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October - December 2023

The Path of Symbiotic Existence

(We had emphasised the importance of ‘Simple Living – National Thinking’ in our Apr-Jun 2023 and Oct-Dec 2020 issues of DILIP. It is interesting to note that the respected monthly Vedanta Kesari of Sri Ramakrishna Mission in its Editorial in the July 2023 issue has argued forcefully on the same lines. The Editorial is reproduced here.)

Symbiosis or mutualism, and parasitism are among the various types of relationships found in nature. Symbiotic relationships involve the mutually beneficial coexistence of two living beings; for example, nitrogen­ fixing bacteria and leguminous plants such as soy- beans etc., humans and their gut bacteria that help in digestive process, and so on. Symbiotic relationships are mutually helpful and supportive; they advocate harmony and balance. Parasitic relationships, on the contrary, fulfil only one-sided interests. Parasites are harmful for the host organism as they depend entirely on the host without reciprocating the help or sustenance received from it.

One of the characteristics of the modern age is the rampant growth of parasitism. We are in the age of consuming resources without any concern for their restoration. Our physical, mental, social, or environmental issues mostly arise from a lack of a symbiotic attitude towards our surroundings. Humanity has become a parasite on the host planet Earth.

We have been pushing the most important needs of our lives under the carpet. We want to fool ourselves by pretending that everything is fine. We exploit natural resources as well as human relations to our own momentary advantage. In the race to make profits, business houses campaign for a consumerist lifestyle. The economies of the countries are defined on the basis of their consumption capacities. We are hypnotised into believing that the gross domestic product (GDP) is the only measure of growth and well-being in a country. We are being played into this trap of a consumerist economy, which is benefiting only a few over-rich countries and taking us away from our age-old, time-tested way of life. International organisations sit together and blame each otherforthis economic and environmental menace. They seldom realise that all of us have to breathe the same air that envelops our planet. Every individual in every nation is responsible when it comes to environmental degradation.

Now, whatever happened has happened. Curd cannot be turned back into milk now. Then what is the way out?

We must wake up to the reality that the world is one. We just have to equate the locus of our consciousness with the oneness that abides at the centre of every being. Once this is done, diversity will not hurt us. Profit-making will then be symbiotic, not parasitic.  परस्परं भावयन्त: श्रेय: परमवाप्स्यथ – Nourishing one another, you shall attain the supreme Good (Gita, 3.11}. Otherwise, the parasite also has to perish along with the host.

This tendency is not new, though. Even the Kauravas in the Mahabharata wanted to keep everything for themselves, not willing to share the kingdom with their Pandava cousins. For such people, the very impetus to work comes from the desire to have something. If they per- chance do not desire the objects of enjoyment, they may not even be inclined to work! But that is not an ideal situation. Every person has to work for his or her physical survival. Therefore, Sri Krishna advises Arjuna to work with the attitude of performing a yajna. If the attitude of an enjoyer is entirely selfish, then such a person is condemned as sinful. ‘The unholy persons who cook for themselves, they incur sin’ {Gita, 3.13). Sri Krishna praises those who approach the gods with an attitude of respect and coexistence, as it leads to mutual inclusion and the evolution of both-‘Being nourished by sacrifices, the gods will indeed give you the coveted enjoyments. He is certainly a thief who enjoys what has been given by them without offering (these) to them.’ (Gita, 3.12).

We have made commerce the ideal of our lives. Most of our time is spent calculating ‘what I get’ rather than ‘what I contribute’. We seldom set our ideal as a giver to society at large. We consume material resources; we consume physical and emotional resources through our interpersonal relationships; we consume the governmental or public facilities that are provided to us; we consume or invade other societies, nations, and so on. Such a consumer never cares about the environment he is consuming. Con- suming means basically finishing it, finally finishing oneself, and leaving only trash around. The king turned sage Bhartrihari says,

भोगा न भुक्ता वयमेव भुक्ताः तपो न तप्तं वयमेव तप्ताः ।।कालो न यातो वयमेव याताः तृष्णा न जीर्णा वयमेव जीर्णाः ।।७।।

i.e., we think we enjoy or devour worldly pleasures, but in fact we ourselves are being devoured. We do not practice penance, and instead we are scorched by the fire of misery. We think that time is passing, but we ourselves are passing (approaching death). The desire or greed did not decrease, but we our- selves are being reduced to senility.

We have to transform ourselves into givers to humanity. We must become obsessed with giving. ‘They alone live who live for others, rest are more dead than alive’, says Swami Vivekananda. From this understanding will come true symbiosis. When we connect with our surroundings at a deeper level, there will be a perfect give and take that will benefit the environment. We must renounce this parasitism and become the torch-bearers of symbiotic existence.

Individual Responsibility Towards a Collective Goal

There is an amusing moral story about how once  Lord  Brahma  invited  all  his children-gods and demons-for a feast. When the demons arrived for the occasion, they protested to Lord Brahma that he is always partial to the gods. They demanded that the feast be served first to them, as against the norm, and only then to the gods. Brahma gladly agreed, only on one condition, that no one should bend their arms at the elbow while eating. The demons were puzzled. They could not enjoy the sumptuous meal as most of the food fell out of their mouths while being thrown from above. All their dresses got spoiled, and they remained hungry and frustrated as ever. They kept cursing the organisers. When it was the gods’ turn, they all sat opposite each other in a line and, with straightened arms, fed each other lovingly. They enjoyed the feast to the fullest of their hearts and blessed the organisers. Brahma then indicated to the demons why he was partial to the gods. The moral of the story is that symbiosis alone brings happiness and well-being.

People of yore managed to leave a zero carbon footprint. Here is an example from Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi’s life:

One day, somebody prepared some delicious kichudi with plenty of ghee and other costly ingredients. When Rammay came, she [the Holy Mother] gave him a great quantity of it. As he could not do full justice to it, he ate as much as he could and then wanted to throw away the rest. But the Mother said, ‘My boy, don’t throw away such good stuff’, and directed him to call in a girl … from a neighbouring house, who came and carried away the remaining food with great delight. Then the Mother said, ‘Each should have his due. What men can eat shouldn’t be wasted on cattle; what cattle can eat shouldn’t be thrown away to dogs; what cattle and dogs can’t eat can be thrown into ponds for the fish-nothing should be wasted.’ As for herself, she kept even such useless stuff as waste vegetables and fruit peels for cattlel. Humans cannot subdue the forces of nature. The wrath of nature can obliterate large populations of living beings at short notice. We have to give up our pride and live in nature with humility and gratitude, in the same spirit as the sages who chanted the Vedic prayer –

मधु॒ वाता॑ ऋताय॒ते मधु॑ क्षरन्ति॒ सिन्ध॑वः ।……: To me, who desires to realise the Supreme Truth, may the winds blow sweetly. May the rivers flow, giving us bliss. May the herbs and plants be delightful and beneficial to us. May the night and the dawn be pleasant to us. May the dust of the earth give us delight. May the sky, our father, shower bliss on us. May the trees bear sweet fruits for us. May the sun be blissful for us. May the cows bring us bliss.

The protection of the environment rests not only on corporate decision-making, government policies, or financial aid from other nations. It primarily relies on the efforts of each person, in his or her own unique way, to safeguard our planet. We can conclude that by constantly attempting to give what we can, the resources in nature can be recycled and purified for future use. Thus, this conflict-between humanity and nature-can find its solution only in symbiosis.

Reference: 1) Swami Gambhirananda, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi (Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2001), p. 483-4.

Courtesy: Vedanta Kesari