Modern Science and Ancient Wisdom

Into the endless stream of reports of technological advances promising that we are well on our way to unlocking the secrets of the universe sneak in, now and then, indications that in truth we know far less than we imagine. This week not one but two such dissenting views caught my eye.

The first describes the dramatically positive effect, profound in its simplicity, that contact with the surface of the Earth can have on inflammation, immune responses, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

The second details the ancient relationship between fungi and plants embodied in the “dazzlingly complex and collaborative structure that has become known as the Wood Wide Web”.

It astonishes me that for all we have learned about soil we have until now known nothing about a relation of mutualism that has existed for four hundred and fifty million years (more than two thousand times longer than the age of Homo sapiens sapiens), an alliance so intricate and intimate that it raises the question of whether “a forest might be better imagined as a single superorganism, rather than a grouping of independent individualistic ones.”

And since the microcosm reflects the macrocosm, maybe we should better imagine the flesh of our bodies not as individual muscles and connective tissues but as “a system-wide collagenous, liquid–crystalline semiconductor network known as the living matrix”, a matrix that is, amazingly, communicating directly with the surface of the earth.

These facts bring into sharp focus the decided preference in India for avoidance of footwear, and the ancient yogic dictum to avoid “high and cozy beds” and rather to sleep directly on the earth (or as Vimalanandaji was wont to put it, “tumhari Ma par so”). Even if the yogis of yesteryear knew nothing of electrons or mycorrhizae, they could identify what actions promote both health of body and alignment with the terrestrial biome, and which do not; and their advice remains sage even today.

A certain satisfaction arises when modern research confirms that of researchers of yore, though greater satisfaction will be mine when we can return to an even-handed appreciation of the wisdom we have received from the past, neither accepting it uncritically nor, as is more commonly the case today, assuming it to be invalid by virtue of its very age. Perhaps as we improve our relationship with Earth we will also be able to regain our appreciation for the wisdom of those who once lived intimately with Her.