The main question I will be looking at answering is; how does Hinduism respond to environmental issues and animal rights? When looking at this I must look to answer many questions. I will include what science says about the environment and its reaction to any problems and how animals are treated in the world of science. In this I can talk about what science thinks about the environment and any other issues and I will also look at topics like vivisection.
Along with the scientific views I will also look at showing Hindu views and evidence through Holy Scriptures. This project focuses on Hindu attitudes towards the Environment, environmental issues and animal rights. For this religious studies project I will focus on how Hindus feel about environmental issues such as recycling and wasting.
I will also compare how Hindus who live in India and Hindus who live in the West (Western Europe and America) have many different attitudes and feeling towards environmental issues and animal rights
I will also mention what certain activist groups are doing to protect the earth and the environment.
I shall use quotes from many famous Hindus and from religious texts such as the Bhagavad-Gita and the Mahabharata as well as everyday prayers that focus on the subject. I will also be looking at anima rights in India which affects Hindu’s and how it is viewed by Hindu’s and Scientists in Europe.
There are many environmental issues such as deforestation, pollution and acid rain so I will be looking at what Hinduism thinks about these issues and how science views these topics.
Firstly I will be looking a how Hinduism refers to this topic then I will look at the scientific point of view.
83 percent of the Indian population are Hindus, which means that almost 700 million people who live in India are Hindu.
However, because poverty is so abundant in India, many Hindus don’t consider many environmental issues that are considered in the West to be important. For example, many Hindu do not care much if supermarkets are using and wasting too much packaging for their product. But, recycling is a major aspect of Hindus who live in India. As I mentioned before the living quality isn’t very high at all in India so many Hindu families may not be able to afford to waste too much material or food. In fact, whatever Hindus in India think can be used for a practical purpose will be recycled over and over again until it runs out or stops working. Many very poor people will search rubbish tips and dustbins looking for items that have been thrown away or can be used practically.
But, now that I have mentioned this, beliefs wise all environmental issues are considered very important in Hinduism, one of the main reason for this is that in Hinduism there are two main elements. These two elements are matter (prakriti) and spirit (purusha). According to Hindu beliefs, the physical world is made up of these two elements and that Brahman (the ultimate being) looks over it all, this must mean that environmental beliefs are core in the Hindus mind.
Another reason for why Hindus should have a deep respect in the environment is based on their belief of reincarnation. They should respect the environment as they will be born immediately back into it when they die. The idea of preserving and protecting the environment is not a modern idea as well. It has been passed on through our ancestors who felt Brahman’s presence in everything around them. Since these divine forces sustained all living creatures and organic things on this earth, to please God, they felt they must live in harmony with His creation including earth, rivers, forests, sun, air, and mountains.
This belief has spawned many rituals that are still followed by traditional Hindus in India. For example, before the foundation of a building is dug, a priest is invited to perform the Bhoomi Pooja in order to worship and appease mother earth and seek forgiveness for violating her. Certain plants, tries and rivers were considered sacred, and worshipped in festivals. In a traditional Hindu family, to insult or abuse nature is considered a sacrilegious act. A Hindu mother would severely scold her child for acts like ripping the limb of a plant or urinating or spitting on a tree or in any body of water.
The environmental issues that matter the most to Hindus living in India are:
> Basic Hygiene: Matters like pollution of water systems are very important in India and now most people are discouraged to pollute water sources. The matter of hygiene has been emphasised much in India and people are being taught about many diseases that has have spread rapidly, such as cholera and typhoid.
> Hindus who live in India are also concerned when it comes to deforestation and the killing of wildlife. Many Hindus spend their lives saving the environment by means such as tree-planting, providing moisture traps for areas that suffer from drought, using natural and renewable energy sources such as hydro-electric power.
So the key beliefs for Hindus towards the environment are:
Every living thing on this world contains atman. This includes grass and trees and people. So everything on the planet is sacred and valued by Hindus. Care and concern for the environment is considered a religious duty in Hinduism. This had been so since the earliest Hindu scriptures, the Vedas. We are urged not to exploit but to lovingly milk the earth. The earth is referred to as Mother Earth as it sustains us all. Hindus daily practice Bhoot Yajna. This means that every sentient being must look after the earth by preventing waste and avoiding pollution.
The Upanishads teach that there is an abundance of resources for us to use but that we must develop the knowledge of how to use it properly. Damaging the earth through greed or ignorance has its price in bad karma. Greed is one of the most dangerous things humans can have and it is much worse when it damages others around us as it would if we damage the planet. The doctrine of ahimsa also refers to the earth itself. Hindus must not cause harm to the earth.
Although many people in India suffer from the damage to the environment, it is almost always the responsibility of the richer countries. For example, the richer countries produce the oil and ship, which sometimes leads to an oil spill; they consume most of the planets resources. This in turn makes life harder for the people living in poorer countries. If there is a sudden climate change, people in India will suffer from the floods or drought. If there is oil or chemical spills in the sea, people in India will suffer as the food they fish for will be poisonous and infected, this will lead the poorer people to suffer.
One of the world’s most dangerous industrial accidents happened in India in 1984; an American owned chemical factory called Union Carbide leaked a deadly poisonous gas that killed thousands of Indians immediately and hundreds of more dies slowly as a result of it. This accident leads to stricter regulations being put in industrial factories.
So, in summary, Environmental problems in India can be classified into two broad categories:
> Those arising as negative effects of the very process of development;
> And those arising from conditions of poverty and under-development.
The first category has to do with the impact of efforts to achieve rapid economic growth and development and continuing pressures of demand generated by those sections of society who are economically more advanced and impose great strains on the supply of natural resources. Poorly planned developmental projects are also often environmentally destructive.
The second category has to do with the impact on the health and integrity of our natural resources (land, soil, water, forests, wildlife, etc.) as a result of poverty and the inadequate availability, for a large section of our population, of the means to fulfil basic human needs (food, fuel, shelter, employment, etc.). Needless to say, the two problems are interrelated.
Another thing that affects the environment is the population of India. Population is an important resource for development, yet it is a major source of environmental degradation when it exceeds the threshold limits of the support systems. Unless the relationship between the multiplying population and life support systems can be stabilised, development programmes, however, innovative, are not likely to yield the desired results. It is possible to expand the ‘carrying capacity’ through technological advances and spatial distribution. But neither of these can support unlimited population growth. Although technological progress will add to the capabilities for sustaining a large number of populations, the need for a vigorous drive for population control can hardly be over emphasised in view of the linkage between poverty, population growth and the environment.
Now I will be looking at how science looks at this topic then show a link between religion and science. Science is always worrying about various different environmental issues such as deforestation, acid rain, pollution, the ozone layer, greenhouse gases yet they are the main cause of pollution as cars created by science cause pollution and because of what science has created the environment is being ruined and they know something has to be done. This is the reason in countries like England more modern ways to consume energy and electricity and protect the environment are being used such as recycling which is a natural thing for most Hindu’s who live in India.
Most Hindu’s believe that life is sacred and almost everything around us is living so they are always looking after the environment which science seems to be destroying although over recent years scientists have become more aware of the dangers of pollution and are starting to work on ways to protect the environment which is the link between how religion and science views the environment. Science is based on fact rather than belief so to Hindus protecting the environment is natural yet scientists are now protecting the environment as they can see what they are doing and the consequences are dangerous so they are doing this to protect themselves where as most Hindu’s are environment friendly as they believe that life is sacred and are doing due to belief that it is the right thing to do.
Now I will talk about animal rights and how this affects scientists in work such as vivisection and also what Hindu beliefs are on the subject. I will start by looking at different times where animal rights are involved such as vivisection, farming, hunting then more religious views which cover eating meat, the link between people and animals and ahisma.
Science uses animal’s everyday in experiments to test domestic products and other tests medically for the benefit for humans but there are many people who disagree with this and most Hindus come into this category. Most Hindus believe in ahisma and non-violence so animal testing is wrong in their beliefs.
Most Hindus are vegetarian and would not eat any form of meat and may not even wear leather unless the cow died from natural causes.
“Meat cannot be obtained without injury to animals, and the slaughter of animals obstructs the way to Heaven; let him therefore shun the use of meat.” The Laws of Manu V, 45-52
This quote outlines that many Hindus will not eat meat as it cannot be obtained without the death of an animal.
Hindus see divinity in all living creatures. Animal deities therefore, occupy an important place in Hindu dharma. Animals, for example, are very common as form of transport for various gods and goddesses. Animals also appear as independent divine creatures such as Lord Ganesha, the elephant son of Shiva, and Hanuman, the monkey-god that saved Sita.
Hindus, in general, believe in total harmlessness to all living creatures and so naturally carry out Ahimsa. Many animals around the world are decapitated in slaughter houses and used as a product of food. If the animal is not fit enough to be food then its fur or skin is used for materials. Lamb is commonly used for wool, and the white lion is hunted for its fine, rare white coat. The teachings of ahimsa deny involvement with such mockeries of cruel animal treatment. “For, so sustained by sacrifice, the gods will give you the food of your desire. Whoso enjoys their gift, yet gives nothing, is a thief, no more nor less.” Bhagavad-Gita 3:12. This is another quote which outlines how many Hindus animals should be treated.
Many aspects of Hindu lifestyle stem from religious beliefs, they try not to eat meant, and if avoiding meat completely is not possible they definitely avoid beef as cows are seen as sacred animals. This vegetarianism is because they believe that as humans they are the most advanced race and must therefore take responsibility for the welfare of lesser species.
Hinduism’s teachers and scriptures often expressly encourage a vegetarian diet, though not all Hindus are vegetarian. Hindus almost universally avoid beef since they consider the cow (Krishna’s favourite animal) sacred.
Mahatma Gandhi, however, took Hindu vegetarian observance one step further by declaring, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be measured by the way in which its animals are treated.” Hinduism’s vast scriptures contain thousands of passages recommending vegetarianism based on the profound link between ahimsa (non violence) and spirituality. For example, the Yajur Veda says, “You must not use your God-given body for killing God’s creatures, whether they be human, animals, or whatever.” (12.32) Similarly, Hindu law books base many directives on the principle of the sacredness of all life. Manusmriti asserts, “Having well considered the origin of flesh-foods, and the cruelty of … slaying corporeal beings, let man entirely abstain from eating flesh.” (5.49)
In the case of Hindus, we are vegetarians for religious reasons. The main character of being a Hindu is the fact that you are a vegetarian. We are vegetarians because of our belief that killing is bad, and that the taking and that taking another’s life is not in our hands. As Hindus we believe that only Brahma has given us life and so is the only one that can take it away. Killing is a bad karma and one must try to avoid bad karmas so one can attain moksha. The Vedic Scriptures refer to the cow as our mother when we stop taking milk from our mother the cow gladly takes over the role of supplying milk. For this reason the cow is our mother. It is nature’s special arrangement that the cow provides milk to give nourishment to people.
We can see that science uses animal’s everyday for their own benefit even if they know it is wrong and there are those who are against this like activist groups and many Hindu’s. Hindu’s believe in non-violence and do not believe it is right to kill and because of this most are vegetarian.
Kaveri was once the star of the Ooty Race Course. Then, she grew old. Her owners sold her to someone, who used up her last bit of energy and then turned her out.
The transition from racing star to an abandoned animal was fraught with danger. From the comfort of warm stable and regular meals, Kaveri had to forage the garbage dumps for food. She was often injured by passing vehicles and festering wounds added to her misery. Then, an animal care shelter called Hill View Farm Animal Refuge, run by India Project for Animals and Nature (IPAN) in Mavanhalla, near Masinagudi, Tamil Nadu, came to her rescue.
The shelter is home to nearly 300 abandoned or ill-treated animals. Thanks to Nigel Otter, the Managing Trustee of IPAN, Kaveri’s maggot-infested wounds are now giving way to her former glossy coat. More importantly, she can now look forward to spending the remaining days of her life in peace. Nigel says they only discovered that Kaveri was a racehorse when they saw a number freeze-branded on her hide. It was her former veterinarian who recognised her and told IPAN about her past.
Safe haven: Nigel Otter with wife Ilona Arrikala and daughter Emma at their farm. Photo: K. Ananthan
This story shows how animals are respected by many Hindu’s in India as most Hindus believe in ahisma and how life is sacred including animals and the environment.
There are many activist groups which look to help the environment and animals. In this section I will be mentioning two activist groups which help the environment and two that help animals and I will tell you about them. Then I will see how they relate to Hinduism.
Greenpeace is a non-profit organisation, with a presence in 40 countries across Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. To maintain its independence, Greenpeace does not accept donations from governments or corporations but relies on contributions from individual supporters and foundation grants. As a global organisation, Greenpeace focuses on the most crucial worldwide threats to our planet’s bio-diversity and environment.
Greenpeace website: www.greenpeace.org/international
Another environmentalist group is CEC. The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) is an international organization created by Canada, Mexico and the United States under the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC). The CEC was established to address regional environmental concerns, help prevent potential trade and environmental conflicts, and to promote the effective enforcement of environmental law.
CEC website: www.cec.org
As well as environmentalist groups there are those who campaign for animal rights and are against such things as vivisection.
Here I will tell you about two groups and what they do.
Animal Aid is the UK’s largest animal rights group and one of the longest established in the world, having been founded in 1977.We campaign peacefully against all forms of animal abuse and promotes a cruelty-free lifestyle. We investigate and expose animal cruelty, and our undercover investigations and other evidence are often used by the media, bringing these issues to public attention.
The animal aid website: www.animalaid.org.uk
The blue cross is an animal welfare charity that has many aims o help animals and some of those are to:
> Ensure the welfare of animals by providing practical care.
> Highlight the benefits of companionship between animals and people.
> Promote a sense of respect and responsibility towards animals in the community.
> Treating pets whose owners cannot afford private veterinary treatment.
> Finding permanent homes for unwanted or abandoned animals.
> Educating the public in responsible animal ownership.
Blue cross website: www.bluecross.org.uk
Many of these groups agree with beliefs that many Hindus have as they want to protect the earth and its animals and most Hindus believe that life is sacred and must not be harmed so most believe in ahisma.
For my interview I have decided to interview my grandfather who is a Hindu who lived in India throughout his childhood. I will ask him a variety of questions to do with the environment and animals.
What do animals mean to Hindus in India?
I believe that every living thing comes from one source and that even animals have a link to people, possibly through a past life so animals should be treated well with respect and some symbolise gods like Ganesh and the elephant.
How is the environment treated by Hindus in India?
The environment should be treated well as it is part of god’s creation I believe but destroying the environment is not a worry as in India there is no waste due to poverty. Yes I believe that the environment should be protected all around the world not just in India.
Do you believe that the environment should be protected and why?
Yes, I believe that the environment should be protected all around the world not just in India. People in India are always recycling so there are not major concerns for the environment but the issues which are of most concern is basic hygiene like not polluting water and wasting materials.
What do you think about vivisection and cruelty of animals?
I think that this is wrong as it goes against ahisma and it is wrong to kill animals for our benefit as they are living creatures and are a part of us and possibly in a past life a family member.
How do you respond to animal and environmental issues and how science affects it?
I believe science is coming to terms with the environmental problems but only to save them not to protect the environment and they use animals for test on drugs and cosmetics which is wrong. I believe that science is powerful and should use their knowledge for the right reasons and help the world and not to destroy the environment and kill animals.
I personally believe that science is a major factor in environmental issues such as deforestation and pollution and animal issues such as vivisection. This shows that Hindus contradict with science in this topic completely as most Hindus believe in ahisma and that life is sacred so the environment should not be damaged which is shown in the fact that Hindus in India do not waste anything, partly due to poverty but they do not ruin the environment as those do in Europe. Hindus also have great respect for animals shown in the case study and the fact that most of the Hindus in India are vegetarians as meat can only be obtained through pain of animals and it may upset the balance of karma.
Conclusively I feel that Hinduism beliefs on these topics are quite the opposite of science as science harms animals and the environment even though they know it is wrong and Hinduism is against harming animals and the environment although recently science has become aware of this.