2019 Fireflies Integrating Well-being and Justice for a Sustainable Future

Organized by Pipal Tree
in collaboration with Dialogues in Humanity and Vikalp Sangam (Kalpavriksh)

About the event:

Contradictory signals are emitted all the time when it comes to the state of the world.

On the one hand many countries, once considered poor, some today referred to as emerging economies, are on their way to prosperity, or near prosperity. Science and technology are opening out undreamt possibilities with Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. It would appear that the era of milk and honey is just around the corner, at best only a decade or so away.

On the other we see the plight of millions of people who struggle against poverty in a world that is immensely wealthy. A study released by Oxfam found that the top 1% has owned more wealth than the rest of the world's population since 2015. And the eight richest have the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world — nearly 4 billion people. In other words, one of these eight would have wealth equivalent to 500 million people. In other words, a 1 is to 500 million ratio.

Add to this the millions of refugees displaced by war and famine, living in refugee camps and often denied access by the wealthy countries.

To top it all, a large number of people find themselves unhappy, even extremely unhappy, in the wealthier countries and communities. One study states meaninglessness, competition, and boredom as among the top causes of unhappiness.

Thus, neither the rich nor the poor are spared from a sense of insecurity, anxiety and rootlessnes.  Human beings are alienated/ estranged from themselves, each-other and the natural world.

There is also the specter of climate change hanging over the planet, where millions of climate refugees will roam around in a few decades, food shortages will be widespread, and drought and floods common, with coastal cities beginning to go under water.

As if there is not enough unhappiness and injustice in today’s world the future looks likely to bring much more.Humanity is going through its worst crisis which is at once economic, social, ecological, existential, psychological and spiritual.

But there are individuals and groups all over the world bravely trying to reverse the trend and it is not impossible that they may have their way, given the right conditions.

As mentioned, this occurrence of the Fireflies Dialogues will be focused on Well-being and Justice, two interrelated facets, without which we cannot usher in a sustainable future. Concerns about Well-being and Justice have been at the core of human thought, whether ancient or modern, in the west or the east. The dialogue will also try to understand some of these articulations in terms of their social, spiritual and psychological relevance for a post-truth world.

The participants at the Dialogues will be social activists, cultural and religious thinkers and grass roots workers in sustainable development.

It is increasingly clear that many social practitioners are facing burnout, a sense of despair, cynicism and uncertainty of vision. Many courageously plough on, even if they are not always clear where they are heading. This edition of the Dialogues will attempt to address these uncertainties and doubts we are all facing.

The 2019 Fireflies Dialogues will address the relationship between well-being, spirituality, justice and climate resilience. It will hopefully help correct the neglect of the spiritual and cultural arena by social-action practitioners.

Apart from discussions integrating the topics of social justice, climate change and spirituality/religion participants will also be exposed to different forms of meditation/chanting and song and dance (body wisdom).

Moving away from the purely cerebral and ideological types of workshops this one will integrate intellect, emotion and body in the quest for a sustainable society.

Welcome and Introduction

Siddhartha(Pipal Tree/Fireflies, India), Genevieve Ancel (Dialogues en humanité, Lyon & Global Network), Milind Wani (Kalpavriksh/Vikalp Sangam, India)

Consciousness, Self-Identity and Peace


We live in a world where all things symbolic and religious appear to be ambiguous, or even contradictory. Therefore, when we talk about consciousness we see that t has both good and bad. Some might refer to 'false consciousness' and 'authentic consciousness'. The shadow side and the luminous side. In the context of social and ecological change false consciousness distracts and even prevents the tackling of the real issues confronting society, making caste, race and religious conflicts primary. Patriarchy is also about false consciousness.

Therefore, the challenge before us is to change ourselves along pluralistic and democratic lines if we are to focus on problems of social and climate justice.

About the speaker:

A writer, social activist and campaigner for Earth Spirituality. Founder of Pipal Tree and Fireflies Ashram, which are concerned with intercultural and interreligious dialogues, media, food sovereignty and environmental issues.

Buddhism, Well-being & Harmony
Aspi Mistry


While the understanding of non-duality and the inter-connected nature of all phenomenon are the basic philosophical concepts in all Buddhist traditions, in actual practice one finds that there is often a disconnect between the comprehension of climate change and the ecological crisis and the real life engagement of many practicing Buddhists with these issues.

While this presentation would cover some of these basic concepts and how they relate to climate justice, we would also discuss some of the questions that arise in trying to address the disconnect mentioned above:

  • Is the disconnect due to our misunderstanding of Buddhism and/or its goals?
  • Is there something else in the teachings that allows us to ignore these problems?
  • If the ultimate reality of everything is emptiness (or shunyata) and the world will anyway end in a big bang or a whimper, why bother?
  • How can ahimsa practicing Buddhists really confront the giant fossil fuel industry? Or the transnational, neo-liberal capitalist behemoth?

About the speaker:

Social activist and executive member of Deer Park in Himachal Pradesh, a centre for the study of classical Indian wisdom traditions. He is also a student/teacher of Buddhism.

Sufi and Veerashaiva Approaches to Peace & Harmony
Ramjan Darga


Lingayat Movement (Basava Movement or Sharana Movement)

This Movement is first of its kind in the History of the World.  This Movement was led by Basava, who was Prime Minister of Kalyana. Bijjala was the King of Kalyan. Basava is the first person in the World who organized the Workers of all cross sections of the Society. Basava was the pioneer of the Working Class Movement. He started movement against Gender, Class, Caste and Racial Discrimination.

He started adult education for women and workers. He told about Walk the Talk Philosophy. He told material world is essential to understand the Spiritual World. He selected 770 Leaders for this Socio relogious Movement from all guilds and became the father of Commune Leadership. He created Socio religious Parliament which is first of its kind in the World. All the 30 points of Human Rights declared by the UNO are in Basava's Sayings. Basava Economics based on Proper Production, Proper Utility and Proper Social Distribution. His Socio economic and Religious Concepts are for bringing Peace and Harmony in the World. He told, Compassion should be the base of Religion. No one is superior to another. Ego is the main cause of Violence, unrest and disharmony.

About the speaker:

Ramjan Darga was a senior journalist with the Deccan Herald Group, Prajawani.  He is a very well known intellectual in Karnataka. Apart from being a specialist on Sufism, he is also considered as one of the great authorities of the Basava Movement in Karnataka

An Encounter with Buddha via Marx: An Ongoing Journey
Milind Wani


A personal recount (hopefully not an exercise in vanity!) of why a confirmed atheist, convinced that religion is the opium of the masses, turned to Buddhism for solace without giving up concern for justice.

About the speaker:

Milind Wani is based in Pune. He spent 20 years in the IT sector before joining Kalpavriksh. He is the programme coordinator for Kalpavriksh’s Documentation and Outreach center, and edits its newsletter entitled People in Conservation.

Emerging Universe, Well-being & Justice
Sam Guarnaccia, composer, with creative partner Paula Guarnaccia


An exploration of the power and importance of the Arts, Music, Beauty, and Aesthetic cultural expression in the formation and incorporation of values, understanding of worldviews, and the response to the global ecological and environmental crisis.

The Emergent Universe Oratorio, a musical epic of alternating intensively scored recitatives with major lyrical choral sections, gives expression to the awe-inspiring narrative of the Universe from the big bang to the emergence of humanity’s global and universal consciousness. This story is the foundational source of understanding the existence of, and relationships among all living and non-living structures and elements in the Universe, and is the common story of every being, culture, and civilization of all history. The great ‘geologian’ Thomas Berry said that “without entrancement within this new context of existence”, that is, within this worldview, “it is unlikely that the human community will have the psychic energy needed for the renewal of Earth.”

The music and words of the Oratorio express this entrancement, in a ‘scientifically flawless’ (Goodenough) poetic prose that challenges us to awaken to our 13.8 billion-year embeddedness in, and responsibility to the Universe, having become recently the driving force of evolution on our wounded Earth. Again, in Thomas Berry’s words: “We cannot make a blade of grass, but there may not in the future be a blade of grass unless it is willed by us and protected by us.”

We plan to play several appropriate segments of the recent Philadelphia performance, integrating the intellectual and emotional contours of the music and words, as we explore the role of the arts, but especially of music, in “the relationship between well-being, spirituality, justice and climate resilience”.

About the speaker:

Sam Guarnaccia is a composer, classical guitarist, scholar, and founder/director of Sam Guarnaccia Music (SGM). His cycle of nine Peace songs has been incorporated into Peace education curriculum for young children.

His composition, A Celtic Mass for Peace, Songs for the Earth, was featured in a major peace celebration on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 on September 11, 2011, in New York, and in Vermont.

The EUO libretto was inspired by the film Journey of the Universe by Mary Evelyn Tucker and Brian Swimme, and was first performed in the Great Breeding Barn at Shelburne Farms, Vermont in September of 2013.

Modernity and the ecological conscience: Wholeness, reciprocity and renewal
Aseem Shrivastava


The future is inevitable, the past is forbidden, the present is impossible. This is the living predicament of humanity today. As the growth engines of 21st century hyper-modernity advance cancerously, the entire discourse of environmentalism and sustainability has become mostly rhetoric. The reason is that from its inception the globe's cloud elites did not fundamentally wish to change their way of life and thought, effectively forcing everyone to conform, assuming and claiming that some tweaking and tinkering with the edges of the system would address the problem. However, in the age of crises and denials, the solutions are typically worse than the problems and set the stage for the next round of problems, for dealing with which markets always have new 'solutions'. This is the age of symptoms, not of solutions. Two imperatives clash now: the technological and the ecological. The former believes that it is possible to 'build a smarter planet', replacing the biosphere with the technosphere. The latter takes a realistic view that colonising other planets is not an option. What are the values that ought to be embraced if our species and the earth's organic life have to survive? Under the rubric of 'Prakritik Swaraj', and using ideas from Tagore and Gandhi, the talk will focus on wholeness, instead of well-being, reciprocity instead of exchange, and renewal instead of sustainability. To proceed with such values means recognising long-standing cosmologies of time and place, taking the place of the abstract cosmology which has taken hold of the human mind. Such a cognitive revolution would release the past from the realm of the forbidden to which it is has been consigned by the hectic technological imagination. The future would no longer be inevitable. And the present would become more breathable. A cognitive revolution is ultimately predicated on a spiritual renaissance in which many of humanity's long-standing traditions have to be renewed instead of being rejected, as modernity is routinely doing.

About the speaker:

Aseem Srivastava holds a doctorate in environmental economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has taught economics for many years in India and the US, and has also taught philosophy at Nordic College, Norway. Since 2005, he has been working independently, researching, writing and lecturing internationally on issues associated with globalization and its impact. He was a speaker at the 2012 World Conservation Congress,in South Korea, and at the 2013 World Social forum, in Tunisia. He lives in Delhi.

Ahimsa in our Times: Role of Dialogue in Cultural Conflicts
Rajni Bakshi


In the 71 years since Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated the theory and practise of Ahimsa, nonviolence, has grown and taken diverse forms across the world. Why has this happened? What clues can we in India take from these developments for our immediate reality of social, political and cultural conflict?

About the speaker:

Rajni Bakshi is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist and author. She writes about social and political movements in contemporary India and currently works as the senior Gandhi Peace Fellow at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. Her journalism has appeared in many English and Hindi newspapers and magazines.Bakshi attended school in Kingston, Jamaica, Indraprastha College (Delhi), George Washington University (Washington D.C.) and Rajasthan University (Jaipur).

She is the author of Bazaars, Conversations and Freedom (2009) which won two Vodafone Crossword Book Awards, one in the "Non Fiction" category, and one in the "Popular Award" category.

Indic Culture and Its Liberative Potential:


This presentation is an attempt to explore the notion of Indian culture and its emancipatory possibility. The focus here is on recovering and rediscovering  the cultural resources and cognitive tool that may help us to negotiate the urgent challenges that face us today.

About the speaker:

Professor of English in St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore. He has long been involved with cultural issues and has given a lot of thought to progressive dimensions within Hinduism.

Group Dialogues / Parallel Session
Faciliated by Naveen Vasudevan, Sangeetha Sriram & Prashant Olalekar

1) How does burnout manifest among activists and change makers? And why? - some stories & perspectives
2) How do those struggling for a more just and equitable world, replenish and renew themselves? What are their sources of hope and optimism?
3) What is the role and importance of the Body in our quest for wellbeing and sustainability? (Often it's the most neglected part of us and takes the brunt of the anger we feel against the world.)
4) The role of Art in healing and self-actualization of activists
5) How and what can we draw from our own traditional and native wisdom systems, towards healing and balance? How does decolonization fit in here? Are our notions of liberation, justice, empowerment themselves subtly colonized?

About the facilitators:

Co-founder of Ritambhara, a collective of seekers inspired by the path of yoga. Naveen is also associated with Sadhana Forest, a sustainable living community in Auroville, and is a part of the India Youth Jam team, which organizes week-long gatherings of young change makers from different parts of the country in an effort towards community building and strengthening youth activism.

Sangeetha Sriram
Sangeetha’s interest and experience spread across areas like ecology, localisation, village self governance, sustainable living and livelihoods, education and agriculture, which she has been exploring for over twenty years now. She is one of the co-founders of reStore, a collective in Chennai promoting sustainable living.

She is one of the stewards of Vikalp Sangam and is anchoring the Alternative Economies Vikalp Sangam process, connecting initiatives across the country transitioning from an economy based on a narrative of scarcity, to one of abundance.

Parallel session: Just Play for Health and WellBeing

Who Am I? the perennial question that has stimulated one and all down the ages. Till today the response of Rene Descartes “I think, therefore I am” and the dualism that it promoted continue to have an impact on our disconnected, disembodied education system. Many youth of our contemporary narcissistic selfie generation would boast,   “I click therefore I am”.  “I win therefore I am” is the keyword of success for sports enthusiasts and students too.

For the health and wellbeing of humans as well as the planet we need to discover that “to be is to interbe”   and “We care therefore we are.” Caring for Mother Earth, our common home, is crucial not only for the planet but our own survival.

Since play and dance are common, irrespective of power, prestige and privilege, to all traditions down the ages it is not far from the truth to say: “We play, therefore we are”.  The participants will be introduced to a unique form of egalitarian play called InterPlay. InterPlay is a form of compassionate play that helps to break down unjust barriers and respond meaningfully to the cry of the Earth and the poor. It is an embodied approach to get in touch with the cosmic wisdom by tapping into our innate body wisdom: body-mind-heart-spirit. At a time when humans and the planet are so much stressed out this is a refreshing alternative.

There will be a sharing of insights and experiences on how InterPlay has awakened the joy of self-discovery and made a significant difference to education, spirituality and marginalized groups in India.

About the facilitator:

Founder of Interplay India. A creative spiritual leader and faculty member at the department of Inter-religious Studies, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Former Director of Pasayadaan Holistic Spirituality Centre, Vasai-India.

"The Story of Us"
Play by the Students of the School of Integral Sustainability
Facilitated by Debora Nunes


A collective tale with rounds of personal contributions of actions or feelings to build together a resilient and happy future. And a small collective choreography about the individual and communitarian contribution to the spiral of evolution.

About the Facilitator:

Professor of Participative Democracy and Deep Ecology. She is very active in Dialogues in Humanity and has given a lot of thought on the relationship between Spirituality  and Politics. She often talks about the politics of friendship. She has been active in the World Social Forum and many other progressive groups.

Gardens of God: Rethinking and Transforming Good Life and A New Realization of the Pluriverse of Rights, Rites, Good, God, Justice and Responsibility
Ananta Giri

Good life is a permanent call with us and it is a call for permanent awakening. Many a time, our existent conceptions of good does not do justice to the aspiration of self-realization and co-realization of soul and society. Existing conceptions of good life such as a good wife and good citizens as law-abiding ones can hide many kinds of inequalities and indignities on the part of self and society. Good life and other related conceptions like bene vieve there are confronted with the perennial questions of rights and justice. Highlighting this problem, critical thinkers of justice such as John Rawls and Jurgen Habemas have challenged us to realize the priority of rights over good. Similar is also the critical thoughts of Amartya Sen who challenges us not to forget the issues of rights and justice in the name of good life. But these thinkers seem to suffer from a dualism between rights and good which in our quest for good life needs to be transcended. We also need to broaden and deepen our conceptions of good life by bringing other philosophical and civilizational perspectives such as Purusartha and Lokasamgraha from Indic traditions. Purusartha refers to four-fold modes and pathways of realizing good life with Dharma (right conduct), Artha (Wealth and meaning), Kama (desire) and Mokha (salvation). In my paper, I go beyond an isolated construction of Pursartha and cultivate multiple visions and practices of integral purusartha which help us realize good lives in soul and society. I also cultivate the idea of Loksasamagraha which means gathering of people as integral to realization of integral purusartha and good life in self and society. I develop the idea of Lokasamgraha as not only public gathering in the modernist sense of modern politics and civil sphere but as Atmasamgraha—gathering of soul. In the process, I try to go beyond different dualisms such as right and good and cultivate varieties of movements of non-dual realizations in self and society. For example, while striving for good life, we can simultaneously strive for the good as well as rights. We can realize a path of good living in social relationships such as between husband and wife where we are simultaneously good to each other and embody evolutionary goodness but this is not an excuse for us to suppress our needs and desires for rights and justice. But rights themselves need to also work with what can be called rites—paths of mutual co-nurturance as suggested in practices such as Dharma or in the Confucian conception of rites which also has a dimension of poetry which makes our striving for justice a journey with poetic justice. Our journey with rights, good and rites also can dance with Transcendence and Divine in open sense for example Gods and Goddesses. Our idea of good life need not be imprisoned in modern constructions of secularism and we can cultivate pluriverses of visions and practices of Good Lives which go beyond varieties of dualisms and cultivate non-dual vision, practices and movements consisting simultaneously of rights and rites, good and gods, and justice and responsibility.

I explore some of these specifically with regard to the discourse and practice of Kingdom of God. In my paper, I strive to transform this into Gardens of God.

About the speaker:

Author of many books related to Culture, Religion and Sustainability. Professor of Sociology at Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, India.

Concluding Panel on Directions and Concrete Suggestions for the Future
Chaired by John Clammer

About the speaker:

John Clammer is Professor of Sociology at O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Delhi NCR. He previously taught at the United Nations University, Tokyo and prior to that at Sophia University, also in Tokyo, and has taught and researched in Singapore, Germany, South Korea, Argentina, the UK and India, where he has been a Fellow at JNU and a visiting professor at Pondicherry Central University. He has long been associated with Fireflies and was one of the founders of the Meeting Rivers initiative. His work focuses mainly on the interface of culture and development, and this has been reflected in a number of recent books including “Cultures of Transition and Sustainability” published in 2016 and most recently in a new book “Cultural Rights and Justice” published just three weeks ago.