Connecting With Our Environment

Humanity warrants not only scientific solutions but also spiritual guidance in the path of caring for our planet. I approached my spiritual guru, Swami Visharadananda, for advice. A day doesn’t pass without us reading or hearing the words ‘climate change’. Politicians and policymakers converged in Copenhagen in December last at the global climate change meet to find ways to ease the crisis. Whatever comes out of it may not change much of what goes on in the day-to-day lives of the people – be it the toxic pollution in their backyards or vanishing birds in their gardens.

They may go unnoticed. The small house sparrows that once flourished in India are fast disappearing In 2002, the World Conservation Union added this most common bird in the endangered Red List because their population declined by 50 per cent over the last 25 years. From England to India, these tiny birds are facing possible extinction due to toxic chemical cocktails in their food chain. Perhaps everyone knows that human creativity has built economies for decades that have been resource-intensive with unprecedented toll on air, water, climate and nature itself.

Somehow, science has ignored the guiding spiritual and philosophical wisdom of ecology and human well-being that has channelled human creativity and energy within ethical boundaries for centuries. Humanity warrants not only scientific solutions but also spiritual guidance in the path of caring for our planet. I approached my spiritual guru, Swami Visharadananda, for advice. While speaking to Swamiji, I understood the basics of Vedanta philosophy that maintained ecological balance for millennia in ancient India.

Swamiji asked the simple but fundamental question: How many now say ‘thank you’ daily to the sun for giving us energy, and nature for sustaining our lives, and other life forms? How many would be willing to give up their excessive materialistic pursuits to lead a simple life? We want to prove our greatness by egoistic worldly possessions, inventions and discoveries, and ultimately end up shooting ourselves in the foot. Swamiji’s advice is simple – we must do work dutifully and selflessly without compromising on ethics.

Vedanta describes it eloquently as ‘yajya’ yaj meaning worship, harmonious association and charity. While performing our duties, ego and selfish desires associated with name, fame, wealth and material values should not predominate. The benefits obtained from selfless work should be shared with others. Selfless work or karma yoga will lead us on the path to not only purification of mind but also to freedom from desires that yield both pain and pleasure. Small or large, all organisms are connected to each other, and nature has given us everything with the expectation that we maintain balance to benefit all.

If we do the contrary, we cannot avoid disasters – be it the warming climate, melting icecaps, or rising sea levels. Each and every one of us must play our role dutifully to simplify our lives in order to maintain the balance that includes moral, ecological and societal aspects. We were often told in high school history class that history repeats itself. So we ought to learn from past mistakes to avoid making them again. For instance, after decades of using chemical fertilisers, and after poisoning soil, water and air, we realised that organic farming is better.

Nothing in the ecosystem is redundant; each and every organism including humans has a role in sustaining and maintaining the balance of nature but we often tend to forget the basics. Confucius said, ‘Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated’. One may ask – if we do not respond wisely to making peace with our planet by simplifying our lives and doing our duties ethically adhering to spiritual values, then what would happen? The answer has been given by Anthony De Mello: “In a conflict between Nature and your brain, back Nature; if you fight her, she will eventually destroy you.”

~ Govindasamy Agoramoorthy