In the struggle to sustain the earth's environment for the future generations, environmental studies have so far left unexplored the role of religion. But the human ecology is deeply conditioned by religious beliefs about our nature and destiny. Religious views and practices mould our attitude towards the relations with material life as well as help us to reappraise our ways apart from reorienting ourselves towards the resources of life.
If we examine the ecological underpinning & implications of Hinduism both in principal and practice, it would be a new field of study in religion. From the Rigveda to Bhagavadgita and the Ramayana to Gandhian ideals and contemporary issues from forest in the epic to sacred rivers Yamuna, Ganga and Narmada – Hinduism and ecology offers a wealth of perceptions on the way in which Hinduism and ecological issues are enmeshed.
Hinduism can be given a legitimate -- `Sanatandharma' which means `the eternal essence of life'. This essence of life is not only limited to humans but unites all beings – human and all other species, animal and plants with the universe that surrounds them and ultimately with the original source of their existence, i.e. the Creator. This perception of integral unity is what causes Hindus refusal to separate their religion from their daily life. To them all the religions are the part of the process of discovering the unity of all.
The Veda describes how each element was created and how they are all related one to another. TheRishis are of the view that the senses -- hearing, touching, seeing, tasting and smelling are interrelated to a particular element and how all are woven together to form a living world where all the parts depend upon each other. If a disturbance is made in one part of this web, its balance will be upset which will cause disharmony somewhere else. This disharmony may just not only be in the outside world but also in the internal health of our own body. This kind of effect can be seen in 21st century in the damage done to nature and to our health by continued exploitation of the environment.
Most of the studies of ecological aspects of nature are recorded in Vedas & refer to the five elements of Eastern tradition; Water, Earth, Fire, Air and Akasha. Vedic people were one with Nature (RV.V1158/2-3) ``One is that which manifests in all" which in contemporary terms is expressed as ``everything is related to everything else". Nature is sacred since man depends entirely on it and because of this everything is sanctified (Av.xv11). Agni or Fire was thought one form of energy which exchanges in Universe (AV.111; 21, 1). Energy and matter as well as essence of God and man are one and the same and interchangeable .When bodily life ends; man like other things merges with universe. In the modern ecological terms matter is recycled and energy is one with different interchangeable forms.
Another important tenet in Hinduism is that of `Doctrine of Reincarnation'. According to it the Supreme Being incarnated Himself in the forms of various species, He said, ``This form is the source and indestructible seed of multifarious incarnations within the Universe and from the particle, portion of this form, different living entities, like demigods, animal human beings and others are created (Srimadbhagvadgita Mahapurana 1.3.5). Among the various incarnations of God are a fish, a tortoise, a boar, and a dwarf. His fifth incarnation was a man lion -- Narasimha. As Rama, He was closely associated with monkeys and as Krishna, he was surrounded by cows. These are few examples where different species are accorded reverence.
Furthermore, the belief in the cycle of birth and rebirth wherein a person may come back as an animal or a bird or a tree etc means that Hindus are called to give other species not only respect but reverence.
The network of groves that covered the subcontinent so impressed Sir Dietrich Brandis, the first Inspector General of forests in colonial India that he urged a system of forest reserves and preserves modeled upon it. In the 1880s, Brandis was already lamenting the destruction, under the British system of forest management – of what he and others called `Sacred Groves'- a destruction that has continued unabated and perhaps accelerated since independence due to greed and lack of political will and sensitivity. ``Sacred Groves are supposed to be pre-Vedic in origin (about 5000 B.C.E.). They certainly predated the Gautam Buddha, who was born in a Sal grove dedicated to the goddess Lumbani in the Himalayan foothill. The Sacred Grove may be considered as one of the best known ancient state – sponsored forest conservation efforts which were carried out by the emperor Ashoka after his conversion to Buddhism.
Bishnois, a sect of Hindus, consider their religious duty to save flora and fauna. They are still managing and developing Sacred Groves in Rajasthan what they call ``Orans'. Bishnois, the rural community of Rajasthan, are glaring example of tradition. They have set an example in world history as they constitute a role model of a community in rural India that display zeal for protecting the natural wealth and knowledge around them.
`Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam' is a very famous statement of the Veda which means that the whole earth planet is a big family. This reveals the wisdom of Hindu Rishis. Western civilization needs to discover the ecological balance and harmony which it has lost. The West has much to learn from the wisdom traditions of India taking advantage of the fact that we are now a global community and no longer limited to learning from a single tradition. The West needs to learn from others; to put aside their arsenals of mass destruction, other polluting agents and have the courage and vision to journey in new territory where these seemingly indispensable may be of little value.