How can we talk about the quality of our lives, if the quality of our air, water and food is in doubt?
India has one of the most spectacular natural environments in the world, with many great rivers and mountains from the lofty Himalayas to the vast Indian Ocean. India also has one of the world’s oldest traditions of reverence for the earth and honouring nature, a common theme of its many spiritual traditions, seasonal festivals and colourful art forms.
India’s culture, going back to the Vedas, is full of prayers and mantras of wonder and joy, exulting in the sacred powers of nature. The Vedas pray that we receive the unlimited peace of the universe from the earth, atmosphere, sky, rivers and trees.
India has the heritage of Ayurveda, the very medicine of nature, life and consciousness, with its deep understanding of healing herbs. It has the profound meditation tradition of Yoga and Vedanta, recognising that the entire universe dwells within each one of us as our true Self.
Yet, today, India has one of the most damaged ecologies and polluted environments of any country. India’s large metropolitan centres like Delhi are becoming dangerous to live in owing to poor air quality and congested roads. There is little green or open space for the city or its people to renew themselves.
Ecological problems and the need for change
Yet these ecological problems extend to the entire planet, where nearly every ecosystem is under strain. It is not a question merely of long term climate change or global warming. We need only look at our immediate environments. We can easily see the massive loss of plants and animals, forests and agricultural lands.
Environmental devastation is a fact we have sadly become used to. How can we talk about the quality of our lives, if the quality of our air, water and food is in doubt?
Our violence against the earth and its plants and animals inevitably leads to escalating conflict between human beings, which we now see in the many wars and violence increasing in the world.
We cannot have peace in our societies if we exploit and harm the world of nature. This is the law of karma. We cannot have health and well-being at personal or social levels, if our planet and its ecosystems are suffering.
To counter this negative trend, there is an extensive ecological movement, nature-based spirituality, and adaptation of natural healing throughout the world. India’s great traditions like Yoga and Ayurveda are at the forefront of this movement in many countries and need to be emphasised.
India has long honoured the earth as Bhumi Devi or Mother Earth. India itself is regarded as Mother India reflecting a connection with the earth. But there must be a practical honouring of the earth through sound ecological practices for this to be meaningful today.
The dangerous road ahead
We must learn to be more sensitive to the earth, its plants and animals. We are not free to do what we want, but must recognise our duty to the whole of life. It is not just a question of human rights but the rights of all life. If promoting our human freedoms is based upon harming other creatures, such actions become inhumane, if not cruel.
We must not become tolerant of waste, pollution and destruction of our natural environment. We must reduce meat consumption, use of fossil fuels, and other prime pollution creating life-styles, and replace our culture of personal enjoyment and mass consumption with one of karma yoga or service to all. Developing clean forms of energy, such as solar, is essential.
Will the world awaken to the necessity for responsible ecological living, or must greater natural calamities occur first in order to force us to change? The stage is already set for major ecological problems for decades to come, but much can perhaps be averted if we alter how we live today. Nature has the power to renew itself, there is no doubt about it, but that renewal may occur at our expense if we continue to harm the earth.
Nature’s forces are reflections of divine energies. There is one reality: a great ocean of consciousness of which the time-space universe forms but waves on the surface. We need to embrace that unitary reality in our life and action. It is not simply a matter of good ecology but of personal and social well-being, and perhaps even the survival of our species.
The UN 2015 Paris Climate Conference, set to commence November 30, is a crucial opportunity for the world to deal with these mounting ecological problems that we cannot afford to ignore. India and its Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be present to address this vital issue, which like the problem of terrorism, requires strong countermeasures.
Let there be a firm determination coming out of the conference to restore the balance in our natural environment, reflecting India’s own great ecological traditions, for the benefit of all creatures and for future generations!
The article was first published by DailyO.in