We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, And know the place for the first time. ~T.S. Eliot Four Quartets

21 April 2008

Spiritual Compass

Sometimes in my daily life I feel as if I've strayed away from my ideals, or perhaps have gotten weighed down in the mundane and need a refresher, a reminder of the bigger picture. For me the bigger picture is one viewed through my lens of my buddhist understanding and my desire to live a fruitful and peaceful life. This book by Satish Kumar (editor of Resurgence magazine) is a wonderful and gentle read (probably due to the fact he has been a monk), and while it poses tough questions it also provides some answers for that as well, through his eleven points of action.

The main idea of the book is about cultivating the 'three qualities of life' for which he uses the Indian Ayurvedic tradition to illustrate. Like buddhism, Ayurveda describes qualities of mind, three qualities, that influence our entire lives. Sattva, the highest, most desired quality, is about calmness, clarity and purity. The middle quality is Rajas which encompasses passion and energy, and then there's Tamas, which encompasses dullness and ignorance. One can view the entire world through these three gunas, from food (spicy being more rajasic), to housing (concrete ugly buildings being tamasic) to people-- most of whom encompass at least two if not all three qualities at some level. Seeing in this way, we can then seek to balance those qualities in ourselves and in our surroundings, aiming for a more sattvic (peaceful) existence, rather than a tamasic (poisonous) one.

One of the main issues is that of poverty, hunger and food. I often find myself wishing to go back to nature, or living more self-sustaining, and yet at the moment that is just not a possibility. For one thing, we live in a flat, with no garden, no place to grow enough to sustain us. All the nearby allotments are taken, and there is a waiting list.

This is a point raised very articulately in the book, that poverty is not a natural phenomenon. No other animal is denied food and water from the earth-- nor made to pay for it. Why have we done this to ourselves? No other animal claims ownership. Sure they probably all mark out some territory, but in the end, their needs are met by nature (unless we've put them into a zoo that is). If we wish to become self-sustaining, we still need to buy the land to do that, we can't just pack up and head for the hills, as they'd belong to someone, or the government perhaps.

Here in England there are so many small terraced homes without gardens, in fact the same in any urban area, so a great majority of people would be stuck without any means to feed themselves should the whole commercial structure collapse.

Satish talks about the point of return, meaning we all need to take a step back, to try and live simpler lives. I have many grateful days when I truly appreciate the things I do have. I am happy to have money to buy food and have a roof over my head. But when I think deeper about what life used to be like, I wonder whether we are really 'evolved' at all. Just looking at the bread sitting inside a plastic bag brought a strange realisation of the artificiality of our lives. I took this book out the library, but it is certainly the type of book I'd consider buying to keep to refer to again and again, for when pessimism (tamasic) takes over, or you lose sight of the bigger picture.


info said...

Your thoughts really moved me. We really have moved away from all things "nature" in this world. It's amazing that we really function at all the way the world is now. The human body is 100% natural, yet we insist on putting unatural things in it and on it. Then we wonder why we have bad health and are ill at ease.
Good for you for noticing!

Take care,

Mary said...

Thank you for your comments Tiffany. It can certainly be a bit depressing thinking about these things, but then it can also be inspiring and someone has to keep thinking about it! ;)