2008-01-20 19:00:50 UTC
Walking The World For Peace
Reflections from the editor of Resurgence
An interview with Satish Kumar, by Robert Gilman
One of the articles in Being Global Neighbors (IC#17)
Summer 1987, Page 12
Satish Kumar is an experienced global neighbor. Born in India, he is
currently the editor of Resurgence, a wonderful publication from
England that I like to think of as an elder sister to IN CONTEXT. It
was started in 1965 with the help of E. F. Schmacher and deals with
all kinds of planetary alternatives. Subscriptions are available from
Resurgence Limited, Ford House, Hartland, Bideford, Devon EX39 6YZ,
ENGLAND, for $20/year (surface mail) or $27/year (airmail).
Satish (and his son Mukti) stayed with us this Spring and shared some
chapters from his fascinating life.
- Robert Gilman
Robert: Satish, what is your personal background?
Satish: I was born in a very small village in Rajastan, which is in
the northwestern part of India, on the border with Pakistan. My family
was very religious, and my mother particularly had tremendous
influence on my life. I was a restless child. I did not go to school.
My mother used to go to the monks of the Jain religion, and I would go
The Jains are particularly keen on nonviolence at all levels,
nonviolence meaning not only not to harm any other individual person
or society, which is of course included, but not to harm any animal,
even a fly or an ant, not to harm any plants or trees or water. So it
is a tremendously ecological religion. For the Jains, the world
outside us is not for the convenience and benefit of human beings; the
world exists in its own right, and our responsibility is to respect
the whole existence as deeply as we possibly can and not to take
anything more than we really, really need.
My mother, for example, made a list of 50 items which she could eat in
her life, and she would not eat anything outside that list. Every day
she would take 15 or 20 or 25 items from the list, and that day she
would eat only those items, which would include water, salt, milk,
vegetables, grains, whatever she was eating. And after she was 50, she
would fast one day and eat one day, regularly. I'm giving you the
example of extreme reduction of needs. She would make a decision about
clothing, about space in the house - how much she needs - and reducing
her need from the outside world and seeing that what we need is
something inner. This gives us more time to attend the inner need.
That's why the world which we experience nowadays is so busy, because
we have created such a vast external world of needs and necessities
and possessions that we are busy just maintaining those possessions,
and buying more possessions.
So, for my mother, that was the principle. I grew with it, and I used
to go to see the monks, who had no possessions, even more extreme than
my mother. They had left their homes; they had no abode anywhere. They
could have only what they could carry on their back. A monk will have
only one dress to wear, and for the night he will have another change.
They have only handwritten manuscripts, because you can write very
small and then you can carry the most basic manuscripts with you. Even
the burden of books is very heavy.
Robert: Right. Sometimes very heavy!
Satish: Monks will have three begging bowls for their food: one for
water, one for liquid food, one for dry food. Three begging bowls, and
no shoes - they walked in bare feet. I was very impressed by this
austere, ascetic way of life, which took them into their inner world.
So, at the age of nine, I became a monk, and from then on I was there
practicing that kind of nonviolence. In the night, if you are walking,
you are not allowed to go out of the house where you are staying - you
are staying in somebody's house - and even within the house, if you
are moving about, you sweep the floor with a little soft, warm broom
before you put your foot down, so that you won't step on an ant or
insect or something on the floor - that extreme nonviolence.
Tremendous respect for every living being on the earth, and every
green life, and for the Jains everything has life - the rocks, the
stream, the water. So I received a tremendously ecological training.
That was my childhood. I grew up with the monks, studying Sanskrit and
meditating for hours in the morning and hours in the evening, and
going once a day to beg for food. For nine years I lived that life.
But in those nine years, however enlightening they were, I felt that
life was lacking in balance. I was pursuing the inner path at the
expense of the rest of my being and the rest of the world.
Robert: What brought you to leave?
Satish: There were two influences, similar in nature. One was a book I
read by Mahatma Gandhi. In it was a passage where he said that
religion, the pursuing of the inner journey, should not be separated
from the pursuing of the outer and social journey, because we are not
isolated beings. If we remove ourselves from the world, we are
pretending that we can follow our own individual enlightenment and let
the rest of the world go to hell, so to speak.
Robert: Which is a sort of spiritual egoism.
Satish: That's right. So, although I was extremely grateful to have a
period of undergoing such strict discipline, I felt that Gandhi's
suggestion was right, and I should find a way of life which combined
spiritual and social, inner and outer - that kind of balance. I read
that approach of Gandhi's and saw his living example in the world. On
the one hand he meditated, prayed, studied the Bhagavad Gita and the
Upanishads, and on the other hand he attended the National Congress
party's Executive Committee meetings and went to meet the Governer
General of India and worked on economic development, rural development
- there was no part which Gandhi left out of his life. So he not only
thought about balance; he was living it. That example inspired me, and
I felt that my monk life was a bit too narrow and even self-centered.
Robert: What year was it when you encountered Gandhi's idea?
Satish: That was something like 1954, I would say about six or seven
years after India's independence and Gandhi's death. So I did not meet
Gandhi. But then there was the second influence, which was Vinoba
Bhave, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Vinoba was following Gandhi's
path of combining social and political work with spiritual work.
Gandhi did a lot of work to bring about change in India itself; in the
West that is very little understood. His follower Vinoba took up the
issue of land ownership, and he went walking around the whole of India
for 20 years - East, West, North, South, Center, everywhere. With
slight risk of exaggeration you could say that he walked almost every
mile of the Indian land. He walked with the message that just as air,
sunshine, and water are nature's gifts which you cannot own or
possess, similarly the land, the earth, is our mother, and it's the
gift of the gods and the gift of nature and no one should claim
ownership on it. However, since he was not the government and he could
not change the law, he wanted people to at least change their
consciousness, to understand that they must not possess land while
there are millions of people totally landless. So he went to the
landlords and said, "If you have five children, consider me, the
representative of the poor, as the sixth child, and give me one-sixth
of your land to distribute among the landless." And it was quite a
miracle. He collected five million acres of land in gifts. That was
And he was a great scholar. He had studied Arabic and knew the Koran
very well, and he had studied the Bible. He was a great scholar of
Buddhism, and he had translated Buddhist scriptures and given
discourses on religions like Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism.
So I left the Jain monk's life and joined Vinoba and walked with him
for three years. It was a tremendously exciting time, because
thousands of people - doctors, lawyers, students, professors,
businessmen left their work and joined Vinoba to support him in this
land-gift movement. But for Vinoba, the land-gift movement was only
one aspect of his work. The people who were walking with him were his
students. He and we all together were a walking university!
Robert: About how many people would be walking with him?
Satish: Oh, anywhere from 50 to 100 people. And for a period of months
or years! And people would change; I was with him for about three
years. And so that's where I learned much more. That was my real
education in the world - I learned politics, the social and cultural
life of India, Hindu tradition and religion, and Buddhism. That was a
wonderful time when I walked with him. It showed that you can bring
nonviolent ways of changing our society, changing our thinking, and
changing our heart, even in issues like land distribution. In India,
where land is so scarce, you might find one or two or ten persons to
give some land, but millions of them giving him millions of acres was
quite a tremendous achievement. And even government was tremendously
influenced and changed laws and created a lot of land available for
the distribution. So he created a change of climate.
Robert: After the three years of your second period of education - you
must have been then 21 or so - what was your next step?
Satish: Then I lived in one of the Ashrams started by Vinoba, so my
education with Vinoba and his movement continued, but I lived more in
one place, and studied and worked on the land. I learned much. So from
the age of 18 to 26 - that's about 8 years - I was with Vinoba.
While I was walking with Vinoba, I had an inspiration to walk for
peace outside of India, because at that time - '61, '62 - there were a
lot of campaigns in England, the U.S. and Europe against nuclear
weapons. Lord Bertrand Russell, one of the establishment figures of
law-abiding Britain, committed civil disobedience and went to prison
at the age 90! This was so moving and inspiring for me sitting in
India that I said, "Here is a man who has got his passport for the
next life and is concerned about our world, and here I am only 26,
doing very little for the future of our planet. I must do something."
I was absolutely inspired and moved by Berty's action.
So I thought, "How do I do it? I go to Moscow, I go to Paris, I go to
London, I go to Washington. And if I fly, no impact will be there,
because there are thousands of people flying in the planes and you
arrive in Moscow and stay in a hotel and who are you? But if I walk
from India to Moscow, and then walk to Paris, and then walk to London,
and then walk from New York to Washington D.C., then at least I have
put my body on the line, so to speak. I have put my body where my
mouth is and expressed my protest by walking." So, that was my idea
that I would walk.
I and a friend of mine called Mannon talked together, and we both
decided to walk this journey. So we went to see Vinoba again, to get
his blessings, and he said, "You have my blessings. This is a
tremendous idea to walk. For walking abroad with a message of peace I
give you my full support, and this is a wonderful thing to do. But I
want to give you two weapons for your protection. One, go without any
money on you. And secondly, you are vegetarian; remain vegetarian. The
reason I want you not to take any money is because if you have money
you will arrive in a village or a town after walking all day, 20, 30
miles, and you will be exhausted, and you will look for a restaurant
to eat in, you will look for a bed and breakfast to sleep in, and you
will move on, and you won't meet anybody. But if you have no money,
you will be forced to find a hospitable, kind person somewhere who can
offer you a bed for the night. And when they offer you a bed for the
night they are bound to ask you, 'Would you like something to eat?'
And then you say, 'Yes, but we are vegetarians.' Then they will ask
you, 'Why?' You can communicate about peace, because peace is not only
peace in the world and nuclear weapons, but peace with nature, peace
with the animal world, for that is your Jain tradition. If you can
kill animals, the same attitude can kill human beings. The mentality
is the same which exploits nature and which creates wars. So you can
talk about it." And he said, "You must talk peace, not only the peace
of nuclear disarmament, but spiritual peace, peace within yourself.
Unless everybody has inner security, there cannot be world security.
So peace within yourself, peace within the world (between peoples, and
nations, and races, and religions), and then peace with nature. These
are the three kinds of peace that should be understood as
comprehensive peace, total peace."
So with that message from Vinoba I started, because he was very
convincing! We walked from Delhi, from the grave of Mahatma Gandhi,
and took about a month to walk from Delhi to the border of Pakistan.
It was easier to walk in India without money because we knew lots of
people, and people organized and things like that ...
Robert: And people in India were accustomed to taking in people?
Satish: Yes, that's right. But when we came to the border of India and
Pakistan, lots of our friends and relatives came to say goodbye. And
one of our very, very good friends came with lots of food and said,
"You are going into Pakistan, and there is no good relationship
between India and Pakistan. Pakistan is enemy country and a Muslim
country. And I fear for you. You are crazy to go without money.
However, since you have decided, I have brought some food parcels for
you." So I said, "I am very grateful to you for thinking about me and
being concerned. But I cannot take food with me, for these are parcels
of mistrust because they would mean that I don't trust Pakistan or
trust that they will feed me. If I have to die in two or three or ten
days' time, I will start dying today, but I do not want to take food
with me." He was very upset and said, "You are absolutely mad. I fear
for you." He was in tears, but he gave me his embrace, and then I
I came through the passport control, through the customs control, came
out into Pakistan, and to my total amazement and surprise and
disbelief, there was a young man standing with two garlands of
marigold flowers waiting. And when we arrived he asked, "Are you
Satish and Mannon who are walking for peace to Moscow?" "How did you
know?" He said, "A few days ago a traveler passed by and came through
Pakistan and he said to me, 'There are two Indians walking to Moscow.'
He just mentioned it by the way. And also when you left Delhi a month
ago I read a little news in a small corner of our newspaper that two
Indians are going to Moscow through Pakistan, and these two news met
together, so I have come. I came in search of you the day before
yesterday, I came yesterday, and I did not find you. I have come
today, and I am very happy to find you. Please come and stay with me
in my house and be my guest. And I have come with a car and I want you
to go with me to my house."
We were very, very moved. Five minutes ago, our friends were saying,
"You will go hungry and starve because you are going without money,"
and my friend was in tears because I would not accept the parcels of
food, and five minutes later I am in tears to see this example of
welcome. However, we said to him, "We cannot come in your car, because
we are walking. We must walk. But give us your address and we will
come to your house in the evening." He said, "No. How can I be sure
that you will not meet someone else on the way who wants you to be his
guest? I might lose you! After three days, coming every day in search
of you, I have found you. Now I cannot let you go." So, we said,
"Well, we must walk. That is our vow. We cannot go by car." He said,
"All right, one compromise. You don't want to walk with heavy
rucksacks on your back. I will take them in my car so that I will be
assured that if, for nothing else, you will at least come to collect
your rucksacks!" So we said, "That's fine. You take our rucksacks."
And then we walked and we came in the evening and stayed in his house.
So, Vinoba was absolutely right, that if you have money, that is a
buttress for fear, because you don't trust people. You think that you
can buy anything you like. But when you have no money, then you cannot
say, "I like this person and I don't like that person, I'll stay with
this person, I won't stay with that person. You accept everybody
without any judgment, without any questioning, without any criticism,
without any suspicion or mistrust. You trust everybody. You are in the
lap of people, and in the lap of God. You have to have total trust and
So we carried on. Every day was a wonderful day. Hundreds of stories,
every day. I'll tell you one more story, which is concerned with
Americans. We came to Peshawar and then started to walk from Peshawar
which is on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. You have to go
through the Khyber Pass. It's about 4 or 5,000 feet high, mountains on
both sides, and a very narrow, winding pass and the Kabul River, which
makes this pass, by the side of the road. So we're walking on this
road - it's very wild and very beautiful, but very secluded, very
lonely. In the middle of this Khyber Pass, a car passed by us, and it
went ahead of us about a hundred yards and stopped, and then reversed.
And somebody opened the window and said, "Do you want a lift?" We
said, "No, thank you. We are walking." He said, "Where are you walking
to?" As we realized the questioners were Americans, we said, "We are
walking eventually to the United States of America." "What? Walking to
the United States of America?" "Yes, we are." "Do you know where the
United States of America is?" "Yes, it's beyond many hills, and beyond
many countries, and beyond the ocean, and everything. We have seen it
on the map. But one day we'll be there." They were amazed. One of them
was a man named Dr. Scarf. He brought out his business card and said,
"I don't believe you will make it by walking. But if ever you do, I
live in Philadelphia. I am on your route between New York and
Washington, DC. Give me a call. I would like to see you in
Robert: So you put his business card in your rucksack?
Satish: Yes, and after walking through Afghanistan, Persia, Iran, the
Soviet Union for four months, and then Poland, Eastern Germany,
Western Germany, Belgium, France, a little boat trip to Dover, then
London, Southampton, a boat to New York and New Jersey, I came to
Pennsylvania, to Philadelphia, and I remembered Dr. Scarf. I took his
business card out, went to a restaurant and said to the manager, "I
have no money, but could I make a local call to Dr. Scarf?" And the
man was very kind. He allowed me to make this call, and I phoned Dr.
Scarf and said, "Dr. Scarf, do you remember two Indians you met in the
Khyber Pass?" He said, "Yes, I do! Where are they?" I said, "We are
right in Philadelphia." And he said, "I cannot believe it. Come along
to my house, immediately. Where are you?" He gave us the directions on
how to get to his house. We arrived at his house, and he was most
delighted. He invited many of his friends and it was a great
Robert: Along that trip you carried your message of peace to the
people that you met each day. Did you also carry that message of peace
to the governments?
Satish: Yes, of course! We were taking our ideas and our message and
our conversation to the heads of government. For example, in Persia we
met the Shah of Iran, and he was very hospitable, and we talked about
peace and disarmament.
We then came to the Soviet Union. One day we were walking and carrying
our banner and distributing a few leaflets in Russian to people, and
we met two women on the road. When they read our leaflet and saw our
banner, they started to talk to us and ask questions. And as we walked
they said, "We work in the tea factory. Why don't you come in and have
a cup of tea?" So we said, "Yes, that would be fine. It is lunch time,
and anyway, anytime is tea time."
So we went in and had a cup of tea and talked to various workers at
their tea factory. Suddenly one of these women got up, quickly rushed
out of the room, and came back in a few minutes with four small
packets of tea. She said, "I know you must travel light, but these
four packets are very, very important. You must carry them. And you
mustn't drink this tea." We said, "Why are we to carry them?" She
said, "I would like you to carry one to our Premier, one to the
President of France, one to the Prime Minister of England, and one to
the President of the United States of America. And I want you to take
our message from this factory that if ever they get a mad thought of
pushing the nuclear button to please stop for one minute and have a
fresh cup of tea from these packets. And then they will have a moment
to think and contemplate, and they will realize that the people who
are producing tea, working in the factories, working in the fields,
working in normal life, leading an ordinary life, are not their
enemies. We are ordinary people, and we have done nothing to deserve
Now our journey took a special significance. It became extremely
important that we go and see the four heads of the governments, and
the message was delivered, with the tea packets, to all these heads.
So we wrote to everybody in advance that we were coming and
approximately when we would be there, and that we would like to be
received and have an audience with the Presidents and Prime Ministers,
and we had good response.
We were received in the Kremlin by the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet
and received a personal letter from Nikita Kruschev, and he said, "I
welcome you in the Soviet Union and I support your vision and your
walk for peace, but I am very busy (because it was Cuban missile
crisis at that time), so I cannot spare the time at this moment, but I
have requested Tikonov, Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, to receive you
in the Kremlin."
Similarly, we were also received in the White House in the United
States by the Special Advisor on Disarmament to President Johnson at
that time. Kennedy had been assassinated a month or so before. So we
walked to the grave of John Kennedy and ended our walking symbolically
at the Arlington National Cemetery.
Robert: So you went from Gandhi's grave to Kennedy's grave.
Satish: Gandhi's grave to Kennedy's grave. That's right. Those were
the two points.
The response we received from the heads of the governments and their
representatives was very similar. In the Soviet Union we were told,
"We have made many, many good, favorable proposals to the U.S.
government, but we are always meeting with negative response. And
therefore, your work is to go to the U.S. and the West and convince
the governments and the people to accept our proposals of peace. We
are not for nuclear weapons. If there was ever a General Secretary of
the Communist Party of the Soviet Union who was totally dedicated to
peace, that is Kruschev, and therefore, even at the expense of
annoying our colleagues in the Politburo, he is going all the way to
get nuclear disarmament. Therefore, now the ball is in the court of
When we came to the U.S. and were received by the officials in the
White House we were given a very similar answer: "We are always
suggesting ideas and proposals for nuclear disarmament, but we are met
with negative response."
So our feeling in the end was that the governments are not going to
declare peace; it is too much to hope that one day peace will emerge
from the summit of two heads of government from America and the
U.S.S.R. In order to achieve such a declaration of peace we have to
change the mood and consciousness of people in the world. And when
people really desire peace, the governments will have to do it.
So the force and the strength for peace will come from people. And
that will happen when people start to realize that all the diversity
and differences we see of nationalities, of religions, of cultures, of
languages, are all beautiful diversities, for they are only on the
surface. And deep down we share the same humanity, the global
That's what I experienced, because I went through so many different
cultures - Muslim religion, Jewish religion, Christians, Hindus,
Buddhists, Russians, Americans, Europeans, Asians, Blacks, Whites,
Browns, Socialists, Communists - you name them and I met them. And
when you dig down, dig deep, and touch the humanity, they are the same
everywhere. But before you can discover that unity, you have to be
free of your own prejudices. Because if I went as an Indian waving the
flag of India, I would meet a Pakistani. If I went as a Hindu, saying
that Hinduism is the most supreme religion in the world, I would meet
a Christian or a Muslim saying, "No, no, no! You've got it wrong. We
have got the best religion." If I go as a Socialist I'll meet a
Capitalist. If I go as a brown man I'll meet a black man or white man.
But if I go as a human being I'll meet only human beings.