Respected Chairperson Ambrogio Spreafico, my esteemed co-panelists,
ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning to you all.
I am grateful to the Community of Sant’Egidio for inviting me, as a Hindu representative from India, to its annual global inter-faith and inter-cultural meet. Over the past three decades, the Community of Sant’Egidio has emerged as a highly respected and influential dialogue platform for world peace, harmony, conflict-resolution and human dignity.
I bring to all of you at this conference greetings from the people of India.
Today I also salute the great fraternal nation Germany, and express my deepest admiration, also hearty felicitations, to the peace-loving, high-achieving and hospitable German people.
At this session devoted to a dialogue on “Religions and Ecology: Environmental Emergency“, permit me to begin by reciting the ‘Shanti Mantra‘, or the Prayer for Peace from Hinduism.
Om Dyauh Shaantir-Antariksham Shaantih
Prthivii Shaantir-Aapah Shaantir-Aushadhayah Shaantih |
Vanaspatayah Shaantir-Vishve-Devaah Shaantir-Brahma Shaantih
Sarvam Shaantih Shaantireva Shaantih Saa Maa Shaantir-Edhi |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
Om, May there be Peace in Heaven,
Peace in the Sky and the Earth,
Peace be unto the Water,
Unto the Herbs and Trees be Peace,
Unto all the Gods be Peace, Unto Brahma and unto All be Peace.
May there be Peace in All,
And may We all realize that Peace.
Om Peace Peace Peace!
Hinduism sees God in all, because it holds that everything is God’s creation. Human beings are God’s special creation. However, there is an integral, inspearable and inter-dependent kinship between humans and the entire non-human multitude in God’s home.
What struck me is the close resonance between the Hindu Prayer for Peace and a famous hymn from Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron-saint of ecological protection. It has been cited in the Encyclical Letter “On Care for Our Common Home“ from His Holiness Pope Francis, which he presented to the world in 2015.
In this, St Francis praises the Lord and all His creatures ─ describing them as Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Sister Water, Brother Fire, trees, birds, and and so on.
Indeed, all religions teach us to respect Mother Earth, Mother Nature and all of God’s infinite creations in the universe. In the sacred Hindu book Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna, who is an embodiment of divinity, says: “I pervade the Universe. All objects in the Universe rest on me as pearls on the thread of a garland.”
No pearl on this thread should be harmed. And no part of this sacred thread should be damaged. Harmonious co-existence and co-living is the fundamental principle on which the universe is sustained. Violating this principle is a prescription for disaster.
According to Hinduism, religion or dharma is synonymous with sustainability. What dharma? The answer is given in Sanskrit, India’s ancient language,“Dharanath dharma uchyate” ─ that which sustains all species of life and helps to maintain harmonious relationship among them is dharma. In other words, that which disturbs such ecology is adharma – or irreligion.
What mankind has done in the past 200 years is that is has disturbed, indeed considerably destroyed, the symbiosis between humans and the rest of the non-human ecology. Surely, this is like the action of a woodcutter cutting the branch of a tree on which he is sitting.
This metaphor of a foolish woodcutter is by no means alarmist. If current rates of human destruction of the biosphere continue, up to 20% of all living plant and animal species could disappear within 30 years ─ and one-half of them could become extinct before the end of the 21st century. This human-caused mass extinction, known as the Holocene extinction, is nothing but an ecological genocide, a war of aggression waged by the human race against the rest of non-human nature.
But since human beings are an inseparable part of nature’s bio-diversity, it is also a war the human race has been waging against itself, without realising that the aggressor and the victim are one and the same. The Indian word for the environment is ‘paryavarana‘ ─ which means, a second skin provided by nature. If the skin is harmed, the body is bound to suffer.
Nations always declare emergency during wars. Limits and restrictions are placed upon normal social activities, rights and freedoms. Even certain kinds of economic activity are limited if so demanded by the war efforts.
Strangely, in this Environmental Emergency, in this self-harming war on the Environment, human beings face no such restrictions and restraints. It is business as usual.
It is as if the human race has gone into deep slumber. It is not natural slumber; it is addiction-induced sleep, caused by habitual drug-abuse.
In this case, the ‘drug’ addiction is the addiction to consumerism-driven and greed-promoting economic growth, which is sweeping the world. This model of lopsided and anti-ecology economic growth originated in the West, but it has now spread to almost all parts of the world.
All of us know the magnitude and gravity of the environmental problem the world is facing. What is needed is serious debate, coupled with concerted action, on what needs to be done to save the human race and other species from this Ecological Emergency.
Ten ideas to combat Environmental Emergency
Briefly, I would like to submit ten ideas here, all of which are also urged by leading environmental thought-leaders and activists around the world.
One: The world needs to make an urgent transition to a new paradigm of economic growth and development, which respects nature and begins to reverse the huge damage done to the environment. Removal of poverty must, of course, be the primary goal of this new model of globalisation. After all, in the stinging words of Pope Francis, “Poverty in the world is a scandal“.
At the same time, the new model of globalisation must also consciously abandon excessive consumerism and promote moderation in in the pursuit of material wants. The Hindu ideal of moderation is proclaimed in the Upanishadic maxim —
Tein tyaktena bhunjitha — which means: “Take only what you need for your sustenance without a sense of entitlement or ownership, and leave the rest to others.”
Two: The new paradigm of economic growth and development should revive the age-old virtues of sharing, conserving, recycle and reuse ─ in short, a new lifestyle in which the economy and ecology are in harmony.
Three: All religions extol the principle of the rich helping the poor, and the strong protecting the poor. This principle should find practical expression in international relations, and also in the relations between the rich and the poor within nations.
Mahatma Gandhi sought to popularise this ideal of universal brotherhood by giving a name to this principle: Trusteeship – “Each for all and all for each”. This was the kernel of Gandhian socialism: “When an individual has more than his proportionate share, he becomes a trustee of that portion for other creations of God”. Trusteeship is also meaningful from the point of view of ensuring inter-generational justice ─ we have a moral responsiblity to pass on the environment in a healthy shape to future generations.
Four: The principle of of ‘Trusteeship’ rings equally true in the relationship between human beings and other species. Gandhi extended the concept of ‘Trusteeship’ beyond economics to the realm of the environment. Human beings, he declared, “are the trustees of the lower animal kingdom.” Gandhian environmentalism is integrally linked to his world-view of nonviolence. “It is an arrogant assumption,” he wrote, “to say that human beings are lords and masters of the lower creatures. On the contrary, being endowed with greater things in life, they are the trustees of the lower animal kingdom”.
Indeed, in a highly original re-interpretation of colonialism, Gandhi affirmed that lording over nature and lording over other ‘inferior’ people are both manifestations of colonialism.
Five: As has been forcefully stated in the Pope’s Encyclical, “CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME” is a common responsibility of the entire global community. However, it is a bigger responsibility of countries that are richer and stronger, and have inflicted greater damage on the environment. They must be made to repay their “ecological debt” with interest.
Six: Climate is a common good. It is undeniable that climate change has posed a grave threat to the global commons ─ oceans, forests, inland water resources, cultivable land and so on. The Paris Climate Change agreement in 2015 is a welcome and major step in fulfilment of the international responsibility to protect the environment. The recent unwillingness of some countries, especially USA’s Trump administration, to abide by their commitments under the Paris Agreement are condemnable. They must be forced to fulfill their obligations.
Seven: One point that has not figured very prominently in the debate and corrective action on environmental protection is the enormous cost of militarism both to human development and the health of global commons. Last year, countries around the world spent USD 1.6 trillion on their military establishments. Of this, USA alone spent USD 611 billion, followed by the next five biggest military spenders ─ China (215 bn), Russia (69 bn), Saudi Arabia (63 bn), India (56 bn) and France (56 bn).
It is estimated that about USD 6 trillion is needed to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for safe drinking water, sanitation, climate action, etc, by 2030. If global military spending is reduced by one-third ─ which will certainly not endanger the security of nations ─ it is indeed possible to meet all the SDGs in the next twelve years. Therefore, should there not be a worldwide demand to achieve this most pressing purpose? Let us not forget that militarism is also the greatest obstacle to international cooperation.
Eight: Our peace meeting is taking place in Münster and Osnabrück, in the Westphalia region of Germany. Around the world, Westphalia is known for the 1648 peace treaty that ended the Third Years’ War and established the concept of Sovereignty of modern Nation-States. The time has come to review some aspects of the concept of nation-states and their sovereignty, because very often the need for effective international cooperation is frustrated by claims and counter-claims of national sovereignty. If Earth is our common home, nothing should come in the way of its care and protection. Environmental emergency can be countered only by building new and effective alliances for global cooperation.
Nine: We are living in the most technologically advanced era in human history. Much of the destruction to the environment has happened because of the misuse of science and technology. However, this destruction can be halted and reversed if the revolutionary tools of modern science and technology ─ especially, digital technology, nanotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, new materials, 3-D printing, etc ─ can be wisely employed. These powerful technologies can help conserve natural resources, eliminate pollution, and regenerate fragile eco-systems.
In the words of the great German poet Friedrich Holderlin:
But where the danger is, grows
The saving power also.
Therefore, what is needed is extensive global cooperation in the proper use of the “saving power” of technology.
Ten: Lastly, the most effective and assured ‘weapon’ against environmental destruction is the principle of Nonviolence (‘Ahimsa’ in Sanskrit), which is embedded in the teachings of all religions. Humanity does not have the right to destroy what it cannot create. To the extent that we make human relations non-violent, the relationship between humans and nature also becomes non-violent ─ and vice-versa.
One of the main reasons for the decline in the quality of human life, alienation and the breakdown of communities is the prevalence of these twin forms of violence. Both must end for bio-diversity to be protected, for humanity to survive ─ and also for the human species to prove that it is indeed the highest creation of God, and well and truly the steward of God's beautiful and plentiful creation.