Saturday, April 23, 2005

Earth Day, Religion & Me

I was reading through the many Earth day articles when this particular picture caught my attention. The picture felt very apt and in tune with the day’s emotion. The picture was taken by 14 year old Chamaiporn Pongpanich of Thailand. A moving picture of monks, draping saffron cloth round the trunk of a huge tropical tree. The draping signifies the "Ordaining" of the tree.

Traditionally, a Thai Buddhist novice is ordained by the shaving of the monk’s hair and by his acceptance of saffron robes. Thai monks have used this symbolic act of initiation to “ordain” trees in the rain forest. This rather unique tactic has actually prevented the logging of quite a number of acres of forest.

The picture is powerful in what it represents. Religion could indeed save the environment. It got me very interested in how and what world religions are doing in the area of conservation and environment protection. So I googled and I googled. What I found was quite heartening and saddening.

Buddhism by far appears to be in the forefront of environmental conservation. One of its main principles being equilibrium with nature. I came across this very poignant view by a Thai Monk,Buddhadasa Bhikkhu , "The entire cosmos is a cooperative. The sun, the moon, and the stars live together as a cooperative. The same is true for humans and animals, trees, and the earth. When we realize that the world is a mutual, interdependent, cooperative enterprise . . . then we can build a noble environment. If our lives are not based on this truth, then we shall perish.

Engaged Buddhist activists are tackling global issues head on. Most visible among them, the Dalai Lama himself.

In sharp contrast to Buddhism stands Christianity. Sad ! My own religion is weak here. I think it is very necessary to say that Christianity in the modern period lost interest in the natural world and has exploited it. Christian theology in many ways gave a free reign for the scientific conquest of nature. All in the name of human dominion. The concept of human dominion comes from a myopic interpretation of the Bible.

Genesis 1:28
God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground

Today many Christians, especially the evangelists are reexamining that argument. Many are environmentally concerned and caring. They are slowing becoming a voice and go by the name "Creation Care". So why don't they call themselves environmentalists?. Well…that would make them liberal. In the strange world of politics, a conservative cannot be seen favoring a liberal. Politics aside, it is great to see a green movement among the conservatives too.

This brings me to India and its present. A country which places a huge importance to religion.

Free market economy and ideology has gripped India. The country has been growing steadily both in terms of population and economy. Consumerism is the new mantra. The 500 million strong middle class is fast becoming a force in itself and globalization is a welcome word. While there exists a sound infrastructure to aid consumption, there is sadly none for disposal, reuse and preservation. Environmental safeguards are usually considered a nuisance. That to me is precarious and unacceptable. Clean air, clean water and a healthy environment is everybody's right.

Is the common man worried ? Does the common man care ? If not, how do we educate ? Television is an effective medium. I am beginning to think religion is much more powerful

I wonder what the Christian religious leaders in India feel about “Creation Care”. I think, I need to find out.

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