Image-courtesy Hinduism Today

It’s a special week for nature lovers, pagans, and all those that love our planet. Nature has always inspired awe in human beings and shaped cultures. Here in the US, indigenous tribes from the Navajo to the Lakota have treated the natural landscape not just as home but as a holy land. This isn’t unlike the Hindu view of nature which I will soon delve into. But before I do so I’d like to touch on the wilderness’ impact on America. 

 

Environmental historian Roderick F. Nash has made major contributions to understanding the impact the wilderness/nature has had on America and the American mind. The beauty of America’s landscape inspired everyone from writers and adventurers to artists such as Thomas Kinkade and Bob Ross . Those names alone should make clear how important that is. In the US, we have a tradition of protecting and venerating nature, just as much as we’ve had our exploiters. Nature lovers have created many fine organizations dedicated to the wellbeing of nature. One part of that vision is a film that I very much like called Winds Across the Everglades starring Christopher Plummer. This 1958 film captures the struggle between those who seek to exploit nature and those who wish to protect it. I love that film for many reasons, but what most resonates with me is the beauty of nature captured in delicious technicolor and the story it told; a story of struggle between those who fight for nature and those who seek to exploit it.

 

As I mentioned earlier, Hindus are a people. who like native Americans, venerate nature. Although I’m an atheist I consider myself a Hindu, retaining dharmic sensibilities, values, culture, and philosophy. So, while I may not be inclined to view natural elements as deities, I see them as a poetic expression of the beauty that surrounds us. Where theistic Hindus see Devis and Devtas like Vayu (wind), Prithvi (earth), Agni (fire), Parvati (mountains), and others as living deities or manifestations of the supreme soul (Paramatma) I see them as poetic expressions of a culture and people deeply attached to nature. 

 

Just as Winds Across the Everglades captures the tension of nature lovers and exploiters, I see that same tension in Hindu society. Take for example the river Ganga. We have cared for and protected it for many thousands of years. It is not just a holy river but a living deity, the goddess Ganga. Epic poems and folk tales alike, have captured her stories. Yet the pollution and harm done to our majestic river has become the favorite example of Hindu apathy and exploitation by anti-Hindu polemicists. And just like that Hollywood film, there is a tension between those who harm the river and those who wish to protect it. We have loved and cherished nature for thousands of years and we must continue to do so. As Indians and Hindus undertake a journey of undoing the impact of past mistakes and the impact of colonialism, we must remember to rededicate ourselves to the wellbeing of Mother Earth or as we call her – Prithvi Mata. 

 

Some years ago, I took the opportunity to volunteer at a tree planting event in suburban Illinois. Most of us shared the same veneration for trees and nature. It reminded me of a trip to a Gujarati village in India when I was a kid. In that village there were a bunch of trees near the local river where sacred threads and religious markings such as the swastika were applied. As villagers would pass the trees they would bow and pray to those trees just as they would at a temple . I tied a thread too, and would probably do so again if I revisited that village. I don’t remember how I felt then, but today I would share the same reverence to those sacred trees the villagers feel, minus the religiosity. Pantheism, which can be summed up as God is in all and all is in God, has a strong presence in Hinduism. Because of this pantheism, Hindus are inclined to view divinity in trees, rivers, rocks, plants, and more. 

 

I was a pantheist before moving on to agnosticism and settling in my current Hindu atheism. Even though I’ve shed all the theism in pantheism, I still hold the Hindu view that there is something really divine about our relationship with everything that surrounds us, nature in particular. During this Earth Week, I would like us all to reflect on how important our planet is to us not just in economic or material terms but also from a moral standpoint. It would be improper to neglect one’s mother after getting so much from her. Likewise, we must care and nourish our planet with the same affection not neglect.

 

I recall at the end of Winds Across the Everglades , the main character played by Christopher Plummer comes out on top, I take that as a victory for nature. Though Earth Week may not inspire the same zeal as many nature centric Hindu holidays, or any other major holidays, we should nonetheless take time to celebrate it through acts of environmental compassion. On that note, I’d like to say happy Earth Week from Hindu America and victory to Prithvi Mata!

 

Born and brought up in the US, Jay volunteers regularly with COHNA, while also studying in university.