Reflections on God 2: Deep Ecology and Buddhism

This is part of God Flux but written in smaller sections for an easier read.

Compassion

So I put together my own version of god. Almost an imaginary friend. I was also influenced by the movie Anbe Sivam (Compassion is God) in which the main character (played by Kamal Hassan) calls various people he meets god because of their acts of compassion or mercy. (I translated the title song of this movie. You can see it here.) This idea was also influenced by other Hindi poems (like Sneh Shapat) which talked about the power of love to overcome everything and reach anyone and my early exposure to Ahimsa (non-violence) and Gandhi philosophy which I have written about here. I liked to believe that god and love are closely related if not the very same thing.

Nature

I have always found Nature beautiful and fascinating. How did the tiny ants walk one behind each other like that? Why do different leaves smell so different? I had read books like Protector’s Club when I was eight which made me actively want to protect all life, rescue animals, cure the sick ones etc. I was naturally inclined to love nature. Just a little after the Hindi poetry, in History classes, we learnt about the early Vedic times when people worshiped Nature. Agni (fire), Vayu (wind), Varuna (water/rain), Bhooma Devi (earth) and considered rivers sacred etc. This made sense to me. After all, Nature gives us everything. Life would be impossible without the Sun. At home Nature was always talked about with respect. Within Hinduism many practices are reverent of, or at least sensitive to Nature and in my family its healing and nurturing qualities were openly acknowledged, so it didn’t take me long to attach a sacred value to it. Of course, going to a school full of trees, streams and lakes, fresh air and occasional visits from wild animals, where the welfare of the environment was valued also enhanced these feelings. I talk about these influences in some detail in a post I wrote a few years ago about god and love (You can read it here if you like.)

Deep Ecology

The appeal of Nature grew as I took up Environmental Science in my 11th and 12th grade. and studied Deep Ecology, a philosophy that I think humanity would really benefit from. The main aspects of it which stuck with me was the respect and right to exist that all life forms deserved irrespective of their utilitarian value to humans. This philosophy also lays out a basic principle of right and wrong;

” A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise”
– Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.

I believe this extends to all types of diversity, be it of life forms, the geological integrity of a mountain or cultural diversity including types of food, clothing, languages, philosophies, and knowledge they as a culture have gained over time. It goes further to talk about deep experience, deep questioning and deep commitment. I believe this is part of my spiritual path for, if we cannot respect where we come from and what we are so intrinsically linked with, we cannot make any spiritual progress.

Buddhism

In a Krishnamurthi school, one is taught to question and think for oneself. I had adopted the view that I would find my own spiritual path, and not follow any spiritual teachers, so-called holy men and women, or organised religions. In fact I became so sceptical about organised religion that I believed people who needed it were being spoon-fed and not making the effort to find their own answers or paths. That they liked to be led like mindless sheep. I carried this critical outlook on religion to Bylakuppe, A Tibetan settlement in the foothills of Coorg when I was seventeen. I was suspicious about the Dalai Lama because as far as I understood, Buddhism is a philosophy which encouraged individual mental discipline, compassion and meditation, in which a leader was irrelevant. Buddha never claimed to be god and it was indeed ironic that he was considered one by the Buddhists. I assumed that the Dalai Lama may simply enjoy the power. How wrong I was! In each of his speeches that we watched, he exuded a consistent and sincere humility which astounded me. My respect for him grew exponentially. In the three days I stayed there, I learnt enough about Buddhism and their leader which touched me and made me believe that if at all I were to choose a religion, if there was a wise and really spiritual leader, he would be it. The value they give compassion and critical thinking, their ability to stay peaceful despite the horrendous atrocities the Chinese inflict on them at a physical, emotional and cultural level, and the suffering they endure on their way into India through the mighty and dangerous Himalayan range, evoked my deepest respect. Although I still didn’t believe in organised religion, I took a lot from this brief exposure to theirs.

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See also