Symbiotic Life

Theme of the Academic Year 2024-2025

“All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly!”[Martin Luther King Jr.]

Thanks be to God for the new academic year 2024-2025 and yet another bold theological vision reflecting on the timely and significant theme of Symbiotic Life. In a world marked by hostility, violence, and wars among nations, along with growing fragmentation and disconnection among people, communities, individuals, and churches, where peaceful coexistence appears non-existent, a theological reflection on the topic such as this is indeed a need of the hour.

The theme is derived from the concept of symbiosis in the biological world. Etymologically, the term comes from the Greek roots “syn” (σύν) meaning “together” and “biosis” (βίωσις) meaning “living” or “life,” thus meaning “living together.” The term was coined by the German mycologist Heinrich Anton de Bary in the late 19th century to describe the close and often mutually beneficial relationship between different species of organisms. Life and survival of species are maintained through mutualism, where each organism depends on the other. The mutualistic relationship is of three kinds: mutualism where both organisms benefit, commensalism where one organism benefits while the other is unaffected, and parasitism, where one organism benefits at the expense of the other. For instance, bees obtain nectar from flowers for food while aiding in the plant’s pollination; epiphytic plants like orchids grow on trees for support and access to sunlight without harming the host tree; and ticks feed on mammalian blood, causing potential harm to the host.

Dictionaries provide comprehensive definitions of symbiosis. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the living together in more or less intimate association or close union of two dissimilar organisms…a cooperative relationship between two persons or groups.” Oxford defines it as “interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both…a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups.” Cambridge describes it as “a relationship between two types of animal or plant in which each provides for the other the conditions necessary for its continued existence…a relationship between people or organizations that depend on each other equally.”

In essence, symbiosis in biological terms refers to mutually beneficial relationships between different organisms. Broadly, it signifies relationality, interdependency, cooperation, and harmony within creation. All things and beings in creation exhibit symbiotic relationships. There is creatio-symbiosis, cosmo-symbiosis, and bio-symbiosis, manifesting a harmonious natural world and an orderly cosmic structure. Creation, cosmos, and the biological world are sustained by deep symbiotic relationships characterized by interconnectedness and mutual dependencies.

From a philosophical and theological perspective, even God and divine realities are relational and interdependent. From a theo-philosophical angle, God is a symbiotic reality. God’s divine presence permeates all aspects of the universe, creating an intrinsic bond between the Creator and the created. Mystic religious traditions speak of union with the divine, where the soul experiences a deep, symbiotic relationship with God, transcending individual selfhood. Many philosophical and spiritual traditions recognize the symbiotic nature of the world, emphasizing interdependence and relationality. Eastern philosophies deeply explore the interconnectedness of all life forms, where everything is interdependent and nothing exists in isolation. All religions describe God as the sustainer and nurturer of all life, where God’s relationship with creation is reciprocal. For example, Hinduism’s concept of Brahman refers to the ultimate reality that pervades everything, signifying the symbiotic relationship between Brahman (God) and Atman (individual soul). Buddhism’s concept of interdependence (pratītyasamutpāda) emphasizes the interconnected nature of all existence, reflecting a symbiotic relationship between the divine and the material world. Similarly, indigenous cultures emphasize the interconnectedness of all living beings. In their worldview and life-world, the divine, human, nature, and creature are inseparable. They are all part of the whole and humans are viewed as part of a larger web of life.

In Christianity, theological concepts and doctrines embody a vision of symbiotic life. Not only are creation and all created things symbiotic, but the Creator is also a symbiotic being. One of the best examples of a symbiotic God perhaps is the Doctrine of the Trinity enshrined in the historic and symbiotic faith affirmation of Christianity. It embodies the forms of God and expresses the symbiotic life within the divine, where God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are in perichoresis, living in intimate and dynamic relationships. This symbiotic life within the divine extends to creation and human beings. The core of the Christian faith – the vision of life in the reign of God inaugurated by the praxis of Jesus, the Christ – is indeed a reality of a symbiotic life.

From the meaning of symbiotic life, we infer that life is about relationality, interdependency, and mutuality. Where there is symbiotic life, there is flourishing of life, social cohesion, harmony, and peaceful coexistence. Therefore, as new Gurukul enters its fortieth year in 2025 and the global Christian community prepares to commemorate the 1700th anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea and the formulation of the historic Nicene Creed towards visible symbiotic unity of the Church, it is appropriate for Gurukul to reflect on this timely theme. I invite the Gurukul community members, students, staff, and faculty to engage in reflection on this theme from diverse perspectives, contemplating fundamental questions about the necessity of living together in peaceful coexistence with creation, nature, and one another as human beings created in the image of God.

I hope our thoughts and reflections on this theme throughout the academic year will not only provide a rich learning experience to deepen our understanding of the importance of symbiotic life but also challenge us to move beyond self-centered isolationist and exclusive mindsets and foster the symbiotic social value that together we can flourish in life. May it inspire and shape us to live symbiotic lives in our community and for the future of the world and generations to come.