It is my great pleasure and honour to welcome Satish Kumar to the Sense-Making in a Changing World podcast. Satish is a world-renowned ecologist, thinker, educational visionary and the co-founder of Schumacher College and founder of the Small School in Devon, England. He is Emeritus Editor of Resurgence & Ecologist and founder of Green Books. The BBC Natural World program, Earth Pilgrim takes us out into Dartmoor walking with Satish exploring his Soil, Soul, Society philosophy. This episode, we explore how our current view of education fits into the ways that we learn and more holistic approaches that are possible.
Walking and simple living is a key thread in Satish’s life as a former Jain monk born in Rajasthan, and a member of Vinobe Bhave’s ‘walking university’. Back in the early 1960s, when he was just 26, he set out on a 13,000km peace pilgrimage with a friend and no money. They visited key nuclear nations and visited leaders with peace tea. In London, they met Lord Bertrand Russell the 90-year old who was jailed for peace activism and inspired them.
It was in 1992 that I first met Satish Kumar at Schumacher College, just a year after the college had opened. I spent almost a year there then, and have returned several times – last year as a contribution teacher to the Beyond Development program with Jonathon Dawson.
I recorded this interview with Satish during that program at Schumacher College, Dartington last year just as he was releasing his latest book Elegant Simplicity: The Art of Living Well.
Elegant Simplicity provides a coherent philosophy of life that weaves together simplicity of material life, thought, and spirit. In it, Satish distills five decades of reflection and wisdom into a guide for everyone.
Talking with Satish has yet again opened my eyes to the power of education in cultivating a deep relationship with the planet.
Read the Full Transcript
Morag Gamble: Welcome to the sense-making in a changing world podcast, where we explore the kind of thinking we need to navigate a positive way forward. I’m your host Morag Gamble.. Permaculture Educator, and Global Ambassador, Filmmaker, Eco villager, Food Forester, Mother, Practivist and all around lover of thinking, communicating and acting regeneratively. For a long time it’s been clear to me that to shift trajectory to a thriving one planet way of life we first need to shift our thinking, the way we perceive ourselves in relation to nature, self, and community is the core. So this is true now more than ever. And even the way change is changing, is changing. Unprecedented changes are happening all around us at a rapid pace. So how do we make sense of this? To know which way to turn, to know what action to focus on? So our efforts are worthwile and nourishing and are working towards resilience, regeneration, and reconnection. What better way to make sense than to join together with others in open generative conversation. .
Morag Gamble: In this podcast, I’ll share conversations with my friends and colleagues, people who inspire and challenge me in their ways of thinking, connecting and acting. These wonderful people thinkers, doers, activists, scholars, writers, leaders, farmers, educators, people whose work informs permaculture and spark the imagination of what a post-COVID, climate-resilient, socially just future could look like. Their ideas and projects help us to make sense in this changing world to compost and digest the ideas and to nurture the fertile ground for new ideas, connections and actions. Together we’ll open up conversations in the world of permaculture design, regenerative thinking community action, earth, repair, eco-literacy, and much more. I can’t wait to share these conversations with you.
Morag Gamble: Over the last three decades of personally making sense of the multiple crises we face I always returned to the practical and positive world of permaculture with its ethics of earth care, people care and fair share. I’ve seen firsthand how adaptable and responsive it can be in all contexts from urban to rural, from refugee camps to suburbs. It helps people make sense of what’s happening around them and to learn accessible design tools, to shape their habitat positively and to contribute to cultural and ecological regeneration. This is why I’ve created the Permaculture Educators Program to help thousands of people to become permaculture teachers everywhere through an interactive online dual certificate of permaculture design and teaching. We sponsor global Permayouth programs, women’s self help groups in the global South and teens in refugee camps. So anyway, this podcast is sponsored by the Permaculture Education Institute and our Permaculture Educators Program. If you’d like to find more about permaculture, I’ve created a four-part permaculture video series to explain what permaculture is and also how you can make it your livelihood as well as your way of life. We’d love to invite you to join our wonderfully inspiring, friendly and supportive global learning community. So I welcome you to share each of these conversations, and I’d also like to suggest you create a local conversation circle to explore the ideas shared in each show and discuss together how this makes sense in your local community and environment. I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which I meet and speak with you today.. The Gubbi Gubbi people and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. .
Morag Gamble: It’s my deep honor to welcome to the show today. Satish Kumar, the founder of Schumacher College in England in Devon, the place that really inspired me and set me on the path that I’m on today. And also he’s the founder of the Small School and a nuclear disarmament activists, former Jain monk, and well known for his peace walk, where he walked from India across the world, 13,000 kilometers by foot with no money and just a friend in the 1960s on his way to meet all the key leaders of the nuclear-armed countries and offer them a peace tea. On his way he met so many leaders and he, he did indeed find his way to meet up with Bertrand Russell. Who’s a Nobel peace prize-winning 89-year-old, who was jailed for peace and the person who inspired Satish on his journey. Anyway, Satish is also the editor of Resurgence for decades. He’s been doing that and more recently, uh, the Resurgence and Ecologist magazine together. He’s a visionary educational thinker and leader, and he has several honorary doctorates in education, literature, and law. He has a BBC Natural World, uh, program that ed called the Earth Pilgrim. And he’s the author of many books. And most recently Elegant Simplicity: The Art of Living Well which he had just published when I met and talked with him for this interview. So this interview was actually recorded when I, when I met up again with Satish at Schumacher college last year. Satish is a dear friend of mine. We’ve known each other since 1992 when I first went to Schumacher college as a young 23-year-old. And it’s been Sateesh’s inspiration over these years, that as I said, set me on the path that I’m on today. So it’s an absolute honor to have him on the show. And I really hope you enjoy this conversation about education.
Morag Gamble: I was really wanting to talk with you today about education, because that’s the focus of my work and my work in, in many parts of world, people in Africa. And I worked with people, local community schools everywhere, really? And it’s about pulling out the idea that we need to change and how is it that we need to change? So how can we work with that in our own minds and in our own communities to keep people in a really positive way. And so echoing your what do you call it? The Soil, Soul society… head, heart and hands. And so for me, I’ve always looked to you to, to the work that you’ve done and the things that you’ve talked about over the years, as a, as a guiding point for the type of education that we needed.. I wanted to ask you about, about that more. Yeah.
Satish Kumar: At the moment, education is to prepare young people for jobs and not for life. And when you prepare with jobs, you often betting them, hold that own personal success. So when they go out after university or schools that go out in the world, looking for that own success, loss of money, getting a big house, getting some name fame or prestige or control something for myself. And so I call that kind of education ego-boosting, and therefore everybody’s in competition against each other and getting success for themselves. Now, what I want education should be..education not for my success, but education to serve the earth and care for other people. And when I serve the earth and look after the natural environment and look after other people, then the earth and other people will look after me. So I get the benefit, which I’m seeking but no seeking for myself, but others giving me that life. But I am offering myself so everybody’s offering that service to others. And then for everybody getting their service for themselves, putting themselves, everybody, bringing the everybody’s getting benefit, but like feeding each other.
Satish Kumar: So, you know, the story of hell and heaven, someone wanted to experience what is helland what is heaven. So the first this person went through hell to find out what it looks like. So there was people in houses and no more situation. Actually he looked around and why is this hell. He didn’t quite understand, but then the lunch bell went and the people came out of their cells and sin and starving and the long arms and long bodies. And so they sat and the table in front of each other on the table. But they’re so long arms, that when they wanted to feed themselves, they could not reach their mouth, the food went over their head and fell on the floor. The food on the floor and they remained hungry. And day after day, week after week, month after month, they remain hungry. And so the hell is a hell of a hungry ghost.
Satish Kumar: Then he went to heaven and in heaven, not very different situation. Everything looks similar, but people came out with the lunch bell went and they were looking very well, and they look well fed, how do they do it? They have also long arms long legs, they sat at a big table and they just have to feed each other because you can’t feed themselves, arms will be too long for that but the person sitting in front of you. So everybody got fed, but not by feeding themselves but by feeding each other. So my model of education, my idea is that we go out in the world not to serve ourselves, but to serve the earth, serve the people in the service of the earth. Then earth will look after us and our needs. There are plenty of food, with plenty of fruit, plenty of wood for housing, the plenty of everything else earth will give us. We are in the service of the earth caring for the earth, looking out for the environment, not polluting, not wasting, not destroying, not undermining, not undervaluing. And the same with people. We look after people. [inaudible] in the hospitals, in the schools, everywhere. At the moment they would do their jobs to earn money for themselves therefore it is egotistical education. So I want education, which is preparing me for life and preparing me for service and by serving each other we all benefit. That’s the kind of idea.
Morag Gamble: I love what you’re saying. Because, because from the permaculture perspective, the basic kind of ethics that are underlying everything is care for earth, care for people and fair share. And that’s exactly what you’re saying so it fits beautifully. What, what does that education look like? If that’s the ethic and the heart that we have about the type of education, what does that kind of education have in universities or schools or in our community?
Satish Kumar: That education, as I have a written a chapter in my book Soil, Soul, Society. That education should involve educational head, educational, heart, and educational hands. At the moment, our education mainly is of head. Thinking, analyzing, information, knowledge a little bit, but more information. Now that knowledge and experience should be complemented with experience and experience comes by feeling, heart and by making – hands. And so educational head, educational hearts and educational hands.. These three together, it makes the education. So every school should have time in curriculum, in their syllabus in their timetable, how we are going to cultivate our feelings, how are we going to get compassion for each other? How are we going to be compassion for the earth? How are we to create compassion for humanity? How we respect each other, how we have kindness in our heart, how we love each other? How we love nature. How we love the mountains and the forest and the animals and the bugs and the wasps and bees and the oceans and everything in nature. So that is a hard quality. In our education system we don’t have any time when you’re teaching, but how to be compassionate and how to be kind, how to cultivate nonviolence, how to cultivate truth, how to cultivate beauty. How to cultivate goodness. There’s no room for that. It’s just intellectual information books after books, after books. So I want to bring heart as a core curriculum in our education system. And then every school must have a garden.. a permaculture garden an organic garden, where will know and learn how to cultivate, how to plant trees, how to grow orchards, fruit, vegetables, greens and energy, and how to do store water, how to cultivate a food, but how also, how to harvest sunlight and energy. So it’s a kind of complete cycle of energy and food and our ourselves. So that kind of every school, every university must-have for a proper education a garden and a field, and also teaching skills like pottery, woodwork, making chairs and furniture, building a house to be part of our everyday education. Everybody needs to eat. We don’t know how to grow food. We don’t know how to cook food. And we need a house. Everybody needs a house to live but we don’t know how to build a house all industrial housing.
Morag Gamble: I was recently in Uganda and I met this young man who’s 10 years old. And he was taking me for tour through his home compound it was full of food everywhere. And they’re incredibly poor, but they had so much abundance. Let me show me this particular tool he had, which was shaped out of some old branches with a flat top on the top and he said this is how we make our houses and so he started to show me how they would collect the mud from the field around and make the bricks. And I’m looking at him saying you’re 10. You’re teaching me how to make a house. That’s amazing. It’s quite unusual. He looked at me like it was an odd thing to be asking. He said “Everyone knows how to make a house!”
Satish Kumar: Yeah, exactly. Our education system in the modern Western world is not education. It’s a mis-education. We don’t teach even people how to imagine. Imagination is missing. You can’t imagine. And you can’t make, you can’t feel. You’re only can think, think think then worry worry worry. So that’s not education.
Morag Gamble: I’ve met someone in the hallway earlier, James. And he was telling me about a story that you told about learning and food too. Was that your story about how…
Satish Kumar: I was saying, that universe made this beautiful design in our body in our life we have a mind to think. The moment mind thinks, the body react. So, um, so thinking is fresh.. thinking is like fresh food. So you think and you act. So acting is like eating the fresh food. It’s action. And so thinking is good, action is good. But thinking without action is like cooking the food, but not eating. So put it on the shelf. And then after two days, three days, it becomes stale food. So thinking without acting, it’s like, worrying worrying worrying. So worrying is making your food stale. So we are living by stale food cause we are all people worrying so much. So I say worrying is a bad business
Morag Gamble: I came and asked you a long time ago. I was interested because I had very young children at that time and I came to ask you. I said, I’m really fascinated by the small school that you started. And I would really to begin one for my young children. What should I do? And you just said.. Just start! And so I did [ inaudible].
Satish Kumar: That’s it. That’s action. Thinking is fresh food. And action is fresh food eating. Leaving your food and not acting.. thinking but without acting is making your fresh thinking into stale thinking. Worry is making your thinking stale.
Morag Gamble: So how is this middle school going? And all those various..
Satish Kumar: We are changing the small school. Now we are making it a small school but taking exams. And children are passing exams. So they can go to university. Now a friend of ours has started another the school nearby, which is supported by the government academy so that children book at a fee. So now we are changing our educational system and now our children will learn how to grow food, how to cook food, how make furniture, how to build a house, practical skills, but they will learn during the weekend, evenings, holidays, school time, they would go to this nearby another school. So our school will be informal education and more heart and hands and believe that nearby school to teach the head that it will be continuous [inaudible]. So we are now, um, repairing, making a new, putting solar panels and sort of putting in water harvesting. And all of those things are making it more ecological and a bit more sustainable. So the school can become an example. So becoming more ecological, environmental and sustainable school. So it’s continuing, but slightly has changed.
Morag Gamble: I’m sure the college has changed a lot since I came 27 years ago. It’s surrounded by gardens so much.
Satish Kumar: Yes, yes. The garden is a great new addition. What we are doing, all our students who come here to participate – short course or long course, everybody participate in the garden. But in addition to that, we have a six month long course for growers. So people come in the beginning of April and they stay here until the end of September – six month growing season. At that time, they learn about principles of permaculture, practice of permaculture, agro-ecology. Also biodynamic farming, organic farming. So various methods, which are kind of sustainable, ecological, environmental, holistic methods, which have been developed over many years like food grow cause natural farming, biodynamic farming, and organic farming and permaculture, agro-ecology – all of these aspects we teach. So six months course, we call them growers. So six months course, we call them growers. 13 of them. 2 of them, in addition to 13, 2 people havee have stayed on from the previous course. So they’re going to be assistant teachers. So that makes 15. And then our main teacher. So about 16 or 17 people we have every year who are fully dedicated to learning.
Morag Gamble: So do you know much about what they..do those people go out and start their own farms. Or do they go out and then teach other people?
Satish Kumar: Yeah. They do they do all sorts of things. Many of them start their own farms and they become market gardeners and they can grow enough vegetables to sell, to make living. And then some of them get good work in great gardens, great gardens where people would want to grow vegetables, organically in a permaculture way kind of ecological way. And so they get a job as gardeners. Two of them are head gardeners of wonderful gardens. And then some of them start their own farms as well and some of them teach.. teaching. And so when you get so many people, when they go back, they do different things.
Morag Gamble: Quite a phenomenal thing what’s going on here. You have master of science, master new economics.
Satish Kumar: We have three postgraduate programs. The first program we started is continuing is a master in a holistic science. So we are saying is the Schumacher College and the Environmental movement is not against science. So what kind of science? So holistic science, which includes Gaia and complexity and the [inaudible], and many of the [inaudible] Shiva, all of these scientists teach here, the holistic science. So then we have, um, some transition of economics or economics of transition. So economics of transition is based on Schumacher. Small is beautiful. Buddhist economics.. economics that people matter. Nonprofit. Economics should not be without ecology. Economics should not be seeing nature as initials for money. Economic should be, um, teaching people that nature is the source of life and not a resource for making money. And so that kind of economic transition, how do we shift from this economics, which is based on the enormous input from fossil fuels to economics based on renewable energy and a low input energy so that we don’t contribute to global warming and climate change. So it’s kind of new economics. The third course we run.. postgraduate program that we run is ecological design thinking. How can we design our organizations? How can we design our products? How can we design our houses in such a way that [inaudible] so that it’s not [inaudible] linear because you take from nature, you use it and you throw it away on the, on the landfill. So there’s a kind of linear economy. So our design should be such that we take from nature, use it, put it back to nature. Cyclical system. And so that is the organization or projects or houses or energies, whatever it is.. that kind of holistic principle is part of ecological design thinking. So we have three masters program. And the fourth one the growers program which is for gardening. They are what we call short courses. So short courses last for one week or two weeks or two weeks or even weekend. And so we want to serve and cater the needs of everybody, whoever. So some people have only weekend. So we go for some weekend courses, some people have one week. So we offered them a week long course. Some people have 2 or 3 weeks. They can come for that. And then if they have six months, they can come for growers program. For the whole year they can come for masters program. So we are catering for everybody.
Morag Gamble: Fantastic. And I hear that this there’s this alumni network that’s reaching out across the world as well. And people are starting up sort of little satellite projects as well.. Also in India too, you have a close collaboration. And you teach there as well. I haven’t been there yet can you tell us a little bit about that school?
Satish Kumar: Vandana Shiva is one of our regular teachers here. Inspired by Schumacher and she started something called a Earth university and it is based on 50 acre, completely biodiverse, organic permaculture farm. It’s a beautiful example of sustainable good ecological farming. And so, and she had 500 mango trees and lots of oranges and lemons and papayas and rice and vegetables herbs everything she could. 50 acres it’s a good piece of land. In addition to that, she had added, um, the educational program. So she teaches, uh, organic agriculture. Part of that is permaculture. And part of that is agro-ecology. Part of that is biodynamic. Like we do here in our growers course, Shiva the same thing. One month, four weeks course. And so that’s, uh, A-Z organic farming. And then I go there and teach there every year – Ghandi and globalization. We teach together. So it’s a kind of Schumacher inspired and Schumacher modeled center in India, and then the school in India – Bangalore , which means land college based on land again. And so they are also doing some master’s program and short courses practical cooking, gardening, practical work as well. So the two schools in India, and then we have a school Schumacher in Brazil.
Morag Gamble: Oh I have to visit Schumacher in Majorca. Looking forward to that.
Satish Kumar: Yes, yes, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. School in Majorca [inaudible] then there’s a group working in Colombia and the group in China. So Schumacher worldwide is a big [inaudible] and we have got 15,000 Schumacher alumni around the world now. And so we are constantly in contact with them and many of them come back as a kind of renewal, revitalization and regeneration. So they come back again and again, and also I go Stephan goes and Patricia and Julie and Jonathan we all…our faculty we go around and teach. So also, um, sort of gatherings of Schumacher alumni. Last one I went to was in Romania and it was wonderful. And this year I was going to be in Holland. I’m not going this year, but, but it’d be very good.
Morag Gamble: I think it’s time for one in Australia. There must be many of us. I think I will organize one when I get back.
Satish Kumar: We want to reach.. [ inaudible ] What you are teaching a Schumacher and we don’t need to, then it’s the content and you are teaching with heart and your hands. So you are Schumacher and you are Schumacher alumni. You are inspired here. Absolutely wonderful.
Morag Gamble: So you’ve just written a new book. Can you tell us a little bit about that..
Satish Kumar: My new book is called Elegant Simplicity. And so what I am saying is that living a simple life is essential and a prerequisite for a sustainable future. If we go on using nature, natural material and churning that into consumer goods, more and more and more buildings and roads and furniture and everything. Which is finite. And then we waste so much. And so let’s take from nature. What is our real need. Make some beautiful things, comfortable, good life, but not too much. And so no clutter. So simplicity is prerequisite for sustainability, but also I’m saying that simplicity is prerequisite for spirituality because in order to buy so much good material and houses you have to work hard and then you have to shop hard. And then look after it hard. So much time has given. And [inaudible] for love for adventure, for walking, for dancing, music, poetry, all those are spiritual nourishment that we need but we have no time. If you are an artist that you become a specialist artist. What I want is to see everybody having time to like poetry, to be an artist, walking, have time for family, for friendship, time for themselves. And in order to do that, you have to work less and less consumer, less live, simple life so that you have time for no material things. So for spirituality, simplicity is essential. And then I’m also saying that for social justice, you need to live simple life. But if some people gathers too much, other people have too little. Therefore poverty, injustice, inequality. And so if we all live a simple life and share everything among everybody else and everybody’s needs should be met. And there’s abundance in nature. As long as we are only looking for our need and not our greed. So our modern economy promotes and encourages hate and claiming more and more and more so. So if we can control our craving and our greed and a meet our needs, then there are enough in the world for everybody’s need, but not for anybody’s greed. With that principle, Elegant Simplicity is [inaudible].
Morag Gamble: I know it just came out this week. So I’m going to go and get my copy as soon as I can. So just to.. Thank you so much for your time. And then one last thing that you could advise so the people who are doing my course a who will be becoming new teachers in this world for permaculture and sustainable thinking. Some advice in terms of direction or focus that you think would be really critical for being a teacher in this realm.
Satish Kumar: When you are learning about permaculture and learning about living in harmony with the natural world, first principle is to celebrate. Celebrate the beauty and the majestic, and the benevolence nature. We have forgotten how to celebrate. So celebration, the underpinning principle of permaculture. Permaculture is a permanent culture. It’s a principle of permanence. Year after year, the economy of nature is not for one year or five years or 50 years is for billions of years. And how do you create an economy which is based in principle of permaculture, only if you celebrate nature. So when we celebrate, we celebrate the tree, we celebrate the sunshine. We celebrate our own lives. We celebrate our friendship and we celebrate our creativity. So celebration is in my view, the key to find joy. Whatever you are doing! Food you have cooked celebrate and enjoy. We have grown the food harvest festival is a celebration of the bounty of the Earth. We forget to celebrate. We just go and eat and that’s it. But between growing and eating is celebration. And so permaculture should be underpinned always with celebration. And once you have that then the second principle should be contentment. There’s enough. Everything is enough. We have enough, which it gives us enough. We have enough, we have intelligence.. imagination and the eyes we can see, we can hear, we can speak, we can feel. We have so much good body. We can build a house, we can grow our food. We can write books, dance, we can play piano or violin. You can see. What more do we need? Nature has given us everything. They had given us soil and the soul and our community society. So soil give us food. Soul they give us happiness and joy and society will give us a community. So if we can celebrate Soil Soul Society. This is celebration is the key. So I would say celebrate the soil soul society is the way to go.
Morag Gamble: Thank you so much.
Satish Kumar: I’m delighted to see you again after so long.
Morag Gamble: So thanks for tuning in to the sense-making in a changing world podcast today, it’s been a real pleasure to have your company. I invite you to subscribe and receive notification of each new weekly episode with more wonderful stories, ideas, inspiration, and common sense for living and working regeneratively. And core positive permaculture thinking of design interaction in this changing world. I’m including a transcript below and a link also to my four-part permaculture series, really looking at what is permaculture and how to make it your livelihood too. So join me again in the next episode where we talk with another fascinating guest, I look forward to seeing you there!
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Thanks for tuning into Sense-making in a Changing World today. It has been a pleasure to have your company. I invite you to subscribe (via your favourite podcast app like iTunes) and receive notification of each new weekly episode.
Each Wednesday I will share more wonderful stories, ideas, inspiration, and common sense for living and working regeneratively. Positive permaculture thinking, design, and action are so needed in this changing world.
What is permaculture?
Take a look at my free 4 part permaculture series or Our Permaculture Life Youtube and my permaculture blog too. For an introduction to permaculture online course, I recommend The Incredible Edible Garden course. I also offer an online Permaculture Educators Program (Permaculture Design Certificate and Permaculture Teacher Certificate) and involve young people in permaculture through Permayouth (11-16yos).
Founder, Permaculture Education Institute
I acknowledge the Traditional owners of the land from which I am broadcasting, the Gubbi Gubbi people, and pay my respects to their elders past, present, and emerging.
Thank you Rhiannon Gamble for audio editing – a challenging task this week with poor connection.
Thank you to Kim Kirkman (Harp) and Mick Thatcher (Guitar) for donating this piece from their album ‘Spirit Rider’.