ARTICLE: A Spiritual Response to the Environment

         MY TURN: A Spiritual Response to the Environment
                            By Jagmohan
    In  1972,   international  leaders  met   at  Stockholm  and
    expressed grave concern over the deteriorationg environment.
    Since then, thousands of  conferences, seminars and symposia
    have been held  all over the world, and  millions of dollars
    spent.   Hosts   of   "expert"   bodies   have  cropped  up.
    Non-governmental organisations have sprouted like mushrooms.
    But what  has been the  net income of  all this? During  the
    twenty-year  period  between  Stockholm  and  Rio de Janeiro
    (1992), the world's environment has deteriorated further and
    ecological imbalance intensified.
    This  is   happening  because  awareness   of  environmental
    problems is only skin-deep.  Unfortunately, our thinking and
    actions  are  still  being  shaped  by  a mechanical view of
    nature.  Unless  concern  for  the  environment  acquires  a
    spiritual  base and  becomes  a  part of  contemporary man's
    psyche, declarations will not get converted into commitments
    and  no  real  change  in  existing  practices  and  no real
    improvement  in existing  conditions will  take place. Could
    religious  and cultural  traditions help  bring the  desired
    change? Could ancient values be  regenerated to evolve a new
    ethos  which would  enable the  present-day man  to perceive
    life  as an  organic entity  and understand  that sea, soil,
    forests, clouds, mountains and  teeming millions spread over
    the earth are inseparable parts of the cosmic web? My answer
    to both questions is in the affirmative.
    No religion, perhaps, lays as much emphasis on environmental
    ethics  as  Hinduism.   The  Mahabharata,  Ramayana,  Vedas,
    Upanishads,  Bhagavad Gita,  Puranas and  Smriti contain the
    earliest  messages  for   preservation  of  environment  and
    ecological  balance.  Nature,  or   Earth,  has  never  been
    considered a  hostile element to be  conquered or dominated.
    In  fact, man  is forbidden  from exploiting  nature. He  is
    taught  to live  in harmony  with nature  and recognize that
    divinity  prevails  in  all  elements,  including plants and
    animals. The  Mahabharata hints that  the basic elements  of
    nature  constitute  the  Cosmic  Being -- the  mountains His
    bones, the earth  His flesh, the sea His  blood, the sky His
    abdomen, the air His breath  and agni (fire) His energy. The
    whole emphasis of the ancient Hindu scriptures is that human
    beings cannot separate  themselves from natural surroundings
    and Earth has  the same relationship with man  as the mother
    with her child.
    Planting  and  preservation  of  trees  are  made  sacred in
    religious functions. The Varah  Purana says, "One who plants
    one  peepal,  one  neem,  one  bar,  ten flowering plants or
    creepers,  two pomegranates,  two oranges  and five  mangos,
    does not go to hell."  In the Charak Sanhita, destruction of
    forests  is   taken  as  destruction   of  the  state,   and
    reforestation an  act of rebuilding the  state and advancing
    its welfare.  Protection of animals  is considered a  sacred
    duty. Our scriptures warn, "Oh  wicked persons! If you roast
    a  bird, then  your  bathing  in sacred  rivers, pilgrimage,
    worship and  yagnas are useless." In  our ancient mythology,
    birds and animals have always  been identified with gods and
    The  current   deplorable  condition  demands   a  spiritual
    response.    A    fundamental    reorientation    of   human
    consciousness,  accompanied by  action that  is born  out of
    inner commitment,  is very much needed.  One of the measures
    that  could help  a great  deal to  fulfill this  need is to
    regenerate and rejuvenate basic  values of Hindu culture and
    propagate them.
    Jagmohan, member of Indian Parliament in the Rajya Sabha, is
    the  former   Governor  of  Jammu  &   Kashmir,  India,  and
    Lieutenant Governor of Delhi.
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