THE EGO VS. THE ECO
There are numerous theoretical reasons why we humans have strayed so far from a benign symbiotic relationship with the planet, and have instead taken on the visage, if not the behavior, of planetary pathogens. One of my favorites is “The Ego vs. The Eco” theory, also sometimes called the “Microcosm vs. the Macrocosm,” or, more simply, “Humans vs. Nature,” which I will attempt to explain in brief.
Human beings, like all living things on this planet, are inextricably intertwined with all of the elements of nature. We are threads in the tapestry of life. We constantly breathe the atmosphere that envelopes the planet; we drink the fluids that flow over the planet’s surface; we eat the organisms that grow from the planet’s skin. From the moment an egg and a sperm unite to spark our existence, each of us grows and develops from the elements provided by the Earth and sun. In essence, the soil, air, sun, and water combine within our mother’s womb to mold another living creature. Nine months later, another human being is born. That person is a separate entity, with an awareness of an individual self, an Ego. That person is also totally a part of, and completely dependent upon, the surrounding natural world, the Eco.
When the ego and the eco are balanced, the creature lives in harmony with the planet. In this theory, such a balance is considered to be the true meaning of spirituality, because the individual is a conscious part of, attuned to, and in harmony with a greater level of actual Being. When too much emphasis is placed on the self, the ego, an imbalance occurs and problems result, especially when that imbalance is collectively demonstrated by entire cultures. To suggest that these problems are only environmental, and therefore not of great concern, is incorrect. Environmental problems (damage to the eco) ultimately affect all living things, as all living things derive their existence, livelihood, and well-being from the planet. We cannot damage a thread in the web of life without the risk of fraying the entire tapestry.
When the ego gets blown out of proportion, we get thrown off balance in a variety of ways. Our educational institutions teach us to idolize the intellect, often at the expense of our moral, ethical, and spiritual development. Our economic institutions urge us to be consumers, and those who have gained the most material wealth are glorified. Our religious institutions often amount to little more than systems of human-worship, where divinity is only personified in human form, and only human creations (e.g., books and buildings) are considered sacred.
By emphasizing the intellect at the expense of intuition, creativity, and conscience, our educational systems yield spiritually imbalanced individuals. No discussion of a subject should be considered complete without an examination of its moral, philosophical, and ethical considerations, as well as a review of the intellectual and scientific data. When we ignore the ethics behind a particular issue, and instead focus on intellectual achievements, it’s great for our egos. We can pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves how smart we are. It deflates our egos, on the other hand, to realize that we are actually insignificant creatures on a speck of dust in a corner of the universe, and that we are only one of the millions of life forms on this speck, all of whom must live together.
In recent decades, an entire generation of western scientists, a formidable force of intelligence, focused all its efforts on developing new ways to kill huge numbers of human beings all at once. This was the nuclear arms race of the 1950s through the present — a race that left us with environmental disasters yet to be cleaned up, a huge amount of natural materials gone to total waste (5.5 trillion dollars worth),1 a military death toll consisting of hundreds of thousands of innocent non-combatants, and the threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over all of the peace-loving peoples of the world, even today. Surely this is an example of the collective ego being out of balance with the eco.
Religious movements that worship humans are ego-centered. It is ironic that a tiny, insignificant lifeform on a speck of dust at the edge of a galaxy lost somewhere in a corner of the universe would declare that the universe was created by one of their own kind. This would be a laughing matter if it were not taken so seriously by so many members of the human species, who insist on believing that the source of all life is another human, colloquially referred to as “God.”
We humans have evolved enough to know that the idea of a human-like creator-deity is simply myth. We can’t begin to comprehend the full nature of our existence, so we make up a story that works until we figure out something better. Unfortunately, human-worship breeds an imbalanced collective ego. When we actually believe the myth, that humans are the pinnacle of life and the entire universe was created by one of our own kind, we go off the deep end. We stray too far from truth and wander, lost, with no point of reference to take us back to a balanced spiritual perspective we need for our own long-term survival on this planet. We become like a person knee deep in his own excrement, not knowing how to free himself from his unfortunate position, staring blankly at a road map with a look of utter incomprehension.
Today, new perspectives are emerging regarding the nature of human existence. The Earth itself is becoming recognized as a living entity, a level of Being immensely greater than the human level. The galaxy and universe are seen as even higher levels of Being, with multiverses (multiple universes) theorized as existing at a higher level yet. All of these levels of Being are thought to be imbued with the energy of life, as well as with a form of consciousness which we cannot even begin to comprehend. As we humans expand our knowledge of ourselves and recognize our true place in the vast scheme of things, our egos must defer to reality. We must admit our absolute dependence upon the ecosystem we call Earth, and try to balance our egotistical feelings of self-importance with our need to live in harmony with the greater world around us.
Getting back to compost, organic material, and soil nutrients, I must propose some additional philosophical speculation. Theoretically, the Asians evolved over the millennia with spiritual perspectives that maintained, to some extent, a view of the Earth, and of nature, as sacred. These perspectives did not single out the human race as the pinnacle of creation, but instead recognized the totality of interconnected existence as divine, and advocated human harmony with that totality.
Contrast this to our western religious heritage which taught us that divinity lies only in human form, and that peoples who revere nature are “pagans,” “heathens,” “witches,” and worse. Admittedly, this is a broad and contentious topic, too broad for the scope of this book. Perhaps a few quotes here, however, will help to illustrate the point.
Hinduism, more common to India, but reaching into the Far East, seems to be sensitive to the sanctity of the natural world:
“When Svetaketu, at his father’s bidding, had brought a ripe fruit from the banyan tree, his father said to him, Split the fruit in two, dear son.
Here you are. I have split it in two.
What do you find there?
Innumerable tiny seeds.
Then take one of the seeds and split it.
I have split the seed.
And what do you find there?
Why, nothing, nothing at all.
Ah, dear son, but this great tree cannot possibly come from nothing. Even if you cannot see with your eyes that subtle something in the seed which produces this mighty form, it is present nonetheless. That is the power, that is the spirit unseen, which pervades everywhere and is all things. Have faith! That is the spirit which lies at the root of all existence, and that also art thou, O Svetaketu.”
Buddhism is a dominant influence in vast sections of Asia:
“May all living things be happy and at their ease! May they be joyous and live in safety! All beings, whether weak or strong — omitting none — in high, middle, or low realms of existence, small or great, visible or invisible, near or far away, born or to be born — may all beings be happy and at their ease! Let none deceive another, or despise any being in any state; let none by anger or ill will wish harm to another! Even as a mother watches over and protects her only child, so with a boundless mind should one cherish all living beings, radiating friendliness over the entire world, above, below and all around without limit; so let him cultivate a boundless good will toward the entire world, uncramped, free from ill will or enmity.”
The Metta Sutra3
Zen is a transliteration of the Sanskrit word “dyhana” meaning meditation, or more fully, “contemplation leading to a higher state of consciousness,” or “union with Reality.” It can be described as a blend of Indian mysticism and Chinese naturalism with a Japanese influence:
“When the mind rests serene in the oneness of things . . . dualism vanishes by itself.”
From the Hsis-hsis-ming by Seng-ts’an4
“Zen does not go along with the Judaic-Christian belief in a personal savior or a God — outside the Universe — who has created the cosmos and the human race. To the Zen view, the Universe is one indissoluble substance, one total whole, of which humanity is a part.”
Nancy Wilson Ross5
Confucius, like Buddha, was born in the sixth century B.C. and preached a philosophy of common Chinese virtue:
“The path of duty lies in what is near and people seek for it in what is remote. The work of duty lies in what is easy and people seek for it in what is difficult.”
The Tao (the way), written by Lao Tsu, a contemporary of Confucius, has provided one of the major underlying influences in Chinese thought and culture for 2,500 years:
“Those who know do not talk. Those who talk do not know. Keep your mouth closed. Guard your senses. Temper your sharpness. Simplify your problems. Mask your brightness. Be at one with the dust of the earth. This is primal union. He who has achieved this state is unconcerned with friends and enemies, with good and harm, with honor and disgrace. This therefore is the highest state of humanity.”
Christianity, the primary religious influence of the western world, strongly supports the idea that humans are separate from and dominant over the natural world:
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth on the earth. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
Far Eastern religion has traditionally been imbued with the concepts of oneness, with the belief that the highest state of human evolution is one of harmony and peace with one’s inner self and with the natural world. This would certainly seem to contribute to the development of sustainable agricultural methods. When one accepts the sacredness of life, one can easily understand why one should create compost and soil rather than waste and pollution.
For those of you readers who are devout Christians, this analysis of religious history is not intended to be “Christian-bashing,” nor is it intended to offend anyone. Christianity must be singled out to some extent because the writer is writing from, and for, a culture that developed from an overwhelmingly Christian heritage. It is interesting to note that direct translations of Christian teachings from the Aramaic language (which Jesus spoke) as preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls, indicate that Nature was, at that time, considered sacred by practicing Christians (refer to the translations of Edmund Bordeaux Szekeley). Those early teachings became buried under Biblical translations tailored to suit the European cultures of the late Middle Ages, which were hierarchic and male-dominated. Today, Christians can be among the most vocal defenders of the environment.
Historically, Christianity had periods that modern Christians would like to forget about, periods when the human egos involved grew to outrageous and terribly threatening proportions. During these times, male religious leaders claimed divinity and disbelievers were simply terrorized or destroyed. Those dark ages of Christianity adversely affected our understanding of the origins and nature of disease.
Unfortunately, most major religions today have drawn their focus
toward human-worship, whether it be the Hindu worship of Krishna, the Buddhist
worship of Buddha, the Islamic worship of Mohammed, the Christian worship of
Jesus, or the bowing to the various human gurus and religious leaders which
takes place all over the world. Patriarchal, hierarchic religious institutions
still foster bloated egos the farther up the hierarchy one looks. Eventually,
the human race will cast aside limiting, static, religious perspectives like a
butterfly casts aside a cocoon. In the meantime, a metamorphosis must, and will,
take place. That is what we should be focusing on, regardless of the religious
institution to which we may currently belong.
Source: The Humanure Handbook. Jenkins
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