As a former monk and long-term peace and environmental visionary, Satish Kumar has been a pilgrim of positive change on the planet since a very young age. He was just nine when he left his family home in India to become a Jain Monk. At age 18, Satish read a book by Mahatma Gandhi and his life with the Jains was interrupted by a calling to flee the order and carry the message of non-violence out into the world–campaigning for land reform in India and working to turn Gandhi’s vision of a renewed India and a peaceful world into reality.
Several years later, after reading a newspaper article about Bertrand Russell’s civil disobedience against the atomic bomb, Satish and friend EP Menon felt similarly called to embark upon an eight thousand mile ‘peace walk’ from India to the four nuclear capitals of the world. Carrying no money and depending on the kindness and hospitality of strangers, they walked 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.
Since 1973, Satish has served as the editor of Resurgence magazine, during which time he has been the guiding spirit behind a number of now internationally-respected ecological and educational ventures including Schumacher College in South Devon, where he is still a Visiting Fellow.
At the 2014 UPLIFT Festival, Satish shared a powerful glimpse into his life, his approach to service and his steps as a pilgrim on the path of positive change. The following are excerpts from a panel discussion titled ‘Oneness in Action.’
UPLIFT: What does it mean to be of service and how have you experienced service as an empowering path to a new world?
Satish: Service, in a way, is the outcome of the spirit. Without Spirit you cannot have service. When we listen to Bruce Lipton he speaks to us of Science, Spirit, and Service. We are the embodiment of these three aspects. Our science is in our thinking. Our spirit is in our heart. With our hands we serve.
But how do you manifest that science that is in your head? How do manifest that love and spirit in your heart? Only through service. Through science, you know the harmony of the world. Through spirit, you experience the harmony of the world. And through hands, you express that harmony in the world. These three concepts are a continuum. We need to know. We need to feel. And we need to make. We are the makers. We are the creators. And we can be of service every moment.
I don’t like fighting, even for peace. The metaphor of a warrior is for me an old story. Pilgrim is the story that I love. We are all pilgrims and when you act from the position of a pilgrim–not from a position of anxiety, anguish or anger, but a position of love and service and unity–then you radiate. And your action radiates.
And a radiator doesn’t go and shout, “Come! I will warm you.” Those who are called will come to the radiator. The radiator will attract you. Gandhi is a radiator. Martin Luther King is a radiator. They radiate that love, that energy, that compassion, that unity. They have no enemies.
We are all together and our job is to be healers. Not fighters, but healers. So our actions come from the strength and resilient position of compassion. Buddha was an activist [of love]. Jesus was an activist [of love]. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, these are our heroes and they all acted from that position of love and compassion.
Satish Kumar explains that despite the world’s many problems and challenges, it is actually Love that sustains life.
A pilgrim is an activist [of love]. An activist is an optimist. Without optimism, there is no true activism. Without hope, there is no activism. For me, there is no tension between activism and optimism. We are all pilgrims.
As an example, I have been editing the magazine Resurgence for the last forty-one years in England and during this time I had two children and I wondered where am I going to send them for education? I didn’t want to send my children simply to be programmed and conditioned, so in a very natural way, without any big fanfare, I decided to start a small school. I called it The Small School.
I called a meeting in my village and thirty people came to my house. And I said, “I want to start a small school for my two children. Is anybody else interested?” And to my delight and surprise, parents of nine children said, “If you are going to start a school, we will send our children to your school because we don’t want our children to be programmed and conditioned in the mainstream system either.” Can you imagine? I, an Indian in this very conservative Devon English countryside, and all these parents said, “We will send our children to your school.” So that happened. And I was not doing it. I was just acting in service of something that was coming through me. I was being the hand of some Divine power.
One day, years later, I was talking to the trustees of Dartington Hall and they said they had an empty building and I said, “What are you going to do with this empty building?” And they said, “We don’t know what to do with it. We are looking for someone to rent it perhaps… a tenant.” I said, “I know what you should do. You should start a college. All the universities are brainwashing people to be instruments of the capitalist system. We need education for ecological, spiritual, holistic science.” And so that’s how the Schumacher College started.
And so service… it’s a kind of offering ourselves. Making ourselves available. It’s happening through us, not from us. Like Kahlil Gibran said, “Children come through you. Not from you. They are not your children. They are life’s longing for itself.” So, the Small School, the Shumacher College, Resurgence, ORGANIC INDIA, they are life’s longing for itself. They come through us.
In the same way, this UPLIFT movement is coming through this wonderful group of people. All of YOU. You are being the instrument of making this wonderful great movement around the world.
So let us be that instrument. That occasion. That little excuse for Divine to move through us. That is how I act. I am not a fighter. I am a pilgrim and things happen through me. We all are pilgrims on this path of transformation and transcendence.