The Holistic, Integrated and Interrelated Approach Inherent in Bharateeya Philosophy is the Central Theme of Modern Sustainable Development.
The condition of the external environment (Nature) has reached from bad to the worst. Many studies have come out pointing fingers to the dominant nature of human beings. The mechanistic attitude and modern models of growth have resulted in the “conquering of nature”, “squeezing of resources” and “defeating earth”. As a result the problems of environment have become crises. Let us see what the consequences are.
1. We face the depletion of the quantity and degradation of the quality of air, without which the living beings will not survive more than five minutes.
2. The world faces pollution and shortage of water, without which no beings will survive more than a week.
3. The soil from which the food comes is also facing the same fate- degradation and depletion.
4. Global warming, Ozone depletion and Climate change challenge the marine and land eco systems.
If air water and food which form the basic conditions of existence become scarce and polluted, what is the guarantee of life? If at all we survive, what will be the quality of life? Hence the state of environment needs to be improved.
Human society as already noted, is highly influenced by the Western Mechanistic model of growth. Here nature has been reduced to a mere tool in the hands of man and his style is to ‘use and throw’ anything and everything that he comes across. The mad race and cut throat competition for the materialistic objectives has trapped both the life of the people and the condition of the earth.
Efforts to Integrate Environment and Development
In 1954 UNESCO and FAO organised the World Population Conference, where development issues were linked to environment. After this a series of conferences and summits were held to explore and explain the obvious and hidden dimensions of man nature relationship. The message that was conveyed from these conferences was that environment and development are interrelated and that the promotion of development and protection of environment should go together. The World Conference on Environment and Development ( WCED) which submitted its report (1987) suggested sustainable development as the best alternative to the present mechanistic models of development as it envisages “the development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”
Basic needs Approach
The concept of ‘needs’ revolutionaised the approach towards development. It is not the comforts and luxuries to be given overriding priority in sustainable development, but the essential needs of the world’s poor so that the pressure on resources could be reduced.
Food, clothing, shelter, health and education are the basic needs of human beings. But majority are behind accumulating and exploiting scarce resources of the planet for acquiring goods of comfort and luxury at the cost of even meeting the basic needs. Sustainable development aims at “meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to satisfy their aspirations for a better life.” Hence sustainable development requires societies that meet human needs both by increasing productive potential and by ensuring equal opportunities to all. To achieve this goal, the following strategy is usually pursued.
- Reviving growth
- Meeting essential needs
- Ensuring sustainable level of population
- Conserving and enhancing resource bases
- Reorienting technology
- Merging environment and economics in decision making, and
- Changing the quality of growth.
The definition and the consequent discussions that followed on the theme of sustainable development proved that it is a multidisciplinary concept. As development involves a progressive transformation of the society in all aspects, sustainable development indicates the uninterrupted continuity of the improvement of social, economic, political, scientific, technological, educational and spiritual condition. Thus it is an all-round development of an integrated or holistic nature. The multi disciplinary aspect of sustainable development brings out the inter dependence of all biotic and abiotic factors that are clear or hidden.
From the local Gram Sabhas to the UN General Assembly, Summits, Seminars, Symposia, Project Works and Capacity Building programmes are being conducted continuously to deal with the problems of the dichotomy of development and environment. Economic programmes, Political policies, Scientific researches, Social evaluations, Legal regulations and popular movements (NGOs) form the multi dimensional attempts initiated by public and private agencies all over the world to tackle the twin problems of resource depletion and environmental degradation. Although some policies, programmes and regulations targeted on exerting influence on people for preventing environmental crimes, the impact has been comparatively low. From 1972 Stockholm conference to the 2012 Rio Plus 20 conference, the UN has been trying its best to change from the accelerated growth policies of national governments to sustainable development policies. But success rate was negligible. Hence development experts began to think of new dimensions like religion, culture and spirituality in attaining sustainable development.
The Spiritual Dimension
Along with material prosperity, sustainability requires social justice and equality as necessary conditions, but these are not sufficient. Above all, sustainability should assure human happiness. The then World Bank President Mr Wolfanson, in 1998 called for the intermeshing of spiritual and economic concerns. After visiting several developing countries he said “These visits have been extra ordinarily meaningful for me. They have brought to me that world Bank’s central mission has weld economic assistance with spiritual, ethical and moral development.”
Spirituality (Abstract Philosophy and values which are Universal- eg. Vedanta Philosophy and Love as a form of value), Religion ( values in practical form reflected by individuals through the belief system, rituals and practices at the family and community levels in society) and culture ( the reflection of these values at the individual, social, national and international levels) are the major alternate paradigms probed and studied by modern social and environmental scientists to find eternal solutions to modern problems. The values like Truth, Love, Compassion, Cooperation, Justice etc are individual and at the very same time social and universal and they form the root cause of the sustenance of humanity. The harmony and peace at the micro and macro level rests on the understanding, practice and realisation of these values. Religions and other social institutions are only external devices meant to promote them.
The UN experts have come out with new studies in which they demand an active role of spirituality and culture in defining and formulating sustainable development models. “Nurturing the values, wisdom and practice of our spiritual traditions and harmony between them” are the basic requirements to develop an appropriate policy.
According to Swami Vivekananda, “The problem of life is becoming deeper and broader every day as the world moves on. There cannot be any progress without the whole world following in the wake and it is becoming every day clearer that the solution of any problem can never be attained on racial, or national or narrow grounds. Every idea has to become broad till it covers the whole of this world, every aspiration must go on increasing till it has engulfed the whole of humanity, nay, the whole of life, with its scope”
Modern people dismissed rituals as superstition. But, anthropologists find that the skilled use of rituals had made many traditional societies far more successful in caring for their environment than the industrial societies. According to cultural ecologist EN Anderson, the rituals forged emotional connections with the natural world.
Bharateeya Wisdom in Sustainability
Bharat has a lifeline of being one with nature. We believe in the oneness of Man and Nature. Right from the Vedic period till date the Bharateeya life line has never deviated from this main line of thought. Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya is one of the greatest exponents of this Bharateeya life line based on the oneness of Man and Nature, which he addressed as Ekatma Darshan or Philosophy of Integral Humanism.
The phenomenal world, which is a manifestation of the Ultimate Almighty (Paramatma), is within the Maya power, and people experience this with reference to Space, Time and Causation (Maya). “Maya at this stage is also called Prakriti (Matrix), the primordial substance of all phenomena- the Divine Mother.”
In the Hindu view, nature has myriads of expressions through varieties of living beings and entities. Unity in Diversity is the plan of Hinduism, even as it is of Nature, It recognises the Oneness of all beings (yatra visvam bhavati eka neetam) and that the whole world is one family. (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam). It could be said that at the cosmic (Macro) level (Brahman), it is the all pervading inner Oneness that is revealed, and at the individual (micro/body) level (atman), it is the outer/external diversity that is exposed. At this level, space and time limitations occur due to Maya, and this is reflected through many names, and many lifeforms. The Prakriti or Nature which is the Macrocosm, is the grossest external manifestation of Brahman, limited by the space, time and causation is made up of the Panchabhootas. They are the primary components of the Universe (Prapancham), of which this prakriti (Nature) is a part. Here, Prapancham is taken as the cosmic whole and Prakriti is taken as the environment and ecology that is necessary for our survival.
This holistic, integrated and interrelated approach inherent in Bharateeya Philosophy is the central theme of modern sustainable development. The primary purpose of life in ancient Bharat was to realise this spiritual wisdom. Simple living and high thinking were the features of this life. Hence it was part of traditional wisdom in Bharat to part with over exploitation and follow simple production and simple consumption, which were the pre-conditions of modern sustainable development.
The Universe of Panchabhootas
In ancient Bharat, the word Prapancha means Universe. Nature and environment are expressions of five elements (Akash – Space, Vayu-Air, Agni-Fire, Jalam-Water and Bhoomi-Earth) and their qualities. Panch means five and Pra denotes special, natural or primordial. Thus from this very word Pra Pancha, it is evident that the universe is made up of 5 primordial elements.
The purity and balance of these five elements externally determine the life on this planet. Our body also is made up of these five elements. Here also the purity of the five elements is a determinant of the balance and health of the body. Our planet earth which forms a part of this universe provides the right environment or nature (prakriti) for the emergence, existence and sustenance and the timely disappearance through the interactions and interconnections of all the biotic and abiotic things on this planet.
The Pancha Mata Concept
Dehamatha (biological mother), Gou Mata (cow mother), Desa Mata (Motherland), Bhoo Mata (Mother Earth) and Prapancha Mata (Supreme Mother) are the five concepts in motherhood at different levels that promote love and respect to nature. It keeps away individuals from over exploiting Mother Nature and thus promotes a sustainable life style.
The main objective of the life of a Hindu is to attain Dharma and Moksha. ‘Dharma’can be considered as the corresponding word for sustainability. That which upholds and sustains is Dharma. Dharma is the code of conduct to be observed by the individuals to keep the physical balance of man and nature along with keeping the cultural and spiritual integration of individuals. The very saying that if you protect dharma, dharma will protect you shows the inherent interrelationship between man and nature. Thus dharma demands a simple and austere life which helps a sustainable life style and sustainable development.
Wealth can be desired and acquired and it could be used to satisfy human wants only according to ‘Dharma’. After a period of hectic activity, there should be retirement for liberation – Moksha – again a stage of very simple and austere life. All these principles and practices provide a sustainable life style.
The Four Ashramas (Stages)
Brahmacharya (student life), Garhastya (House holder), Vanaprastha (Hermitage) and Sanyasa (saint) are the four stages of a person’s life in Hinduism. Out of these four, three stages: Brahma Charya, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa recommends very simple and disciplined life and this contributes towards a sustainable life style.
Sacred Groves and Sustainability
Sacred groves form a unique tradition that has been responsible for preserving pockets of diversity in various parts of Bharat. They do many ecological services such as water conservation, Biodiversity conservation and air purification. They also control the micro climate of the region and preserve the soil moisture. The protection of sacred groves is very urgent in the modern times especially in view of the ruthless and indiscriminate deforestation. “Behind the façade of superstition was a wonderful sensitive truth, amply demonstrating the wisdom of our ancient people”
Isavasyamidam Sarvam yat kincha jagatym jagat
This Upanishad verse indicates the omnipresence of God. Hence even a grain of sand is precious and divine. Everything has its own relevance and importance according to the time and place. This all inclusiveness had been the quality of Bharateeya progress (preyas supported by sreyas) long before the modern social scientists began to dream of inclusive growth. In the Bharateeya inclusive growth , not only the marginalised people, but also the marginalised animals and plants were also part of preyas and sreyas.
Thus Bharat can be the pioneer of the 21st century in maintaining the quality of the environment and attaining development. The traditional wisdom of Bharat need to be probed more before formulating policies of development and implementing programmes on environment.
Dr TV Muralivallabhan (The writer is a former Principal of NSS College & Academic Co-ordinator of Sri Ramakrishna Math, Pala, Kerala)