5. Hinduism and Nature: Nanditha Krishna, 2017

Section
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
Chapter
1.10 Spiritual Responses
Page
1.10.5

If, as I suggested, spiritual and religious responses to the environment are a topic as huge as the ocean, then Hinduism must surely qualify as a sea. It is so diverse, diffuse and old that I imagine even practising Hindus find it difficult to grasp, let alone outsiders like me. Thankfully, there is a lifeboat to clamber aboard, a boat especially of our particular interest – Nature – and Nanditha Krishna does her best to rescue us from confusion in her most interesting book: Hinduism and Nature. (The Introduction can be read here: Hinduism and Nature by Nanditha Krishna (goodreads.com) ).

Ms Krishna makes no bones about her position re the above, stating clearly and repeatedly that Nature forms an indivisible and vital part of Hinduism. Amongst other things, she says that:

  • The basis of Hinduism (and Buddhism and Jainism) is dharma, or righteous duty – and the proper balance and harmony of the five elements of Nature (e.g. fire, water, etc.) is essential for the wellbeing of humankind, and maintenance of this harmony is dharma;
  • In the verses of Vedas (akin to scriptures) Nature is a friend, revered as a mother, obeyed as a father, and nurtured as a beloved child. It is sacred because man depends on it;
  • Nature is (or was?) venerated all over India. “Every village has a sacred grove…; every temple has a sacred garden and sacred tree; rivers and lakes are revered, and mountains are the dwelling places of the gods”;
  • Nature and creation are the same and Nature is a representation of God’s essence. Nature, or prakriti, means making or placing before or at first, the original or natural form or condition of anything, the original or primary substance;
  • Ecological harmony and biodiversity are represented by Shiva and his home. Shiva is represented surrounded by a great variety of creatures living in harmony, as he is with the five essential elements. (It is interesting to note a Garden-of-Edenish touch to many of these representations with the predator and the prey ‘lying down together’).

There are strong connections and responsibility here, no doubt, but many religions and beliefs can claim this, so what I find most interesting and unusual is the explicit recognition of intrinsic Nature:

  • “Humans have no authority over animals” (the Hindu belief of birth-death-rebirth, sometimes in the form of other animals, requires respect and reverence for other creatures), and “humans may not consider themselves above Nature, nor can they claim to rule over other forms of life” (‘Those who are wise and humble treat equally Brahmin, cow, elephant, dog and dog-eater’ [Bhagavad Gita, 5.19]);
  • “Hinduism has a cosmic, rather than anthropocentric view of the world, an ontology sharply different from the Abrahamic religions which believe that ‘God created mankind in his own image’ (Genesis 1:27), and ‘let them have dominion over…’ (Genesis 1:26)”;
  • There is humility and doubt as to the universe beyond or before creation, or even about creation: “He knows…or maybe even He knows not?” (Rig Veda – Creation Hymn).

This is indeed a powerful departure from the Abrahamic tradition, some of the recent refashionings of indigenous beliefs, and worship at the altar of capitalism. We do not own the world, we are not God, a god, or God’s surrogate. The scale and perspective have been widened infinitely and with it, I feel, a far greater sense of wonder and equality with our fellow creatures.

With such a strong foundation for a harmonious and respectful relationship with the natural world, how can there be so much environmental degradation in India and other Hindu states? Nanditha Krishna sheets the blame home to ‘modernisation and development’ and later on to ‘rationalism’. Spiritual understandings are, of course, just one way in which we respond to the world and no doubt in India, as elsewhere, a multiplicity of factors are at play, such as capitalism and its attendant gods of growth, consumption and individualism, population growth (+ ~ 1 billion people since 1950 in India alone), poverty and inequality (anything between 6 and 30% of the population depending on how measured; and 1% of India’s population holds 73% of country’s wealth, according to Oxfam), national competition, colonial history, climate change, and more. This is a global tide and it seems even such an ancient, large and hopeful religion as Hinduism has been almost powerless in its wake.

 

(Palam Bhagavata Purana. c. 1520-30. Krishna saves the Vraja Forest from Fire)

Explore More Spiritual Responses

1.10.1. Introduction and Soul Search – Sacred Landscapes Series

This seems a strange inclusion in Section 1 which so far has presented physical creations – paintings, poems, music, etc – that offer insight and appreciation of the Nature-human relationship. Often, these insights have been informed by science, b...

1.10.2. Encyclical on the Environment: Laudato Si’ – On Care for our Common Home

This is in many ways an extraordinary document. Stretching to 42, 000 words it covers sources from, “St. Francis of Assisi and St. Bonaventure, as well as St. Thomas Aquinas, but also to Eastern Christian traditions. It even quotes a Sufi Mystic. ...

1.10.3. Soul Search: A Grounded Theology

It is a bit embarrassing to be so shamelessly mining Meredith Lake’s fine work on Radio National, ABC Australia, again! (sorry Meredith, I hope you see it as a compliment), but the previous programs and Pope Francis’ encyclical are largely, but by...

1.10.4. Islam and Nature

Below is an extraordinary new building in Cambridge, England: Cambridge Mosque. I was in Cambridge for a year in 1979 and if you’d told me then that in 2021 there would be a grand mosque, with capacity for 1000 people, on the Mill Road, I would ha...

1.10.5. Hinduism and Nature

If, as I suggested, spiritual and religious responses to the environment are a topic as huge as the ocean, then Hinduism must surely qualify as a sea. It is so diverse, diffuse and old that I imagine even practising Hindus find it difficult to gra...

1.10.6. Soul Search: Jane Goodall On Humanity and Hope

Jane Goodall is a fascinating person enough to make this podcast worth including, but I was particularly interested in her spiritual insights here and how they have arisen, though not exclusively, from and within Nature. She is not, as far as I...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

In a supposedly secular age there has arisen a global religion and god like never before, a religion whose reach and power makes every other belief system before it seem pitiful and insignificant: ...
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
5. Reduce Population

5. Reduce Population

Even on top of Mt. Everest, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overp...
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...