Does any religion preach contempt for nature? It doesn’t seem so; it seems to be quite the opposite. In a previous column we looked at a Christian’s duty to God as his stewards in actively engaging with the environmental crisis we currently face. The Bible is full of teachings that call upon Christians to fulfil their role and responsibility as caretakers or stewards to God, the rightful owner of the earth. Stewardship is a moral obligation and environmental destruction is the destruction of God’s creation. Christian leaders worldwide have issued a clarion call to action, to hear God’s call to protect and care for the earth. This week we will look briefly at what another major religion, Hinduism has to say about protecting the earth.
In ecology, we often refer to the ‘web of Life’. Interpreted broadly, in this view all of Earth’s creatures are connected and our actions (direct or indirect) have consequences. This concept is captured beautifully by a Native American chief, Chief Seattle (1886) “Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth, all things are connected like the blood which unites one family. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
This ‘web of life’ and the concept of interconnectedness is a foundational belief of Hinduism. Hindus believe that we are not separate from Nature. References to our interconnectedness and our relationship to Nature can be found in the Vedas, Upanishads, Gita, Puranas, the great epics such as the Ramayana and in the words of Hindu saints. Hindus believe that the Divine is everywhere. From this viewpoint, practising Hindus are true superheroes of the environment.
Dr Pankaj Jain, Professor of South Asian Religions and Ecology says that though Hinduism is a diverse religion that has many manifestations at regional and local levels, there are several unifying themes. He explains that Hindus view the earth as the sacred Goddess Devi, who is worshipped and respected. Hindus believe in the concept of dharma or duty and karma. Karma is a central tenet in Hinduism that refers to consequences of our actions, both good and bad. These actions affect our future, including reincarnation. According to Jain, our duty includes our responsibility to care for the earth and our treatment of nature affects our karma.
A morning prayer, eloquently expresses these concepts:
Samudra Vasane Devi,
Parvata Stana Mandale
Paada Sparsham Kshamasva me.
Mother Earth, who has the ocean as clothes and mountains and forests on her body,
Who is the wife of Lord Vishnu, I bow to you.
Please forgive me for touching you with my feet.
Another teaching that is fundamental to the Hindu religion is living a simple life. Scriptures speak about restraint from overconsumption and pursuit of material pleasures referred to as Sanyasa. Sanyasa can be thought of as a pathway to liberation or moksha. Dr. Jain points to simple living as a model for the development of sustainable economies where the earth is respected. As the great Mahatma Gandhi, who walked the pathway of simple living warned: “Nature has enough for everyone’s needs but not for everyone’s greed.”
Hindus around the world have joined other religious bodies to engage with the global environmental crisis from a moral and spiritual perspective. As early as 1986, coming out of the Assisi Declarations on Nature, Hindu leaders joined in the call for action concerning the environment and espoused the role Hindus play in saving the environment.
Presented in 2009 at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Melbourne, Australia, the “Hindu Declaration on Climate Change,” issued the following statements.
“The Hindu tradition understands that man is not separate from nature, that we are linked by spiritual, psychological and physical bonds with the elements around us. Knowing that the Divine is present everywhere and in all things, Hindus strive to do no harm. We hold a deep reverence for life and an awareness that the great forces of nature—the earth, the water, the fire, the air and space—as well as all the various orders of life, including plants and trees, forests and animals, are bound to each other within life’s cosmic web.
We cannot continue to destroy nature without also destroying ourselves. The dire problems besetting our world—war, disease, poverty and hunger—will all be magnified many fold by the predicted impacts of climate change.”
In Trinidad and Tobago, we are blessed with a rich Hindu heritage. How can Hindu’s act as leaders, demonstrating a better way to live with each other and our natural world? If you have an example of Hindus, individuals or groups, who are in touch with our natural world and are shining examples of environmental stewardship, please feel free to share your story with us.
Dr Adana Mahase-Gibson is a project management professional and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. She works in the field of sustainable development with communities, government, businesses & NGOs in Trinidad and Tobago under the banner of Ecohealth. This column looks the intricate connections of human, animal and environmental health through a sustainability lens.