Wild Life in and around ‘Aranyaka Upanishad’

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himalayan deer
clouded himalayan leopard
wild mountain squirrel
blue flycatcher
mountain oriole
eagle
sleeping doe

A Sanskrit proverb holds that “A hundred divine epochs would not suffice to describe all the marvels of the Himalaya” — so long to describe, how much longer to understand. Modern scintific of  Himalayan ecology has butchered a tiny tip of the knowledge to be learnt. But even :hat tip inexorably leads to the grimmest conclusions . Man’s onslaught has rendered the Himalaya amongst the most endangered environments in the world. In the subcontinent, the Himalaya rank as the region most in need of 11 conservation, both because of the deterioration in environment and in view of our relative ignorance of the biology and ecology of high-altitude communities. Slowly, this begins to change but the task is immense. The Himalaya contain more endangered species of mammal than any other area of India and are remarkable in possessing almost one third of the world’s mammalian species that could be called true mountain animals. M.K. Ranjitsinh has noted that “the outlook for wildlife in most parts of the Himalaya is grim, in some places even desperate,” and G.B. Schaller warned that just as we are I becoming more aware of the splendor of past and present wildlife of the Himalaya we are denying it a future. He describes mountains without wildlife as “stones of silence,” an evocative and thoughtprovoking phrase.

Rich Variety: What would we be losing? The youngest, largest and highest chain of mountains in the world, the Himalayan range must lay claim to being one of the most fascinating and spectacular natural wonders of our earth. To speak of the Himalaya may give a false impression of biological homogeneity when in fact it covers a wide and varied mosaic of different biotypes — east-west, north-south and altitudinally. Geologically divided into the three regions of trans- Himalaya, middle Himalaya, and outer Himalaya and Siwaliks, the vegetation ranges from lush subtropical forests of the foothills to the bitterly cold high-altitude deserts of Ladakh and the Tibetan plateau. Thrown up 60-70 million years ago with activity still continuing, the Himalaya have acted both as a bridge and a barrier. The asymmetrical collision of the continental plates resulted in an inflow of oriental fauna through the northeast before the Afro- Mediterranean elements which followed through the northwest. The present flora and fauna spcies of the east and west regions reflect this —the former showing a close relationship with the western-Chinese pattern and the latter having Euro-Mediterranean affinities. Besides these, many species have evolved from the previously present Central Asian or palaearctic fauna and given rise to high endemism with strong generic links to Tibet and Central Asia.

Elusive Cat: No animal better epitomizes the character and concerns of the mountain environment than the snow leopard (Panihera uncial ), that beautiful and elusive cat of the high altitudes of Central Asia. A survivor of the icy rigors of the Pleistocene era, its range is immense, covering the entire Himalaya between altitudes as low as 6000 feet (1850 meters) in winter to 18,000 feet (5550 meters) in summer. Being a shy inhabitant of remote habitats, it has seldom been seen by any but those humans sharing its mountainous home. Only recently have some facts emerged about the ecology of this high-altitude predator.Somewhat smaller than the leopard ( Panthera pardus), but with a relatively longer tail, the snow leopard has a thick and beautiful spotted coat of soft gray, paling to pure white on the underside. This has certainly contributed to its rarity, for although strictly protected, many still fall to poachers’ bullets and traps, for in the world of fashion there remain those ignorant and rich enough to make taking such risks worthwhile. The snow leopard uses large areas in order to obtain enough sustenance. In winter months, it sometimes ventures near villages to lift domestic livestock, but its main prey are the wild sheep and goats that share with it these stark and snowy wastes.

Another race of the argali is the nayan or great Tibetan sheep ( Ovis amnion hodgsoni). This is the largest of all wild sheep. Long in the leg and graceful, it inhabits the trans-Himalaya plateau, an area of desolate plains and low undulating hills, experiencing extreme temperatures, from scorching summers to freezing winters. Nayan are migratory, wandering wherever food and water may be found, and are natural prey of the Tibetan wolf which is the chief predator of the trans-Himalayan uplands and plateaus.The urial or shapu ( Ovis orientalis) is the smallest of the wild sheep and is distributed through the western Himalaya where several different races are distinguished.

While horn shapes and colors differ, the adult rams all wear a great ruff growing from either side of the chin and extending down the throat. Adapted to differing environments, from the barren stony ranges of Sind and Baluchistan to steep grass hillslopes in Ladakh, this progenitor of domestic sheep has also attracted hunters’ bullets and many populations have been decimated to rarity.

WILDLIFE OF THE HIMALAYA

 A Sanskrit proverb holds that “A hundred divine epochs would not suffice to describe all the marvels of the Himalaya” — so long to describe, how much longer to understand. Modern scintific of  Himalayan ecology has butchered a tiny tip of the knowledge to be learnt. But even :hat tip inexorably leads to the grimmest conclusions . Man’s onslaught has rendered the Himalaya amongst the most endangered environments in the world. In the subcontinent, the Himalaya rank as the region most in need of 11 conservation, both because of the deterioration in environment and in view of our relative ignorance of the biology and ecology of high-altitude communities. Slowly, this begins to change but the task is immense. The Himalaya contain more endangered species of mammal than any other area of India and are remarkable in possessing almost one third of the world’s mammalian species that could be called true mountain animals. M.K. Ranjitsinh has noted that “the outlook for wildlife in most parts of the Himalaya is grim, in some places even desperate,” and G.B. Schaller warned that just as we are I becoming more aware of the splendor of past and present wildlife of the Himalaya we are denying it a future. He describes mountains without wildlife as “stones of silence,” an evocative and thoughtprovoking phrase.

Rich Variety: What would we be losing? The youngest, largest and highest chain of mountains in the world, the Himalayan range must lay claim to being one of the most fascinating and spectacular natural wonders of our earth. To speak of the Himalaya may give a false impression of biological homogeneity when in fact it covers a wide and varied mosaic of different biotypes — east-west, north-south and altitudinally. Geologically divided into the three regions of trans- Himalaya, middle Himalaya, and outer Himalaya and Siwaliks, the vegetation ranges from lush subtropical forests of the foothills to the bitterly cold high-altitude deserts of Ladakh and the Tibetan plateau. Thrown up 60-70 million years ago with activity still continuing, the Himalaya have acted both as a bridge and a barrier. The asymmetrical collision of the continental plates resulted in an inflow of oriental fauna through the northeast before the Afro- Mediterranean elements which followed through the northwest. The present flora and fauna spcies of the east and west regions reflect this —the former showing a close relationship with the western-Chinese pattern and the latter having Euro-Mediterranean affinities. Besides these, many species have evolved from the previously present Central Asian or palaearctic fauna and given rise to high endemism with strong generic links to Tibet and Central Asia.

Elusive Cat: No animal better epitomizes the character and concerns of the mountain environment than the snow leopard (Panihera uncial ), that beautiful and elusive cat of the high altitudes of Central Asia. A survivor of the icy rigors of the Pleistocene era, its range is immense, covering the entire Himalaya between altitudes as low as 6000 feet (1850 meters) in winter to 18,000 feet (5550 meters) in summer. Being a shy inhabitant of remote habitats, it has seldom been seen by any but those humans sharing its mountainous home. Only recently have some facts emerged about the ecology of this high-altitude predator.Somewhat smaller than the leopard ( Panthera pardus), but with a relatively longer tail, the snow leopard has a thick and beautiful spotted coat of soft gray, paling to pure white on the underside. This has certainly contributed to its rarity, for although strictly protected, many still fall to poachers’ bullets and traps, for in the world of fashion there remain those ignorant and rich enough to make taking such risks worthwhile. The snow leopard uses large areas in order to obtain enough sustenance. In winter months, it sometimes ventures near villages to lift domestic livestock, but its main prey are the wild sheep and goats that share with it these stark and snowy wastes.

Mountain Sheep: The Himalaya contain more species of sheep than any other mountain range.  Pride of place must go to the Marco Polo sheep ( Ovis Gammon polii), whose ratio of horn-length to body-weight exceeds that of any animal in the world. These horns form open graceful spirals with the tips arcing up, out and then down again. A northern subspecies of the argali ( Ovis ammon), Marco Polo sheep may still be fairly common in the Russian Pamirs and Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan, but within the subcontinent it is a rare animal existing only in northern Hunza where its magnificent head has long attracted hunters. In its spartan, near-desert landscape home, particularly severe winters also take their toll of this grand creature.

Another race of the argali is the nayan or great Tibetan sheep ( Ovis amnion hodgsoni). This is the largest of all wild sheep. Long in the leg and graceful, it inhabits the trans-Himalaya plateau, an area of desolate plains and low undulating hills, experiencing extreme temperatures, from scorching summers to freezing winters. Nayan are migratory, wandering wherever food and water may be found, and are natural prey of the Tibetan wolf which is the chief predator of the trans-Himalayan uplands and plateaus.The urial or shapu ( Ovis orientalis) is the smallest of the wild sheep and is distributed through the western Himalaya where several different races are distinguished.

While horn shapes and colors differ, the adult rams all wear a great ruff growing from either side of the chin and extending down the throat. Adapted to differing environments, from the barren stony ranges of Sind and Baluchistan to steep grass hillslopes in Ladakh, this progenitor of domestic sheep has also attracted hunters’ bullets and many populations have been decimated to rarity.

Another Himalayan mammal, originally classified as a sheep, is the bharal (Pseudois nayaur). Its physical characteristics are so intermediate between sheep and goats that taxonomists have had trouble classifying it. Expressing thoughts on their evolution in his book, Mountain Monarchs, G.B. Schaller writes that “in general the behavioural evidence confirms the morphological evidence that bharal are basically goats. Many of the sheep-like traits of the bharal can be ascribed to convergent evolution, the results of the species having settled in a habitat which is usually occupied by sheep.” For bharal, like sheep, graze on open slopes, whereas goats prefer more precipitous cliff habitats. It is an animal of the Himalaya and trans-Himalaya zones and is still common in some places as far apart as Eastern Ladakh and Bhutan.

Mountain Goats: The Himalaya house three species of true goat — the ibex ( Capra ibex), occupying the highest altitudes; with the markhor ( Capra falconer) and wild goat (Capra Maus). inhabiting cliffs generally below 12,000 feet (3700 meters). The ibex, found in the Himalaya west of the Satluj gorge, leads a tenuous existence in spite of its adaptability, as the balance between death and malnutrition in its austere habitat is delicate indeed. The spectacular markhor found in the Fir Fanjal range and west to the Hindu Kush and Karakoram, lacks the underwool of the ibex and prefers to remain below the snow line. The markhor’s horns are uniquely spiraling whereas the wild goat has scimitar horns similar to those of the ibex.

The Himalayan tahr (Heniitragus jenilahicus s), differs from true goats in having short curved horns rather than long sweeping ones. This tahr is found throughout the Himalaya from the Fir Fanjal to Sikkim and Bhutan in several vegetation zones between 8000 feet and 15,000 feet (2500 4500 meters) though rarely going far above the tree line. A beautiful and robust creature, the male Himalayan tahr has a conspicuous coppery brown ruff and mantle of flowing hair draping from the neck and shoulders to its knees and from its back and rump to its flanks and thighs. Serow ( Capricornis suniatraensis) and goral ( Neniorhaedus gora ), two of a group known as goat-antelopes, are also found in both western and eastern areas. The third member of this group, the takin ( Budorcas tricolor ), a large relative of the musk-ox, is found only in restricted numbers in the eastern Himalaya. Recently the Royal Government of Bhutan declared it the national animal and set up special reserves for its protection. Gregarious by nature, the takin partakes of long seasonal migrations and is at home in general as well as rhododendron forest. The movements of serow and goral in their selected habitats are very restricted. The serow, solitary and reclusive by nature, occupies small cliffs and thickly forested ‘ ravines, whereas the goral prefers grassy slopes width broken ground, usually at lower altitudes in the southern Himalaya.

Ruminants: Evolutionally, the earliest known ruminants are the antelope and gazelle group of the family Bovine . In the Himalaya they are represented by the Tibetan antelope or chiru (Pantholops hodgsoni ), and the Tibetan gazelle ( Proeapra pietieaunta). The chiru is another creature of the high Tibetan plateau and may also be found seasonally in northern and eastern Ladakh. With a special breathing system and the finest underwool to protect it from the extreme cold, the chiru is well adapted for the high altitude desert areas that constitute its home. Tibetan gazelle have all but disappeared in Ladakh though they may be found in Pakistan and Bhutan as well as in the Tibetan plateau.

Lett, chukor are often seen in small coveys on Aare , arid hillsides in the western Himalaya; the Himalaya tahr ranges from Pakistan to Arunachal Pradesh. Above, the kiang or Tibetan wild ass is restricted in India to a small area of Ladakh Other animals which occasionally cross the main Himalayan divide in small numbers from the trans-Himalayan ranges are the wild yak (Bos grunniens) and kiang, the Tibetan wild ass ( Equus hemionus kiang). The yak is the largest animal of the mountains; massively built and heavily coated, it inhabits the coldest, wildest and most desolate areas and is one of the highestdwelling animals in the world. The kiang, whose close relative runs in the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, is another creature of the Tibetan plateau and plains of northern Ladakh.

Of the other ungulates of the Himalayan region the samba and barking deer, though found at high altitudes in the southern Himalaya, are not truly mountain species. However, two species of red deer are endemic to the area and both are highly endangered. Indeed, the status of the shou — so-called Sikkim stag (cervus elapses walliehi) though it was never found in Sikkim –is so uncertain that it may well already be extinct. The position of the hangul or Kashmir stag ( Cervus elapses hanglu ), is a little better with a population of around 500 living protected in the Dachigam National Park in Kashmir.

In contrast to the restricted ranges of these red deer, the musk deer ( Moseses mosehif eras) may be found over a wide area of central and northeastern Asia. In spite of this, their status is hardly less endangered for the male carries the musk pod which, commanding exorbitant prices, has made the musk deer the chief target of every poacher in the Himalaya. Though protected by most stringent laws, unscrupulous perfume manufacturers still encourage the decimation of this deli ghtful creature. Threatened thus throughout its range, the best chances for viewing it are within preserved areas such as the Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh and the Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal.

Bears: The ungulates described here constitute the largest group of mammals in the Himalaya and many are the main prey species of the larger predators. Though the snow leopard may be the most spectacular of these, the largest carnivore of the mountain species is the brown bear ( Ursus arctos isabellinus). Once abundant in the Himalaya, in some parts of its range the brown bear is now even more seriously threatened than the snow leopard. As an inhabitant of the lessvegetation- rich higher altitudes, the brown bear is more of a predator than its lower-living relative, the Himalayan black bear thibetanus), whse ratio of fruit to flesh is higher. But the black bear is also omnivorous and a great meat lover, eagerly scavenging carcasses as well as occasionally bringing down sick or young prey of its own. The black bear has the largest range of all the Himalayan mammals, extending over the full mountain range and into Southeast Asia. Safer from human attack than most of the large Himalayan species, it nevertheless comes into conflict with people due to its propensity for crop raiding. Being especially fond of maize, many injuries and deaths on both sides occur during the harvesting season. A third member of the bear family to be listed amongst Himalayan fauna is the Tibetan blue bear, but it is so rare that almost nothing is known of it.

Dilettantism Dogs and Cats:latives of the bear family are the dogs. The most conspicuous representative in the Himalaya is the wolf ( Canis lupus). Feeding on hares and marmots as well as the larger goats and sheep, the wolf is an animal of the western region and may be found in Ladakh, where it is still relatively common. Another member of this family is the wild dog ( Cuon alpinus), which can be found in the Himalaya and trans-Himalaya, but its rarity in the more accessible areas makes its  status uncertain and little information concerning it is available. Of this family, the hill fox (Vulpes vulpes montana) is the most widespread and common in many habitats. But fox pelts also command a good price and it is not ignored by the ubiquitous poacher.

Several members of the cat family may be included in the Himalayan fauna in that their ranges, including those of the tiger and leopard. extend deep into the Himalaya and at high altitudes. Of the lesser cats, some like the jungle cat are recognized as having a separate Himalayan race. However, there are two, other than the snow leopard, which are specificallymountain species—the lynx (Delis lynx isabellina), and Pallas’s cat (Delis manful). The latter is a Central-Asian species and though found in Ladakh, is rare and apparently restricted to the lower Indus valley there. The lynx, which occurs in the upper Indus valley, Gilgit, Ladakh and The mona or Impeyan pheasant is the national bird el Nepal, where it is also known as the danphe (bird nine colors). Tibet, is a race of the lynx of northern Europe and Asia. Similarly rare, both Pallas’s cat and the lynx are threatened by trapping and shooting. Smaller Species: Besides these larger animals, there is a diversity of smaller species—hares, mouse hares, bats, weasels, martens and more– with varying degrees of rarity, range and reports. It is impossible to describe all here, but mention . must be made of the two races of marmot, the Himalayan marmot (Marmota bohak), and the long-tailed marmot (Marmot caudate), both endearing and common creatures of the higher Himalaya. The red panda, a small animal which i extends east from the Nepal Himalaya, is another well-known lesser mammal of the range. Colorful and cute, it is largely arboreal and nocturnal so is seldom seen in the wild.

Birds: The avifauna of the Himalaya similarly present a fascinating and varied range of species, mainly a conglomerate of palaearctic and Indo- Chinese elements, the former predominating in the western section and the latter richly represented in the eastern areas. Several bird families are endemic to the Himalaya including broadbiils, honeyguides, fmfoots and parrotbiils.  The chir pheasant and mountain quail are endemic and some 14 other palaearctic species including the Himalayan pied woodpecker, blackthroated jay and beautiful nuthatch, are considered by Ripley to give strong evidence of relict forms.

Innumerable and diverse, the colorful species of birds that colonize the Himalayan region defy precising and the several volumes covering various regions should be consulted by interested visitors. Yet some species must be mentioned. The Himalayan pheasants include such spectacular and gloriously plumed members as the resplendent crimson tragopan and the monal k with its glistening rainbow plumage. The blood pheasant, so called for the blotches of crimson that streak its feathers, is distributed only in the eastern Himalaya and graphically exemplifies the Chinese influence in the avifauna there. Most common and abundant is the generally loweraltitude kaleej pheasant, of which five or six races are recognized. The dapper, gray, black and chestnut koklas pheasant is found more or less on the entire length of the Himalayan system. The eared pheasant and peacock pheasant should perhaps be mentioned amongst the Himalayan phasianidae, though their distribution only touches on the far northeastern section. Others in this family are the partridges and snow cocks, the Himalayan snow cock and the Tibetan snow cock.
If for no other reason than their impressive size, two birds of prey of this region draw a mention. The golden eagle, a powerful hunter, 31/2 feet (one meter) from beak to tail, is capable even of taking large mammals such as musk deer fawns and the newborn young of mountain sheep; the Iammergeier or bearded vulture is best known for its habit of dropping bones from a height to splinter them on the rocks below, thus releasing the marrow and creating bone fragments on which it feeds.

Migration: The Himalaya are important in the context of Indian bird migration. Of the 2100- odd species and subspecies of birds that comprise the subcontinent’s avifauna, nearly 300 are winter visitors from the palaearctic region north of the Himalayan barrier. One of the most endangered migratory birds of the subcontinent, which nests around the high-altitude lakes of Eastern Ladakh, is the blacknecked crane. Hardly half a dozen pairs are known to breed there, though recently its extremely low known world population figure was increased by the discovery of a colony in China. Many of the geese and  to be seen in the north Indian wetlands in winter return to these high-altitude lakes for nesting between May and October. Apart from the host of long-distance trans-Himalaya migrants and those that descend to lower levels and the northern plains in winter, there are also species which partake of local seasonal migration within the Himalaya itself. One delightful though not too common example is the crimson-winged wall creeper, fascinating with its distinctly butterfly-like flight.

Until recently it was thought that the mountains formed an insuperable barrier so that migrating birds had to take circuitous routes following the courses of river valleys. However in 1981 it was established by Salim Ali, doyen of Indian ornithologists, that even small birds of starling size are able to withstand the cold and rarefied atmospheres at heights of 20,000-22,000 feet (6000 6700 meters) and some of the larger ducks, geese, eagles etc. have been observed at heights calculated to be even greater than this. Forests: The below-tree line areas of the western region hold forests with close resemblances to European elements and have a greater representation of conifers. Among them the aptly named deodar, tree of the gods, must rank as the most magnificent. Its massive height and girth make it much prized for its timber uses and some of the finest stands have fallen to the axe. The colorful flowering of rhododendrons in their masses is an unforgettable Himalayan experience. The deep crimsons, reds, pinks and creamy yellows of the blooms have no better setting than their natural environment and backdrop of snowy peaks. The majority of the 80 varieties are found in the eastern Himalaya which is also very rich in orchids, presenting a profusion of delicate shapes and colors. This eastern zone is at a lower altitude and has higher precipitation with a higher snow line, thus adding to its distinctive !botanical identity.

Himalayan Wolf: The critically endangered Himalayan wolf is canid species of wolf found in the cold environment of Himalayan region. The habitat of the Himalayan Wolf are very wild and remote wilderness of the Himalayan Mountains, also spotted in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh. The Himalayan Wolf of India are the world’s oldest species of wolves found anywhere else in the world. The Himalayan wolf may also represent an ancient isolated line of wolves in India.

‘What is ‘Deep Ecology’ and what significance does it have for forests in the Himalayan region?

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What is ‘Deep Ecology’?

In the late 1960’s, a Norwegian philosopher called Arne Neiss, came up a revolutionary new paradigm for the science and practice of ecology that he termed ‘Deep Ecology’. This notion of depth of field perspectives towards ecology implied that the study of natural environments and eco-systems was not simply a matter of taking traditionally utilitarian or pragmatic approaches towards them but something far deeper and universal, subtle even. Nature was not simply to be ‘managed’, ‘harnessed’ or ‘controlled’ as thought fit but rather it had a reality, sovereignty, and a right, all its own independent of human interference.

This idea that nature and wilderness – wild-life –  did not exist as an extension of our own needs and feelings and desires but were autonomous life-forms and one had to grant them sovereignty was quite new and radical a notion.  It created a stir in the western world and shook up the fields of biology, botany, chemistry, and ecology.

Here is an excerpt from the ‘Charter’ of ‘Nature’ as proposed by Arne Neiss and George Sessions in 1978:

The eight-tier platform of ‘Deep Ecology’

1. The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves. These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.

3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital human needs.

4. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.

5. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.

6. Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.

7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.

8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.

 Since their inception, these articles of the first charter of ‘deep ecology’ have become keystones of ‘green’  movements around the world. Their pertinence and value has only increased in time as we enter the era of ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ across the planet. However, a lesser known fact is that for Arne Naess, India has been a source of  creative inspiration for his eco-philosophy and it is from here that he drew most of his original ideas on conservation and the autonomy of nature.

A key influence for Naess in developing ‘deep ecology’  was a study of the Vedas – especially the ‘Rig Veda’ and ‘Atharva Veda’. As well, he studied the Upanishads in great depth and detail. The main ideas he got from these  ancient texts were about the nature of ‘atman’ or ‘self’ and how it pervaded all reality like a web or net – especially the natural world. The soul, or ‘self’ was not an isolated and discrete reality but a unified field of awareness. In fact, it was like a quantum field that radiated out as the natural world and also internally as awareness.

 In the past century a number of new ideas and revived old ideas about physical reality were introduced by reputable physicists. The concept of atoms composed of electrical particles, which as both matter and energy are immersed in strong fields in an immense “inner” space, was difficult to accept for those steeped in the old physics of “solid” matter. Perhaps the “new” atoms were incorporeal entities — shades of the old Greek concept of the atom as a “soul,” beyond the realm of the physical, that cannot be weighed or measured in accepted ways. The resemblance of microcosmic inner space to macrocosmic “outer” space also posed a conceptual challenge.

  • Fortunately, pioneers like Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, and more recently other scientists (e.g., Richard Feynman) helped to overcome the prejudice against revolutionary concepts. This resulted in what Capra calls “The Paradigm Shift.” Unfortunately, the words most scientists use are often not understandable without a background in mathematics and physics. Eventually, the revolutionary concepts were clarified for the common man and have become almost universally accepted in academic circles.

  • The new model of reality has had a tremendous impact on both the scientific and academic communities. The paradigm has affected everyone, for example, in the increasing environmental practices of recycling and conservation. Along with this are large-scale programs to control and reduce pollution of the air, water, and the earth itself. New holistic and ecological understanding has profoundly affected our social and biological outlook, which has led to what Capra calls a “cultural transformation.” Today the words environment, ecology, recycling, and conservation are known to the majority of educated people in most countries (in their own language).

  • Whence, then, came the idea of “deep” ecology? How does it differ from “shallow” ecology? Is it too deep for the ordinary person to understand? A Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess, in the early 1970s started a grass-roots movement based on what he called “deep ecology.” Capra describes the distinction between deep and shallow ecology as follows:

  • Shallow ecology is anthropocentric, or human-centered. It views humans as above or outside of nature, as the source of all value, and ascribes only instruments, or “use,” value to nature. Deep ecology does not separate humans — or anything else — from the natural environment. It sees the world not as a collection of isolated objects, but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life. (p. 7.)

  • Here Capra introduces the idea of a “web of life” linking diverse elements in a complex world. The theosophical perspective adds that Self-conscious (thinking) beings are the key strands in this web and that other strands exist by virtue of the highest human intelligence. The consciousness of the “lower” kingdoms is linked to the intelligence of Self-conscious beings in a hierarchical relationship. Less-advanced brothers are helped in their evolutionary journey by those higher on the evolutionary ladder, whether or not aware of such help.

  • An ancient saying brought to our attention by H. P. Blavatsky is that “Nature unaided fails.” The help may come by way of example and “pointing out the way,” as good teachers or parents do for their pupils or children. The learners must still make choices and progress on their own. An important aspect of deep ecology that Naess makes is: “The essence of deep ecology is to ask deeper questions.” Capra continues:

  • This is also the essence of a paradigm shift. We need to be prepared to question every single aspect of the old paradigm. Eventually, we will need to throw everything away, but before we know that we need to be willing to question everything. So deep ecology asks profound questions about the very foundations of our modern, scientific, industrial, growth-oriented, materialistic worldview and way of life. (p. 7-8.)

  • Students of the Bhagavad-Gita realize that on p. 35 Arjuna (each of us as a learner) is told by his teacher (the Higher Self in each one) that asking questions is one of four ways to seek wisdom; other ways are by doing service, strong search, and humility. To seek wisdom seriously, we must

Deep Ecology and Indian Spiritual Traditions

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riding effortlessly on the great green

 

green sadhu
Tibetan temple, Clementstown, Dehradun
Narayan Sadhu
river prayer

Introduction
The religious traditions of India are rich and various, offering a depth of perspectives on life and our shared universe. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect here is a ‘green thread’ that runs through each of these spiritual traditions in their shared sense that nature in all its aspects is sacred, conscious, and a source of life and wisdom. Not only that, there is an acute recognition here that nature’s physical manifestations such as forests, trees, plants, flowers, animals, and oceans can bring healing and wellness to humans in many ways – if one could live in harmony and accordance with the laws of the universe. 

Hinduism and Ecology
The Vedic traditions of Hinduism offer imagery that values the power of the natural world. Scholars of the Vedas have held forth various texts and rituals that extol the earth (bhu), the atmosphere (bhuvah), and sky (sva), as well as the goddess associated with the earth (Prthivi), and the gods associated with water (Ap), with fire and heat (Agni), and the wind (Vayu). They have noted that the centrality of these gods and goddesses suggests an underlying ecological sensitivity within the Hindu tradition. In later Indian thought, these Vedic concepts become formalized into the Samkhya denotation of five great elements (mahabhuta): earth (prthivi), water (jal), fire (tejas), air (vayu), and space (akasa). The meditative and ritual processes of Hinduism entail awareness of these constituents of materiality. Daily worship (puja) employs and evokes these five powers.

Hinduism has long revered the tree. Early seals from the Indus Valley cities (ca. 3000 BCE) depict the tree as a powerful symbol of abundance. References to India’s trees can be found in a wide range of literature, particularly in epic and poetic texts. India has a long history of forest protection, from the edicts of Asoka, to the individual work of various Rajas, to the modern Chipko movement, wherein women have staved off forest destruction by surrounding trees with their own bodies.

Trees have been acknowledged in India as carrying a special consciousness and as seats of healing and power. Often, a tree can be found harboring a local shrine or temple and ‘saddhus’ or meditators recognize that they can easily enter states of inner silence in its intimate energy-field. Along the lines of Stanislaus Groff’s research on the deep consciousness of plants and trees, in India, a tree can share its reality with a person if one could listen in silence. This sensitivity to the individuality of plants and trees as living beings is perhaps one of the many extraordinary features of spiritualities in the Indian subcontinent. The older a tree, the more it is revered as an elder of its tribe with an awareness transcending cycles of time. To enter this awareness is to ‘become’ a tree in every way, so the limitations of a human-centered consciousness can dissolve and shift into someone else. The Buddha’s enlightenment occurred under a tree, significantly an ancient banyan, and the stillness of his perfect mind is reflected in it. These mythic images of trees are somehow still embedded in Indian cultural systems and one has but to revision them to bring them back to new life for our times.

meditating in nature
tree deity

 

meditating Buddha in tree
oak tree

Rivers have been and continue to be an integral part of Hindu religious practice. More than fifty Vedic hymns praise the Sarasvati, a river (now dry) associated with the goddess of learning and culture. The Ganges River which flows through northern India likewise is referred to as a goddess originating from the top of Siva’s head in the Himalaya Mountains, giving sustenance to hundreds of millions of modern Indians. Traditionally, the rivers of India have always been considered pure. Modern industrial contaminants and human wastes have fouled the rivers, though Ganges water still plays an important role in India’s ritual life.

Hinduism offers a variety of cosmological views that may or may not situate the human in the natural world in an ecologically friendly manner. On the one hand, the agrarian and often near-wilderness images of India found in the Vedas, Upanisads, and epic texts present a style of life seemingly in tune with the elements. The Samkhya and Tantra traditions affirm the reality and efficacy of the physical world. On the other hand, the Advaita Vedanta tradition, while adopting the basic principles of Samkhya cosmology, asserts that the highest truth involves a vision of oneness that transcends nature and, in a sense, dismisses the significance of the material world by referring to it as illusion or maya.

One model of Hindu spirituality encourages physicality through yoga practices that enhance the health of the body and the vitality of the senses. Other spiritual paths advocate renunciation of all sensual attachments to the world. However, even within the paths that relegate worldly concerns to a status of secondary importance, the doctrine of Dharma emphasizes a need to act “for the sake of the good of the world.” Particularly in regard to such issues as the building of dams in the Narmada River Valley, this requires taking into account social ecology or the need to integrate environmental policy with the daily needs of tribal and other marginalized peoples.

The current worldwide ecological crisis has only emerged during the past four decades and its effects have been felt within South Asia more recently. As the region copes with decreasing air quality in its cities and degraded water in various regions, religious thinkers and activists have begun to reflect on how the broader values of Hindu tradition might contribute to fostering greater care for the earth. Gandhi’s advocacy of simple living through the principles of nonviolence (ahimsa) and holding to truthfulness (satyagraha) could give some Hindus pause as they consider the lifestyle changes engendered by contemporary consumerism. Most of the Hindu population lives within villages that, barring natural disasters such as flood or drought, are self-sustaining and use resources sparingly. However, as the population of South Asia increases, and as the modern lifestyle continues to demand consumer goods, the balance of sustainability can shatter. With appreciation and acknowledgment of the five great elements, with a new interpretation of social duty (dharma) expanded to include the ecological community, and with remembrance of its ethic of abstemiousness, the Hindu tradition can develop new modalities for caring for the earth.

Indian Goddesses and Ecology 

There appears to be a special connection in Indian spiritual traditions between  the mythology  of goddesses and forests or nature in general. The sheer beauty and loveliness of natural settings – rivers, mountains, trees, flowers and forests – are imaged in feminine deities who represent  and carry their special energies and powers. Forests are nature’s reservoirs of fertile energies and therefore places where goddesses reside in mysterious ways – in rocks, caves, tree-naves, streams, and in plants. ‘Parvati’, the consort of ‘Shiva’ is believed to have left the comfort of her father’s palace and to have spent years as a young woman in forests to earn the love of her partner, ‘Shiva’. Her ‘tapas’ is imaged in legend as becoming a tree and standing in ‘vriksha asana’ ( yoga pose) for eons of time to find the inner stillness and silence that would draw ‘Shiva’ – purest object-free consciousness – to herself.

Similarly, the early and later vedas are filled with songs to goddesses like ‘Usha’ and ‘Prithvi’ who express the utmost beauty and power of our cosmos. The ‘Prithvi Sukta’ in ‘Atharva Veda’ is among the oldest compositions to the earth in known literature. Here, the earth is envisioned as the ‘Queen of all that is and is to be’ with her ‘heart in the highest heaven’ and ‘compassed about with truth’. In a beautiful prayer to her, the poet sings:’ auspicious be thy forests, auspicious be thy hills and snow-clad mountains’ (12th Mandala, 1st Chapter ‘Atharva Veda’).

parvati
Devi in a field of flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rich pantheon of feminine nature deities and goddesses in India seem to share a wealth of imagery and symbolism with their pagan counterparts in the ancient Greek and western world. Like ‘Anu’ , ‘Abnoba’, ‘Erecura’ and ‘Aveta’ of celtic mythologies, or ‘Artemis’ and ‘Aphrodite’ in greek mythologies, or ‘Freida’ in norse sagas, Indian deities express all that is enchanting and life-giving in nature and its powerful forces. They have a spiritual essence that mortals seek and feel inspired to worship  – opening both the individual senses and the creative imagination. A goddess is not only beautiful and powerful in these shared trans-continental mythic systems, she expresses the  inconcievable  and energetic wholeness of nature: light and dark, creative and transformative, life and death are both present and balanced in paradoxical and harmonious ways. Like the forests and streams she inhabits, she can cast a spell of wonder on the mortal that may be fortunate to glimpse her here and having struck, she can open doors of perception which enrich lives on earth.

ariana
enchantress
Anu, celtic deity of earth
Isis, goddess of life and death

 

Jainism and Ecology

The Jaina tradition has existed in tandem with Hinduism in India since at least 800 BCE. Whereas the Hindu faith looks to the Vedas for texts and rituals and to the Brahman caste for religious leadership, the Jainas developed their own sacred texts (including the Acaranga Sutra, ca. 300 BCE) and follow the authority of itinerant monks and nuns who wander throughout India preaching the essential principles and practices of the faith. As indicated above, Hinduism includes both monistic and dualistic theologies, with several variations of each. Jainas ascribe to the belief in plural lifeforms populating a storied universe with hell beings at the base, humans and animals in the middle region, with gods and goddesses in the upper or heavenly domains. The goal within Jainism is to ascend to the Siddha Loka, a world beyond heaven and earth, where all the liberated souls dwell eternally in a state of energy, consciousness, and bliss. Although this goal utterly removes one from all worldly entanglements, the path to reach this highest attainment entails great care in regard to how one lives in relationship to all the other living beings that surround one in the earthly realm. Hence, from the aspect of practice, Jainism holds some interesting potential for ecological thinking, though its final goal transcends earthly (or earthy) concerns.

At the core of Jaina faith lies five vows that dictate the daily life of Jaina laypersons, monks, and nuns. These five vows, which inspired and influenced Mahatma Gandhi, are nonviolence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), not stealing (asteya), sexual restraint (brahmacarya), and nonpossession (aparigraha). One adheres to these vows in order to minimize harm to all possible life-forms. In Jainism, life is arranged hierarchically according to the number of senses a particular form possesses. For instance, life particles (jiva) in earth, water, fire, air, microorganisms, and plants each experience the world through the sense of touch. Worms add the sense of taste. Crawling bugs can feel, taste, and smell. Flying insects add seeing. Higher level animals, including fish and mammals, can feel, taste, smell, see, hear, and think. For observant Jainas, to hurt any being results in the thickening of one’s karma, obstructing advancement toward liberation. To reduce karma and prevent its further accrual, Jainas avoid activities associated with violence and follow a vegetarian diet. The advanced monks and nuns will sweep their path to avoid harming insects and also work at not harming even one sensed beings such as bacteria and water.

The worldview of the Jainas might be characterized as a biocosmology. Due to their perception of the “livingness” of the world, Jainas hold an affinity for the ideals of the environmental movement. The Jaina vows can easily be reinterpreted in an ecological fashion. The practice of nonviolence in the Jaina context fosters an attitude of respect for all life-forms. The observance of truthfulness prompts an investigation of the interrelatedness of things; a truthful person cannot easily dismiss the suffering caused by uncontrolled waste. The vow of not stealing can be used to reflect on the world’s limited resources and prompt one to think of the needs of future generations. Sexual restraint might help minimize population growth. The discipline of nonpossession gives one pause to think twice before indulging in the acquisition of material goods, one of the root causes of current ecological concerns. The monks and nuns, due to the heightened nature of their daily spiritual practice, leave little or no imprint on the broader ecological system. Jaina laypeople, due to their care and attention to what in other philosophical traditions is none other than inert materiality, can use their experiences of applying nonviolent principles with a new, ecological intention in mind.

The Jainas are particularly well-suited to reconsider their tradition in an ecological light, particularly because of their history of advocacy against meat eating and animal sacrifice, as well as their success at developing business areas that avoid overt violence. However, some challenges remain. One expression of environmentalism involves tree planting projects. Though Jaina laypeople might participate in such activities, their nuns and monks most likely would not plant trees because of the harm caused to the earth in the digging process. Another expression of environmentalism in India has been to establish forest preserves on property surrounding Jaina temple sites. However, this generally requires blocking access to prevent collection of fodder, resulting in a further impoverishment of struggling peasants. In addition to these questions of organic and social life, the extensive involvement of Jainas in heavy industries in India raises issues of appropriate economic activity and environmental health. These instances demonstrate the complexity of effectively applying ecological principles in a religious context.


Conclusion
Hinduism and Jainism offer unique resources for the creation of an earth ethic. The variegated theologies of Hinduism suggest that the earth can be seen as a manifestation of the goddess (Devi) and that she must be treated with respect; that the five elements hold great power; that simple living might serve as a model for the development of sustainable economies; and that the concept of Dharma can be reinterpreted from an earth-friendly perspective. The biocosmology of Jainism presents a worldview that stresses the interrelatedness of life-forms. Its attendant nonviolent ethic might easily be extended to embrace an earth ethics. Both traditions include a strong emphasis on asceticism that might discourage some adherents from placing too much value on earthly concerns, but, as we have seen, Hinduism and Jainism both contain concepts that can lead to the enhancement of core human-earth relations.