The element of sustainability is ingrained in our traditional understanding of environment.The environment that provides us with the basic amenities of survival is supposed to be one with our existence. It is a larger community which brings about a sense of belonging and relies upon us for its protection. The concept “nature” is about the wholeness of all the living as well as non-living organisms and their interdependence. It shelters all the conditions and influences that provide for the development and growth of organisms. The Gita mentions that the nature does not belong to anyone, but everyone belongs to it. The constituents present in the environment are expected to interact and these interactions, sometimes, are likely to give birth to hazardous situations that might lead to its deterioration.
Our understanding of the environmental in the traditional sense was holistic. ‘The whole universe together with its creatures belongs to the Lord. One can enjoy the bounties of nature by giving up all greed’ mentions a shloka in the isha Upanishad. These words try to convey that no creature is superior to another and no human being can ever conquer nature. No species that exists can take away the rights and privileges of nature. It is believed that the element of sustainability is ingrained in this understanding of ours. It is the greed that leads to internal turbulence in the traditional structure in which our society has been built.
How do the traditional cultures view the relationship between humanity and Nature?
Since the origin of the earth, when there was nothing known to humans as “technology”, they derived their own way of survival. Gradually the interactions and closeness developed so deep that a life without the environment was assumed to be non-existent. With time this race of species began to develop ideas and schools of thought that underlined the importance of Mother Nature or environment to humans.
Ever since the origin of such cultures, they have always lived in harmony with the natural environments. The system that supported life designated “nature” and “humankind” as inseparable parts. This system is considered to have 5 elements, namely air, water, land, flora and fauna and these elements are interconnected, interrelated and interdependent. The relationship is strong enough that deterioration in one element affects the others.
The Bhumi Suktam and similar texts from diverse cultures throughout the earth express a world view informed by spirituality, inherent in nature and stress upon the holistic link between humanity and nature.
‘He, who injures innoxious beings from a wish to give himself pleasure, never finds happiness, whether living or dead’ mentions the manusmriti.
Vanaspati is supposed to have a direct relationship with the well-being of society. It seems to accommodate the fact that it is because of the pollution of the natural environment and the destruction of forests that many diseases crop up to ruin the nation.
Even during Asoka’s reign, ecological concerns became state concerns. It was perhaps the first time in the history of world ecology that environmental concerns were taken upto the state level. Asoka, gradually had rules of conduct laid down in his imperial edicts that had to be obeyed with respect to the environment. If not followed, the individual was met with punishment.
Today, the culture speaks for the worship of animals and plants, for example cows and even plants. Examples include cows and the tulsi plant. These animals are plants are believed to symbolize their deities thereby keeping the general rule of nature.
How has the conflict between ecosystem and socio economic system caused ecological crisis?
With the development in the field of science and technology there has been a hot debate regarding the conflict between ecosystem and socio economic system causing ecological crisis. Looking at the etymology, the words “economics” and “ecology” are derived from the same root “oikos” meaning a house. Though the origin is the same, the meaning invokes a lot of difference. While “economics” refers to financial housekeeping, “ecology” refers to environmental housekeeping.
The perspectives of ecology are different from that of economics. Ecology points to the limits instead of continuous growth while economics refers to continuous development instead of stability. The ecology consists of abiotic as well as biotic components that form a system that is interconnected, interrelated and interdependent. The ecosystem is dynamic, evolving and auto sustainable.
While ecology is subjected to the species that exist irrespective of its kind, socio economic system is subjected to only one species and that is human species. The socio economic system provides for a unidirectional process where only human beings can progress. This level of development drives greed and the need for competition and unlimited wants that are projected as genuine. Thereby a conflict arises between the ecosystem and socio economic system. This causes human exploitation of resources apace. Therefore an ecological imbalance.