Saturday, 18 September 2010

Satish Kumar, Editor, Resurgence - Take Refuge in Arts, Crafts & Design

Satish Kumar visited the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design on 9th June 2010. 

I first heard of Satish Kumar as Sue Lawley’s guest on ‘Desert Island Discs’ in 2005.  His interview made a great impression on me, especially his 1962 Peace Pilgrimage - a walk of over 8,000 miles to the four nuclear capitals of the world at that time - London, Paris, Moscow and Washington.  Beginning in Bangalore Vinoba Bhave presented Satish and his companion with the ‘gifts’ of carrying no money and being vegetarians. 

He tells the story of meeting a lady in a tea factory in Sochi, Georgia on the Black Sea. Whilst showing them around she interrupted their conversation saying she had to go and get something.  She returned to them presenting them with four tea bags.  When Satish asked what they were for she replied, ‘hand one to each of the world’s nuclear leaders and say to them,before you consider pushing the button would you first  sit down and have a ‘nice cup of tea’’.

Satish Kumar, Earth Pilgrim, philospopher and author (1)

Some of the key thoughts from his lecture, ‘Aspects of Design’, are captured here. He spoke without notes or accompanying slides with great sincerity, reaching out to and touching many of those attending.

Arts, Crafts and Designing a Sustainable Future

There is refuge to be gained in the arts, crafts and design.  Our world has become ‘artless’ and every person has the potential within them to be a special kind of artist. We all have the capacity to imagine and be creative. True wealth lies in our creativity and our appreciation of the natural environment. 

“Bankers are not creators of wealth; they are ‘wealth destroyers’.  By expanding our creativity we can begin to see everything within ourselves.  Through Art & Design we can discover who we are.

Joseph Beuys, artist, sculptor and the founder of the Green Party in Germany said that earning money has made us all consumers.  We need to shift from being consumers to makers, for example, making a beautiful home and furniture. 

“A ‘sustainable future’ should be based in human well-being. Everyone is talking about debt at the moment, but we are coming into a good time. We have been wasting natural resources like there is no tomorrow.

“We need to live a frugal and caring lifestyle in the spirit of compassion and simplicity where we can live as creators and makers.  In nature there is no waste.  What sort of design have we created that is messing up our planet.

Satish Kumar, Editor
Resurgence Magazine(2)

“The word ‘ecology’ is rooted in the Greek ‘
ΟΙΚΟΣ’ for home and ‘lō`gŏs’ for ‘knowledge’.  The word ‘economy’ has the same Greek root behind ‘eco’ for home, coupled with the Greek word ‘Gnosis’ meaning ‘management’ or ‘understanding’.  I asked the LSE when I spoke there why they were only half educating their graduates, as we have clearly not understood sufficiently how to manage our ‘home’.

“Home is a place of relationships. All species are related.  One exists only in relationship to others.  We have developed a form of ‘Species-ism’.  The word ‘nature’ comes from the Latin word ‘natura’ meaning ‘to be born’.  What we do to nature we do to ourselves.

“Our challenge now is to Design a Sustainable Future.

“We have to re-design the world.  The Industrial system – economic, cultural, architectural – has been copied everywhere and this design is failing our well-being.

Victor Papanek in his work ‘Design for the Real World’ said ‘we are all designers, all artists, designing our life’.  A philosopher of design he was a strong advocate of socially and ecologically responsible products and communities. He said that much recent design has satisfied only fleeting wants and desires, while the genuine needs of man have often been neglected by the designer.

“While the developed world continues to measure GDP, Gross Domestic Product, there is one small country, Bhutan, which is measuring the Gross National Happiness.  It is the ‘Dancing Economy’ where economic activity is for pleasure, for joy and delight.  We have focussed too much on ‘having’, too much on ‘growth’.

'Follow your heart'(2)
Satish Kumar urged students to design and create their own work, work that would give them satisfaction and pleasure. “Don’t aim for work that simply pays you greater salaries.  Don’t feel you have to chase other people’s goals but find your own interests and follow them. 

Educating for a Sustainable Future
“We  started the ‘Small School’ in 1982 when my own child was leaving primary school and there was no secondary school in our village so with other parents we started a school so our children could walk there and wouldn’t have to get a bus to school.  The school doesn’t just focus on ‘academic knowledge’ but on our values, experiences, ethics and wisdom: E=H4 or Education = Head, Heart, Hands, Homes.  ‘Make your Home a good place to Live’.  50% of our time is spent on academic learning and 50% on living skills.

“At Schumacher College we do much the same thing only for adults with courses including cooking, cleaning, washing up, gardening and other studies.

“Our human population is too big already.  We need to create a new consciousness where we are willing to have fewer numbers, only using natural resources to meet our vital needs. It is not a question of allocating resources but of our deciding for ourselves.

“Our consumer culture has come from the Western world and now returns are diminishing. Now we need to set a good example – of an elegant way of life so you don’t have to make our mistakes. 

“Spirituality, philosophy, music and dance matter more than the mono-dimensional culture of the West.  Creativity comes in relationships. Our broader education system has focussed on an individualistic and self-centred approach.

“Relationships are the key.  I would like to see every student going out into the community, into nature and experiencing nature and writing about it.  Nature is the greatest teacher and all the books in the world cannot replace the exquisite, intricate mystery of nature.

"If you want to spread the message you need to become an activist, not sit in an armchair. You have to be the change you want to see in the world."

Beverley Nielsen
September 18th 2010
Profile Satish Kumar: Born in 1936 in Rajasthan, India, when he was only nine years old, Satish Kumar renounced the world, leaving the care of his mother to join the wandering brotherhood of Jain monks.
Dissuaded from his path by an inner voice at the age of eighteen, he left the monastic order and became a campaigner for land reform, working to turn Gandhi’s vision of renewed India and a peaceful world into reality.
Fired by the example of Bertrand Russell, he undertook an 8,000 mile peace pilgrimage, walking from India to America without any money, through deserts, mountains, storms and snow. It was an adventure during which he was thrown into jail in France, faced a loaded gun in America – and delivered packets of ‘peace tea’ to the leaders of the four nuclear powers.
In 1973, he settled in England, taking on the editorship of Resurgence magazine.   He has been the editor ever since  for over 30 years. He is the guiding spirit behind a number of ecological, spiritual and educational ventures in Britain. He founded the Small School in Hartland, a pioneering secondary school (aged 11-16), which brings into its curriculum ecological and spiritual values. In 1991, Schumacher College, a residential international center for the study of ecological and spiritual values, was founded and where he is a Visiting Fellow.
Following Indian tradition, in his fiftieth year, he undertook another pilgrimage: again carrying no money, he walked 2,000 miles to the holy places of Britain — Glastonbury, Canterbury, Lindisfarne and Iona. Meeting old friends and making new ones along the way, this pilgrimage was a celebration of his love of life and nature.
In July 2000, Satish Kumar was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Education from the University of Plymouth. In July 2001 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Literature from the University of Lancaster.
In November 2001, Satish Kumar was presented with the Jamnalal Bajaj International Award for Promoting Gandhian Values Abroad.
His autobiography, No Destination, was first published in 1978. A revised and updated edition is published by Green Books. His book You Are, Therefore I Am – A Declaration of Dependence was published by Green Books in September 2002. Satish’s third book The Buddha and the Terrorist was published in November 2004.

(1) Image source: GNU Free Documentation License Version 1.2
(2) images sourced from

Relevant links:
 Satish Kumar Wikipedia :
Satish Kumar, Desert Island Discs 29th May, 2005
Schumacher College (where Satish Kumar is a Visiting Fellow,
Resurgence magazine
Joseph Beuys:
Victor Papenek

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