Indians of yore lived in kinship with nature. As Parvati is part of Siva—kantasammisradehaha—nature is part of Indian life. Their fellowship with nature is quite delicate and is rooted deeply in their sentiment. As Radhakrishnan once observed, Vedic literature articulates about unity of all life—animate and inanimate—and many of the Vedic deities are mere personifications of salient aspects of nature. Believing that their Gods existed in every element of nature, they prayed:
“Rock, soil, stone and dust
Earth is held together and
My obeisance to gold-breasted Earth
… Raising or sitting, standing
May we, either with our right
foot or, our left,
Never totter O the earth
… Whatever I dig from thee, Earth may that have quick growth again;
O purifier, may we not injure thy vitals or thy heart”
– (Atharva Veda 12.1.26-35).
Such was their close fellowship with nature that they even projected many of their attributes onto the animals and plants around them. For Kalidasa’s Shakuntala, the deer was her brother and Vanajyotsna, the creeper, was her sister. As Kanva Maharshi proclaimed to the sylvan deities and the trees of the hermitage, Shakuntala—
“… Nadatte priyamandanapi bhavatam snehena ya pallavam …—would not drink till she had wet / Your roots, a sister’s duty, / Nor pluck your flowers; she loves you yet / Far more than selfish beauty” (Abhijnana Shakuntalam).
That was the harmony in which the ancient man lived with nature, believing that in bird and beast, and tree and man, it is the same life “…that impels / All thinking things, all objects of all thought / And rolls through all things” (William Wordsworth).
For that matter, till 1500 AD, the dominant world view was organic: People lived in small cohesive communities and experienced nature in terms of organic relationships, characterized by the interdependence of spiritual and natural phenomena, and the subordination of individual needs to those of the community. Ancient wisdom was anchored in reason and faith. This belief is well captured in the words of Carolyn Merchant: “The image of the earth as a living organism and nurturing mother served as a cultural constraint restricting the actions of human beings. One does not readily slay a mother, dig into her entrails for gold, or mutilate her body …. As long as the earth was considered to be alive and sensitive, it could be considered a breach of human ethical behavior to carry out destructive acts against it.”
This medieval outlook has, however, changed radically in the 16th and 17th centuries. With the advent of civilization, economic stratification and the emergence of class-conscious society, man, particularly of the western world, distanced himself from nature and started using plants and animals to serve his needs and pleasures. In course of time, this pride of humanity spread all over the globe. As a result, the notion of an organic, living and spiritual universe was replaced by that of the world as a machine and the “world-machine” became the dominant metaphor of the modern era.
However, once Darwin came up with his theory of evolution, the pride of humanity took a reverse swing as all organisms have turned out to be of equal value, for, ‘survival is the only criterion of evolutionary successes’. And this, as Julian Huxley observed, became apparent not because of the exaggeration of the human qualities of animals but more due to minimization of the human qualities of men.
This reduced gap between man and animals, could not of course, last longer, for, science has made firm inroads, particularly, the extension of scientific analysis to the events all around had prompted man to re-examine the understanding he has had hitherto, including that of the biological processes. This increased knowledge enabled man to once again look at himself as a unique animal—the uniqueness as reflected in his exclusive capabilities such as the capacity for conceptual thought, abstraction and synthesis, and its unique by-products: conversation, organized games, education, duty, sin, humiliation, vice, penitence, and all these have cumulatively made him again distinctly different from animals.
To be precise, it is man’s ability to reflect—the only animal that not only knows but also knows that it knows—that has made him to believe that he is distinctly different from other living creatures. These unique capabilities and its application to research in various sciences have opened new vistas: ushered in new technologies. This in turn led to the emergence of giant corporates whose tentacles crossed even national borders. As these corporates strived for “profit-maximization”, competition, coercion and exploitation have become the core of their activities.
In their ecological shortsightedness, they have pursued wasteful and unjustified production activities that even inflicted environmental disasters. Simply put, our obsession with economic growth and the value system underlying it have created a physical and mental environment in which life has become extremely unhealthy. Perhaps the most tragic aspect of this social dilemma is the fact that the health hazards created by the economic system are caused not only by the production process but also by the consumption of many of the goods produced that were heavily advertised to sustain the economic expansion of the businesses.
However, with the passage of time and having experienced the ill-effects of our overdependence on science and technology, a new vision of reality is slowly emerging. One such realization is: despite our success in many fields of science, there are a number of questions that still need to be answered—answered scientifically. It is here that sagacity points out to a phenomenon in which everything is in motion, as perhaps, man’s search has yet not attained the fullness of it. And, no wonder, even if it remains ever so!
Amidst this flux, what becomes evident is: the need for ‘leadership’—leadership that “can better cultivate than manufacture scientific temper by providing the soil and the overall climate and environment in which science can grow”. For, this is the singular most prerequisite to keep man focused on his search for ‘truth’.
And that truth, as our ancestors proclaimed, perhaps rests in: man living with the nature but not in the nature. At least, that is what one tends to believe, particularly, hearing the stern warnings of the scientists about the likely consequences of the rising global temperatures—a byproduct of indiscriminate industrialization driven by mad consumerism—such as likely occurrence of killer storms stronger than the presently known, disintegration of large parts of polar ice sheets, rise of sea levels that could drown the coastal cities of the world before the end of the century, etc.
Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman, the authors of the book, Climate Shock, drawing our attention to the likely repercussions of a hotter planet, advise that we should insure ourselves against the climate change—a challenge that is “almost uniquely global, uniquely long-term and uniquely irreversible and uniquely uncertain.” Asserting “what we already know is bad and what we don’t know is potentially much worse”, they insist that global policy makers, shedding their ‘cognitive dismissal’ and treating climate as a risk management issue, must take reasoned action more urgently.
Despite such accumulation of knowledge about the climate change and its ill-effects, global leaders are yet to agree for a “durable, ambitious” program that aims to limit the global warming to 3.6 o F above the preindustrial level. And, ironically, the US—the second largest carbon emitter—under its current President Mr Donald Trump coolly walked out of the Paris climate agreement stating: “The Paris accord will undermine [the US] economy” and “puts [the US] at a permanent disadvantage.” Criticizing the ‘Green Climate Fund’ as the scheme to redistribute wealth from rich to poor countries, Trump however said, he is open to renegotiate the agreement but European and UN leadership turned it down stating, it “cannot be renegotiated at the request of a single party.”
As the world leaders are thus playing around the Climate agreement, the common man on the street, particularly from the developing world, is today standing haplessly with fingers crossed, perhaps, with a silent prayer on his lips: “Yaa devi sarva bhooteshu shakti roopena samsthita / … ; Yaa devi sarva bhooteshu buddhi roopena samsthita / Namastasyai namastasyai namastasyai namo namaha—Salutations again and again to Devi, who resides in all beings in the form of creative energy; Salutations again and again to thee, Devi (Goddess) who resides in all beings in the form of intelligence.”
Maybe he is right: god alone has to save this planet!