Satish Kumar - veteran activist and thinker

Satish Kumar, 76, is a long-term peace and environment activist, and former monk.

In his early 20s, he set off on an 8,000 mile peace walk from India to the four corners of the nuclear world – Washington, London, Paris and Moscow – as an act of protest. At the age of 50 he embarked on a second pilgrimage, a 2,000 mile walk to the holy places of Britain, which he describes as a celebration of his love of life and nature.

Satish lives in Devon and is the current editor of Resurgence magazine, and founder and Director of Programmes at the Schumacher College and The Small School.

When are you happiest?
When I’m walking by the sea. Walking has been my favourite hobby. When I was about four I used to walk three to five miles every day with my mother to our smallholding. Then at the age of nine I became a Jain monk and I decided to just walk for nine years until the age of 18. For nine years I did not use any mode of transport, not even a bicycle.

When you walk you become more at one with nature.

What is your greatest fear?
I try not to have fear. My environmentalism is not driven by fear, it’s driven by my love of nature. When I experience fear I think of the possibility that humanity can wake up in time to save ourselves.

What would you change about your past?
I embrace my past, my failures and shortcomings. If I edit them out, I would be a poorer person.

How do you relax?
I listen to music, Indian and Western music, religious and folk music. I’m a child of the sixties and I still like listening to Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez, John Lennon and Ravi Shankar.

I also enjoy cooking. It’s a good way to relax because I use my hands and putting all the different ingredients together feels like alchemy, it’s a process of transformation.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Editing the magazine Resurgence for 40 years and making it serve the whole of the environmental movement.

What do you think is the greatest threat to world peace?
Inertia. If people woke up to social and political power and connected to all beings, then change would happen.

What inspired you to set off on your long walks?
There are two ways to see the world. You can explore the world as a tourist. Or you can explore the world as a pilgrim. As a pilgrim you build a relationship with the earth and you feel held by the Earth and by the people. When I set off on the 8,000 mile pilgrimage with my friend, we didn’t take any money. Nature and people provided us with everything: food, shelter, a haircut...

What was the best moment on your 8,000-mile walk?
On our journey we were distributing leaflets that explained the purpose of our pilgrimage. So one day we were distributing in front of a tea factory in this Georgian village and one of the workers invited us for tea in the factory. While we were drinking she suddenly stood up and then came back with four packs of tea saying, ‘Please would you send the following message to the Premier of Moscow, the President of France, the Prime Minister of England and the President of the United States: “Should you ever have a mad moment and want to press the nuclear button, stop and have a cup of tea.”

Satish will be speaking at our Local Group Conference in September in London (14-16 Sept) – find out more here on our conference event page.

Interview by Karen Liebenguth, Organisational Development Team