Capra’s life work reviewed in new Indian online magazine

Recently, a beautiful new online magazine from India, Sutra Journal, was brought to my attention. The inaugural issue, dated August 2015, includes a very extensive review of my life’s work as a writer by the Tamil scholar Aravindan Neelakandan, who also works with the ecological NGO Vivekananda Kendra – Natural Resources Development Project. The article, Fritjof Capra and the Dharmic Worldview, spans the entire arc of my work from the Dance of Shiva to Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, and ends with my textbook, The Systems View of Life, coauthored with Pier Luigi Luisi.

What I appreciate especially is the distinctively Indian perspective of the author. He begins his review with a very interesting comment on the iconic image of Shiva Nataraja, the King of Dancers, suggesting that my discussion of the parallel between Shiva’s cosmic dance and the dance of subatomic particles had a significant effect on “the psyche of educated Hindus.” In the past, Neelakandan explains, Shiva’s dance had often been derided as nonsensical superstition; and so, “for Hindus who had been constantly abused as worshippers of barbarous grotesque deities, [The Tao of Physics] and its imagery came as a sort of scientific vindication of ancient wisdom.” The author also mentions subsequent references to the dance of Shiva by other scientists, from Ilya Prigogine and Carl Sagan to the Indian neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran.

Another fascinating comment concerns the theory of autopoiesis by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, which I discuss in several of my books. Autopoiesis means “self-making” and refers to the fact that living networks are self-generating: they continually create, or recreate, themselves by transforming or replacing their components. Neelakandan points out that in Hinduism there is a Sanskrit term, swayambu, which refers to the self-creation of the Divine.

The author also finds several parallels between Indian thought and Leonardo da Vinci’s synthesis of art, science, and design. Leonardo’s revolutionary ideas in urban design (which were never realized during the Renaissance) remind him of the planning of the temple cities of South India, which integrate social and cultural life in ways unheard of in the West. Leonardo’s exhortation that “a river, to be diverted from one place to another, should be coaxed and not coerced with violence,” reminds Neelakandan of the touching legend of “young Sankara singing and appealing the Purna River to change its course;” and Leonardo’s famous statement, “One who does not respect life does not deserve it,” brings to the author’s mind the reverence for all life in Jain philosophy.

In conclusion, Neelakandan suggests that the integrative conceptual framework of the systems view of life that I have developed over the past 30 years could serve as a “Dharmic framework” for India:

With eco-conflicts set to escalate in the future and divisive forces try to exploit them in both sides of the left-right fence, the worldview of Capra provides a holistic alternative…. While most leftwing eco-militants devalue local spiritual and cultural elements, Capra has also brought out a powerful reading of the Eastern spiritual symbols in the light of modern science. For sustainable development, we ultimately need a drastic change in the educational system. Capra, though not explicitly or perhaps even intentionally, has provided a Dharmic framework, or at least has sown the seeds for developing a broader inter-disciplinary science of sustainable development with a Dharmic framework.

P.S. In the same issue of Sutra Journal, naturopathic physician and yoga/meditation teacher Pankaj Seth defines “Dharma” as follows: “The root of Dharma means ‘support’, so Dharma is ‘that which supports’. Dharma refers to teachings and a way of life which support…the cosmic order…. From the Dharmic point of view, the cosmic order is not restricted to a mathematical or mechanical order but also includes the moral dimension.”