Tuesday, 4 December 2018


Holistic Approach in Understanding 

-Dr. Ajit Sabnis

Sustainability, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Society, Eco-friendly communities, Global warming, Climate change etc. are the modern day buzz words and are being very commonly used by one and all. Professionals also coin new and attractive phrases like: Smart and Sustainable Societies, High performing Societies, Eco-spirituality and so on. In most cases, the understanding of true sustainability has a very limited bandwidth.

Till the beginning of 18th century all looked OK. Sustainability aspect never bothered us. Most of the natural resources, most of the environment had remained un-altered. It is then the period of Industrial revolution emerged on the global scenario and western countries started to establish their supremacy in terms of infrastructure development, better life style their citizens, more and more comforts to their citizens etc. And in the bargain, they started using the natural resources provided to them by the nature. This suit followed by other countries by the time we reached mid nineteenth century. Present developed countries were then the Developing countries. They were probably smart and cautious enough to reserve most of their natural resources and started importing these resources from third world countries. Third world countries accepted this change whole heartedly as they also aspired for infrastructure development in their economies in proportion to their population. It has continued even today and those developing nations have now attained status of Developed Nations.

The Complexity:

Sustainability as a phenomenon is very complex and no one can actually claim to have understood it in its entirety. It is considered as one of the Big Questions by the scientific community.

The Definition:

Sustainability in general is as an ability to sustain as per most dictionaries. This aspect of sustainability has different definitions in different contexts. For example, in the context of forestry, sustainable development can mean the harvesting of trees and other forest products at a rate that does not exceed the capacity of the forest to regenerate itself. In the context of urban planning, sustainable development can mean managing growth within the capacity of infrastructure to service the population and so on. As per Dr. Abdul Kalam, Sustainability is the line between Need and Greed. As per United Nations, Sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of our generation without compromising the needs of future generations. As per one of the recent studies, True Sustainability is establishing harmony with the Nature and the Environment it provides.

India’s Position:

After agriculture and industrial revolutions, India focused on its infrastructure development and still we are a developing economy in the world and this is mainly due to uncontrolled population growth. On one hand, we have always struggled to reconcile with the Demand and Supply chain and on the other, global geographical boundaries are shrinking and the global community is becoming one in experiencing various impacts of human greed. This phenomenon is referred as ‘Anthropogenic’. Developed nations, which are actually responsible for all the environmental chaos hitherto, are putting pressure on developing nations to exercise control on their growth patterns. In the process of aping the West, we have forgotten our ancient wisdom, sustainable practices and now looking for Sustainable Solutions from them and that is the irony.

Info Box: As of today, global greenhouse gasses emitted together by USA, China and European countries put together amounts to whopping 56 % and that by India alone is only 6.5 %. However, we are fourth in the list. Average per capita power consumption is highest in the US while India it is the least. All said and done, today, the detrimental impact due to human greed is affecting our Planet.

Why the Big Concern!

In the name of materialistic development, especially since the beginning of 19th century, we have brought the Planet Earth to the brink of disaster. It is an established fact that whenever a new and better species have appeared on earth, there has been a major disaster or chaos. What exactly is the IMPACT we are all talking about! Why the whole world is now so concerned about it!

The Impact:

The impact phenomenon that we are talking about is the detrimental impact human beings are casting on the Natural Environment. This can be understood by looking at the three important challenges we are head-on with;

1] Global warming- Where the average global temperature is increasing very rapidly due to human activities. This is due to emission and accumulation of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. This has several detrimental impacts.

2] Climate Change – Due to long term effects of several factors impacting season change, health, change in migratory patterns, ocean acidity, acid rains etc. Also, resulting in a phenomenon called Polar Amplification, where the ice caps are melted exposing the underlying rocks which in turn, absorb and reflect more heat.

3] Natural Resource depletion- Unscrupulous use of natural resources provided to us by nature. We continue to drain our natural resources with no sign of relenting.

Conventional Sustainable Society:

Till recently, establishing a sustainable society called for integrating three fundamental spheres of a society namely, The Social, the Cultural and the Economic. As the concern about the deteriorating environment became an issue of criticality, the fourth sphere called- The Environment was added. This too was inadequate in understanding the true meaning of sustainability. Unless and otherwise, an individual willfully and ethically participates in achieving the SUSTAINABILITY DEVELOPMENT GOALS, establishing a sustainable society is not possible. Hence the fifth sphere of ethics (Spiritual) was included. 

Science-Spirituality Convergence:

If we see these five spheres, they represent nothing but the Physical, Vital, Mental, Spiritual and the Psychic development of a society as described by Sri Aurobindo. Only when this integration of 5 spheres happen harmoniously, true sustainable society can emerge and manifest.  In a way, Science and Spirituality are converging. We see 20th and 21st century to complement this view. Sri Aurobindo and Einstein, both of them extensively delved on the same subject of Matter and Energy, almost simultaneously. While one established matter as the foundation for in the Evolutionary process, the other established a relation between matter and energy. The advent of quantum physics, efforts of several physicists leaning towards the philosophy of Shankara to answer some of the Big questions, stand as testimony of this convergence. Even Stephen Hawking, in his latest book, released after his death, talks about the possibility of a super human on earth. For him, superhuman is a human being who is capable of self-designing his DNA structure and the truth is, we are moving towards this formidable achievement. It is Impossible to judge the logic of the infinite with the logic of the finite. Interestingly, though Stephen hawking is an atheist, he observed about Einstein’s work-“the key element of Einstein’s scientific career lies in his ability to convert his intuitive imagination into experiments applying the laws of physics”.

Identification with the Nature, the Only Way Forward:

In the process of creating a sustainable society and sustainable living, we have consistently ignored the one fundamental aspect which could make this possible: Our identification with the nature, to become one with the nature. Forget the timetables, technologies, and transfers of money from developed nations to developing nations; living in a sustainable way is only possible if we and especially our leaders more deeply understand the very fabric of Nature.
In reality, Spirituality and Sustainability go hand in hand; one cannot proceed without the other. In fact, sustainability is an Attitude, the way of life. A spiritual person cares deeply about people, animals, plants, the oceans and the entire planet. A spiritual person knows that, we are all One. A spiritual person has kindness, compassion, humility as his or her guiding principle and naturally leads a life of sustainable living. Conversely, living in a conscious, sustainable manner promotes spiritual growth. Thus, spiritual evolution makes sustainable living, an essential way of life. Spiritual practice soon reveals the truth that I am a part of the Whole. If I fail to preserve the latter I fail to preserve myself.

The Indian Concept of Sustainability:

Concept of Sustainability is not new to India. Since time immemorial, Indians have lived respecting the nature. The essence of Indian philosophy itself is founded on the very concept of oneness- Prakruthi and Purusha, being the two facets of the same Absolute. We have always revered our planet earth as our Mother– ‘Maata bhumihi, putroham pruthivya’- Many of us, as we get up in the morning, repeat, ‘Samudra vasane devi, Parvatsya Stana mandale, Vishnu patni namastubhayahm, Padasparsham Kshmaswame’- O! Mother Earth, Pardon me as I touch you with my feet. ‘Sarve Janaha Sukhino Bhavantu’ – prays for the wellness of every speck of dust, chara and achara. We even revered our waters. We invited sacred waters of seven rivers while bathing- ‘Gangech, Yamunechiva, Godavari, Sarswati, Narmada Sindhu Kaveri, Jalesmin sannidhim kuru’

But then, what happened? How and where have we lost these exemplary and resplendent vales? As Sri Aurobindo puts it, every society has to pass through different stages in the evolutionary process. The Symbolic age, the typal, the conventional, the individualistic, the age of objectivism, the age of subjectivism and then followed by Spiritualised Society. We are all in the age of Objectivism. Reason, Logic and half-truth-mental perceptions dominate our being. We need to rise above from this stage of objectivism by satisfying it before entering into subsequent stages. Let us now look at the other facet.

When we talk about ‘Sarvam Khalu idam bramh’, the essence of true sustainability is encrypted in the entire universe. To me the entire universe created by the creator is sustainable. Look at the various constants of Nature! How sustainable they are since billions of years!  Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga, the Poorna Yoga, is also called by some as Integral Adavatism of Sri Aurobindo. The triple transformation formula given by Sri Aurobindo, Psychisisation- to look within and make our Self as the guiding force; Spiritualisation-to find All in One and One in All; Supramentalisation-to realize the supramental truth; describes our journey from one state of consciousness to a higher state of consciousness, encrypting our journey towards the realms of higher perfection, and the interconnectedness. Sustainable living is then, just a byproduct of our spiritual journey in the Evolutionary Process. 


There is no inherent disorder or evil in the universe. Such evil and disorder comes into creation through our ignorance. Present environmental crisis is one of such things. True Sustainable Development calls for conservation and preservation of natural resources and of the environment. This requires a paradigm shift from our present ordinary self-gain mind set to a sustainable mindset. True sustainability is probably the first step towards establishing a spiritualised society, and that is our aim too.

Let us work towards it individually and collectively. The time has come to find reconciliation between all subjects and anti-subjects. As Sri Aurobindo puts it, even by negation, we arrive at the same realization.