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Book review: Spiritual Compass - The three qualities of life by Satish Kumar

I first discovered the writings of Satish Kumar back in 2009 when one of my university lecturers recommended that I subscribe to Resurgence Magazine (now Resurgence & Ecologist), as he thought it would interest me - right was he! Satish Kumar was editor of the magazine at the time, a position he held for over 40 years, and continues to write articles for the publication even now. I was captivated by his deep love for the living world and his understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, which was evident in all of his writing. This clear sense of awe that Satish Kumar had for nature inspired me to want to know more about this person who had renounced the world at age 9 to become a Jain monk and his quest for peace, leading me to read the books 'You are. Therefore I am' a challenge to Descartes' dualist philosophy, 'Earth Pilgrim' which is a series of conversations that hope to inspire people to become Earth Pilgrims, people who are concerned and connected more with this world, not the next; and, the book I will discuss here, 'Spiritual Compass - The three qualities of life'.

The book's primary focus is the three Gunas (the Maha Gunas) from the Indian traditions of Yoga and Ayurveda, the three qualities that make up our world, qualities of mind and of nature; with suggestions on how to notice and positively apply them to our modern life. I will try to outline the qualities of the Maha Gunas simply, for anyone that may not be familiar. The three Maha Gunas are known as sattva, rajas and tamas. Starting with the latter, tamas is a state of darkness, dullness and matter. It governs inertia and inactivity. Rajas is movement, action and change. Attraction, attachment and overindulgence are the rajasic way. Finally, sattva is a state of harmony, intelligence and balance. It is the nature of beauty and inspiration. Sattva promotes love, health and contentment. Cultivating a sattvic life means increasing awareness and developing unselfish joy. I would like to add here that while the book points the reader towards ways in which they may live a more sattvic life, it is essential for elements of tamas and rajas to be present. I feel this is best expressed with the example of a growing flower. Imagine a seed laying inert in the earth; it and much of what surrounds it are made up of physical matter. This is a tamasic state; it requires the action and energy of rajas to germinate and grow up through the soil. Sattva is present in the blossoming, to be of service to the bees and insects; it is the quality of beauty and being.

During the book, Satish Kumar also aims to help the reader realise that, while much neglected and forgotten in our 21st-century lives, spirit is essential to our world; in fact, according to the author, it is present whether we notice it or not, and it is impossible to separate from the tangible,

"IN THE SATTVIC WORLDVIEW there is no dualism, no separation between matter and spirit. Spirit is held within matter, and matter within spirit."

(Kumar, 2008, p. 61)

'Spiritual Compass - The three qualities of life' is a beautiful book which effortlessly pairs spirituality with practicality. A small but perfectly formed looking-glass through which to peer at the world, reflect and apply the principles of a sattvic spirit to our everyday lives. This includes everything from the food we eat, how we communicate, create and maintain our relationships, to how we spend our time, build our homes, and, dare I say it, even our politics! It encourages us to move from an 'I' centred world to one of us; we together, for the benefit of each other, all beings and our surroundings. To live a sattvic life - simple, compassionate and at one with nature.

"I am made of the entire evolution of the Earth; I am the microcosm of the macrocosm. There is nothing in the universe which is not in me. The entire universe is encapsulated in me, as a tree is encapsulated in a seed."

(Kumar, 2008, p.77)

If you would like to know more about Satish Kumar and his ecological and spiritual philosophy, I would recommend checking out the work of Schumacher College, England and watching 'Earth Pilgram', a programme made for the BBC in 2008 to which there is an accompanying book, which is also worth a read. You can also check out for further information.


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