Lanza del Vasto, a pioneer in environmentalism


Lanza del Vasto, a disciple of Gandhi and the founder of the Community of the Ark, played an important part in spreading the principle of nonviolence in the West. He was at the root of the first reflection on pacifism, vegetarianism, environmentalism and degrowth.

Who is Lanza del Vasto?

Giuseppe Lanza, known as Lanza del Vasto, was born on September 29th 1901 in northern Italy. He was of princely ancestry. He passed away in Spain, on January 5th, 1981, where he lived at the end of his life.

He was a doctor of philosophy who hesitated for a long time between a bohemian lifestyle and a spiritual life. He rubbed shoulders with the greatest artists of his time: Max Jacob, Leonor Fini, René Daumal, Henri Michaux, Jules Supervielle… One day in 1948, he went to India and met Gandhi in his ashram, as he was spurred by Romain Rolland to do so.

Ahimsa, nonviolence doctrine

Shantidas is the name he was given by Mahatma Gandhi after 3 months spent by his side. His future was decided on that day: he devoted his entire life and his teaching to ahimsa, the nonviolence doctrine! And he used it as a lever to transform himself spiritually and socially speaking.

Back in France, where he resided, Lanza del Vasto published (in 1943) his major book: “Return to the Source” recounting his travel to India. Thanks to it, he became famous. I can only recommend that you read this book, which is in line with my own views on Spirituality.

Lanza del Vasto, the Western Gandhi

After the war, he created the “Community of the Ark“, an “ashram” to which he devoted the rest of his life, sending out a message of tolerance, love and peace. He abstained from eating for 40 days to ask the Pope to take a stand against war, which he did.

A pacifist militant, he fought for environmentalism. He even fought for what is nowadays commonly referred to as “degrowth“. He was also an ingrained vegetarian. Just like Gandhi, he followed the ahimsa principle, according to which every life – including the lives of animals – must be respected.

Now that you have taken this life away from the universe,
be the spider!

Such were the words Lanza del Vasto said to someone who had just swatted a spider before him.

Lanza del Vasto, poet, pilgrim and prophet

Lanza del Vasto seems to have lived several lives in one. But he lived them – every single one of them – with a constant philosophy that sums up the subtitle of one of his books (“Principles and precepts of the return to the obvious”): “In praise of a simple life”. I thus invite you to discover his simple, enlightening and prophetic book.


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