We are losing connection with the soil. Satish Kumar wants us to understand the connection between soil, soul and society and drop ego in favour of eco
Many historical movements in the world have three key words that express their spirit. During the French Revolution the words were “liberté, égalité, fraternité”, in the American Declaration of Independence they were “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
The implication of both phrases is very similar. It is human life, human liberty, human equality and human happiness. Even the words adopted by the New Age movement – “mind, body, spirit” – refer to the human mind, human body and human spirit. It’s an anthropocentric worldview – the view that human beings are at the centre of the universe.
This worldview is no longer valid – we are utterly dependent on other species and we have to take care of them. We are members of one Earth community and need a new trinity that is holistic and inclusive, that embraces the entire planet and all species upon it. So I propose a new trinity of soil, soul, society. Soil represents the entire natural world. Without soil there is no food and without food there is no life, trees, forests, animals or people.
In our education systems, we have come to think that soil simply means dirt and that dirt means dirty. But dirt is not dirty; it is the source of life. Without it there is no life.
We are related to and dependent on the soil. If somebody grows food, we think: “Oh poor man, peasant, labourer – he is not educated so he has to grow food.” If you are educated you don’t grow food – you manufacture cars, televisions, computers or work in a bank or office. We sit at our computers and our food comes from somewhere.
The word peasant itself has become a term of an insult. I want to change that. I want to reinstate a respect for soil. We must touch the soil. How many times do we touch our mobile phone every day? Maybe 100 times. How many times do we touch the soil? Hardly ever. We must give dignity to peasants, farmers and gardeners.
We are all part of this healthy web of life maintained by soil. The Latin word humus means soil. The words human, humility and humus all come from the same root. When humans lose contact with soil, they are no longer humans.
Trees, animals, plants, rocks, mountains, rivers, worms, butterflies, honeybees – all have intrinsic value. They have the right to be as they are. We talk about human rights, and that’s fine. But nature also has rights. The trees have a right to exist. We have no right to cut them down without proper purpose. When we recognise the rights of nature, then we have understood the meaning of the word soil.
The second word in my new trinity is soul. Soul is something we cannot see. The human body we can touch, hug, kiss and admire, but in order to touch soul I have to close my eyes. Everything – trees, animals, worms and humans – has a soul. Soil is the outer landscape and soul, the inner landscape.
We need to take care of the soul, as we take care of the soil. But we can only take care of the soul when we slow down. Take time for ourselves. Meditate on the fact that you represent the totality of the universe. There is nothing in the universe that is not in you, and there is nothing in you that is not in the universe. The universe is the macrocosm and you are the microcosm. You are earth, air, fire, water, imagination, creativity, consciousness, time and space – you have all this in your soul, in your genes and in your cells. You are billions of years old.
So if you want to take care of the universe, start with your soul. Care of the soul is for self-realisation. When you are at home within, you are at home in the universe. Taking care of yourself, being at ease with yourself, being happy within yourself, being fulfilled in yourself is a prerequisite, an imperative for self-realisation. Everything you truly need and want is within you. You are capable of solving every problem in the world with your inner wisdom.
If you want power, possessions and clutter, it is because you have lost touch with your soul. Then your soul is hungry or empty. But that emptiness will not be filled by computers, cars or mobile phones. Slow down and take care of your soul. Without spiritual fulfilment there is no happiness. Spiritual poverty is the greatest poverty, greater than any physical poverty. And as we take care of the soil, we take care of the soul. When we take care of both we achieve true wellbeing.
Caring for the soul has nothing to do with individualism or ego. This is why I include the word society in this trinity. We are members of the Earth community and we are also members of the human community.
If I think of myself as Indian then I will see others as Europeans or Africans. If I am a Hindu then I will see others as Christians or Muslims. But if I see myself as a human being, then I see everyone else as human beings. This way I can rise above my narrow identity and identify myself instead with all of human society.
We need to embrace all of society. We need to solve social problems of poverty and wars with imagination, compassion, creativity and forgiveness. All problems can be solved by negotiation, friendship, giving in, letting go of ego and going into eco. Let us make a shift from from self-interest to mutual-interest of whole human society. If we can have a holistic view of soil, soul and society, if we can understand the interdependence of all living beings, and understand that all living creatures – from trees to worms to humans – depend on each other, then we can live in harmony with ourselves, with other people and with nature.
Satish Kumar is the editor-in-chief of Resurgence & Ecologist. His new book Soil, Soul, Society is published by Leaping Hare Press.