Friday, July 28, 2006

Hinduism & The Environment

Hinduism & The Environment (Lent 2000)

One of the modern challenges confronted by humanity is that of our preserving our endangered environment. Indeed, deforestation stands at around 17 million
hectares a year, there are problems with the Ozone Layer and thanks to global warming, the last few years have been the hottest in recorded history. Significantly
enough, if the polar ice caps were to melt, Cambridge would be one of the first places to disappear.

The Hindu perspective on the environment is a very interesting one for the ancient seers seem to have recognised the importance of environmental issues
and almost seem to have anticipated some of the problems we are encountering today, the Rig Veda stating such simple principles as “Do not cut the trees
because they remove pollution” (6-48-17). Hinduism has always emphasised man’s dependence on nature and the planet in what is a holistic, cosmic vision.
Nature is seen as God’s gift to mankind and its elements are worshipped in Hindu prayers and scriptures. For example, the Atharva Veda contains “Prithvi
Sukta” (Vedic Hymn to the Earth), the Rig Veda contains prayers to Surya (The Sun), the Dawn and the Waters whilst The Mundakapanishad describes the moon
and sun as God’s eyes, the wind as His breath and the Earth as His feet. We are further told that the whole world is God’s heart and that He is “truly
the inner soul of all”. The idea is very similar to that expressed in The Bhagavad Gita whereby Lord Krishna urges Arjuna to see everything in God and
God in everything. H. V. Shah writes, “The gift of Hindu thought to the World Peace is light spiritual, slow and silent, calm and potent, yet producing
a tremendous result like the gentle dew that covers the whole earth in the morning. That which was perceived as pagan through the worship of mountains,
rivers, trees, animate and inanimate, the earth and the universe, is now acknowledged as a scientific, logical and eco-friendly way of life by scholars,
scientists and philosophers all over the world”.

Hinduism stresses the interdependence of man both on each other and the planet it inhabits and it is thus that The Atharva Veda says, “We may believe in
different religions … yet we share the same home - Our Earth … we must learn to happily progress together or miserably perish together. For man can live
individually but can only survive collectively”. Indeed, the Hindu texts seem to suggest that we all owe a responsibility to the environment not only for
ourselves but also for the sake of those around us. Dr L. M. Singhvi, the former Indian High Commissioner, has said, “The soul of the Vedic tradition is
Peace and Harmony, Dharma and Rta, Restraint and Responsibility, based on Ahimsa (nonviolence) and Karuna (compassion). These ideas and precepts are the
elements of the Vedic heritage which have the capacity and potential to catalyse and enliven a deeper feeling of reverence for Life and Nature” (The Summit
on Religions and Conservation, Atami, Japan, 7th April 1995).

It should also be noted that one of the main forms of Hindu worship, Yajna (sacrificial fire), performed to purify the mind and spirit also serves to purify
the air and the surroundings through the use of antiseptic and fragrant materials spread by the use of fire. This is a natural way of air purification
in contrast to the use of toxic germicides or CFC containing airfreshners.

It is also notable that the very common Hindu prayer, “Shanti Paath” (Prayer for Peace) is essentially a prayer for peace to nature and everything around
us. It seems apt to close on this prayer [see prayer ].


Cambridge University Hindu Cultural Society


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