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Hinduism has always been an environmentally sensitive philosophy. No religion, perhaps, lays as much emphasis on environmental ethics as Hinduism. The Mahabharata, Ramayana, Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas and Smriti contain the earliest messages for preservation of environment and ecological balance. Nature, or Earth, has never been considered a hostile element to be conquered or dominated. In fact, man is forbidden from exploiting nature. He is taught to live in harmony with nature and recognize that divinity prevails in all elements, including plants and animals. The rishis of the past have always had a great respect for nature. Theirs was not a superstitious primitive theology. They perceived that all material manifestations are a shadow of the spiritual. The Bhagavad Gita advises us not to try to change the environment, improve it, or wrestle with it. If it seems hostile at times tolerate it. Ecology is an inherent part of a spiritual world view in Hinduism. 

According to Swami B. V. Tripurari, in his book, Ancient Wisdom for Modern Ignorance, " Our present environmental crisis is in essence a spiritual crisis. We need only to look back to medieval Europe and the psychic revolution that vaulted Christianity to victory over paganism to find the spirit of the environmental crisis. Inhibitions to the exploitation of nature vanished as the Church took the "spirits" out of the trees, mountains, and seas. Christianity's ghost-busting theology made it possible for man to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects. It made nature man's monopoly. This materialist paradigm has dominated the modern world for last few centuries. 

The current deplorable environmental crisis demands a spiritual response. A fundamental reorientation of human consciousness, accompanied by action that is born out of inner commitment, is very much needed. One of the measures that could help a great deal to fulfill this need is to regenerate and rejuvenate basic values of Hindu culture and propagate them."


Introduction
Dharma: ecological balance
Mountains - The Abode of the Gods

Rivers/Oceans/Lakes

Mother Earth/Sun & Planets
Plants/Animals

Conclusion

Articles

Introduction

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) was among India's most fervent nationalists, fighting for Indian independence from British rule. He observed:  

"I bow my head in reverence to our ancestors for their sense of the beautiful in nature and for their foresight in investing beautiful manifestations of Nature with a religious significance." 

(source: Glimpses of Indian Culture - By Dr. Giriraj Shah p. 106). For more refer to chapter on Hindu Scriptures.

Hinduism has often been coined as a "environmental friendly" religion. Hindus regard everything around them as pervaded by a subtle divine presence, may it be rivers, mountains, lakes, animals, flora, the mineral world, as well as the stars and planets. It is so because the Divine reality is present as Prana/Shakti energy, power, in every electron, particle, atom, cell and in every manifestation of matter. It is its very fabric. Just like the sparks of a fire are of the same essence as the fire they were issued forth from, so is the entire creation, of the same essence as the Divine. Just as Hindus greet each other saying "Namaste", which means: I recognize and salute the Divine within you, so do they recognize the same Divine essence, in all around them. 

(image source: Mount Rainier: webmaster's own collection of photos taken during a recent visit).

Ayurveda, the science of life, which is a complete health and medicine system based on nature and its regenerating forces. Then we have Vastu Shastra, upon which the now well-known Feng Shui is based. Vastu, teaches us how to place and build dwellings, according to the environment it is situated in. It is done in such a way that the surroundings are not damaged by the building's presence, and so that all the natural energies are flowing uninterrupted and freely, providing comfort, peace and prosperity for the dwellers. 

Another facet of Hinduism's environmental concern is to do with food is a very physical example: vegetarianism. Typically, Hindu social thought has always included an ecological dimension. Socialism and liberalism do not have this dimension, they can at best annex it. But it is an organic part of Hindu dharma.

(source: Hinduism and Environment - hinduchatzone.com).

Throughout the long history of India, Hindus have shared a fascination with, and respect for, Nature and animals. 

This attitude went beyond the usefulness. It had to do with reverence for all of God's creation. Our ancestors worshipped trees, rivers, birds and stones and connected to the universal principle through Shiva. As we are growing more materialistic, we are losing this connection. Our ancestors saw Nature as being a manifestation of God. There was, therefore, a gratitude towards nature. 

 

Lake Louise, Canada, with receding glaciers.

Hindu philosophy has always had a humane and dignified view of the sacredness of all life, and that humans are but one link in the symbiotic chain of life and consciousness. 

Western philosophy, on the other hand, treats man and nature as separate entities believing that the former has the prerogative to exploit the latter. Thomas Carlyle in Signs of the Times says, "We war with rude nature; and by our restless engines, come off victorious and loaded with spoils."

Western world finds itself at the crossroads and is desperately looking for a new philosophy “to get rid of the ecological crisis which threatens man’s existence on earth.”

Refer to Global Warming Is an Immediate Crisis -  By Al Gore and Fight Global Warming by Going Vegetarian - govegan.com. Also refer to Meat and the Planet - New York Times

Refer to The Global Meat Industry - Depths Of Depravity - by Radha Rajan and British origin of Cow Slaughter in India and Paying a Price for Loving Red Meat - nytimes.com and Boss Hog - rolingstone.com and How “The NAFTA Flu” Exploded - By Al Giordano. Watch Miniature earth movie. Also refer to Nature: China from Inside - pbs.org, The Earth today stands in imminent peril, Bellying up to environmentalism - By James E. McWilliams, The negative impact of meat production and Killing Calderon Dolphins in Denmark

(image source: webmaster's own collection of photos taken during a recent visit).

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The tradition of maintaining sacred groves and sacred trees vanished from most countries, due  mainly to the rise of dogmatic religions like Christianity and Islam, which advocated faith in one god and were explicitly for the eradication of ‘pagan’ practices. The underlying theme in Semitic religions is that of a chosen people who have been divinely granted ownership of the earth and all living things, and permission to exploit them. The Semitic perception that humans have more "dignity" than animals has gone a long way into the enormous decimation and extinction of non-human life on our planet not to mention the massacre of non-believing human beings. Hindu philosophy has always had a humane and dignified view of the sacredness of all life, and that humans are but one link in the symbiotic chain of life and consciousness. 

According to Guy Sorman, visiting scholar at Hoover Institution at Stanford and the leader of new liberalism in France, author of The Genius of India (Macmillan India Ltd. 2001. ISBN 0333 93600 0) says:

"The Indian tradition, on the other hand, is that men submit to nature and form part of it, there nature preserves its sacredness, lost in the West since the Industrial Revolution." He further states that the idea of feminism and ecology came from the 1968 movement, from the meeting between India and the West.  He says: "There is hardly anything in European thought to predispose the West to reject virility, the respect for authority, the mastery over nature.  India too has a warrior (khastriya) tradition of virility as exemplified in the Mahabharata, only it is secondary. First, comes the veneration of thousands of goddesses - for the Indians, India is above all Mother India. India's femininity and sexual ambiguity, is the very antithesis of Western virility. For example, when the British scaled earth's highest peak, the exploit was widely hailed as the "conquest of the Everest." It was not realized and is often not realized still, that the word "conquest" was totally out of place in the context of the peak which is considered an object of reverence by many. One does not "conquer" nature. Nature humors at times, man's curiosity. Conquest is, therefore, an irreverent word." 

Helen Ellerbe has written: "In the West, Christianity has distanced humanity from Nature. As people came to perceive God as a singular supremacy detached from the physical world, they lost their reverence for nature. In Christian eyes, the physical world became the realm of the devil. A society that had once celebrated nature through seasonal pagan festivals began to commemorate biblical events bearing no connection to the earth. Holidays lost much of the celebratory spirit and took on a tone of penance and sorrow. Time once thought to be cyclical like the seasons, was now perceived to be linear. In their rejection of the cyclical nature of life, orthodox Christians came to focus more upon death than upon life. Francis Bacon, (1561-1626) said: "Nature was to be bound into service and made a 'slave and 'put in constraint.' In short, nature was to be conquered, not enjoyed and certainly not revered. Nature is to be revered and befriended. 'Paganism' was a term of contempt invented by Christianity for people in the countryside who lived close to and in harmony with Nature, and whose ways of worship were spontaneous as opposed to the contrived though-categories constructed by Christianity's city-based manipulators of human minds.

(source: The Dark Side of Christian History - By Helen Ellerbe p.139 - 155). 

The ‘Saint’ Who Chopped Down Thor’s Sacred Tree

Jove’s Oak (Donar’s Oak and therefore sometimes referred to as Thor’s Oak) was a sacred tree of the Germanic pagans located in the region of Hesse, Germany. The Oak tree that once stood at the town of Geismar in central Germany was sacred to the pagan god Thor. We know this because the somewhat fanciful account of its destruction was gleefully preserved by the Christian chroniclers of the cultural genocide of Europe’s indigenous culture. The criminal responsible was St. Boniface, an Anglo-Saxon churchman who spread the new totalitarian doctrine of Christianity throughout Germany. As so often was the case, the Christians then occupied the unique sacred site by building one of their standard-issue church buildings.

Veneration of sacred groves and sacred trees is found throughout the history of the Germanic peoples and were targeted for destruction by Christian missionaries during the Christianization of the Germanic peoples. Ken Dowden notes that behind this great oak dedicated to Donar, the Irminsul (also felled by Christian missionaries in the 8th century), and the Sacred tree at Uppsala (described by Adam of Bremen in the 11th century), stands a mythic prototype of an immense world tree, described in the Norse religion as Yggdrasil.’

(source: Christian The ‘Saint’ Who Chopped Down Thor’s Sacred Tree - hinduhumanrights.info).

 

"To see the World in a grain of sand,
And Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour ..." 

  William Blake (1757 - 1827) English poet. For more on William Blake refer to chapter on Quotes.

(image source: Webmaster's own homegrown wildflower photo collection).

***

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), German philosopher and writer.  No other major Western philosopher so signalizes the turn towards India, combined with a disenchantment with the European-Christian tradition. He proclaimed the concordance of his philosophy with the teachings of Vedanta. His contribution to the propagation and popularization of Indian concepts has been considerable. He has said:  

"Christian morality contains the great and essential imperfection of taking into consideration only man, and leaving the entire animal world without rights."

"I may mention here another fundamental error of Christianity, an error which cannot be explained away, and the mischievous consequences of which are obvious every day: I mean the unnatural distinction Christianity makes between man and the animal world to which he really belongs. It sets up man as all-important, and looks upon animals as merely things. Brahmanism and Buddhism, on the other hand, true to the facts, recognize in a positive way that man is related generally to the whole of nature, and specially and principally to animal nature; and in their systems man is always represented by the theory of metempsychosis and otherwise, as closely connected with the animal world. The important part played by animals all through Buddhism and Brahmanism, compared with the total disregard of them in Judaism and Christianity, puts an end to any question as to which system is nearer perfection, however much we in Europe may have become accustomed to the absurdity of the claim. Christianity contains, in fact, a great and essential imperfection in limiting its precepts to man, and in refusing rights to the entire animal world…"

(source: Historical Outline of Modern Religious Criticism in Western Civilization - By R G Price and crusadewatch.org).

John N Gray, (1948 -  ) professor of European Thought at the London school of Economics has stated in his book, Heresies that: 

Among the world’s religions Christianity has always been one of the most radically anthropocentric. Christians believe humanity is separated from the natural world by an impassable gulf; other animals exist to serve us. This Christian idea that humans are separated from other animals by an unbridgeable gulf is not found in all or even most religions. It is absent from Hinduism and Buddhism, Taoism and Shinto.  It is explicitly rejected in the primordial religion of mankind – animism – in which other animals figure on terms of equality with humans, if not superiority to them.  

(source: Heresies - By John Gray p. 1 - 27).

 Ann Coulter (1961 - ) American lawyer and Conservative political commentator has remarked:

"God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.'"

(source: Ann Coulter quotes).

Dr. Koenraad Elst (1959 - ) Dutch historian, born in Leuven, Belgium, on 7 August 1959, into a Flemish (i.e. Dutch-speaking Belgian) Catholic family. He graduated in Philosophy, Chinese Studies and Indo-Iranian Studies at the Catholic University of Leuven. He is the author of several books including The Saffron Swastika, Decolonising The Hindu Mind - Ideological Development of Hindu Revivalism and Negationism in India: Concealilng the Record of Islam

"Bloodthirsty fanaticism which characterizes the Biblical creeds was unknown to the Pagans who had lived for long and in peace with their environment and every variety of worship in the vast stretch which is now known as the United States."

(source: History of Hindu-Christian encounters - By Koenraad Elst - voi.org). Refer to Global Meat Industry - Depths of Depravity - By Radha Rajan

(Note: The Rapture and the Environment - Many Christian fundamentalists feel that concern for the future of our planet is irrelevant, because it has no future. They believe we are living in the End Time, when the son of God will return, the righteous will enter heaven, and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire. They may also believe, along with millions of other Christian fundamentalists, that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed -- even hastened -- as a sign of the coming Apocalypse. American environmental policy in the Bush administration is being driven by Dominion Theologists-far-right Christian ideologues who believe that by exhausting our natural resources they will hasten the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. For most Americans Judgement Day is imminent and are making sure they are on side with Jesus before that terrifying but glorious apocalypse. National Christianism's reassuring message is that its own devotees, whilst they may for ever remain "sinners", are most certainly saved by their allegiance to the one true god. If they err in this temporary earthly life, and, for example, obliterate the life and liberty of a distant people, Jesus will understand and forgive them. Not accepting Jesus is by far a greater sin than merely squandering the resources of the earth. (source: Jesus Jihad: The Christianizing of America - The End Time). Refer to Divine Destruction: Dominion Theology and American Environmental Policy - By Stephenie Hendricks. Bill Moyers received an environmental award from Harvard University. He said: "James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, 'After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.' - sources: Battlefield Earth - By Bill Moyers and Regarding Global warming, Dinesh D'souza has said: “bring it on! I ‘m usually a bit chilly anyway.” and The Godly Must Be Crazy - By Glen Scherer and Rapture or Rupture? - By Bryan Zepp Jamieson. Ann Coulter, American right wing columnists, has written: "The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man's dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet--it's yours. That's our job: drilling, mining and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars -- that's the Biblical view." Oil Good; Democrats bad; October 12, 2000. Also refer to the movie An Inconvenient Truth - by Al Gore and The Earth today stands in imminent peril - By Steve Connor.

Reverend Jerry Falwell recently told his Lynchburg, Va., Baptist congregation that global warming is Satan’s attempt to redirect the church’s primary focus” from evangelism to environmentalism.

(source: Merry Christmas! Jesus Wants You to Kill the Earth - By Frank Schaeffer - Huffington Post).

Forrrest G Wood ( ? ) an author has written: "Christianity believed that God gave man dominion over all the earth. The popularity in the 19th century of pre- and post-millennial sects – which held that Christ will return one day, believers will ascend to heaven in the “rapture,” and the world will end – easily led to a diminished regard for the physical environment. All this is very different in most of the polytheistic world, where man is considered to be merely one of many beings who survived and, indeed, prospered not because he subdued the forces of his natural environment but because he harmonized with them. To the Hindu, whose veneration of living things are the foundation of his faith.”

(source: Arrogance of Faith - By Forrrest G Wood  p. 116 - 117 and 231).

Betty Heimann (  ? ) late professor of Sanskrit and Indian philosophy at Ceylon University, has said: “While the West has proclaimed man’s uniqueness as a thinking and planning creature, propagating and promoting his domination over the natural world and his unique capacity for cultural development and historical progress, Indians, have never tried to separate him from the natural world and the unity of life: “No human hybris, self-elevation and self-deceit, can here develop, where man is but another expression of Nature’s all-embracing forces.”

(source: Tradition and Reflection: Explorations in Indian Thought - By Wilhelm Halbfass  p. 265 - 267).

Animism (used by the colonial British in India) was another disparaging term, used to denote the worship of spirits and forces of nature as opposed to a ‘true’ (Monotheistic) god. This bias persists in Western thought to this day, and rather than being debunked as a phony concept, it is still widely used to describe non-Abrahamic faiths. 

The mighty serpent Sesha, on whom Lord Vishnu rests during the intervals of creation, is reputedly a form of the god himself (Sesha-Narayana), though he is also identified as Balarama (Baladeva), elder brother of Lord Krishna. Animism was another disparaging term, coined by the Colonial British in India, used to denote the worship of spirits and forces of nature as opposed to a ‘true’ (monotheistic) God.

(Refer to Adi Deo Arya Devata. A Panoramic View of Tribal-Hindu Cultural Interface - By Sandhya Jain).

***

Mahatma Gandhi bemoaned: “We were strangers to this sort of classification – animists, aborigines, etc., but we have learnt from the English rulers.” When the missionary Dr. Chesterman queried if this objection applied to the ‘animist’ aboriginal races of the Kond hills, Gandhi insisted, “Yes, it does apply, because I know that in spite of being described as animists these tribes have from time immemorial been absorbed in Hinduism. They are, like the indigenous medicine, of the soil, and their roots lie deep there.”  

(source: Adi Deo Arya Devata – By Sandhya Jain p. 2 - 235).

“Man, when he is strong, conquers nature,” declared William Lawrence, a Massachusetts Episcopal bishop. Anything that gets in the way will be brushed aside. “Dominion over the earth is the condition of man’s residence upon the globe,” William Pope Harrison, an editor for the Methodist Church, South, reflected in 1893.

In 1967, a brief but influential article by UCLA History Professor Lynn White, Jr. appeared in the magazine, Science. Entitled, "The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis. His astounding thesis that Western religion is one of the roots of the ecological crisis. In this article, he said that the Western world's attitudes towards nature were shaped by the Judeo-Christian tradition (he also included Islam and Marxism within this overall tradition). He asserts that Western Christianity is, "the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen. Man shares, in great measure, God's transcendence of nature. Christianity not only established a dualism of man and nature, but also insisted that it is God's will that man exploit nature for his proper ends." This overemphasis on anthropocentrism gives humans permission to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the integrity of natural objects. White argued that within Christian theology, "nature has no reason for existence save to serve [humans]." Thus, for White, Christian arrogance towards nature "bears a huge burden of guilt" for the contemporary environmental crisis. By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects. In older religious traditions, humans were seen as part of nature, rather than the ruler of nature.  And in animistic religions, there was believed to be a spirit in every tree, mountain or spring, and all had to be respected.  In contrast with paganism and Eastern religions, Christianity "not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God's will that man exploit nature for his proper ends." 

(source:  Religion and Environment).

Kewal Motwani (1899 - ) author of several books including Science and Society in India has observed:

"Unity between nature and man - The civilization of India had its birth in the bosom of Mother Nature. At the time when her history began, India was a land of vast forests. Those forests not only administered to the daily needs of the people, giving them shelter from heat of the sun and ravages to storms, green pastures for cattle and abundant fuel for sacrificial and architectural purposes, but they also made a permanent impression on the minds of the people. Their religion had no aggressive frontiers; no walls of brick and mortar set people apart from one another. The people lived in one vast embrace of nature, as one family. There was no “divide and rule” mentality, no aggressive, ruthless exploitation of nature, no assertive individualism which has been the characteristic of civilizations nurtured within the city walls. There was harmony within and without, and inward realization of the Eternal became dominant aspiration of people’s lives. There was an attitude of identification, not conflict, a search of the One, not of the many."

(source: India: A synthesis of cultures – by Kewal Motwani  p. 47).

Prudence Jones spoke person for the UK Pagan Federation and author of the book, History of Pagan Europe has observed that all the world's indigenous religions have three features in common: they are nature-venerating, seeing nature as a manifestation of Divinity; they are polytheistic and recognize many Gods, many Manifestations; they recognize the Goddess, the female aspect of Divinity as well as the male. Show showed how European Paganism was similar to Hinduism, Shintoism and the North American tradition.

According
Dr. David Frawley  eminent teacher and practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine:

"No religion, perhaps, lays as much emphasis on environmental ethics as does Hinduism. It believes in ecological responsibility and says like Native Americans that the Earth is our mother. It champions protection of animals, which it considers also have souls, and promotes vegetarianism. It has a strong tradition of non-violence or ahimsa. It believes that God is present in all nature, in all creatures, and in every human being regardless of their faith or lack of it."

In the ancient spiritual traditions, man was looked upon as part of nature, linked by the indissoluble spiritual and psychological bonds to the elements around him. This is very much marked in the Hindu tradition, the oldest living religious tradition in the world. The Vedas, the oldest hymns composed by great spiritual seers and thinkers which are the repository of Hindu wisdom, reflect the vibrancy of an encompassing world-view which looks upon all objects in the universe, living or non-living, as being pervaded by the same spiritual power. Hinduism believes in the all-encompassing sovereignty of the divine, manifesting itself in a graded scale of evolution. The human race, though at the top of the evolutionary pyramid at present, is not seen as something apart from the earth and its multitudinous life forms. 

 

A Hindu woman performing a religious ceremony around the tulsi plant 

Painting by D.V. Dhurandhar, Bombay, C.1890 

(image source: V&A Museum, London).  

***

In The Bhagavad Gita, sloka 20, Chapter 10, Lord Krishna says, 

"I am the Self seated in the heart of all creatures. I am the beginning, the middle and the very end of all beings".  All beings have, therefore to be treated alike."

***

Our natural environment – comprising mountains and hills, rivers and dales, trees and plants – is considered auspicious enough to provide space for meditation. There are thousands of spots whose special sanctity is enhanced by the performance of daily rituals. Retreats in the Himalayas or on the river banks shelter sages who are credited with universal knowledge. Especially hallowed are the sources and confluence of rivers. Harmony with the natural world receives strong emphasis as a pervasive element in Indian spiritual beliefs and rituals. Evergreen trees were regarded as symbols of eternal life and to cut them down was to invite the wrath of the gods. Groves in forests were looked upon as habitations of the gods. It was under a banyan tree that the Hindu sages sat in a trance seeking enlightenment and it was here that they held discourses and conducted holy rituals.

The ancient sacred literature of the Vedas enshrines a holistic and poetic cosmic vision. They represent the oldest, the most carefully nurtured, the most elaborately systematized and the most lovingly preserved oral tradition in the annals of the world. Unique in their perspective of time and space, their evocative poetry is a joyous and spontaneous affirmation of life and nature. The Vedic Hymn to the Earth, the Prithvi Sukta in Atharva Veda, is unquestionably the oldest and the most evocative environmental invocation. In it, the Vedic seer solemnly declares the enduring filial allegiance of humankind to Mother Earth: 'Mata Bhumih Putroham Prithivyah: Earth is my mother, I am her son.' Mother Earth is celebrated for all her natural bounties and particularly for her gifts of herbs and vegetation. Her blessings are sought for prosperity in all endeavours and fulfilment of all righteous aspirations. A covenant is made that humankind shall secure the Earth against all environmental trespass and shall never let her be oppressed. A soul-stirring prayer is sung in one of the hymns for the preservation and conservation of hills, snow-clad mountains, and all brown, black and red earth, unhurt, unsmitten, unwounded, unbroken and well defended by Indra. 

(source: The East is green - ourplanet.com).

Dr. Pankaj Jain  (  )  is an Assistant Professor of South Asian Religions and Ecology at the University of North Texas. In his scholarship he connects the ancient Indic traditions of Hinduism and Jainism with contemporary issues - particularly the environment. He has noted that:

"Hinduism contains numerous references to the worship of the divine in nature in its Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Sutras, and its other sacred texts.  Millions of Hindus recite Sanskrit mantras daily to revere their rivers, mountains, trees, animals, and the earth. 

Although the Chipko (tree-hugging) Movement is the most widely known example of Hindu environmental leadership, there are examples of Hindu action for the environment that are centuries old."

"Hinduism is a remarkably diverse religious and cultural phenomenon, with many local and regional manifestations.  Within this universe of beliefs, several important themes emerge.  The diverse theologies of Hinduism suggest that: The earth can be seen as a manifestation of the goddess, and must be treated with respect. The five elements - space, air, fire, water, and earth - are the foundation of an interconnected web of life. Dharma - often translated as “duty” - can be reinterpreted to include our responsibility to care for the earth. Simple living is a model for the development of sustainable economies. Our treatment of nature directly affects our karma. " Pancha Mahabhutas (The five great elements) create a web of life that is shown forth in the structure and interconnectedness of the cosmos and the human body. Hinduism teaches that the five great elements (space, air, fire, water, and earth) that constitute the environment are all derived from prakriti, the primal energy. 

"Hinduism recognizes that the human body is composed of and related to these five elements, and connects each of the elements to one of the five senses.  The human nose is related to earth, tongue to water, eyes to fire, skin to air, and ears to space.  This bond between our senses and the elements is the foundation of our human relationship with the natural world.  For Hinduism, nature and the environment are not outside us, not alien or hostile to us.  They are an inseparable part of our existence, and they constitute our very bodies."

(source: Ten key Hindu Environmental teachings - By Dr. Pankaj Jain).

Vande Mataram, like the less poetical Bharat Mata Ki Jai, is a Hindu expression of patriotism. It is the Hindu who idealises India as divine mother. Its roots perhaps lie in the hoary antiquity of Atharva Veda where the Prithvi Sukta says, “Earth is my mother, I am her son”. He sees Mother India as part of Mother Earth. India is the land of sacred geography — but to Hindus alone. To the Central Asian invaders, India has been a real estate. The Muslims have possessed India, the Hindus have belonged to it. Thus Vande Mataram or Bharat Mata Ki Jai come naturally to any Hindu of whatever persuasion.

(source: Vande Mataram controversy reveals mental chasm - By Priyadarshi Dutta).

The
Artha-Veda has the magnificent Hymn to the Earth (Bhumi-Sukta) which is redolent with ecological and environmental values. 

“Earth, in which lie the sea, the river and other waters,
in which food and cornfields have come to be,
in which lives all that breathes and that moves,
may she confer on us the finest of her yield.
Earth, in which the waters, common to all,
moving on all sides, flow unfailingly, day and night,
may she pour on us milk in many streams,
and endow us with luster,
May those born of thee, O Earth,
be of our welfare, free from sickness and waste, 
wakeful through a long life, we shall become bearers of tribute to thee.
Earth, my mother, set me securely with bliss in full accord with heaven,
O wise one, uphold me in grace and splendor.” 

Not only in the Vedas, but in later scriptures, such as the Upanishads, the Puranas and subsequent texts, the Hindu viewpoint on nature has been clearly enunciated. It is permeated by a reverence for all life, and an awareness that the great forces of nature – the earth, the sky, the air, the water and fire – as well as various orders of life including plants, trees, forests and animals, are all bound to each other within the great rhythms of nature. The divine is not exterior to creation, but expresses itself through natural phenomena. 

Thus, in the
Mudaka Upanishad the divine is described as follows: 

“Fire is head, his eyes are the moon and the sun;
The regions of space are his ears, his voice the revealed Veda,
The wind is his breadth, his heart is the entire universe,
The earth is his footstool,
Truly he is the inner soul of all.”

India is a vast network of sacred places. There are seven sacred rivers, seven sacred mountains, sacred trees and plants, sacred cities. The sacrality of the land of India, gives a sense of unity to this country of so many religions, cultures, races and languages. 

The Indian tradition is strongly cosmocentric, where man lives as part of a system in which everything is related to everything else. Creation and destruction take place simultaneously. Materials and energy move from organism to organism. Matter is arranged in precise order in every organism, but in death this order is followed by disorder: cycling of materials through organisms brings order once again. But today, rapidly drifting from our traditions of sustainable use and coexistence, we seem to be entering a man-centered world that implies the decimation of nature.

The
Mahabharata, Ramayana, Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas and Smriti contain the earliest messages for preservation of environment and ecological balance. Nature, or Earth, has never been considered a hostile element to be conquered or dominated. In fact, man is forbidden from exploiting nature. He is taught to live in harmony with nature and recognize that divinity prevails in all elements, including plants and animals.

Atman, the world-soul, is the whole world. God is in all things, and all things are in God. 

The Mahabharata hints that the basic elements of nature constitute the Cosmic Being -- the mountains His bones, the earth His flesh, the sea His blood, the sky His abdomen, the air His breath and agni (fire) His energy. The whole emphasis of the ancient Hindu scriptures is that human beings cannot separate themselves from natural surroundings and Earth has the same relationship with man as the mother with her child. Planting and preservation of trees are made sacred in religious functions. 

Ancient India sanctified plants, animals as a recognition of biodiversity.

The Rig Veda is a celebration of nature, its hero the God of Rain. Dawn was beautiful Ushas, dressed in a veil of light crimson, whose dancing appearance is heralded with the fragrance of the flowers. The lotus, said Kalidasa, welcomes the touch of the sun. The beautiful Chola temple at Gangaikondacholapuram in Tamilnadu contains a rare and exquisite representation of Surya in a navagraha stone - a lotus encircled by the planets. But the greatest tribute to the sun was at Konarak, the giant chariot reflecting the Sun God in all his glory.

In a sculpture in the rock-cut cave temple of Bhaja (2nd century B.C.) Surya, in his chariot, destroys the demon of darkness. Surya is invariably depicted in a chariot driven by seven horses representing the seven days, encircled by a halo, and wearing boots, for his feet could scorch the earth! 

Animals were revered too. Kamadhenu was the wish-fulfilling cow, whose offspring are all the cattle on earth. The word "go" or cow was very important: gopura was the entrance to the village, gotra was the clan to which a person belonged, goshti was an assembly of good men, gosarga and godhuli represented dawn and dusk, while gopa and govalla were officials. Krishna even lifts Mount Govardhana to save cattle from Indra's wrath, a recurring theme in Indian art. But the greatest honour given to animals was their elevation as the vehicles of the gods, and as the incarnations of Vishnu, roles that are repeated in sculpture and painting. Shiva rode the bull, Vishnu the eagle, Brahma the swan, and so on.

By recognizing the five elements that were essential for life and elevating every species of plant and animal to sanctity, Ancient Indians recognized and respected the importance of biodiversity. By secularizing rivers and lands, plants and animals, they were scientifically correct. But today people pollute and destroy with impunity. The earth and its bounties are sacred creations. Unless we revere them and revive a respect for their sanctity, we have little chance of saving them.

(source: Grounded in wisdom - by Nanditha Krishna - newindpress.com).  

Our scriptures warn, "Oh wicked persons! If you roast a bird, then your bathing in sacred rivers, pilgrimage, worship and yagnas are useless." In our ancient stories, birds and animals have always been identified with gods and goddesses. 
The
Padmapurana warns: "A person who is engaged in killing creatures, polluting wells, and ponds and tanks, and destroying gardens, certainly goes to hell." Padmapurana, Bhoomikhanda 96.7-8

"The purchaser of flesh performs himsa (violence) by his wealth; he who eats flesh does so by enjoying its taste; the killer does himsa by actually tying and killing the animal. Thus, there are three forms of killing: he who brings flesh or sends for it, he who cuts off the limbs of an animal, and he who purchases, sells or cooks flesh and eats it - all of these are to be considered meat-eaters."     

                            - The Mahabharata

Welfare of all creatures: The Vedantic concept is that of the welfare of all creation, not only of human beings but also of what we call the lower creatures. 

Dr. Karan Singh states: 

"In our arrogance and ignorance we have destroyed the environment of this planet. We have polluted the oceans, we have made the air unbreathable, we have desecrated nature and decimated wildlife. But the Vedantic seers knew that man was not something apart from nature, and, therefore, they constantly exhort us that, while we work for own salvation, we must also work for the welfare of all beings." 

(source: Essays in Hinduism - By Dr. Karan Singh  p. 47).

Global Warming?

"Terrible wars and demonic diseases will decimate the human race, and savage cold and scathing heat, scorching droughts and sweeping floods will terrorise the people...."

     -  Rishi Markandeya  - The Mahabharata.  (Ramesh Menon, The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering, Vol II, Rupa, 2004, pp 665-69). 

David Frawley, American eminent teacher and practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine and Vedic astrology and author of several books considers Hinduism to be a religion of the Earth, because, as he describes beautifully:

 "…it honors the Earth as the Divine Mother and encourages us to honor her and help her develop her creative potentials. The deities of Hinduism permeate the world of nature…they don't belong to a single country or book only. It is not necessary to live in India to be a Hindu. In fact, one must live in harmony with the land where one is located to be a true Hindu.

"I see Hinduism as a religion eminently suited for all lands and for all people because it requires that we connect with the land and its creatures - that we align our individual self with the soul of all beings around us. Hinduism finds holy places everywhere, wherever there is a river, a mountain, a large rock, or big tree, wherever some unusual natural phenomenon be it a spring, a cave, or a geyser."

(source: The need for a new Indic school of thought).  Refer to the movie An Inconvenient Truth - by Al Gore and The Global Warming Debate - By James Hansen - Goddard Institute for Space Studies).

Manu the Hindu law giver was vehemently pro-environment. Denuding, polluting, or other wise damaging the environment was considered such a serious offense in Hinduism a person could be excommunicated for killing trees!.

(source: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism - By Linda Johnsen  p. 229).

Hindus have worshipped trees, we have tied sacred threads around them, we have taken shelter under them, have held social ceremonies around these, offered these water, milk and sometimes even cowdung. Development destroys trees, these are often chopped mercilessly, and the eternal search for firewood threatens their limbs. 

We have worshipped the trees long before ecology became fashionable in the West.

 A quote from Vishnu Purana states::

"As the wide-spreading nargodha (Sanskrit for banyan) tree is compressed in a small seed, 
So at the time of dissolution, the whole universe is comprehended in Thee as its germ; 
as the nargodha germinates from the seed, and becomes just a shoot and then rises into loftiness, 
so the created world proceeds from Thee and expands into magnitude."

The Varah Purana says,  "One who plants one peepal, one neem, one bar, ten flowering plants or creepers, two pomegranates, two oranges and five mangos, does not go to hell." 

In the
Charak Sanhita, destruction of forests is taken as destruction of the state, and reforestation an act of rebuilding the state and advancing its welfare. Protection of animals is considered a sacred duty. 

An Indian's relation with nature differs from that of a Western man. In the West, man has separated himself from nature, mastered it, he believes, and used it to serve his own purpose. Love of animals and of nature in the West is a personal attitude, not a natural law.  As the vine embraces, the tree, and could not live without it, so the Hindu unites himself with nature. From nature he came; to nature he returns, as ashes. The relationship between a Hindu and nature is one of adaptation and coexistence rather than of mastery and subjection. 

"As the curtain of the new millennium rises, the drama of life and humans seems tragic. More than six billion people are on a march of materialism, which means that acquisition, accumulation, possessions and consumption of material goods is the ultimate "good" of life. The philosophy assumes that the material resources are unlimited. Human beings are proliferating at the rate of 80 million a year and 90% of the growth is in the developing world. There, almost four out of ten people live at the edge of survival. In India alone, 320 million out of one billion are living marginally. It is not until 2100, according to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), that the Earth's population may stabilize at 10.5 to 11 billion people. 

The Earth is endangered, according to a warning from the Union of Concerned Scientists in December 1992. A declared report states that: "Most biological systems, which have sustained life on the planet for millions of years, will collapse some time during the early part of the next century." Everywhere, the human spirit is in revolt. Extinction cannot be the future of this beautiful Earth. The perversion of technological systems must be challenged--a society on the march towards doom must accept the wisdom of the ancients that all life is sacred and its existence rests on the harmony established by evolution in the total scheme of life."  

(source: Hinduism Today - July/August 2000  p 20-23).

The current deplorable condition demands a spiritual response. A fundamental reorientation of human consciousness, accompanied by action that is born out of inner commitment, is very much needed. One of the measures that could help a great deal to fulfill this need is to regenerate and rejuvenate basic values of Hindu culture and propagate them. 

(source: http://www.hindunet.org/alt_hindu/1994/msg00953.html).

Whatever I dig up of you, O earth,
May you of that have quick replenishment!
O purifying one,
May my thrust never reach
unto your vital points, your heart.
May your dwellings, O earth,
free from sickness and wasting,
flourish for us!
Through a long life watchful,
May we always offer to you our tribute.

                                                     Atharva Veda

The ancient Tamil scripture, Tirukural, advises in verse 324, "What is the good way? It is the path that reflects on how it may avoid killing any living creature;" and in verse 327, "Refrain from taking precious life from any living being, even to save your own life."

Although Indian philosophers believed that the world goes through a cycle of evolution and decline, it always admonished reverence for life--respect for all forms of life and preservation of biodiversity--a continuation of evolution.  

The new philosophy of life challenges the arrogance of humans. The Earth is not for humans only. It is for all life--life in its various forms and structures. While individuals have a short and transient existence, evolution continues inexorably. The consciousness and spirits are beyond material existence, beyond time and space. They are eternal, an integral part of Brahman.

The Rig Veda 1.6.3 states:

"Nature's beauty is an art of God. Let us feel the touch of God's invisible hands in everything beautiful. 
By the first touch of His hand rivers throb and ripple. When He smiles the sun shines, the moon glimmers, the stars twinkle, the flowers bloom.
By the first rays of the rising sun, the universe is stirred; the shining gold is sprinkled on the smiling buds of rose; the fragrant air is filled with sweet melodies of singing birds, the dawn is the dream of God's creative fancy." 
 

***

Mother Earth - Bhudevi - is the consort of Lord Vishnu. She personifies the earth and holds a blue lotus.

 

Bhudevi, bronze - The consort of Lord Vishnu. She personifies the Earth.

In the Vedic literatures mother Earth is personified as the Goddess Bhumi, or Prithvi. She is the abundant mother who showers her mercy oh her children. 

For more refer to chapters on Symbolism in Hinduism and Women in Hinduism.

***

A prayer that offers respect to mother Earth and asks for her protection: 

“O Mother Earth, the worlds are maintained by you. Oh goddess, you are upheld by Lord Vishnu. Kindly purify this seat and daily maintain me.”   

The earth and the sun span the world of human experience. The sun, the ‘eye of God’, gives forth energy and life, fertilizing the earth, who is the mother from whose womb all life-forms are born. 

In the Vedic literatures mother Earth is personified as the Goddess Bhumi, or Prithvi. She is the abundant mother who showers her mercy oh her children. 

Her beauty and profusion are vividly portrayed in the beautiful Hymn to the Earth in the Arthava Veda from which the following verses are taken:   

“Your castles and fortresses are built by divine engineers. In every province of yours people are working hard. You bear all precious things in your womb. May God, the Lord of life, make you pleasing, on all sides."  (43) 

"O mother, with your oceans, rivers and other bodies of water, you give us land to grow grains, on which our survival depends. Please give us as much milk, fruits, water and cereals as we need to eat and drink.'" (3) 

"O mother, bearing folk who speak different languages and follow different religions, treating them all as residents of the same house, please pour, like a cow who never fails, a thousand streams of treasure to enrich me. "44) 

"May you, our motherland, on whom grow wheat, rice and barley, on whom are born five races of mankind, be nourished by the cloud, and loved by the rain." (42).

(source: Hinduism and Ecology: Seeds of Truth - By Ranchor Prime  p. 30  - 31).

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