The spirit & influence of Vedanta in protecting the environment
The concern towards endless strains on the environment for wealth generation has remained on the top of the political agenda of several countries. Despite the concern and promulgation of various laws, senseless exploitation of natural resources severely threatens the environment in several countries. Burning of fossil fuel at a mammoth scale and the resultant global warming is causing change in weather pattern, severe draughts and flooding at unprecedented scales affecting agriculture. In a report on the “Future of Food”, The Economist (Feb 26- Mach 4, 2011) cites studies which show that “global warming upsets water cycles, increases the burden of pests, desiccates soil and reduces yield”. Presently, China (report in the Economist, August 10- 16, 2013) alone burns about half of the world’s coal supplies and its Carbon dioxide emissions have already over taken Americans in 2006 and in another one to two years, it will emit twice America’s total. Between 1990 and 2050 its cumulative emissions will amount of 500 billion tons – roughly the same as those of the whole world from the beginning of industrial revolution to 1970. What is more alarming is that as it shifts heavy manufacturing and mining from coastal areas to western province like Tibet having fragile eco-systems, the damage will be irreversible. The instances reported are only indicative, as several such account are well documented.
The Vedas and the Upanishads lay the principle of reciprocity between God and mankind. The following verses elaborate this process of mutual exchange (Sri Aurobindo, 2003).
- With sacrifice the Lord of the creatures of old created creatures and said, By this shall you bring forth (fruits or offspring), let this be your milker of desires (3.10).
- Foster by this the gods and let the god foster you, fostering each other; you shall attain to the supreme good (3.11).
- Fostered by sacrifice the gods shall give you desired enjoyments, who enjoys their given enjoyments and has not given to them, he is a thief (3.12).
The fundamental law conveyed through these verses is that the basic requirements (like water, air, light etc.) for the performance of economic function are bestowed by what we may call gods. In Hinduism, the many gods and goddesses mean the supra-human power and forces of Nature. …. By utilizing these Cosmic gifts the human world creates usable things through multifarious ways of conversion. Hence, human beings should gratefully offer their works and worships to these very powers (Chakraborty, S.K. & Chakraborty, D., 2007:720). The snowballing ecological problems due to lopsided economic activities can be addressed by falling back on the philosophy of the Vedanta.
It may sound queer to the western mind, but there is presiding deity for all the five principles of the nature - air, water, earth, fire and ether, much the same as it was in the pre-Christian time of Greeks and the early Romans, and that continuity still goes on among Hindus. In Sanatana Dhama of Hindus, omnipotent, omniscient God is also omnipresent. He is present in every atom of the universe. As such one has to respect all the elements of nature and not to treat that they are meant only for fulfilment of his selfish desires.
There is an important quotation in a Purana which says, ‘One tree is equal to ten sons’ (Padmapurana 1.44.455). The Atharvaveda prays for continuous growth of herbs ‘O Earth! What on you, I dig out, let that quickly grow over’ (Atharveda, 12.1.35). And another prayer says, ‘O Earth! Let me not hit your vitals.’ (Ibid 12.1.35).1
Where such thoughts and reverence for nature as spelt in the Vedas are reinforced, pollution and destruction of the environment can be contained.
(The above extract is from the title ‘Challenges of modern economy and society – Dipping in
Vedantic philosophy for answers’ by Chandrashekhar Pandey. A German version of the article is a part of book – “Pandey Chandrashekhar in Klaus von Stosch (Hg.) (2014) Wirtschaftsethik interreligious. ‘HerausforderungenmodernerWirtschaft und Gesellschaft – Auf der SuchenachAntorten in der vedantischenPhilosphie’. Ferdinand Schöningh. ISBN: 978-3-506-77283-1.”)1
1Cited in Tiwari Shashi (Year not mentioned), Origin of Environmental Science From Vedas, http://www.sanskrit.nic.in/SVimarsha/V2/c17.pdf