India’s environmental philosophy derives from the fundamental belief that man is an extension of the planet – man and the planet have a mutually inseparable and interdependent relationship where the existence of man depends on the well-being of the planet.
Prithu hunts the Earth goddess, attributed to Manaku, from an illustrated manuscript of the Bhagavata Purana. Wikimedia Commons
The environmental ethic of any culture is the value system underlying the ecology, planet, and environment of that civilization. It answers the big question: how does a civilization/culture view its environment and resources?
Nowadays, the buzzwords in the field of national policies all over the world are pollution, carbon footprint, global warming, climate change, etc. We have pollution with its various manifestations: air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, et al. These have become global problems requiring global solutions.
Environmental ethics attempts to explain the reasons for and likely solutions to the climate crisis. It provides an action plan from individual and societal to state levels on how to deal with the problems of environmental degradation. It gives a broad view of any society on how to protect nature and its various sub-organs like plant and tree life, animal and bird kingdom, rivers, lakes and water bodies, etc
The Indian civilization, which is the oldest surviving civilization, has a global, well assimilating and inclusive view of nature. It evolved from the Hindu ethos of life, ecology and respect for nature. Moreover, it is also interesting to see how these environmental values have been assimilated and integrated into Indian culture so that these values can become an integral part of our daily lives. Thus, these values are not mere philosophical reflections but also existential realities. These principles can function as a beacon for the world ravaged by climate change. India can be an environment guru vishwa if these principles are followed and advanced to the world.
The roots of India’s environmental values go back to the Vedic and Upanishadic periods as well as the Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata eras. Even the Jain and Buddhist philosophies have enhanced our understanding by adding their values.
India’s environmental philosophy stems from the fundamental belief that man is an extension of the planet. Man is a micro cosmos, being a small part of the macro-cosmos (planet). Man and the planet enjoy a mutually inseparable and interdependent relationship where the existence of man depends on the well-being of the planet. The Earth is like a mother. We evolve from the earth, take food and other elements from it, and eventually we decay and merge with it. Like a mother who gives birth to the child and takes care of it, mother earth gives birth to the human and gives him endless natural blessings in abundance. The ancient Hindu saying sums it up subtly: “The Earth is our mother and we are all her children.
The entire universe, whether living or non-living, is made up of five basic elements (Pancha-Tattvas) – space, air, water, fire and earth. Every living and non-living being is made up of these Pancha-Tattvas. There is a balance in the nature of these five elements. Pollution is the result of an imbalance of these five elements inter se or per se. Mother Earth is worshiped in her various manifestations like plants and trees, rivers and seas, hills and mountains, etc. They are worshiped as living deities. Every god and goddess in Hinduism has a plant/tree and a bird-animal attached to it.
When reciting daily prayers in Hindu temples, one says:praniyon mein sadbhavna ho(let each creature coexist). Man is not the center of the universe, rather he is part of the universe. Man is not the only inhabitant of this planet. There are thousands and thousands of other creatures that also have the right to live. This philosophy is not man-centered but, in accordance with the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, is planet-centered and includes the worship of all creatures in the world.
Thus, the environmental ethic of Hinduism is not the “survival of the fittest”, but the mutual coexistence, peace and interdependence of all beings on this planet. The resources of mother earth are not “commodities” that can be “exploited” without thinking; on the contrary, they should be worshiped and consumed only on the basis of need. We humans have no exclusive, unbridled and unlimited right to these natural resources which must be consumed for the good of all and not for individual aggrandizement. Thus, there can be no blind exploitation of nature for the selfish interests of human beings.
Therefore, all lives, human and non-human, have the same value and have the same right to exist. As stated in the Hindu Declaration on Nature (Assisi Declaration 1986), we humans evolved from these creatures and they are our ancestors and therefore we should revere them: “The evolution of life on this planet is symbolized by a series of divine incarnations beginning with fish, moving through amphibious and mammalian forms, and then into human incarnations. This view clearly holds that man was not born fully formed to dominate lower life forms, but rather evolved from those forms themselves, and is therefore integrally linked to all of creation. .
The Yajurveda states that “no one should kill animals useful to all”. Animals are revered as gods. Hanuman and Ganapati are the most powerful deities; peepal, Ganga, Himavan, tulsi and banyan are considered sacred. This philosophy of non-violence towards birds, animals and even micro-organisms was reinforced by Jainism and Buddhism and was revived more recently by Mahatma Gandhi. The Mahatma always spoke of the importance of ahimsa and considered the cow as a symbol of the benign element of animal life.
The Indian system of medicine, Ayurveda, is primarily a herbal and plant-based medicinal system, with an in-depth knowledge of preserving environmental balance for the benefit of personal health and a pollution-free environment. Planting tulsi trees has been hailed as a virtue. Tulsi is always kept in every household so that the incoming air is purified; she is revered as a mother for her medicinal and air-purifying qualities.
The other personal value that is becoming popular in the western world is minimalism. The Indian ethos has developed its core intrinsic value of Apragram that is, non-possession beyond one’s needs; this can go a long way in following the steps at the individual level on how to limit the use of natural resources and reduce waste. The sustainable planet is integrated into its intrinsic value system. In Indian philosophy, we humans are not the owners of the land and its resources, but we are the custodians of its resources. We must use them in such a way that we can conserve these resources also for future generations.
Global environmental concerns such as river pollution, global warming, wildlife extinction, indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources, etc., can be addressed under this philosophy. The world can learn a lot from India’s environmental ethics. We can easily get rid of many environmental ills plaguing the world by following Indian philosophy.
The author is an interior designer. She has created more than 120 mini-forests and 700 vertical gardens with plastic bottle waste with her husband. The opinions expressed are personal.