Flat World vs the Round World

Ganesha covered in flowers
June 10, 2020

Shambhavi talks about the flat world of materialism, rationalism, scientism, and human supremacy vs the round world of magic, wisdom, ritual, and subtle life. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Podcast First Words

Round world versus flat world is a distinction that I first heard on some radio program that I’ve never been able to find again. It was somebody who’d immigrated here from a country in Asia. I don’t remember which country he was from. And I might have been listening to KPFA. I even went back into their archives and tried to find the program, and I couldn’t.

There are a lot of people who use round world and flat world metaphors, but not in the same way. There’s a whole theory in economics that uses it. I have no idea what it is, but I found it when I was looking up the reference.

I think this guy on the radio just made it up. I don’t think it was something that he’d heard elsewhere. I think it was his private way of talking about his experience. But it just really struck me because that’s certainly been my experience since I was a little kid.

Basically he said that before he left home he was living in a round world. A world that had spirit, ancestors, and magic. Everything was alive, and you could talk to plants. And now he said that he’s here in the flat world where what you see is what you get. There’s just material and stuff. And he was really in mourning about it.

So I guess you could say the flat world is the world of western scientific materialism, philosophical materialism, or political materialism—any one of those.

And then the round world is the animist world. It’s the world that’s alive in all of its aspects, and in which time can be experienced differently by different beings. It’s the world where we live in simultaneity with ancestors, and where there’s unseen things happening that are important. Where divination works, astrology works, mantra works, and all those kinds of things. Those are all round world technologies.


Click to read Shambhavi’s blog post Round World, Flat World, and Epistemic Supremacy.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.