BBC Radio 4:Dr Chetna Kang - 02/08/17


You are listening to a programmes from BBC Radio 4.

The tardigrade - or water bear - is no more than a millimetre in size. It can survive radiation, freezing and even the vacuum of space. A recent study from the University of Edinburgh found that it could survive almost any cosmic disaster that might hit the planet because it has the ability to withstand extreme dehydration and then spring back to life years later in the presence of water. It survives because it goes with the grain of nature rather than going against it or exploiting it.

And yet humans are the dominant species because we have intelligence and free will – which leaves us with a multitude of options, given any situation - life threatening or otherwise. Call it genetics or karma, we are wired uniquely with regards to our physiological and psychological make up. We have choice. The choice to exploit, maintain the status quo or improve whatever it is we are dealing with.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna echoes this observation and says that our choices will arise from our view of ourselves, our relationship with others and the world around us. Our choices are like stones creating ripples on water, he says, - no matter how big or small they have effects which go beyond our immediate sphere of influence in time and space.

The Vedas give this example - if nuts are found in a forest by a squirrel then the squirrel either takes as much as it needs or leaves them alone. However, humans can leave them alone, eat what they need, take many and store them for later and even better, grow them to produce more and feed the community. We are less likely to consider the wider impact of our actions if we don't feel connected to others.

Krishna encourages us to recognise and value our spiritual equality with other people even whilst acknowledging our material differences in order to make the decisions which are in everyone's best interests, not just our own. But It’s hard to do this if we cling too tightly to our social identities and current circumstances so He advises us to take time to nurture the sense of the self, as distinct from the body and mind, in order to gain the wisdom and fearlessness needed to make the right choices.

The human appetite for discovering and acquiring more is both a wonderful and dangerous thing. If we had the invincibility of the tardigrade would we use it to manipulate our environment or to enhance it? Perhaps it is when we are doing the best we can with what we already have that life sends us more.

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