Satish Kumar

Note: Satish Kumar is the editor of the magazine, Resurgence.  He’s also the author of You Are,Therefore, I Am a declaration of dependence, and No Destination, an autobiography.

Dr. L: I’ve been writing and talking about the South African concept Ubuntu, so I was intrigued when you said the concept also exists in India. Tell us about it?

SK: From what I understand, the meaning of Ubuntu is “We are, therefore I am.” There’s a similar concept in India.The word in Sanskrit is Sohum, which I have translated as “You are, therefore I am.” I use the word “you” as it is used in Hindu philosophy, in the sense that we are part of the living earth; earth, air, fire, water, space and time are sacred, our relationship to them is that of reverence. I call it reverential ecology. Sohum means we are all related, interdependent and connected; this is a non-dualistic philosophy. Whereas the Western science and philosophy derive their inspiration from Rene Descartes who talked about “I think, therefore I am.” He was the master of the mind-matter split. According to Sohum philosophy, I exist only in relationship to others.The earth is, therefore I am. My ancestors and teachers are, therefore I am. I am the product of billions of years of evolution.

Dr. L: Do you suppose there was an equivalent in the West once upon a time that was eclipsed by our so-called “civilization” that’s been so dominated and damaged by dualistic thinking?

SK: Yes, there was and still is. Religious teachers such as St. Francis of Assisi and philosophers such as Spinoza and Pascal were holistic thinkers. Before the scientific rationalism took hold of our minds and before we became succumbed to a materialistic worldview, the Western philosophy was holistic and relational, and even now there are many scientists in the West seeing things totally interconnected. For example James Lovelock, the author of Gaia Theory, is such a scientist, but there are many others. In

Resurgence magazine, I’ve been publishing the thoughts of such holistic scientists and philosophers for the past 40 years, but because the Western civilization is dominated by dualistic thinking, holistic scientists and philosophers don’t get the recognition they deserve.

Dr. L: How might the world have been different, I wonder, if we hadn’t lost sight of the interconnectedness of everything?

SK: I can only guess. If we had kept the vision of interconnectedness, we would not have created the kind of environmental crisis facing the world today. In fact, the environmental crisis is related to the crisis of aesthetics, crisis of social cohesion and the crisis of spiritual values. If we had adhered to the concept of connectedness, then we would not have created nuclear weapons, huge armies and global warming. All the big problems of the world today are routed in the philosophy of separateness and dualism.

Dr. L: What do you think are the most challenging results of the ways humanity has lost track?

SK: In addition to world conflicts, the most challenging problem we face today is hunger, deprivation and social injustice. Because we’re ruled by separate self-interest, we go on accumulating personal wealth, ignoring the well being of the others. The problems of conflict, starvation and injustice can be tackled only if we return to the idea of Ubuntu or Sohum. I believe this idea is the foundation upon which a just and sustainable world order can be built.

Dr. L: In your talks, you mention that a core point in the U.S. Constitution (and thus in the American psyche) is “the pursuit of happiness.” And yet you say, we in North America ‘have more’ than any other nation, so why are we not already ‘happy.’ You and I have both witnessed extraordinary happiness and gratitude in the ‘poorest’ communities on earth–what do you make of that?

SK: “Pursuit of happiness” implies that we’re running after happiness and happiness is running away from us. It also implies that happiness is somewhere out there, in material goods, which we have to pursue, whereas I believe that it is an illusion happiness is not out there, it is within us. We have to realize it. Happiness is possible only when we are kind to others and contented within. If happiness was in money or power, then America should be the happiest country in the world, but it is not. In spite of nuclear weapons, large numbers of American citizens feel totally insecure. And in spite of so much wealth, industry and technology, many Americans are living under deprivation and anxiety. So happiness is not in accumulation of material goods, it’s in sharing and caring. Of course, we all need to have basic necessities met, such as good health care, good food, good education and good housing. But what is good? Having too much is bad, as having too little is also bad. We need to develop a sense of sufficiency to be happy. This is the fundamental philosophy which Resurgence magazine has been promoting for the past 40 years.

Dr. L: We in the West are running so fast; is it a fear of running out of time, our fear of death, or our own mortality? How do your beliefs cast a different light on this all to human element of ‘fear’?

SK: Speed is one of the great curses of modern civilization, obsession with speed leads to quantitative approach; we come to believe that more is better. This is very materialistic, we have to realize that it is the quality of life, quality of relationships, quality of food, medicine, education and everything else which matters. So we need to make a transition from quantity to quality. Quality and perfection are achieved with time. You do not create a perfect painting or a perfect poem by hurrying. Time is always coming. It is only an illusion that time is running out. This is where the problem of fear arises. We become anxious that “I don’t have enough time and I have to do everything quickly.” We need to turn our attention away from results, achievements and outcomes. Instead of seeking success we should look for fulfillment. And fulfillment is giving total attention to the process of living.We need to learn to live in the here and now; this moment is the best moment. Live it fully. There is an Indian saying “whenever you wake up it is morning, it is morning now.”

Dr. L: How can we bring the Ubuntu concept into our personal and professional lives — how can we calm the wars and conflicts in our own lives, in our own hearts and souls?

SK: Wars and conflicts begin in the mind, then they are expressed in words and then executed through physical action, so personal transformation is intricately connected with the social and political transformation. Each of us needs to eliminate our anger, fear and greed. The roots of social conflicts and political tensions are in personal anger, fear and greed. Through yoga, meditation and other spiritual practices, we can learn the ways of personal equanimity. We can also learn how to use language in beneficial ways. The great work of social transformation begins with the first small step of stopping, calming, relaxing, reflecting and acting in a beneficial way. If individuals start to walk on the path of spirit and feel a sense of the sacred connectedness, then social, economic and political problems will also begin to get resolved.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu