you are a citizen of the world

you are a citizen of the world

Today, April 22nd, is widely celebrated as Earth Day. It’s a good time to not only show support for environmental protection and engage in activities that benefit the planet, but also a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the interconnectedness of the world. 

As we all go through this global pandemic, a majority of us are so focused on battling the virus as an individual or a family, that we forget that we as a species are in this fight together. One of the lessons that we can learn from this event is that we are all interconnected. Our actions and their consequent outcomes not only affect us, they affect other people and living beings too. Several months back, a virus from an animal affected a human in Wuhan, China and soon this infection morphed into a full-fledged global crisis that wreaked havoc in all of our lives. It doesn’t matter when you’re in the US, Brazil, India, Japan, or Australia, we’ve all been impacted by this crisis, and hence it’s incredibly important that we broaden our perspective and think and act as citizens of the world. It’s definitely not easy, but something that we need to consistently train ourselves in. 

Ancient Indian philosophy offers many contemplations and reflections on the interconnectedness of the world. Eight-century Buddhist monk Shantideva and his fellow Mahayana Buddhists believed that cultivating a consciousness of the interdependence of things and being compassionate towards other sentient beings and working for their well-being was a key component to traversing the arduous journey from ignorance and suffering to spiritual liberation and enlightenment. This was the central message of Shantideva’s text, Guide to the Awakened Way of Life. He wrote,  “Everything is dependent on something else. Even that thing upon which each is dependent is not independent.” Shantideva instructed that the awakened life brings together the wisdom of interdependence with active compassion for all beings who suffer.   

The Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, which is a dialogue between the warrior-prince Arjuna and his friend, charioteer, and spiritual advisor Krishna, also explores how an individual’s actions in the world play a role in the attainment of spiritual freedom. It encourages us to see the natural world as an interwoven tapestry of cause and effect, with our bodies, minds and actions being an inseparable part of it. At its core, the Bhagavad Gita conveys the message that the world is sustained by a moral and spiritual order (dharma), that’s why it’s crucial that we maintain our relationships and fulfill our duties and responsibilities to one another.

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, a Sanskrit maxim also found in ancient Hindu scriptures, simply means that “the whole world is one family.” It’s a social philosophy that advocates oneness in diversity and inculcates a spiritual understanding that the whole of humanity is made of one life force and each of us has the Universal Consciousness within us.

The ancient Stoics also practiced the same philosophy of oneness and advocated cosmopolitanism, the idea that we are citizens of the world. They believed in the concept of sympatheia, which essentially translated to the notion of a well-integrated, interconnected cosmos in which everything in the universe is part of a grander whole. In his personal reflections, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius referred to the common good on multiple occasions and identified himself not just as a citizen of Rome, but of the World. He wrote, “Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe. For in a sense, all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other—for one thing follows after another according to their tension of movement, their sympathetic stirrings, and the unity of all substance.”

Another Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote, “Let us take hold of the fact that there are two communities — the one, which is great and truly common, embracing gods and humans, in which we look neither to this corner nor to that, but measure the boundaries of our citizenship by the sun; the other, the one to which we have been assigned by the accident of our birth.”

All these ancient writings and texts direct our attention to this timeless truth: This world is an interconnected web of cause and effect. And in such a world, acting from ignorance or selfishness always leads to suffering for oneself and others. Hence, the best and wisest course for us is to act from wisdom and selflessness, by cultivating a sense of love and commitment to the common good; that’s the only way to attain inner peace and freedom, even in challenging circumstances.

In this fast-paced modern world, it’s easy to get sidetracked by sensational news, distractions and temptations, and forget the concept of an interconnected world. It’s easy to focus on our problems and our own little worlds and forget the bigger picture. 

But the truth is that when others suffer, we suffer. We are all connected, one way or the other. We have all witnessed this in action and continue to do so with the ongoing pandemic. When we harm others, when we harm our Mother Earth, knowing or unknowingly, we harm ourselves too. Marcus Aurelius referred to this when he wrote that what’s bad for the hive is bad for the bee as well

Today, on Earth day, let’s work towards changing our perception and remind ourselves that we are deeply interwoven with one another and our Mother Earth. In order to take superior actions that benefit our species, our fellow beings and our wonderful planet, we can train ourselves to focus on the three aspects of action emphasized in the Bhagavad Gita:

  1. Is the action right?
  2. Does it serve the welfare of the world? 
  3. Is it motivated by love?

Even if we have minimal knowledge in the subjects of ecology, climate change, environmental science and public health, it shouldn’t stop us from doing our bit. Even if a little action taken in the right direction can go a long way. 

When we become aware of our deep interdependence and simply employ the ideas from ancient texts, we start acting more wisely and compassionately. We make sure that our everyday actions benefit both ourselves, others, and our beautiful Mother Earth.

Happy Earth Day to all of you!