Indian tradition upholds Nature-centered environmentalism

Nature, right from early times, has been the trusted companion of man. The resonant and vibrant nature has coloured his imaginations irrespective of the areas he worked. All living beings, plants, animals and man found their ecstasy of coexistence in the lap of nature. The forest, Kalidasa sang, is s`aran//yam sarvabhu=ta=na=m – shelter to all beings. It was a life of mutuality, pa=rasparya India developed. The idea of protecting the nature was live in the nation’s scriptures. It was there at random and none seems to have deliberately developed any method. Who would protect the forest and who the wild animals therein? “The wild animals would protect the forests and the latter the former,” Vidura’s answer was pat. But man’s avarice for money and material pleasures have put nature to deforestation, destruction and devastation, speeding up her entropy.

   It was in fact the over Westernisation that brought about the very change in man’s attitude to nature.  The whole pre-Christian world, history says, have worshipped earth as the sacred home of God. What prevailed prior to the origin of the modern western and Middle Eastern faiths, was a universal religion wedded to nature worship. Recent archaeological findings from Honduras, Mexico etc. established the similarities ancient American cultures – Mayans, Incas or Aztecs – had with the culture that flowered on Saraswati-Sindhu Valleys. Both, like the people referred to in R/k. Ve`da and Zend-Avesta, were the worshippers of nature, especially of fire. But all these cultures were swept away by the steamroller of the anti-paganism which within no time, as Arnold Joseph Toynbee opined, aborted these civilizations.

    The anti-pagan approach had already at its roots the Old Testament belief that nature is for man who is divinely authorized to exploit the former. This was further boosted by the Renaissance trend i.e. the microscopic approach to the problems of life. Industrial revolution, making nature the target of exploitation, developed ideology too to support it. It was all in line with the Semitic belief to have a systematic approach for the brutal enjoyment of nature. “The secrets of nature reveal themselves under the vexation of art (i.e., artisantry, technology) than when they go their own way,” said Francis Bacon. The Baconian method suggests haunt the nature and enslave her. It urges to pressurize her into a mechanical mould or any form and to torture her to reveal her secrets. This perception calls for a change of mentality from its natural state to a mechanical one. This superiority of man over nature is a reflection of the Old Testament belief that nature with all its living beings is for man to enjoy. This is cardinal to the Baconian spirit and all the later mechanical approaches to nature. The next development in this approach appeared in Rene Descartes’ Discourse on Method. Cartesian method advocates a mechanical way in experimenting with nature, which it opines has a mathematical structure.

           Mind is a machine and man is different from the entirety. Knowledge, accordingly results from the association of fragments of ideas. Everything is an isolated entity that conflicts with the other. The result is a mind-matter duality. This schizoid duality overlooking the idea of universal harmony and the resultant ‘Beauty’ thereof, is the basis of this worldview. This he further explained in his Principles of Philosophy which deems the world as a machine of matter and movement. Even non-material aspects have only material basis and the natural and the artificial have no difference, he believes. “I do not recognize any difference between machines made by craftsman and the various bodies that nature alone composes,” he observes. Animals are machines made of wheels and coils; human body too is a machine. This resulted in a deductive logic and a mechanical worldview.  This grew into the Galilean idea that nature could be controlled only if it is taken as dead and useless.  A mechanical mind that dissects nature into separate units is needed to understand this methodology. To know is to control; truth is only that which is useful. This method of perception expelled from within its range elements of values and experience. Newtonian ‘Dead matter’ also strengthened this worldview. With the Cartesian paradigm set to exploit, technics and economics ruthlessly torturing and looting nature gained ground. (Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, New York, 1961, p. 152.) Difference in economic ideologies too vanished here. The thought of nature as an aimless and lifeless object awaiting exploitation by man became common to both capitalist and socialist thoughts. And what followed was man’s ruthless exploitation of nature, endlessly torturing to bleed it white. It was so heinous that it did not spare even the sons of the soil as is revealed from what Chief Seattle opined (1885) to a White Governor who came to occupy the Red Indians’ land:

      What is it that the White Man wants to buy, my people will ask. It is difficult for us to understand.

     How can one buy or sell the air, the warmth of the land? That is difficult for us to imagine. If we don’t own the sweet air and the bubbling water, how can you buy it from us? Each pine tree shining in the sun, each sandy beach, the mist hanging in the dark woods, every space, each humming bee is holy in the thoughts and memory of our people… Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people…

    We are part of the earth, and the earth is part of us. The fragrant flowers are our sisters, the reindeer, the horse, the great eagle our brothers…

    We know that the White Man does not understand our way of life. To him, one piece of land is like the other. He is a stranger coming in the night taking from the land what he needs. The earth is not his brother but his enemy, and when he has conquered it, he moves on… He treats his mother the Earth and his brother the sky like merchandise. His hunger will eat the earth bare and leave only a desert…

    Your God is not our God!… Our people are ebbing away like a rapidly receding tide that will never return. The White Man’s God cannot love our people, or he would protect them….

     But why should I mourn at the untimely fate of my people? Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless. Your time of decay may be distant, but it will certainly come, for even the White Man… cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We will see.  (Quoted in Michel Danino, Indian Mind Now and Then, Mysore, 2000, pp. 92-94)

In fact, it is this universal outlook that is lacking in man’s approach to nature. The ideal of lo=ka=samgraha or holding together of all was alien to the western man whose avarice had badly mutilated the texture and tapestry of nature. Having taken the first person, ‘I’ as of most importance, the western man as Seattle opined, had ridden roughshod over the others. Ultimately what happened ran in contrast to the natural order of things. The vagaries man inflicted on nature boomeranged and he had to graze on new pastures for tender shoots to sustain nature. Fora were opened and summits met, all zeroing in on how to check the nature’s entropy. Environmentalists projected the protection of nature as the only panacea to protect mankind. Green belt, they tried to bring the globe under. But their calls like those of the earth summits were left unheard, all having sprung up from a man-centered environmentalism. None really spoke for the nature.

   This brings in the need of developing a nature-centered environmentalism instead of an anthropocentric one. Nature with its flora and fauna has its due rights, just as its roles, to exist unhindered. The world, an ancient bard sang, is a hermitage. He points to the posture of salutation in the flowering lianas as they bow to the wind. Trees offer their sacrifices, scattering the blossoms. The groves resound with the lessons chanted by the neophytes and the parrots repeat them. The ducks come up from the lakes for their portion of the grass seed spread to dry. The deer caresses with its tongue the young hermit boy. Author of Ka=dambari definitely makes one fall in love with a revolutionary thinker’s ‘State of Nature’ the violation of which he exhorted to revolt against. Again one hears the message from the forest interior: “Never, Oh, never is the arrow meant to pierce the tender body of a deer”, and the call to withdraw man’s deadly weapons. The poet’s call, pratisamhara sa=yakam – withdraw the arrow – against the nature, asserts nature’s right to exist. The poets’ religion is nature centered. It is this nature centered environmentalism India’s tradition upholds.


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