THEOSOPHY, Vol. 87, Issue 5
July-August, 1999
(Pages 215-220; Size: 12K)


[5th article in this series]

TAKEN TOGETHER the three objects of the Theosophical Movement blend into a prescription for the health of humanity. The work of the modern ecological movement serves as a foretaste of this medicine.


Ordinary and Deep Ecology

Some of the source material for this series by a student comes from two books written in the 1990s: The Web of Life by Fritjof Capra, Ph.D., author of The Tao of Physics, and John Hitchcock's The Web of the Universe. Both authors are respected physicists. Capra's book is subtitled: "A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems." The one by Hitchcock has a psychological subtitle: "Jung, The 'New Physics,' and Human Spirituality." Since it would be difficult to do justice to such books with brief reviews, we are expanding a one-time discussion of recent scientific thoughts in the light of Theosophy to a short series of articles. [Editors.]
The first chapter of Fritjof Capra's book, The Web of Life, is entitled "Deep Ecology -- A New Paradigm." It sets the tone for what follows in this comprehensive but somewhat technical book. "Paradigm" provides a word for another model, archetype, or standard. Dr. Capra discusses the changing model of "reality" in recent years -- a complex subject in physical or metaphysical terms. His earlier book, The Tao of Physics, indicates an interest in oriental metaphysics, which does indeed deal with reality in philosophical terms.

In the past century a number of new ideas and revived old ideas about physical reality were introduced by reputable physicists. The concept of atoms composed of electrical particles, which as both matter and energy are immersed in strong fields in an immense "inner" space, was difficult to accept for those steeped in the old physics of "solid" matter. Perhaps the "new" atoms were incorporeal entities -- shades of the old Greek concept of the atom as a "soul," beyond the realm of the physical, that cannot be weighed or measured in accepted ways. The resemblance of microcosmic inner space to macrocosmic "outer" space also posed a conceptual challenge.

Fortunately, pioneers like Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, and more recently other scientists (e.g., Richard Feynman) helped to overcome the prejudice against revolutionary concepts. This resulted in what Capra calls "The Paradigm Shift." Unfortunately, the words most scientists use are often not understandable without a background in mathematics and physics. Eventually, the revolutionary concepts were clarified for the common man and have become almost universally accepted in academic circles.

The new model of reality has had a tremendous impact on both the scientific and academic communities. The paradigm has affected everyone, for example, in the increasing environmental practices of recycling and conservation. Along with this are large-scale programs to control and reduce pollution of the air, water, and the earth itself. New holistic and ecological understanding has profoundly affected our social and biological outlook, which has led to what Capra calls a "cultural transformation." Today the words environment, ecology, recycling, and conservation are known to the majority of educated people in most countries (in their own language).

Whence, then, came the idea of "deep" ecology? How does it differ from "shallow" ecology? Is it too deep for the ordinary person to understand? A Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess, in the early 1970s started a grass-roots movement based on what he called "deep ecology." Capra describes the distinction between deep and shallow ecology as follows:

Shallow ecology is anthropocentric, or human-centered. It views humans as above or outside of nature, as the source of all value, and ascribes only instruments, or "use," value to nature. Deep ecology does not separate humans -- or anything else -- from the natural environment. It sees the world not as a collection of isolated objects, but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life. (p. 7.)
Here Capra introduces the idea of a "web of life" linking diverse elements in a complex world. The theosophical perspective adds that Self-conscious (thinking) beings are the key strands in this web and that other strands exist by virtue of the highest human intelligence. The consciousness of the "lower" kingdoms is linked to the intelligence of Self-conscious beings in a hierarchical relationship. Less-advanced brothers are helped in their evolutionary journey by those higher on the evolutionary ladder, whether or not aware of such help.

An ancient saying brought to our attention by H. P. Blavatsky is that "Nature unaided fails." The help may come by way of example and "pointing out the way," as good teachers or parents do for their pupils or children. The learners must still make choices and progress on their own. An important aspect of deep ecology that Naess makes is: "The essence of deep ecology is to ask deeper questions." Capra continues:

This is also the essence of a paradigm shift. We need to be prepared to question every single aspect of the old paradigm. Eventually, we will need to throw everything away, but before we know that we need to be willing to question everything. So deep ecology asks profound questions about the very foundations of our modern, scientific, industrial, growth-oriented, materialistic worldview and way of life. (p. 7-8.)
Students of the Bhagavad-Gita realize that on p. 35 Arjuna (each of us as a learner) is told by his teacher (the Higher Self in each one) that asking questions is one of four ways to seek wisdom; other ways are by doing service, strong search, and humility. To seek wisdom seriously, we must learn to blend and integrate all four ways.

Capra links ecology with feminism in the recently coined term "ecofeminism." This movement combines ecology with the recognition of women as equals. Feminism has come into its own in this century after thousands of years of forceful male domination in most cultures. Many third-world countries still lag in recognizing the equality of women, but the example of large democratic countries will eventually influence the laggards.

Women traditionally play the role of nurturers in the family, as Nature herself does for the whole earth. The influence of ecology on social behavior inevitably resulted in recognition of the feminine role in keeping peace and harmony in society at large. In theosophical terms, women tend to emphasize the "heart doctrine," men the "head doctrine." A well-balanced person of either gender who follows the concept of "deep ecology" tries to blend intellect and heart in every action. The Higher Self of human beings is without gender.

Capra made up a table of opposite values, which includes the following for ways of thinking: self-assertive vs. integrative; rational vs. intuitive; analysis vs. synthesis; reductionist vs. holistic; and finally linear vs. nonlinear. In terms of values, the corresponding ideas are: self-assertive vs. integrative; expansion vs. conservation; competition vs. cooperation; quantity vs. quality; and domination vs. partnership. The first group in each pair is generally a male quality; the second is generally a female characteristic. He notes that:

... our political, military, and corporate structures are hierarchically ordered, with men generally occupying the upper levels and women the lower levels. Most of these men, and quite a few women, have come to see their position in the hierarchy as part of their identity, and thus the shift to a different system of values generates existential fear in them.
However, there is another kind of power, one that is more appropriate for the new paradigm -- power as influence of others. The ideal structure for exerting this kind of power is not the hierarchy but the network, which is also the metaphor of ecology. The paradigm shift thus includes a shift in social organization from hierarchies to networks.

Influencing others is not the same as desiring power (domination) over others if the influence is indirect and beneficent. The best influence is by the power of example, where no words are needed. The next best influence is by oral and/or written words. Theosophical work uses both ways to influence humanity for the better.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

Our aim is to focus the attention on reality itself, instead of our intellectual and emotional reactions to reality.

Reality being the ever-changing, ever-growing, indefinable something known as "life," which will never stop for a moment for us to fit satisfactorily into any rigid system of pigeonholes and ideas. 

--Alan Watts

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