ARTICLE: A Spiritual Response to the Environment
MY TURN: A Spiritual Response to the Environment
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
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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