At 9 years of age, Satish Kumar left his home in rural India and joined a wandering brotherhood of Jain monks until an inner voice guided him to a walking ashram based on Gandhi's teachings. Later, he undertook an 8,000-mile peace pilgrimage, walking from India to America without money, through deserts, mountains, storms, and floods. He now lives in England, where he edits Resurgence magazine and serves as program director of Schumacher College. His spiritual autobiography, "Path Without Destination," has just been released in paperback.
BG: How is your message about the sacredness and interconnectedness of life faring in this fast-paced, global, high-tech world?
The first answer is positive and optimistic. There is tremendous awareness of environmental issues. Many people are downshifting and embracing voluntary simplicity. On the other hand, multinational companies are a dominant force. These companies look at the world as if it's nothing but a market for their goods. There's no respect for cultures, no respect for diversity, no respect for local distinction or spiritual values.
BG: What can be done to counteract this trend?
We have to create a new synthesis where the environmental movement, the spiritual movement, and the social movement come together. We need to create a new trinity--soil, soul, and society. Soil represents the natural world. Unless we take care of the earth, we cannot take care of society. We also need to take care of the soul. Unless we're able to seek fulfillment and joy, we won't find peace--no matter how much money we accumulate. And then there's social justice, which includes concern for the old, the sick, the poor, and people of different races.
BG: Is this what you're focusing on right now?
Yes. Some people say that if you just take care of the soul and personal development, everything will fall into place. Others say the same thing about society or the natural world. But I think all three dimensions--soil, soul, and society--must go hand in hand.
BG: How can people who live in densely crowded urban areas embrace the things you're talking about? We can't necessarily connect with the soil or practice sustainable economics.
First of all, people in urban areas have to decide that they're going to reduce their work hours. These days, with e-mail and cell phones, some people never stop. They should opt for a three-day weekend--three days of Sabbath when they do no business. They should also think about reducing their work hours during the day. Instead of starting at 8 in the morning, start at 9 or 10 and finish by 5 or 6 in the evening--even if it means reducing your income. The hours should be as valuable as the dollars.
BG: You'd think that because more people work at home, it would slow things down, but it seems to be having the opposite effect. Now people can work all the time.
People have to be religious about not doing any work related to earning money after 5 or 6 o'clock, then spending the evening with friends, partners, children, parents. And take time for themselves--to read, meditate, paint, play music, garden.
BG: That's hard to do in this 24/7 world.
We have to create a new reverence for ourselves as well as a sense of the sacred. Life has become desacralized. There's no place for enchantment.
BG: Any other tactics for people who live in large urban areas?
Use your hands and your heart as much as you use your head. Human beings are made of all three, no matter where they live. At the moment, our heads dominate our lives. We're not using our hands enough.
BG: How do you counteract the pressures of editing a magazine and running a college?
I do a lot of walking. Walking has been my lifelong passion. Whenever I can, I walk in the woods and by the sea. I also garden. I grow some of my own food. I feel indebted to nature, so I'm filled with gratitude and that replenishes me. Friendship is also a great source of nourishment.
BG: You've said Gandhi has been your most profound influence. How do you think he would have dealt with this crazy, complicated world?
SK:He would have been a great campaigner against the forces of globalization. He would have started practical and positive projects, as he did at the time of British imperialism in India, and set a positive example of good living.
BG: Do you think he would have been on the Internet? Would we be able to dial up gandhi.com?
(Laughter.) No, no, no. Seriously, Gandhi felt that it was OK if you used the material world as a means to spiritual fulfillment. He believed you could live a very good life by having only a few--but beautiful--things. He would have said that anything you have--or make--should be beautiful first, useful second, and durable third. Gandhi used to say there is enough in the world for everybody's need but not enough for anybody's greed. In our world, we confuse need with greed.
BG: You've gone on many pilgrimages and once walked 8,000 miles for world peace. Any future pilgrimages planned?
SK:At the moment, no. I did this wonderfully uplifting pilgrimage to Mt. Kailas in Tibet, which was an ultimate pilgrimage for me. I'm a pilgrim of life, so from that point of view, I'm on a pilgrimage every day. Once one lives as a pilgrim, one lives lightly on the earth, with both detachment and engagement. It's all a pilgrimage.