The Hindu Way of Environment Conservation

| by Shruti Dixit

Who is a Hindu? The people living beyond the Indus River were designated as Hindus by the invaders much before the term Hindu actually came to be associated with the followers of Hinduism. Hinduism only joined the so-called group of world religions in the eighteenth century. Before that, the multiple practices and the devotional fervor that formed an inherent part of Indian life were simply referred to as a Hindu way of living.

Climate change is happening so rapidly that it is essential to reflect and act simultaneously. While the scientific approach to saving the planet earth is often discussed, a theological approach is equally indispensable. There are many religions that imbibe the value of care and respect towards all, the key ethics for the conservation of environment. The Hindu life has always been imbued with a sense of environmentalism. Interestingly, it is so quotidian and usual that it is devoid of any forethought and effort.

To begin with, there is a belief of sacredness associated with the constituents of the environment which leads to the veneration of a multitude of plants, animals, mountains, rivers, and even the sun, moon, earth, wind, and so on. The veneration leads to the protection as well as care of these resources. The tulsi (basil) plant is worshipped as it is considered a manifestation of Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu. The peepal tree gains its devotion due to a strong belief that the tree is a residence of all gods. The other plants and trees that are worshipped regularly include the mango, banana, banyan, and even the neem tree, which even has many medicinal properties. Apart from this, many animals and reptiles such as cows, snakes, rats, and elephants are revered for varying reasons. Cows are worshipped for their wish-fulfilling and holy character; snakes are symbolic of Lord Shiva, and elephants of Lord Ganesha.

The veneration extends to mountains as they were the abode of Lords (Mount Kailash) or were mentioned in the rich mythological literature in Hinduism. The rivers such as Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, and many others are sites of pilgrimages for major Hindu festivals and rituals. Moreover, it is not uncommon to come across the divine status attributed to the sun and the moon. It is one of the rituals to offer water to the sun every morning as it supposedly bestows the worshipper with strength, health, and confidence. The moon is also worshipped on several occasions, the most popular being on Karwa Chauth, when the wife keeps a day-long fast for her husband’s long life, only ending it once the moon rises and is worshipped accordingly.

Moving on, although one can find several pieces of evidence in the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, and the two epics, based on the environmental aspect of the Hindu way of living, one can never understand it without witnessing the collective “Indian” way of living. It is the values of love, non-violence, and most importantly the non-dualistic (Advaita Vedanta) concept of Oneness that permeate the Hindu way of living and positively affect the environment around them. It is the belief in the immanence of the divine that leads to non-violence and spreads the message of unconditional love and care. In addition to this, the concept of Oneness, as mentioned in the Upanishads, affirms a divine connectivity among all beings and in relation to the Absolute energy.

Among the many other Hindu concepts that populate the discourse on curbing climate change, one is the concept of karma. Karma refers to the actions as well as the consequences of these actions. Hence, good karma and bad karma lead to good effects and bad effects that are visible in this life as well as the next, to not only the individuals performing the actions but also to the people related to that person. The concept of karma has regulated the lives of Hindus for thousands of years now and it continues to do so. It unquestionably aids the conservation of the environment. Furthermore, there have been considerable attempts at comparison between karma and sustainable development as both focus on present actions to not damage the future.

Can a Hindu way of living help in controlling the increasing climate change? Following the example of a Hindu life could grow a deeper consciousness in humankind towards nature, resulting in a deep care of the environment. For example, a temple in Uttar Pradesh has started giving saplings to the devotees as prasad. What I call the Hindu way of living is a life among a community that performs multifold daily-life practices guided by the idea of shared humanity and responsibility. The human body is itself believed to be composed of five natural elements: space, air, fire, water, and Earth. This stresses the interconnectedness between the environment and human beings. One cannot argue with the fact that religious practices save as well as harm the environment, and there has been a widespread forgetfulness of these conservationist principles with the advent of modernity, even among Hindus. The real challenge lies in the complete revival of the Hindu way of living while not compromising the development of the world. And it is indeed possible because to lead a life in a Hindu manner is not much about rules and regulations, but only mindfulness.

Shruti Dixit is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of St. Andrews.