Hindus have a similar attitude to nature to that of the Buddhists. None of
their traditions (Vedic, Upanishadic, orthodox, etc.) give Hindus the sort of
authority over nature and creation that the Judeo-Christian God grants. In
Hinduism, there is
a sympathetic identification of humanity with nature. Hinduism speaks of
harmony with nature and with the whole creation.
exceptions: The Advaita Vedanta tradition dismisses the significance of the
material world by referring to it as illusion or Maya. 1 The Hindu
religious goal of moksha (detachment from the material world) arguably rejects
(at least in essence) the natural world as having value.
The real meaning of nature worship in the Vedas is the prosperity of agriculture
and the protection of the environment. 2 There are several mantras devoted to
agriculture and methods of farming, irrigation systems, and plantations. The
Vedas refer to animal domesticity and cattle rearing. Domestic animals were
considered faithful friends of human beings. The cow was revered as a pastoral
deity. Note that the Hindus are expected to regard deer, camels, monkeys, donkeys, rats,
reptiles, birds, and flies as though they were their own children. 3
The Rig-Veda encourages Hindus to form friendship with animals and even with
inanimate objects. 4
In the Upanishads there is a clear understanding of the interrelationship of
nature. Human beings are encouraged to be compassionate and to
practice self-restraint. 4
"Ahimsa," forbidding the taking of life and/or causing injury to any sentient
being (except in the context of a Vedic sacrifice where it is prescribed and
sanctioned), is a basic religious principle to Hindus as it is to the Jains.
It is the first of the virtues to be practiced by a Hindu. The term was
interpreted by Mahatma Gandhi as ‘non-violence’ in a universal sense, and
elevated to the foremost human quality. In Hinduism, it was not much discussed
in early texts, perhaps because it was recognized that it might be in conflict
with Dharma, as mentioned below.
Among the fundamental Hindu concepts are R’ta and Dharma: 5
|R’ta is the sense of fundamental order and balance in the
universe. It must be observed and sustained; it is deeper and more fundamental
than the Hindu gods. Man’s duty is to preserve R’ta, by observing
the ancient laws.|
|Dharma emphasizes the need to act for the sake of good in the world,
1 and to
behave so as to maintain the order and custom that make life and the universe
possible. However, it is also taken to mean ‘the duty of the warrior.’ It
was observant Hindus, attentive to Dharma, who assassinated Gandhi. |
The Hindu concept of Dharma was adopted by Buddhists.
They brought it to
China where Dharma was identified with Tao. 5
Rivers have been and continue to be an integral part of Hindu religious
practice. The reverence for trees has been another component. 1
In 1973-March, villagers in Gopeshwar formed a human chain and hugged trees marked to be cut down
for the development of a sports equipment factory. Since then, the Chipko
Andolan movement to hug trees has grown as a Hindu ecological movement. 6
Most of the Hindu population lives within self-sustaining villages. As the
population increases, and as the modern lifestyle leads to a demand for consumer
goods, the balance of sustainability may shatter. So may traditional views and
A search of the Amazon.com data base shows the following books on Hindu responses to the environment:
At least, it should. Sometimes Amazon returns the strangest selections.
If you see a generic Amazon ad below, please click on your browser's refresh key.
The following information sources were used to
prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still
- Christopher Key Chapple, "Hinduism, Jainism, and Ecology," at:
- José Kalapura, "Science-Religion Dialogue & Ecology: An Asian perspective."
- John Bowker, Ed., "The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions." Oxford
University Press, (1997).
- Sean McDonagh, "To Care for the Earth," Geoffrey Chapman, (1989).
- Edward Goldsmith, "The Way," Themis Books, (1996)
- "Hinduism and Ecology," at:
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Copyright © 2006
by Vladimir Tomek
Original publishing date: 2006-SEP-03
Latest update on: 2006-SEP-03
Author. Vladimir Tomek