Nature-centred mindfulness is a great way to start meditation practice for a beginner, and also a beautiful practice for more experienced mindfulness and meditation practitioners. This extract is taken from the upcoming book, Nordic by nature. New voices on deep ecology; Arne Naess in the 21st century. If you would like to receive a free copy of this book please sign up to the Foundation of Contemplation of Nature’s newsletter here and follow the foundation on Facebook and @foundnature on Instagram.
The contemplation of nature for inner and outer resilience
Hi, my name is Ajay Rastogi and I live in the village of Majkhali, in the state of Uttarakhand in the Indian Himalayan region. It’s about 400 kilometres north of Delhi and we overlook the high Himalayas with many 6000-metre high peaks. I have been an ecologist and an environmentalist for a large part of my life. I used to work with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as the organic programme coordinator for India. The basic drive to move back was to find a tool for the transformation of people from inside, so that they can connect deeply with nature.
The fact that we are unable to make big changes in society that are needed for sustainability means that we need to look again at the approach environmental movements have taken so far. For that reason, I was thinking that meditative practice, which can be done in nature, could be transformative in making us understand that we are an integral part of the natural world. Meditation is considered as a method for inner transformation.
Ajay near the foundation’s headquarters, in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Experiential transformative learning
We have a residential programme based out of village homestays. These are typical rural homesteads, structures where there is no running water and the toilet is outside. Participants are supposed to stay for a two-week programme and help their host agrarian families, doing the same work that they do. They learn about everyday work: taking care of the cow, getting fodder from the forest, getting enough drinking water from the springs.
Students on the Mountain Resilience Leadership course learn how a mixture of cattle dung and water produces biogas for cooking stoves.
The programme is based on three pillars. One is called ‘the dignity of physical work’ because, unfortunately, we are losing the connection to working with our hands. The second is ‘interdependence’ because sometimes we feel that if we are economically sound then we don’t need anybody else – ‘I just spend money and get whatever I want’– but that’s not how society is structured, that’s not how sustainability comes about. The third thing participants learn about is ‘interconnectedness’, which is more about the landscape and the elements, where the water is coming from and so on. It is about knowing that this does not happen by itself, there are trees and filtration is taking place, there is some soil which can absorb water. It’s not as if it comes out of thin air. It needs to be nurtured.
We have a structured programme now. It’s a three-credit course, with the collaboration of Western Colorado University, called Mountain Resilience Leadership. We have also worked with the National Outdoor Leadership School for the past nine years.
A short nature-centred practice group session before co-creation workshops and meetings can change the whole dynamic and outcome of the work.
Students from all over the world come and participate in these programmes.
Bring nature to our consciousness
The nature-based mindfulness practice that we call the ‘contemplation of nature’
is done in natural surroundings, if possible. It is a multisensory experience. It helps because we are biological organisms and we have an inherent need to connect with nature. It’s kind of how we are genetically wired, so the contemplation of nature is
not as abstract as many people find other meditative practices to be. It is good for beginners to feel the interconnectedness of all beings.
People can start with the contemplation of nature and then go on to learn about other deeper levels of meditation. But the contemplation of nature is definitely an approach that can be done on a daily basis. It quickly brings us to a level of tranquillity that gives us all the benefits of the meditation: the compassion, the kindness, the deeper connection to the natural law as well as to the social community around us.
At about the 23rd minute of meditation, a response known as the relaxation response activates a deeper trigger in our bodies. The relaxation response allows the body and internal chemistry to function in a much more regulated and balanced way. This also brings other benefits, including a gentle detachment from the continuous flow of thoughts and emotions, and deeper awareness and insight into our interconnected being.
Three steps for contemplating nature So, all we do is sit and observe with a soft gaze. You can contemplate nature
indoors with very simple objects from nature, following the three steps of nature contemplation that we have designed. The three simple steps of the contemplation
of nature are: observe nature with a soft gaze, accept your thoughts, emotions and sensations with gentle detachment, and send love to the world with sympathetic attention.
By observing nature with a soft gaze, we bring nature into our consciousness,
all the time accepting with gentle detachment our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. We are not interested in finding details or drawing conclusions. Of course, our minds will wander here and there, but as soon as we realise this, we gently bring our mind back to simply observing nature with a soft gaze.
One very important element of any meditation practice is to let go of your thoughts. You do not do this by fighting them but just by observing them and acknowledging them without judgement. This is what sympathetic attention means. Be gentle with yourself and just remind yourself of feelings of gratitude and oneness with nature. We sit, we observe softly with a gentle gaze, and continue sitting with gentle detachment. No matter what thoughts come to mind, don’t make any judgment about where you are, or what you are doing or thinking. It is this step that is transcendental in nature, and therefore a fundamental aspect of the practice. Being able to sit quietly allows us to somehow transcend a call of judgment and ‘the thinking mind’, at least for a little while.
Without rainforest we do not have oxygen to breathe. We do not have food to eat either as biodiversity collapses and precious pollinators are pushed to the brink of extinction. Indigenous people are on the front line of environmental destruction. If we protect them and their way of life, we protect everyone on this planet – even those of us living in urban areas.
It is difficult for most of us to make the connection intellectually, and emotionally without seeing the impact with our own eyes.
Highly prized Musang Durian or ‘Mao Shan Wang’, known as the King of the fruits.
Durian production in Malaysia is destroying the native Malaysian rainforest at an alarming rate and contributing to human rights abuses of the local indigenous people, the Orang Asli.
Durian is growing all over SE Asia but new wealthy markets in China and other SE Asian countries prize Malaysian Musang above all other types. Anyone who loves Durian knows that it has a kind of addictive quality- once you get the taste for it you will travel far and wide to get it. And business is booming as middle classes across Asia are willing to fork out top dollar for the so-called ‘King of the Fruits.’
A community from the Bateq tribe of Orang Asli in Malaysia.
As awareness grows about palm oil, private companies owned by very wealthy individuals switch to the prized Musang durian.
“The EU (European Union) is giving us problems (over palm oil) so we are changing our strategy a little,” said Hisham Mahmood, a durian fan and a director at publicly listed oil palm company PLS Plantations to Al Jazeera.
But it is not only palm oil plantations that switching to durian to sell to places such as China and Singapore, but fresh virgin forest is being logged and sold to grow durian.
Malaysian politicians are allowing this to happen, even defying international definitions of native forest and international regulations for their own gain. They say a tree is a tree.
In the Malaysian peninsula, the federal government is taking the Kelantan government to court in order to protect the rights of the indigenous people. Apparently, this is a world first. But the corporations are rich and delay tactics are in their favour.
A Temier Orang Asli elder meets with human rights activist Siti Kasim, Chair for the committee for Orang Asli (COAR).
This rapid destruction of forests is driven to feed our insatiable appetites for everything from furniture to face creams to fruits. Durian is just the latest boom to add to a long list of produce grown in the global south.
Rapidly growing sectors like Musang Durian are no better than their predecessors in mining and palm oil – rife with systemic corruption, thugs, and expensive lawyers able to use delay tactics in the courts against NGOs.
There are many reported cases across the peninsula where companies use thugs to intimidate Orang Asli youth activists to move them off land that has been protected under British treaties – whilst using other impoverished Orang Asli as cheap day labour to log and tend to plantations heavily guarded with CCTV, security and helipads. There are people getting very rich from Durian, but there are few benefits for the Orang Asli as their land, health, identity and rights are stripped away.
The large flying fox is also known as the Malaysian flying fox, large fruit bat, kalang, or kalong, is a megabat in the family Pteropodidae.
Orang Asli elders are reporting how logging is infringing on their land – and what is worse, the logging is licensed by government officials. Yet this short termism is a threat to itsself – it’s a matter of decades before the durian industry cannibalizes itself along with other local agriculture by destroying the pollinators cheap Orang Asli labour it relies on.
“That’s them at it again,” says an Orang Asli man in his 40s who has lived at the village all his life. “Clearing forests to make way for more durian farms. The sound gets louder each day.”
They are rapidly cutting native forest with no intention of stopping. By buying Musang Durian without knowing it’s source – we may be participating in human rights violations as well as the mass destruction of biodiversity.
Dasho Karma Ura speaks on ‘Expert Speak’ – a virtual platform under the Asian Confluence Web Series Program that was launched to gather insights for the new COVID-19 world and beyond.
Dasho Karma Ura was a guest on episode 5 of our Nordic by Nature podcast, ON HAPPINESS. He worked for the Ministry of Planning, Government of Bhutan for 12 years before becoming the Director of the Centre for Bhutan Studies (CBS) from its founding in 1999 until 2008 when he became its President. Under Dasho Karma Ura, the CBS has been at the forefront in promoting and deepening national and global understanding of Bhutan’s home-grown development philosophy of Gross National Happiness. He has written several books, including a novel, The Hero with a Thousand Eyes.
Suman Bishnoi and her husband Surender Kumar live in Paonta Sahib in Himachal Pradesh. Suman said that even before this pandemic struck, she had decided to try and make some masks to cope with the increasingly bad pollution. But she also had a gut feeling that things were about to get worse, and in that eventuality, that there would a shortage of masks, especially in smaller towns and amongst more rural communities.
So, Suman bought some breathable cotton, and decided to experiment making a few masks for herself and her husband. After all, even if she was wrong about an upcoming pandemic, she thought, there is no harm making masks and testing them out. Even if they are made from simple cotton, and do not filter out everything, surely, they would be some help in stopping the spread of a virus? And some help is better than no help at all.
To mask or not to mask?
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, there has been a lot of conflicting information and opinions on the masks. Perhaps some media channels were hoping to avoid a rush on masks, helping healthcare workers get access to Personal Protection Equipment they need, as they are on the front-line of fighting the virus. Now, the general consensus is that yes, masks do help stop the spread of the virus. Masks are effective at being a barrier against droplets, which is a main transmission route of corona virus, and some studies have estimated a roughly five-fold protection versus no barrier alone.
Medical staff all over the world still urgently need professional and medical masks – there is a huge global shortage of face masks in hospitals and other healthcare institutions. All the more reason to get your sewing machine out and try sewing different types of masks for you and your household. The demand for masks is only going to grow, as the stigma of wearing a mask when you shop disappears. For young and old, masks are increasingly seen as an important part in protecting the most vulnerable and high risk in society by limiting the overall spread of the outbreak.
How to use a mask.
The best fabric to choose is 100% cotton so that you aren’t breathing into the plastic microfibres shed by synthetic fabrics. 100% cotton masks can also be used several times- just make sure to wash them after every use.
Remember, a mask is just added protection and they don’t protect your 100 percent. Masks are effective when used in combination with physical distancing- stay at least 2 metres away from people who are not in your household. Do not forgot to wash your hands frequently with hot soapy water, and also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in between washes if you have it. Whatever you do, do not touch your face, especially your eyes and nose.
It is important how you handle your mask. A good tip is to imagine that the virus is invisible glitter. Once you touch it you can transfer it to other surfaces.
Before putting on a mask, make sure that you clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. Cover your mouth and nose with the mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Avoid touching the mask while using it; and if you do, remember to clean your hands again with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks. The best is to carry a few with you if possible and keep the clean ones in a small plastic bag. Keep an empty bag for used masks if you change them when out.
To remove the mask do not touch the front of mask- just remove it from the ear loops; put it immediately in a closed bag or bucket of soapy water; wash your hands immediately with alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water.
The best thing to do is put them in a bucket of soapy water as soon you get back indoors. We now know that soap kills the virus by breaking down the fat that keeps the virus whole. How water is also good- but remember the virus lives in our bodies and our normal body temperature is 37 Celsius. So the best thing to do is to boil the kettle and pour boiling water over the mask and let it soak for at least 5 minutes before washing, and then ironing with a steam iron. You can also wash your masks in the washing machine with your clothes at 60-90°c. but be sure to fill the machine up so it isn’t an unnecessary burden on the environment.
We hope this inspires you to get sewing, just like Suman Bishnoi. There are many good patterns to follow online.
45 years ago, in 1970’s, there was a non-violent grassroots protest movement aimed at the protection and conservation of biodiversity of trees and forests in India, and how more actions needed to be taken to protect nature that supplies local people with clean water and soil.
It created a precedent for nonviolent protest and made the world take notice of non-violent protest. What they did was to simply embrace the trees to stop them from being cut down.
Women of the Chipko Movement embracing trees in Uttrakhand, India.
The Chipko Movement, or Chipko Andolan, began in Uttarakhand, which was then a part of Uttar Pradesh, in the foothills of Himalayas.
The movement gained momentum under the environmental activist Sunderlal Bahuguna.
His slogan “Ecology is permanent economy” drove thousands of men and women to become activists to protect their livelihoods.
Both male and female activists from Uttarakhand played vital roles, including Gaura Devi, Suraksha Devi, Sudesha Devi, Bachni Devi and Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Virushka Devi and others.
Deforestation creates a lack of firewood and fodder as well as water for drinking and irrigation which directly impacts women’s survival.
Today, the Chipko Movement is also seen as an ecofeminism movement, whose struggle still goes on today in India and across the world where women have few land rights despite being the primary farmers, stewards and knowledge holder of the land.
Chipko-type movements date back to 1730 AD when in village Prasanna Khamkar of Rajasthan, 363 Bishnois sacrificed their lives to save Khejri trees.
These movements practice methods of ‘Satyagraha’ – Satyagraha is for holding firmy onto the truth. (Sanskrit: सत्याग्रह; satya: “truth”, āgraha: “insistence” or “holding firmly to”), Someone who practices satyagraha is a satyagrahi.
The term satyagraha was coined and developed by Mahatma Gandhi and greatly influenced Martin Luther King Jr.‘s and James Bevel‘s campaigns during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
In 1987, the Chipko movement was awarded the Right Livelihood Award “for its dedication to the conservation, restoration and ecologically-sound use of India’s natural resources.”
Chipko treehugging immediately inspired many other eco-groups around the world to use the same techniques. It managed to slow down the rapid deforestation, expose the vested interests, increase social awareness, ecological awareness, and above all, in India, it brought awareness to the mainstream about the issues of tribal and marginalised people.
To the world, it demonstrated the viability of nonviolent people power.
How many percent of pilots are women? 3 percent? 5 percent or 11 percent? You might be surprised to find out that the country with the highest percentage of female pilots is India, with 11 percent, compared the global percentage of 3 percent and 5 percent in the United States.
Sai Deepthi Patro, 15-year-old from Visakhapatnam, India,
“The gender imbalance in aviation is global!” says Noopurr R. Chablani, Secretary of the Indian Chapter of the NGO Women in Aviation International (WAI). She continues: “Girls in India have been encouraged to study STEM subjects (Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics) for quite some time already, so there are a lot of high school girls with high career ambitions.” Bhatia has years of experience in travel, tourism and hospitality and wanted to give young women more career opportunities – not only as pilots or cabin crew, but also as all types of engineers, technicians, designers, strategists, air traffic controllers, operations managers, and flight care specialists, to name but a few professions in the field.
Two WAI India trainees at Girls in Aviation Day celebration celebrated at the Delhi Flying Club, September, 2017.
Bhatia herself is no stranger to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). She started the Bird Academy in 1988, as an educational arm of the Bird Group. Bird Academy offers diploma and certificate courses in travel and tourism, airfares and ticketing, passenger and baggage handling, air safety and emergency handling, dangerous goods regulations, as well as consultant and foundation courses certified by IATA, a trade association of world airlines. The courses range from about a month to a year in duration and Bird Academy trains roughly 3,000 students every year, guiding them from high school to finding employment across the country.
Radha Bhatia, he driving force behind Women in Aviation International, India.
Bhatia adds: “We also need to involve the girls’ families so the girls all have an advocate at home. There are still a lot of preconceived ideas about what it means for a woman to work at an airport or as an air flight attendant. Also, specialised education is long and it can take years before the girls earning a living.” There is indeed, a lot of work to do. The global aviation industry needs to update its practices to actively promote gender equality. In India, Bhatia and Chablani are challenging the status quo and inspiring others to do the same.
Bhatia adds: “We also need to involve the girls’ families so the girls all have an advocate at home. There are still a lot of preconceived ideas about what it means for a woman to work at an airport or as an air flight attendant. Also, specialised education is long and it can take years before the girls earning a living.” There is indeed, a lot of work to do. The global aviation industry needs to update its practices to actively promote gender equality. In India, Bhatia and Chablani are challenging the status quo and inspiring others to do the same.
NOOPUR R CHABLANI, dedicated to gender equality in aviation.
How do we view ourselves and our place in the world? A question that every great philosopher has wrestled with throughout time, but also one which we are revisiting in the light of the climate crisis especially amongst a growing movement of deep ecologists who want to revive a new type of ethics, where every human act is potentially an expression of care.
In the case of environment, the circle of ‘otherness’ is more inclusive. As everything is connected, the ‘other’ includes the non-human world as well as our common habitat. The moral right for all living beings to live as a part of our ever-changing ecosystems.
‘Environment’ is much more than the set of resources that mankind needs to survive, and our language itself is limiting our intrinsic view of nature by conceptually separating it from humanity. Suddenly we are asked to grasp the ungraspable- that the planet’s fate is now in the hands of human beings and that time has already run out – the state of emergency is here. Environment is on the front line and entangled with all our global challenges.
The notion of ‘stewardship’ can describe the role of Homo sapiens species in bringing back the environment back to the forefront of care- and our survival as a species, let alone Happiness, depends on it.
To see oneself as a steward is already a huge shift in mindset for most of us brought up in the modern consumer world. It introduces a whole plethora of other notions such as community, interdependence, and interconnectivity. Suddenly we can see the possibilities for protecting the environment in our everyday lives in the actions we make daily, in and out of our homes and workplaces. We feel a growing responsibility with our wallets too- refusing to buy a never-ending pile of stuff or food cultivated at the expense of our environment and global neighbours.
Increasingly, more and more people are interested in what they can do in their own lives, and this is illustrated in the growth of new online communities, connected across social media by hashtags; #zerowaste or #quitplastic being prime examples.
As stewards of our immediate environments we start to think about where our waste goes and the impact on our consumption patterns on the world. The sense of individual encompasses a much more fundamental and primary biological being, that has a natural place in the world. It is clear that consumer society has, by and large, taught us to separate ourselves from this notion of connectedness and live fragmented lives with little integrity between our thoughts and actions.
On one hand we are expected to express our values, while on the other, the only acknowledged expression of those values is through what we consume, i.e. we are only acknowledged as consumers.
Stewardship addresses the fact that we are losing our connection with the natural world very rapidly- and that our leaders and corporations do not have our interests at heart. The structures that drive economy are not in equilibrium with the needs of living beings. The primary domain of our work and life culture in the modern times is shifting further away in terms of physical distance but also in terms of our emotional and intellectual engagement with nature and the resources upon which we rely.
Our language is embedded with consumerism- the default mode is ‘non-organic.’ The things we need appear miraculously without much effort and relatively little cost to our wallets. The cost is elsewhere. Alongside this, technology is driving a new kind of ‘self-sufficiency’ revolution that has create a fake abundance, where we can order almost anything one imagines to our door step via Internet. The need for interaction or communal activities is reduced to a minimum. Most effort is targeted towards increasing the desire for ‘purchasing power’ whilst to oppose these mechanisms and make the ‘right choice’ day in and out seems to weigh heavily on the individual’s time and energy.
Going with the consumer society flow means continuously damaging the environment and cutting off our emotions from the horrors of reality. The more we cut off, the more our emotional intelligence is underdeveloped. We get the social ‘fix’ we need by going online. We get self-esteem from the clothes we wear and the thing we buy. Experiences from TV, internet etc. are cognitively experienced as ‘real’ by the brain. We are satisfied on food without nutrition and relationships without real contact or connection — because it is easy. Our emotions are influenced and that in turn continues to influence our everyday behaviour, as the emotions are the key influencers of action. (Frijda et al. 2000).
Emotions also influence our deeply held beliefs. The problem of poor emotional balance is being further aggravated by the disconnect with nature: external natural surroundings as well as internal human nature of reflection and contemplation, as Mayer et al. (2009) observed in their seminal work on Role of Connectedness to Nature:
“Environmentalists (e.g., Berry, 1997; Leopold, 1949; Orr, 1994) and nature writers (e.g., Louv, 2005; Muir, 1894; Thoreau, 1854) have long maintained that humans derive physical and psychological benefits from spending time in the natural world. The past two decades of research in environmental psychology have supported this contention. Using a variety of methodologies and measures, researchers have shown that exposure to the natural world decreases negative behaviours and states (e.g., aggression, anxiety, depression, illness) and increases positive ones (e.g., affect, health, cognitive capacity). The big picture is clear: Exposure to nature leads to many desirable outcomes.” (See the Health Council of the Netherlands and Dutch Council for Research on Spatial Planning, 2004; van den Berg, 2005; Frumkin, 2001).
Fredrickson et al., (2008) has reviewed recent research in the field of psychology to show how subtle emotions create a transforming impact on oneself.
“A paradox surrounds positive emotions. On one hand, they are fleeting: Like any emotional state, feelings of joy, gratitude, interest, and contentment typically last only a matter of minutes. Moreover, positive emotions are less intense and less attention grabbing than negative emotions (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001) and are more diffuse (Ellsworth & Smith, 1988). Yet on the other hand, research indicates that positive emotions contribute to important downstream life outcomes, including friendship development (Waugh & Fredrickson, 2006), marital satisfaction (Harker & Keltner, 2001), higher incomes (Diener, Nickerson, Lucus, & Sandvik, 2002), and better physical health (Doyle, Gentile, & Cohen, 2006; Richman et al., 2005). People who experience frequent positive emotions have even been shown to live longer (Danner, Snowdon, & Friesen, 2001; Moskowitz,2003; Ostir, Markides, Black, & Goodwin, 2000). Indeed, a recent meta-analysis of nearly 300 findings concluded that positive emotions produce success and health as much as they reflect these good outcomes.” (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005)
So, in a way it does not sound so far-fetched to maintain that compassion, self-integrity and care can make a significant contribution in dealing with some of the world’s major problems. An attitude of profiteering and perpetual growth results in environmental destruction, but also emotional and physical violence, drugs, corruption and socially unjust exploitation of other human beings. A mainstream shift in mindset could potentially reduce many of these human-made challenges.
Many societies and communities are recognising this and some of the nations have started to work on ‘Gross Domestic Happiness’ instead of ‘Gross Domestic Product.’
Gross National Happiness is a philosophy that guides the government of Bhutan and has gained traction in New Zealand, Nordic countries and Finland in particular, in recognition that technology and material goods have their limits when it comes to making people happy, and that by reframing happiness, society can also address the constraints of environmental resources. This approach, however, can neither offer a sole solution nor an easy one. There is an urgent need to initiate work on developing tools and techniques to integrate improved connection with external and internal nature in every aspect of our lives, to complement the existing efforts of saving the environment and the humanity. The mindshift has to come from every one of us- as professional and private stewards of future generations.
Below is the keynote speech ’Who Should Own the Earth?’ by Dasho Dr Karma Ura at the Earth Trusteeship Forum, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, 19-21, July 2019
The Earth Trusteeship Platform offers open, decentralized, ‘multi-polar’ and independent creative space for persons and organisations motivated to exploring Earth Trusteeship as an innovative principle of governance and local and international law, able to match the challenges of the 21st century and the wellbeing of future generations.
Who Should Own the Earth? Keynote Address by Dasho Karma Ura, Ph D. Earth Trusteeship Forum, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand. 19-21 July 2019
The author Peter Barnes raised a penetrating question with his book Who Should Own the Sky (2007). Although we would assume that the sky over our head is owned equally by all of mankind, Barnes suggested that it was owned more by those who used the skies and polluted them more, at the expense of others who do not pollute as much.
The sky over head was also a major political-ecological theme in the European elections in the 1960’s. In 1961, German Chancellor Willy Brandt, a Nobel Laureate, campaigned that “The sky above the Ruhr has to become blue again.”
Today, the sky above most urban spaces look duller, hotter and dirtier, and is almost certainly used and ‘owned’ more by polluters.
The question ‘Who Should Own the Earth?’ is an all-encompassing topic relevant to policy makers, legislators, businesses, academics and technologists, to name but a few. The question is a poignant one precisely because of the rapidly increasing rate of environmental destruction; the present generation is posing a grave threat to future generations through its current political systems and concepts.
In that sense, our generation are adversaries of future generations, rather than their allies, and custodians or trustees of the earth’s resources. And as we received the world’s resources in a better state than we pass them on, our ancestors were trustees of nature, which we so heavily rely on.
The first obvious answer to Who Should Own the Earth? is that it can and should be owned by all those future generations who will be born in the future. If all beings yet to be born own it, it should logically follow that it is equally owned by beings in the present and the past. Naturally, in sheer terms of relevance, this applies more to present and the future generations. But the power of decision- making is abrogated by the present generation, simply because future generations cannot take part in the decision-making process. If future generations equally own the Earth, they also have a right to be considered in current-day decision making. Our policies and politics need to be able to consider, and make space in our decision-making frameworks, for their voice and their agency.
Current decision-making processes, however, only favour current generations. It is a short-termism that lack clarity when it comes to how we view the future, as its stretches further and further in time. We lack the ability to measure and understand the impact of our decisions on other human beings and sentient beings.
I would go do far as to say that these frameworks are extremely poor or non-existent. The Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen (1961, 1967) is amongst the leading pioneers who have explored the idea of value over time. Social Discount Rates (Karbowski, 2016) or SDR’s are a critical element in cost-benefit analysis when the costs and the benefits differ in their distribution over time. Lower discount rates favour future generations, but it is unclear how low it should be. Rates that are closer to the value of zero will give equal weight to both future generations and the present.
Environmentalist and conservationist-oriented decision makers prefer low discounting rates to be adopted. In a survey of about 200 experts, 75% recommended that a social discount rate of 2% (Drupp et al, 2015) be used. But many current commercial valuation methods use higher discounting rate for infrastructure investments or other assets, thus embedding a bias against future generations.
The second answer to ‘Who Should Own the Earth?’ is that it ought to be owned at every point of time in history by all sentient beings who share the basic preference to live well and happily, whether they be animals or human beings.
As Buddha said, “All that moves on earth are supported by the Earth.” In other words, all that moves on the earth should receive equitable support from the Earth’s resources. Increasingly, however, use of the Earth’s resources is not equitable, whether we consider that in terms of conventional material means such as income and assets, or experiential outcomes of wellbeing and happiness such as psychological wellbeing, ecological resilience, community vitality or balanced time-use in everyday life.
By having a more in depth and holistic system to measure experiential outcomes as well as material means, people in Bhutan should, in course of time, attain a maximum level of happiness and wellbeing that is sustainable for future generations. By managing 52% of the land in Bhutan as protected nature reserves, Bhutan has created a carbon well and protected biodiversity for other sentient beings to fare reasonably well.
The choice of intergenerational resource allocation can be based on various rules such as discounting methods, or legislative-constitutional provisions. Discounting based on market logic, however, does not offer long-term guidance for intergenerational equity. The constitution and legislation is therefore an additional recourse to help define the parameters for intergenerational equity.
In the case of Bhutan, ‘environment’ is defined in the broadest sense of the term, so that it can be entrusted to every Bhutanese citizen for preservation. The Constitution of Bhutan, written under the leadership of our kings, has certain provisions and institutional structures favourable to forest and biological preservation.
For example, the Bhutanese Constitution prescribes a minimum of 60% forest cover. Bhutan currently has 72% forest cover. The country is presently carbon negative.
“Greenhouse Gas emissions will exceed carbon sink after 2030 in business as usual scenario. In the carbon neutral scenario, Bhutan can remain carbon neutral at least until 2050” (Kei Gomi et al, 2019).
Although the Constitution of Bhutan is explicit in terms of forest ratio, it does not specify other resource bases for intergenerational equity, besides saying that Bhutan should “ensure sustainable use of natural resources and maintain intergenerational equity.”
The third answer to ‘Who Should Own the Earth?’ is a traditional-historical Bhutanese one. Traditional Bhutanese beliefs say that mountains, for example, are owned by local Mountain Deities. The current inhabitants in a territory are only transient occupants and users.
In psychoanalytic terms, mountain deities are the personification nature; rivers, clouds, rainfall, snowfall, weather, forests, wildlife and all their other ineffable interrelations are personified by deities. If the Earth is owned by Mountain Deities, who personify nature, then vital parts of nature have rights on their own, like a person.
Human being’s property rights cannot be extended over Nature’s resources, or rivers and springs, just as it would be odd for us claim ownership over clouds and mist. At the most, they can be common to the locality and accessed equally by its inhabitants who are seen more as stewards of the resources they need.
Bhutan has of yet been unable to give explicit rights to any parts of nature, such as legal rights of rivers or mountains, to be undisturbed, in the way Thomas Berry conceptually established in 2001. Traditionally, however, the climbing of a set of snow peaks was not accepted, because they are regarded as the abode of Mountain Deities.
The concept of rights of a place or a natural phenomenon such as a river or mountain, seems to have been recognised traditionally. Bhutanese believed, and most still believe, that lakes- or river-beings (mtsho smanmo, bla tsho) dwell in such water bodies. Sensitive micro-ecologies such as cliffs, marshes, and rich groves are also considered the abodes (gnas khang) of earth deities (gnas bdag zhi bdag) and thus were off limits to be exploited by people.
Unfortunately, the legal rights of Nature’s elements have yet to find its place in modern laws such as the Forest and Nature Conservation Act, Environment Assessment Act, or Biodiversity Act.
The fourth answer to ‘Who Should Own the Earth?’ is that in the contemporary period, in principle, the earth is owned through agreements and laws within and among nations. Part of our collective inheritance, such as air quality, internet connectivity, oceans, or space and so forth are managed within and among nations through regulations, treaties and agreements. States or governments are managers of the great commons of the earth. They are not owners. Owners, as I stated earlier, are all sentient beings of the Earth, who themselves are reproduced in a cycle of birth, death and, perhaps, rebirth, according to Buddhism.
An important endeavor for all states and governments is to think of their afterlife, or legacy, i.e. what we do today has an impact on the infinite future, as opposed to the brevity of present tenures, and we need to help bring birth to policies and laws that listen intently to the voices from the future, through an awakening induced by both science, and the non-dual imagination and compassion of a Bodhisattva, who is here to relieve suffering for all beings.
The fifth answer to ‘Who Should Own the Earth?ä is that, in terms of political economy, the Earth has been increasingly owned and used by the market, commercial corporations, and the owners of capital. Although all human beings have equal right to the Earth’s three principle resources in terms of source, sink and services, in reality, the polluters, commercial-exploiters and capitalists have hijacked the Earth’s resources.
The rights of labour, the rights to common properties, the rights of the community, which depends on the commons, and the intrinsic value of Nature to exist, have all been diminished respectively by the rights of capitalists, the rights to private properties and the rights of individuals. The rise of market has also led to the abolition of non-market exchange of labour that is a crucial aspect of social support and solidarity.
Corporate and private rights have been privileged increasingly over the rights to the Commons. In an evolutionary context, the inhabitants of the earth have thrived so far because of the richness and abundance of the Commons from which all sentient beings drew. But the great Commons of the earth are being over-exploited on the one hand, and over polluted with toxicities on the other. Corporate and private rights have also, to a lesser extent, been privileged over the rights of the vast majority of human beings and other sentient beings.
An 18th century mural of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651), considered to be the architect of Bhutan.
In his biography, the monk-founder of Bhutan, Zhabdrung, made an astonishing statement. He wrote that the animals found in Bhutan, like elephants, bears and rhinos, are Bodhisattvas existing to lead all beings to enlightenment, instead of the other way around.
He saw formations of clouds over mountain peaks, and stunning natural beauty and described them in terms of wondrous spiritual symbols. A sense of beauty of nature penetrated him completely, and he was able to see the earth itself as the beginning and end of aesthetic wellbeing.
It seems that these concepts are as valuable today as they ever were and might offer us a way to recover the Earth’s abundance as source of wellbeing for present and future generations.
Keynote speakers at the Earth Trusteeship Forum event
Nordic by Nature is a new type of mindful and spacious sound-crafted audio podcast inspired by Arne Ness, the Norwegian philosopher who coined the term Deep Ecology.
In ten episodes, and with a global perspective, Nordic By Nature explores human, social and personal resiliency and adaptability that is needed for these challenging times.
The podcast is sent from Sweden and the foothills of the Himalayas by two colleagues who met in 2017; Tanya Kim Grassley and Ajay Rastogi. The podcast is intended to be listened to like an extended exercise in mindfulness; the soundscape has been designed by sound artist Diego Losa.
In the first episode On Activism, we have 3 strong voices who represent many thousands more at the forefront of change.
First you hear the words of Satish Kumar. To people in the ecology movement, Satish Kumar needs little introduction. He has been a world leading activist for over 50 years. In his early 20s, inspired by Gandhi and British peace activist Bertrand Russell, Satish embarked on an 8,000-mile peace pilgrimage together with E.P. Menon.
They walked, without any money, from India to America, via Moscow, London and Paris, to deliver a humble packet of ‘peace tea’ to the then leaders of the world’s four nuclear powers. Satish sends a message to all activists out there! “You are doing something great,” he tells us. All important social change was driven by protest.
After Satish, we meet Marijn van de Geer, a Dutch national, living in London, and active member of the growing, grassroots movement Extinction Rebellion, that staged a 10-day demonstration across London, in April 2019, preceding the UK parliament declaring a climate emergency. Marijn takes us by the hand through the Rebellion, why it is so necessary, and the experience of 10 days non-violent protest.
We then will hear Siti Kasim, celebrity lawyer and human rights activist who is passionate about the rights of the indigenous people in the Malaysian peninsula, the Orang Asli.
Hashtags to copy: tracesofnorth, Deep ecology, Arne Naess, Tracesofnorth, ecology, conservation, resilience, UNSDG, The Nordics, decolonisation, transformation, bioregionaldevelopment, peace dialogue, sustainability, climate crisis, biodiversity, global challenges, society and culture, monikakucia, danielwahl, helenanorberg-hodge, satishKumar, extinctionrebellion, climateuprising, sitikasim, ajayrastogi, tanyakimgrassley, Sweden, swedishstyle,
In the second episode On Survival, we have 3 strong voices who understand the need for radical, system change. First you hear the words of Monica Kucia, culinary curator in Warsaw, who talks about how to take the ego out of food. Then you will hear Design Leader Daniel Wahl, author of Regnerative Cultures who speaks about bioregional development. Finally, we hear Helena Norberg-Hodge, author of Ancient Futures, and founder of the NGO Local Futures. Hashtags to copy/paste: arnenaess, deepecology, tracesofnorth, monikakucia, danielwahl, danielchristianwahl, rejuvenativecultures, helenanorberg-hodge, ajayrastogi
Episode 3: ON INNER RESILIENCE
Embeddable player for websites and blogs: <iframe src=’https://share.transistor.fm/e/39486f1f’ width=’100%’ height=’180′ frameborder=’0′ scrolling=’no’ seamless=’true’ style=’width:100%; height:180px;’></iframe>
Simple landing page and text to share on social media: https://share.transistor.fm/s/fac9e81d In this episode ON INNER RESILIENCE, we hear four voices share how they maintain inner equilibrium. Firstly, we learn about nature-centred mindfulness practice from Ajay Rastogi, at the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature in the Himalayan village of Majkhali in Uttarakhand, India. Then you will hear Egyptian conservationist Noor A Noor, who describes his own personal path into mindfulness – through his experiences of the 2011 Egyptian Uprising. Then Judith Schleicher explains how daily meditation has helped her with her conservation work, ever since she attended a 10-day Vipassana retreat in Peru 7 years ago. Lastly, we meet Christoph Eberhard, legal anthropologist and practitioner of the Chinese and Indian traditional arts Ta Ji Chuan, Qi Gong and Yoga. Christoph believes that dialogue is at the heart of meaningful transformation- dialogue with oneself, with others, with nature, and the beyond.
Ajay Rastogi, Founder of the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature.
Noor A Noor, Conservationist, Cambridge University
Judith Schleicher, PhD Fellow at Cambridge University
Nordic by Nature is an Imaginary Life production, created with the support of the Nordic Ministries (Norden.org) and in partnership with The Foundation of the Contemplation of Nature. Please help us by sharing a link to this episode with the hashtag #tracesofnorth, and follow us on Instagram Many thanks to Satish Kumar and Elaine Green for their ongoing support and encouragement. Satish is also the editor of Resurgence magazine, and the guiding spirit behind the internationally-respected Schumacher College in the UK. Many thanks to Marijn van de Geer, founder of the consultancy Resolution: Possible, Thanks to Extinction Rebellion members Emma Wallace and Sophie Jenna who also shared their Rebellion sound recordings with us. Please read more about the movements demands for transparency and climate justice on their website. Thank you to Siti Kasim, lawyer, activist and writer of the column Siti Thots on the Star Online. The flute music is a nose flute played by an indigenous Orang Asli man from the Temiar tribe in Kelantan. All the sounds have been arranged by Diego Losa.
You can follow Ajay’s project at the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature and connect on Facebook and Contemplation of Nature on Instagram. Press contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Become our patron with even a small donation via Patreon!
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/.
Podcast core team: Tanya Kim Grassley, Creator & Host The podcast is an Imaginary Life AB production. Tanya’s Imaginary Life is a network of creative professionals crossing research, strategy and design. Imaginary Life supports forward-looking organisations to facilitating co-creative processes to redefine their vision, values, design philosophy, brand strategy and shape better communications methods suited to transformation and change. www.imaginarylife.net
Ajay Rastogi, Co-host Ajay Rastogi is the cofounder of the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature where he runs courses in Resilient Leadership. Ajay won the Global Maverick Teacher award for this work in 2016. Ajay has has developed the nature-focussed mindfulness method for opening dialogue called the Contemplation of Nature. www.foundnature.org
Diego Losa, Sound Designer Each podcast begins with a 5-minute meditative spoken word audio journey. We then hear the voices of our guests, accompanied with sound samples and music arrangements that give space for reflection and open up an emotional connection with the speaker. Born in Buenos Aires, Diego Losa is a master of ’concrete music, sound engineering and contemporary digital tools. He is also professor at the EICAR (International Film school of Paris) at the Regional Conservatory of St Etienne and the Sorbonne University (France) and he composes pieces for film, dance, contemporary performance, television and radio. http://diegolosa.blogspot.com
A lot has been happening since I met culinary experts Professor Pushpesh Pant and Chef Nishant Choubey at the Tasting India Symposium in Delhi last December 2017. At that time, Chef Nishant was curating food experiences at the elegant aero-city Roseate House.
Soon after, Chef teamed up with the Professor to go full-speed on a mission redefine what Indian cuisine means to the world! A mission inspired by Tasting India’s Indian Food Manifesto. Globally, Indian cuisine suffers from pretty much the same fate as Chinese cuisine. The extraordinary subtlety and diversity of Indian cuisine is often lost in globally standardized dishes. Chicken Tikka Masala might make good business and comforting takeaway food for a Brit like me, but too often this kind of fare just ends up confining the image of Indian cuisine to an inexpensive, greasy afterthought.
The term curry was adopted by the British East India Company, from the Tamil word Kari, meaning sauce. The menus at most Indian restaurants in the UK are usually an extremely simplified version of Mughlai/ Moghul cuisine, which is just one type of north Indian food. That cuisine is again reduced to two or three rich sauces and types of stews. These flavours do not begin to represent Moghul cuisine, let alone the rich heritage of the Indian continent. Dr. Pant calls this phenomenon ‘The curse of curry!” This is not to dismiss all the food of the Indian diaspora, but the world has so much more to experience when it comes to ‘Indian cuisine.’
Chef Nishant and Professor Pushpesh Pant shopping for fresh produce in Delhi.
The Holy Grail: nurturing a nations food heritage.
“There is an urgent need to document the dishes of the Indian continent before they disappear forever,” says the Professor.
Already so much has been forgotten. Even the diversity of ingredients is slowly disappearing as people move away from an agricultural way of life and food is increasingly mass-produced for supermarkets. India’s socio-economic landscape is also taking its toll. In the past, cooks were often servants, and recipes were handed down orally, with subtle variations from household to household, let alone region to region.
Food is the strongest expression of our humanity. In Europe, food is recognised as the guardian of a nation brand’s identity and a main driver of the economy. A huge emphasis has been being placed on protecting, sharing and communicating food heritage in France, Spain, and Italy, for example, so that the plethora of industries connected to food can thrive, both for export and also as attraction.
Food museums are also starting to appear, to try and help to preserve global and local food heritage in archives. Restaurants and chefs, inspired by the likes of El Bulli and Noma, are researching locality to explore the meaning of food for future generations. Food heritage has become synonymous with quality as well as quality of life. The European Union has schemes to protect and distinguish traditional regional specialties, such as the protected designation of origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), and Traditional Specialties Guaranteed (TSG) certifications.
To consider what is happening to centuries of knowledge and rich culture of war-torn countries such as Iraq and Syria is heart-breaking. The loss is hard to fathom. Food heritage runs so much deeper than the recipes you find in restaurants. It’s in people’s homes and hearts. Food provides the earliest knowledge of locality, interconnectivity and sustainability, that enabled our ancestors to thrive and trade internationally. It includes site-specific knowledge about wildlife, plants and animals and the methods of food production and resources that enabled farming villages to appear. These farming communities were by nature ‘integrated ecovillages’: communities that grew diverse crops and grains, tended to cattle and orchards, made their own crafts and textiles, and supplied local networks of breweries, artisans, markets, hotels and inns.
Food heritage is a dynamic spectrum that gently evolves and changes form over changing geographies and landscapes. But it is a story that is continuous and connects us all and refuses to be contained within national boundaries.
Ladies from the village of Machkali, Uttrakhand, cooking at Vrikshalaya centre. www.foundnature.org
Currently, the Chef and the Professor are curating food experiences for an upcoming festival in Delhi hosted by the Asian Heritage Foundation in association with World Bank. One of the meals curates a selection of dishes that were loved by the great Mahatma Gandhi, to commemorate his 150th Birthday.
The meals that the great Mahatma Gandhi loved.
“It really is time the world learns that there is so much more to Indian food than Mugalia cuisine!” says the Professor! “India is a vast continent with ingredients and dishes and techniques as diverse as the people, cultures and languages from which they originate!”
One of the first pop-up events the Professor and Chef did this year was at the famous Indus restaurant in Bangkok. Indus has been in service since 2006 and making waves with fashionable international crowd since winning its place in the Michelin guide. Indus is one of the few restaurants to introduce quality Indian cusine to the west via fine dining. Inviting the Professor and Chef to curate a menu outside the known Moghul dishes was a statement in itself. A provocation, perhaps, and a gateway invitation to Michelin to go and experience India?
At Indus: Kadala Byas Minu, or Kombdicha motla, representing Mangalore. The fish is marinated with kokum, a plant in the mangosteen family.
Chef Nishant explains: “The concept of our popup menus and events is to make the world aware of the diversity of India’s culinary heritage, whilst encouraging chefs to learn about all these forgotten stories and adapt and innovate with them.”
Chef and Professor curated a meal for Indus which they called: Past, Present and Future; 10 courses inspired by 10 regions. Each course told a special story about the history of the region it represented, and a special ingredient that is at risk of being forgotten. In contrast to the impeccable meal at Mrs. Radha Bhatia’s Roseate Farm last December this meal was not pure vegetarian – but contained seafood, meat and poultry.
Nomads on a mission.
The Chef and Professor continue to travel India researching traditional recipes and ‘lost gems’. They travel to a region, follow locally known food trails looking for local superfoods, they forage in forests and meet food producers and talk to local people about food celebrated in folklore. Most recently, they have focussed on the hill state of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, as well as Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa.
Professor Pushpesh Pant talking to young chefs at Indus, Bangkok.
“We work together like conjoined Siamese Twins!” says the Professor. They have two more members in their core team; Zuber Baigh helps them with archival documentation and media, and Govind Singh Kirola is in charge of the ethno-botanical and cultural anthropological research. The Professor and Chef travel together following the leads of the researchers who support their fieldwork with ongoing research.
“Our dream project is to set up a culinary institute specializing in Indian vegetarian cuisines,” says Chef Nishant.
The Professor concludes. “And for India we wish three things; That there should plenty for everyone to eat, with freedom of choice to eat what one wishes to eat. This is a matter of distribution. We have plenty.
Secondly, food should be healthy and free from all artificial flavors, colorings, preservatives, and synthetic additives of any kind.
And lastly, the food on our plates should be produced with dignity for everyone involved, relating organically to the people and places who produce it.”
Dr. Pushpesh Pant – email@example.com
Chef Nishant- firstname.lastname@example.org
Text by Tanya Kim Grassley
How I first met Chef at the Roseate Hotel, Aerocity: I have never had such a delicious Tarka Daal, and to this day I do not understand what Chef did to elevate such a simple and well-known vegetarian dish! We soon got talking, about food of course.
The inauguration lunch of the Tasting India Symposium in Delhi, last December 2017, was at Roseate Farm; a venture into small-scale organic farming and the ‘heart project’ of Mrs. Radha Bhatia, Chairperson of the Bird Group that owns the family of Roseate hotels. The farm supplies the Roseate hotels in Delhi with organic produce. Tasting India is a platform and symposium founded by the Cultural Curator, Sanjoo Malhotra and Food Writer, Sourish Bhattacharyya.
Sanjoo and Sourish are on a roll, to say the least. Tasting India has the highest ambitions to create a sustainable food culture in India. It is actively connecting all types of stakeholders working within organic food production; from small-scale farming that builds local community resilience, to food distribution such as independent food brands, farmers markets, coops for local crafts and traditions, to experience promoting regional and cultural diversity, such as education, chefs working with seasonality, eco-tourism and environmental sustainability, and last but not least- NGOs working with human ecology, from gender and identity to food sharing.
A happy day for Roseate Hotel’s Chef Nishant Choubey.
The symposium’s launch meal was a tasting menu and journey into Ayurvedic thought, designed by Chef Nishant Choubey, as representative of the produce from the idyllic farm settings.
Renowned food expert Professor Pushpesh Pant explained: “The concept of the meal is from ‘farm to plate’ – in times gone by everyone in India ate like that. Whatever was grown in the kitchen garden came directly to the dinner table. But right now, it’s only the super-rich who seem to be able to eat completely organically grown, pesticide-free, fresh food, grown from a nearby farm, with all the nutrients that rich, clean soil gives.”
Everyone can still eat like this if they keep two things in mind, the professor says.
“Eat seasonally, and eat regionally. Eat what you get locally in that season, buy your produce and then explore your creativity to see what you can do with what is in season.”
The word Ayurveda is Sanskrit, meaning ‘life-knowledge’. It’s a complete system of how to maintain health and balance in life, the philosophy of health at the heart of Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism, and permeates every aspect of life, not least of all, food.
Simple yet delicious Gobhi Keema Adraki, Cauliflower and minced ginger.
Food is at the centre of life. It is pleasure and it is nutrition. It is culture and identity. In the Ayurveda tradition, food functions to build a healthy metabolism, by moderating foods that can be harmful to the mind or body. When you consider the Ayurveda way of food, you will see an overlap with cultures from all over the world. Food is life, food is medicine. A nutritious and balanced diet can limit diseases stemming from internal inflammation.
The Professor concludes: “You do not have to choose between a healthy life and a pleasurable life; it is part of a healthy, balanced life to enjoy food! Life is meant to be enjoyed, and taking pleasure in life is part of finding balance.”
Ayurveda; 1000-year-old Systems Thinking The Ayurveda approach to food is known as a ‘Sattvic’ diet or ‘yogic’ diet. It is supposed to be a conscious, holistic approach, from producing to consuming, that today we call ‘from farm to table.’ But from farm to table is nothing new- this is the way everyone used to eat and the way some rural communities still support themselves.
The diet itself has an innate awareness of the connectedness to nature and interconnectivity with community upon which we all rely. It places emphasis on nurturing the essential: using seasonal and local foods from your own kitchen garden or village farm. It’s about ethics and knowledge of where the food comes from and where the waste goes.
A Sattvic diet is, therefore, vegetarian, as there is no need to slaughter animals to maintain our health. Cows are an intrinsic part of the organic farm though; the bullocks are used for ploughing, the cows give milk, and both produce natural fertilizer from vegetable scraps. It’s the small-scale organic farming system that fed the whole of India until the 1960’s. It’s a system that could work today, if we value and support the work of our farmers, and create efficient systems and infrastructures that get their produce to market.
The pickles were amazing! To call them mere pickles feels like an injustice.
The Six Tastes of Ayurveda Most of us who have heard about Ayurveda have heard about the three doshas, or three elements called Vata, Pitta and Kapha. When the doshas are in balance, a person can reach optimal health, while imbalance of the doshas provokes disease. Or as the saying goes: ‘You are what you eat.’ What was new to me were the 6 Rasas, or 6 tastes of Ayurveda, that balance the three elements in our bodies. These are Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, and Astringent.
A dish with humble origins; Khichra, a beautifully delicate and ‘more-ish’ porridge of lentils, rice and quinoa.
A chef working with Indian cuisine not only needs to know about the flavours of food, that make food pleasurable, but also the medicinal values of those foods and their effect on the body in combination. It’s a fundamental difference between traditional and modern eating habits all over the world. In the past, the person who prepares food is the guardian of our health. Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives.
Chef Nishant Choubey adds: “Today, as we eat out in a variety of places, the responsibility for our health and nutrition has shifted to the individual. More and more, food is designed to be enticing but not nutritional. Food has to be both, or it is empty of meaning.”
In ten days time, our friend Tenzin Shenyen will embark on a 3-year Tibetan Buddhist retreat in Germany that “begins a cycle of practices to stabilise, concentrate and open the mind through more meditative practices that… include practices aimed at transcending one’s deeply ingrained delusional tendency to see oneself and the world as ordinary.”
Q: It’s been 3 years since you gave a talk at Service Design Conference in Stockholm. It was wonderful to see the whole conference meditating with you. It palpably changed the energy in the room. I especially appreciated your advice for design professionals to ‘Just Say No!’ more often. I think that advice is more important than ever. Can you expand on that a bit?
A: As I said in one of my posts about the approaching retreat, I think human beings are machines for producing works of art, and that the best works of art are nameless and invisible. Saying “no” to what is visible and which already has a name is one way into that space. I also re-read Castaneda’s Journey To Ixtlan recently and was touched by how deeply I still resonated with it. There’s a lot of ‘no’ saying in it, from ‘erasing personal history’ to ‘losing self-importance’, to ‘becoming inaccessible’ and ‘disrupting the routines of life’. The genuinely ‘new’ comes out of nowhere – and I mean absolutely nowhere, a brutally total nowhere- but we are too eager to be ‘somewhere’, no matter how shabby and derivative that ‘somewhere’ might be.
I hope at least one designer out there reads this and decides to say ‘no’ to the whole works — until reappearing twelve years later with something with no name and no identity that the whole world needs.
“Saying goodbye to house sits and temporary rooms, to the forest and one-litre bottle-showers at twilight, to the over-exposure of homelessness. Saying hello to deep seclusion and practice. The worlds we inhabit are neither visible nor invisible, but secretive, coded, nuanced and blessed. Saying goodbye also to Facebook, and hoping something more nuanced, respectful and soulful has taken its place by the time I come out again. I’ll meet you there, I’m sure.”
Q: What impact does your Buddhist practice have on your daily life today? How does Buddhism work as a practical guideline for daily decision making? How can this shape a layman’s decision-making to live an ethical life as an ‘ordinary’ person?
A: My daily life is perfumed by Buddhism. It allows me to see everything I do as a kind of prayer. For example, right now I’m watching the world cup. It’s football and I love it, it needs no justification. My unconscious is working tremendously hard preparing for the retreat, so Shenyen is balancing that by just relaxing. I don’t need to justify it. Justifications are for people who are organising pogroms, or asset-stripping entire national infrastructures, etc. not for people who are … content just being nobody, nowhere, just talking with The Invisibles, just owning one pair of shoes … or just watching Argentina’s slalom into the knockout stage while reading Jorge Valdano reflecting on the military dictatorship of the 1970’s, along with his plea to stop treating football as a science; it all turns it all into a kind of dream yoga. And dream yoga is part of the path to Buddhahood. You cannot live an ethical life without nurturing your imagination.
Elaine Scarry’s talk, Beauty as a call to justice, will explain that in detail. I re-posted it on my youtube channel. Ultimately no-one can tell you how to live, they can only seduce you into living in a specific way. Ethics thus emerges from Eros, from loving relationships — with yourself, people around you, your own karmic history, and the culture around you and the times you have been born into.
Q: You spoke once about the importance of combining Buddhist practice with your own ‘culture’ or your natural place in contemporary society as a western monk. Will you still have space for that kind of ‘personal cultural research/ observation’ on your 3-year retreat? Can you watch football when you are there?! Can you read Artforum? Can you write your blog, radioshenyen?
A: Football? Probably not! But in between the meditation blocks, that will usually last about 6-8 weeks per topic, we are encouraged to relax, maybe even listen to a little music. And I will have my Artforum scrapbooks with me. Enough for one exhibition a week I think! But I don’t see too much separation between the centuries-old tantric stuff and my personal interests. Doing the retreat in all its traditional structure is also a part of my ‘personal cultural research’.
“Study, a mixture of chaos and silence, concentration and fragment.”
Q: How much meditation do you recommend to a layperson or beginner? Is frequency important for practice? Are there other types of activities such as physical work (making things, cleaning, gardening, etc.) that are also seen as part of Buddhist practice? In Asia, meditation isn’t seen as something that ‘ordinary people’ do. Lay people often ask the monks to meditate and pray on their behalf.
A: Meditation is extremely over-emphasised in contemporary Western presentations of Buddhism. Ethics, study, art, service, offering, confession, purification, prayer, chanting, and vows, among other things, are all sidelined, or dismissed as ‘obvious’, ‘old-fashioned’, ‘embarrassing’ or ‘peripheral’. But Buddhism only really comes alive when you take on board it’s entire culture, it’s ‘world’ while being willing to do the work of engaging that world with your own. Thus, my love of contemporary art is inseparable from my study of Madhyamaka and tantric meditations. My best moments of mindfulness occur when on alms round. You can’t just meditate in a vacuum, in a fog of mundane activity and thinking.
But nevertheless, it is part of the path.
I would recommend a very short commitment — 10 minutes a day is fine — to being quiet, still, disciplined and visionary on one’s cushion. But instead of wanting to meditate I would suggest that people simply pray to be able to meditate, and then relax. Thinking about what other people need — the immediate needs of the people around you right now, at home or on the train platform — is so much more powerful than some half-hearted meditation practice.
Genuine meditation comes out of uncontrived faith. Faith arises out of joy and ethics. Ethics from art and empathetic disciplined imagination.
Q: We need to manage negative attachments to the idea of future, such as fear or sadness or anxiety, as these feelings arise, to avoid shutting down altogether. Is hope also an attachment?
A: Attachment is one of those words that are easy to misconstrue. In Buddhism, liking something isn’t an expression of attachment; wanting something good to continue, or to happen if it hasn’t yet happened, isn’t attachment. Attachment is defined as a state where ‘you are willing to do something bad in order for something to continue (or begin)’. So ‘hope’ in itself isn’t attachment. Love isn’t attachment, not even fierce love. Whereas cowardice would be.
Q: What is your favourite festival or holiday? What practices in your life have changed significantly since becoming ordained?
A: I like New Year’s celebrations. Awareness of time cycles is a lovely thing and transcends specific religions and worldviews. And the atom bomb memorial day in Hiroshima is also high on my list of ‘things which make the heart beat faster’ – if that’s what you mean by ‘festival’.
Ordination, by providing an absolutely fundamental challenge to my sense of identity, in both challenging (demanding, humbling) and transformative (blessed) ways, has helped me to explore more deeply the teachings on non-self as a meditative state.
Q: How important is it to be altruistic?
A: It is impossible to become a Buddha without practising altruism. And never mind Buddhahood, it is impossible to keep enjoying positive samsaric rebirths without practising altruism. All art comes from altruism.