Discovering our Inner-connection to Earth
Ecology of Our Minds
by Nimai Agarwal
When I was eight years old, my parents used to take me to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. We would go every week of the summer, spread out a blanket on the grass, and enact a tradition central to our monotheistic branch of Hinduism: singing devotional songs to passersby, often accompanied by a harmonium and brass hand symbols.
This type of singing is called kirtan and is meant to praise God. While they sang I would spend hours playing in the dirt, making little houses out of twigs under the shade of trees. Even though I was focused on my work, I now realize that I unconsciously connected my time with the Earth to my parents’ religious singing. These are my earliest memories of being in contact with the Earth, and they were tied with my faith.
My connection to that child has grown more distant over the years. Like many people my age I live in front of books and computer screens. However, my religion has instilled in me important values regarding the Earth. With the impact of our product-hungry lifestyle on the environment becoming ever more apparent, I’ve realized the value of Hinduism’s teachings. They teach something which is, in my opinion, beyond the “Earth dies, we die” mentality, which although correct, doesn’t capture the subtler shades of our connection with the Earth.
Instead, my faith envisions the Earth as a person, a mother. This mentality has formed the basis of my view towards the Earth. One doesn’t treat a person as an exploitable source of resources, just as one doesn’t wish death upon one’s mother.
My faith teaches that our relationship with the Earth has two aspects. The first is to tread lightly. The “Sri Isopanisad,” an essential part of Hinduism’s scriptural canon, describes humanity’s relationship to Earth as one of only taking what is necessary. The sentiment behind this is to reduce our needs and be happy with less, both for the well-being of the planet and our own spiritual enrichment.
This idea has impacted my attitude towards material things, perhaps subconsciously. Though toys did catch my eye every once in a while, an insatiable hunger for things was never a thread in my early life. I remember seeing friends’ closets brimming with toys and feeling little except for a small pang of jealousy. I still feel that way and the reason has to do with the values my parents instilled in me — echoes of philosophical truths expressed thousands of years ago by those disgusted by the materialism of their own age.
A more quantifiable means by which my faith regulates my interactions with the Earth is through vegetarianism. Preventing animal cruelty and abstaining from meat are rooted in the Hindu and Buddhist ideas of ahimsa, or strict nonviolence. The devastating impact of factory-farming techniques on the environment is becoming ever more apparent. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations holds livestock responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activity. I’ve been a vegetarian all of my life and realized how important the message of ahimsa is for the world’s well-being. We have a greater ability to manipulate nature than ever before, and this immense power is disastrous when misused. Treading lightly means showing respect both for Earth and for her inhabitants.
My parents used to tell me ancient scriptural stories, and when I grew older, I read them myself. Many are about kings and emperors, but Earth is a common theme. In short, the personal virtue of these rulers was reflected in the bounteousness of their land. When kings ruled justly and wisely, Earth provided in abundance.
In one famous story, five kings were able to turn a barren desert town into a prosperous city by giving charitably and acting virtuously. This idea runs parallel to the conception of Earth as a person. Earth, as a person, can recognize and reward good character.
How does this apply to my life? I don’t believe that simply being a good person will bring back rainforests, although Radhanath Swami, a spiritual leader in my religion, has said, “The ecology of our hearts reflects the ecology of our world.” By becoming more spiritual and introspective as a society we can tackle the root of issues. Hinduism’s stories of kings and kingdoms hold a potent message: To change the world for the better, we must start with ourselves.
Hinduism’s view of the Earth as a person has changed my own perception of the planet. I believe that the environmental issues jeopardizing our planet today indicate a spiritual lacking, a hole we’re trying to fill with more and more consumption. To tackle environmental issues we must first lessen our needs. As Gandhi once said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not every man’s greed.”
This article was originally published on April 20, 2015 in KidSpirit
Header Photo: Tree Top Quest