A Hindu Perspective on Respecting Mother Nature

Photo via 123RF.comLike the western idea of “Mother Nature”, the Hindu concept of Divine Mother takes both beneficent and destructive forms. In the Hindu pantheon, the feminine aspect of God ranges from the goddesses Lakshmi and Parvati– incarnations of beauty, bestowers of wealth and harmony — to Durga and Kali, powerful warrior-protectors replete with weaponry and for Kali, even a necklace of skulls! All are faces of the same phenomenon: shakti, the creative power of God.

Many Faces of One Reality

Many westerners are confused by the seemingly endless parade of Hindu gods and goddesses that can appear as an elephant riding a mouse or even the Ganges River. In fact, they represent the multitudinous aspects of one God of infinite potential. Creation rests in the all-encompassing masculine Divine Ground of all being, called purusha — all gods are expressions of this masculine potential. The observable world is that potential brought to fruition by dynamic feminine power — prakriti — which also sustains and reclaims all created forms in the natural cycle of birth, flowering, and destruction. All the Hindu goddesses devolve from this One Great Mother.

Nature is a Direct Expression of the Divine

In the Hindu universe, all created forms emerge from the womb of the cosmic mother, thus the natural world is a direct expression of the divine. Anyone who has experienced the calming and solacing effect of communion with nature has likely felt the connection with motherly love. Sri Ramakrishna, one of India’s most renowned devotees of the Divine Mother, describes how the qualities of the natural world, including human consciousness, are the substance of the divine:

My Mother is the principle of consciousness. She is akhanda satchidananda; indivisible Reality, Awareness, and Bliss. The night sky between the stars is perfectly black. The waters of the ocean depths are the same. The infinite is always mysteriously dark. This inebriating darkness is my beloved Kali….

Photo by Asis K. Chatterjee https://flic.kr/p/LQUY1

Five Hindu Principles That Support the Environment

Tenets deeply engrained in Hindu spiritual life that clearly reflect this fundamental respect for the divine in creation are described by Pankaj Jain In “Ten Key Hindu Environmental Teachings.” They expand on the tenents previously discussed on EdenKeeper and include:

  1. Dharma –Behaving in harmony with the forces on which life and the universe depend is expressed as virtues, duties, laws or simply right living. Traditional Indian groups, such as the Swadhyayis who build tree temples and water harvesting sites, don’t make distinctions between religion, ecology, and ethics; treating nature with respect is a part of what they understand as their dharma.
  2. Ahimsa – The principle of non-violence has been called the greatest dharma and is exemplified by one of its greatest practitioners, Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi practiced ahimsa not only in the political arena, but also in his personal life as a vegetarian and ascetic who lived as simply as possible. He championed self-sustaining small communities and cottage industries, and actively opposed industrialization as a dehumanizing force.
  3. Karma – Central to Hindu ethics is belief in the cosmic law of cause and effect, expressed in the west as the maxim, “As ye sew, so shall ye reap.” The law of karma dictates not only against dishonesty, betrayal, and violence toward one’s fellow man but also toward the earth and its creatures, expanding the meaning of the golden rule to encompass compassionate treatment of the environment.
  4. Reincarnation –In the Hindu view, evolution of an individual soul doesn’t end with death of the body. Based on good and bad karma earned, it continues in many subsequent lives until final liberation is achieved. The belief that previous (and possibly future) incarnations can include non-human forms, including rocks, trees, birds, and animals, forms an intimate bond between the world of men and the world of nature.
  5. Sanyasa – Hinduism teaches restraint in consumption and simplicity in living, the better to progress on the path to liberation. Such reduced consumption is achieved not only through yogic self-disciplines such as fasting, but also through avoiding wastefulness — translation: reuse and recycling.

Swami Vivekananda, one of the earliest Hindu sages to visit America, sums up Hindu reverence for Divine Mother and her creation this way, putting modern-day urgency for environmental protection in a powerful spiritual context:

Manifestations of Her glory show in power of immeasurable might,

Throughout the universe, powers that swell the sea of birth and death,

Forces that change and break up the Unchanged and changed again.

Lo! Where shall we seek refuge, save in Her?

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About the Author

I have a BA in Psychology from Wellesley College and have been a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda for over 25 years, including 15 years of teaching Sunday School children the fundamentals of yoga meditation. I'm also a deeply committed student of Catholicism especially interested in the basic harmony between eastern and western spiritual principles, practices and experience. I live with my husband in rural Northern Arizona. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Yogasync.tv and Noodle.org.