Environment, Renewables

Back to the Vedas?

Columnist  Saroj Datar_opt

Economic development can be legitimately credited for the current progress and prosperity, but it is also incapable of differentiating between use and abuse. The ecological, environmental and climatic degradations are major areas of concern around the world. World leaders are holding Earth Summits to agree on common action plans to benefit the entire humanity, but it is proving difficult to form a consensus on who will sacrifice the most.

Here we can take a leaf from the Hindu philosophy, which focuses on individual sacrifice. Hinduism sees the cosmos as pervaded by the Divine. So taking care of the universe is the same as worshiping the Divine. Environmental protection, or preventing environmental degradation, becomes a form of spiritual practice, a form of worship.

To learn and act sustainably is an urgent need for all. Why don’t we then take guidance from the tried and tested formula of ancient Indian wisdom derived from the Vedic scriptures? Several key principles have been observed to guide our sustainability efforts:

Intergenerational equity: It’s about providing future generations with the same environmental potential as presently exists.

Hinduism’s numerous classic restraints and practices, the yamas and niyamas, offer lots of practical guidance for those wishing to minimize their impact on the environment. If we are to observe non-stealing, asteya, we cannot use natural resources at unsustainable rates. When we do so, we jeopardize the life of future generations. This is effectively a form of stealing.

Two ethics of sanyam (restraint) and maryada (limitation) say that one practices restraint and limitation not because one is forced to, but because it’s part of the lifestyle.

Decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation: It’s about managing economic growth to be less resource intensive and less polluting.

Scriptures identify three types of forests: Shivan or the forests that provide prosperity; Tapovan or the forests for contemplation, and Mahavan or the natural forests where all species can find shelter. Once any of the original forests was cleared, Vedic culture required that another forest be established in its place. To completely remove the forest was simply not acceptable.

A Peepal tree is known to absorb significantly high quantity of CO2 and thus releases equally high quantity of oxygen. Tulsi releases large amounts of oxygen for most of the day-night cycle. It is, therefore, advocated as a religious custom to plant it in gardens or in pots inside the house.

The scriptures preach, “One who plants and looks after at least one of the trees of Peepal, Neem or Vata, and at least five of the edible fruit-plants like orange, pomegranate and mango and plants or creeper plants of green vegetables will never face hell.” Also, “one who cuts a green tree or plant is a sinner”.

The Vedic sages had given many of the animals and tinier creatures an honorable place. Cow is the best example in this regard. Right from her milk being considered a complete food, the cow-dung and urine are also found to be extremely useful as fuel, fertilizer, disinfectant, anti-radioactive agent, immuno-modulator, and therapeutic medicine.

Integration of all pillars: It’s about integrating environmental, social and economic sectors when developing sustainable policies.

Varahamihira gave detailed instruc-
tions for the construction of water reservoirs in his famous work Brahatsamhita. “Without the shade of the trees on their sides, water reservoirs are not strong and attractive. Therefore, one ought to plant gardens on the banks of lakes and ponds.”

The Vedas advice tree plantation, more specifically the medicinally and nutritionally beneficial trees.

Ensuring distributional equity: It’s important to avoid unfair and high environmental costs on vulnerable populations.

Vedic discipline states that, “One should take out five spheres of soil from water body, proportionate to the size of one’s body, before bathing in a pond or water-pit.” This was to maintain the depth of the water body. From a recent geological survey, it is estimated that about 16.4 tons per hectare of soil is being lost in India every year. Imagine if every Indian followed this norm set by the ancestors, there would be benefits like maintaining cleanliness, improving capacity of the ponds and balancing soil availability in the ground. Tree plantation and forest-conservation will also reduce the amount of soil wastage.

The sacred law books are specific about cleanliness, “Let him not discharge urine or feces into the water, nor saliva, nor clothes defiled by impure substances, nor any other impurity, nor blood, nor poisons.”

Accepting global responsibility: This is to assume responsibility for environmental effects that occur outside one’s area of jurisdiction.

Three grand concepts built on this truism: Vasudevasarvam – the Supreme resides in all beings; Vasudhaivakutumbakam – the family of Mother Earth or the original ‘global village,’ and Sarvabhutahita – the welfare of all beings, represent a deep repository of ecological thought and practice.

Education and grassroots involvement: This is the idea about people and communities investigating problems and developing new solutions.

Each person in ancient times was free to choose his profession based on his passion and capabilities. These professions were broadly based on the need of the society to take care of three basic shortcomings – Adnyan, meaning lack of knowledge; Anyay, or the lack of justice and Abhav, meaning shortage. Each professional was expected to understand how his profession helped to tackle one or more of these shortcomings, so that every member of the society could lead a
better life.

The time has come for all of us to learn sustainability principles and quickly implement this knowledge into bold and firm sustainable actions and initiatives. The United Nations has declared 2005-14 a decade of education for sustainable development, which aims to nudge us all to adopt new behaviors and practices to secure our future.

Contributed by Saroj Datar – an academician and currently engaged as faculty at JDBIMS. She is also a HR consultant, working with various enterprises.

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