“Having realized Me as the enjoyer of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all the worlds and the selfless Friend of all living beings, My devotee attains peace.”
Bhagavad Gita 5:29
Let us start with a preface “The climate and environmental crisis we are living now is a new experience in humanity a new challenge which requires new coping systems, and no religious tradition in its present form is fully equipped to address it” Prof. David L. Haberman Indiana University.
Having said that, before identifying the connection between the Hindu faith and ecology, it is mandatory to have a very short overview over the Hindu faith and beliefs to gather a full understanding on how its teachings and principles can positively impact the human response to the crisis we are facing, from that cultural and religious point of view.
Let us start with understanding that it is not one single religion per se, even the term Hindu comes from Persia as a general definition of the beliefs and faiths existing beyond the Hindu river, which means numerous deities, practices and prayers, similar or different to one another, a very rich mythology and a common approach between humans and deity. One can say its a bit like Ancient Greece and Rome and other classical civilisations, similar gods and rituals with facets of local cultural adaptations to the worship practice. Another element is, although there is a presence in Holy Scriptures much of the tradition is oral and passed down generations by scholars and Gurus when it comes to rytes, prayers, worship practices and ways of living morally according to the religious teachings. Thirdly, it is considered an ascetic faith that has strong connotations to destiny and predestination, as well as meditative practices with a common thread that the true purpose is to detach from the material world and earthly concerns to attain a higher state of being Fourth and last, the last century has witnessed stronger uniformity in Hindu practices and harmonisation across Indian cultures, also thanks to the age of communication. This was an extremely short, incomplete and superficial look into one of the greatest spiritual practices our world knows, and it is the basic ground upon which we can set our quest of connecting Hinduism and Ecology. Another precondition to the scope of this article is that humanity is facing an unprecedented crisis concerning environment and climate which poses a threat to our own species and survival which has sparked a new life across cultures and practices across the whole world, and religions as well are undergoing this process of rediscovery, or rethinking, its scope to contribute to humanity’s survival through the creation of a new ecological consciousness.
At first glance, Hinduism may appear to be quite anti-ecological and very human centred, nonetheless it takes a deeper look into the practice, theology and moral precepts to understand that there is no contradiction between being a Hinduist believer and having an ecological consciousness, quite the opposite. Take for example the ascetic practice, which indeed points at a way of transcending material and earthly ties to ascend to a higher spirituality, and at the same time this practice requires renouncing belonging and minimal consumption, which very much opposes the overwhelming consumerist culture contributing to the present disaster.
Moreover, while ascetic, it is also true that Hindus worship practice has a lot to do with devotion to the embodiment of divinity, meaning the acknowledgement of the presence of the pantheon in natural elements such as rivers, specific trees, animals and by giving them human features and characteristics, thus making it easier to identify with them and interact, as they would with the anthropomorphic divinity, implying a positive view of the world where the manifestation of the divine is all around.
As pointed out by Hinduism scholars, there is an important Holy Text, and worship practice, which can actually resonate very well with our times, that is the Bhagavad Gita, a collection of teachings and meditations coming from a conversation between an Indian prince and the God Krishna, and the worship of Krishna is possibly one the most socially oriented practices in Hinduism, as it speaks of compassion and responsibility towards community and society, focusing on mutual compassion and unity and of course in the worship. The Bhagavad Gita is being widely used by Indian environmental activists to add a religious motivation to their movement.
It is important to also understand the worldview from a Hindu perspective, on the one hand the ascetic stand is that the world view is a mere illusion we need to elevate ourselves from, on the other the reality of the world deserves worship as divine manifestation, and this latter viewpoint resonates much in the Bhagavad Gita, the vision of the Universe as the body of Krishna, described in four Sanskrit terms about our relation with nature: the Saratma-bhava which is the view of the world concerning environmental responsibility, Svarupa, which is about devotion through natural objects (personification of trees, mountains and rivers…all that exists is potentially a Svarupa). Seva concerns the ability of feeling love and compassion, while Sambandha concerns the action that results from Seva, feeling and loving. The common thread among all is about unity and interconnectedness, all is sacred, as “Everything in this world is a part of Krishna, therefore worthy of reverence” , God is everything and everything is God, and that unified reality is the Brahman.
A way to understand all of the above is need to restore a healthy relationship with the world as the world is filled with Svarupas as channels sparked with divinity and part of the divine through which faith and devotion can be expressed and be tools for meditation and contemplation of the universe, and their loss would mean reducing the access we have now to connect with the universal creation, its love, compassion and insight and severe wisdom from humanity. Therefore Hinduism lays the path clear for understanding the return to the Sarvatma-Bhava, where everything is sacred.
“Love is the key to all sustainability” Eco-theologian Shrivatsa Goswami