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Philosophy of Culture

Environmental Consciousness as Reflected in Indian Culture

C.P. Srivastava
Gorakhpur University

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ABSTRACT: This paper attempts to bring out environmental consciousness as reflected in Indian culture. What we are facing now was quite different in ancient times because our environmental problems owe a lot to contemporary styles of thinking and to our way of life. 'Differences' between nature and human beings have been misinterpreted as 'opposing forces.' This attitude is antipathetic to nature, which explains our careful but callous experimentation with nature that produces achievements as well as harmful by-products. When dealing with living beings on earth, we should not rely fully on the methods applied in laboratories. Science explains particular phenomenon in terms of universally valid laws. But abstract aspects of things do not do justice to the aspirations of living beings. Indian culture depicts the entire universe as a significant manifestation of a basic reality, namely 'The Self.' Indians believe 'macrocosm' in 'microcosm.' This vibrant common bond enlivens everything existing in the universe. To substantiate the above, a few phenomena will be cited. In the end, it will be shown that human values are not to be grafted; they require rather perseverance and cultural base. Hence scientific and cultural efforts should proceed hand in hand for the progress of humanity.

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"A deer is entrapped while he stands still enchanted by the melodious sound of a flute. An elephant dies when he carelessly touches the dust on the ground and an ant penetrates deep into his nostrils. A fly sees the colour of fire at night and can not help reaching there and thereby burnt to ashes. A large black bee (bhramar) sits on a lotus flower to suck and taste its juice. But at dusk when the petals of the flower are closed, the black bee does not try to come out by cutting its soft petals and remains there inebriated, a willful captive, waiting for the next dawn. Elephants are fond of lotus flower. Any elephant reaches there, uproots the lotus plant and swallows it all causing death of the insect. Also, a fish is caught because whenever she smells the odour of an insect hanging from a fish-hook, she cannot resist her temptation, moves there to chew the prey and herself instead becomes prey"[1].

The abovementioned animals and insect die owing to their maddening attachment for their respective objects. It is worth noticing that each of them is indulged in utilizing simply one of his sense-organs, not all of them simultaneously.

A human being possesses all the five sense-organs of perception, namely, ear, skin, eyes, tongue and nose. He is accustomed to falling prone to excessive use of all of his sense-organs at the same time. This intense and insatiable human appetite for consumption has created a number of dangerous problems on the whole earth. Seeing the apparent 'differences' between himself and the Nature he often mistakes it for a 'staunch opposition' and he may fight against nature to conquer it. Here, nature stands for anything and everything existing outside me, namely, non-living and living beings both taken together.

Adherence to Science alone: As regards science, people are decidedly bewildered to see its big achievements. Hence, they have developed an uncritical faith in the gigantic power and scope of science and technology. People are confident that if something comes into conflict with science, it is due to the inherent defect of the thing itself. This may be called a 'scientific superstition'. Because, we should not forget that science only guarantees the exactness of its cognition, not the significance. According to Karl Jaspers "Scientific work is easier to understand than philosophical thought, easier because philosophizing requires the presence of a man's ownself, not because it involves a greater intellectual effort than does, for instance, Mathematics"[2].

In the realm of science, the criterion of general validity is applicable and accepted as such.

But in the realm of philosophy when we see philosophers often disagreeing over a debatable issue it is due to their being on different levels of thought. The concept of objectivity or verifiable general validity has greatly influenced our minds so much so that we now fully bank on scientific methodology. It is surprising that the intellect which tries to pick-up the abstract aspects of things and explains in terms of generality is now playing the most dominant role in our every walk of life. We willingly ignore and miss other dimensions of human consciousness which are by no means less valuable than the former. In order to understand the nature of Reality the experiments carried out in the laboratories are of a definite nature and motives. These are analogous to a police-like inquiry, utmost careful but callous examination. For example, when a researcher in chemistry tests a substance in a laboratory to find out its essential characteristics, he sharply beats it, burns it, grinds it, puts in acid and the like. The repeated experiments with similar or the same results confirm his hypothesis which help him formulate a certain theory such as; following are the salient features of the substance. This method has certainly revealed intended and significant results but also produced by-products enormously. In the field of science this type of inquiry is indispensable. But the method of laboratory cannot and should not be applied indiscriminately against Nature.

For instance, if we threaten and beat a cow to give us milk, we also inject a cow to enhance the quantity of milk, she would surely be left with no other alternative except giving us milk. But in addition to milk, the threatening may also cause her urinate which would be a by-product during the trial. If we go on increasing fertilizers in order to raise more crops, the farmland will be saturated and would finally be converted into a barren land. Such is the case with Nature too.

The present irreparable loss imprudently being done against nature, such as, the exponential population growth, depletion of Ozone layer which is the most essential factor for protecting life on earth, drastic climate changes, exhausting of finite natural resources, deforestation, desertization, multifacet environmental and human pollution etc. are some of the well-known serious factors quickly leading earth's life to great dissolution. Keeping in view the law of Sufficient Reason that "Nothing happens without a reason why it should not be so rather than otherwise", if we analyse and examine the above mentioned menaces, we may ascertain many factors of which humankind's apathy and antipathy" against nature are of utmost importance.

bf Sympathizing with Nature: Nowadays we are conversant with a host of declarations to save nature and life on earth. It is a heartening thing that human beings are striving to come closer to nature. But do these efforts express real sympathy with nature? If we carefully examine, we would find that the abovementioned human approach is not on account of love with nature rather does it enhance self-aggrandizement. The said attitude takes the form of pity instead of sympathy. Pity lacks reciprocity. It is one way traffic not a reversible action. Pity is more like bestowing boon upon an intended object than reciprocity with a living being. We may have pity on someone but it would sound absurd to hope that he should also have pity on me in return. Moreover, if we further analyse, we observe that the said sympathetic attitude towards nature is, in fact, a pseudo-sympathy and not a real sympathy arising from our own beings. Big efforts to preserve and protect wild-life, forests, pastures and finite natural resources appear to be replete with the aims and objectives to simply store them so that we along with our future generation may utilize and exploit them. The basic idea here, is that it is we who are capable of granting lives to wild-life and showering mercy upon the nature. Animals are hapless recipients of our desired mercy or deserve relentless slaughter if they cease to be profitable in near future.

In ancient times, the human-race might first have perceived various events happening in his surroundings, such as, touch of solidity, an experience of heat, fluidity and pressure which he might have associated with their respective substrata, namely, earth, fire, water and air. Looking at the sun, the moon, stars and planets would have made him believe about their substratum, i.e. space. The powers of nature, such as, the storm, thunder, the rains were closely related with one another. The oldest and sacred Indian Literature gveda speaks about the gods associated with the said events as having similar characters: "the first recognition of a cosmic order or law prevailing in nature under the guardianship of the highest gods is to be found in the use of the word ta (literally the course of things) ...... to denote the 'order' in the moral world as truth and 'right' and in the religious world as sacrifice or 'rite'"[3]. ta or the unalterable law in nature later on developed into a full-fledged law of action which laid stress on the doctrine that 'as you sow, so shall you reap'. Hence, we observe human intellect's developing perception from concrete to abstract, from crude to subtle. Here lies the peculiarity of Indian culture that since the dawn of human culture people here have been feeding and nourishing animals and insects in nature. In India, not only, useful animals like cow and fishes but poisonous reptiles like snakes are also affectionately fed alongwith insignificant insects like ants. In Hindu mythology, Lord Vishnu, the god for maintaining the universe has been shown retiring on the body of the king of snakes "Sheshanga" and rides on the back of birds' king "Garuda". Lord Shiva, the god of the great dissolution enjoys garland of snakes around his neck. The goddess of wealth, Lakshmi rides on owl while the goddess of learning Saraswati rides on a swan. These are a few instances which can amply testify to the fact of intimate and harmonious relations among all living being of the world. So far as plant kingdom is concerned, many Indian festivals, Such as, Holi and Onam are celebrated soon after the harvesting of crops. These festivals and rituals significantly indicate a common underlying bond of unity in the different forms of life on earth, howsoever subtle it may appear.

Astonishingly, in the field of sciences also, the explicable data have now taken up a peculiar form, becoming subtler. According to a research scientist Lloyd Smith "A physicist of this century, interested in the basic structure of matter deals with radiation he cannot see, forces he cannot feel, particles he cannot touch"[4]. Even then the researcher has to experiment with the data to explain a fact whether by directly observable entities such as fan or chair or lines on a photographic plates or through the deviation of compass needle etc. But these rational explanations are scientific. Moreover, the scientific subtle and cultural imperceptible are not antagonistic rather complementary to each other in view of the fact that only one world exists for both of them.

Phenomena: Scientific and Cultural: To distinguish between a scientific and a philosophic point of view let us take an example of the moon causing high and low-tides in the oceans or seas. About the said tides a scientific explanation may be as follows: The moon's gravitational force pulls the water of the seas and oceans on earth, causing tides. The water of the seas on earth facing the moon is attracted upwards and causes high-tides. The earth rotates and so in the areas between two high-tides, the water forms the low-tides. The magnitude of sea-tides vary with the phases of the moon. It is observed that the highest tides occur at the time of the new moon and the full moon. But here arises another question as to why the same relative phases of the moon considerably affect the female. The lunar month, that is, the interval between new moons (Approximately a duration of four weeks) produces great effects on a woman's anatomy and physiology. The above account of consequential effects upon living (woman) and non-living (ocean or sea) beings require further explanation especially in the context of analogous rhythm, namely, movement with regular succession of different facts. Moon is a natural satellite of the earth. It completes one revolution around the earth in 27 days and about eight hours. We are, here, reminded of a mythological story mentioned in Mahbharata, an epic of great war, that Daksha Prajapati had married his twenty seven daughters with the moon. In Indian Astrology these are named as Nakshatras which are exactly twenty seven in number and influence drastically the destiny of human beings. We may mention here one more concept about lord Shiva, the god of great dissolution who has been depicted as 'Ardhanarishwara', namely, a unity of half-male and half-female. This significant narrative of Vidsdnupuradna speaks about the principle of inseparability between man and woman culturally, socially and spiritually also.

Indian culture an approach of a gardener has been accorded instead of a botanist who is chiefly interested in the dissection of a flower, about the functions of roots, stems, leaves, the process of pollination etc. in order to explain the reason for the survival of a plant or tree. Whereas a gardener while looking at a plant, feels intimate relationship with it, enjoys its growing, producing flowers and fruits and becomes sad to see its decay.

This is an established fact that human beings and other animals depend directly or indirectly on plants. So the plants are indispensable for maintaining life on earth. The oxygen gas is essential for respiration of animals and plants both. While exhaling the harmful carbon dioxide is breathed out and we require oxygen for further inhalation. When the quantity of oxygen is anyhow reduced in a certain atmosphere then instead of carbon dioxide only Carbon monooxide is produced which is a mortal gas for living beings. Plants not only use our exhaled carbon monoxide in the preparation of their food (photosynthesis by green leaves of a plant) but through releasing oxygen also help maintaining life on earth. In Chhandogya upnidsad [5] we find the above mentioned fixation of nature in a lucid manner, by alluding five life winds in human body. Inhalation of oxygen is called there as 'pradna' while 'Apan' stands for breathing out (also that life wind which goes downwards and out at the anus). 'Pradna' and 'Apan' together constitute the principle of life in a living being. The Hadtha Yoga mystically describes the alphabets 'Ha' and 'Tha' denoting the Sun (Pingla Naddi and the Moon (Idda Naddi) respectively. Through the former flows 'pradna' life wind, while through the latter flows 'Apan' life wind[6]. And a rhythmic balancing of the both is called 'Hadtha Yoga' a preparatory stage leading to further higher levels of Yogic experiences.

Underlying Unity: In this connection an ancient and inspiring great Yogi, namely Kdrdsdna may be remembered. He is one of the composers of dRgveda (VIII, 74), in Chhandogya upnidsad (III, 17, 6) he is called Devakiputra. The Mahabharata describes him both as a sage and as a great warrior along with a Yogi of remarkable accomplishments. He is the son of Vasudeva (father) and Devaki (mother). Both of them contain the word 'deva' i.e. divine, as suffix and prefix respectively. So the element of divinity is common in both the persons. This is the chief reason why the divinity of their son Kdrdsdna is acknowledged and proclaimed everywhere. Dr. Radhakrishnan has interpreted Vasudev and Devaki in an allegorical way: 'Kdrdsdna is said to be born of Vasudeva and Devaki. The Bhagavata describes Vasudeva as 'Suddha Sattva, Sattvam Vi'suddham Vasudevasamjnitam' and Devaki is Daivi Prakdrti or divine nature. When the divine birth takes place within us, the scales fall from our eyes, the bolts of the prison open. The lord abides in the heart of every creature and when the veil of that secret sanctuary is withdrawn, we hear the Divine voice, receive the Divine light, act in the Divine power'[7].

The concept of 'Suddha Sattva i.e. intelligence-stuff, expresses the quality of goodness, light and calm according to Samkhya philosophy.

Since, long negative values, such as, oppression and temptation etc. are creating hurdles in the progress of humankind. And to fight against these alleged human tendencies we need not require only sympathy (feeling with) but empathy (feeling into) also. Deepening of sympathy takes the form of empathy. While sympathizing with an ailing fellow being we feel 'similar' or 'likewise' pain; In empathy we too bear 'the same' amount of others' suffering and torture.

to the Gita (629) "if a man sees everything of the world in his ownself and his ownself into all objects of knowledge, he becomes an ideal man, a 'Yogi'. This is the vibrant common-bond of union among everything existing in the universe. Such a person will not hurt anybody because by hurting somebody, he infact, hurts himself. This indicates an unshakable optimism about human destiny. If the strife and struggle within humanbeing is considerably reduced, he would prefer to the path of life and not a path of war and destruction. Ernest Hemingway vividly describes a post-war tragic sight in a few lines: "Abstract words such as glory, honour, courage or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates"[9].

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"Kuradnga matadnga patadnga bhdrnga mina hatadh panchabhireva pancha" (Bhagavata-Commentary).

R.K. Deva's 'Shabda Kalapadrum' Vol II, 'Saka 1811, revised and publ. by Basu, B.P. & Basu, H.C., 71, Pathuriaghata street, Calcutta, p.149.

Jaspers Karl, Philosophy, Vol I, Trans. E.B. Ashton, The University of Chicago Press USA, 1969, p.16.

Dasgupta, Surendranath, A History of Indian Philosophy, Vol, I, Motilal Banarasidas, Delhi, 1975, p.22.

Copi, I.M. & Cohen Carl; a reference from 'Introduction to Logic' Macmillan, New York, 1990, p. 427.

'Samkaracharya's Chhandogya-Bhadsya, Gita Press, Gorakhpur, I, 3.3. Also I.7.1.

Aumananda, Swami, Patanjalayogapradip, Gita Press, Gorakhpur, p. 163.

Radhakrishnan, S., The Bhagavadgita, p. 36.

Sattvam, Rajastama iti gunadh Prakdrtisambhavadh'

Shrimadbhagavadgita, Gita Press, Gorakhpur, 145.

Hemingway, Ernest, A Farewell to Arms, Penguin Books, Middlesex, 1961, p. 144.

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