There are spiritual seekers and there are socio-environmental activists. Andrew Harvey, founder of the Institute of Sacred Activism explains that while spiritual seekers tend to disassociate from the material world of social, economic, environmental and political engagement, and are thereby not there for the world in its hour of need, activists fighting against the worldly socio-environmental injustices are prone to exhaustion and rage without spiritual development and practice. The need is for a combination of the two.
Spiritual practices are healing and develop a greater sense of compassion. Spiritually awakened activists are more altruistic and hence more actively engaged. For example, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and Desmond Tutu are all spiritually awakened activists who have successfully led communities towards transformative change.
Govardhan Ecovillage, located in Palghar district, Maharashtra, about 108 kms from Mumbai in India, aims to integrate spiritual practices with sustainable living. Radhanath Swami, a monk in the Krishna-bhakti lineage and teacher of the devotional path of Bhakti-yoga for over forty years, is the visionary behind Govardhan Ecovillage.
Sacred activism at the ecovillage begins by investing into the ecology of the heart. According to Radhanath Swami the root cause of pollution in the world is the pollution in the heart. He says, “Toxic greed has contaminated the minds of human society. The environment is simply an external manifestation of the ecology of the mind. It hardens the heart and fools us into rationalising cruelty and justifying crime. It is futile to attempt to clean the environment when politicians are corrupt, industrialists pollute rivers to maximize profits and scientists put aside their ethics for funding.”
Spiritual life is the science of cleansing the heart and tasting the joy of living in harmony with God, each other and nature, towards achieving a socio-environmentally just society. The Vedic scriptures state that the most simple and powerful method of cleansing the ecology of the heart and awakening the dormant love within us is to chant God’s names. In our tradition, we chant the name of Krishna.
The Ecovillage acts as a demonstration sustainable living space that is holistic, for people to visit and emulate our values and initiatives in their lives and communities. We offer retreats and courses through the year that are open to all, with a focus on spiritual ecology. We are also open for visitors wanting to spend their time exploring our values and initiatives at their own pace. Additionally, we have a rural-outreach programme where we work with about twelve villages in the vicinity to help them develop sustainably. Some our rural-outreach initiatives include organic farming practices, water resource management, sustainable livelihood options for the landless, women’s self-help groups, and access to basic medical care.
Radhanath Swami explains, “The first and great commandment is to love God with all one’s heart, mind and soul – the natural result of that is to love your neighbour as yourself. Nature is also our neighbour, she is alive with rights like everyone else, but too many people don’t see nature that way. God has empowered all of us in different ways and if we agree on what the real problem is, then we can all contribute our part of the solution. The well-being of Mother Earth is everyone’s problem. It is crucial for leaders in all fields to serve cooperatively.”