Gaia Dharma: Self-determination on the Middle Way of Interdependency

“Rise and let go off all the chains…”

Kobzar, Taras Shevchekno

“To whom do you belong?” He asked the ploughmen. “We are the King’s property,” they answered. “From today you are no longer slaves, you shall no longer be servants. Go wherever you please and live in joy.” He freed the oxen also and said to them, “Go! From today eat the sweetest grass and drink the purest water and may the breezes from the four hemispheres visit you.” Then seeing a shady jamb? tree, He sat at its foot and gave himself to earnest meditation.

  Helena Roerich, Foundations of Buddhism

Ukraine is an independent nation and a cultural hub of Indo-European civilization (Heyerdahl as cited in Azov’s local history, 2007; Lozko, 2001; Shugurova, 2012). It is a sanctuary of sciences and arts that encompasses a diversity of histories, stories and spaces. Modern Ukraine is juxtaposed over a stereotype of a dual identity: between the East and the West, Europe and Asia. I believe the media’s presentation of Ukraine’s modern “East vs. West” trends are misleading: they seem to misrepresent Ukraine as a place without its own cultural and historical individuality. “Ukrainians feel marginalized with the hegemonic powers of the European Union and Russia,” people tell me in conversations, “Neither is good for Ukraine. We need the Middle Way.” “We need to be One with Russia,” our local elders say, “It is our culture.” Liberation from the Soviet regimes of power and domination has led Ukraine towards a self-governed community- based place with sustainability, rooted in ancient faith connected with Gaia Dharma.

Gaia Dharma is expressed as Earth Consciousness (Cosmic Consciousness, Vernadsky, 1998) through the global and local synthesis of Buddhist thought (Dogen, Mahayana), ecological sciences (Lovelock, 2000), and cultural and environmental studies (Macy, 1990). Gaia, the Earth Goddess, is seen as the primordial Mother of Russ (????). Gaia’s spiritual splendor has never been separated from the community of its diverse nations and tribes (Ivakhiv, 2005). The soul of Russ is Feminine and Powerful; it is a natural flow of creativity that finds its expressions in local ornaments, ceremonies, rituals and rites. The Ukrainian ancients believed in the cosmology of Earth as a Living Being (Ivakhiv, 2005). Its sacred ornaments and rites of passages have been kept by the old Indo-European cultures and celebrated till the present. They are a part and a whole of our cultural consciousness. They form the eco-spiritual identity that you find in the celebration of summer solstice (Ivana Kupala), rites of Fire, winter kollyada, feasts of pancakes and other rural rituals, observances, and other forgotten celebrations of the Land.

The Dharma of Gaia is the natural active mindfulness of the land that calls forth new generations to renew and re-claim their indigenous identity for a sustainable livelihood and self-subsistent culture. 

Land-based communities sustain the whole of a nation. They can provide a new model of ecological and cultural sustainability with Gaia Dharma, revealing a living consciousness of cosmic participation. Asov writes, “Mother Russ since the ancient times has been Mother Goddess. And that is why the Russian soul is also natural, anarchic….” (2007).  Liberation from oppressions and domination helps Ukraine to return to the traditional roots that have sustained and formed its cultural livelihood since the dawn of time. Our traditional roots are with the indigenous cultural livelihoods that are rural and trans-local, esoteric and mythic.

After so many ecological and political struggles, Ukraine is now on the verge of becoming a new place with its strong cultural roots in the prehistoric cosmology and the post-Soviet orientation. My hope is that this expands our consciousness beyond dogmas and ideologies. This look outwards is actually an inner gaze towards the real Nature of being: stateless and community oriented. “Only by creating communities of light and peace, we will make a new world,” says my mother, poet Mila Shugurova. Community based sustainability of Gaia Dharma may be seen as a way towards peace, compassion, and light. This community is in unity with the roots of the Ancient wisdom of Rus’ (???????????????).

What is community-based sustainability? I invite all readers to share their thoughts and ideas about the meaning of community based sustainability as experienced by local indigenous traditions in Gaia Dharma. I think that it will come forth through unity in diversity as self-determination with Gaia Dharma. It will come through peace, compassion, and truth for a more ecological and cultural world that is coming into being with each one of us here on earth, the cosmic Self, the Buddha.

For correspondence with the author, please email: [email protected]


Asov, A. (2007).???????????????.(The Primordial Russia). ACT Press. (In Russian).

Ivakhiv, A. (2005). Nature and ethnicity in East European Paganism: an environmental ethic of the religious right? The Pomegranate. 7.2.

Essays about the history of Azov. Volume 10. (????????????????????). Azov Museum of Local History. (In Russian).

Lozko, H. (2001). Ethnology of Ukraine. (?????????????ï??). Kiev: Artek. (In Ukrainian).

Lovelock, J. (2000). A new look at life on Earth. Oxford University Press.

Macy, J. (1990). The greening of the self. In A. Hunt-Badiner (Ed.), Dharma Gaia: a harvest of essays in Buddhism and Ecology. Berkeley: Parallax.

Roerich, H. (1971). Foundations of Buddhism. Agni Yoga Society. Retrieved from http://agniyoga.org/ay_pdf/ay_FoB.pdf

Shugurova, M. (2012). The Vedas in Memory of the Heart. Toronto: Dharana.

Shugurova, M. (2013). Art. Retrieved from http://milashugurova.wordpress.com/Vernadsky, V. (1998). The Biosphere. New York: Copernicus. 

Gaia Dharma. By Mila Shugurova, my mother, 2009.
The Ivana Kupala festival, or Kupala Night, is an ancient, Slavic pagan festival that was adopted into the Orthodox Christian calendar as the Feast of John the Baptist. From Wonderful Russia.
At dawn, people gather by the water, where it has been tradition to bathe. From FlyUIA.
People set out in search of medicinal herbs. From Flickr.com.
At the height of the summer solstice, Ukrainians celebrate the basic elements of water and fire and their life giving power through the river and the bonfire. From wnu-ukraine.com.
At nightfall, the shores of lakes and rivers are lit with the fires, and the fun and frolic – dancing and jumping through the flames – begins. Those lucky enough to make the highest jump are believed to find happiness. From FlyUIA.

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