After successive unsuccessful attempts of the world to save earth it seems that only the ethos of Hinduism and the wisdom of Bharat can give an ideal model of sustainable development
Dr Seema Singh
Mahatma Gandhi warned that "nature had enough for everybody"s need but not for everybody"s greed". Since past few decades world is paying for the greed of developed nations and facing serious environmental issues. Degrading environment is giving serious threat to human existence. “Man” who is the supreme creature of the God on this earth has substantially destroyed the nature and now reached a level where reversing the situation seems quite difficult.
This history of environmental degradation begins from the industrial revolution of England in the mid-18th century. Slowly it grappled the whole world and the economy of the globe shifted from agrarian and handicraft work to a dominating mechanical and chemical industry.
In the meantime, the concept of ‘Consumerism’ was floated by America which was an extension of the industrial revolution. The purpose of consumerism was to encourage people to increase their purchasing capacity and simultaneously to increase the demand of the products. Slowly a strong group of capitalists started appearing on world’s diaspora who were either manufacturing the products on the demand of people or creating demand after manufacturing the product.
America was giving this impression that through this market strategy whole world will remain inter-dependent and inter-connected. But slowly the hidden agenda of the market monopoly of developed countries was revealed. Creation of WTO is reflecting their agenda of groping the world to fulfil their lust of economic expansion to the developing countries. Now GDP rate became the criteria to decide the power and prosperity of any nation and 5 to 6 developed countries became the king to decide the faith of the world.
The advent of technology and liberalisation of economies converted the whole world into a global village. Now the consciousness of the people and ethics of the business started shifting from serving basic human needs to consumption and from consumption to consumerism. Now the market became money-centric and profit-making became the sole agenda of capitalists. More luxurious products introduced to the market and through market strategies people were encouraged to buy more. Credit cards brought another revolution in increasing the paying capacity of consumers. Now “Sensitive index” of the share market became the criteria to decide the happiness of the people. This consumerism leads to heavy industrialisation and encouraged people to do anything to acquire the means of consumption like working slavish hours, behaving rapaciously in their business pursuits, and even bending the rules in order to maximise their earnings.
This lust of getting more and more worldly things killed the wisdom of the people and initiated a blind race among nations and individuals, where they started polluting and exploiting nature beyond the permissible limit. The resulting effect is, most likely by 2025 the world is going to face an environmental disaster.
Cost of Development Paid by Earth
Some devastating result of high level of environmental pollution and dumping can be understood by few data released by different agencies. As per estimation, now around 2 billion vehicles are on the road polluting air quality severely and 20 million gallons of oil ending up in our water bodies every single year which is an effect of huge consumer demand and its side effect. Increasing consumption of meat is responsible for slaughtering of around 9 billion animals each year, causing the serious issue of wastewater and water contamination. Overuse of plastic and its non-disposal is causing an estimated 270,000 tons of plastic floating on the surface of the ocean and threatening the existence of 700 different marine species.
Our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals. Scientists estimate we"re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day and 30 to 50 per cent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century. About 68 per cent of evaluated plant species are threatened with extinction. These data are definitely alarming.
World Environment Day
After seeing the side effects of global warming and devastating environmental degradation whole world is contemplating to find out the solution. Polluting groundwater, increasing desertification, unpredictable and extreme weather conditions and frequent natural disasters are visible threats we are constantly facing.
High-Level Threat Panel of the United Nations has enlisted “Environmental Threats” as one of the ten most serious threats for humans. Since, 1974 every year World Environment Day (WED) is celebrated on 5 June as a flagship campaign for raising awareness on emerging environmental issues from marine pollution, human overpopulation, and global warming, to sustainable consumption and wildlife crime.
In the past three decades, many steps have been taken by the nations either independently or collectively to protect the global environment. Around 10 treaties have taken place among the countries, but unfortunately, this rich body of treaties, action plans, and other instruments has not reversed the global environmental decline. Virtually every major environmental indicator is worse today than it was at the time of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED or the Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janeiro. The ozone layer continues to deteriorate and toxic chemicals are accumulating in every part of the planet and in every living organism, including humans indicating serious consequences.
What ‘Bharat’ Says about Environment and Sustainable Development
After making many unsuccessful and half-hearted attempts now the world is seeking a comprehensive model of Sustainable development. They are looking towards Bharat which has a rich heritage and which ruled the world successfully for centuries without destroying the flora and fauna for thousands of years through its wisdom and enlightened thoughts.
Nature was always respected in Sanatan Hindu Dharma. Hinduism always believed in the integration and co-existence of human and nature. Hinduism contains numerous references to the worship of the divine in nature in its Vedas, Upanishads and its other sacred texts.
In Vedas man is forbidden from exploiting nature. A verse from Rig-Veda Says, “Thousands and hundreds of years if you want to enjoy the fruits and happiness of life then take up systematic planting of trees.” The Vedas emphasise “Earth is my mother, I am her son, …do not harm water, do not cut trees, because they remove pollution.” (Rig Veda, 6:48:17)
In Hindu Philosophy forests, trees and wildlife protection has given special respect. According to Hinduism, “Dharma” is a “duty” which includes our responsibility to care for the earth. Hindus are instructed to avoid activities associated with violence and to follow a vegetarian diet. Hinduism teaches— restraint in consumption and simplicity in living — represents a pathway toward moksha (liberation), which treats the earth with respect. A well-known Hindu teaching — Taintyaktenbhunjitha — has been translated, “Take what you need for your sustenance without a sense of entitlement or ownership.”
According to the Atharvaveda, the earth is not for human beings alone, but for other creatures as well. The most important aspect of Hindu theology pertaining to the treatment of animal life is the belief that the Supreme Being was himself incarnated in the form of various species.
According to the Varaha Purana, ”One Who Plants One Peepal, One Neem, One Bar, Ten Flowering Plants Or Creepers, Two Pomegranates, Two Oranges And Five Mangos, Does Not Go To Hell." The MahabharataBhagavad Gita, contain many references to the omnipresence of the Supreme Divinity, including its presence throughout and within nature.
Even in Kautilya‟sArthaśāstra, provides a lot of knowledge about the environment and its conservation. The Ruler was directed to preserve and promote the environmental welfare and to develop forest and animal sanctuaries, where trees and animals both would reside free from the fear of slaughter.
By the end of the Vedic and Upanishadic period, Buddhism and Jainism came into existence and the protection of animals, birds and vegetation was further strengthened by the various kings practising these religions. The Buddhist emperor Ashoka (273-236 BCE), promoted through public proclamations the planting and preservation of flora and fauna and prescribed various punishments for the killing of animals, including ants, squirrels and rats.
Lessons from BHUTAN
Bhutan which was earlier the part of Bharat and imbibed the Buddhist philosophy can guide the world regarding maintaining a balance between “Happiness Index” and “Sensitive Index”. Bhutan’s environmental success is a ‘pleasing paradox’, which reserves more than 50% of its land area as a forest reserve. More than 80% of the country is covered by natural forests, and it has a re-afforestation program that is further increasing this figure. The flip side is that all Bhutanese are formally held responsible under the constitution to protect the environment.
Bhutan sees forests as a valuable source of spiritual health. A very strong eco-ethical sentiment is found in the Buddhist belief that all actions should bring the most help and least harm to other “Sentient Beings”, which means “Being with Consciousness”.
Message of Bharat
After successive unsuccessful attempts of the world to save earth it seems that only the ethos of Hinduism and the wisdom of Bharat can give an ideal model of sustainable development. Shifting away from consumerism can confine us back to our valid needs. Enlightenment, secular humanism and satisfaction should be viewed as the foundation of society. People should realise that pleasure comes with peace and contentment and not with greedy and restless prosperity. BhagwatGeetasays “Karmas are like boomerang. What we do that comes back to us”. We need to understand if we destroy the nature will destroy us.
Behaviour toward the environment has karmic consequences. We can choose to protect the environment in order to take protection from nature. Controlling desire, restrict lust and enjoying “Artha” and “Kama” according to “Dharma” is the basis Hindu philosophy, which meansrespect‘Earth’ as your ‘Mother’, use its resources but not exploit it.
(The writer is Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, Delhi University)