“In the relations of man with the animals, with the flowers, with the objects of Creation, there is a great ethic scarcely perceived as yet which will at length break forth into light.”
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Dr. M.L. King, Jr.
“I don’t want to be a great leader, I want to be a man who goes around with a little oil can and when he sees a breakdown offers his help.
To me, the man who does that is greater than any holyman in saffron-coloured robes. The mechanic with the oil can, that is my ideal in life.”01 Baba Amte.This was his self-description given to British journalist Graham Turner.
Evolving to Earth Ethics
Earth ethics are the ideals that we use to light our way into harmony with the Earth and the qualities they inspire in us to nourish that relationship. It is not a new realm, but one that is natural to us all and as old as the hills. Its importance appears new, as we dress it in language that relates to our time and conditions. The hope for unity and planetary healing lies in the admission of our common human dignity and interdependence with the life sustaining systems all around us. It is through responsible personal and community life that Earth ethics demonstrate their social and ecologically transforming power.
Earth ethics are part a budding global recognition of the necessity for a world philosophy. We need to develop a humane human civilisation as we face the climate crisis together—as we face the desecration of our planet, and the systems within her that have commonly sustained humanity for thousands of years. With each breath we touch our common gifts from the Earth: the ocean of air we breathe, the waters that surround us, the soils which bear our activities upon them. As we begin to turn to a universal consensus, we must ask ourselves many questions and seek many answers from one another.
In this process, the spirit and voice of India, through M.K. Gandhi, and others have eternal veracities to teach and tell us. We are evolving to an awareness of our shared life which will ultimately bring about consensus on what the ideals of our ethics and morals are, what we all know and hold to be the Truth. This Truth will include the whole of the Creation here with us. Gaining an understanding of India’s contribution to this philosophical accord of ideals is essential for the establishment of a global consensus on ethics in practical terms.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi lived from 1869–1948, yet today there is greater interest world-wide than ever before in his teachings and thinking. His ethical awareness was unconsciously born in India and initially honed in South Africa. Through his ideals he was to develop new economic patterns for social action in India, working through communities and environmental upliftment. He was not alone in his efforts, nor were his ideas new. He took his inspiration wherever he found it. Yet Gandhi pierced through to the ethical core of each ideal, and presented that to himself, his communities, and to the nations, by the means he employed to actualise them.
Gandhi’s effort towards realizing his ideals, towards actualising his Love, has touched millions, regardless of culture, clime and time. In a world abounding with false prophets, teachers and self-acclaimed healers, with the blind leading the blind, he stands as a beacon of hope for many as to the innate sanctity of the human heart, knowable through sincere integrity and effort. Somehow we regard him with reverence and awe; for he demanded of himself and went within that Self where we all know we ought to go, but haven’t yet mustered up the gumption to go to, for whatever reason.
Gandhi was dedicated to the actualisation of ethical ideals on personal and societal levels. A national leader and global figure, his inspiration alone generated numerous other social and environmental uplift projects. In Gandhi’s time, these works were known as the Constructive Programme. As a fellow traveller through the experience of life here, I have found that the effort that one makes to gain awareness of our indissoluble oneness with the Creator and Creation calls to the Earth ethics that Gandhi strove for and thereby elucidated in his own life.
Uniqueness of India to Earth Ethics
Gandhi proclaimed that India has special gifts to offer to the development of human philosophical thought and civilisation that will enhance the beauty of collective life. The original name of India is Bharat. Bharat means to ‘honour, guard, protect’. The ancient seers of India gave this name to inspire her people to protect India’s true wealth, her ethical principles that have infused and pervaded every aspect of life. It is a point to bear in mind when one is overwhelmed by the present day problems India is facing, and confronted with the erosion of ethical thinking and corruption in her present social, municipal, educational, medical, legal and political institutions.
At present, India has only shreds of her former ethical glory, the sanctity of which has been regaled in historical records. Yet still, India is the home of great qualities that we often liken to one who is called `Mother’—qualities of absorption, synthesis and integration. India exalts the principle of motherhood leading to Universal Motherhood. Most of India was invaded time and again by rulers who ruled the roost far from the lives of the `common man’, yet, for the people, India has gone on unchanged in many ways long before the dawn of human memory, centuries of centuries past. Modern archaeological evidence02 Interestingly, a recent archaeological discovery in what is now Pakistan found that skilled dentistry was being practised over 9000 years ago in that area. is finally arriving at the conclusion which the common man is already aware of—that there has been a continuous, unbroken stream of an advanced rural civilisation in India which predates our earliest expectations.
This continuity has produced a honing, a fine tuning in the fabric of human life and interaction, in the consciousness that is distinctly Indian—but not limited to being Indian. The understanding and acceptance of all aspects of human nature, defining and refining it for social intercourse and functioning, produces a degree of public ‘wisdom’ less understood in technically advanced societies. For life is a crucible, which relentlessly grinds us all gradually into a more subtle awareness of ourselves, before our inevitable exit from this stage. In the ancient and withered stacks of human history, one sees India’s indelible imprint on countless civilisations as archaeological records throughout Eurasia, Africa, the Americas demonstrate. These are a people whose massively ancient ancestors devised and practised ways of being on and with the Earth; ways which are inherently harmonious with the rest of the Creation. Lacking harmony with the natural Creation, the civilisation along with other beings in the Creation would have died out, but as yet, they have not. However, the bomb-blast of economic globalisation, intense pollution, and consumer-oriented media is upon it now, successfully divorcing people from awakening to a moral dialogue with the environment around them, snowing ethical ideals under a flurry of short-sighted ones.
Wherever my family has gone in this holy land, we have met people, from those forced to beg in order to live, to Chief Ministers, and the richest of the rich, from all religious backgrounds, who could talk intelligently to us about the highest principles of noble life and who seem to have an awareness of at least some of them. Even in deep poverty, we have seen great human dignity here. We have seen extremely poor children who happily gave away their last bangles to a friend, the joy of their friend being of more value to those children than the bangles. We have seen children, who having begged their food, shared it with hungry puppies around them. There is a great patience here, a great acceptance of being. Yet from the outside, it appears that apathetic and stifling poverty reigns. I believe Gandhi saw the same thing when he said:
“Yes, so long as you look on the surface. But the moment you talk to them and they begin to speak, you will find that wisdom drops from their lips. Behind the crude exterior, you will find a deep reservoir of spirituality. I call this culture. You will not find such a thing in the West. In the case of the Indian villager, an age-old culture is hidden under an encrustment of crudeness. Take away the encrustation, remove his chronic poverty and his illiteracy, and you have the finest specimen of what a cultured, cultivated, free citizen should be.”03 Gandhi, M.K. (1939) Harijan, Jan 28. Age 69.
All countries have their archetypal ideals of noble human aspiration, by which they are known. In this sense, India practises real democracy. The genuine individual freedom to follow—at all cost—one’s internal truth, even it means giving up all physical comforts including your clothing, hearth and home, leaving conventional life is acceptable, so long as you are not harming others. Secular India has an ethos that honours and cherishes those who put the claims of conscience above personal material advancement. Upon those whom she feels have demonstrated that touch, she bestows the title of Mahatma – from Maha – Great, and atma – Soul, meaning a personage of great spiritual realization, whose life is solely for the benefit of others. This was the title also given to Gandhi by his contemporary, Rabindranath Tagore.
Such a social standard of recognition is not part of the social experience in the USA. Even religious institutions in the West which admit of the phenomenon of extraordinarily noble people, usually have immense distrust of them while they are alive. The toleration and patience for genuine individuality has yet to be developed. Tolerance and individuality are a lot deeper than hairstyles, sexual preferences and outer garb— including skin.
In India, nearly every piece of cultural fabric that one can find, brings the mind up, and up again to an awareness of a Supreme Being. In every aspect of life, one can see and find this message steeped: “Remember, respect, and Love thy Maker!” This lesson is imbibed through even seemingly minor aspects of life. Dance is sacred dance, as well as being highly artistic and skilled. What to eat, when and in which season, even while applying traditional make-up, where to take one’s shoes off, how to treat one’s school books, teachers, pens, pencils, paper, the various objects in a kitchen—the mind is drawn into continual remembrance of a larger existence and intelligence of which we are all a part.
India has a great deal to offer in developing a clearer idea of how we, as individuals, families and societies can begin to rethink ourselves and seek to live in greater harmony with all that is here with us.
Ethics are intrinsically interwoven with the environment of India, and are deeply a part of her. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. noted these qualities on his trip to India in 1959, and said:
“Today, India is a tremendous force for peace and nonviolence at home and abroad. It is a land where the idealist and the intellectual are yet respected. We should want to help India preserve her soul and thus help save our own.”04 King, Jr., M.L. I have a Dream: 48.
Gandhi came to be called the “Father of the Nation.” I have found that it is only in India that such recognition of people on the basis of their spirituality takes place. Outside of isolated pockets of communities dotting the planet, I have seen no other place that exalts the metaphysical over the material and honours Love above all, to the extent that is done in India. Nowhere else does one so feel the acknowledgement of the deeper reality of the human being.
India is the land of dharma or duty, and is quick to love and adore those who cling to the supreme human duty: to know and Love our Maker with all our heart, mind and strength. Hence, Albanian born Catholic Mother Theresa, was acknowledged, loved and cherished by the nation at large, a love and respect that transcended conceptual religious walls. Had her work been in another country, it is unlikely the world would know of her as it does today.
At the same time, India is a vast and clashing mix of a zillion human tendencies and traits facing the tremendous ecological and cultural challenges of industrial globalisation. Despite her obvious failings, the great light of India illumines the path of human dharma or righteousness for all peoples to walk. In my being is an untold fathomless love for what I call the Soul of India. I experience this as Truth. I feel it in Nature and naturalness. It has no political boundary. Although at present there is a widespread decline in the encouragement of ethical life, still behind and deeper than this, is the Soul of India. I will forever be a student of this great land, peoples and truths.