Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
The Preface to Vandana Shiva’s latest book, Oneness v. the 1 Percent, is a hymn to Earth as One Family that either thrives together or goes extinct together. It comes from the phrase Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the Earth is One Family, (Sanskrit: वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम्) which consists of several words: “vasudhā”, the earth; “ēva” = indeed; and “kutumbakam”, family. The phrase appears in Chapter 6 of the Maha Upanishad. This verse of Maha Upanishad is engraved in the entrance hall of the parliament of India. [Wiki]
This is the best Buddhist book on global ecology that was not written by a Buddhist, but a Hindu; a scientist, not a monk; a woman, not a man; and an Indian, not a Westerner.
Popular culture on the extreme Right and extreme Left rejects the idea of one-ness, that we are all one earth family. It is just as taboo to say ”All Lives Matter”, including the lives of non-human species, amongst the Activist Left as it is amongst the Fascist Right. Vandana Shiva’s book firmly takes a stand against that kind of divisive rhetoric because ultimately, it will kill us. She makes the distinction between the Top 8 people in the world who control half the world’s wealth, and the rest of the 7.5 billion who suffer because of it. And even then, she argues that their fortunes are tied up with well-being of the rest of the world. There is no escape from a dying planet, not even for the richest people.
[Shiva’s book is only 150 pages; you can download it from Spinifex Press, the Australian publisher, for just under $15 Aus.]
What is it to live, to be alive? What is it to live well, to be well?
What is knowledge, what is intelligence?
What is ecology, what is economy?
What is freedom, what is democracy?
What is our future?
We are compelled to return to these basic questions in our times—times of the possible extinction of our species, as the current dominant model of knowledge, of ‘wealth’ creation, and of ‘representative’ democracy violates planetary boundaries, the rights of the diverse species that share this planet, as well as the human rights and freedoms of most people. Times when the 1% controls the wealth and power to destroy our planet and our common lives, with no responsibility or accountability for their actions, because they have found clever ways to create illusions—of the separation of humans from the earth, and of the 1% from the rest of society, as if we share no common wealth, and no common future.
Being well and the experience of wellbeing are timeless—off the clock. ‘Wealth’ means a state of wellbeing. The market has come between us and our wellbeing, severing us from our potential and needs. The market has also allowed its own consolidation, accompanied by the consolidation of global power.
In 2010, 388 billionaires controlled as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity; this number came down to 177 in 2011; to 159 in 2012; 92 in 2013; 80 in 2014; and 62 in 2016, it shrivelled to a mere eight in 2017. By 2020, it seems, there will be only ONE.
In 2008, during the global economic crash when people lost their homes and jobs, billionaires consolidated their ownership of industry across the world. Stock prices had bottomed out, and the wealthiest billionaires bought out the economy at bottom- dollar prices. It was too convenient to be a matter of chance—this was the deployment of the money machine.
The money machine is programmed to bulldoze, destroy, aggregate and accumulate, externalise and excavate. Like the cancer cell which does not know when to stop growing, convergences, mergers and concentration are the only logic the money machine understands. And just as the cancer cell ends up destroying the host organism, the money machine, too, will destroy the planet and our societies from which it draws its support.
We must reclaim our intelligence and creativity to resist the money machine and create non-violent alternatives. We must reclaim the market from the money machine, and our lives from billionaire dictators. We must reclaim our real freedoms, and not be seduced by the false freedoms of ‘free trade’, corporate rule, algorithm-run democracy, and consumerism. We must stand firm and reclaim the meaning of wealth and the conditions for being well.
Will the ‘end game’ for humanity be the domination of the ONE power of Big Money, or will we, in our Oneness—as one earth community, one human community—shut down the ‘Operating System’ of domination and extermination, to allow our potential for self-organisation and creativity to seed another future?
The diversity of cultures and languages, and with them, our imagination, is being lost. Social violence and disintegration have become the norm everywhere, as economic polarisation and inequalities deepen. Every society is facing a crisis of democracy, as Big Money hijacks the process of representative democracy, and elections are used to divide people through hate and fear; they divert the public consciousness from the real roots of their insecurity, thus preventing them from organising and rising to protect the planet, to rebuild their societies, and to reclaim their economies and democracies.
Humanity stands at a precipice. There is an uncertainty regarding our potential for future evolution. Ecologically, the uncertainty arises because every aspect of the dominant model of thinking and living is destroying the earth’s capacity to support our lives. The erosion and extinction of our species, the destruction of soils and water, and climate chaos, are wreaking havoc on the conditions necessary to continue as members of the earth community. The extractive model of economic development and growth, of corporate control and the greed economy are not just destroying nature, they are destroying our humanity which is the human capacity for solidarity, compassion, and the ability to take care of each other.
Through the illusions and abstractions that the powerful have created and imposed on the rest of humanity, especially over the last two centuries of the rise of fossil fuel-based industrialism and the mechanical, reductionist mind, we are losing our capacity to not just sustain life ecologically but also to sustain life socially, as a community. Uprooting, dispossession, the creation of refugees, is the shadow of the illusionary model of limitless growth, on a planet with ecological limits, as well as of the exercise of limitless power by the powerful, through constructed grids of categories and narratives.
But going off the precipice, towards extinction, is not inevitable. We can choose to walk away from the mechanistic world of invented constructions, and free ourselves from the forces and paradigms that have brought us to it. We can realise that we are members of the earth community and that the earth has an amazing capacity and potential to rejuvenate and renew; and since we are part of the earth, not separate from her, we share that capacity and potential. A consciousness of our power to ‘be the change we want to see’, as Gandhi said, forms the basis for cultivating hope, love, and compassion in these times of despair, fear and hate.
Within the crises that have brought us to the precipice lie the seeds of hope and freedom, the seeds to renew our humanity and our earth citizenship. The crisis of survival that we face today is a result of the domination of an extractive economy, imposed by artificial separations constructed by the mechanical mind, and the false assumption that greed is a virtue to be rewarded by society. In an interview in May 2017, Stephen Hawking said that humanity faces a survival crisis … that it is so severe that in the next hundred years, either humanity will be extinct or we will have to escape from the earth and colonise other planets.1
This idea of violating planetary limits for the next conquest, the next escape, only furthers the illusionary idea of linear human progress, bereft of oneness with the earth and the recognition that this is our home, the only one we have, and that the crisis we find ourselves in is, in fact, a consequence of the colonisation of the earth, of diverse cultures, and of the absence of accountability for the destruction caused by colonisation. Escape is what led to colonisation in the past—and the same logic of mastery and conquest is being applied now to colonise other planets.
Cecil Rhodes, who colonised Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), stated frankly,
We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories.2
This is what the economy of the 1% is modelled on. The tools of extraction and the colonies might change, but the methods of colonisation remain unchanged—grab and steal what belongs to others, make it your own property, collect rents from the original owners, and convert the displaced into cheap slave labour to provide raw material, as well as to become the market for your industrial products.
This form of colonisation, of nature and people, however, is reaching its limits now. When there is no need for slaves, no need for exploited workers, who will buy the junk that the 1% has to offer—junk food and junk clothing, junk communications and junk media; when the earth is exploited and polluted, rupturing planetary limits; and when her life support systems are destroyed, there will be no production. No survival.
But there are options beyond colonisation, beyond extinction. There is a third option—that of staying alive by caring for the earth and for each other, rejuvenating the planet and our common humanity.
Only as one earth community and one humanity, united in our diversities, can we hold ourselves together, step away from the precipice and escape the destructive, ecocidal, genocidal rule of the 1%. We can turn around and walk to our freedom.
To live free. Think free. Breathe free. Eat free.
This book is an expression of hope, rooted in oneness—the philosophy of vasudhaiva kutumbakam, one earth family. It is based on the hope that proceeds from our potential to transcend separation and division—to think, act and live as one humanity on one planet with full consciousness of our interconnectedness, as well as our responsibility to participate actively, every day, every moment of our lives, to protect and rejuvenate the natural and social web of life. His Holiness the Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, has called it compassionate courage, the courage to act from compassion.3
We have created freedom and liberation movements before. We have decolonised our minds and our cultures from the stains and chains of imperialism, and shed the artificially constructed (but ‘naturalised’) categories of race, gender, class and colour. We can, through our creativity and imagination, through our solidarity and interconnectedness, create a planetary freedom movement through which we break free of the chains and walls constructed by the illusions of the mechanical mind, the money machine and the delusion of democracy. We can reclaim and create real knowledge through real intelligence. We can reclaim and create real wealth with nature, through our creativity. We can sow the seeds of real freedom and earth democracy.
Now has always been our time. This is the Resurgence of the Real. The real is our oneness and non-separability. The real is our lived and living intelligence. The real is our self-organisation, our creativity, our freedom. The real is our potential to sow the seeds of diversity, of hope, of compassion, of interconnectedness, of our common future.
1 Chris McDermott, ‘Stephen Hawking: We Have 100 Years to Find a New Planet’, EcoWatch. http://www.ecowatch.com/stephen-hawking- bbc-2392439489.html. Published on May 4, 2017.
2 Terry Gibbs, Why the Dalai Lama is a Socialist: Buddhism and the Compassionate Society. London: Zed Books, 2017, p. 116.
3 HH The Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications, 2017.