Biodiversity in HINDUISM
“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.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
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. Throughout the long history of India, Hindus have shared a fascination with, and respect for, Nature and animals and has rightly been called up as a “environmental friendly religion”. Hindus regarded rivers, mountains, lakes, animals, flora, the mineral world, as well as the stars and planets as manifestation of God and worshipped them.
No religion, perhaps, lays as much emphasis on environmental ethics as does Hinduism. It believes in ecological responsibility and says 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. 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. Hinduism believes in the all encompassing sovereignty of the divine.
Ayurveda, the science of life, is a complete health and medicine system based on nature and its regenerating forces. Vastu Shastra teaches us how to place and build dwellings according to the environment it is situated in. 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.
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 Vedic Hymn to the Earth in Atharva Veda, - ‘Mata Bhumih Putroham Prithivyah’ means ‘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. “ Pancha Mahabhutas (the five great elements) - space, air, fire, water, and earth - are the foundation of an interconnected web of life. 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. Dharma - often translated as “duty” - can be reinterpreted to include our responsibility to care for the earth.
Animals are revered too. Kamadhenu was the wish-fulfilling cow, whose off spring 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. But the greatest honour given to animals was their elevation as the vehicles of the Gods: Shiva rode the bull, Vishnu the eagle, Brahma the swan, and so on.
"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. 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. The Varah Purana says, “One who plants one Peepal, one Neem, one Bar, ten flowering plants or creepers, two Pomegranates, two Oranges and ve Mangos, does not go to hell.”
The Rig Veda is a celebration of nature, its hero the God of Rain. Nature is beautifully described in the Rig Veda:
“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.”
(Rig Veda 1.6.3)
A prayer that o ffers respect to nature and mother Earth now asks for her protection. In our arrogance and ignorance we have destroyed the environment of this planet. We have polluted the oceans, made the air unbreathable, 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.