The planet is crumbling under the onslaught of ecological abuse. Can the Hare Krishnas help?
When my maternal aunt came to visit me in Mumbai last summer, we went with her kids to the beach.
“Unfortunately,” she sighed upon seeing the ocean, “soon the sea will swallow this beautiful city.”
She was referring to a report in a news magazine whose cover showed the famous Gateway of India monument in Mumbai half submerged in the ocean. The magazine quoted the findings of a UN panel on environmental pollution. By the year 2050, Mumbai and other coastal cities of the world may boast only of aquatic flora and fauna as their population. Melting ice caps will raise the ocean, pushing it to eat up enormous amounts of land along its shores. Meanwhile global warming will cause drastic drops in agriculture yield, melt Himalayan glaciers, and lead to devastating floods. Later, with no glaciers left at their sources, great rivers like the Ganges, Yamuna, and others will dry up. The result will be severe drought in most of northern India. Per capita food and water supplies will hit rock bottom. Thirty to forty percent of the flora and fauna we see today will eventually be found only in history books. In the struggle for existence, extinction will be the rule. We will see the death of the earth’s ecosystem, and we’ll be the gravediggers.
The findings may seem hyped to some, but there is no denying that pollution has damaged the environment. Although we have known of environmental pollution for decades, we’ve done little to control it. Americans and Australians account for nearly half of the mess, yet the thought of curtailing their lavish, wasteful lifestyles is unacceptable to them. The developing nations, on the other hand, do little besides point fingers at the developed world: “You’ve messed with the environment for so long; now it’s our turn!”
Even if the governments of the world enact and enforce strict rules for pollution control, we won’t see a permanent solution. Laws may control some current phenomena, but newer disruptions and pollutions will arise. To fight them we’ll need new laws. And any proposed solution, to be effective in the long term, must also deal with the true origin of environmental problems: subtle perversions of the heart.
The Ecology of the Heart
The exploitation of nature disrupts the ecology. And the cause of the exploitative mentality is greed. Greed leads to lack of self-control. Driven by insatiable greed, people become blind to the havoc their profits may cause for others. They don’t care what legacy they will leave for the next generation. The contamination of the heart spills into our surroundings.
The cure for the ills of pollution, therefore, has to begin by cleaning the heart of the subtle garbage of lust, greed, and ignorance. We have to start by purifying our thoughts. Pure thoughts lead to pure actions. Instead of contemplating selfish pursuits for sensual pleasure, we must contemplate God, the all-pure.
Then we have to change the way we live, make our lives simpler. Because of intense greed and limited resources, we exploit. But if we’re content, we can work enthusiastically without exploitation. If we live simply, in harmony with the will of the Lord, and stop exploiting others, there will be no shortages. If we live a morally responsible life in line with the will of the Supreme Father, then Mother Nature will provide all we need. But if we arm-twist her to yield to our selfish desires, we stand to receive her slap in the form of horrible natural calamities and an unstable ecology.
Human life is meant for responsibility. We have to solve the problem with sreyas, or long-range vision, not preyas, the immediate promise of happiness and profit without regard for the future. We have to solve the problem in an ecologically, socially, and karmically balanced way.
We suffer because, in ignorance, we don’t live in harmony with the Lord. But we can become enlightened souls and live in accordance with God’s will. Then there can be a real balance of ecology. That enlightenment is possible by sincere chanting of the holy names of God.
Srila Prabhupada wanted ISKCON to show the world an example of living in harmony with nature by developing self-sustained farm communities. Such communities would not depend on the industrialized world for food, clothing, shelter, electricity, and so on, but would obtain things from farm and forest. Although this vision has yet to materialize, efforts are going on throughout the world. Individually, the members of the Krishna consciousness movement strive to see everything as Lord Krishna’s energy and to minimize use and wastage.
Someone may say that a moral atheist can also contribute his bit to save the environment, that being a devotee of the Supreme Lord is not required. But if you ask the moral atheist why he wants to save the environment, his reply will generally boil down to one or two reasons: either his environmentalism enhances his enjoyment, or some ecological cause simply appeals to him. Because his views and ideas are born of his mind, without solid philosophical foundation, they tend to be inconsistent and fickle. Today he wants to save the blue whale, tomorrow the black panda, the next day the green rainforests. His motives are tainted with personal bias. To save the ozone layer he may agree to slaughter cows that release methane that supposedly burns holes in the ozone, but to safeguard his enjoyment he tolerates rapid industrialization that causes far greater damage. He has no understanding of the universal law of karma, no realization of responsibility, and no willingness to accept a simpler life. His approach is simply a Band-Aid solution: It makes an attractive picture but fails to treat the deeper malady.
Once a former Indian union minister for the environment, an active environmentalist, met an ISKCON leader at an airport lounge.
“ISKCON is such a large organization,” she said, “but what is it doing to clean the environment?”
“We are trying to clean the internal environment of the heart,” the leader replied. “Even if by some means you were to clean the global ecology, because the hearts of the masses are contaminated by greed and lust that contamination will soon pollute the planet again. But when the environment of the heart is cleansed by sincerely chanting the names of God, a person is no longer party to the disruption of global ecology.”
A pure internal environment means pleasing Lord Krishna, which is like watering the root of a thirsty tree: It solves the problem.
Murari Gupta Dasa is a disciple of His Holiness Radhanatha Swami. He has Bachelor’s degrees in medicine and surgery (M.B.B.S) and serves full-time at ISKCON Chowpatty. He is part of the production team of the Hindi and the India English editions of BTG. He also teaches Krishna consciousness to college students in Mumbai