Elegant simplicity can only be built on the firm foundation of right relationships. Our crises - mental, personal, social, economic, environmental, political, cultural, and religious - have their origin in disconnection and separation. The moment we see that all things are connected, that we are all related, that everything depends on everything else, we start to see solutions.
Why do we have crises between Palestine and Israel, between Sunni and Shia, between America and Russia, India and Pakistan, Christians and Muslims? Because we see ourselves as being separate from others. When all our interactions are embedded in friendships and loving relationships, then we will act from a position of patience, acceptance, tolerance, forgiveness, and generosity.
When I was 27, I spent two and a half years walking around the world. I walked for eight thousand miles, without any money, completely depending on the hospitality of people. I was able to do this because in my mind there was no separation. All beings were my family and friends. The whole Earth was my home.
When my friend Menon and I crossed the border from India to Pakistan, I said, “If we go as Indians, we will meet Pakistanis, Russians, or Americans. If we go as Hindus, we will meet Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, or Jews. If we go as Gandhians, we'll meet capitalists, communists, or socialists. These are all labels which divide us. I don't want to go as an Indian, a Hindu, a Gandhian. I want to go simply as a human being; then wherever I go I will meet human beings. I'll be able to make friends with all of them”
Our true identity is that we are members of one human community, and moreover we are part of one Earth community. Trees are our kith and kin, birds flying in the sky, bees and wasps, butterflies and snakes, tigers and elephants are all our kith and kin.
We need to understand that all species are related to each other, all of us have evolved together. The sun heats the soil, the soil feeds the trees, the trees feed the birds, the rain feeds the trees. All beings nourish each other. This is ecology.
This system cannot be measured or quantified. People talk about ecosystems services. They want to put a monetary value on natural resources. But I say, “Tell me how much value I should put on the air I have just inhaled?” This little breath - how much value can you put on it? Can eco systems services value this air that I am breathing? No one can put value on the air we breathe. Can we say, “My mother feeds me with her milk. How much does that cost? Five dollars? Ten dollars?” You cannot put a price on mother's milk. When we have this understanding, then we will value relationships more than monetary measures.
The appropriate way to manage the economy is to have right relationships with all species in our Earth home. At present, people don't understand the true meaning of economics. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer or a finance minister talk about the economy, they actually mean finance, banks, and money. But money is not the economy.
We should call this “moneynomics.” True economics is land, labor, and capital. These three are the foundation of the economy. Land represents the entire natural world. Every thing comes from the land, and everything goes back to the land. Wise management of the land - of trees, rivers, mountains, forests, soil, animals, and fishes - is the basis of the real economy. But the government says, “Looking after the environment gets in the way of the economy.” In fact, there cannot be any economy without the environment. That's why land is the first principle of the economy. The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. Therefore our right relationship with the environment is the foundation of a good economy.
The second strand to the economy is labor, which means people, their imagination, creativity, and skills. People are the real wealth. It is they who create and maintain the economy. Therefore right relationships with and between people are essential for a thriving economy.
The third strand is financial capital. Money is a measure of wealth. It is like a map which is useful to find the territory, but a map is not the territory. Money is a map of wealth, not wealth itself. One million pounds could be the cost of building a house. But the money is not the house, and the house is not the money. We cannot live in money, we can only live in a house.
Thus financial capital and money have a place in the economy, as a form of exchange and facilitating transactions, but we must keep them in their place, and not allow them to dominate our entire economic system. The money economy has transformed land and labor into commodities, and making money has become the sole purpose of modern economies. As a result, land and labor are the victims of diminishing value. What we need is a system which values these three at an appropriate level in the context of an integrated whole.
These three aspects of the economy belong to each other. In our body we have a brain to think, a heart to feel, eyes to see, a nose to smell, a tongue to eat, ears to hear. We don't have any separation. All our organs and faculties are interconnected parts of one body. The human body is a microcosm of the macrocosm. The entire universe is in our body, we are stardust, we are made of the sun, the moon, earth, air, fire, water, consciousness, space, time, imagination, and creativity, all of this in one body and in constant interaction.
But in the field of economics, we have separated finance from ethics, and the environment from people. This disconnection is the biggest problem of our times.”Only connect” is the solution. We need to reconnect everything. When we are connected in right relationship with all human beings and also with the more-than-human world, then we will be in harmony with ourselves and with the entire ecosystem in its multiplicity and diversity.
Diversity is essential for right relationships. Therefore diversity is something to be celebrated. Diversity should not be turned into division. Division is to say, you are on the left, I am on the right, and then to consider one side as superior to the other. A left wing and a right wing belong to the same bird. Why do we think we should cut off the right wing or the left wing? We need a left hand and a right hand, both are of equal value. When left and right are in right relationship, then there is completeness and wholeness. Then all crises are transformed into opportunities.
The house of right relationship is built on the foundation of friendship. Friendship is the best and purest form of relationship. Personally speaking, all my work has emerged out of friendships; Resurgence & Ecologist magazine, which I edited for over 40 years, is a result of friendship. I have so many good friends who have contributed articles, artwork, and money to the magazine. The Small School and Schumacher College grew out of friendship.
Friendship is the primary principle and the bread and butter of my life. Take my food away but not friendship! I live by friendship. It is supremely spiritual. Friendship is unconditional -there are no “ifs” and no “buts:” There is no reason why somebody is a friend. I don't say, “I am your friend because you are educated, or rich, or intelligent, or handsome, or you are good to talk to.” Such things don't come to my mind. I am a friend and I have a friend because I want to be a friend. Friendship is all about acceptance, without expectations. We give and we receive. Friendship is rooted in deep gratitude.
In friendship you only say yes. There is only yes. If somebody asks me for some help out of friendship, I always say yes. And if I ask someone out of friendship, in my experience they too always say yes.
My friendship is not only for humans. I feel friendship towards Nature too. I am a friend of my home and my garden. I am a friend of trees and flowers. I am a friend of the bees. I am a friend of earthworms, slugs, and snails. Weeds are my friends. Friendship is a term people use mostly for human relationships, but I use it in a broader sense.
My children are my friends. In India we say that when your children become 16 they are no longer your children; they are your friends. “Friend” is a better term than “son'” or “daughter” because son and daughter carry expectations. You expect something from your children. They expect something from you as parents. As friends you don't expect anything. You treat them in a respectful way. It is the same with my wife. She is my friend. My relationship with her is not possessive. Love liberates. There is no bondage and there is no attachment in such a marriage. Again it is a relationship rooted in acceptance and freedom from expectations.
The village where I live is my friend. I accept it as it is. I don't sit in judgment. I love my village. I love its people, its valleys, and trees. I love the landscape. I live near the Atlantic Ocean. The ocean is my friend. The whole Earth is my friend. The whole world is my friend. Whatever transformation I am trying to bring in my life, in my society, and in the world, I do with a sense of friendship.
My home is my friend. Because after a while my home needs renewal, I clean it, I repair it, and I paint it. And my garden sometimes needs renewal. So I weed, put compost on the soil, or even let the land lie fallow for a year. When my body needs renewing and healing, I slow down and have a siesta. The world is beautiful, but society's politics and economics need renewal too. So I work to bring renewal there as well. I participate in the process of transformation. I say to society, “Have a siesta, slow down, don't work too fast or too hard.” It is all out of friendship. The Buddha said: “Too fast or too forceful, you miss the way:”
My work at The Small School was an act of friendship for children. My work for Resurgence & Ecologist magazine is in the service of my readers. At Schumacher College, I act to promote ecology and spirituality in the world. My work is that of a friendly healer.
So it's out of friendship that I would advise the leaders in Europe: “Look at Mr. Putin and see him as a friend, then your conflicts will dissolve.” I would say to Mr. Putin: “Treat all Ukrainians as your friends. You are a Christian. What did Jesus say? ‘Love your neighbor!’” I would say to Mr. Netanyahu: “You have been at war with the Palestinians for the past 70 years. What have you achieved? Try friendship with Palestine for once, and see what happens. Through friendship all pains are healed.” I would advise the Palestinians: “The Jews have been in exile for two thousand years. Now they have to come home. Welcome them. Together you can turn Palestine into a land of milk and honey.” The best way to have a friend is to be a friend. Friendship is the easy and simple answer to all our agonies, anxieties, and anguish, to all our disputes, conflicts, and wars.
In friendship there are no expectations. Things never work out as we expect, so expectations often bring disappointment. I practice acceptance. I am detached and keep moving; I am not stuck and there is no bondage. Detachment brings freedom. When I work for transformation in the world out of friendship, then I work for my own transformation as I am my own friend. In the cosmic sense of friendship, I expand my consciousness, I see my greater self, the universal self. In this body, I am the microcosm of the macrocosm. This is the deep Buddhist meaning of friend ship which goes beyond everyday acquaintances.
In the field of friendship, we sow the seeds of love with the hands of humility. We spread the compost of kindness and irrigate the soil of our souls with the water of generosity. We need to give thanks, with deep gratitude, for all the gifts of life that we receive every day. Then we are blessed with the fruits of freedom. It is sweet to be a friend, and it is a blessing to have friends.
Whether we are Russians or Americans, Jews or Arabs, Shia or Sunni, communists or capitalists, whatever the label, we are human beings first and foremost. Our primary human identity supersedes all other secondary identities. That is why we have to build our personal, political, economic, and ecological relationships on the foundation of friendship.
Friendship is the only glue to hold humanity together. Through the philosophy of friendship, we realize that we are all connected, we are all related, we are all interdependent. When the Buddha was breathing his last breath, Ananda asked him, “How would you like to be reincarnated in your next life?” The Buddha answered: “Not as a prophet, not as a teacher, but simply as maitreya. I wish to be reincarnated as a friend.” Wherever there is the presence of friendship, there is the presence of god. God comes to us in the form of a friend.
You might call me an idealist. Yes, I am an idealist. But I ask you, “What have the realists achieved? Wars? Poverty? Climate change?” The realists have ruled the world for far too long and have failed to achieve peace and prosperity for all. So let us give the idealists a chance, and let friendship be the organizing principle of our life and our world. We may not be one hundred percent successful. We may not achieve utopia, but let us maximize the power of friendship and minimize the force of conflicts. Let us have no enemies, make no enemies, and be no enemy. This is worth trying.
There is no better way to establish right relationship than through friendship, so give no offense and take no offense. Animosity, conflict, quarrels, anger, isolation, and loneliness make life much too complicated and confused. Right relationship, based in the purity of friendship, makes life simple and straightforward. But the ideal of friendship is more than polite manners or superficial social gestures or expedient diplomatic etiquette. Relationship is not an obligation, it is the very ground of our existence. Relationship and friendship have to be the fruit of all authentic and radical love. So how does love bring us to simplicity, and how does simplicity bring us back to love?
Excerpted from Elegant Simplicity by Satish Kumar, published by New Society Publishers, whose mission is to publish books that contribute in fundamental ways to building an ecologically sustainable and just society, and to do so with the least possible impact on the environment, in a manner that models this vision. You can follow them on Facebook here.