How Do We Treat the Environment?

Path to Siva Commentary, Lesson 50


"The Divine is present everywhere and in all things. All Hindus feel they are guests on the planet with responsibilities to nature." Hindu prayers don't stop with people. Caring for the elements is found right in our various prayers going back all the way to the Vedas. We all can do something to help the environment. For it to be a huge impact the whole society has to move in the same direction.

Path to Siva, Chapter 5

Tirukural, Chapter 2, V. 11,14,18.

The Vedic Experience, The World of Man. Shukla Yajur Veda XXXVI, ii.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone.

We are reading this morning from Path to Siva, Lesson 50:

"How Do We Treat the Environment?

"The Hindu tradition understands that man is not separate from nature, that we are linked by spiritual, psychological and physical bonds with the elements around us. Knowing that the Divine is present everywhere and in all things, Hindus hold a deep reverence for life. We hold an awareness that the great forces of nature--the earth, the water, the fire, the air and space--as well as all the various orders of life, including plants and trees, forests and animals, are bound to each other within life's cosmic web. Our beloved Earth, so touchingly looked upon in our scriptures as Bhumi Devi, the Earth Goddess, has nurtured mankind through millions of years of growth and evolution. However , the Earth's large population, its industries, automobiles and lifestyle are causing significant damage to the environment. As one sixth of the human family, Hindus can have a tremendous impact. We should take the lead in Earth-friendly living, personal frugality, lower power consumption, alternative energy, sustainable food production and vegetarianism. All of Earth's diversity is to be cared for, from the soil, water and air to the plants and animals of every shape and kind. To achieve this, we practice restraint in the use of the Earth's resources. We do not exploit its minerals, water, fuels or soil. We avoid polluting our blue planet. We work to protect the many endangered plants and animals. We do not buy or use products from exploited species, such as furs, ivory or reptile skin. We recycle paper, glass, metal and plastic and use efficient means of transportation that save on energy. We plant trees and do not waste food. In these ways we express the fundamental Hindu reverence for the Earth and all life upon it."

Then we have Gurudeva's Quote:

"Hinduism offers a unified vision of man and nature in which there is reverence, not dominion or carelessness. Mother Earth, sustainer of life, is a key Vedic idea. All Hindus feel they are guests on the planet with responsibilities to nature, which when fulfilled balance its responsibilities to them. The physical body was gathered from nature and returns to it."

The Tirukural has a chapter that relates. "Chapter 2, The Importance of Rain." Give you a quiz first. What are the first four chapters of the Tirukural? Who remembers? The four are most, it's what the author Tiruvalluvar thinks are the four most important things. [audience response] Yes, that's one of them. Oh, God of course would be first. We h ave to put God first in Hindu scripture, right? Kadavul Valtu. Second is: "The Importance of Rain." And third you may have forgotten. "The Greatness of Renunciates." Right, right. It doesn't say the greatness of doctors, the greatness of I.T. engineers, "The Greatness of Renunciates." Different perspective on the importance of the professions back then. And the last one is dharma or 'arum'. Strengthening Dharma. ["Asserting Virtue's Power."] So those are the four ideas that Tiruvalluvar thinks are the most important and he puts them first in his introduction.

When ecology isn't working right, one of the first things that happens is we don't have enough water around, like California. Go to California and see reservoirs that used to be full and now they're empty and landscapes that used to have plants don't have any plants anymore. So it's definitely one example of something that's water challenged. Fortunately, we live on Kauai and we don't have that problem. Have, things would really really have to change for us to be short on water. But it, rain is actually going down if you look at the statistics. Say fifty years ago it used to rain more than it does now in the whole state of Hawaii. Interesting statistic. Temperature is going up and rain is coming down in a very slow manner. But we have no worry.

Was interesting I, on my seventy-second birthday, the monks surprised me; they started walking me out to the pasture, of all things, you know. I said: "What's up?" Maybe we have a new car. What would be out in the pasture? And so we got out to the pasture and all the monks were there and sat around for a few minutes and then a helicopter lands. They gave me a helicopter ride around the island as a seventy-second birthday present. And then I said: "Well, when's the next one." And he said: "Well, you have to be 144 to get your next one."

But, why do I bring this up? It relates to rain, that's a nicely on the same point. The helicopter pilot, (almost said driver). The helicopter pilot went into the canyons, a special routing. Usually you go around, you go up above Koke and then you come down the Napali coast and things, but he, he specialized for some reason on the canyons so he, which there's quite a few of. And you would go into a canyon quite a ways and what would you see? You'd always see a very tall waterfall. So, we have waterfalls around the whole island in these canyons. And, what are they doing? They're functioning every day of the year cause there's enough rain. They don't turn off, like our river doesn't go away, nor the waterfalls cause of the amount of rain on top of the mountain. The water falls all around the island, so it's like an abhishekam is what I was thinking. Like the whole island is receiving abhishekam and it's coming down on all these different sides. It was a very interesting feeling. How many places have water coming down on all sides at all times. So probably very few. Maybe some place in Bali has a...

Chapter 2, back to the "Tirukural." Just a few of the verses; there's ten. Just read three of them and touch on different aspects.

[V.11] "It is the unfalling fall of rain that sustains the world. Therefore, look upon rain as the nectar of life."

So, when you don't have rain you really appreciate that. Rain is the nectar of life. Amrit, Amrita.

[V.14] "When clouds withhold their watery wealth, farmers cease to ply their plows."

There's no point in farming if there's no water.

[V.18] "Should the heavens dry up, worship here of the heavenly ones in festivals and daily rites would wither."

So not only does it impact food, eventually it impacts all activity which includes temple worship. So temple worship depends upon the presence of rain.

Then we have a verse, "Shukla Yajur Veda":

"To the heavens be peace, to the sky and the earth, to the waters be peace, to plants and all trees, to the Gods be peace, to Brahman be peace, to all men be peace, again and again --peace also to me!"

This brings out a quality in the Hindu prayers verses prayers of other traditions. Hindu prayers don't stop with people. Of course all prayers talk about people. May people be peaceful, may people have this, may people have that. But Hindu prayers include animals and this one shows we're including plants and all trees and the water itself. So, it's bringing in other forms of life we're praying for as well as the earth and the water, the elements. It's right in the prayer. It's this idea of caring for the elements is found right in our various prayers going back all the way to the Vedas.

One of the advantages of places with fewer people is you can control things. Singapore is good example; of course, Hawaii is the one I'll get to second. But Singapore is small enough that you can actually control things like littering in a very tight way. And, the joke in Singapore is everything is 'fine' in Singapore. If you put a paper on the ground there's a fine, if you do this there's a fine, if you do that there's a fine. Everything is a fine in Singapore. But you can control things cause it's small.

Well Hawaii is small also and has an opportunity, therefore, to control the environment in a tighter way than many places do. And I don't think we've done a lot so far but one of the initiatives by the government is for electricity to all come from renewable resources by 2045. That's a law, not just a wish, it's a law. So all the generators of electricity in Hawaii need to comply by this by 2045. So renewables, what does renewable mean? Renewables of course includes solar, wind, water, but it also includes something you can renew which is a tree. So, when you take, when you use oil from the ground you can't put it back. You can't make more oil. It's not a renewable resource. But if you burn a tree, if you cut down the tree, you can plant a new one. It's renewable. So a portion of the energy comes from burning trees. So, we have that activity going on on Kauai.

So, that's wonderful, isn't it? A hundred percent from renewable, when we started maybe a decade ago there was very little from renewable, it's all, almost all from importing diesel. So we have to import diesel from California. Ship it some 2500 miles and then burn it. Very inefficient but Kauai's doing very well in terms of solar, a renewable resource. It's put in huge amounts; I think it's, when the next solar field goes on line, I'm not sure if it has already, we're up to 60% renewables. Sixty percent in the power company, you see it's goal is 70% by 2030. So they're ahead of their official goal which is very nice. But by 2045 we can look forward to the whole state being on renewables so we don't have to import diesel from other places for electricity. That doesn't apply to automobiles and trucks. It's a ruling that just applies to the generation of electricity but it's a start. Maybe the next ruling will be about automobiles.

But the point is it, to make it significant, we can all do something to help the environment. We have lots of initiatives here; we grow a lot of our own food; we have a solar, we have an electric car. But for it to be a huge impact the whole society has to do the same thing together. So, when the governor makes a law then that helps society move in a unified way, kind of like Singapore. All moving the same direction.

Thank you very much. Have a wonderful day.

Photo of  Gurudeva
The common bonds uniting all Hindus into a singular spiritual body are the laws of karma and dharma, the belief in reincarnation, all-pervasive Divinity, the ageless traditions and our Gods.
—Gurudeva