Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Reflecting on the field trip event of Buddhist practices of protecting environment, water and aquatic life, I recollect several values in Hinduism with overlapping traditions. The Hindu epics contain references to the worship of the divine in nature including rivers, mountains, trees, animals and the earth. In these documents, there are important references to the Hindu teachings to environment, worth recalling for practical reasons.
According to the theology, there are five great elements of life, i.e. space, air, fire, water and earth, which are all derived from nature. These elements are inter-connected and the human body is composed from these elements. These are further believed to be connected with five senses of the human body—nose to earth, tongue to water, eyes to fire, skin to air and ears to space. This connection shows the foundation of human relation with the nature.
Hindus worship and accept both earth and river as goddesses and/or mothers, which deserve protection, as a form of human duty, explained as “dharma”. In other words, preserving environment is a duty, an activity that cannot be separated from other parts of activities in one’s life. Protection of water sources, forest and sacred plants has been one of the most traditional expressions of ‘duty’ or way of life in Hindu practices, which may not be necessarily followed by the environmental orientation. A close connection between religion, ecology and ethical values are understood as a part of duty in life. The central teaching of the Hinduism, Karma, holds the religious practioners accountable for their acts in present. It relates the belief of incarnation connecting to the Karmas around moral behaviors, environmental actions being one. The belief in incarnation to evils deters human being to do damages to natural resources.
A few instances or practices of how Hindus behave with the nature are touching the floor before getting out of bed, bowing down to the rivers, encircling the trees with sacred thread, feeding birds and animals etc. All the Hindu religious rituals require to honor water and specific trees (e.g. peeple, banyan, tulsi, parijat, ashok, sandalwood) and use these in worshiping. In addition, mango tree leaf, wood apple tree leaf, gooseberry tree all have equal value in the religious rituals. It means saving trees are necessary for rituals to keep going, which then becomes an integral part of life. Each Hindu household keeps sacred plants and worships those every morning as a duty, believing the plants as manifestations of Gods.
In my effort to understanding of worshiping plants and trees in Hinduism, the modern researches validate my questions by proving the medicinal use of plants that are connected to religious beliefs. However, the wisdom of Ayurveda, which is also based on Hinduism, had already recognized such plants for health care and well being from the ancient times. For me, a comprehensive knowledge of connection to religion based traditional beliefs and protection of natural resources totally makes sense, and will be a sustainable approach for resource conservation.
Sharada Jnawali – Nepal
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 22