May 11, 2023 | Acharya Prashant
Questioner (Q): In an earlier conversation, you mentioned that climate change is an expression of the sickness of our very soul. I found that to be a pretty daunting and scary way of putting it. My question is, how should we bring this topic and the awareness of what is happening to the planet to the general public without causing unnecessary fear or panic?
Acharya Prashant (AP): You see, if you tell a person, “Let us heal the climate, let us make the world a better place,” you would probably be able to arouse only a little bit of interest. That’s been the experience so far. We have held all kinds of awareness campaigns in various countries through various agencies, so much has been written, spoken, but people do not seem to heed. Everybody is caught in his own world, in his personal problems. People have their own desires, ambitions, fears, and families to take care of and lives to live. That’s how it is unfolding.
So, what I am proposing is, don’t tell people to heal the climate; tell them to heal their conscience, their life, their mind. That’s something they would be far more interested in. And if they can take care of their lives, their minds, their thoughts, the climate will be automatically taken care of. You will not need to bother so much about the climate, because the climate change is nothing but a consequence of how we are on the inside.
So, let’s treat the inside, and let’s keep the climate agenda a little aside for a while. When I say aside for a while, I do not mean that we neglect it or make it secondary; what I am saying is, you bring out, first of all, the core cause, the fundamental cause behind the crisis. Secondly, you bring out that which is useful, that which will practically work. A fellow is emitting so much smoke and burning so much fossil fuel because he is not content within. Can we display this to him? Can we first of all understand that the entire ecosystem is actually constructed to feast on our sickness, our hollowness, and our vulnerabilities, and therefore one cannot rush to this system if one is feeling unwell inside? If you go to the system that feeds on your sickness, obviously it is not going to heal you, right? The system is not a doctor; the system is a predator. If you are not well, you do not go to a predator. That’s exactly the condition the predator has been hoping for. You don’t want to be seen in that condition, not by him at least.
So, that’s the kind of philosophical confusion that we have. We think of the predator as the doctor. And these things are very simple to understand, and they are very interesting because they concern our lives. When it comes to our lives, we become attentive, no? Look at the quantum of self-help literature inundating the markets. We want to be better, we want to read self-help books—even if they don’t help anybody ever, but still we want to read all that stuff. Somebody comes and tells you to apply this thing on your face and your skin will glow, and you will find a lot of people who do that treatment. We want to be better, just that. And if you want to be better, let’s help you be better. And an indirect consequence of the healing of mankind’s mind will be that the climate will get better.
We do a lot to destroy the climate. The climate does not just deteriorate on its own. The Earth’s atmosphere has acted almost like an infinite sink for millenia; nothing happened to it. It is very, very vast; the atmosphere extends for a radial distance that is larger than the radius of the Earth itself. So, you can think of the volume and the mass of the gases that are available to absorb whatever emissions are there. It’s just that the emissions have now grown to an extent that the atmosphere is proving to be inadequate as an infinite sink.
So, if we can reduce our productive madness a bit—when I say productive, what do I mean? We produce these gases because we want to be productive people. And that’s the philosophy that is taught to us—that your self-esteem, your self-respect, your self-image has to depend upon how much you produce, how much you earn, and then, how much you consume. That’s what you call as the good life.
Now, we have a life to live, and somebody has taught us what the good life is. And that’s about it; that closes it, that sums it up. If your fundamental definition of what is meant by the good life is distorted, then you have nothing to be hopeful about, because the very fundamental has gone bad. It’s like the foundation of a building being hollow and inadequate; there’s no hope left. And there is nobody who does not know within that life is not good, that we are suffering. Look at the incidence of mental health for example. Look at the number of people who are visiting psychiatrists and mental health institutions. There are so many other indices that will tell you of how bad a shape we are in internally.
So, people do know that they are not doing well, but they do not see an alternative. If we could show an alternative, it would sell and work. And I am not saying this just hypothetically; I have tried this out, and this is what I am implementing—actually, practically, on the ground, implementing every day, and I have results to see.
I don’t know, I might be mistaken, but I see this as the only hope, because people are very difficult to teach or change if their fundamental concerns are not addressed. We do not—for example, if you look at the travesty, even in the sincere climate change discourse, there is very little emphasis on our food choices, and how food is one of the principal reasons for climate change. Nobody wants to talk about it, because food is such an integral part of our life. If you want us to make cosmetic changes, probably we would agree, but nobody would want his core food habits to be challenged. It won’t succeed; it won’t succeed this way. It’s just not going to succeed.
If we are unwilling to talk even about the principal reason that leads to the climate crisis, do we genuinely hope to succeed in tackling this crisis? I don’t see any hope that way. But if we can demonstrate that it’s not about the climate, it’s about your life—and life not merely in the material sense; life not merely in the sense that if temperatures will rise, you will feel discomforted; life not in the sense that if temperatures will rise and you live in a coastal city, you may lose your home and your comforts. No, not in that sense. Life in the internal sense, life in the mental sense. The more you are agitated within, the more you are feverish within, that internal fever is showing up as an increase in external temperature. That external fever is a mirror of the internal fever. That’s what we need to show, and we need to hope that people will be interested in bringing down their internal fever at least.
Q: Please give some examples on how we could make even a small difference in our carbon footprint as a country or globally, assuming that we are not major consumers, such as yacht owners or millionaires, and don’t fly around in an airplane all day everyday. Can you give some specific examples of small things that we can do which will ultimately make a difference in the long run?
AP: I don’t know if it directly answers your question, but one example that comes to me is, if you go out and find people consuming—and you said that climate change is nothing but an imprint of our tendency to consume a lot. Consumption requires money, and we all have definite amounts of money, limited amounts of money. That money needs to be put to the best use possible.
So, can we raise this question? There are things, projects, causes, missions that are in desperate need of money. Why don’t you put your money there? If you put your money there, obviously you will have very little left to consume and just splurge here or there. That won’t happen then. A lot of this carbon is not really a very fundamental and important and indispensable kind of consumption; it involves a lot of squandering of money. You squander money when you do not know the purpose of your life. Is that not obvious?
So, how is it that someone is splurging money on something that is highly carbon intensive and not putting that money in a worthwhile project? That’s what needs to be asked. Well, you have this amount—why don’t you put it there? And when you put it there, you will find that your hopes from this invested amount of money have actually been realized. Even if we go out and waste money here and there, there’s a certain hope associated with this kind of wastage. The hope is that this spending will make us satisfied, no? So, I am just throwing money, thinking that this will give me satisfaction. Put it at the right place, and then see if it gives you the right kind of satisfaction. If you put it in the wrong place, you get a lot of carbon without getting any true satisfaction. Put it in the right place—you get satisfaction and very little carbon.
So, that’s one example. There could be several other examples. Now a more personal kind of example involving young people. Let’s say two young people, a man and a woman, they go out. And what is it they do when they go out, that tells us a lot about the quality of their relationship, right? Now, these two do not know—I am saying, hypothetically—who they are and how their relationship should be, but they are attracted to each other and they are just rushing in their car from place to place, spending money here, doing something there, flying from here to there, emitting carbon. If they could have a real relationship—by which I mean that if they could be real persons first of all, only then can they have a real relationship—then they will have both real love and very little carbon, because when the relationship is love-deficient, then it needs to be carbon intensive, right? You require huge hotels, you require all kinds of orchestrations and ornamentations, you are required to move from place to place, you are required to own a lot of things.
All around you will have people who are in relationships, out of relationships, in between relationships. Can they be better individuals? Better individuals in relationships will have a smaller carbon imprint. Does that sound too fantastic? I do not know.
One could call him the best contemporary representative of Advait Vedanta. Or one could simply call him a teacher beyond any tradition. Equally, one can see an abundance of compassion, love and reverence in his being. But the most appropriate way to know him would be through his work. Know More