(This article is an attempt to throw light on Indian environmental wisdom in the background of the attempts made by several global agencies to form guidelines for sustainable development. The Western development models have been prepared using only information and knowledge. For the same reason they lack the moral and ethical aspects. Mere mechanistic thinking will only create crisis out of problems, not solutions. Only human wisdom will be able to find eternal solutions to the burning problems faced by mankind. Sustainable development needs wisdom along with information and knowledge. The gap of this wisdom found in the Western models of development can be filled only by India, for India is the land of wisdom.)
Traditionally India is a country that has gone beyond the borders of information, frontiers of knowledge and reached the realm of wisdom. Wisdom is the goal and zenith of any form of education in India, as it transcends all differentiations and breaches all barriers of narrow thinking and partisan outlook. It elevates a person to such a height that he/she feels the oneness of the universe. Such a person recognises the omnipresence and omnipotence of God in the living and nonliving things. This person is guided by principles like “Isha vasyamidam sarvam”, “Sarvam khalvidam brahma” and “Vasudeva sarvamiti”. Thus feeling the presence of God in everything in this universe is the symbol of wisdom in India. Dependence on God (spirituality) brings out the interdependence and interrelations among the living and non-living things not only on the physical plane, but also at the spiritual level. Modern science calls this the biotic and abiotic relationships viewed from the material plane only.
Interrelation and interdependence occur at two stages-natural and artificial. Natural interrelationship is according to the principles of nature and it is evolutionary and therefore more sustainable than artificial interrelationship, which is man-made and materialistic. Human beings, who believe in the correctness, accuracy and efficiency of science and superpower technology, command a short -period-large-scale output as a result of interaction with natural resources, which is quite unnatural. This has happened due to the replacement of the emphasis on nature with emphasis on technology. One is mechanistic and materialistic and other is holistic and spiritual. One is environment destructive and the other environment friendly. The Indian wisdom gives more importance to the holistic and spiritual interaction.
Human resource is guided and utilised by mechanical and materialistic attitude. With the same attitude they regard science and technology as the superpower. Natural resources are exploited with the help of this modern science and technology. The result is large-scale production and supernormal profit within a short period. This characterises an unsustainable consumerist culture, which again breeds materialistic outlook and attitude.
In sustainable type of interaction it is spiritual or holistic outlook that guides the relations between human resource and natural resource through science and technology. As a result of this interaction the mode of production is simple and profit is normal. In this type of interaction both affluence and effluents are less and therefore depletion of natural resource and pollution of environment occur at comparatively low levels. The simple living, which is the natural consequence of this type of production, again leads to the spiritual or holistic work.
Western world knows only two groups in society-the rich and the poor. The rich due to their severe attachment to wealth hesitate to share the fruits and the poor due to the same instinct apply violence in thought and action to get it from the other group. The result is insecurity and hardship in the society. But in India due to the presence of a non-attached wealthy class in the society and thanks to the prevalence of generosity and charity at high levels as a by-product of spirituality, the intensity of inequality was less and if at all it existed, people believed it as their fate. Therefore, violence was found to be irrelevant both in human relationship and also in the man-nature relationship. But with the advent of Western culture, this trend had undergone radical change.
A spiritual person is less attached to worldly things and even if he is a wealthy person, he thinks himself only as a trustee of the properties. He regards the Lord as the real owner. As a trustee he takes only what is necessary to satisfy his need, not his greed. From the great rishis of the past to the great spiritual souls of the last century like Shri Ramakrishna, non-attachment to worldly pleasures was a common quality.
Motherhood of Nature
According to the Samkhya school of Philosophy, the world has two parts-spirit and the matter. The matter part of the world has its source in Prakriti or Mother Nature. As a mother nurtures her children, Nature looks after all the living beings. The Bhoomata concept prevents the children from killing their Mother. Unscrupulous exploitation of nature and natural resources is not good for the health of the Mother. Therefore, Indians see Nature with great respect and reverence. That was why when people woke up in the morning in ancient days, they used to pray and touch Mother Earth seeking pardon for whatever harm they were doing to Nature, knowingly and unknowingly.
The Purusharthas and Ashramas
Hindu scriptures in India recognize four goals in the life of a person. They are fulfilment of desires (kama), attainment of wealth (artha), seeking basic principles of sustainability for individual and society (dharma) and liberation or god realization (mokhsa). Among these four kama is considered the lowest goal because this urge is found common to both men and animals. artha is noticeable only in human beings and accumulation of Artha is done due to kama for artha. Dharma is superior to both and hence kama and artha are to be regulated and controlled by the norms of dharma.
?Dharanat Dharma iti ahuh? whatever sustains is dharma. Also Indians believe that ?Prithivim dharmana dhritam? (Atharvaveda)?The world is sustained by dharma.
The principle of sustainability is the essence of dharma. Dharma has various phases and stages-dharma of an individual to himself, to Nation and dharma as a human being living on this planet. Irrespective of the time, place and phase of dharma, the purpose is to ensure and enhance sustainability, thus obviously recognizing the importance of interdependence and interrelationship among the living and non-living things in the universe. Man cannot exist without acknowledging his indebtedness to other human beings and life forms on earth. Wanton destruction is not permitted according to dharma. Hence, when modern development experts search for a fundamental principle and new design for sustainability, they cannot but knock at the door of Indian wisdom based on the principle of dharma.
The ultimate goal of life is to attain moksha. Moksha is the experience of ananda-a feeling of joy and happiness as a result of being and becoming one with the cosmic power. There is also a mundane aspect of the Moksha at the microlevel-i.e. being and becoming one with one’sown karma according to the principle of karmayoga.
Here karma (work/job) is a means to attain moksha by devoting oneself fully to the karma without being influenced by the outcome of the karma (karmaphala).
Maa phaleshu kadachana”
This principle of karmayoga is the basis of accumulating wealth in India, since we know that no karma goes without bringing its fruits. Karma is the cause and the phala or result is the effect; the point is that if we are worrying about the fruits of karma, we won’tbe able to perform Karma perfectly. A perfect karma always brings its fruits-the fruits of karmaphala and the fruits of pratiphala (remuneration).
Karmayoga is the path presented for householders to attain microlevel moksha, because every desire (kama) of an individual is satisfied with the help of wealth (artha) acquired through karma, and based on dharma (sustainability). Naturally all karmas (works) performed by individuals will be sustainable nature and after having realised at the microlevel many times, a sense of detachment from worldly pleasure will arise and individual will seek the mukti/moksha at the macrolevel (an urge to merge with the cosmic power). Hence while living in the world, as an individual householder is guided by the principles of dharma, the objective of sustainable development is assured. Similarly, while leaving this worldly pleasures (according to the ashrama principle) for seeking moksha at the macrolevel, sustainability is assured by the pure detachment (non-participation in the production process) and the consequent non-exploitation of natural resources and non-creation of pollution and wastes in society.
The Ashramas “Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sannyasa” in the life of an individual also help the development of society in sustainable manner. Brahmacharya, the first stage of getting education is a period of very simple living and high principles. The purpose of education in India was not mere collecting information and getting knowledge, but, attaining wisdom. The training imparted to the students for about 25 years during brahmacharya give him courage to tell truth and do dharma (Satyam vada dharmam chara). The students had to beg their uncooked rice and vegetables, bring firewood from the forest, cook the food, look after the cattle, work in the field and help the wife of the teacher in the kitchen. Even the children of kings had to go and live with their gurus in the forest. Their training in the guru’shouse made them less selfish and more hardworking involving the dignity of labour. Unlike their modern counterparts the old gurukula students possessed a simple lifestyle instead of the luxurious one, natural attitude instead of the artificial one and sustainable values instead of unsustainable ones, in life. Moreover, the students had very little role in the directly productive activities of the society. It was only a training ground for values, for a sustainable living, prior to the participation in the directly productive activities of the society. The grihasthas (householders) were the only group which was directly involved in the productive activities. Hence they were the only group which used the natural resources for attaining the development of the society.
The vanaprastha or the forest life of a person is a natural sequence to the meaningful life of a householder. “He is not forced or compelled to give up the world, but it naturally drops down from him even as the petals fall off when the fruits begin to grow out of the flower”. The lifestyle of a vanaprastha was fully in agreement with principles of sustainability. “He lived in a simple hut wore bark or tattered clothes, ate vegetables, flowers, fruits and roots… He lived a life of great simplicity and religious austerity to achieve the spiritual goal of his life”. The fourth stage is that of a sannyasin. According to the monastic ideal, a monk belongs to the entire world. Consequently he severs all ties with his family. He has to take the vows of nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, abstinence and tolerance. All these qualities help him to live an eco-friendly life which is inevitable for a sustainable lifestyle.
Out of the four stages of life, three demand perfect austerity and simple living and they have no role in the directly productive activities of the society. Vertically three-fourth of a person’s life and horizontally three-fourth sections of the society led an eco-friendly and sustainable life both, at the individual and social levels according to the religious and cultural wisdom that is unique to India. It was this uniqueness that helped our forefathers leave an undisturbed environment to the present generation.