Satish Kumar is a peace and environmental activist who joined a brotherhood of wandering Jain monks in India when he was eight years old. He has given fresh meaning to the word "pilgrimage." Kumar walked the length and breadth of India with Vinoba Bhave, considered by many to be Mahatma Gandhi's successor for his Bhoodan Movement which distributed land donated by owners to the poor.
In his book Earth Pilgrim, Kumar ponders the inner and outer dimensions of pilgrimage: "To be a pilgrim is to be on a path of adventure, to move out of our comfort zones, to let go of our prejudices and preconditioning, to make strides towards the unknown."
In 1962, this peace activist and a companion embarked on an 8,000-mile journey to promote world peace visiting the four nuclear capitals of the world — London, Paris, Moscow, and Washington, D.C. This trek is the heart and soul of his audio book Noble Thoughts, Noble Life; he talks about what it was like to rely on the hospitality of others and to deepen his connections with the good earth.
In 1973, Kumar settled in the United Kingdom, taking up the post of editor of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine, an invaluable resource that promotes ecological sustainability, social justice, and spiritual values. In 1991, he founded Schumacher College, named after the economist who brought together simplicity, economics, and ecology through the "small is beautiful" movement. Since then, Kumar has taken other pilgrimages and continued his explorations of spiritual politics lurking in strange places.
To Name This Day . . .
Savor these three quotes by Satish Kumar which express his vision of the world.
"Being in a secure, homey, and comfortable environment is pleasant to the body and the emotions. Being on the road is hard on the body but is a state in which the soul can take wings and the spirit can be free."
— from Path Without Destination
"The rose and the thorn are part of the same plant — we cannot have one without the other. The analytical mind always attempts to separate the good and evil, the decorative and the ugly, the useful and the nonuseful, the weed and the flower. I have seen during my journey people pulling out foxgloves in one area and carefully planting them in another. If we are to live in harmony with God's family, we need to love the wilderness, the weeds, and the wet.
— from Path without Destination
"Fragmentation is at the heart of modern consciousness. You divide knowledge into subjects, you divide people into categories. But I think there is something more to the world than what you are able to measure, analyze, and quantify. In spiritual consciousness there is a dance between what you know and what you don't know. The place of mystery is an essential ingredient."
— from an article "Patron Saint of Spiritual Ecology" by Jay Walljasper
For the book Visionaries: The 20th Century's 100 Most Important Inspirational Leaders, Satish Kumar and another editor of Resurgence, identified people they admire for a wide variety of reasons. They introduced their endeavor this way:
"The twentieth century was a century of wars: wars within human societies as well as a war on nature. These two kinds of war are not unrelated. The mindset of conquering, controlling, dominating and subjugating others for one's own narrow self-interest leads to wars. Millions of human beings were killed in these wars; and human beings have also wrought havoc on the natural world, causing the extinction of species, the destruction of biodiversity, the depletion of natural capital and the diminishment of atmospheric sustainability, leading to climate change and global warming.
"Of course the power of money, the media and the military has been directed to wage and sustain these two kinds of war. Yet throughout the twentieth century there were individuals who saw the folly of such human arrogance. These visionaries raised their voices, often at great personal cost to themselves. They were often ignored, and worst of all, suppressed, imprisoned and tortured. But nevertheless they were the salt of the earth: they kept the torch of humanity burning, they gave hope to millions, and they restored confidence in the enduring human qualities of compassion, generosity, harmony, reverence and peace. They also achieved concrete results, such as the end of colonialism and the development of sustainable lifestyles. It is thanks to them that now we have a thriving social justice and earth justice movement around the world.
"Towards the second half of the twentieth century Resurgence magazine was launched to give voice to these visionaries, and remind people that small inner voices have more power than might first appear. Resurgence presented a vision of society articulated by these great thinkers and activists who believed that all wars on humans and on nature are ultimately futile. Resurgence advocated that another world — a world of mutuality, reciprocity and solidarity — is possible; and that a world of sustainability, spirituality and frugality is more joyful than the world of consumerism, materialism and militarism.
"Out of a long list of strong contenders, we have selected one hundred visionaries for this book who have made the greatest impact in creating and projecting a holistic world-view, where creativity, imagination and human well-being should be the basis of social, political and economic activities. . . .
"We offer this anthology to the world in the hope that the that the twenty-first century could be different. It could be the century of peace and ecology, a century of co-operation rather than conflict, a century of mutual respect rather than condemnation, and a century of living in harmony with the natural world rather than the endless exploitation of the earth."
We are nearly two decades into the twenty-first century. In your estimate, who are the people "keeping the torch of humanity" burning in our times? Who inspires you? What concrete steps do they model which you could adopt to ensure a century of peace and ecology?