Sustainability can be defined literally as the ability to be sustained, or the ability to endure or exist indefinitely. Sustainability is popularly considered to be just environmental sustainability, which is the capacity of something to sustain the environment. However, there are also other kinds and degrees of sustainability, such as social sustainability (the capacity of people, organizations and societies to be sustained), and economic sustainability (the sustainable management, distribution, and use of resources).
Society cannot exist without the environment, and the economy cannot exist without society and the environment. In other words, society is a subset of the environment, and the economy is a subset of society. Therefore, it is important that humans do their best to be responsible stewards of the environment, while also doing their best to sustain themselves, society, and the economy, the latter two of which are comprised of individuals, and are thus affected by them.
If sustainability is defined only as the ability to exist indefinitely, then it may be argued that living sustainably is not the end goal of life. Would someone want to exist in sorrow, or be unconscious but exist? No, life is seeking a joyous, conscious existence. Therefore, it may be said that the goal of life is to seek an ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new joy. Part of that goal is to find the most effective methods to achieve it. Whether there exists in man’s vocabulary an adverb to express that way of life is another question. Perhaps the best adverb is spiritually.
True sustainability requires not only environmental sustainability but also social and economic sustainability. True sustainability consists in being able to exist for eternity. People have said that it is only God and saints that are in attunement with Him who are able to exist for eternity. More than that, people say that God exists for eternity in ever new bliss. Saints say that souls will never be satisfied until we have that unceasing at-one-ment with God.
Note also abrupt climate change and holocene extinction. Greenhouse gas emissions coupled with other human pressures has caused mass species extinction. Greenhouse gas emissions are not sustainable for life on Earth!
Following are some practical tips on become truly sustainable, by uniting one’s consciousness with the one, only truly sustainable thing—Spirit, which is everything.
Service in some way helps the world, and mankind, and helps yourself, but ought to be done in a selfless way, in attunement with God, without any desire for the fruits of action. This can be accomplished by keeping the mind at the point between the eyebrows and holding onto the stillness gathered in meditation during activity, which is another way of saying practice nonattachment/evenmindedness. Make the time to meditate more deeply and longer, practicing the Self-Realization Fellowship techniques as taught in the Lessons. Cut out things in your life that are unnecessary, such as watching TV, spending too much time on social media, excessive socializing, over-reading (particularly trashy books), and general procrastination.
Most people do not like to be told how to behave. Yet learning to behave in all circumstances is essential to a truly happy existence, verily, to oneness with God, ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss (Satchitananda), rather than merely existing, like the walking dead. The yamas and niyamas (dos and don’ts, moral prescriptions and proscriptions) are eternal rules of happiness, they are meant to serve us.
Practice the consciousness that the world is a dream. This is one of the first and most frequently occurring lessons in many scriptures. Master (I mean Paramahansa Yogananda) mentions this in one way or another pretty much every talk, e.g. as maya or God’s illusion, God’s lila or play, this world is like a movie—God is the director and we are the actors, it is of light and dark, etc. He even goes to say that doing this is the greatest thing that we can do, i.e. it is more important than kriya yoga meditation. (He also said that cultivating a relationship with God was more important, which includes having a concept of God, an ishta, that is most approachable and appealing for each person.)
One facet of practicing the consciousness of the world as a dream is to not take life too seriously. It is a show, a joke, that God, the Divine Father-Mother-Friend-Beloved, is playing on us, He/She is playing hide and seek, and the game is to see whether we seek the Giver of all gifts, or His playthings. This of course extends to sustainability and all apparent injustices of the world. I have noticed a tendency amongst many people to be kind of gloomy or despairing about the state of world affairs, including crises like climate, sustainability, land, water, population, food, economy, etc. It is easy to become despondent by world affairs, we need to be vigilant and not become enmeshed, entangled or attached in or with the world, while living in it.
We need to realize that the deep root cause of all phenomena is each individual’s karma, and mass karma of one’s community, nation, world and cosmos. The siddha (lit. success, that soul or atman who has attained the final, ultimate success, realization of oneness with God), has no karma or desires, the core of his being is unaffected, even while is fully active in the world (a paramahansa, highest swan). Everything that happens to a person (who still has karma to work out is the result of his karma. Nothing happens by chance. All calamities, from the scale of the individual tragedy to wars, natural disasters, famine, epidemics, and so forth, are the result of individual karma and mass karma. Man, being endowed with free will, has the ability to shape the mass karma of the cosmos, creating a heaven or Hades on Earth.
We must “learn to behave”, in the words of Swami Sri Yukteswar. Acting in harmony in all that we do, inwardly and outwardly, we shall incur no desires nor karma, and swiftly work out our past karma and transmute our desires into one desire for Spirit. Just as it is wrong to murder a man (as opposed to non-violence, which includes resistance to evil with spiritual force, and also doesn’t include killing a man in a righteous war against an unjust aggressor), so it is wrong to harm anything, in any way. All is a part of one Spirit.
See everything as coming from God. Sister Gyanamata lived this and wrote about it her letters to disciples, which have been compiled into the book, God Alone. Swami Shankaracharya said that “Spirit is everything”, and Master told a funny little story about this in the lessons and in his talks. I won’t recount all of it, but to summarize Shankara agrees to a disciple sacrificing him (his body is not real, the disciple asks to use it how he wants), while Padmapada (lit. lotus foot), materializes and electrocutes the disciple as he raises his axe to deal the death blow. Shankara says: “Why did you do that? I am so disappointed in you… don’t you realize that he can’t kill me, I am Spirit?” Padmapada replies: “well… my killing him is not real then either!” And they both laughed and walked away.
(We shouldn’t sacrifice our body for a philosophy that we haven’t realized, prophets such as Shankara operate on a higher level of consciousness and can sometimes act in ways that are peculiar in the eyes of mortals. We shouldn’t kill others either, unless it is righteous to do so, e.g. to protect innocents—this is also discussed in God Talks with Arjuna.)
Study of good books
Study of good books, particularly spiritual books written by authors who have realized God. It is helpful to read through a passage once without interruption, including pausing to reflect on what you read, then read through it again, marking, taking notes, reflecting, inwardly digesting what you read, and considering how you can practice and make those thoughts become a part of your life.
Among the customs of all ancient peoples were nature rites whose purpose was to acknowledge man’s dependence on the natural forces and bounty of his environment. Instinctively, they recognized the debt and reverence owed to a Higher Intelligence working within the circumambient wonders. It is no coincidence that the godlessness prevalent in the modern age has spawned a civilization out of touch with the beneficence of Nature. The God-given role of guardianship of the Earth did not confer on man absolute sovereignty. His wanton domination is destructive of the very conditions necessary for his existence.
The universal structure and man’s infinitesimal place in it are made possible only by the working together in precise harmony of an awesome combination of intelligent cosmic forces guided by a Supreme Creator. Man would do well to put himself in attunement with these. For modern man to hold that the mathematical perfection of the universe could come about by chance is nothing but an expression of man’s egotism—a loathing to concede that there could be Something greater than he from which he only borrows his powers of intelligence and to which he owes his humble allegiance and worship.—God Talk With Arjuna, Chapter III, verse 11.
These are only a few tips, much more is available through Self-Realization Fellowship.
Following is some Native American wisdom, which has much that relates to sustainability, in a more obvious way. (All wisdom is interrelated, stemming from one Source.) Meditate after each quote:
- http://www.sapphyr.net/natam/quotes-nativeamerican.htm, plus more on the same site.