Peaceful Ecology for a New Age

By Rudi Jansma

Condensed from a lecture at the inauguration of The Global Peace University, "De Lawei," Drachten, The Netherlands, April 29, 1997. Mr. Jansma is a tropical ecologist and in 1994 Koeltz Scientific Books, Koenigstein, Germany, published his Ecology of Some Northern Suriname Savannas, illustrated, index, 198 pages.

Ecology is the science of relations -- relations between living beings and between living beings and their environment. In the Western scientific approach, ecology is the study of material relations, such as eating and being eaten, nutrient cycles, and so on. I would like to extend the concept of ecology to include all aspects of nature: not only the material ones, but also the contributions of all cultures to our thinking about this subject.

Living beings are much more than physical bodies impelled by a selfish desire for survival; this aspect is of secondary importance only. A living being is primarily a consciousness center, clad in a vehicle that it has built from within outwards to express its potencies and which is fit for terrestrial existence. It is an evolving consciousness, bringing forth its inherent qualities from within, helped by its environment. I have become convinced, both by watching nature closely and by studying non-Western cultures, that the real power which drives evolution is not survival -- which is merely a psychological attitude to safeguard individuals or groups against hazards -- but rather the upward striving of consciousness itself through endless cycles of existence.

The first extension I would like to give to ecology is that living beings be looked upon in their entirety. Traditional Western biology classifies them on the basis of physical characteristics and habits, such as carnivores and herbivores. But a living being is a complex conglomerate of awareness, feelings, impressions, and longings, which are all part of its fundamental character, its particular focus of evolutionary expression and form of consciousness. Is it not more important to ask oneself where a being's consciousness is centered, and what is its function and particular goal in life? If we look closely at any plant or animal species or individual, with an unbiased mind and with the sympathy one naturally feels for a brother pilgrim, we can grasp something of the quality of awareness inherent in each one. We can see which faculties it has developed and how it interacts with its environment, what particular function or duty it fulfills within the wholeness of its ecosystem, and with which element it is most concerned.

The awareness of an ant may not stretch more than an inch ahead, or further back in time than a second; nevertheless, its awareness is intense. It is unique and differs from any other creature. It is here that impressions are constantly stamped on its sensitive awareness. Every creature is a feeling entity, aware of its being a self and of influences from outside, and experiencing -- surely in the animal and human kingdoms -- feelings of happiness or unhappiness. Our plants too have awareness, and even minerals do. So teach the Jains of India and Native Americans; and anyone, including the modern biologist, who opens his heart to his younger brothers will know the same.

Furthermore, every living being is endowed with mind -- not necessarily a self-conscious reflective mind such as we humans have, but a faculty to receive impressions and rework them, through recognition by its inner soul, into experiences that forever remain part of its being. Thus a soul evolves, and thus all that we as humans are -- including our body, longings, mind, and intuition of the spiritual and divine -- has been brought forth from within. In this way, every being unfolds and expresses its innate faculties.

At the same time the individual -- take the ant as an example -- is part of a larger awareness, in this case that of the ant community to which it belongs. Probably no individual ant has ever been intelligent enough to oversee the technical and social organization of the whole ant community. Still there must be a greater intelligence, which builds on the joint experience of all the ants throughout the ages, to make such structure possible. Unknowingly, every individual is part of that greater awareness.

Biologists, and indeed all of us, might well ask: what is the specific realm of experience, the specific awareness of their subjects of study? Becoming sensitive to the quality, intensity, and joy of the lives they wish to understand will make them aware -- not only theoretically but actually -- of the brotherhood of all beings. This will not only increase their understanding of why things are as they are, it will also provide them with a fundamentally different approach from that of Darwinism. The foundations of 19th and 20th century evolutionary thinking were materialism and selfishness, physical competition, everyone for his own benefit without consideration for the well-being of others. But the evolutionists of recent decades have great difficulty in explaining the complexities of cooperation, coevolution, holism in the sense of the Gaia theory, the reason for beauty in sound, color, and form, and the endless variety of expressions. If we take consciousness as the basic force in nature, by analogy we can better understand ourselves; and by seeing and studying the multiplicity of features, expressions, and creativity of our own consciousness, we can find the key to a real understanding of nature's ecology. We live in an age in which a more spiritual non-Western approach is becoming part of world culture. There is no justification for a materialistic and selfish explanation of nature's processes; and many are ready to accept consciousness, with compassion as its highest quality, as the omnipresent force behind nature's manifestations. Is there any thought which can give more peace of heart?

Closely connected with the omnipresence of consciousness is the omnipresence of mind. Mind is not a product of the human or animal brain cells, but a faculty inherent in every living being. Indeed, many thought systems state that mind existed before there were bodies. Before there was any human, animal, or other entity, there was cosmic mind -- mahat in Sanskrit. In other cultures we find a creative god or hosts of intelligent creative beings before the forms of nature came into existence. If we look around us, we see that creative processes are continuously taking place, because evolution is always developing more sophisticated expressions. The organizational structure of an ant hill cannot be derived from the individual reasoning minds of the ants themselves. Sophistication in adaptation has even been found in the growth pattern of bacteria, and there are indications that intelligent solutions can be recorded and transmitted genetically. I expect a breakthrough in scientific thinking towards the acceptance of mind as the guiding principle in ecology: an ecology of mind rather than of matter.

Mind works with thoughts. Thoughts can, from one perspective, be regarded as entities which cooperate and interact. No being on earth consists of matter alone. All are composite: they have awareness, sense faculties, desire, at least potential intelligence, and all partake unconsciously -- or consciously -- in the higher spiritual aspects of nature, such as beauty, compassion, and wisdom. In humans, very responsible partakers of the earth's ecosystem, mind is the most prominent aspect in which the ego is centered. The evolution of mind is the most fundamental feature of the human kingdom, and it is hoped that human mind will become more enlightened, more united with beauty, compassion, and wisdom. It is the human mind that makes cultures. In its finest sense, this means beautiful flowers of art, philosophy, material provisions, and a psychology that brings about social and individual happiness and a helpful attitude for all beings; and, regrettably, in its shadow, comes the contrary.

We live in a most remarkable episode of history, where the thought heritage of many cultures is coming together. In serious bookshops we find the masterpieces of world thought and holy inspiration: from India, Tibet, China; American Indian, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, from ancient cultures such as the Egyptian, Greek, and Persian, besides modern theosophical literature. Deep wisdom has been written in these books, as far as wisdom can be written down, and there are many hints which can help the unbiased reader to evolve inner, higher intuitive faculties, which in turn help him understand much more than might at first appear from the dead letter of the books. These works can be fully understood if we have the keys, but the keys must be sought.

Material knowledge leads to accumulation of facts and imperfect transitory theories. Spiritual knowledge leads to wisdom. Wisdom leads to recognition of the inherent oneness and inseparability of all life, and therefore to recognition of the brotherhood of all being. Recognition of brotherhood evokes compassion, and compassion is the most beneficent power for the betterment and well-being of all nature. For this reason, it would be beneficial if the studies of ecology were extended to learning what non-Western cultures have to say about nature, life, and attitudes towards living beings. An ecology of mind -- the best mind of all cultures -- may accomplish much: on the shoulders of the rich heritage of mankind, a new great and spiritual culture is being born.

Many great teachers have stated that the higher powers of nature are compassionate and helpful. Many scriptures express directly or symbolically that there is a spiritual purpose to evolution: to reach the highest state of enlightened consciousness possible for each individual and for each type of life. Therefore, selfishness and competition cannot be the real driving forces of nature. Among human beings, however, they may be the forces that guide those who are plunged deepest in the illusionary belief in a separate self. It would be much nobler were we to regard all beings as partakers of universal cooperation and helpfulness. It then would become clear why there is beauty, intelligence, and joy in nature, as well as so much giving: for example, the plant kingdom as a whole works to provide the conditions of physical life for all. All beings provide the environment for all other beings, meet each other in their consciousnesses, learn from and are trained by one another. We might call this "interactive coevolution."

If we want to study the interaction of all living beings in nature, and give credit to what cultures throughout the millennia have taught, we should also give serious attention to the many invisible beings said to inhabit the earth, sky, and other worlds. To a Western educated person, such beings as described by Jains, Hindus, Greeks, Native Americans, Norse, and Christians, are usually regarded as superstitions or, at best, not as objects for serious consideration. But do not scientists also recognize invisible forces? Electricity, gravity, or television programs flying through the atmosphere are invisible, and our thoughts are invisible to ordinary people. No instrument has yet been invented to perceive thoughts; nevertheless, our brains perceive and process them all the time.

These points suggest ideas for philosophical research which could bring human beings closer to a peaceful unity with themselves and with nature. These include, first, a comparative and detailed study of ancient and modern systems of thought with regard to fundamental concepts of biology and other sciences, addressing such issues as: what life, and a living being, really are (which, in fact, should be the foremost question of biology); how living beings originated, and what is the purpose of their existence; what is the niche of individuals and groups within the wholeness of conscious nature; what role mind and intelligence play in different levels of organization in nature; what the specific place of mankind is in the evolution of the earth; and alternative systems of classification. We might also rethink what are, from a compassionate and spiritual point of view, the best actions mankind can undertake for the well-being of all creatures and nature, thus laying the basis for a more universal philosophical approach. From there, we could reevaluate our concepts of nature preservation, nature management, and research choices. All this would add to more just and peaceful relations among all beings.

Serious study of ecology along these lines would reveal that some of the invisible living beings are nature's forces, living forces, and that others -- on the other side of the scale -- are beings of higher evolution, intelligence, and wisdom than our own. Together they form the invisible hierarchies of nature, which are in continuous interaction with the physical, emotional, and mental processes within the visible world. Nature's forces are therefore never blind, but guided by intelligent agents of cause and effect. If we try to penetrate into the real meaning of these hierarchies, we may discover not only that ancient cultures have known for ages what we in the modern world are just beginning to understand, but also we may become aware that there is still much yet to discover. At the least it could bring us closer to seeing the grand picture of our universal ecosystem.

  • (From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Theosophical University Press.)

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