How Gandhi’s Teachings Can Save Our Environment

Photo via WikiCommons
Gandhi Portrait (1931)

India has a rich history and culture that draws people from around the world. People travel to the country to find spiritual enlightenment at yoga retreats and ashrams on the banks of the Ganges River. They marvel at the colorful art, the soaring Himalayas, and the spicy and flavorful cuisine. And they hope to learn from the nation’s many wise teachers.

One of the greatest teachers ever known was Mahatma Gandhi. A strong advocate for Indian nationalism, he not only helped lead India to independence from Britain, but he also advocated for the country’s natural environment.

“Yes I am [a Hindu]. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew.” 

Gandhi was born and raised in a Hindu merchant caste family in coastal Gujarat, western India and called himself a Hindu his entire life. But he respected all religions believing that love, respect, and truth were the underpinnings of them all and the basic foundations for a moral life. He said, “I came to the conclusion long ago . . . that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu . . . But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian.”

While working in South Africa, Gandhi developed the spiritual principle of satyagraha, which is often translated as nonviolence, but its meaning is actually closer to truth-force. It’s the political and spiritual power people possess when they refuse — nonviolently — to participate in oppressive systems. Gandhi believed that the practice of satyagraha would cause oppressors to eventually change their ways.

The universality of his message and morality appealed to a wide variety of later spiritual teachers. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela identified Gandhi and his spiritual principle of satyagraha as a major influence in their fights against oppressors, even though they did not call themselves Hindus. And Gandhi’s beliefs have also served as a great inspiration to the green movement.

Photo via Wiki Commons
Gandhi during the Salt March

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”

Gandhi lived during the Industrial Revolution and saw the effects it had on nature and health. The West had a lot of influence on the changes in India in terms of industrial development, something Gandhi was very concerned about. While he wasn’t against machines, he was against large-scale use of machinery. He criticized industrialization for polluting the rivers and other water bodies. He criticized mills and factories for polluting the air with smoke and noise.

He called for people to live a simple life and separate their wants from needs because the Earth can only provide so much. Gandhi urged the rich to restrict their wants and treat their wealth as a trust for the poor. Leading by example, Gandhi gave away most of his possessions. He and his wife had few clothes, and Gandhi used scraps of papers to write brief notes and reversed envelopes for reuse to send letters. He even used only the minimum water needed for taking a bath from the free-flowing Sabarmati river.

The Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi Today

The overexploitation and massive consumption of natural resources is a major problem we continue to deal with today. And we are still faced with entrenched fossil fuel companies that insist on oppressing a free energy market and cleaner air and water. In fact, leaders who have been influenced by Gandhi, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have called for nonviolent, civil disobedience against oppressive fossil fuel companies.

Natural resources provide so much for our livelihood. Studies have shown that just being outside, looking at flowers growing, listening to birds chirping, smelling wet grass, and feeling the warm sun enhances our mental and spiritual wellbeing. Humanity would be greatly served if we took a more peaceful approach to the environment as Gandhi directed. It can be a challenging process, but promoting more compassion in our daily lives can make improvements down the road in how we live. It can help to reduce conflict in the world.

“The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our fore fathers but a loan from our children. So we have to handover to them at least as it was handed over to us.”

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About the Author

Gina Merlino is a freelance writer who cares about environmental issues. She has a Bachelor's in Philosophy, a Master's in Engaged Humanities, and is an avid reader of the news. You can find me on Twitter.