Sustainable Development

I attended a workshop on “Understanding Dharmic Roots and Worldview of Sustainable Development” on 24th January 2012.

Here is an outline based on the workshop. There were so many topics and action items discussed in the workshop. What is given here only a small part of the discussions.

The current definition and model of development is not sustainable. For example, there are about 450 cars per 1000 people in USA, 10 in India and 27 in China. If the number of cars is considered as an indication of development, if both India and China develop as much as USA, there would not be place for cars in the entire world. But we cannot force one part of the world to be developed and keep another part of the world as undeveloped. The goal of humanity should be to ensure uniform development through out the world and among all people in every region. For development to be sustainable, “development” itself has to be redefined.

The Western model of development, that is being adopted and pushed to the entire world as a universal concept, is based on consumption and rights. Development is measured based on external possessions and based on the energy consumption. Civilization is measured based on the rights enjoyed by the people. This model is neither universal or is it sustainable.

There have been successfull civilizations that continued for thousands of years based on an alternate model – the Dharmic model. For example, the Indus-Saraswati civilization covered an area of half of Europe and existed for more than two thousand years. It did not damage the environment and that is why we exist today. By the way the current development is proceeding, we cannot say the same thing about future societies.

The Western Model

The Western model is based on the assumption that the world is meant for exploitation for the betterment of human beings. Even the causes for environment and preservation of endangered species is ultimately from a point of view of sustainable human utility. The entire model is based on efficient and increased consumption. Only in the past 50 years there have beentalks about sustainability. So the model has become based on efficient, increased and sustainable consumption.

The Dharmic Model

The Dharmic model is based on symbiosis and duties.

Success in personal life is defined by internal maturity towards a state of emotional independence. The more a person can be happy without depending on external people, objects and situations, the more the person is considered as developed. A society that gives this awareness and a conducive environment for its realization is considered as a developed society. For example, the ashrama system gives simplicity as the means of life for three of the four stages of life. Only a grihasta is an active consumer and creator of wealth. The brahmachri, vaanaprasti and sannyaasi are prescribed a life style of minimum consumption. This automatically reduces the burden on the resources of the earth. According to the varna system, it is not wrong for a person to lead a simple life. The glory of the brahmana is in his simplicity of life. A person who follows a lifestyle of simple living and high thinking is considered as the best person. Only the vaishya and kshatriya are allowed to consume more wealth. They are considered as lower to the brahmana, who bets his life on knowledge and not possessions.

An advanced civilization is where each person does his duties even under demanding situations, without worrying too much about rights. The rights of one person becomes the duties of another. Forming a society where each person is more interested in demanding his rights will create only tension, whereas forming a society where each person is more interested in doing his duties will create a beautiful peaceful society.

Earth is treated as a living Mother. There is a symbiotic relationship of honor and respect towards the resources of the earth. Ancient Indian systems of water management, agriculture, metallurgy, etc have been much more eco-friendly and sustainable than the modern methods imported from the West.

Need of the Time

To ensure that humanity can peacefully and prosperously step into the future, it is important to study and revive the ancient Dharmic models of development and civilization. These are models that have proven themselves for thousands of years. There is a need of the time to study these and discuss them at an international level. The future of the human race depends on this.

The workshop has contributors from different walks of life. Swami Harshananda, Adhyaksha, Ramakrishna Math, Basavanagudi, Bangalore, gave the benedictory address. Rajiv Malhotra gave the keynote address and actively participated in the entire workshop. There was a retired IAS officer, retired World Bank executive, professor of Sanskrit, professor of History, several social workers from different NGOs, etc. Dr.T.S.Mohan was the convener.


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2 Responses to Sustainable Development

  1. Durga says:

    Hmm … how is this true:

    “The Western model of development, that is being adopted and pushed to the entire world as a universal concept, is based on consumption and rights”

    If Dharmic model has lost, its not Western model’s fault. It is Dharmic model’s inability to sustain itself and teach its virtues to public at large.

    Finding an external cause for one’s failure is not a solution. Is anyone forcing Indians to eat lays chips over homemade papads or healthy sprouts? Still people prefer lays chips. It is not the shop’s fault or the factory’s fault, its the system’s inability to keep folks focussed on their health and eating habits.

  2. gokulmuthu says:

    The fault of the Western model is not because of the unpopularity of the Dharmic model. The fault of the Western model is that it is not sustainable and it gives rise to strain in relationships between people and between countries. Whether there is an alternative model or not, you cannot deny the problems with the Western model.

    Now, why the Dharmic model lost its foothold, is a good question. The Dharmic model is based on two precepts:
    1. Faith in the power of goodness.
    2. World (including people, animals, birds, ecosystems, geological phenomenon, etc.) as one interdependent family.
    Both of these are at a huge scale, which cannot be usually seen by a person with his natural limitations of perception of space and time. Our vision is limited. That too is colored by self-interest. We want perceptible results and proofs soon and understandable by our limited intellect in a way that is comfortable to us. Our arrogance and self-interest refuses to accept the possibility of a grand harmony in Nature, which is too complex for us to comprehend. It is only recently, when science has advanced enough to give humanity a global perspective, that we are starting to accept the second precept. Still majority of the scientists and policy makers are not willing to accept the first precept.

    So, to answer the question, why Dharma became unpopular? Shortsightedness, arrogance, self-interest, etc. I do not blame only the West. It is the shortsightedness, arrogance and self-interest of the leaders in countries like India and China that have lost their foothold in the natural intercourse of cultures. That has allowed the Western consumerism to dominate the world.

    People prefer lays chips to healthy sprouts. Given the chance, people will just be happy to lead an animal life with “eat, drink and make merry”. So likes and dislikes do not justify anything. Having likes and dislikes to guide humanity would be to reverse the evolution and make brutes of men. It is only being guided by “do’s and don’ts” instead of “likes and dislikes” that separates humans from animals.

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