Spiral jetty (c) Greg Rakozy

2. Tapas – the relationship between humans and the divine

In the book Spiritual Ecology – the cry of the earth, Satish Kumar writes a chapter that really resonates with me. I’m going to go way out of my comfort zone and discuss it in a three-part mini series about the relationship between humans and nature, the divine and other humans.

In the Bhagavad Gita there’s a trinity in Sanskrit:

  • yagna (human/nature relationships)
  • tapas (human/divine relationships)
  • dana (human/human relationships).

Kumar translates this into English as soil, soul and society. I noticed that this is also really close to the permaculture principles of earth care, people care and fair share. Both trinities give us a holistic view of the world and our place within it.

The ecology of the soul

“An artist is not a special kind of person, but every person is a special kind of artist.”

Ananda Coomaraswami, art historian

In the second part of the trinity Kumar explains how the Gita guides us to live in harmony with ourselves, with soul. The above quote by Sri Lankan art historian, Ananda Coomaraswami, captures the immense potential of every human. I particularly like it because we’re all familiar with art as a practice for self expression in many forms. If you create art at any level you’re in touch with your soul, or with flow, whether it be paint, clay, pencil or code.

Not everyone thinks they’re an artist, but I like this idea that we all are. It moves us towards the belief that we’re capable of creating change.

Moving from ego to eco

Planet earth first poster (c) Unsplash

Here Kumar starts to discuss the shift in mindset that comes with being at peace with yourself. It’s a move away from thinking of the ‘I’ as separate from the ‘others’, and into the thinking of “I am part of the whole”.

A lot of us are familiar with this as becoming ‘enlightened’. I struggle with describing it in this way because it often stops you in your tracks and you think it’s something that isn’t ‘achievable’ – a huge mountain we need to climb. Instead, I like to think as this not as a shift but as getting back in tune with something we already intrinsically know.

It’s difficult to see ourselves as one part of the whole when a lot of western culture is focused on the ‘self’, ‘self improvement’ and ‘self achievement’. But we’re never happier than when we’re feeling the warm glow that comes from time with loved ones, a sense of belonging (to something bigger than ourselves) or a sense of doing good for others.

We do this in small ways all of the time, such as cooking a meal for others, helping a neighbour or caring for children. I think that tiny glow that you get is you connecting with your eco thinking, that small shift from ‘g’ to ‘c’. Like tuning your radio to get the right station – it only takes a little nudge to have it or lose it. Next time you feel the glow, take a moment to drink it in and get to know it a little, it might make it that much easier to re-tune into it again.

Eco is home

“The Greek word ‘eco’ is very beautiful. From it we get ecology and economy. Eco, or rather Greek Oikos, means home.”

Satish Kumar

I like Kumar’s recognition that eco means home because it’s a reminder to us all that our home isn’t just the physical place where we live – a kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom – it’s the entire planet.

“8.7 million species live as members of one household, one family. The Gita teaches us that there is no need to separate caring for the soil from caring for the soul.”

Satish Kumar

Of course our own body and mind is our home too and today we’re living in a period of transformation where we’re collectively thinking and talking about ‘mind, body and spirit’. More people than ever in the western world are taking up daily meditation, or regular practices such as yoga, to re-tune their mind and connect with ‘universal truth’. It’s one of the small ways that we’re taking action towards change. As Kumar explains “words gain power only when they are backed up by a living example”.

I agree that we can’t separate caring for the soil from caring for the soul, I think the two are one and the same. But then again, I am starting to feel ‘at one with the plants’. If I were a Gelfling I would definitely be a Grottan (anyone else watching The Dark Crystal on Netflix?)

Taking action

People gardening (c) NeONBRAND

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Mahatma Gandhi

I’ve found that it’s all too easy to be an ‘information absorbing machine’ in this day and age. We have constant connection to any information we want, and any escapism from reality. But there’s a very different feeling that you get from actually doing something, whether it’s a 20 minute walk, writing a small paragraph or baking a pie.

I think we can use that energy, that ‘feeling’ that we get from doing something, as a catalyst for doing something good for the world and each other. Mahatma Gandhi integrated time for prayer, meditation, solitude, study, gardening, cooking and spinning (I’m guessing not intense cycling!) into his day. He saw all of it as essential parts of his negotiation with British rulers and organising the campaign for independence.

“Mahatma Gandhi was a perfect example of uniting the care of the external world with the care of the internal world. The inner landscape of spirituality and the outer landscape of sustainability are intricately linked.”

Satish Kumar

We’re all very familiar with the actions we need to take to help the planet in terms of science and sustainability (don’t use plastic, compost your kitchen waste, travel less, eat organic…) but this chapter of Spritual Ecology prompts us to look a little closer to home, ourselves.

Kumar ends his thoughts on Tapas with “we need to include care of the soul as a part of care of the planet” and I have to say I agree.

Peace out x

Find out more

Read the full article The Three Dimensions of Hindu Ecology: Soil, Soul and Society by Satish Kumar online.

Read the book Spiritual Ecology – The cry of the earth edited by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee for a selection of articles including the one by Satish Kumar

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