The religious traditions originating in India are Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and the Sikh religion. While their worldviews differ, they share certain basic concepts. One is belief in many births or “reincarnation,” which can be in many different forms, so that there is continuity between human life and other forms of life. The Buddha, for example, told many stories of his previous births, in many of which he was an animal. Rebirth is determined in part by one’s karma of body, speech and mind, which may be ethically good, bad, or neutral. The word karma means “action,” but generally implies that every action has a result, an important idea for ecological ethics. Indic traditions also affirm that there is a right order of the universe and of human society, often called Dharma, literally “support.” This is a term of central importance in Indian civilization indicating universal moral norms; it has many possible translations including “law,” “duty,” “righteousness” and “religion.” The Indic traditions also share systems of spiritual disciplines and contemplative practice known cross-traditionally as Yoga or “union,” aiming at oneness with a sacred reality.
The universe is a living organism
The root scripture of Hinduism is the Vedas, meaning “sacred knowledge.” Scholar Diana Eck reflects:
“The completed universe is imaged as a living organism, a vast ecosystem, in which each part is inextricably related to the life of the whole. And the whole is indeed alive: it is inconstant process and movement, growing and decaying. There is no such thing as objectified ‘nature’ or lifeless ‘elements’ for everything belongs to the living pattern of the whole…These are the images of a biological worldview, grounded in the Vedas.”1 The universe, immeasurably vast, comes from a single divine Source and is animated and directed by countless powers known as “deva-s” or “gods.”
Peace to all living beings
A famous Sanskrit prayer, the Śānti Mantra of the Yajur Veda (36:17) invokes the blessings of peace on the whole cosmos and all its living beings:
To the heavens be peace, to the sky and the earth,
To the waters be peace, to plants and all trees,
To the Gods be peace, to Brahman be peace,
To all men be peace, again and again
– peace also to me!2
The Hymn to the Earth
Truth, strength, artistry, ferocity, dedication, fervor, effulgence, and sacrifice
Are the attributes among human beings that sustain the Earth.
Drawing upon Mother Earth’s feminine power,
these attributes have been and continue to be all that will be with us.
May the world Mother provide us with a wide and limitless domain for our livelihood. (1)
The Earth is adorned with many hills, plains, and slopes.
She bears plants with medicinal properties.
May no person oppress her;
and may she spread prosperity for us all around. (2)
Upon her be the oceans, many rivers, and other bodies of water.
Her agricultural fields produce grain.
All those that live, move, and breathe, depend upon the Earth;
may the Land confer upon us riches. (3)
Sacred are your hills, snowy mountains, and deep forests.
The soil of your Land is brown, black, and red.
Earth, you are protected by Indra.
May I stand on the Earth unconquered, unharmed, uncrushed.
May you be fertile, arable, and sustainer of all. (11)
O Mother Earth!
You are the world for us and we are your children.
Empower us to speak in one accord.
steer us to live in peace and harmony,
and guide us in our behavior
so that we have cordial and gracious relationships with other people. (16)
May we live longer in order to serve our Land
who is the mother of all the medicinal plants and
She is the one who gives us an immense space;
and it is She who grants us the needed firmness.
May our behavior be in accord with Dharma of the Earth for securing stability and happiness. (17)
Our Land is full of Agni, the sacred Fire.
It is the same Agni flowing through the herbs and other medicinal plants.
The clouds carry it in the form of thunder and the stones store it.
The same energy, in the form of hunger,
flows through human beings and cattle and horses.
May that energy sustain us all along. (19)
I invoke you, O Mother Earth!
You give shelter to all seekers of truth.You provide us the strength-giving food and ghee.
You give us nutrition. You are the source of all creative energy.
Render us safe even on this Land. (29)
O Mother Earth!
May our bodies enjoy only the clean water.
May you keep away from us that which is polluted
and may we always do only good deeds. (30)
May the crop grow faster when we plow and seed the Land.
But, while doing it, may we never harm your vital parts. (35)
May each part of the cycle of seasons, O Land,
the summer, the rains, the autumn, the winter, and the spring,
which constitute a year,
pour happiness on us here on Earth. (36)
O Mother Earth!
You care for people who belong to different races,
practice various religions and spiritual beliefs,
and speak different languages…
may you bless us all in a thousand-fold manner.
Please do not become outraged by our destructive tendencies. (45)
O Mother Earth!
You are the protector and keeper of the Creation… (57)
O Primeval Mother!
You are the wish fulfilling cow.
You are borderless.
You are the world-mother of all beings.
You are the provider of all things in life. (61)3
From the Rig Veda, “To the Waters, Who Are Goddesses”
They who have the ocean as their eldest flow out of the sea, purifying themselves, never resting.
Indra, the bull with the thunderbolt, opened a way for them – let the waters, who are goddesses, help me here and now.
The waters of the sky or those that flow, those that are dug out or those that arise by themselves, those pure and clear waters that seek the ocean as their goal – let the waters, who are goddesses, help me here and now.
Those in whose midst King Varuna moves, looking down upon the truth and falsehood of people, those pure and clear waters that drip honey – let the waters, who are goddesses, help me here and now.
Those among whom King Varuna, and Soma, and all the gods drink in ecstasy the exhilarating nourishment, those into whom Agni Of-all-men entered – let the waters, who are goddesses, help me here and now.4
From The Bhagavad Gita
Nothing is higher than I am;
Arjuna, all that exists
Is woven on me,
Like a web of pearls on thread.
I am the taste in water, Arjuna,
The light in the moon and sun,
OM resonant in all sacred lore,
The sound in space, valor in men.
I am the pure fragrance
In earth, the brilliance in fire,
The life in all living creatures…5
Diana Eck, “Ganga: The Goddess in Hindu Sacred Geography,” in Devi: Goddesses of India, eds. John Stratton Hawley and Donna Wulff (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 141.
Yajur Veda 36:17, Raimundo Panikkar, The Vedic Experience: Mantramañjarī, An Anthology of the Vedas for Modern Man and Contemporary Celebration (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1977), 306.
In Praise of Mother Earth: The Prthivi Sūkta of the Atharva Veda, newly translated and interpreted by O. P. Dwivedi and Christopher Key Chapple, foreword by Karan Singh (Los Angeles: Marymount Institute Press, 2011), selections.
Rig Veda 7.49, The Rig Veda, tr. Wendy Doniger (New York: Penguin Group, 1981), 232
Bhagavad Gita 7.7-9, The Bhagavad Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War, translated by Barbara Stoler Miller (New York: Bantam Books, 1986).