शुक्रवार, 3 जून 2016

Civilisation and Ecology; Select Readings from the Ramacharitmanas

- Niraj Kumar Jha

Ecological crisis, which the world faces today, is essentially a civilisational issue. Ecology has been a victim of the so called civilisational progress. Mindless appropriation of nature and application of inappropriate technologies are responsible for the severe environmental imbalance which threatens the human existence today. It all began with the evolution of civilisation itself when warlike men-folk tried to defeat their likes in order to subjugate women, land and nature with the help of enslaved fellow men.
Most of the technologies meant to conquer nature are the result of the same psychological whims which impel men for aggression and war. Nature was considered as inexhaustible resource to be enjoyed endlessly by men. However, now the signs of exhaustion of the nature are clear. No metaphor can be more appropriate in saying that the global warming is the rising temperature of a fever stricken nature.  Nature is sick with exhaustion.
Civilisations except the Indic one largely did not view the nature with respect. They view mankind superior to other living beings and consider nature with its all animate and inanimate components only meant for appropriation. The approach can be understood in relation to the Christianity, which is the dominant system of faith in the world.
Christianity has distanced humanity from nature. As people come to perceive God as a singular supremacy detached from the physical world, they lost their reverence for nature. In Christian eyes, the physical world became the realm of devil. A society that had once celebrated nature through seasonal festivals began to commemorate biblical events bearing no connection to the earth.1
Nature was instead seen as the realm of the devil. The Church chose the image of Pan, the Greek god of nature, to portray the devil.2

Nature, which sustains life, deserves the highest veneration but the most civilisations treated and continue to treat nature with absolute disdain. The limitless consumerism, the immense lust to acquire and show off wealth and religious fanaticism, which blinds the practitioners to the concerns of humanism including sensitivity to nature are taking a heavy toll on ecology.
Civilisation in order to be called so must have the concern for environment inherent in its cultural norms and mores. Civilisations other than ours have treated other peoples as subhuman. While the ideal of Vasudhev Kutumbkam or the world is  a family defines our approach to humanity, other civilisations have been seeing others as lesser humans, barbarians or unbelievers unworthy of living. If their attitude towards mankind was so bizarre, the status of other living beings and inanimate objects of the nature in their eyes can easily be guessed. In fact whenever people of these civilisations got organised to become a force, they brutalised the people wherever they could go and when their knowledge reached the threshold of overcoming natural forces with the help of technology decisively, they started to vandalise nature with the same impunity.
Indian civilisation in its self-perception has viewed ecology integral to human existence. In fact technological innovations are a matter of choice. Scientific discoveries are more a matter of human inclination than natural outcome of human desire to know. Humanity still spends larger resources on innovating war machines than any thing else and the largest share of state revenues are spent on militaries and their weaponries. Future generations, if they are allowed to come, would certainly club our generation in their classification of historical times as the age of barbarians. The dividing line between barbarity and civilisation would be the day in their history when global spending on military and policing would be surpassed by the spending on education and health. The true civilisation would descend on the Earth that day only.
However civilisation cannot be seen missing on the planet altogether. Indian civilisation has been true to this civilisational credo from the beginning. Vedas, Buddhism and Jaininsm, all expounded ecological concerns. Asoka extended his humane concerns to all living beings. Here the focus is on the Ramacharitmanas of Saint Tulasidas, which is beyond doubt a civilisational epic and the text contains the civilising sutras for the whole humanity. In the very beginning of the text, Gosvami Tulasi reiterates the civilsational veneration for the every component of the creation.

Whatever beings, animate or inanimate, there are in the universe, recognising them, one an all, as consisting of Sri Rama. I ever adore the lotus feet of all with joined palms. I reverence gods, demons, human beings, Nagas, birds, spirits, manes and Gandharvas, Kinnaras and Rakshasas. Pray be gracious to me all on this occasion.3

Eight million and four hundred thousand species of living beings classified under four divisions; inhabit land, water, and the air. Recognising the entire creation as full of Sita and Rama, I make obeisance to them with joined palms.4

This is the general wisdom of the Sanatana dharma wherein all objects are seen as the reflections of the Divine alike. Every being or thing or any component or aspect of nature is part of the Divine order and so is Divine and hence is as venerable as the Divine is. If this were the approach informing the psyche of human beings, the drive for knowledge would have resulted in eco-friendly scientific studies, discoveries and technological innovations. Such drive for knowledge would fulfil both humanity and nature.
            Lord Rama, who is the all powerful supreme God incarnate and has all the powers, asks his counsels and commanders how to cross the deep ocean to reach Lanka. Lord appreciates the counsel of Vibhishana who says, “Although your arrow itself can dry up innumerable oceans, yet propriety demands that You should approach the ocean and request the deity presiding over it (to allow you a passage).”  Lakshmana disapproves, “No reliance can be placed on the freaks of fortune. Fill your mind with indignation and dry up the ocean. Fate is a crutch for the mind of cowards alone; it is the indolent who proclaim their faith in fate.”  Rama laughs at Lakshmana’s words and says, “We shall do accordingly; pray, ease your mind.” Then Rama goes to the seashore, bows His head and greets the ocean and then spreading some Kusa grass gets seated on that.
            This is how the Almighty treats the nature – with utmost humbleness. Similar reverence he has shown to the river Ganges and others inanimate objects. In the same episode mentioned above the god presiding over the ocean fearing the fury of the Lord states that water is dull by nature so created by the Lord himself and on its own accord it is not amenable to change.5 The message is subtle and yet clear that nature’s sanctity must be upheld. Natural elements should not be stretched or distorted against what is its basic trait. Destruction of naturalness of the nature is absolutely unwarranted.
            In the whole Ramacharitmanas the Divine mission is seen as a shared mission in which different species participate and every being is bestowed with appropriate respect. The main protagonists are monkeys and bears. Vultures, otherwise considered inauspicious, play crucial role in the saga. In the final account, the description of the Ram Rajya includes ecology as its essential part.

Listen, O king of birds, (continues Kakbhusundi,) during Sri Rama’s reign there was not a creature in this world, animate or inanimate, that was liable to any of the sufferings attributable to time, past conduct, personal temperament and character.6

Trees in the forest blossomed and bore fruit throughout the year; the elephant and the lion lived together as friends. Nay, birds and beasts of every description had forgotten their natural animosities and developed friendly relations with one another. Birds sang and beasts fearlessly moved about in the woods in distinct herds, making merry all the time.7

Contrast this with the Christian tradition.
The perceived separation of nature from God affected the treatment of animals. The canonized thirteenth century scholar, Thomas Aquinas, declared that animals have no afterlife, have no inherent rights, and that “by a most just ordnance of the Creator, both their life and their death are subject to our use.”8

The Church condemned the veneration of trees and springs, where people would place candles or decorations.9

This is the civilisational approach which has resulted in environmental degradation around the globe. This approach needs to be corrected first in order to deal with the fundamental causation of the crisis. For this we need to realise the values enshrined in the Ramacharitmanas as a global way of life.
The Manas is read extensively, performed endlessly and represented in various art forms and at the same time has been the basis of the depictions of the saga of Rama in various audio-visual and electronic media. The way book is followed or cited is unparalleled. The book narrates Ramaleela, worldly deeds of the Lord Rama, the supreme God incarnate, in the finest poetry and in the language of the folk. Many of the values that this highly influential piece of poetry espouses seem somehow lost in the real life of the body politic India. The text indeed shapes the cultural norms and also influences the psyche of the people at large and yet its nobler and sublime idealism does not reflect in the national character or behaviour. Concern for environment is certainly such an issue. Despite the fact that ordinary people of the country show extraordinary veneration for flora and fauna, rivers and mountains etc. but their collective ventures in form of mindless consumerism and industrialisation has undone their basic cultural instincts. This is indeed because of the millennia of subjugation which has distorted the Indian way of life and thought and as a result they ignore their traditions which espouse humane and sustainable philosophy of life and living.

Notes ------
1 Helen Ellerbe, The Dark Side of Christian History, Orlando: Morningstar and Lark, 1995, p.139.
2 Ibid., p.140.
3 Sri Ramaacaritamanasa, Bala-Kanda, Do. 7 ( C ) and (D).
4 Sri Ramaacaritamanasa, Bala-Kanda, Do. 7, Cau. 1.
5 Sri Ramaacaritamanasa, Sundara-Kanda, Do. 58, Cau. 1-4.
6 Sri Ramaacaritamanasa, Uttara-Kanda, Do. 21.
7 Sri Ramaacaritamanasa, Uttara-Kanda, Do. 22, Cau. 1-2.
8 Helen Ellerbe, no.1 p.140.
9 Helen Ellerbe, Ibid., p.142.

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