The celebration of the national and international days is the opportunity for educating the public on issues of serious concern to humanity, to mobilize public opinion in favour or against as the case may be, to discuss issues having global relevance, to showcase the achievements of humanity, and to revisit the civilizational discourses for drawing road-map for mid-course correction, wherever needed. The Earth Day that falls on 22nd April is the case in point because human civilization is at a cross-road owing to a large looming planetary climate crisis. Unquestionably, human indulgence with the nature is the culprit of this crisis. Let us quickly review how it has happened and what the remedy is in the context of Vedic discourse.
In fact, the Vedic culture is a complete set of doctrines for living in perfect harmony with nature. The verses in the Vedas manifest the relationship that ought to exist between biotic and abiotic components of nature for the well-being of all. In Vedic culture, the earth is considered the divine mother and human-beings as her offspring. Thus to the Vedic people, the Earth was an object of worship and its bountiful natural resources were utilised to meet the bare minimum needs for the survival of the human-race and not for satisfying its endless greed and wants. A Hymn in Prithvi Sukta in Atharva Veda, is the foremost inspirational ecological proclamation. Through this, we earnestly vouch for the ever-lasting allegiance to Mother Earth befitting to a son: ‘Mata Bhumih Putroham Prithivyah- Earth is my mother, I am her son. Rig Veda (188.8.131.52) contemplates that ‘United be your purpose, harmonious be your feelings, collected be your mind, in the same way as all the various aspects of the universe exist in interconnectedness, wholeness and oneness’. Prithvi Sukta says ‘O Mother Earth! Be kind to us and bestow happiness upon us. May you be fertile, arable, and nourisher of all? May you continue supporting people of all races and nations?’ Other celebrated Vedic references concerning the conservation of nature are: do not cut trees because they remove pollution (Rig Veda 6:48:17); one should protect the habitation (Rig Veda 6:71:3); do not disturb the sky and do not pollute the atmosphere (Yajur Veda 5:43) etc. Through these, Mother Earth’s blessings are sought for the prosperity of all animate and inanimate entities and the fulfilment of all righteous aspirations of the human race. We solemnise Mother Earth for all her natural bounties, especially for her gifts of water, herbs and vegetation, and we pray for the wellness of the sky, hills, mountains, rivers, clouds, seas and oceans and wish that all components of earth remain healthy.
By imbibing these thoughts into action, humankind secured the Earth from all environmental misadventures and never ill-treated her. In Sanatan culture, we firmly believe that the earth and all her objects are not merely the creation of God but also possess his divine energy (‘Tat sristva ta devanu pravisat’: after creating the universe, He entered into every object created) and are also an extension of the self. Thus, we developed close interconnections and co-existential frame of mind with nature. In contrast, today in order to satisfy our greed and unlimited wants, we have severely wounded the hydrosphere, lithosphere, biosphere and atmosphere- crucial components of earth. We have done all this for the survival of the human race. As a result, mother earth is wounded and its ecosystem is at the risk of becoming incapable of nurturing a modern consumerist and individualistic lifestyle. Verse 12.1.35 in Bhumi Suktam warned us about human interference that may cause harm to nature and also about the overexploitation of natural resources causing irreparable damage to environment. ‘What, O earth, I dig out of thee, quickly shall that grow again: may I not, O pure one, injure thy vitals or thy heart’.
Sanatan culture is, in fact, the ecology of conservation of nature that evolved organically from the devotional connection with all its elements. Environmentalist O.P Dwivedi says ‘our ignorance of the essence of bhava of the presence of divine energy within all earthly creation is a spiritual crisis. The consequence of this ignorance is the climate crisis. The rites and rituals of the Sanatan culture and the essence of dharma actually revolved around the earthly sacredness and devotional connect with nature’. Since we no longer appreciate and celebrate the divine energy of Earth and its components in our daily lives and do not conduct ourselves accordingly, our understanding of dharma is incomplete and our indulgence with nature has become cruel and ‘Prakriti Virodhi’. Therefore, we should find the answer to the question: What should be our Sanatan discourse on the irreversible planetary climate crisis? In this regard, the Sanatan world view, traditions, scholarship, civilizational discourse and nature-centric indulgence can provide a spiritual roadmap to address the unprecedented challenge of climate change.
In the Indic concept the human and other objects are made up of five elements: Prithvi (the earth), Agni (Fire), Jal (Water), Akash (sky), and Vayu (air). These pancha mahabhutas originate from nature. In spite of the fact that these elements possess their own morphology and peculiarities, all are closely knitted and depend on each other for their existence. The Taittiriya Upanishad tells us: “From Brahman arises space, from space arises air, from air arises fire, from fire arises water, and from water arises earth.” Earth, the densest of all, is the ground upon which life originates and flourishes. For us, the Earth is a divine and organic entity, metaphysically and metaphorically. Hindus have always believed in this knowing fully well that all creatures on earth are interconnected. We worship these elements for their sacredness and divine energy. We used to perform prayer before ploughing, digging a well, constructing a house or any other action that we thought might pollute these elements. Through yagnas and sacrificial fire, we used to purify the environment. Practices like daily greetings to mother earth before stepping onto it, praying to the sun at the first sight, greetings to food and offering it to God before eating as a thanks-giving, worshipping rivers, mountains, vegetations and various other land- and life-forms on different occasions, praying to the moon in the evening, and thanking God before sleeping amply demonstrate the depth of our intimate relationship with these objects having divinity. In Vishwamitra Smriti we pray: Samundravasane devi parvatstanmandale। Vishnupatni namstubhyam padsparsh kshamaswame॥ Oh Mother Goddess, the one who is covered with oceans as her garments and mountains as her bosom, the consort of Lord Vishnu, please forgive us for touching You with our feet. Our deep connect with nature is exemplified by our prayer for the peace of all living and non- living creatures: Om Dyau Shanti Rantariksha Gwam Shanti Prithvi Shanti Rapah Shanti Roshadhayah Shanti VanasPatayah Shanti Vishwed Devah Shanti Brahma SarvagWam Shanti Shanti Reva Shanti Sa Ma Shanti Redhi Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om’ (Atharv Veda, 19.8.14).
The main purpose of worshipping different forms of animals, birds, reptiles, herbs, plants, rivers and mountains is their protection and conservation. Afterall, for the Hindu, as the scriptures teach, everything is Brahman, ‘Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma’. This does not mean that Hindus mindlessly worship the superiority of nature due to fear or superstition. In fact, the Hindus perceive the manifestation of divinity in every animate and inanimate object of nature. Vedic culture taught us that human beings are not the supreme species and have no right to conquer or dominate over other living and non-living entities. In fact, all creatures present in the universe have a democratic right to exist: O man! May there be conformity in your lifestyle and may there be an equal share of food and drink for all in the bounty of Mother Nature (Atharva Veda). Moreover, ‘Dharanath dharma ucyate’- dharma sustains all life-forms and helps maintain a harmonious relationship with each other. Vedas advised humans to live in a co-existential frame of mind with nature in its entirety. Vedas allowed us to use natural resources to meet our bare minimum needs and not our unlimited and ever-increasing greed. Ishavasya Upnishad verse-1 says that Isavasyamidam sarvam yatkinca jagatyam jagat; Tena tyaktena bhunjitha ma grdhah kasya sviddhaman simply meant that ‘All natural resources belong to the God and our share is what we need the bare minimum to survive and earn without committing sins. So we should not covet other’s wealth.
The irony is that the modern Hindus are increasingly forgetting their traditional sacred relationship with the earth and their ecological vision is becoming blurred. As a consequence, life support system of the earth has been degraded and polluted, and in due course, mother earth may become unfit to nurture and support life. In order to reverse the present planetary crisis, it is necessary that we restore our ancient vision of ecology. If we refuse to appreciate the fact that natural resources are meant to be used for the continuity of the human race and not for pleasure and comfort, we cannot develop the mind-set of kindness towards nature. Thus we ought to embrace our traditional life-style, world view and civilizational discourse. The Vedic philosophy of oneness and not the duality must be the guiding principle for our indulgence with nature where the entire universe is considered as an integral part of our own higher-self.
From scientific materialism and dualistic Western metaphysics, we the Indians have a new learning of duality that man is independent of nature and God is independent of both, man and nature. This prompted us to develop a mind-set that mother earth is a dead object and encouraged us to over exploit nature than can be naturally regenerated against the core philosophy of Atharva Veda that: ‘O Mother Earth, May whatever I dig from you grow back again quickly, and may we not injure you by our labor’. This is leading to the collapse of the earth’s ecosystem. In western world view only human life is considered sacred whereas Indic civilization celebrates all living and non-living components, as sacred. It believes that everything we see around us bears the signature of divinity and is an extension of the self. Thus we naturally embraced the entire human race as one family- ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’. We firmly believe that Mother Earth does not discriminate between the creatures decorating her body and soul. For Her, all creatures are equally important. Thus, we arrive at the dictum ‘Sarva Bhuta Hita’. Once we believe that all creatures are sacred and God is omnipresent, we will behave like children of Mother Earth. Our attitude, conduct and wants will change accordingly and we can pursue the goal of the wellness of all and customise our individual needs with those of the members of the large family.
We should not continue to live in the illusion that we are different or special from other biotic and abiotic components of Nature and also with each other. This illusion forces us to forget our sacred connection with the natural world and forces us to treat mother earth as an entity that naturally produces resources for over exploitation and misuse. We must restore and nurture the deep-rooted benign interconnectedness that exists between man and all elements of nature. We need to interface our Sanatan world view and modern science to experience and enrich inner harmony and peace, universal brotherhood, and respect for the mother earth on the model of ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam’ and ‘Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah. In order to resolve the present planetary crisis and restore Sanatan ecology, we ought to recreate and customise ancient doctrines of regenerative living which can ensure the sustainability of nature in its entirety. We must individually and collectively ensure that all life-sustaining components of mother earth remain healthier than ever before. Therefore, to ensure continuity of human race, it should be our unfailing endeavour to restore earth’s life-sustaining ecosystem, re-establish the Sanatan connect with nature and natural resources, celebrate God’s divine energy and creativity, and relearn to live harmoniously with Nature. After all, ‘Wisdom comes to a man, who meditates, acts and lives according to the true eternal laws of Nature’ (Rig Veda).
(The writer is Vice-Chancellor, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda)