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Beyond Sustainable Economy: The East West Meeting for Better and for Worse

Published: 01.09.2017


Human motivation, including the subconscious, has led to many forms of consumption and destructiveness which threatens life on planet Earth. However, the true nature of human motivation is understood as never before, giving light to limit human destructiveness.

Over the last five centuries Western "civilization" has entered the East, creating an interaction of cultures premised on conflicting assumptions and worldviews. Now, as the twenty-first century unfolds, the consequences facing humanity boldly threaten continued life on planet Earth. The industrial and technological superiority of the West has led to a world economy which is a "culture" in itself, overwhelming ancient indigenous and modern societies. Indeed, the very meaning of life within nature, including human nature, is being consumed by the misled inventiveness and creativity of the human animal. Not only are natural resources becoming exhausted, but their use has contributed to the weapons, structures, and very tools sustaining the "civilization" created. Nuclear weapons and global climate heating are but the most obvious and symbolic realities converging to wake up the human race. The fundamental issue is the question about the increasing loss of a reality view which is able to limit and control the dominance of destructive technology. Will science converge with spirituality for life giving sustenance within the limits of planet earth?

Mohandas Gandhi said that "There is enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed." As one who has studied Gandhi's experiments with truth and portrays the historic Gandhi, I say that "There is not enough for everyone's need in the present global economy." The definition of "need" explains today's reality. Gandhi approached need from the point of view of simple, rural, villagers in India. Basic food, clothing, housing, transportation demanded little from his environment view. His India and to a great degree his vision for the world were responsible persons living in villages. Today, per capita consumption by the citizens of industrial society exceeds those of villages by huge multiples. Compare the lives of the two plus billion persons living on less that a dollar a day with those living on thousands, hundreds of thousands, even billions. Each income level has a different definition of needs. For example, just to function in most situations in the United States a person needs a car to meet the needs of a middle class life style. With the population of the world now exceeding seven billion, including the "undeveloped [in a materialistic sense] nations," creating Western lifestyles by consuming more food, clothing, fuels, and all things, needs exhaust the natural resources at an alarming rate.

I intend to address these realities from the point of view of human motivation in order to understand aparigraha and parigraha. The definitions of aparigraha and parigraha as "nonpossessiveness" and "hoarding" respectively, articulated in the Jain traditions and in the Yogasūtra's of Patañjali are most acceptable. This includes the statement: "Aparigraha as a system of economy would rather be best on a rational understanding of nature and the place of human beings individually and collectively within a continued sustainable co-existence of all beings and our oikos, i.e. our planet." I use my more familiar terms "detachment" and "attachment" to express these concepts. Humanity needs two fundamental understandings to overcome human destructiveness in today's world.

As a peacemaker I approach the world of humanity both with scientific/spiritual understanding of human motivation and with a strong analysis of human functioning which leads to conflict and consumption. I developed myself from a Christian rooted in the Roman Catholic spiritual tradition. I have evolved into a person identified with the insights of both East and West. I work to integrate the insights of science and spirituality. Detachment (aparigraha) and attachment (parigraha) work well on both the individual level and the social level to gain insights about justice, peace, or sustainable human living. Discerning reality and the ultimate realities of life is my task to serve all life for peace. The meaning of "rational animal" and an understanding of planet earth within the realm of creation can lead to avoiding full destruction of life.

Before addressing human motivation a summary of our human predicament needs more elaboration. The industrial revolution of the 18th century has led to the production of products to serve a surging population in the 21st century that has created "peak everything." (1) Minerals, liquid fossil fuels, arable land, water – name a few of the most critical resources which have reached their peak availability. Industrial modes of production along with the use of transport, have created the most threatening forces now impinging upon life: climate change. Scientists have identified 350 ppm (parts per million) of gases in the atmosphere as the point beyond which life will become increasingly vulnerable. Now, 390 ppm is the actual measure. The 21st Century is expected to see a rise in temperature between two and six degrees centigrade, unless drastic cuts in the gasses occur (2).

The Western life style is being adopted in the East and leads to a substantial increase in unsustainable consumption. Most critical at this moment is food production which according to Lester Brown is one catastrophe away from social chaos (3). Desperation for resources are symbolized by events like the 2010 Gulf Oil break 3000 feet below the water's surface, the 2010 forest fires in Russia causing restrictions on grain exports, "fracking" for natural gas thousands of feet underground causing underground water and river contamination, the surging development of nuclear power risking explosions like Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima in 2011, not to mention environmental radiation in mining and waste, and wars.

Competition for resources has led nations and corporations to conflict and wars. It is my understanding that the little acknowledged cause of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars along with the intervention in Libya is oil (4). Weapons of war, especially nuclear, are another threat to global destruction (5). There is need to include a number of local conflicts in the world which are a part of the same scramble for resources. For example, in the east of India the adivasis[2] are being removed from their land and centuries old sustainable ways of life by corporations with government facilitation to acquire access to mountains of bauxite (6). Human creativity has led to this natural resource predicament.

Will humanity use our scientific capability, our spiritual heritage, our psychological knowledge, and the wonder of modern communications to save the day?

Humanity is in crisis. The West has designed a way of life dependent upon a one-sided view of reality which uses technology to create power and wealth. The West has lost its way from the view of reality which accepts an unseen source of all life and creation, named God, Allah, Yahweh, and many other words for the ultimate reality. I believe there is an ultimate uncreated reality, the source of all creation and life. If humans would acknowledge and honor this presence and source of life, all human endeavors would be undertaken with humility.

Nature, above all, would be respected. Humans, as one species among the many, would be regarded as dependent upon this creation, respecting its laws and place. Then too, the diversity of human cultures, indigenous and modern, would be better understood and accepted. Commonalities, rather than minor differences like race and ethnicity, would be the order of human interactions. The resources and materials would be seen in their places as part of an interdependent whole. As it is, humans have created a hierarchical order of power and dominance replacing the uncreated source of all life and creation. Nuclear bombs and the economy based on money have given the few the illusionary view that 'God is on their side.' More than 'on their side,' they feel if not state: 'We are god.'

Underlying this viewpoint is the ultimate motivation discovered by thinkers from several disciplines in the 20th Century. The insights see human consciousness about mortality at the heart of self-understanding and motivation. The human body dies. The body dies despite the creative intelligence and knowledge that says life should go on. Humans consciously, although usually unconsciously, want to be immortal. With this deep inclination humans identify with a chosen form of immortality, whether a work of human hands, an ideology, or a belief in an afterlife. Guilt, fear, anxiety underlie this human phenomenon. While many motivations determine human decisions, this critical point of view explains how violence and threats of violence dominate our condition. My main source for these insights has been for the last 17 years Earnest Becker's writings and The Earnest Becker Foundation (7)

Earnest Becker quotes Otto Rank to express this core view: "All our human problems, with their intolerable sufferings, arise from man's ceaseless attempts to make this material world into a man-made reality... aiming to achieve on earth a 'perfection' which is only to be found in the beyond... thereby hopeless confusing the values of both spheres" (8).

Human needs fit into this overarching understanding of human motivation. The definitions of needs in modern industrial societies are the result of the combination of technological inventiveness and the market economy. Things must be sold and consumed to keep the economy going. People must be motivated to purchase and consume products. During the 20th Century the psychological insights of Freud were discovered to move people to 'buy' things. By going to the unconscious, advertisers fashioned and tailored appeals to human appetites in the subconscious. And so, the market economy evolved with the result that people 'need' the vast array of goods and services now available. People have become 'consumers' who take for granted things as 'needs,' most of which did not exist a century ago. The 'Me Generation' was born.

This adaptation of Freud's insights into the marketing economy has been documented by the BBC in The Century of the Self (9). The documentary reveals how the illusion of individual human freedom has been betrayed to foster human consumption of products which has led to the conditions causing the treats to planet earth. And, humans find themselves caught in a way of life without a simple way out. Modern industrial society is complex and vast. Specialties lead to a maze of parts depending on the others. Blindness and confusion about the environment results.

Freedom is illusive. With the psychological manipulations of advertising humans loose the ability to even know and understand freedom. Endless needs dominate the consciousness, appetites, and actions in the consumer society. BBC's documentary series shows how the marketing methods have been carried over to political manipulation. The military also uses psychology and behavioral sciences as weapons.

I believe that we have a monumental task to overcome this manipulation of the human consciousness if we are to reverse climate change, to terminate war making and nuclear weapons, and to enable nature to recover from the abuses of technology. How will a new 'human' emerge? How will a detached and self-controlled person be formed within the consumer society? We can apply the concepts of aparigraha and parigraha to our situation. The challenge is to overcome the uses of media and other forms of communication to sell self destructive 'needs.' The challenge is to transform humans to create a truly aware and free society.

A few years ago a majority of the U.S. citizens believed that climate change was a real threat. Now, close to a majority rejects that view (10). In 1998 60 % felt that climate change was a serious threat. Now (2013) 51% believe that. The counter propaganda by the oil companies and other corporate interests has sold the people this reversal (11). This stark reality is what the human species, and therefore, all species on earth, are up against. The misuse of human consciousness by the market economy is to blame.


  1. Heinberg, Richard. Peak Everything, Waking Up to the Century of Declines, New Society Publishers, 2007. Also, see
  2. Climate change: & (Union of Concerned Scientists).
  3. Brown, Lester. World on the Edge: How to Prevent and Environmental and Economic Collapse, W. W. Norton & Company, 2011. Also, see
  4. Juhasz, Antonia: The Bu$h Agenda, Invading the World, One Economy at a Time, Regan Books, 2006.
  5. Burroughs, John and Michael Spies, editors, Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security? U.S. Weapons of Terror, the Global Proliferation Crisis, and Paths to Peace, Pickle Press, 2007.
  6. Padel, Felix, and Samarendra Das, Out of This Earth, East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel, Orient Black Swan Private Limited, 2010.
  7. Becker, Ernest, The Denial of Death, Free Press Paperbacks, 1973, The Birth and Death of Meaning; An interdisciplinary perspective on the problem of man, 1971,
  8. Escape from Evil, The Free Press, 1975.
  9. Escape from Evil, ibid, p. 91.
  11. March 2011 Gallup Poll:

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Title: Beyond Sustainable Economy
Author: Dr. Rudi Jansma, Dr. Sushma Singhvi
Publisher: Prakrit Bharati Academy

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  2. American Gandhi
  3. Aparigraha
  4. Bernie Meyer
  5. Body
  6. Consciousness
  7. Das
  8. Environment
  9. Fear
  10. Gandhi
  11. Greed
  12. Nonviolence
  13. Parigraha
  14. Science
  15. Violence
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