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The ASSI Declaration Of Hinduism Theology Religion Essay

The significance of conserving environment was realized only a few decades ago when the pressure on it was worsening particularly after the start of industrial revolution. Environmentalist and leaders started looking for solutions from various angle and the religion was found as one of the way because of its strong association with the nature. The nature-religion connection approach gained importance as every religion teaches value and it started first in September 1986 at Assisi in Italy during the celebration of 25th World Wide Fund for Nature [Assisi Deceleration 1986] where leaders of five major religions gathered. There are numerous religions in the world with over billions of followers spread around of which major ones are discussed. The highest number of followers in the world by religion is Christianity followed by Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist as shown in the figure 1 below. Buddhism as the religion has the most significant connection amongst all other religions with the environment; however there are some negative effects too such as not accepting the use of modern eco-friendly technology which contradicts its belief.

Figure 1.

Data adapted from 100 people: A World Portrait.

Christians believe God as the creator of land, waters, forests, mountains and any living creatures including human beings. Therefore, in Christianity the entire world and everything that exists within it has been created by the Creator and in other words the whole environment has been created by God. Human beings are the most intelligent of all forms of life in the world and thus have the moral responsibility to protect and uphold the harmony that has been created by God. Any actions by people that results in destroying other creatures or land, waters, mountains, forests etc. is regarded as going against the religion. (Palmer, Finley, 2003).

As Pope Benedict XVI (2007), said Care of water resources and attention to climate change are matters of grave importance for the entire human family. Perhaps, the Pope might have sounded altruistic point of view but as he mentioned about climate change, one can say that the biospheric concern was not ignored. The effect of climate change is not only felt by humans but also by all other forms of life and it disturbs the balance of ecosystem. For instance, due to rising temperature, the ice in the polar region melts resulting in the rise of ocean level and consequently the habitat of those animals in coastal areas are destroyed leading to even death of some animals.

In September 2010, a symposium was held in Jorden at the Royal Al al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in cooperation with the Eugen-Biser Foundation located in Germany on Islam, Chirstianity and the Environment. The religious book of Muslim Quran states about consumption and it is founded on three principles (Royal Islamic strategic studies centre, 2001). (i) The goods that one consumes must be permitted under law and wholesome. (ii) The poor people must not be denied their share of wealth. (iii) The goods that are permitted to consume must not be wasted even.

The third principle which is indispensible from the environmental point of view will be discussed at length. In Islamic culture drinking of alcohol is not at all permitted. Other goods that are allowed to consume should also be consumed in a right quantity. The amount of quantity is a subjective matter and thus depends on individual. It starts from simple cooking of right (sufficient) amount of food in a household and if the quantity cooked is more and thrown out as a waste, it is considered sin. There are millions other who will strive hard to look for another meal in a day. As per the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre. (2011), there are many verses from Quran which do not recognize wastage of any items or materials.

It is He Who has brought into being gardens, the cultivated

and the wild, and date-palms, and fields with

produce of all kinds, and olives and pomegranates,

similar (in kind) and variegated. Eat of their fruit in

season, but give (the poor) their due on harvest day.

And do not waste, for God does not love the wasteful.

(6:141)

In Islamic world animals are also treated as part of a nation like people whose total count in a defined area forms the population of that nation. Thus one can say that the definition of population in Islamic world is broad and includes humans, animals and all creatures living in that area. This implies that they have the same thoughts towards animals and creatures as they have towards fellow human beings.

As per the ASSI declaration of Hinduism (1986) the Earth is regarded as the mother of Universe and she has reared man for billions of years. Various Hindu texts such as Vedas, Upanishads, the Puranas reveals that all animals and creatures should be considered as children of the Earth. There is association of deities with particular animal or bird and this indicates that Hindus worship those animal or bird. It also mentions that humans as superior form of being should not kill other lesser beings and instead serve them and gain happiness.

Saberwal, Rangarajan and Kothari (2004) described an incident about how people in India (Hindus) have regard towards wild animals and birds right from the very early time when several kingdoms existed in India. One of the assistant of Fray Sebastian Manrique, the European missionary in the winter of 1640 while travelling through remote places of Bengal killed a Peacock and ate it. The villagers knew about it although the remains were buried and annoyed about it, they ran to the camp site carrying arrows. The administrator of the nearest town intervened and punished the Peacock killer.

This is not a recent incident of how Hindu religion has influence on its followers on the conservation of environment but it indicates the very high degree of connection or intolerance to any actions that contradict their belief. Perhaps, many such incidents in the remote areas today go un- noticed and such belief is still strongly prevalent particularly in countryside. Some animals such as Crocodile in Bengal and Snakes in Kerala are even worshiped and killing them was considered taboo.

Religion is very much part of life in Bhutan with majority of the population following Buddhism. People have strong ethical, cultural, aesthetic and intrinsic values. There is a belief that in the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara) every living being including miniature creatures have been ones parent at time or the other. Therefore, people respect all forms of life and the basic principle of Buddhism is to respect and give back to nature what has been taken away from it. Lord Buddha said, Because the cause was there the consequences followed; because the cause is there the effects will follow. The basic Buddhist belief is that everything is interconnected and any living being cannot survive in seclusion. Therefore, there is always a consequence of ones own action and Buddha teaches not to destroy anything living or non-living.

As in Hinduism, Buddhist particularly in Bhutan has association of mountains, rivers, lakes, trees, rocks with deities and consider as sacred and pay homage to it. They never disturb or venture into such sacred place due to fear of negative outcomes such as illness, misfortune or even death to themselves, family or in the community as a whole. The anecdote from the first meeting to conserve the environment by involving monk and nun which was held in Thimphu in September, 2011 is mentioned here. During the road widening work of Thimphu Phuetsholing Highway, a snake appeared in the place called elephant rock where the rock has natural image of an elephant. The local people came to guard it and the work was hampered. The snake moved away only after performing ritual by monk and retention wall was built to extend the road without removing the rock. (Compassion and Conservation, 2011)

The Vision and Strategy for the Nature Conservation Division (2003) recognized that conservation is not a single department or sector effort. It should involve integrated approach of various sectors such as religion, tourism and agriculture for successful conservation. For instance, tourism sector helps in renovation religious monuments and to preserve and promote religious festivals so as to attract tourist thereby indirectly benefiting the conservation of environment and the nation as a whole.

Tourism is the main income generation sector besides hydro power in Bhutan and it heavily depends upon religion and culture. The conservation of historical and cultural sites including temples, mountains, lakes and other sites which has religious association has been found indispensible so as to conserve the natural environment as people pay homage and respect to these sites. Government found religion as the important sector and therefore a separate department called Special Commission for Cultural Affairs has been formed in 1985 solely to look after religious and cultural matter which is an indirect way of conserving the environment.

However, there are negative effects of strong Buddhist belief to environment in Bhutan. The tradition of performing funeral is burning the dead body using wood and monks performing ritual. There are offerings of food and monks chanting mantras while the body is being burnt. After the funeral, 100 prayer flags are hoisted to relieve the dead from suffering and to be reborn in heaven realm or break away from samara. This involves cutting down of 100 young trees to hold the prayer flags and the calculation shows that taking 7 percent of crude death rate (National Statistics Bureau,2005) and estimated population of 708,265 for 2011(NSB,2008), 495,786 young trees might have been cut down in 2011 alone for prayer flags excluding the wood used to burn the body. A photo by Matthieu Ricard of prayer flags hoisted is given in the figure 2 below.

Figure 2

As per Penjor (2004, May 1) Government installed incinerators at a total cost of Nu. 13 million in 1998 as an alternative time saving and cheaper vis--vis the traditional funeral.(Kuensel). Perhaps, government realized the disguised huge destruction to the environment and looked for an alternative to save the trees from being cut down. However, fourteen years after the installation, people are still reluctant to use the facility despite repeated persuasion over the years through different medium of communication even by the monk body themselves as it contradicts with the religious belief. The incinerator still lies in an idle state without anyone using it after huge investment.

Buddhism in Bhutan evolved out of Bon religion which is similar to Shamanism where nature objects such as mountains, lakes, stones, trees are worshiped and thus Shamanism and its culture is described below. In Shamanist Siberia people consider themselves as the children of the Nature. They mimic the sounds of birds and animals during their festival as part of dance and song. They convey the idea that humans belong to Nature, that they are indebted to it for their living and committed to preserve it (Nature, culture and religion at the crossroads of Asia, 2010, p.8). People perform different dances of various animals conveying meaning of each dance about their connection with the Nature. For instance, they perform round dance known as Heede which signifies their harmony with nature.

Practicing Shamanism in the past was looked down as un-civilized due to their culture and dress which appeared like animal. (Nature, culture and religion at the crossroads of Asia, 2010). This view was particularly strong in the western world but the Russians also had the same notion. Now, with the development of thinking allied with the loss of biodiversity and lots of environmental conversation effort around the world, they have gained due regard and high esteem of their culture. This is not an isolated case and it is the same with many other minority indigenous people around the world who usually have very close connection with the Nature.

Shamanist worship spirits and perform many rituals to appease them. They also hunted animals for food and ornaments which they wore during rituals but it was not excessive hunting. They learned some animal movements for either self defense or other purpose and their way of culture implies they were part of Nature. The hunting of animals by predators in the wild existed and therefore, hunting of animals by human is not outside nature if they were considered part of it. Moreover, hunting was in a small scale with traditional weapon which implies it was done in a very sustainable way. Lion hunting Deer, Antelope, Buffalo and other animals in South Africa is a typical example of hunting in the wild by predator.

To conclude, the various religions including those practiced by minority of people convey basically the interrelationship of human beings and his surroundings. Man has been recognized as superior being over other forms of animals and creatures and any dominance over them is not enunciated. As the exploitation of natural resources disturbs the balance of ecosystem and may even lead to extinction of animals and birds, it conflicts religious belief of respect and responsibility particularly in Buddhism and man would have to consequently bear its effect. Therefore, it is like destroying ones own house by oneself. The Buddhist belief has very strong influence on the conservation of environment and realizing this, similar to ASSI Declaration monks and nuns of Bhutan gathered for the first time in Thimphu from September 5th to 6th 2011 to discuss how to protect and conserve environment. (Commission for monastic affairs, 2011). Their main aim was to discuss the relationship between environment and religion and sensitize their respective monastic school and general public at large on the conservation of environment through religion which can easily influence people in Bhutan.

The involvement of religious figures in the conservation effort allied with increase in literacy rate over the time may change the attitude of people and accept use of modern technology such as incinerator in the conservation of environment.

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