Can Vedic spirituality offer a solution to the current global eco-crisis?
Practical measures to protect the environment like avoiding plastics and choosing eco-friendly products are certainly valid and valuable, but Vedic wisdom helps us go deeper to find the root cause of our current eco-crisis. Using the well-known seminal work of Lynn White, Jr, published in the Scientific American in 1967, as a take-off point, let’s trace historically the origin of our eco-crisis:
- Nature is a mere backdrop for human redemption (Seeds): Prior to the common era, both in the East and the West, nature was seen as sacred and conscious, imbued with varieties of spirits and guardian beings and so was treated with caution and even reverence. The victory of the Semitic religions over paganism sowed the seeds of ecological destructivity. Whatever be their original scriptural view of nature, the Semitic religions in almost all of their popular and influential versions have de-sacralized nature. That is , the Semitic worldview didn’t see nature as sacred; nature was just the backdrop for the central cosmic drama of human redemption.
- Nature is a hostile force that humanity must conquer through science (Flowers): Due to the natural calamities that periodically devastate human history, nature was also seen as hostile and fearful. Consequently, when science and technology seemed to develop the power to bend nature to human will, the Semitic vision of nature only facilitated human exploitation of nature, be it through mining, deforestation or industrialization. Of course, the scientific worldview held the laws of nature to be supreme and it soon reduced the Semitic god to an unnecessary add-on – till the German philosopher Neitsche infamously announced that he was “dead.” The seeds grew into good-looking flowers as the potential for technological development seemed endless.
- Nature is all that is to spirituality (Fruits): However, the good-looking flowers soon turned into poisonous fruits as pollution, climate change, loss of bio-diversity started threatening human existence itself. This led to the Deep Ecology movement which considers environmental sensitivity to be its “religion” and nature itself as the deity. However, this godless, soul-less version of “spirituality” makes human life barren of ultimate meaning and human heart devoid of lasting love.
Indeed, deep ecology strikingly resembles the paganism that the Semitic religions overthrew. Are we going round in a fruitless circle? Is there a worldview that combines the virtues of all these three past worldviews: eternal life through divine grace as promised by the Semitic religions, the power of human intelligence and endeavor as revealed by the Age of Science and the environmental sensitivity engendered by the Deep Ecology Movement? Yes, there is.
The Vedic worldview as explained by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu incorporates care of nature as an essential part of the spiritual discipline (sadhana) by which we humans beseech the divine grace and thus achieve ultimate salvation. Rather than deifying nature (as done in paganism and deep ecology) or minimizing nature (as done in the Semitic worldview) or exploiting nature (as done in the scientific worldview), this Vedic worldview recognizes that, because both we and nature ultimately belong to God, real harmony comes not merely by the harmony of the human and the natural, but by the harmony of the human and the divine orchestrated through harmonious use of the natural.