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Environmental concerns

Sikh responses

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There is relatively little information available in Sikh literature on science 1, including ecology. This is in spite of the fact that even even as early as the 15th and 16th centuries, when the ecological problems were not as acute as the are today, the Sikh Gurus recognized human responsibility towards nature. They impressed upon people the necessity of studying and respecting it.  Guru Nanak said: “The earth is your mother. Respect for ‘mother earth’ is the only solution to these problems (meaning destruction of forests leading to soil erosion).” 1

Sikhism follows 300-year cycles. The name of the next cycle was chosen in 1999 to be ‘The Cycle of Creation’. This title has already led to a dramatic increase in environmental practices by Sikh temples. 2

Sikhs use the term eco-sophism, which literally means the wisdom of the universe. Such wisdom is required for the promotion of a sustainable and peaceful ecology. 3 They believe that an awareness of the sacred relationship between humans and the environment is necessary for the health of our planet, and for our survival. Sikhs are told to cultivate an awareness and respect for the dignity of life, human and otherwise. 2 Their scriptures declare that the purpose of human beings is to be in harmony with all creation and that human domination is to be rejected. However, contemporary society, with its profit interests and claims to have mastered and conquered nature, has drifted away from this idea, and is now faced with the problems of environmental degradation, a basic threat to all life. 3

Among the reasons for the present crisis (deforestation, depletion of the ozone layer, global warming, etc.) the Sikhs list such factors as discrimination, economic exploitation, the caste system, colonization, cultural invasion, religious fundamentalism, etc. 3 According to the Sikh teaching, humans create their surroundings as a reflection of their inner state. Thus, the increasing barrenness of the earth reflects a spiritual emptiness within humans. The solution can be found in prayer and the spirit of humility before the divine will of God. 2 Having brought life into being, God will protect it.

A strong Sikh tradition is the equality of men and women. They believe that the Indian tradition that treats women as secondary contributes to ecological degradation. 3 Another strong tradition is the Sikhs' opposition to every detail of the caste view, according to which those of the working class (who deal with agriculture and such) are deemed impure, while those of the non-working (religious) class are deemed pure. The lower castes are considered need of liberation. By abandoning the caste world-view, Sikhism promotes ecological equilibrium. As a protest movement against injustice and exploitation it is fundamentally ecosophical. 3

Among the specific details that distinguish Sikhism are:

bulletSikhs retain the Hindu reverence for the cow, but are generally meat-eaters.
bulletThere is no stipulation as to whether a Sikh’s dead body is to be cremated, buried, or submerged in water. However, cremation is preferred because it is deemed more ecology friendly. 2
bulletAscetism is discouraged by Sikhism, because detachment from everyday life is a form of escapism. Denial of the world leads to the denial of God the Creator.

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A search of the Amazon.com data base shows the following books on Sikh responses to the environment:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. G.S. Sidhu, "Sikh Religion and Science," at: http://sikhs.wellington.net.nz/
  2. "What does Sikhism teach about ecology?" Alliance of Religion and Conservation (ARC), at: http://www.arcworld.org/
  3. S. Lourdunathan, "Episcopal Concerns in the Sikh Tradition," at: http://www.sikhspectrum.com/

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Copyright © 2006 by Vladimir Tomek
Original publishing date: 2006-AUG-27
Latest update on: 2006-AUG-27
Author. Vladimir Tomek

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