If you happen to visit any big city in India, you would be welcomed by a rich collection of modern artefacts — picturesque skyscrapers, theme parks, chic eateries and hotels, gigantic shopping malls and an alluring nightlife. Somewhere in the outskirts of these big cities you would also discover mounds of trash comprising of plastic waste dumped in landfills. With staggering amounts of waste generated daily, our landfills are running out of space and our cities are running out of landfills. The plastic epidemic has also hit our oceans, forming a large chunk of marine debris, adversely impacting aquatic life. In short, the waste bomb is ticking for us and other species.
Long before the contemporary world woke up to the importance of environmental conservation, ancient sages and seers regarded the earth as a nourishing sacred space — a blessing by the Divine. Consequently, environmental spirituality was an inseparable part of individual spirituality. The Prithvi Sukta, Hymn to Mother Earth, from the Atharva Veda states, “Let what I dig from you, O Mother Earth, rapidly regenerate. Let me not pierce through your heart or destroy your essence.”
The ancient Chinese text, Tao Te Ching, teaches that the world is a sacred vessel and human beings should refrain from polluting it. Zoroastrian priests regard human beings as the seventh creation of Ahura Mazda, preceded by sky, water, earth, plants, animals and fire, and they believe that human beings must revere and protect these preceding six creations.
Presently, people are struggling to integrate environmental spirituality and individual spirituality. Convenience has become the staple of our society and thoughtfulness is viewed as being cumbersome. No wonder, many people who are practising self-awareness in the comfort of their homes prefer picking up disposable bottled water on the move rather than carrying drinking water, buying heavily bubble-wrapped products online instead of standing in long queues at the supermarket, using disposable crockery instead of washing the dishes after a party or buying plastic bags each time they go shopping rather than keeping a cloth bag handy. It is indeed convenient to pick up things at will, use them and simply toss them away as trash. Out of sight, trash is completely out of our mind and we continue to revel in our convenience-oriented lifestyle.
But our planet does not have unlimited space and soon, a time will come when the trash will stay in sight and pervade our lives. In order to avoid this disaster, let us invoke God not only in our closed meditation rooms but also try and see divinity in every aspect of our environment including marine life. Sufi master Bulleh Shah said that the face of God is everywhere, sometimes visible, sometimes hidden and He is present in everything. Then, the goal of spirituality is not to withdraw in self-centred silence but to open our hearts in compassion and devotion to the Divine, our fellow beings, all living organisms and their ecosystem.
We need to aspire to be eco-friendly, be thoughtful and derive strength to happily tolerate big and small inconveniences that emerge during our pro-environment endeavours. Let us envision our earth as a living spiritual organism and keep its landfills clean and its oceans buoyant by minimising our plastic consumption and wastage.
The writer is a clinical psychologist in Puducherry.