ISBN 0 8203 2030 7, Shambala Publications, 1993, £ 25,- , 550 pp.
Edward Goldsmith's Magnum Opus The Way strings together the various phenomena of our present-day way of life in the so-called Western World, criticizing and synthesizing them into a grand epos of Holism.
'Magazine editors do not know who,to send it to for a review, as my book covers a lot of ground and they can't make out whether it is about ecology, anthropology, economics, sociology, the philosophy of science, or religion', to quote the author. And it is exactly this 'problem' that makes it such a comprehensive masterpiece, in my view.
Edward Goldsmith is a campaigner and scholar. He is the author of numerous books and articles, and is the founder of The ecologist of which he is still the editor. In 1991 he received the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize. The Teilhard Society in England devoted a whole issue of their magazine to his book 'The Blueprint for Survival', which was published in january 1972. Among the contributors to this special issue was Margaret Mead, and also the Duke of Edinburgh.
The book first provides a radical critique of the 'world-view of Modernism' which shapes all the disciplines in terms of which we seek to understand the world. In terms of the world-view of primal societies, human welfare, rather than being maximised by promoting economic development and world trade, was seen instead as best being preserved by maintaining the critical order of the cosmos, which was always taken to encompass society, the natural world and the world of the gods. These, moreover, were all taken to be organised according to the same basic plan and governed by the same fundamental laws.
Whereas with us, major problems are interpreted as evidence that economic development has not proceeded far or fast enough, for such a society they indicated instead that it had diverted from the WAY, disrupting thereby the critical order of the cosmos. This interpretation is of course fundamentally correct, as most of the problems we face are due to the disruption of natural systems - families, communities and ecosystems - for which there is no technical solution.
A truly ecological world-view, as the author sees it, must necessarily be based on the world-view of primal society, whose members, significantly enough, were the only people who knew
how to satisfy their real needs without annihilating the living world on which we totally depend for our welfare - indeed for our survival.
In this context I remember reading Teilhard's speaking of 'the two halves of my fundamental being, the 'Christian' and the 'pagan'. Isn't it also so that our society suffers acutely from being sadly 'split' into 'useful' secular thinking and the religious mind as belonging to two different worlds?
I would like to quote particularly from cha.61 of The Way, the chapter that so eloquently illustrates the Way of the Vernacular Man. The term 'vernacular man' here applies to a society and to the various features of such a society that are self-organizing and self-governing, rather than being organized externally by the State and its institutions etc.
'The concept of the WAY was probably entertained explicitly or implicitly by all vernacular societies. Thus in ancient China the TAO refers at once to the order and to the Way of the cosmos. The term is applied to the daily end yearly 'revolution of the heavens' and of the two powers of light end darkness, day and night, summer and winter, heat end cold ... Tao represents the naturel course of things. Humans follow the Tao, or WAY, by behaving naturally.
In ancient Egypt the concept of MAAT fulfilled a similar role. MAAT meant 'the right order in nature end society as established by the act of creation ... what is right, what is correct, law, order, justice and trust - not only in society but in the cosmos as a whole ... MAAT is both the task which man sets himself and also, as righteousness, the promise and reward which awaits him on fulfilling it.
A similar concept existed in Vedic India. It was referred to as R' ta. We read in the Veda that 'the rivers flow R'ta'. According to R'ta the light of the heaven-born morning has come ... The year is the path of R'ta. The gods themselves are born of the R'ta or in the R'ta: they show by the acts that they know, observe and love R'ta. In man's activity, the R'ta manifests itself as moral law.
The concept of Dharma was also taken up by the Buddhists who brought it to China where the Dharma of Mahayana Buddhism was identified with the Tao: it exists for the benefit of all beings, for does not its chief manifestation, the light of the world shine its blessings on all men and all things?
In the Persian Avesta, the WAY is referred to as Asha, the celestial representative of justice on earth. In ancient Judaism the terms used are Mishpat, which means justice or right judgment, and Sedeq which also means righteousness. These virtues are attributed to God and, at the same time, the overarching vision of human society in harmony with heaven. This harmony is SHALOM, peace.'
In these last paragraphs I have quoted extensively from Goldsmith's book. lt is in chapter 61 that we find the message for humanity today, as it often appears that we are no longer aware of the underlying Laws that govern manifest Creation. Furthermore:
'If to follow the WAY is to maintain the critical order of the cosmos - then a society can be seen as doing so when its behavior pattern is homeotelic. This term is coined by the author, from the Greek 'homeo', the same, and 'telos', meaning goal: normal behavior that serves to maintain the critical order of the whole.
When, on the contrary, it is heterotelic, then a society must be seen as following the anti-way, that which threatens the order of the cosmos and must thereby give rise to the worst possible discontinuities.
Classical mythology abounds in stories of the Earth taking her revenge on those who destroy the natural world... The 'revealed' religions of today such as Christianity, Islam and modern Judaism, have desanctified society and the natural world, leaving them open to exploitation and destruction ... As society disintegrates and religion becomes increasingly 'otherworldly', as man is severed from nature, so his behavior towards his gods ceases to occur within its correct field...'
The wise old Benedictine monk whom I had the privilege of knowing used to say when I complained about the state of affairs in the R.C. Church: 'Ah, but it is only the work of humans'. As he said it there was a twinkle in his eyes.
In 1921 Teilhard remarked: 'I believe that the Church is still a child. Christ, by whom she lives, is immeasurably greater than she can imagine'.
After all, we are all on our evolutionary WAY of learning and growing, while steeped in physical matter here on Earth. As Sri Aurobindo remarked: 'A passionate longing lies at the heart of Matter'.
SHALOM to all of you readers.
Copies of The WAY are available directly from the author and editor of the Ecologist,
46 The Vineyard, Richmond, Surrey TW10 6AN, tel: 020 8332 6963/0295 - Fax: 020 8948 6787,