Care for Environment: Hinduism

Care for Environment: HinduismWhereas hurmans – men and women – pray to the gods and make supplications, offerings and sacrifices to these gods, in Hinduism, the Earth itself is one of the gods – She is One Goddess with many names – Mother Earth, Bhu-devi, Bhumi-devi, Prithvi, Mother Nature. Hence, the Earth is sacred, Nature is sacred and all who live upon her are obliged to make sacrifice and live in harmony with the Earth and all its creatures. This includes mineral life, plant life, animal life and all that exists in the wind, the waters, the heat and the soil.


Not only in the Vedas, but in later scriptures such as the Upanishads, the Puranas, and subsequent texts, the Hindu viewpoint on nature has been clearly enunciated. It is permeated by a reverence for life, and an awareness that the great forces of nature — the earth, the sky, the air, the water and fire — as well as various orders of life including plants and trees, forests and animals are all bound to each other within the great rhythms of nature. The divine is not exterior to creation, but expresses itself through natural phenomena.

According to Vaishnava tradition, the evolution of life on this planet is symbolised by a series of divine incarnations beginning with fish, moving through the amphibious forms and mammals, and then on into human incarnations. This view clearly holds that man did not spring fully formed to dominate the lesser life forms, but rather evolved out of these forms, and is therefore integrally linked to the whole of creation.

The Hindu tradition of reverence for nature and all forms of life, vegetable or animal, represents a powerful tradition which needs to be re-nurtured and reapplied in our contemporary context.

Let us declare our determination to halt the present slide towards destruction, to rediscover the ancient tradition of reverence for all life and, even at this late hour, to reverse the suicidal course upon which we have embarked. Let us recall the ancient Hindu dictum – “The Earth is our mother, and we are all her children.” — The Hindu Declaration on Nature: Dr. Karan Singh, President, Hindu Virat Samaj, Assisi 1986.

 

Gandhi and wife
My ethics not only permit me to claim but require me to own kinship with not merely the ape, but the horse and the sheep, the lion and the leopard, the snake, and the scorpion. —Gandhi

Govardhan Ecovillage

Govardhan Ecovillage, in the hills of Maharashtra, about three hours drive north of Mumbai, is dedicated to ecological harmony based on spiritual principles in the ancient tradition of devotion to Krishna. It is an ashram, a retreat and conference center, and a facility for Ayurvedic holistic health. Its numerous environmental programs include sustainable energy, water conservation, organic farming, tree planting, and animal protection. Govardhan Ecovillage also works to support and develop the livelihood and education of Indigenous People in the surrounding area, developing a local circular economy and promoting the empowerment of girls and women. Govardhan Ecovillage was founded with the inspiration of Radhanath Swami, a spiritual leader of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). — https://ecovillage.org.in

Govardhan Ecovillage
Govardhan Ecovillage

The Universe is a living organism
The root scripture of Hinduism is the Vedas, meaning “sacred knowledge.” The universe, immeasurably vast, comes from a single divine Source and is animated and directed by countless powers known as devas or “gods.”

The completed universe is imaged as a living organism, a vast ecosystem, in which each part is inextricably related to the life of the whole. And the whole is indeed alive: it is in constant process and movement, growing and decaying. There is no such thing as objectified “nature” or lifeless “elements,” for everything belongs to the living pattern of the whole… These are the images of a biological worldview, grounded in the Vedas. — Diana Eck, “Ganga: The Goddess in Hindu Sacred Geography” in Devi: Goddesses of India, p. 141.

Peace to all living beings
A famous Sanskrit prayer, the Śānti Mantra of the Yajur Veda (36:17) invokes the blessings of peace on the whole cosmos and all its living beings:

To the heavens be peace, to the sky and the earth,
To the waters be peace, to plants and all trees,
To the Gods be peace, to Brahman be peace,
To all men be peace, again and again —
peace also to me! — Yajur Veda 36:17, Raimundo Panikkar, The Vedic Experience: Mantramañjarī, An Anthology of the Vedas for Modern Man and Contemporary Celebration, p. 306.

To the Waters, Who are goddesses

Chamundeshwari Temple
Chamundeshwari Temple in the city of Mysore in Karnataka, India. Photo by Akshat Vats.

They who have the ocean as their eldest flow out of the sea,
purifying themselves, never resting. Indra, the bull with the
thunderbolt, opened a way for them – let the waters, who are
goddesses, help me here and now.

The waters of the sky or those that flow, those that are dug out
or those that arise by themselves, those pure and clear waters
that seek the ocean as their goal — let the waters, who are
goddesses, help me here and now.

Those in whose midst King Varuna moves, looking down upon
the truth and falsehood of people, those pure and clear waters
that drip honey — let the waters, who are goddesses, help me
here and now.

Those among whom King Varuna, and Soma, and all the gods drink in ecstasy the exhilarating nourishment, those into whom Agni Of-all-men entered — let the waters, who are goddesses, help me here and now.— Rig Veda 7.49, The Rig Veda, p. 232.

The Hymn to the Earth

Truth, strength, artistry, ferocity, dedication, fervor, effulgence,
and sacrifice
Are the attributes among human beings that sustain the Earth.
Drawing upon Mother Earth’s feminine power,
these attributes have been and continue to be all that will be
with us.
May the world Mother provide us with a wide and limitless
domain for our livelihood. (1)

The Earth is adorned with many hills, plains, and slopes.
She bears plants with medicinal properties.
May no person oppress her;
and may she spread prosperity for us all around. (2)

Upon her be the oceans, many rivers, and other bodies of
water.
Her agricultural fields produce grain.
All those that live, move, and breathe, depend upon the Earth;
may the Land confer upon us riches. (3)

O Earth,
Sacred are your hills, snowy mountains, and deep forests.
The soil of your Land is brown, black, and red.
Earth, you are protected by Indra.
May I stand on the Earth unconquered, unharmed, uncrushed.
May you be fertile, arable, and sustainer of all. (11)

O Mother Earth!
You are the world for us and we are your children.
Empower us to speak in one accord.
steer us to live in peace and harmony,
and guide us in our behavior
so that we have cordial and gracious relationships with other
people. (16)

O Mother Earth!
You care for people who belong to different races,
practice various religions and spiritual beliefs,
and speak different languages…
may you bless us all in a thousand-fold manner.
Please do not become outraged by our destructive tendencies.(45)

O Primeval Mother!
You are the wish fulfilling cow.
You are borderless.
You are the world-mother of all beings.
You are the provider of all things in life. (61)
—Selections from In Praise of Mother Earth:
The Prthivi Sūkta of the Atharva Veda.


The Chipko Movement

Chipko Movement
The Chipko movement grew out of Gandhian nonviolent social action or satyagraha, “truth-force.” After Indian independence, Mira Behn and Sarala Behn, English women who had been close co-workers of Mahatma Gandhi, settled in different areas of the Himalayas. As they worked for village development, they identified growing environmental problems. They were joined by Gandhian activists Sunderlal Bahuguna, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, and others who formed the Uttarakhand region Sarvodaya “upliftment of all” movement in the 1960s, applying the Gandhian principle of swadeshi, or “self-reliance.”

Concern became acute about the effects of commercial logging by outside contractors and destruction of local livelihoods, cultures, and ecosystems. “Chipko” means to “cling to” or “hug.” Organized resistance grew and the first vigil to guard the trees took place in 1971.

The Chipko movement is noted for extensive participation by women and women leaders such as Gaura Devi. In March 1974 Gaura Devi confronted loggers, saying “Brothers! This forest is the source of our livelihood. If you destroy it, the mountain will come tumbling down onto our village. This forest nurtures us like a mother; you will only be able to use your axes on it if you shoot me first.” Chipko women advocate for forests as self-renewing life-support systems rather than economic resources, fusing their practical expertise with scientific knowledge. As Bahuguna said, “Ecology is permanent economy.” Chipko workers also began reforestation projects. The movement spread through the Himalayan region and then to other parts of India, adapting its methods to other cultural and ecological contexts. —Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive: Women Ecology and Development, pp. 67-82 and Ecology and the Politics of Survival: Conflicts over Natural Resources in India, Ch. 4 and Pankaj Jain, Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities: Sustenance and Sustainability, Ch. 4.

Navdanya – Working for Earth Democracy
Navdanya - Working for Earth Democracy
Grounded in Hindu principles upheld by science, Navdanya (“the gift of nine seeds”) promotes “nonviolent agriculture in harmony with nature and our fellow beings.” The organization supports seed preservation, soil health, and food sovereignty and opposes the commodification of nature, including genetic patenting. The liberation of the Earth, the liberation of women, the liberation of all humanity is the next step of freedom we need to work for, and it’s the next step of peace that we need to create.” Earth democracy is an alternative worldview in which humans are embedded in the Earth family; connected to each other through love and compassion, not hatred and violence, and ecological responsibility and economic justice replaces greed, consumerism, and competition as objectives of human life. — Vandana Shiva, founder, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, http://www.navdanya.org/site/

 

Morning on the Ganges River
Morning on the Ganges River, Varanasi, India. Photo by Arindam Bangergee/shutterstock.com.

 

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