The Grapevine Art & Soul Salon

WorldVoices: Ravi Kumar, Host

Renewing our Reverence for Nature

Reverence for nature needs be at the heart of our political and social debate.

Satish Kumar, Spiritual Ecology (134)

For this issue of The Grapevine, I will look into a book that goes beyond human voices of the world to include what the author calls the “cry of the earth” for human attention: Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth, 2nd ed., a book of essays edited by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee (Point Reyes, CA: The Golden Sufi Center, 2016). The book is filled with conversation about environmental concerns along with spiritual and social considerations. I’ve chosen to review the essay written not only by someone who is also from India but someone who shares my name.

Satish Kumar, editor of Resurgence Magazine, introduces us to a trinity of terms that in Sanskrit are yagna, tapas and dana, from an ancient and revered Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita. He defines them as follows: Yagna relates to human/nature relationships, tapas relates to human/divine relationships, and dana relates to human/human relationships. He says, "I have translated this trinity into English as Soil, Soul and Society." (135)

I will return to these terms. Let me first mention my own observations.

Like many people, I have had the pleasure of digging the ground, turning it to make it suitable for growing vegetables. It has given me immense pleasure to watch my crops of cucumbers, okra, tomatoes, eggplants and bell peppers grow and to bring them to the kitchen from which they would make their way to the table and into the mouths of my family. It satisfied me deeply to participate in this soil-related process. Soil not only gives us food. It provides many other things without which humanity could not survive.

As humans, our relationship to nature is deteriorating every day. We deplete nature in the name of technological, industrial, and trade progress. We’re using harmful chemicals and pesticides to increase food production. Yet, there are more and more starving people in the world. So many people go hungry, without food or water fit for drinking. Satish Kumar gives us this statistic: In spite of the unprecedented growth in the economy, science, technology and world trade, almost half of humanity is hungry, homeless, and ignored. (144)

Many Gods are named in Hindu texts, the chief among them a trinity, and each has a consort in nature. To generalize and include a monotheistic view, nature can be seen as the consort of God. In Hinduism, the consort of Krishna was Radha, of Shiva was Parvati, of Vishnu was Laxmi. Radha, Parvati, and Laxmi are forms of nature, and the Gods joined with nature to produce us. That is why we Hindus worship nature in the form of Radha, Parvati and Laxmi.

In our time, the number of people going to houses of worship is going down, and when they do go, it is often for the purpose of socializing rather than worshipping. Mandirs are full of people who come to express what they want materially. I do not know about mosques or synagogues or churches, but I have heard it is the same. People are focused on earning money. Their own self-interest and opinions matter most. Power over others seems to be the goal: more and more, we “worship” in our own interests, and so we don’t take care of nature, we exploit nature. Our going against nature hurts the Gods. They nevertheless have enormous energy and reserves, and are patient with humanity beyond imagination.

As Satish Kumar says, Humanity is not only at war against nature, it is at war against itself: the values of profit, power, control and greed rule the minds of mainstream politicians and industrialists, advertising and misinformation seduce the minds of the majority of people who dream of a lifestyle based in consumerism, comfort and extravagance. (145)

These are signs of a loss of soul.

Likewise, society is full of tension. The new religion of materialism has grown side by side with the growth of militarism. (145) There is now a threat of nuclear war, and terrorist groups like ISIS seem to be growing. Corruption and self-interest create insecurity, and conflicts are on the rise. People tell lies and get elected to high offices.

According to S. Kumar, one of our greatest problems is this:

We have developed a worldview which dictates that the human species is superior to all other species. Animals, forests, rivers and oceans must serve and fulfil not only the needs of humankind but also the greed and desires. This way of thinking has been called species-ism which means that one species, the human species, is the superior species above all others. (136)

He mentions 8.7 million species on earth (143) and calls for recognizing the value of all: … when we recognize the intrinsic value of all life, small or large, then it is deep ecology. A blade of grass, an earthworm, an insect, even a mosquito has the right to live; so have trees, rivers, birds and fish irrespective of their usefulness to humans. (137-8)

In my view we have moved away from preserving nature (our environment). The divine cannot be seen, so fewer and fewer people believe in the divine, as if whatever we see, only that exists and nothing else. Our social relationships are going from healthy to poor as families drift apart and social ties come undone.

S. Kumar does not simply lay out the problems we face, he also suggests paths to solving them. According to the principle of yagna we should celebrate the beauty, the abundance and the grandeur of nature by replenishing what we have taken. If we take five trees to build our home we must replenish them by planting fifty trees. (139) He discusses how we can follow the yagna principle of replenishment, restoration and renewal by replacing plants with manure and compost and by leaving the land fallow for a time after seven years of cultivation.

Regarding the Gita teaching that we need to care for soil (yagna) and soul (tapas), Kumar gives the example of Gandhi who urged us to Be the change you want to see in the world. He continues,

… Mahatma Gandhi integrated into his day time for prayer, mediation, solitude, study, gardening, cooking and spinning and considered these activities as essential as negotiating with the British rulers of India, organizing the campaign for independence and working for the removal of untouchability. (143)

Finally, Satish Kumar calls anew for a strong social movement to establish justice, equality, liberty and freedom, leading to the well-being of all. (145)

That is dana. Such a movement would bring the trinity of soil, soul, and society into harmony and health again.

We can see evidence of that health and harmony in a video from India:

India Plants 66 Million Trees in 12 Hours as Part of Record-breaking Environmental Campaign



World Voices: A Drunken Monkey Bit by a Bee: Finding Serenity in a Chaotic World

World Voices: There is More to Us Than Can Be Measured by Science Alone

World Voices: Developing Cultural Competency

WorldVoices: Namaste

WorldVoices: My India and My USA

WorldVoices: ABCDs and Cultural Differences

WorldVoices: Memories, Stories, Values of My Ancestors

WorldVoices: Thoughts on What It Means to Be Human

WorldVoices: Lorca's "Poem of the Bull"

WorldVoices: Tibet, China's Treasure Basket

WorldVoices, Saying Yes to Tradition and Change

WorldVoices, Coomaraswamy's The Dance of Siva: Essays on Indian Art and Culture

Lost in Darkness


The Bird You Don't See

My Grandmother's Voice

An Extraordinary Day in the Life of a Fighter Pilot

Copyright 2017, Barbara Knott. All Rights Reserved.