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Environmental concerns

Hindu responses

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Hindus have a similar attitude to nature to that of the Buddhists. None of their traditions (Vedic, Upanishadic, orthodox, etc.) give Hindus the sort of authority over nature and creation that the Judeo-Christian God grants. In Hinduism, there is a sympathetic identification of humanity with nature. Hinduism speaks of harmony with nature and with the whole creation.

There are exceptions: The Advaita Vedanta tradition dismisses the significance of the material world by referring to it as illusion or Maya. 1 The Hindu religious goal of moksha (detachment from the material world) arguably rejects (at least in essence) the natural world as having value.

The real meaning of nature worship in the Vedas is the prosperity of agriculture and the protection of the environment. 2 There are several mantras devoted to agriculture and methods of farming, irrigation systems, and plantations. The Vedas refer to animal domesticity and cattle rearing. Domestic animals were considered faithful friends of human beings. The cow was revered as a pastoral deity. Note that the Hindus are expected to regard deer, camels, monkeys, donkeys, rats, reptiles, birds, and flies as though they were their own children. 3

The Rig-Veda encourages Hindus to form friendship with animals and even with inanimate objects. 4
In the Upanishads there is a clear understanding of the interrelationship of everything in nature. Human beings are encouraged to be compassionate and to practice self-restraint. 4

"Ahimsa," forbidding the taking of life and/or causing injury to any sentient being (except in the context of a Vedic sacrifice where it is prescribed and sanctioned), is a basic religious principle to Hindus as it is to the Jains. It is the first of the virtues to be practiced by a Hindu. The term was interpreted by Mahatma Gandhi as Ďnon-violenceí in a universal sense, and elevated to the foremost human quality. In Hinduism, it was not much discussed in early texts, perhaps because it was recognized that it might be in conflict with Dharma, as mentioned below.

Among the fundamental Hindu concepts are Ríta and Dharma: 5

bulletRíta is the sense of fundamental order and balance in the universe. It must be observed and sustained; it is deeper and more fundamental than the Hindu gods. Manís duty is to preserve Ríta, by observing the ancient laws.
bulletDharma emphasizes the need to act for the sake of good in the world, 1 and to behave so as to maintain the order and custom that make life and the universe possible. However, it is also taken to mean Ďthe duty of the warrior.í It was observant Hindus, attentive to Dharma, who assassinated Gandhi.

The Hindu concept of Dharma was adopted by Buddhists. They brought it to China where Dharma was identified with Tao. 5

Rivers have been and continue to be an integral part of Hindu religious practice. The reverence for trees has been another component. 1 In 1973-March, villagers in Gopeshwar formed a human chain and hugged trees marked to be cut down for the development of a sports equipment factory. Since then, the Chipko Andolan movement to hug trees has grown as a Hindu ecological movement. 6

Most of the Hindu population lives within self-sustaining villages. As the population increases, and as the modern lifestyle leads to a demand for consumer goods, the balance of sustainability may shatter. So may traditional views and beliefs. 1

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A search of the Amazon.com data base shows the following books on Hindu responses to the environment:

At least, it should. Sometimes Amazon returns the strangest selections.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1.  Christopher Key Chapple, "Hinduism, Jainism, and Ecology," at: http://environment.harvard.edu/
  2. Josť Kalapura, "Science-Religion Dialogue & Ecology: An Asian perspective."
  3. John Bowker, Ed., "The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions." Oxford University Press, (1997).
  4. Sean McDonagh, "To Care for the Earth," Geoffrey Chapman, (1989).
  5. Edward Goldsmith, "The Way," Themis Books, (1996)
  6. "Hinduism and Ecology," at: http://hollys7.tripod.com/

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Site navigation (partial list):

Home > Environment > Religion > Non-Christian > here

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Copyright © 2006 by Vladimir Tomek
Original publishing date: 2006-SEP-03
Latest update on: 2006-SEP-03
Author. Vladimir Tomek

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