Satish Kumar, Earth Pilgrim talks about life, Dartmoor and Devon's Hartland Peninsula
PUBLISHED: 16:58 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:42 06 September 2013
Recently featured in the BBC's 'Natural World' series, where he gave his personal responses to the life and landscapes of Dartmoor, peace pilgrim Satish Kumar talks about his world view, and why he wishes to end his days in the Hartland area.
It says something for the Hartland peninsula when Satish Kumar, a former Jain monk from India, whose principles personify peace, love, consideration for all things and living in harmony with nature, chooses to make Hartland his home and, over all places he has seen in his global pilgrimages, wishes to end his days here. But why would he not?
"What attracts me about Hartland," Satish Kumar told me in his rustically appointed office in an old farmhouse at Hartland, "is that it has a kind of rugged beauty which is not manicured or contrived. It is not organised by humans as much as in other places. It has a more generally natural untamed kind of robustness. The people live their lives here very much more in keeping with the principles with which I was brought up. They live a more frugal and simple life here. People are closer to the land. They work here much more with their hands. There are more craftsmen and artists here. Life is more tranquil and less disturbed, with fewer consumerist distractions, as compared to big cities."
Satish became a monk in 1945 when he was only nine years old, but chose to give up his orders nine years later when he became inspired by the teachings of Gandhi, who preached that everything in life had to be based in spirituality, and that such a philosophy could apply to everyone, not just those in monastic orders.
"If you do everything with attention, mindfulness, love and total commitment, then it can become a work of art - and what is a work of art is also a work of spirit," Satish explained, "and that is very much what happens here in Hartland."
For the past 35 years, Satish has been editor of Resurgence, a magazine started by the economist EF Schumacher whose view of economics was much closer to the Buddhist/Jain philosophy than anything before. Small Is Beautiful, the book that resulted from Schumacher's world view, is something that captured the attention of certain thinking sections of the public; they could see the value of living life by an alternative set of rules rather than those with which the Western world had become accustomed.
I must admit I had never really given the words much consideration until Satish pointed out the relationship, but 'economy' and 'ecology', two disparately viewed terms in today's society, come from the same Greek root, meaning 'home'. The respective suffixes relate to 'management' and 'knowledge' and, as Satish sagely pointed out, you cannot really view the two terms in isolation. You can't manage without understanding what it is you are managing, and to give undue attention to one aspect to the detriment of the other is to court disaster. When that neglect reaches global proportions, as the mismanagement of the world's' 'ecology' in the interests of 'economy' (or greed, put more simply), then it is time to take stock of the situation and view just where mankind is heading. That was the sole reason that Resurgence came into being, and it has been published from Hartland ever since Satish decided to put into practice what the magazine had been preaching for years and move to a more responsible part of the country than the heart of the publishing industry in London.
Living with the world and not at the expense of the world is the theme of a TV programme recently shown on BBC2, Earth Pilgrim, where Satish presented Dartmoor throughout the seasons showing, as he says "the beauty of nature, but also the economy, generosity and intentions of nature, and how we need to be pilgrims and learn from nature instead of trying to dictate to or dominate it to our whims. When you learn from nature you learn ecological humility, and gain a respect and reverence for nature."
That is not a concept with which many people would disagree, but how to get it across to the politicians is quite another matter. Bringing public opinion to bear is the only solution, and that stems from educating more people in the principles of world management that common sense dictates should be the case.
It goes without saying that Satish Kumar is also at the forefront of that. He is programme director of the Schumacher College at Dartington Hall, near Totnes, and under the auspices of Resurgence, which is a charitable trust as well as an ecological pressure group, has set up the Small School in Hartland, an independent school for local children dedicated to bringing them up to hold fast to the values that the magazine promulgates.
The children learn practical skills as well as the more usual academic subjects, and go on to 6th form college and university afterwards taking with them the humanitarian values that Resurgence teaches. What sets them apart from other schoolchildren, however, is that they all learn to cook: the kitchen is used as a classroom and they even have a professional catering arm that can, and has, catered for 600 delegates at a conference, helping raise funds to keep the school going. They also hold special 'dinner party' evenings, which are well supported by local people.
From small beginnings, big things can grow and the world's leaders might well look to Hartland and places like it for guidance on how to direct world affairs. Hartland knows its neighbours. Community is all. Spirituality (as opposed to religion) is the very essence of how the place operates. Small is beautiful. Schumacher was right... and Satish Kumar continues to spread his message.