Many aspects of Hindu tradition would support concern for the natural environment. The idea that the divine dwells in all things, the admiration of a simple life of self-control, respect for the cow and all living things, widespread vegetarianism, the earth as a goddess, the general principle of ahimsa or non-harming, and the fundamental concept of dharma, the order and harmony of the cosmos, natural world and human society would all support an ecological consciousness. Quotations can be found in Vedic texts advising against cutting down trees or polluting rivers. In addition to the cow, other animals such as monkeys, snakes, elephants and tigers can be seen as sacred. Many plants are sacred, such as tulsi (a form of basil) associated with Vishnu. There are sacred trees and sacred landscapes such as the area around Vrindavan connected with Krishna. Belief in karma and reincarnation means that issues such as disastrous climate change or running out of resources will not just affect your descendants, but your future self. The possibility of reincarnation in animal form also makes the divide between human and animal less sharp, and the animal or part-animal avatars of Vishnu, Ganesh’s elephant head, and the animal ‘vehicles’ associated with each deity have the same effect on the divide between animals and deities.

However, like contemporary feminism or gay rights, environmentalism as we know it today, the threats of human-caused climate change, pollution caused by plastics, transport and other effects of modern industrialisation, was not an ‘issue’ in Vedic times or for much of human history. Humans just did not make such a negative impact until recent centuries, although there are historical examples: one theory for the decline of the Indus Valley Civilisation is deforestation causing drought conditions. There are aspects of Hindu teaching that may suggest that environmental action is not the most important thing on which to be working. The ultimate goal in many Hindu philosophies is liberation from the material world, which is only of secondary importance or reality. It is accepted that we are in the decay phase (Kali Yuga) of this particular universe which will inevitably come to an end, but there will be other universes. This perhaps could take some of the urgency out of saving the planet. Nevertheless, the resources are there in the Hindu tradition for creating a contemporary Hindu environmentalism which views concern for the planet and all beings who dwell upon her as an important part of the spiritual quest rather than a distraction from it. Moreover, in practice there are many Hindu-inspired environmental activists and projects such as the Chipko movement against deforestation started in the 1970s, or the Bhumi project (started in the UK and USA) more recently. One specific UK example is the seven million cans collected for recycling as part of the fundraising efforts for building the Swaminarayan mandir in Neasden.

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Hindu Worldview Traditions


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