At the first global green Hindu event on Saturday, we were reminded of the scriptural imperative to protect our fragile earth
May 24, 2010
By Kusum Vyas
The United Nations has declared 2010 international year for biological diversity. On Saturday, the Living Planet Foundation convened what was believed to be the first global "green" Hindu event, calling on Hindus from the UK and abroad to reflect on how they can contribute to preserving biodiversity worldwide. It was a celebration of the rich abundance of distinct plant and animal species across our planet, and a campaign to draw attention to the threats facing the diversity of life on earth.
There is a huge amount at stake. Humanity is inflicting devastation on our beautiful planet, as evidenced by global climate change and mass species extinctions. At the same time we are engaged in a war against nature, scientists are discovering just how much we depend on having an intact ecosystem. But respect for the natural world has always been a part Hinduism, even being built into forms of worship. Thousands of years ago, Hindu sages said we must preserve the environment and the ecological balance of our planet, recognising our own survival depended upon it. Hindu scriptures such as the centuries old Vedas, Upanishads and Vedanta are replete with spiritual and poetic references to Mother Earth, where the environment is alive and teeming with life; where trees, mountains and rocks become shrines and the river is respected as a source and support of physical and spiritual life.
In Hinduism, every living thing has an "atman", a soul and at its core, the Hindu faith obliges us to defend our environment. Hinduism recognises that nature and the ecosystems holding the fabric of the planet together create a climate ideal for human life. There is nothing in the Hindu scriptures or the Hindu tradition that suggests biodiversity can be traded as an economic commodity. On the contrary – the Hindu sages warned against ignorance as to how our planet functions and cautioned against exploiting its resources. We should heed their words; if we continue to destroy ecosystems such as the great tropical forests of this world, we will herald our own demise, as well as that of a host of other living beings.
That a fundamental respect for and fear of nature is exemplified in the Hindu tradition makes it all the more horrendous that the government of India is pushing ahead with plans to drive a shipping canal through a particularly environmentally sensitive region. In the face of international opposition, India plans to dredge the Gulf of Mannar, the shallow body of water separating India from Sri Lanka. It will blast through the ancient limestone base of the gulf which is home countless endangered species, among them the dugong, the green turtle, and several species of sea snake. The devastation this single act of environmental terrorism will wreak is almost unimaginable.
Not only will a biodiversity hotspot be damaged, so too will be the sacred "bridge", known to Hindus as "Ram Sethu" and to Muslims as "Adam's Bridge". According to Hindu stories, this shoal of limestone is the bridge Lord Ram crossed in order to rescue his wife Sita from the clutches of an evil demon.
At Saturday's meeting Kathy Goldsmith, the environmental campaigner, Ian Stephen of the Zoological Society of London, the Hindu ecologist and author Ranchor Prime, and Hindu priest Dr Raj Pandit Sharma, outlined the devastating consequences of this and other economically-driven projects that endanger our planet's future. They and the Living Planet Foundation implore all people of the world, regardless of their race, creed, political ideology or religion to join us in our efforts to save our fragile ecosystems such as the Gulf of Mannar.