour? All the `isms’ of the modern age — even those which in theory disown the private profit principle– assume that man’s cardinal interest is acquisition. The profit motive, individual or collectives, seems to overshadow all else. This overriding concern with self and Today is the basic cause of the ecological crisis.
Pollution is not a technical problem. The fault lies not in science and technology as such but in the sense of values of the contemporary world which ignores the rights of others and is oblivious of the longer perspective.
Life is one and the world is one, and all these questions are inter-linked. The population explosion; poverty; ignorance and disease, the pollution of our surroundings, the stockpiling of nuclear weapons and biological and chemical agents of destruction are all parts of a vicious circle. Each is important and urgent but dealing with them one by one would be wasted effort.
It serves little purpose to dwell on the past or to apportion blame, no one of us is blameless. If some are able to dominate over others, it is at least partially due to the weakness, the lack of unity and the temptation of gaining some advantage on the part of those who submit. If the prosperous have been exploiting the needy, can we honestly claim that in our own societies people do not take advantage of the weaker sections? We must re-evaluate the fundamentals on which our respective civic societies are based and the ideals by which they are sustained. If there is to be a change of heart, a change of direction and methods of functioning, it is not an organization or a country — no matter how well intentioned — which can achieve it. While each country must deal with that aspect of the problem which is most relevant to it, it is obvious that all countries must unite in an overall endeavour. There is no alternative to a cooperative approach on a global scale to the entire spectrum of our problems.
We do not want to put the clock back or resign ourselves to a simplistic natural state. We want new directions in the wiser use of the knowledge and tools with which science has equipped us.
And this cannot be just one upsurge but a continuous search into cause and effect and an unending effort to match technology with higher levels of thinking. We must concern ourselves not only with the kind of world we want but also with what kind of man should inhabit it. Surely we do not desire a society divided into those who condition and those who are conditioned. We want thinking people capable of spontaneous self-directed activity, people who are interested and interesting, and who are imbued with compassion and concern for others.
It will not be easy for large societies to change their style of living. They cannot be coerced to do so, nor can governmental action suffice. People can be motivated and urged to participate in better alternatives.
Modern man must re-establish an unbroken link with nature and with life. He must again learn to invoke the energy of growing things and to recognize, as did the ancients in India centuries ago, that one can take from the Earth and the atmosphere only so much as one puts back into them.”
When St. Francis was calling water ‘sister’, he wasn’t just making poetry: he was conscious of the free, mutual connection running between water and life, a connection that can’t be reduced to the chemical formula and that prevents us to consider water as a disposable means. The Atman reveals us that Francis was right, and that water, and plants, and animals, even the smallest insect or bacteria, is an equally important element of the World Community and as such must be loved and respected.
As Buddha would say, “When a man has compassion for all living creatures, then only is he noble.”
The old ethics made man the measure of all things. The new, raises Life in its wholeness as its ultimate measure.
The World Ethos is one for which good is what favours life, and bad is what accelerates its decline.
Ours is the last generation that can save the world. So,
“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion”, as Rumi once said.
The Universal Spirit is calling humanity to an unprecedented social and cultural transition, and the only way to realize it is to work together. The barriers between races, cultures and states are relics of the phase that preceded and accompanied the process of becoming who we are today.
The struggle for survival, that shaped the transformations of living creatures, and the struggle for power, that guided the clash of human civilizations, left in each one of us a residual aggressive impulse whose primary expression is self-affirmation and repulsion of death.
The acceptance of one’s own death as a congenital measure of the universal evolution of life, has the effect of dissolving the separation between the individual self and the concert of creatures (Atman), allowing the internal void to be filled with the rhythm of life.
“Love your species as yourself.”
“Love all life as yourself.”
From here, the ethical consequence is very suggestive: a true love for humanity involves also the generations yet to come. The idea of ‘Humanity’ implies of course all the generations that preceded us, and prepared the ground (consciously or not) as well as the spiritual and material contents of our lives: the cities we live in, the language we speak, the tools we use, the food we eat. We can be grateful to our Ancestors, since they left us a chance. But we must learn from their mistakes, because this is the only way to evolve.
This generation may begin to realize the Transition to a World Community inspired by the Atman, where the common responsibility shifts its focus from the past, through the present, and to the future.
To keep stubbornly using the traditional tools, even when we know they hurt us and they could abort our future, would only mean to betray the intention of our Ancestors, who built them in a different time and a different world. To achieve the needed radical change in a lifetime, Humanity needs a joint-generational effort inspired by universal love towards the children of the world, the human generations to come.
Marx’s profound analysis about the causes and the processes of alienation, especially about the degradation that occurs when, from a state of natural availability where humans feed directly on nature, humans start consuming artificial products made by other humans, are today more relevant than ever. The subject/object relationship passes from one based on use value, Marx explains, to one based on exchange value. Following this shift — so evident with the industrial civilization — nature becomes humanized, but humans themselves are left trapped in the rat-race of mass consumption society, hence passing from a condition of necessity to another.
The balancing force should have been a ‘naturalization of mankind’, and that’s where Marx pays for the limitations of his anthropology, derived from classical economic models. Nature undergoes a humanization process, but how can Humanity undergo a naturalization process if Nature itself is increasingly exploited and manipulated, thus becoming unrecognizable?
“He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self.” — Krishna
Marx couldn’t grasp back then what today, thanks to the Atman, is finally clear: that between humanity and nature exists a level of reciprocity that stands before the utilitarian level of the production system. Between humanity and nature there is a free-loving relation analogue to that running between two human beings, that before the imprisonment in a master/slave relationship were facing each other as two equal subjects. More than a century later, it’s possible to trace back the original act of this utilitarian down-trend that eventually led humanity to enslave itself:
the moment when man felt so alien to nature to the point of seeing it as a passive object totally master-able by his own will.
When in the ancient religious language it was said that the World belonged to God, it meant that the power of man on nature has a limit that must be respected. And to incentive the respect of that limit, God gave the people of Israel a sabbatical legislation whose profound meaning we can easily recognize. The weekly holidays and the holy years were to be respected by humans and animals alike. Once a week, and one year out of every seven, the soil would be left virgin to regenerate. “This was — writes Jurgen Moltmann — the sabbath of the earth. Those who respected the sabbath of the earth would live in peace, while those who didn’t care would get hungry and sick, since they had compromised the fertility of the soil. According to that old biblical story, Israel is abandoned by God and left for seventy years in slavery in the land of Babylon, ‘until the nation of God had paid all its sabbaths’ (2 Cr. 36).
Today the regenerative rights of the earth and its web of life are constantly abused. Man-made chemical fertilizers and pesticides are forcing Nature to unnaturally intense fertility cycles, preparing the ground for inevitable and catastrophic consequences.
Who doesn’t respect the rights of the earth represents a menace to the future generations and to the existence of life as a whole.”
The nation of Israel was a prophetic precursor of the forthcoming world gathering of the tribes. But every ethno-centric interpretation about God electing “Us vs the Others” is self-delusional, as if a mother could love one child more than the others.
As clearly shown by the recent ethnological research, the same sense of respect for the limit was already found and ritualized in almost every tribal society on the planet, through a recurrent constellation of sacred taboos every member would learn to comply with from a certain age. Significant is the case study reported by Vittorio Lanternari, in rural Ghana: “When the soil of a plantation has been cultivated for many years and has lost its humus, the community needs to prepare a new crop field, that has to be inevitably subtracted from the forest. The local farmers perform a prayer and libation ritual on the chosen spot, asking the many spirits indigenous to the forest for permission to cut down the trees where they live, and imploring forgiveness for forcing them to move”. Behind this apparently childish behavior, lies a deep awareness of what Lantenari calls ‘social pronosticability’, the realization that any form of aggression to the natural environment introduces and element of uncertainty and precariousness in the future of the social group:
hence the necessity of self-limitation.
The profound anthropological truth of such laws and customs becomes understandable rationally only when we consider Nature as a Subject, and our condition of humans as natively interdependent within an infinite plurality of living subjects ready to ripe open to our fruition if we approach them with love and respect, but that instead close themselves — or better extinguish themselves, preparing our extinction — if our approach is aggressively utilitarian.
the call of the Atman is heard in every conscience at once,
and speaks through all creatures together.