“The culture of the industrial world has no soul”
Satish Kumar (1936-) is a contemporary writer and activist who edits the UK-based magazine Resurgence & Ecologist.
He also co-founded Schumacher College in Devon, which is inspired by the teaching of E.F. Schumacher, and runs holistic education courses for people concerned with social and environmental issues.
Kumar is strongly influenced by Mohandas Gandhi and, like the latter, has based his lifelong opposition to the industrial-capitalist system on his Vedic spirituality.
He opposes the valueless materialism of most modern thinking, even that which labels itself activist or environmentalist.
He said in a 2013 interview: “The people who campaign for HS2 or a third runway at Heathrow, they are activists: they want to put the world right – ‘It’ll be good for the British economy.’ But they are materialistic, they have no spiritual values, and so their actions lead to tears.
“In the same way, the actions of environmentalists will lead to tears if they don’t come from the place of the spirit. Their activism can end up in nuclear power or genetic engineering or the whole countryside covered with windmills or solar panels and no trees left anywhere.
“That is mind without spirit. The moment you have spirit, you know balance, harmony, frugality, simplicity, minimalism – all of these are qualities of the spirit”. (1)
In the best organic radical tradition, Kumar insists on the importance of a worldview that is holistic rather than fragmented: “I am constantly reminding people to think holistically, think in a bigger way, a spiritual way, rather than get stuck in this one idea that climate change is the problem, or this or that is the problem. Our problems are interrelated”. (2)
He added: “Harmony is the basic principle of the universe: the sun and the rain are in harmony with the soil, and the soil with the seed… And so I would say: Focus on the natural state of the universe”. (3)
Kumar explained that it was this holistic approach that led him to choose the three words in the title of his 2013 book Soil, Soul, Society: “I thought we need something that says that we are related to the natural world: we come from the soil, we return to the soil, we are made of the soil, we are made of each other, we are all connected, all related. How do you show that? By saying: Take care of the soil – without soil, you cannot exist!
“And then your soul. Soil has soul and you are soulful and therefore don’t forget your soul… And then you are part of the human community. Beyond all our differences and divisions, we are a human society.
“So, we are members of the earth community, we are members of human society and we are also ourselves, individual beings, related to the earth, related to society and yet we have something special in us, something unique, which is the soul”. (4)
Soul, for Kumar, is conspicuously missing from Western culture and for that reason he thinks the current industrial capitalist global dominance will probably be short-lived.
He told Ranchor Prime in the 2002 book Vedic Ecology: “The culture of the industrial world has no soul. It has no substance. It is a paper tiger, a balloon – one prick and it will burst. What that one prick is going to be we cannot know, but the industrial way of life and materialistic mode of education is not sustainable”. (5)
He contrasts this emptiness with the holistic and spiritual Indian way of life, which he terms Sanatan Dharma – Sanatan meaning eternal and Dharma meaning the true state of being. “So Sanatan Dharma means to find the true, everlasting state of being, the eternal path. Hindus are searching for the dharma of the soul, the meaning of life. That is the quest”. (6)
In a 2016 interview Kumar spoke about the difficulties of being a free and authentic human being in the context of our contemporary society. He said: “What happens is that human beings are, from the very beginning, brainwashed. Our parents, our teachers, our churches, impose a particular set of values and living style, telling us what we ought to be and do. So our minds are conditioned by society, schooling, media. It’s not the fault of the human being, which is a pure soul. It is a society which tries to imprison the free human being”. (7)
The way we could drag ourselves out of this brainwashed state was, as he had outlined three years previously, to access the deeper levels of our self which had not been conditioned from the outside.
Said Kumar: “The thing is to follow your inner voice. Ask yourself: What is the most important thing I need to do in this world, and just do that. Don’t be afraid to take risks!” (8)
His own inner voice, he explained, had told him to devote his life to defending the earth from the scourge of Western industrialism.
He said: “My activism is not contrived, not planned; it comes as naturally to me as breathing, and I think I am going to serve the world, and the earth, as an activist until the last breath of my life, because it has become part of me.
“And I am not looking for any achievement, any outcome: what I am doing has its own, intrinsic rightness. I do what I feel is right for me. And that is all it is”. (9)
Video link: Satish Kumar – We Are Nature (10 mins)
1. ‘Talking the Walk’, https://highprofiles.info/interview/satish-kumar/
5. Ranchor Prime, Vedic Ecology: Practical Wisdom for Surviving the 21st Century (Novato, California: Mandala, 2002), p. 102.
6. Prime, Vedic Ecology, p. 103.
7. ‘Longing for Wholeness: An Interview with Satish Kumar’, https://parabola.org/2016/01/29/longing-for-wholeness-an-interview-with-satish-kumar/
8. ‘Talking the Walk’.