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Home Explore Living Pathways (2014/Pictorial Book)

Living Pathways (2014/Pictorial Book)

Published by Nat, 2020-08-12 00:18:47

Description: Critically Exploring the Relationship Between Sustainability and Spirituality. (A Pictorial Book)

"There is no better time for this book. It should be required reading the world over, challenging each and every one of us to remember that we have only one home, our planet Earth. And that we ask every day, individually and collectively: what are we doing to sustain the great gifts of Nature and Spirit that will only be available in the future if we take responsibility for them now." Ben Bernstein, Ph.D
Clinical Psychologist, Educator and Author, USA

Keywords: Culture,Sustainability,Cosmology,Cosmology of sustainability,Culture of sustainability,meditations,Asia


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living pathways Meditations on sustainable cultures and cosmologies in Asia

living pathways Meditations on sustainable cultures and cosmologies in Asia

living pathways Meditations on sustainable cultures and cosmologies in Asia All rights reserved. Printed in Penang, 2013 Inquiries should be addressed to the Publisher: Areca Books 120, Armenian Street, 10200 Penang, Malaysia Tel: 604-2620123 Fax: 604-2633970 [email protected] Published by Areca Books for the Global Centre for the Study of Sustainability and Spirituality (GCSSFS) Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia Cataloguing-in-Publication Data M. Nadarajah 1953- Living pathways: meditations on sustainable cultures and cosmologies in Asia / M. Nadarajah. Includes index Bibliography: p. 137 ISBN 978-967-5719-09-7 1. Sustainable development. 2. Asia-Social conditions. I. Title. 338.927 ISBN 978-967-5719-09-7 Author M. Nadarajah Editors Rash Behari Bhattacharjee, Canute Januarius, Kat Fatland Photography M. Nadarajah (“Nat”) Design & Layout Adeline James Malvina Anthony Public Media Agency Areca Books Printer The Pheonix Press Sdn Bhd Areca Books is a rapidly-g­ rowing niche publisher based in Penang, Malaysia. Its ethos combines editorial intelligence, research rigour, elegant production and marketing flair, appealing to both popular readers and academic researchers of Malaysia and Southeast Asia. The imprint has a deserved reputation for pioneering works that celebrate genius loci and sense of place. Its richly-­ illustrated publications are enduring contributions to the fields of cultural heritage, social history, visual arts and the environment.

living pathways Meditations on sustainable cultures and cosmologies in Asia M. Nadarajah


Contents List of Figures and Tables ix Dedications x Foreword xvii Acknowledgements xxi The Search for Meaning: A Personal Journey 1 Ways of Reading the Book 17 An Issue of Concern for our Collective Reflection and Meditation 19 Meditations 25 Some Features of the Asian ‘Cosmology of Sustainability’ 77 Going Beyond? 101 Afterword 107 Appendix 113 119 Antecedent Roots 1 129 Antecedent Roots 2 Bibliography and References 137 Index 147


List of Figures and Tables Meditations 77 Figure 1: Spirituality and Sustainability are ‘Two Sides’ of a Single Reality 83 Figure 2: Engaged Buddhism and Catholicism Figure 3: Maintaining a Cosmology of Sustainability: 85 The Triadic Relationship of Fundamental Realities 89 Figure 4: The Notion of Limits (according to the Kankanaey People) 93 Figure 5: Individuals as Cultural Beings: The Asian Notion of Personhood 97 Figure 6: Consumption Orientation, Then and Now 101 Figure 7: Sustainable Co-evolution 121 Antecedent Roots 1 124 Table 1: Stages of Ecological Consciousness and Activism 127 Table 2: Types of Sustainability and Their Concerns Table 3: Sector and Media Type 122 122 Figure 1: Species (Individual/Community/Species) Contextualisation 123 Figure 2: Value Focus 125 Figure 3: Three Imaginative Orientations 126 Figure 4: Values-Vision Relationship and the Location of the Media 127 Figure 5: Media, Social Criticisms and Social Learning Loops Figure 6: Media Reforms for a Sustainable Society




SIGNIS World, St. John’s UnIversity, Thailand Spirit in Education Belgium Movement (SEM), thailand Pesticide Action Network public media agency, Centre for Orang Asli Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP), malaysia Concerns (COAC), malaysia malaysia Punarnava Vaidyagrama, Cahayasuara Communication india Centre, malaysia

Foreword I n this book, Nadarajah examines sustainability in a deep spiritual sense with a strong understanding of the subject matter. His research has taken him to many different Asian communities and locations. In this text, he has compared and commented on Asian cultures and traditions where sustainability is embedded as a way of life and has made significant reference to the Muslims, Buddhists, Shintoists, Catholics and Hindu spiritual writings. Nadarajah has reflected on his own personal journey, which has been filled with rewarding experiences. This journey served as the main impetus for him to seek out the sustainable pathways taken by human beings in this material world, ever since globalization and capitalistic economies have become the norm. Nadarajah examines some of the major factors that have eroded sustainable traditions and cultures in Asia and makes an insightful thesis that spirituality and sustainability are two sides of a single reality. In the chase to reach developed nation status in the 21st century, many Asian countries who subscribed to the sustainable development principles as engraved in the Brundtland Commission of 1987 and Rio Summit resolutions of 1992 have now replaced sustainable practices and traditions with regard to natural resource management with that of a Western ideology of sustainable development in keeping up with Western counterparts. All the 7 billion people of the world have only one single Planet where we can live and perpetuate, and that is our precious Mother Earth. The rate of extraction of natural resources by Man far exceeds the rate of natural replenishment of these resources by natural biological and physical processes. Mother Earth is giving us signs and warnings that ‘business as usual’ will not do. We are NOT taking heed of the critical signs because we are too busy running our daily lives in a competitive world where increasing material wealth is seen as good and right. But the sad fact is that there is no social equity in the quest for sustainable development. We are really not bothered about other human beings who are far more disadvantaged than us in the social and economic perspectives. Members of the same human race do not care for one another! xvii

This book provides a unique point of view on how spirituality is strongly connected to sustainability. The cosmologies of sustainability in many Asian indigenous communities are nurtured by the triangular relationship of the human world (human beings), the natural world (natural resources) and the spiritual world (God and other spiritual beings). This book is a must read for all. It is written in a simple style, yet has many references to Asian cultures and spiritual aspects on a subject matter that ‘matters’ to 7 billion of us on Planet Earth: living a sustainable life that conforms to our spiritual traditions and beliefs. Sundari Ramakrishna, Ph.D. Conservation Director WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) – Malaysia Kuala Lumpur xix


Acknowledgements T his book would have not been possible had I not received a helping hand from so many people and institutions in small and big ways. Though a long list below, I am compelled to record my sincere thanks to all. I have tried to ensure the names of individuals and places are as accurate as possible. Any error is very much regretted. (1) API Team (Nippon Foundation Fellowships for Asian Public Intellectuals) It is important here to specially thank all the API offices in the various countries I visited between September 2005 and September 2006. My initial engagement was with the API office in Bangkok. Michiko, Puk and Kiaw have been a tremendous help, both for clearing official matters and for offering basic services to ease my stay in Thailand at the beautiful campus of Chulalongkorn University. I also thank them both for taking the time to talk with me even in spite of their tight work schedules. Thanks to Michiko for suggesting some names for my work in Bangkok and Chiang Mai and for being a patient listener and advising me on matters for which I needed second opinion. Yekti Maunati of API office in Jakarta, Indonesia was extremely helpful in making sure that the initial official matters, including affiliation to LIPI, were cleared for me so that I could apply for the Indonesian visa, which is, of course, another story. I must also thank Bondan of LIPI for helping me through the vertically and horizontally complex, and at times depress- ing, maze of bureaucratic clearance. The overly opaque procedures can make it needlessly difficult to sort out your limited right to stay and research in Indonesia. In the provinces, this could mean running to different offices in different locations and being asked questions you would have least expected. Someone said that is also a learning process for scholars, which I strongly doubt. In Manila, Philippines, Russell Tabiscula of the API office has been most obliging for all my requests for help, including making calls to the Japanese embassy in Manila, which is an extremely time-wasting activity (and certainly not one that contributes to learning!) For a young man, he seemed extremely patient and I liked that quality. Cecilia Bartoleme of the Institute of Philippine Culture (IPC) at the Ateneo de Manila University was extremely helpful right from the time she processed my application to be a Visiting Research Fellow (VRA) at the Institute. Thanks to her organised approach to processing visa applications, the scholars xxi


had time and peace of mind to concentrate on their Primary actual research work and learning. Cecilia passed away in January 2013. She will be greatly missed. Institute of Philippine Culture (IPC) Ateneo de Manila University (Loyola Special thanks to Naoko of the API office in Heights Campus) Kyoto. Her quick action getting me the affiliation to Quezon City CSEAS in Kyoto University and sending the letter of affiliation to me in Manila enabled me to get the Secondary Japanese visa really quickly. The actual experience of getting the visa at the Japanese embassy was a Tebtebba Foundation harrowing one. I was at the gate of the embassy at (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre 8.20 am. I was in a convoluted and snaking queue for Policy Research and Education) outside the embassy and it took me nearly two hours Baguio City to get into the compound of the embassy. That was about 10.10 am. Then I waited and waited (like so d) Japan many Filipinos) and by the time I got the visa, it was 12.50 pm. That day, in all, I spent about four and Centre for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) half hours waiting for my visa to Japan, standing Kyoto University all the time. I am certainly surprised at the tenacity Kyoto of the Filipinos, since no one seemed to have col- lapsed on the two occasions that I visited the em- (3) Locations and People I Interviewed or bassy for my visa. I fear someone will one day. In a Exchanged Views With way, it was tougher than my long walk up and down through the rice terraces high up in the Cordillera a) Thailand mountains in the Ifugao province of the Philippines. In addition to Naoko, I thank the other staff at Kyoto • Chiang Mai university (library and MIS staff) for helping me. • PaTung, Mae Chaem District (2) Institutional Affiliations • Soblan, Samooeng District a) Thailand • Mung Ke Village, Mae Rim District Institute of Asian Studies (IAS) Chulalongkorn University • Research and Training Centre for Religion Bangkok and Culture Change, Chiang Mai b) Indonesia • Lanna Wisdom School/College of Social Management, Chiang Mai Research Centre for Regional Resources, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (PSDR-LIPI) • Wat Pamahavan, Kangkraw, Chaiyaphum Jakarta • Wongsanit Ashram, Ongkharak c) Philippines • Bangkok Chatchawan Thongdeerlert (Lanna Wisdom School, Chiang Mai); Dr. Anucha Thirakanont (Thammasat University, Bangkok); Wallapa Kuntiranont (Garden of Fruition, Bangkok); Somboon Chungprampree, xxiii


Om and Joe (Wongsanit Ashram, Bangkok); Lekea, Heritage Trust, Denpasar); Putu Suarjana (Village Thaworn Kampolkul and Phongpan (Catholic Mis- Head, Tenganan); Suweca Wijaya (Hotel Industry, sion Centre, Chiang Mai); Somchai Preechasinla- Jimbaran); and Kadekngah Puja (Taxi Driver, Den- Pakun (Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai); Mala pasar). (Lanna Wisdom School, Chiang Mai); Fr. Tiwa Sangsiriwiwat (Parish Priest, Pa Tung Village, Mae c) Philippines Cheam); Warawut (farmer, Pa Tung, Mae Cheam); Jam Pen (farmer/local doctor, Pa Tung, Mae • Metro Manila Cheam); E Loy, Ri Dee & Kwai Nai (family mem- bers, Pa Tung, Mae Cheam); Patii Tayae, Patii Dae- • Baguio City ng and Patii Chae (a medium of Soblan Village, Samoeng); Fr. Niphot Thianvihan (RTC-RCC, Chi- • Antadao Barangay, Mountain Province ang Mai); Lae Dee, Pu Yo, Ka Noo and Khem Pae (‘organic intellectuals’, RTC-RCC, Chiang Mai); • Kilong Barangay, Mountain Province Jon Jandai (Mud House Network of Thailand, Mae Tang); Phra Paisal Visalo (Wat Pamahavan, near • Sagada, Mountain Province Kangkraw); Isara Sukongkarattanakul (Kangkraw, Chaiyaphum); Dr. Chintana Montienvichienchai • Bontoc, Mountain Province (St. John’s University); Dr. Suvanna Satha-Anand (Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok); and Sulak • Mayoyao, Ifugao Province Sivaraksa (Wongsanit Ashram/Spirit in Education Movement, Bangkok). • Batad Village, Ifugao Province b) Indonesia • Banaue, Ifugao Province • Jakarta Dr. José de Mesa (De La Salle University, Manila); Dr. Mina Ramirez (Asian Social Institute, Manila); • Bali Prof. Fernando Zialcita (Ateneo de Manila Univer- sity, Manila); Fr. José Cruz (Ateneo de Manila Uni- o Denpasar versity, Manila); Clint Bangaan (Tebtebba Founda- tion, Baguio City); Isikias ‘Ike’ Picpican (St. Louis o Tenganan University, Baguio City); Carlos Medina (St. Loius University, Baguio City); Reynaldo O. Dumpayan o Sibang Gede (St. Louis University); Olowan Lumiwes (Village Elder, Kilong Barabgay near Sagada, Cordillera); o Ubud Atanacio Domling (Barangay Captain, Antadao/ Cordillera); Pal-Ang and Gat-Od (Village Elders, o Pura Bersakih, Pura Ulun Danu Antadao/Cordillera); Elma Lawagey (Teacher, An- Batur, Pura Uluwatu, Pura Tanah tadao/Cordillera); Jeremy Gawongna (Tourism Of- Lot ficer, Mayoyao/Cordillera); Eudes Enkiwe (Retired Government Officer, MayBan, Mayoyao/Cordil- Dr. Ninuk Kleden-Probonegoro (LIPI, Jakarta); Dr. lera); José Likiyan (Village Elder, Mayoyao/Cordil- Ketut Ardhana (LIPI, Jakarta); Prof. Dr. Wayan Ar- lera); Martin Abbugao, Sr. (Village Elder, Pobla- dika (Udayana University, Denpasar); Prof. I. Gede cion/Mayoyao/Cordillera); Jimmy Padchanan, Jr. Parimatha (Udayana University, Denpasar); Prof. (Municipal Councillor, Mayoyao/Cordillera); Wil- Wayan Redig (Main Informant, Udayana University, liam Chugasna (Priest and Village Elder, Mayoyao/ Denpasar); Prof. Made Titib (Hindu Dharma Insti- Cordillera); and Dr. Morr Tadeo Pungayan (Cultural tute, Denpasar); Tjkorda Raka Kertiyasa (Ubud/Bali Activist/Columnist, Baguio City). xxv


d) Japan (Thailand), Del Hernandez (Philippines), Marose Yu- zon (Philippines), Khoo Salma Nasution (Malaysia), • Kyoto AR Lubis (Malaysia), Augustine Loorthusamy (Ma- laysia), Prof. Kusune (Japan), José de Mesa (Philip- • Nara pines), Somboon Chungprampree (Thailand), Colin Nicholous (Malaysia) and Yazdi Jehangir Bankwala • Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (Singapore/Malaysia). From these friends and pro- fessional associates, I obtained valuable informa- • Yatsuo, Toyama Prefecture tion and was introduced to persons I would eventu- ally meet in my field trips to the various countries. • Shirakawa, Gifu Prefecture The original version of this book was published as part of the API report of 2006 – Are We Up to the • Hiroshima Challenge? Current Crises and the Asian Intellec- • Tokyo tual Community: The Work of the 2005/2006 API • Fuji-yama Fellows. This is an expanded version. The writing of this work took place in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), • Sapporo, Hokkaido Bangalore, Coimbatore, Palghat (India), Perth (Aus- tralia) and Singapore. Prof. Shigekazu Kusune (University of Kanazawa, Kanazawa); Prof. Dr. Masato Ikuta (Kyoto); Paul I had three editors who helped me get this S. Satoh (Elderly Tour Guide, Neyagawa/Osaka); work ready for publication. Rash Behari Battacha- Prof. Takashi Irimoto (Hokkaido University, Sappo- rya and Canute Januarius made the initial editorial ro); Prof. Sato Tomomi (Hokkaido University, Sap- contributions. I must thank them for the initial shap- poro); Harumi Sawai (Ainu Researcher, The Hok- ing of this work. The book was finally completed kaido Ainu Culture Research Centre, Sapporo); Dr. with Kat, editor at Areca Books. Kat made signifi- Koji Tanaka (Centre for Integrated Area Studies, cant contributions to improve not only the language Kyoto University, Kyoto); Tani-san (Northern Mano, but also the clarity of ideas in the book. I would also Shiga Prefecture); Prof. Kondo Masaki (National like to thank Lawrence John and Adeline for their Museum of Ethnology, Osaka); Rev. Ryobun Koro contribution to designing this book in an attractive (Chief Abbot, Dalanji Temple, Nara); Dr. Kasumi way so that the idea of sustainability and spiritu- Noda (Hokkaido University, Sapporo); Fr. John ality come through as clearly as possible through Brinkman (an American MaryKnoll Catholic Father, pictures. The design was completed by Malvina based in Tokyo); Prof. Dr. Kosuke Mizuno (Director, Anthony, designer at Areca Books. She vastly im- CSEAS, Kyoto University); Prof. Ando (CSEAS, Kyoto proved the design and I must thank her for that. Let University); Claudio O. Delang (Presently with Uni- me add here my sincere thanks to Salma of Areca versity of Hong Kong); and Tamie Haruki (Interna- Books (based in Penang, Malaysia) for agreeing to tional Office, CSEAS, Kyoto University). publish this book. It has been a long journey with this creative team of people. Lastly: I would also like to thank my dear friend, Even before I started my fieldwork in No- Palan, a pioneering human resources develop- vember 2005 in Thailand, I sought the help of a ment professional in Malaysia, for his meaningful number of my friends/professional associates who friendship and support while I was writing this book. have been travelling in Asia, particularly in the field I’d like to also thank my family members particu- areas/countries. Here I would like to specially men- tion Charles Santiago (Malaysia), John Brinkman (Japan), Prof. Chainarong Montienvichianchai xxvii


larly my nephew, Prabhahar, his wife, Amutha (my writing. Last but not the least, I must thank Sarah ‘daughter’ in Tamil kinship terms), Dayaanita (my Latif and Salman Rafeeq, my favourite couple, for grandniece) and Dananjay (my grandnephew) for providing me a warm home environment in Banga- giving me a closer view of how sustainable and/or lore and Singapore, a setting extremely important unsustainable choices are made in a family. Also and conducive to writing, which is essentially a very thanks to my sister, Nirmala Devi, my sister-in-law, lonely journey. Rajeswary Balasingam and my nephew, Thevan Balasingam. These members of my family gave me Last word: I share the observations and con- in different ways a family environment to work in or clusions of this book with many institutions. I thank helped take away the stress related to fieldwork and them for their committed endorsement. xxix




The Search for Meaning: A Personal Journey T his tract is a sharing of the intellectual and emotional journey of the last 35 years of my life. As I share my story, I hope to introduce and contextualise for my reader the ideas and views present in this book. I also hope that my introduction will serve as a reminder to readers that the views we hold in the present are reflective of the decisions, actions and contributions we’ve made in our pasts. Given that my own life choices have directly and indirectly influenced the views and positions articulated in this book, I find it important to share with my readers a few of the key details of the journey that brought me here. In a sense, this introductory narrative is a hybrid of the more conventionally biographical ‘author’s note’ and a ‘preface’. As such, it will carry some tensions. But I hope they are acceptable to the reader. The narrative of this collection of meditations captures the developments that started with my selection for the Asian Public Intellectual (API) Fellowship by The Nippon Foundation. The API Fellows form a community of filmmakers, social researchers, theatre people, songwriters, poets, activists and academics serving the public in various capacities. As part of this fellowship and community, I travelled around Asia for one year (from November 2005 to October 2006), to specific areas in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan to pursue my research on ‘culturally embedded notions of sustainable development’. It was a period of meaningful exposures, relationships and experiences. Looking back after the period of the API research, I realised that I had travelled a long way in my own personal development. An Indian Malaysian by birth, I started my working life in India, in the squatters of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, where I became involved in community development around 1978. I was also attracted to the media sector, beginning my career as a scriptwriter and then working as a freelance documentary filmmaker. Subsequently, I joined the consumer movement in Malaysia in the early eighties. During this period, I was exposed to a broad range of political, economic, social and cultural issues and challenges affecting Malaysia, Asia and the world – from environmental degradation to market manipulation to consumer and labour exploitation to global and local social injustice. I became aware of the problems brought about by capitalist development. In a sense, it was an eye-opening period for me. My friends and I were involved in addressing some of the issues people faced through civil society organisations and through non-formal education in communities and schools in and around Kuala Lumpur (including the Kinta valley). 1


By 1985, I began to feel the pressure of not explanatory model to the problems of society, to the moving ahead with the solutions we were providing problems I experienced. It explained the exploita- for the problems people faced. I was getting into a tion of labour and consumers. It provided a way routine. The work with civil society organisations was of understanding why environmental degradation becoming just another job. I could not emotionally was happening and why it will go on happening engage. It was an intense ‘practice-without-theory’ under capitalist development. It provided an in- situation, a journey without a map. I wanted my ca- sight into the alienating processes of capitalist de- reer to make a difference. I wanted to be involved velopment…an insight into the corruption of the in something that improved the quality of people’s human spirit, which as a critical component has everyday lives. So, I decided it was time to explore proved integral to my future orientations. Accord- new theories for more comprehensive analysis and ing to historical materialism, the world is made up action. After some thought, I opted out of working of an economic, social and political dynamic en- and decided to pursue a doctoral degree in sociol- acted through a structurally-based exploitative and ogy, believing that it would give me a greater insight conflictual relationship between two real classes: into social structures and dynamics. I wanted to do capitalists and workers. While not going into the my Ph.D. either in the Philippines or India. I finally complex aspects of the theory and its practice, the chose India for obvious cultural reasons. basic view of the theory posits that exploitation of the workers by the capitalist class will eventually My journey to a doctoral thesis was a culmi- lead to a revolutionary situation for social transfor- nation of my experiences with consumerism and mation. The workers will rise and emancipate them- community development efforts which involved selves from the exploitative and alienating ways of squatters, the unemployed, informal and organised life imposed upon them by the capitalist modes labour, children, women and consumers. I had be- of production and development and will gravitate come acutely sensitive to the issues of class, ethnic- towards building a society and lifestyle that offers ity, gender, consumerism and environmental deg- equality, freedom and wholesomeness, spirited per- radation. I perceived the issues faced by struggling sonhood and community for all. communities to be the consequence of a capitalist development, which deeply affected everyone in This finding was immensely important to me as different ways and created more victims than win- it offered me answers and solutions to the question ners. If I wanted to discover real solutions to the I had walked into the University with. But over the problems I experienced, I needed a more sophisti- course of the next five years, as I began to engage cated critique of this development. That was offered and evaluate the theory against real world develop- to me in the university where I was doing my doctor- ments, I understood its shortcomings. Though his- al degree, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New torical materialism has become more sophisticated Delhi. A left-oriented university named after and in- and responsive to new realities now, at the time spired by the first prime minister of India, it offered a when I was engaging with it, certain issues arose in dynamic social and academic environment for me reconciling concepts of ethnicity, culture, feminism to engage, learn and seek answers to the questions and environmentalism with the initial set of concepts that set me off on this journey. I found historical provided by the theory. For me, a class-reductionist materialism in the classrooms, in the streets of Delhi explanation was not very useful in understanding the and in late night discussions with academics and non-class aspects of my experience. activists from all over India and the World. So I boldly undertook the step to reconstruct Historical materialism offered a class-based the theory as part of my doctoral dissertation: to 3


build a historical materialism from its philosophical of the IMF in India and its unsustainable policies foundations upward to relate class and non-class and impact on the economy and society) and Killing aspects coherently. It was a means for me to explain Fields (an examination of the pesticides industry, its to myself what I needed to understand the world I use and deleterious effects on Indian agriculture, experienced. It was a tough intellectual, emotional with an emphasis on alternatives). These documen- and social journey. I managed to avoid the leap taries benefited from my learning of historical ma- into insanity with the help of a lot of great friends, a terialism. The theory helped me provide a critique lot of yoga and meditation and a lot of travels. As I of capitalist development and visually depict the all- attempted to link class and non-class aspects of my round unsustainable ways of organising a capital- experience, I kept my focus on the emancipatory ist society. The documentaries, directly or indirectly, content of historical materialism. During this phase projected the human spirit in its attempts to seek I was animated by the concern for emancipation, emancipation from exploitative and alienative pro- which was, and continues to be, expressed in ‘radi- cesses in a capitalist society. cal politics’.1 As part of my reconstruction of histori- cal materialism, I proposed a theoretical argument The important lessons I learnt from historical in which the labour movement would integrate with materialism have remained since then. We simply the gender, ecological and ethno-cultural move- cannot afford a world where one group exploits an- ments to form a broad, formidable front to achieve other and where the human spirit is alienated from far-reaching changes in the world. I proposed a everything humane. ‘non-workerist model of historical materialism’ as part of my thesis, which was eventually published After completing my Ph.D. and working in India in India in 1999.2 All these efforts allowed me an for a while, I returned to Malaysia in the last few opportunity to re-connect with the human/humane years of the last millennium. I joined the Asia-Pacific spirit. regional office of Consumers International (CI), headquartered in London, as a consultant on sus- It was a phase that opened the world to me tainable development issues. Then under the lead- more deeply and helped me consolidate my tex- ership of Josie Fernandez, the regional office of CI tured understanding of it. During this phase, I went represented the global consumer movement in Ma- on to produce a number of documentaries for the laysia and the region. My work there allowed me to Television Division of the Press Trust of India (PTI) pay closer attention to indiscriminate consumption then under the able leadership of Sashi Kumar, a and its deleterious effects on the individual, society versatile and experienced media expert, who con- and the environment. I was part of the regional cen- ceived and now guides the innovative Asian Col- tre’s many efforts on consumerism. During this time, lege of Journalism, based in Chennai, India. I concern for sustainable development was becoming helped produce A Profile of Empowerment (a profile an integral part of the organisation’s work. The UN’s of an organisation working on rural women’s issues definition of sustainable development, as stated in in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in the Brundtland Report, is ‘Development that meets India), A Nation Mortgaged (a close examination the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ 1 JNU was then an excellent learning and training ground for all shades of politics, including radical politics: from ‘Extreme Right’ to ‘Extreme Left’. 2 Culture, Gender and Ecology: Beyond Workerism. (New Delhi: Rawat Publishers, 1999). Rawat Publishers is based in Jaipur and New Delhi, India. 5


This definition seemed simple and practical enough and promoted. Thus, the system promotes ‘having’ to be supported, given the fact the world around me more than ‘being’. It promotes commodification was consuming in such a way that was leading to and possessiveness and with that a highly materi- rapid resource depletion, resources that rightly be- alistic worldview as an end in itself. In an important longed to the future generations. It is a shame on us. meeting at Cheju Island in Korea, I presented some Imagine snatching food from our children! of my findings and thoughts on this matter. At CI, I was part of the organising and editorial This shifting of emotional and intellectual ori- team for an important project called Living As Though entation allowed me to move beyond the ‘emanci- Earth Mattered. We were working on a number of patory’ phase to the ‘development which is sustain- position papers on sustainable issues particularly in able’ phase. I was beginning to consider the nature Asia, including sustainable technologies. I travelled of societal development – whether capitalist or so- far and wide during this period, met people, made cialist or in any other ‘hybrid’ forms. Because of friends, exchanged ideas and talked about the need my attraction to historical materialism as a compre- for a development that is sustainable. hensive social theory and praxis, I believed that the then-existing socialist societies, which were based An important meeting I attended in Kabelvåg, on the theory, provided a positive model for our Norway introduced me to the larger issues of sus- collective future. However, upon closely examining tainable consumption. I had held a view that indis- the performance of the Soviet Union and China in criminate consumption is a serious problem in capi- relation to the impact on their respective environ- talist societies, pushing us slowly but surely in the ments, I realised that both the capitalist and social- direction of unsustainable futures. Here I learned ist models followed the same productivist para- that an attempt at transformation to a more sus- digm, focusing on effective and efficient production tainable society is possible through transforming at any cost, even at the expense of the environment. consumption, i.e. by promoting consumption that is In both the US and the Soviet Union, the Taylorian sustainable. But to do so, we need to see the whole method influenced production. And the Taylorian – the complex process of production, distribution, method was about cold calculation, efficiency and exchange and consumption. Consumption is the productivity at the cost of humanity... an alienating end of a complex process. Sustainable principles method to say the least. Theoretically, a socialist (or have to be part of each stage for ‘real’ sustainable communist) society is one that peacefully resolves consumption to be possible. the conflict between human being and Nature. But in reality, socialist societies were doing exactly This understanding allowed me to consider what capitalist societies were doing – dominating, how indigenous societies managed their consump- senselessly exploiting and destroying Nature for the tion and practiced sustainability in contrast to the needs of a productivist-oriented system. So, what is modern and urban-based capitalist societies. It was the point of having a socialist society where devel- at this time that I first began looking seriously to opment is essentially unsustainable? I came to the indigenous societies for answers. In capitalist so- belief that without development that is sustainable, cieties, intensive and aggressive marketing pushes emancipation itself is useless. At the time, I believed people towards unsustainable consumption. This the ‘sustainable development’ movement captured consumption reaches beyond people’s needs to this second phase of my own personal develop- people’s wants, which are all too often unsustain- ment. I was of the view at that time that sustainable able. To keep the system running, demand for goods and services have to be artificially created 7


development was an important trajectory of histori- built into the way we (re)organise our societies. In cal materialism. I was, of course, wrong. It took a short, I began thinking about and feeling a ‘culture while to make sense of that. of sustainability’. This new perspective required a closer examination of the wisdom of our ancestors. My involvement in the sustainable development Thus, I took the first step towards my next stage of movement was largely through work with the Asia personal growth. A business-as-usual approach Pacific regional office of Consumers International to sustainable development – one that focuses on (CI), then based in Penang, and a three-year proj- economic and technological fixes – was becoming ect with a Nepali elder, Prof. Ratna Rana, who was meaningless to me. director of the Ishikawa International Cooperation Research Centre (IICRC) based in Kanazawa (Ishi- At the culmination of this phase, I wrote two kawa Prefecture), Japan. The project was supported books. One of them, called Another Malaysia Is by United Nations University, based in Tokyo. Possible and Other Essays: Writings on Culture My own criticisms of sustainable development and Politics for a Sustainable World, captured my began with an increasing dissatisfaction with cer- responses to the issues of multiculturalism and sus- tain key realities it promoted. The movement in- tainability in Malaysia. The other, titled Urban Cri- creasingly appeared to me to be too focused on sis: Culture and the Sustainability of Cities, was a economistic and technological fixes for all our en- book that I co-edited3 (and which came out of the vironmental problems. I felt that in order to practice work with IICRC and United Nations University). In development that is essentially sustainable, there both books, I used cultural explanations to better had to be a much broader scope of solutions. With contextualise sustainable development and to push this in mind, I began to explore an approach to the discussion beyond economics, technology and sustainable development that went much beyond the environment. In Urban Crisis, I pointed out, with just economics, technology and ecology even while inputs from a number of academics, policy admin- incorporating them. istrators and activists from around the world, the often-underplayed role of culture in discussing and While working with Prof. Rana in Kanazawa, explaining the sustainability of cities. This empha- Japan on the role of culture in sustainable ur- sis on the critical role of culture in thinking about banisation in Asian cities, I realised that culture and forming policy on the sustainability of cities was also played an important role in the wider arena proposed as ‘the Kanazawa approach’.4 Also as of sustainable development. In the late nineties, I part of this phase, and with the help Khoo Salma, began my journey to explore this discovery more who is presently the President of Penang Heritage in-depth. I began to articulate (to myself at first) a Trust, I produced a documentary entitled Sustain- wider understanding of a sustainable development able Penang, which explores sustainability from the that encompassed a sustainable orientation of cul- point of view of heritage and culture. ture, social norms and values, political systems, economic principles and technological advances in Also during this time, Khoo Salma encour- development. I came to believe that ecology could aged me to apply for an Asian research fellow- not be protected or nurtured unless sustainability is ship. I applied for the fellowship rather reluctantly, 3 Initially, I was requested to edit this book. However, due to some unforeseen difficulties, I ended up co-editing the book with Ann Tomoko Yamamoto. It was published by the Tokyo-based United Nations University Press in 2007. As part of this project, I also produced a documentary video entitled Sustainable Penang. 4 See conclusion of these meditations. 9


unsure of the role it would play in my intellectual practices. This observation changed my orientation and emotional development. I decided to pursue towards my project significantly. First, I stopped us- the theme of culture in sustainable development ing the term ‘sustainable development’ and started and to further my understanding of the role and using ‘sustainability’. The difference between the function of culture. So, I submitted a proposal on two is like the difference between ‘having’ and ‘be- ‘culturally-embedded notions of sustainable devel- ing’. One can have sustainable development but opment in Asian societies’. To my surprise, I was cannot feel it on a personal level. On the other called for an interview. I was even more surprised hand, one can be sustainable, without having any- when I found out I had been awarded the Asian thing at all. One can engage with sustainability Public Intellectuals Fellowship (API) for the period without the development (or growth) component. between 2005-2006 by The Nippon Foundation. I Sustainability is a way of life within an indigenous happily accepted the opportunity, and quickly pre- ‘cosmology of sustainability’ that promotes the con- pared for this sudden shift in my life’s journey. At cept that each one of us is organically a part of the time, I was working in an organisation that be- larger picture, a larger narrative. As a being that longed to my friend, Palan (now Dato’ Dr. Palan), chooses to be sustainable, one consciously acts as who allowed me the time off. part of the whole universe. So I started my one-year journey. In my travels The path and practice of ‘spiritually-engaged through Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Jakarta, Bali, Ma- sustainability’ found me. I had now moved to the nila, Baguio City, Sagada, Ifugao, Kyoto, Kanaza- third stage of my own personal development: the wa, Nara, Tokyo, Hokkaido and Hiroshima, and spiritual5 phase. This phase represents the deepest through many indigenous communities and vil- layer of my orientation towards sustainability. Since lages, I was continually exposed to new realities 2006, this orientation has grown within me. Spiri- without any intervention on my part. As I talked to tual sustainability encourages non-materialism and many people (in particular indigenous people, their ‘non-materialistic development’, and offers a differ- leaders or supporters) and experienced the rich re- ent understanding and experience of engagement, alities of these places, I reached a new threshold of achievement, accomplishment, ownership, involve- understanding. I had to articulate that feeling in- ment and adventure. The inner core of spirituality tellectually, as well as in the context of my journey radiates an awareness of all-round sustainability through the emancipatory and sustainable devel- – our engagement with all living and non-living opment phases of my life. things, our personhood, our choices, our social and technology design drives, and our place in the Deep within Asian cultures, I noticed there universe (or a universe of ‘multi-verses’). To have was no notion of sustainable development. Instead, a spiritual experience is to mindfully see ourselves these cultures engaged with the practice of sustain- in deep interconnectedness/interdependence, to ability, which is intimately integrated with spiritual 5 Spirituality and religion are not one and the same. To make an automatic connection would belittle spirituality. In my thoughts/feelings on the matter, there are some key features of spirituality: mindfulness, interconnectedness, meaningfulness, compassion and transcendence. Seen this way, there could be both theistic and atheistic spirituality. Perhaps that would explain why Jyoti Basu (an avowed Communist and chief minister of the then communist-ruled state of West Bengal, India) and Mother Teresa (an avowed Catholic supporting and saving destitutes in the same state) had a deep understanding of each other and respected and supported each other (See Ananya Dutta’s article in The Hindu, as noted in the references section). For me, the increased sensitivity to spirituality is also directly related to the worldwide discovery of a key institution, the ashram. An ashram is a spiritual hermitage, usually located in refreshing natural forests or mountainous surroundings, that is conducive to reflection, meditation and healing. 11


engage with the universe (or a universe of multi- harmony and authentic adventure with the universe verses) from that totalising perspective and to act and its fellow beings. from that self-consciousness. I like to think that the journey that started when The importance of spirituality is beginning to I was about 24 years old systematically opened the dawn on many and is shaping the discourse around world to me, layer by layer. Growing from eman- the world in various fields. It is a sure pathway to cipatory politics to sustainable development strate- wean us from the ‘business-as-usual’ approach gies to spiritual inter-being and mindfulness was a to sustainable development, to re-cast the impe- movement that was gradual but expansive, tough rialistic profit-motive to one that forms a humane but adventurous, frustrating but hope-generating. economy, to move away from monologues to dia- logues to ‘multi-logues’, and to free us from struc- At every stage, an intricate web of meaning- tures of educational/learning short-sightedness that ful contexts unravelled with critical questions that produce ‘products’ for the exploitation, alienation- required my orientation to evolve. What is the na- based and growth-based economic system, so we ture of human emancipation? How do we achieve can authentically build a society on trust, friendship genuine human emancipation? After emancipa- and care. It is a pathway that reminds us to share tion, what then? How should we develop and form/ Earth with all other sentient beings, without any spe- transform individuals, communities and societies? cial privilege for us. The answers to these questions could be found in the notion and practice of development that is sus- But in order to take this difficult path, we need tainable in an all-round sense. Then again, devel- to break away from our usual modes of thinking opment for what? Why do we need to develop to and feeling and being, driven by crude material- be happy? Where is the global human family go- istic worldviews and lifestyles of the Good Life in a ing? How much more development do we want? Consumerist Utopia. For this pathway to shape our How much is enough? Can we transcend develop- everyday lives, the future generations and human ment and just be? Can there be non-materialistic civilisation, we need not only to expand its presence development and ‘de-growth’ (or zero growth)? as a culture of thinking-feeling-emoting, or Being, These questions, and the search for their answers, but also as a culture of creative, self-conscious have led to me to pathways of ‘spiritually-engaged institution-building, promoting spiritually-inspired sustainability’ within a ‘cosmology of sustainability’ sustainable realities at the local and global levels.  informed by indigenous knowledge and wisdom. The ‘business-as-usual’ approach to sustain- From my standpoint, the future of emancipa- able development offers the world more reports, tory politics is sustainability, and the future of sus- discussions, technologies… and more disasters. tainability is spirituality. Adolescent emancipatory Sadly, it offers a mindset that transforms our disas- politics is too young to understand or appreciate ters into commodities, camouflaging and consoli- sustainability that is spiritually defined. Adolescence dating the profit-motive, over and over. Too often, has its limitations. Existential arrogance, or a dis- we talk about change abstractly. What we need missive attitude towards the role of emancipatory to do is to transform, to change rules, to produc- politics in sustainability, will lead us nowhere. There tively upset status quo and steer ourselves towards can be no sustainable Future (or Futures) without an new sustainable directions. We need an approach emancipatory Present. to sustainability that is spiritually-engaged, an ap- proach that will give us a chance to offer future My contributions of a ‘non-workerist model of generations a life of creativity, exchange, dialogue, historical materialism’, the ‘Kanazawa approach to culture in the sustainability of cities’ and finally, a 13


‘cosmology of sustainability’ were my own ways of the ideas here will engage readers in their own ex- coming to terms with the complications of being-in- ploratory journeys in search of meaningful connect- the-world. In a sense, they helped me find closure edness and futures. Along the way, I hope readers to the existential question of ‘having-been-born, now will consider the following: what?’ The contributions were about seeking some answers to self, community and a textured common Look for questions more than just solutions, future (of many shareable futures). From this vantage because critical questions are the things that move point, I see myself moving from the realm of forms to us to realities that nurture us, that transform us. Take the realm of matter, to the realm of energy and finally a question and reflect upon it. Ask new questions. to the realisation that we are all One… coming to terms intellectually and emotionally with the diverse, There are no more crossroads for us as hu- numerous and complex realm of forms we engage man community. We have destroyed all crossroads with in our everyday life to an expansive experience by our choices and are now at the brink of an abyss, that brings us all under one sense of Being... an in- seduced by its illusory beauty. terconnected, mindful Oneness. Fortunately we have bridges to the other side This work traces the last part of the journey. I left to us by our ancestors. We have to find them have included some earlier thoughts and concepts and use them. We can re-build some bridges too. on the subject in the appendix. I hope that some of But are we ready to take that step to cross over to the side of sanity, safety, spirituality and sustainability? 15


Ways of Reading the Book Y ou could read this tract from the first page to the last, as you would normally do with a narrative account. But I suspect the meanings embedded in this collection of meditations, pictures, quotes and references may require other ways of engage- ment. The book offers multiple narratives and therefore can be read in more ways than merely linearly. If you wish, you could first get a sense of the collection of meditations with a quick read, then return – for a round of contemplation and discussion with your friends – to spe- cific ideas which struck you. There is a lot of scope for critical self-analysis. In this way, you could build an organic web of ideas on some aspects of lived Asian cultures and cosmolo- gies. Of course, you could also engage with it by critically challenging the observations. The book could also be read visually. The pictures and quotes that you will read have been chosen to capture the realities of culture and cosmology, sustainability and spiritual- ity, and the relationship between them. The pictures need to be ‘looked into’, not merely ‘looked at’. They could be experienced with or without the main text, though reading the pictures and text together would be ideal. They are mutually supportive. Most of the observations and conclusions here are derived from people I interviewed or exchanged ideas with, as well as from books that I studied. I have listed these sources in the back of the book. In exploring the sources of ideas, references and readings, the reader can find more background or in-depth information for most meditation areas. The different ways of reading the book should offer you a better view of my journey, both internal and external, in search for meaning. Note: Since a few footnotes critically interfere with the ‘reading/narrative flow’ of meditations, they do not appear on the footnote reference page but a page after. 17


An Issue of Concern for our Collective Reflection and Meditation A. Development in Asia is taking place at a tremendous pace, certainly bringing immense benefits if not for all, at least for certain classes and communities that hold economic, political, social and/or cultural capital and power. As Asia is shaped by global regimes that are influ- enced by corporate agenda, maintained and promoted through comprehensive institutional and financial resources, and policy and legal instruments, many Asian nation-states succumb to their allure, become ambitious and want to acquire a developed-nation status characterised by high material growth and higher consumption. B. Efforts in this direction, which have become an obsession, are being driven by capitalist growth-oriented development logic, aggressively exhausting resources without regard for future generations, carelessly polluting our environment and increasingly making the planet unlivable, not only for humans but also for other living beings.6 Almost the entire business-industrial com- plex in modern Asia asserts itself on key institutions in society, controlling or influencing modern states and dominating our private and public lives. Their bottom line focus is largely financial, and even a minimal compliance with the ‘triple bottom line reporting initiative’7 is an inconve- nience. The ‘higher developed’ status that some states or sectors have claimed to achieve has hardly included compassion8 and spirituality. In fact, both these have been extensively com- modified, often to the detriment of the entire world community.9 6 While some extinctions have previously been caused by some natural and catastrophic events, humans and their growth- oriented development approach now pose the greatest threat to the continuity of life: According to Ahmad Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, ‘Every day, up to 150 species are lost. Every year, between 18,000 and 55,000 species become extinct. The cause: human activities.’ For more information, see Dave Foreman’s Rewilding North America. 7 The triple bottom line is a global reporting initiative that measures organisational success by using the three pillars of People, Planet and Profit. In brief, the triple bottom line recognises the need to protect the rights and needs of all the world’s citizens by integrating social progress into the workforce; the need to protect the planet itself, as well as its resources; and the need to maintain stable rates of economic growth. The UN’s report on the subject, entitled “Our Common Future”, explains these three pillars in depth. Some sustainability advocates have recently introduced the concept of the ‘quadruple bottom line’, which includes these three pillars and proposes the addition of a fourth pillar of spirituality. This fourth pillar supports the idea of going deeper towards our spiritual selves, recognising our interconnectedness as a society. Those individuals adhering to the fourth pillar have a relationship with the transcendent. They meditate, they physically engage in transformative practices (e.g. yoga, tai chi), and they have a meaningful relationship with their community. For more information on the fourth pillar, see Sohail Inayatullah’s “Spirituality as the Fourth Bottom Line”. 19

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