Deep Ecology, a current philosophical movement initiated by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in 1972, is shaping the environmental debate by asking fundamental questions about who we are and what human progress means rather than searching merely for technological fixes. In 2002, P S Ramakrishna, professor of ecology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, suggested that we represent J Krishnamurti as a Deep Ecologist. Professor Ramakrishna's chance observation helps construe Krishnamurti's writing about nature in the light of this debate.
Arne Naess described three alternate tenets that might underpin the term he had coined '...within deep ecology you have those who specialize on a spiritual level, saying you have to change the way you are mentally, others say no, all the problems in deep ecology are political more or less, you have to go into politics and the third one just utters ah, wonderful nature, wonderful nature, wonderful nature.'1
Since the term Deep Ecology has very broad usage and, as Arne Naess indicates, encompasses thinkers as different as Mohandas Gandhi, the Romantic poet Wordsworth of the Preludes ('..what we have loved, /Others will love, and we will teach them how'), Vedantic concepts of self-realization and population theories of Paul Ehrlich, what does it mean to describe Krishnamurti as a 'Deep Ecologist'?
The primary meaning of the phrase is fairly straightforward: 'The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent worth). These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes.'2 And in this primary sense Krishnamurti is certainly a Deep Ecologist because he believed in the intrinsic worth of living things.
At a deeper level, he believed that human nature held out the immediate and perennial possibility of restoring its relationship with nature. In the lost relation between modern humans and nature, Krishnamurti in fact saw the opportunity for the re-awakening of a 'great ethic' (the phrase is Arne Naess'). And that opportunity is summed up in a sentence that makes the right relationship with nature a seemingly simple act of stepping outside our psychological frameworks, dominated as these are by a pursuit of short-term goals, resulting in an exploited Earth losing its ability to support life systems:
An interval of time separates man from nature.3
The seemingly easy sentence holds out the promise of transforming psychological time, which arises from the great storehouse of personal memories, societal norms, and biological instincts that constitutes the human psyche. Krishnamurti sought to reconfigure moral discourse about nature by connecting the transformative power of perception to the inner life of the mind. 'To look - or to listen - is one of the most difficult things in life.'4 It is difficult because 'If your eyes are blinded with your worries, you cannot see the beauty of the sunset. [And so] most of us have lost touch with nature.'5 The single word 'worry' here does duty for all that constitutes a barrier between human beings and nature.
'Human beings are adapted by Darwinian natural selection, ' the well-known biologist E O Wilson contends, 'to short-term decisions and focus on local concerns.'6 Wilson recognises that science cannot solve the self-centred and exploitative way in which human beings engage with nature. But whereas Wilson invokes the atavistic instinct we share with the whole of life as the path to redemption: 'Every species, right down to nematode worms, has pretty elaborate behaviour that leads them to the right habitat at the right time. Shouldn't we find some residue of that instinct in human beings? . . . On some level, it is wired into us to be around nature. We should not let that instinct disappear, 7 Krishnamurti appeals to humanity's capacity for empathy and altruistic action. Even though the biological support for altruism is disputed, he believes that human beings, if rightly educated, are able transcend their conditioning.
Krishnamurti and nature
Throughout Krishnamurti's writing we find an ancient and sacramental sense of the Earth's beauty, her abundance and her mystery. To look at nature through philosophical explorations Krishnamurti's writing is to perceive natural phenomena - the extraordinary blue of the Mediterranean, the owl that hoots on the hill, the shadows of leaves and the patterns of clouds in their vital singularity.
Asit Chandmal relates how, sitting next to Krishnamurti in an aeroplane flying the polar route from London to Los Angeles, he came to photograph a lone glacier along the featureless, snowbound landscape. At a certain point in the course of the flight Krishnamurti remarked,
'In a few minutes, to your right, you will see an ice formation that casts a shadow like a cathedral.'
The hostess, overhearing the conversation, says, 'There are no landmarks or icebergs here.'
'Wait, ' Krishnamurti persisted, 'You will see.'8
The photograph of the iceberg with the cathedral shadow across a desolate snowscape appears in the Introduction to One Thousand Moons. The image is a testament to Krishnamurti's perceptual memory and to the acuity of his vision. And this acuity is a consequence of Krishnamurti's discovery of a holistic and integrated way of seeing; it lies at the base of his search for the long vision necessary to re-establish a right relationship between human beings and nature.
Krishnamurti's education in England had left him with an abiding love of nineteenth century Romantic poetry. Arne Naess was possibly caricaturing the romantic perspective on nature as 'ah, wonderful nature, wonderful nature, wonderful nature'. Krishnamurti's idea of nature, however, was not merely an awestruck appreciation of the natural world, nor was it the partial vision of someone longing for a return to pastoral beatitudes. Nostalgia is sustained generally by banishing the darker side of nature, by a reluctance to acknowledge cruelty, competition or the pain that is so much a part of life on Earth. But Krishnamurti observed the darker side of nature with an equally keen attention to detail:
The bloated carcass of some large animal came floating by, and several vultures were on it, screeching and tearing at the flesh. Others wanted their share, but they were driven off with huge, flapping wings, till those already on the body had had their fill. The crows, furiously cawing, tried to get in between the larger, clumsier birds, but they had no chance. Except for this noise and flutter around the dead body, the wide, curving river was peaceful.9
Nor was he trying to revive here a more ancient vision of nature inspired by Vedanta, according to which the individual per se is illusory and the individuality of each thing in nature reflects a higher reality. There is no sense in his writing that parrots and orioles are worthy of our attention because their presence is infused with a harmony and beauty that lie beyond the physical. On the contrary, harmony and beauty are, for him, part of an order inherent in nature:
Under the bushes two king snakes, with their dark brown rings around the length of their bodies, were curling around each other, and as they passed close by they were utterly unaware of a human presence. They had been on a shelf in the shed, stretched out, their dark, bright eyes watching and waiting for the mice. They stared without blinking for they had no eyelids. They must have been there during the night and now they were among the bushes. It was their ground and they were seen often, and on picking up one of them, it coiled around the arm and felt cold to touch. All those living things seemed to have their own order, their own discipline and their own play and gaiety.10
Setting apart the sensuous realm as lower, superseded by a higher transcendental one, turning away from the ugly towards the beautiful in nature - none of these attitudes mark Krishnamurti's thought. This non-divisive observation evident in his nature writing carried over to the human scene, where he observed the office clerk, the successful politician, the society lady in high heels and 'the elderly man, pious, and eager for sympathy and blessing', without contempt, with the same detached tenderness which he felt and expressed for all creatures of the Earth.
At an even deeper level, he observed without judgment the human mind, with its strange twists and turns - completely, simply, as if it were also 'a part of the Earth'. For him a non-divisive perception lay at the secret heart of transforming the relationship of a human being to him/herself, to society and to Nature.
Reconfiguring moral space
Krishnamurti sought to reappraise humanity's isolation from nature and, in the process, to break the divide. The word 'nature', for him, included the non-manmade world as we perceive it through our senses, the oceans, mountains, rivers and vast plains in which life evolved, but also inner natures, the wildness that lies dormant or active in each human: competitiveness, fear, anger and greed. He attributes our 'second expulsion from Eden' (a phrase used by James Lovelock to describe the catastrophic changes brought on by climate change) to the inept gardener in us who seeks to tame the wilderness within. Take jealousy or greed, qualities that are at the root of exploitation, for instance:
If you nip it [jealousy], it will never flower, it will die quickly. If you let it blossom, then it shows you the colour, the delicacy, the pollen, everything. It shows what it actually is without your being told it is red, it is blue, it has pollen. It is there for you to look at. In the same way, if you allow jealousy to flower, then it shows you everything it actually is. . .11
The weeds that the gardener removes, the bushes he shapes and the flowering buds he nips impose a certain order, but the artificial garden lacks diversity: it is static, held within a pattern. Meanwhile, the gardener remains trapped in his predetermined idea of an ideal garden he has created with the help of toxic materials, in disregard of the Earth and the life forms on it.
Krishnamurti identifies 'the interval of time' that divides individual human beings from nature with the ideal self-image embedded in the human psyche. He uses the word 'ideal' phenomenologically, through careful reference to the workings of the mind. When, in observing violence in ourselves, we project the ideal of non-violence in the form of a prescription or a long-range goal, we move away from the fact of our own violence. In projecting the ideal, we partition ourselves into what we are and what we aspire to become, inevitably turning attention away from what we actually are, towards the more agreeable image of higher aspirations. Instead, if we are able to look at the negative impulses without that interval of time, i.e. without projecting an ideal image of the future self, we end the division between our own nature and what ought to be.
Krishnamurti is asking us to do something very significant, and that is to observe the meddling gardener, the observer who converts the wilderness into discrete objects, and, standing apart as subject, manipulates the landscape. He implies that when the mind silently, without division, observes itself and the world, it is in communion with nature. This non-divisive attention is the true source of compassion, and also the source of a feeling of responsibility towards all living things. A mind that is free of psychological time is part of nature; it is
. . . like a flower full of scent which doesn't share, but is always there for any passer-by to delight in. And whether anyone is very near in the garden, or very far away, it is all the same to the flower, because it is full of that perfume and, so, it is sharing with everything. If one could come upon this, it is really a mysterious flower.12
His teachings in this way hold an extraordinary sense of human possibility. 'A lovely rose is a lovely rose, ' he wrote, 'but we human beings have been given the capacity to think, and we think wrongly.'13
1 “Human Rights - Nature's Rights”. Radio talk given on Australian Broadcasting Corporation http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/relrpt/trr9743.html
2 George Sessions, ed. Deep Ecology for the 21st Century, Readings on the Philosophy and Practice of the New Environmentalism (Boston and London, Shambhala, 1995)
3 J Krishnamurti, The Awakening of Intelligence (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd 1973) 196—197
4 J Krishnamurti, On Nature and the Environment, London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1992) 33—34
6 Wilson Edward O. 'Only Humans Can Halt the Worst Wave of Extinction Since the Dinosaurs Died'. “http://raysweb.net/specialplaces/pages/wilson.html”
8 Asit Chandmal, One Thousand Moons: Krishnamurti at Eighty Five (New York: Harry Abrams, 1985) 18
9 D Rajagopal, ed. Commentaries On Living — III, ed. (Krishnamurti Foundation India Reprint, 2004) 152
10 Krishnamurti's Journal. Rome, 29 October 1973 (Krishnamurti Foundation India Reprint, 2003) 132
11 Krishnamurti on Education (Krishnamurti Foundation India Reprint, 1998) 149
12 J Krishnamurti, The Awakening of Intelligence (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1973) 196—97.
13 J Krishnamurti, This Matter of Culture (Krishnamurti Foundation Reprint, 1969) 67