The year 2020 will be remembered as the year of Covid-19. The year of social distancing, lock downs and staying indoors even when the sun was shining, flowers were flourishing, and birds were singing their sweet songs in the spring. I was in the fortunate position to be able to take that time of self-isolation as a blessing, a time for spiritual retreat and a time for reflection.
I read Rumi and Hafiz, I read Shakespeare’s Sonnets. I read Rabindranath Tagore. I thought of the word, quarantine, with its association with Lent, I learned that originally the word was referred to the period of forty days which Jesus Christ spent fasting in the desert. So, for me this time of quarantine became a time of inner solitude.
However, I was fully mindful of the effect of the virus across the world and was sad to see so much suffering. Most of humanity was engulfed in an unprecedented crisis. I am 84 and I have never experienced such a drastic and deadly situation in my entire life.
Being in this Covid-19 crisis is worse than being in a state of war. Wars are initiated by humans and can be controlled or ended by humans. But coronavirus is a show of nature’s power and beyond human control.
Many people believe that through science and technology we can conquer nature. But through coronavirus, nature was speaking to us loud and clear that the talk of conquering nature is sheer human arrogance. Covid-19 has reminded us in no uncertain terms about the reality of human vulnerability.
Human desire to conquer nature comes from the belief that humans are separate from nature and have superior powers. This dualistic thinking is at the root of our inability to deal with many of the natural upheavals, such as forest fires, floods and in particular climate change, global heating and pandemics like Covid-19. We seem to believe that, one way or another, we will find technological solutions to subjugate nature and make her subservient to human dominance.
Rather than looking at the root causes of coronavirus, governments, industrialists and scientists are looking for vaccines to avoid the disease. Vaccines maybe a temporary solution but we need to think and act more intelligently and more wisely. Rather than vaccinating against the disease we need to address the causes of the disease.
Laura Spinney, a science writer asks, in the Guardian of the 26th of March: “Why the emergence of human infections of animal origin have accelerated in recent decades?” And answering her own question she says that, “the forces putting those viruses in our path are political and economic. They have to do with the rise of industrial-scale farming and the resulting marginalisation of millions of small holder farmers. They have been forced closer to uncultivable zones such as forests, where bats - reservoirs for coronavirus - lurk”.
If we are to address the causes of coronavirus, we will need to return to ecologically regenerative agriculture; to human-scale, local, low carbon and organic methods of farming. Food is not a commodity. Farming should not be motivated by financial profits. The purpose of farming is to feed people with healthy food. Money is only a means to an end. The end goal of agriculture is to produce nutritious food without depleting the health of the soil.
In order to address the causes of Covid-19, we need to learn to live in harmony with nature and within the laws of nature. Humans are as much a part of nature as any other form of life. Therefore, living in harmony with nature is the very first lesson we, humans, collectively, need to learn from this crisis. It is an urgent imperative of our time.
Satish Kumar is the author of Elegant Simplicity, available from www.resurgence.org/shop