Satish Kumar is a peace activist, former monk, author and Editor Emeritus at The Resurgence Trust. Satish has inspired much of the wellbeing programme at Great Feast and in this very special interview with our wellbeing partner Saiki, Satish shares his greatest adventures, inspirations and how we can build better connections with the Earth.  

You have been a peace activist for many years! What inspires you?

My source of inspiration is nature. Majestic mountains, fabulous forests, beautiful birds, vast oceans and daunting deserts are all sources of inspiration for me. I love the diversity of nature. At the time of Big Bang there was nothing. The process of evolution over billions of years has created this magical diversity; diversity of colours, smells, tastes and forms. We can call it biodiversity. And amazingly this diversity exists in total harmony.

Not only for me but for most people nature is the greatest source of inspiration. Much of poetry, paintings, music and architecture has been inspired by nature. Van Gough was inspired by the serenity of sunflowers. Cézanne by the majestic Mont Sainte-Victoire and Wordsworth by the delightful daffodils! The Buddha was inspired by the Earth herself. He said that he learned the lesson of compassion from the Earth!

I also am inspired by people. But people are nature too. There is no separation between people and nature. People are also made of the same five elements as anything else. All living creatures, humans and other than humans are made of earth, air, fire, water and consciousness. Yes, everything in nature is conscious. William Blake said, “nature is imagination itself”. In my understanding consciousness, imagination and intelligence are qualities of life.

What has been your most memorable life experience so far?

My most memorable experience has been my long walk to Washington. I walked from New Delhi in India to Moscow, Paris, London and Washington. I walked through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Russia, Belorussia, Poland, Germany, France, England and America. Of course I had to go by ship from England to America but otherwise I walked 8,000 miles on my two feet. It took me two and a half years to do it. More interestingly, I did this great journey without any money in my pockets! I totally relied on the goodwill and hospitality of ordinary people. I did this journey with a friend.

There was a purpose behind this journey. It was a pilgrimage for peace. I walked to the four nuclear capitals of the world, urging the leaders of those nuclear countries to declare unilateral nuclear disarmament and spend their resources on the wellbeing of people rather than on useless weapons of mass destruction!

While I was walking in Georgia, near the Black Sea, I was invited to visit a tea factory. There was one woman, who worked in that factory. After listening to my story she became deeply engaged in my peace mission. She came up with a brilliant idea. She said, “ I want to give you four packets of ‘peace tea’. This tea is not for you. This tea is for the heads of four nuclear countries. Please give one packet of ‘peace tea’ to the Soviet leader in the Kremlin, the second packet to the President of France in Élysée Palace, the third packet to the Prime minister of the UK in 10 Downing Street and the fourth packet to the President of the USA in the White House”. I was totally amazed to hear this. Then after a short pose and a deep thought she continued, “ when you give them this ‘peace tea’ please also give them a message from me! My message to them is, ‘If you ever get a mad thought of pressing the nuclear button, please stop for a moment and have a fresh cup of this Georgian ‘peace tea’. That will give you a moment to think and reflect that the nuclear weapons will not only kill your enemies, they will also kill noncombatant men, women, children, animals, forests, lakes and the soil itself. Therefore please do not press the nuclear button under any circumstances.”

I was mesmerised by the extraordinary imagination of this seemingly ordinary woman, working in a small tea factory packing tea! I carried these packets of ‘peace tea’ and actually delivered them in the Kremlin, Élysée Palace, 10 Downing Street and the White House!

You write about being a microcosm of the macrocosm. Can you explain what this means and how can we use this to nurture our relationship with our Self and the Earth?

As William Blake said, you can see the universe in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour.

We, each and everyone of us, exist because of the sun, soil and sea! If there is no sunlight and warmth we can not be. Life is sustained by the sun. The water we drink rises from the sea into the clouds and is delivered to every home and every field, every lake and every reservoir. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the material we use to build our homes come from the soil. If we have this awareness of our interconnectedness and interdependence then naturally we will take care of our precious planet Earth. And if we are aware that all human beings are the embodiment of the universal consciousness then we will also be able to take care of the Self. We need to realise that we are our body but we are also the human spirit. And the human spirit is universal. This is what I mean when I say that we are microcosm of macrocosm!

There has been a collective feeling of fear, anxiety or even exhaustion this year - whether about climate change, the pandemic or the global civil unrest. Could you offer some words of strength and support?

It is often the case that ecological and social activists can get anxious, exhausted or even suffer from burn out. This is due to our attachment with the outcomes. We seek success and when we don't get success we are disappointed. Many activists have fear of failure. I would like to offer them a very humble piece of advice. First of all do not fear failure. Often failure is a springboard for success. We need to learn from our failures. In truth there is no such thing as failure! Every action in itself is a success. Every action is its own reward. Every action has its own intrinsic value. Activism is a journey, not a destination. Our activism should be inspired by love of nature, love of people and love for future generations and not by the fear of doom, or gloom or disaster. The outcome is not in our hands, only thing we have in our hands is action. Therefore let our activism be the acts of love, then there will be less chance of fear, anxiety and exhaustion.

What is your greatest dream?

I have a dream! My dream is that one day the whole of humanity will learn to celebrate diversity and stop turning diversity into divisions. It is wonderful to have many religions, many nationalities, many political philosophies, and many races. It will be boring to have only one religion, or one culture for seven billion people, it is wonderful to have many ways of living and many ways of seeing the truth. I do not want uniformity or mono culture.  

I dream of unity in diversity and diversity in unity. We are one humanity, sharing our one planet home. We are members of one Earth community.

Do you have a favourite ritual?

Yes, every morning my wife June and I spend one hour together reading poetry. We have been together for the past 50 years. During this time we have read countless books together. We read to each other. We have read Rumi, William Blake and at the moment we are reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets. This daily ritual is the best way of keeping us in the beautiful bonding. Reading poetry to your beloved is one of the best rituals there is. I always feel refreshed and invigorated before, during and after such readings. Of course, we also go for an hour’s walk by the sea and we garden together as well. But the morning reading underpins the day’s activities.

Where can we follow you and your work?

I am associated with two organisations; Schumacher College and Resurgence Trust.

Schumacher college is located at Dartington, near Totnes in South Devon. Here we run regular courses in ecology, spirituality and holistic living. We offer education of the head, the heart and the hands. Further information can be found on www.schumachercollege.org.uk 

Resurgence Trust is located in the village of Hartland, North Devon. We publish Resurgence & Ecologist. This magazine has been in publication for the past 54 years. In addition we have the Ecologist website which provides daily updates on ecological news and offers comments and opinions. We also run an annual Festival of wellbeing and other educational events. For more information please visit www.resurgence.org