Guest post from Sailesh Rao, Climate Healers
When Gandhi was asked by a reporter, “What do you think of Western Civilization?” he apparently quipped, “I think it would be a good idea.”
It is hard to imagine Gandhi being flippant, but perhaps, he wasn’t joking.
Western civilization, or at least, modern economies are based on the axiom that self-interest trumps all else in human affairs and that, as a species, we have to reshape and mold Nature to suit our comforts. And as a multiplicity of human desires are met, happiness accrues.
This is just humbug and therefore, Gandhi’s quip may have been serious. Towards the end of his life, Gandhi was asked the secret of his Life in three words and he chuckled and answered, “Renounce and Enjoy.” He was quoting from the Iso Upanishad while summarizing the Bhagavad Gita in that short reply. For the modern economist, his was probably a very strange reply. “Acquire and Enjoy,” or “Consume and Enjoy,” would have been more apropos. But Gandhi knew that all enjoyment from acquisition or consumption is fleeting at best.
Abundance is contextual. And the Bhagavad Gita asserts that you must work for the abundance of others and renounce it for yourself in order to enjoy it. This is what Gandhi meant by “Renounce and Enjoy.” At a species level, we must work for the abundance of all other creatures on Earth and renounce it for ourselves in order to enjoy it. And this is precisely the opposite of what we do in the modern world where we routinely destroy a Florida-sized area of forests every two years, mainly to meet our rising demand for meat and dairy foods.
For Gandhi, the Bhagavad Gita was his mother and teacher. As such, he would have abhorred the modern practice of treating forests and biodiversity as the equivalent of silly putty, to be molded into livestock and furniture for human enjoyment and comfort to the detriment of all other life forms on earth. “Destroy and Enjoy” is the very opposite of “Renounce and Enjoy.”
Gandhi was thrust in his world leadership role when he was thrown off the luxury compartment of a train in South Africa by a white traveler who didn’t think that “coolies” were entitled to such luxuries. Gandhi dusted himself off and proceeded to evict the British from India by simply persuading 300 million Indians to politely ask them to do so. Gandhi’s revolution was about restoring equity across racial and caste boundaries within the human family. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela continued his revolution during the twentieth century, but it is still being played out in the struggle for equity of our LGBT brethren.
When we routinely destroy a Florida-sized area of forests every two years just so that we can eat cheese and other animal foods, we are behaving precisely like the white traveler in South Africa, throwing other creatures off the luxury compartment of the train that is the living planet. While those creatures will probably never organize to politely kick us out of the planet, Mother Nature is proceeding to do precisely that through climate change. And the Gandhian revolution we need in the 21st century is about restoring equity across species boundaries within the family of Life.
The question for us is whether we will voluntarily
acquire humility and stop behaving like that arrogant white traveler in South Africa or whether we will need to be whacked on the head umpteen times before we “get it”. The Renunciation we need to practice is Veganism, or Compassion for all Creation, and the result is also pure enjoyment, as I can assure you after nearly four years of practice. This is precisely as the Gita had predicted. And if every human being turned Vegan today, 40% of the land area of the planet would be returned to Nature to regenerate forests, sequester carbon, stop biodiversity loss and quite possibly halt the planet’s climate system from tipping over and frying us and our children and grandchildren.
Go Vegan or Go Home. It’s as simple as that.
But even those who are vocal advocates of environmental action don’t seem to have grasped the enormity of the challenge. The carbon Tax and Dividend approach that Al Gore and Jim Hansen advocate is an inadequate response to this challenge. Such techno-fixes say that there we aren’t yet adult enough to acknowledge and correct our own oppressive behavior on the planet. Carbon Tax and Dividend is like Gandhi agitating for an Oppression tax to be levied on white train travelers, to be collected and redistributed equally to all white train travelers in the form of dividends, so that the overall oppression of non-whites decreases.
I’m so glad that Gandhi came up with a more holistic solution to the oppression he faced and taught us all such valuable lessons.