“Tinkering with the present system is not going to be enough”
Ranchor Prime (1950-), born Richard Prime, is a writer, translator and artist who espouses a holistic anti-industrial philosophy based on Hindu metaphysics.
The problem in India, says Prime, is that the age-old spiritual awareness of our belonging to nature has been deliberately destroyed by the industrial capitalism originally introduced by the British Empire.
He writes in Vedic Ecology: Practical Wisdom for Surviving the 21st Century: “For nearly two hundred years Indians have been estranged from their own culture by English education. They have been encouraged to think in Western ways and to value the things that the West values. Their own traditional values have been marginalized.
“In many cases they no longer know what those values were or why they were held because those things are no longer taught”. (1)
Prime stresses that a radical shift in the direction of civilization is needed in order to avoid catastrophe: “Tinkering with the present system is not going to be enough. If there is to be real hope of a sane life on this planet for the coming generations, we will have to find a new way of understanding our place in the world”. (2)
He does not shirk from clearly identifying the root of the problem, declaring: “No one can deny that the industrial way of life is what has brought us to the crisis we face today”. (3)
Prime, like Mohandas Gandhi, grasps that industrialism, capitalism, the possession of power and wealth by a small elite, the exploitation of nature and the destruction of traditional ways of living are all aspects of the one phenomenon.
He writes that industrialisation in India, as elsewhere, has led to air pollution, deforestation, desertification, flooding and lack of clean water.
It also spelled the end of the millenia-old village economy of India because it took away from the individual and the community the means of controlling their own livelihood.
“We can see how the concentration of production and capital in the hands of a tiny minority of the world, mostly in the West, has spelled the ruin of traditional lifestyles in every corner of the globe – lifestyles that were organically in harmony with nature and trod lightly on the earth”. (4)
The increasing consumption which is necessary for the capitalist model of economic “growth” cannot go on forever, Prime warns, and is eating up the planet: “This is the great dilemma for the twenty-first century: whether to follow the road of increasing consumption or to abandon this destructive path and find another way to happiness”. (5)
Prime echoes the likes of Gandhi, Bharatan Kumarappa, J.C. Kumarappa, Satish Kumar and Vandana Shiva in calling for a completely different, non-industrial, way of living based on “the Hindu ideal of a simple life of dependence upon nature’s goodness”. (6)
Like so many others in the organic radical tradition, he argues that the changes we need cannot be carried out on the surface of society, but have to be based on “a way of thinking, a philosophy of life”. (7)
This philosophy of life has to be the holistic metaphysics of unity, the understanding of our individual belonging to an expanding succession of greater living entities, combined with a rejection of selfish material greed. It is the wise old way of “simple living and high thinking”. (8)
Prime sees in the “holistic” (9) thought of Hinduism a “perception of underlying unity” (10) which is in stark contrast to the fragmented materialism, subjectivism and individualism of modern Western thinking.
He writes: “In the Vedic vision of the world, consciousness pervades the universe and all within it. A human being, an elephant, a cow, birds, ants, trees, mountains, rivers and the planet earth itself – all are conscious”. (11)
Describing the core Hindu concept of Sanatan Dharma, the eternal essence of life, Prime explains: “This essence is not limited only to humans. It is the essential quality that unites all beings – human, animal or plant – with the universe that surrounds them”. (12)
Everything which is living, everything which shares this eternal essence, is regarded as “sacred” from the traditional Hindu perspective – and indeed from the perspective of all surviving currents of the perennial gnosis of unity, as Frithjof Schuon, Seyyed Hossein Nasr and others have set out.
It says much about the sterile modern outlook that it regards the very idea of “sacred” nature, life or land as being impossibly fanciful or even dangerously delusional.
No such notion can be allowed to stand in the way of the ongoing exploitation and destruction termed “progress”.
Video link: Ranchor Prime (2 mins)
1. Ranchor Prime, Vedic Ecology: Practical Wisdom for Surviving the 21st Century (Novato, California: Mandala, 2002), p. 148-49.
2. Prime, p. 154.
3. Prime, p. 85.
4. Prime, p. 86.
5. Prime, p. 17.
6. Prime, p. 65.
7. Prime, p. 80.
8. Prime, p. 155.
9. Prime, p. 103.
10. Prime, p. 12.
11. Prime, p. 47.
12. Prime, p. 11.