Biodiversity discussed in various religions
- M. A. Niveditha1 & S. Padmavathi2
1.Department of Botany, VisakhaGovt Degree College For Women, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh – 530017
E-mail: [email protected]
- Department of Botany, Visakha Govt Degree College For Women, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh – 530017
E-mail: [email protected]
The religious traditions of India are rich and various, offering diverse theological and practical perspectives on the human condition. For most cultures, religion is a primary means of defining right and wrong. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam; and others place great emphasis on the values, beliefs, and attitudes that relate to the respect for nature and the elements that constitute the universe. The concept of sinning against nature existed in various religious systems. Members of all religions are responding as part of the “Greening of Religions,” also known as religious environmentalism, based on religious environmental ethics. Conservation of biodiversity can be easily achieved by popularizing the ethical importance of plants discussed in various religions and sins attained by destroying them will pave the way for their sustainability for future generation. Developing gardens in public places like hospitals and children parks and along walking tracks by keeping their importance in written form will be very useful in conservation and transmission of ethics, as everybody bow down the head before supreme commander “God”.
Key words: Biodiversity, greening of religions, public places, ethics and conservation.
The religious traditions of India are rich and various, offering diverse theological and practical perspectives on the human condition. “Several elements of nature have also taken on specific meaning. Religions are central to basic beliefs and ethics that influence people’s behaviour and should be considered more seriously in biodiversity discourse. The plants like holy basil, peepal tree, banyan tree, neem tree etc. have religious significance and are not harmed. Religion plays important role in conservation of natural biodiversity in several diverse ways. The first is by providing ethical and social models for living respectfully with nature. For most cultures, religion is a primary means of defining right and wrong. Since nature has spiritual powers, it commands respect and is included in the religious code of morality and etiquette by all religions, even though they may differ in their ways and means. Historically, conservation of nature and natural resources was reflected in religious practices, folklore, art and culture permeating every aspect of the daily lives of people. Scriptures and preachings that exhort reverence for nature and relate to conservation can be found in most of the religions that have flourished in the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam; and others place great emphasis on the values, beliefs, and attitudes that relate to the respect for nature and the elements that constitute the universe. The concept of sinning against nature existed in various religious systems.
Biodiversity in Hinduism:
“The Vedic philosophy of India has always emphasized the human connection with nature. Vedism is a way of life based on scriptures called Aranyakas, or forest books, which were written by sages who lived in the forest. The Mahabharata, Ramayana, Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas and Smriti contain some of the earliest messages on ecological balance and the need for people’s ethical treatment of nature. They emphasize harmony with nature and recognize that all natural elements hold divinity (Ibid)”.
The puranas also recalls the virtues of plants and trees and stressed on the need to tree plantations. “The inhabitants of a house which has sacred basil (Ocimum sanctum) are fortunate” (PadamPuran 59.7). “The yama (messenger of death) do not enter a house where sacred basil is worshipped every day” (SkandaPuran 21.66). The VarahPurans (172.39) says that “One who plants a peepal (Ficusreligiosa), one neem (Azadirachtaindica), one Banyan (Ficusbenghalensis), two pomegranates (Punicagranatum), two orange (Citrus reticulate), five mango trees (Mangiferaindica) and ten flowering plants or creepersshall never go the hell”. The practice of “Vanmahotsava” (Tree Plantation Ceremony) is over 1500 years old in India. The Matsya Puran tells about it. Agnipuran says that the plantation of trees and creations of gardens leads to eradication of sin. In Padma Puran (56.40-41) the cutting of a green tree is an offence punishable in hell.
Another verse from Rig-Veda says “Thousands and Hundreds of years if you want to enjoy the fruits and happiness of life, then take up systematic planting of trees” (Dwivedi and Tiwari, 1987).
Every day hindus pray to sacred plant Tulasi
तुलसिमाते नमस्कारतुलसि ! श्रीसखि शिवेपापहारिणिपुण्यदे |नमस्तेनारदनुते नमोनारायणप्रिये ||
prayers to mother tulsi (plant)
Tulsi, the friend of goddess of Laxmi , one who destows good luck,Destroyer of all sins. One whose praises are song by (Rishi muni) Naarad, who is dear to Lord Narayana, to such a Tulsimaa, I bow to you.Significance of Trees as Mentioned in Vedas and Puranas
Trees stand in sun and give shade to others. Their fruits are also for others. Similarly good people go through all hardships for welfare of others.
sandalwood is pleasant (cool), moon (or moon light) is more pleasant than sandal. (but) company of a good person (Sadhu) is pleasant then both moon and sandal.
Literal meaning of word ‘shItalah’ is cool/cold, in this context cool means something which is pleasant.
Bhismacharya says to Yudhistira, “The forest which gets destroyed due to the fire or due to the axe, will again grow in time. But the wound caused to the mind due to the bad and harsh words will never get healed”.
Speak with compassion and soft tongue with all is the message of this suBAshit. The human mind is so soft that it doesn’t forget even the smallest of insult/disgrace caused to it .
फलान्यपिपरार्थायवॄक्षा: सत्पुरूषाइव ||
The trees make shade for others, themselves standing in Sun. (Their) fruits are also for others. (Hence) the trees are like ‘satpurush’ (gentlemen).
मावनंछिन्धिसव्याघ्रंमाव्याघ्रा: नीनशन्वनात् |
वनंहिरक्ष्यतेव्याघ्रौ: व्याघ्रान्रक्षतिकाननम् ||
Don’t destroy the forest where tigers are living. Tigers should not get extinguished from the forests. Forest is protected by the tiger (People don’t cut trees in the forest for fear of tiger) and by providing the place to hide, forest too protects the tiger!
मूलंभुजंगै: शिखरंविहंगै: ज्ञन्ब्स्प;ज्ञन्ब्स्प; शाखांप्लवंगै: कुसुमानिभॄंगै: |
आश्चर्यमेतत्खलुचन्दनस्यज्ञन्ब्स्प;ज्ञन्ब्स्प; परोपकारायसतांविभूतय: ||
Roots of the sandalwood tree form a shelter for the snakes, on it’s top birds take rest, on it’s branches monkeys are playing and one can find bee’s on it’s flowers. Really, the ultimate aim of the good (‘sajjan’) people is to offer helping hands to others (‘paropkar’)!
Few flowers have found such prominence in legends and symbolism as the lotus. The Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religions have amassed a wealth of fascinating stories about the species. In Hinduism, the flower is said to be the center of the universe. There is a story that it arose from the navel of God Vishnu, and at the center of the flower sat Brahma. Each of the three Brahminical deities, Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Protector) and Siva (the Merger) are associated with this plant. The lotus is associated with Prajapati (Brahma) in the cosmogonic myths of the Brahmana portion of the Taittiriya Upanishad (800 bce). There are also accounts of the world born through a “Golden Lotus” and Padmakalpa, the Lotus Age in the Padmapurana (678 ce).
Goddess Lakshmi, patron of wealth and good fortune, sits on a fully bloomed pink lotus as Her divine seat and holds a lotus in Her right hand [see artwork, right]. It is also mentioned in the Mahabharata that Lakshmi emerged from a lotus which grew from the forehead of Lord Vishnu, and a garland of 108 lotus seeds is today used for the worship of Lakshmi. The Goddess of Power, Durga, was created by Lord Siva to fight demons and was adorned with a garland of lotus flowers by Varuna. Goddess of Wisdom, Saraswati is associated with the white Lotus. And virtually every God and Goddess of Hinduism–Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Parvati, Durga, Agni, Ganesha, Rama and Surya–are typically shown sitting on the lotus, often holding a lotus flower in their hand. The lotus which serves thus as the seat of the Deity, signifying their divinity and purity, is called padmasana or kamalasana.
In various regions of India, lotus blossoms are offered in worship of Lakshmi during Deepavali; to Durga in Durgapuja and to Lord Siva during Mahasivaratri. During these festivals, the demand for lotus flowers is great. The offering of lotus blooms to the Gods is also depicted through traditional mudras, hand gestures, in the introductory steps of classical Bharata Natyam, as well as other forms of Indian dance.
Lotus in spite of being in water never gets wet. It is not bothered about its surrounding but it blooms and performs its job and vanishes. The ultimate aim of living beings is to perform its karma without bothering about the external factors. Lord Buddha is said to have been born on a lotus leaf, and the lotus followed the spread of Buddhism to China and Japan.
Lotus Flower is one of the most popular symbols in Hindu religion. It is believed that Lord Brahma emerged from the navel of Lord Vishnu sitting on a lotus. Goddess Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of learning, is shown sitting on a lotus. Lotus flower is a symbol of eternity, plenty and good fortune and Goddess Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, is usually depicted with a lotus flower. The symbolism of Lotus flower is mentioned in the 5th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita by Lord Krishna:
“One who does all work as an offering to the Lord, abandoning attachment to the results, is as untouched by sin (or Karmic reaction) as a lotus leaf is untouched by water. (5.10). Thus Lotus is a symbol of purity and enlightenment amid ignorance (the smutty swamps in which it grows)”.The ultimate aim of each human being is to be the lotus flower – perform the Dharma without being attached to the world.
Biodiversity of Islam
According to Muslim belief, the earth is a sanctuary in which mankind was made to dwell in comfort. Thevast oceans, forests, and mountains that make up the bountiful planet have been subdued by God for our enjoyment and productive use. Further, God compels Muslims in the Qur’an to respect and revere the environment when he says, “Greater indeed than the creation of man is the creation of the heavens and the earth (40 : 57)
Islam emphasizes all measures for the survival and perpetuation of these creatures so that they can fullyperform the functions assigned to them. Love for nature and its conservation has been strongly backed in teachings of many Islamic Su_ s, poets and philosophers. The absolute destruction of any species of animals or plant by man cannot be justi_ ed; nor should any be harvested at a rate in excess of its natural regeneration. This applies to hunting and _ shing, forestry and wood-cutting for timber and fuel, grazing, and all other utilization of resources. It is imperative that the genetic diversity of living beings be preserved – both for their own sake and for the good of mankind and all other creatures as is reflected in the following lines of Qur’an (31 : 10)
“He created the heavens without any pillars that you can see;
He sat on the earth- mountains standing _ rm lest it should shake with you
He scattered through it beasts of all kinds, we send down rain from the sky
And produce on earth every kind of creature, in pairs.
Mohammad told his followers that they would be rewarded by God for taking care of the earth. God has said: “Then let man consider his nourishment: that We pour down the rain in showers, and We split the earth in fragments, and there in make the grain to grow, and vines and herbs, and olives and palms, and gardens of dense foliage, and fruits and fodder – provision for you and your cattle.” (Quran 80:24-32) Islam has urged humanity to be kind to nature and not to abuse the trust that has been placed on the shoulders of man. In fact, to be kind to animals is an integral part of Islam for Muslims.
Biodiversity in Sikhism
Further, ‘Gurbani’ refers to various species of trees, which are useful to the world and its various beings and creatures. The Gurus inferred that it is not the girth, size, or beautiful flowers that determine the significance of a tree but its usefulness that makes it important. The trees that have sanctity in Sikhism include Bohr (Ficus bengalensis), Pipli (Ficus religiosa), Jand (Prosopis spicigera), Garna (Capparis horrida), Karir (Capparis aaphylla), Phalahi (Acacia modeta), Reru (Mimosa leucophloea), Luhura (Cordia latifolia), Tahli (Shisham), Imli (Tamarind), Amb (Mangifera indica), Harianvelan, Neem (margassa), Ritha (Sapindus mukorosa), Kalp (Mitragina parvifolia) and Ber (Zizyphus jujube). Four of the most sacred trees associated with the Sikh shrines, namely beri of ‘DukhBhanjaniBeri’ of Sri Harmandir Sahib, ‘Beri of Baba Budha’ (also of Sri Harmandir Sahib), Beri of ‘GurdwaraBer Sahib’ of SultanpurLodhiand ‘Beri of LachiBer’ of Sri Harmandir Sahib highlight the role that trees have played in Sikh history. The consciousness about environment and ecological balance only during the past three to four decades while the Gurus realized their significance more than 500 years ago.
Biodiversity in Christianity
According to the Bible, all creatures are good in themselves and they are not just for our use. In this regard, Pope John Paul II said – ‘Nature should be respected and preserved so that by establishing a healthy proper relationship with it, people can be led to contemplate the mystery of God’s greatness and love.’ Similarly,according to Archbishop of Canterbury, “God’s glory is to be found in the whole of the vast order of the universe and in the miraculous detail of nature in all its forms”. A tree is a vertical figure projected toward Heaven and its vital strength reminds us of the victory of lifeover death. The trees have a deep religious meaning and throughout the Bible, we find citation of its different species at a number of places, some of which are:
The Sycamore or Fig Tree: The first tree species mentioned in the Bible is Fig tree. Its fruit is green in colour and not easily detected among the leaves until it is nearly ripe. Jesus came to a fig tree, desiring fruit, but found only leaves. He cursed the tree, and it dried up from the roots. Adam and Eve used fig leaves to try to hide their sinfulness from the eyes of a searching God. One time a fig tree was used to enable someone to see Jesus.
Olive Tree: It is another important tree which became the Biblical symbol for the nation of Israel.
This tree has been called an emblem of peace, prosperity, and wealth. When the olive crop fails, it is considered to be a sign of divine wrath. Olive oil was also used in the tabernacle for light and ceremonial
anointing by the priests of God. It even finds a place in the book of Genesis.
Cedar tree: The life span of this tree is believed to be of over two thousand years. It was chosen for
building not only the temple of the Lord but also Solomon’s house and other public edifices in Jerusalem.
It was also used for roofing the temple of Diana at Ephesus and Apollo at Utica. The cedar forests in
Lebanon were famous and people traveled great distances just to see them. Their life span was often
over two thousand years.
Oak Tree: Another tree known for its longevity and stands as a witness to certain events. In the time of
the patriarchs, Jacob took the false idols from the members of the household and buried them under an oak. It was by an oak tree that, years later, Joshua took idols from the nation of Israel, who promised to serve only the true God. When the land of Israel was oppressed by Midian, the Angel of the Lord appeared under an oak tree where it made a covenant with Gideon to deliver Israel from their oppression.
Palm Tree: The Palm tree is a sign of joy and happiness and also the symbol of life. This may be the
reason why a huge number of martyrs in the book of Revelations were dressed in white robes and
holding Palms in their hands. An oriental proverb says that the Palm tree’s feet are rooted in water and
its head in the fire.
Locust-tree: Another legume, very common in the Holy Land, is the evergreen carob or “locust-tree. “
Its seed pods, from 6 to 10 inches long, full of a sticky pulp and honey-like syrup when ripe, are used as
food for livestock as well as people. The response of people of this religion on Biodiversity Conservation has been immense. With the deterioration of the environment, more and more Christian clergy are coming up with stronger conviction to restore a healthy environment on this planet for the survival of mankind. Foltz (2003) said- “To date, the strongest high level rhetoric by far has come from the Economical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, who has declared environmental degradation to be a Sin.” Similarly, Dieter Hessel (1998) who contributed enormously towards Biodiversity Conservation and Christianity, has illustrated seven key themes most of which relate to the subject of conservation and are quite logical and convincing.
Hindu philosophy has always had a humane and dignified view of the sacredness of all life, and that humans are but one link in the symbiotic chain of life and consciousness.No religion, perhaps, lays as much emphasis on environmental ethics as does Hinduism. It believes in ecological responsibility and says that the ‘Earth is our mother. It champions protection of animals,which it considers also have souls, and promotes vegetarianism. It has a strong tradition of non-violence or ahimsa.It has a strong tradition of non-violence or ahimsa.
Evergreen trees were regarded as symbols of eternal life and to cut them down was to invite the wrath of the gods. Groves in forests were looked upon as habitations of the gods. It was under a Banyan tree that the Hindu sages sat in a trance seeking enlightenment. Hinduism believes in the allencompassingsovereignty of the divine.
It is believed that even the cutting of branches could make his son invalid. Hindu homes worship peepal tree (Ficus religious) off widowhood; they worship of god Coconut tree (Cocusnucifera) is believed to be a symbol of fecundity and so Hindu women who nurse the desire to get a son worship coconut trees and eat coconut fruits as a „divine gift‟ (Das Gupta, 2003).
The primitive Hindu societies of India represented by the tribal‟s (aborigines) living in mountains and forests have significantly contributed a protection and preservation of several virgin forest patches in rich in biodiversity (David, 1980). They are called “sacred groves” (Forest of God) and are left untouched by the local people. All interferences into it area taboo, it is usually dedicated to a deity or mother goddess who is supposed to protect and preside over it and the intruders will be punished. Such sacred groves are found all over India particularly in the Western Ghats and north-eastern Himalayan regions and have become part of the “Biosphere Reserves” of India containing some of the rare and endangered species of plants and animals. They are repository of some valuable “germless” which would be needed by the posterity for sustaining agricultures in future. The present collapse of Earth’s biodiversity is a major issue facing human society. Members of all religions are responding as part of the “Greening of Religions,” also known as religious environmentalism, based on religious environmental ethics. Coservation of biodiversity can be easily achieved by popularizing the importance of plants discussed in various religions and sins attained by destroying them will pave the way for their sustainability for future generation. Developing gardens in public places like, hospitals and children parks and along walking tracks by keeping their importance in written form will be very useful in conservation as everybody bow down head before supreme commander “God”.
Ibid. Para 21.
Dwivedi OP, Tiwari BH (1987). Environmental Crisis and Hindu Religion, Gitanjali Publishing House, New Delhi.
Das Gupta SP (2003). Environmental Issues for the 21st Century, Amittal Publications, New Delhi.
David DS (1980).Tamil Temple Myths, Princeton University Press, New Jersey.