Thursday, April 22, 2010

 Prithvi- Our Mother

Biologist E O Wilson, among many other scientists, has studied the complex interdependence among various species in the biosphere. He found that every species makes some constructive contribution- small or great - to the ecology of the planet. For eg, if the vegetation- grasses and shrubs- decrease, the herbivores suffer. And if the herbivores decrease, the carnivores are affected but he found that there is one species that does not contribute to the ecology. guessed right! It is us, the HUMANs!

If the human species became extinct, there would hardly be any problems for any other species or for the ecology. In fact, most ecological problems would be solved if humans became or were made extinct. Arguably humans constitute the most intelligent species on the planet. Normally in a classroom, the more intelligent a student, the more potential he has to make positive contribution. Then why is it that the most intelligent species is making, not a positive, but a negative contribution to the planet?

                               (Courtesy: Spiritual Scientist Series)

This question looms large in the modern industrial age when all that we humans do is to infinitely dig away anything that is left as resource of nature and mother earth. Then once in a year to create some news for the media, we all make up banners and posters to celebrate this "Earth Day" . Anyway I liked the Google doodle for this year's Earth Day.

Greenery is something which we can never be tired of. I wonder at times how the world would look if it had all the plants predominantly in red or blue colour.

I believe that i have 2 effective ways of contributing to the cause of earth. One which i follow right from my birth, ie, vegetarianism and another using cloth bags instead of plastic ones.

One might wonder how vegetarianism might save the environment and the ecosystem for we all know the usual reasons for people turning to vegetarianism. Ethical reasons, health, aesthetic, religious (like karmic reasons) and sometimes financial reasons too are cited. However, here is where the unknown advantages lie:
  1. Conservation of Fossil fuel. It takes 78 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of beef protein; 35 calories for 1 calorie of pork; 22 calories for 1 calorie of poultry; but just 1 calorie of fossil fuel for 1 calorie of soybeans. By eating plant foods instead of animal foods, I help conserve our non-renewable sources of energy.
  2. Water Conservation. It takes 3 to 15 times as much water to produce animal protein as it does to produce plant protein. As a vegetarian I contribute to water conservation.
  3. Efficient use of grains. It takes up to 16 pounds of soybeans and grains to produce 1 lb. of beef and 3 to 6 lbs. to produce 1 lb of turkey and egg. By eating grain foods directly, I make the food supply more efficient and that contributes to the environment.
  4. Soil conservation. When grains and legumes are used more efficiently, our precious topsoil is automatically made more efficient in its use. We use less agricultural resources to provide for the same number of people.
  5. Saving our forests. Tropical forests in Brazil and other tropic regions are destroyed daily, in part, to create more acreage to raise livestock. By not supporting the meat industry, I directly reduce the demand to pillage these irreplaceable treasures of nature. Since the forest land "filters" our air supply and contains botanical sources for new medicines, saving these needs our immediate attention.
   Avoiding the use of plastic bags is ofcourse a well known  way of helping the environment. I was using a couple of cloth bags for sometime and for some reason i discontinued the practice halfway. I have decided to resume this practice from my next purchase.

There is absolutely no use in just developing our technological comforts without making a large scale paradigm shift in our ways of lives in order to save the earth from becoming barren in a few decades. The popular but extremely unhealthy practice of malls and other shops using colossal amounts of plastic bags (no need to mention power consumption) should be stopped by rule as opposed to by incentives etc. because general masses are least concerned to consciously stop their usage. I have read elsewhere that if we pile up all the cans thrown out as garbage in America in one year, then they can form a chain that can extend from the earth to the moon (and this was years ago!).

All of these phenomenon seem to increase proportionally with the technological advancement of a country as well as the increase in the purchasing power of the populace. What i observe among many Indians in America is a reckless attitude towards resources. People who used to save (anything from food, electricity, money) spend like bottomless vessels after landing here. Back home, the situation is not drastically different. The so-called 'hip' culture all around the metropolitans have resulted in lots of dumb, non-thinking people without any concern for the country, ecology and environment. This so-called "modernization" is biting at the roots of mother earth and is the situation that led to the initial question of this post above.

However this was not the situation before the machine era. The ancients were far more conscious and appreciative of nature's bounties and devised ways to live in harmony with nature. "Bhumi" or "Prithvi" is the consort of Lord Vishnu and hence is the mother of all living beings. She is extolled in many vedic hymns like the Bhu suktam and Prithvi suktam in vedas.

Raimundo Panikkar writes in "The Vedic experience.."

"The Vedic attitude toward the earth springs from mankind's primordial experience of being on the one hand a guest, and on the other an offspring, of Earth. The earth is undoubtedly mother, is close to Man, but at the same time she is also alien, other and aloof. The earth is the foundation, the basis out of which emerges all that exists and on which everything rests. The earth is the basis of life and, when considered as a divine being, she always occupies a special place among the Gods.

Investigation of the Earth is of the same nature as personal introspection. To harm the Earth is a masochistic vice. Man is from the Earth and part of the Earth, yet he surmises more and more that he is not only of the Earth, not just an earthly thing."

The Rig Veda, 5th Mandala, 84th suktam extols prithvi as follows:

1. The mighty burden of the mountains bulk
rests, Earth, upon your shoulders; rich in torrents,
you germinate the seed with quickening power.

2. Our hymns of praise resounding now invoke you,
O far-flung Earth, the bright one.
Like a neighing steed you drive abroad your storm clouds.

3. You in your sturdy strength hold fast the forests,
clamping the trees all firmly to the ground,
when rains and lightning issue from your clouds.

Ancient Rishis symbolised the Earth as Mother cow, a treasure house of all bounties and gave her supreme respect. We need to understand from them how to respect her. We also have something to learn from Mother Earth also directly. One is perseverance by observing her enduring nature and the other is the path to liberation from this world, namely surrender to Sriman Narayana. The latter can be learnt by understanding Tiruppaavai , a beautiful hymn to Krishna by Andal, incarnation of Bhumi devi.

Ancient greeks had similar conceptualization of Mother Earth and called her Gaia. The same concept of a living Earth has re emerged in the 20th century due to the findings of modern science. Gaia superorganism theory has gained adherents in recent times. For a general idea of the same-

                                   different conceptualisations of gaia

The Atharva Veda has a large and beautiful suktam on prithvi with 63 verses, some of which i present below:
2. Untrammeled in the midst of men, the Earth,
adorned with heights and gentle slopes and plains,
bears plants and herbs of various healing powers.
May she spread wide for us, afford us joy!
3. On whom are ocean, river, and all waters,
on whom have sprung up food and ploughman's crops,
on whom moves all that breathes and stirs abroad--
Earth, may she grant to us the long first draught!
12. Impart to us those vitalizing forces that come,
O Earth, from deep within your body,
your central point, your navel; purify us wholly.
The Earth is mother; I am son of Earth.
The Rain-giver is my father; may he shower on us blessings!
13. The Earth on which they circumscribe the altar,
on which a band of workmen prepare the oblation,
on which the tall bright sacrificial posts
are fixed before the start of the oblation--
may Earth, herself increasing, grant us increase!
Note the 4th line in the above verse.
34. Whether, when I repose on you, O Earth,
I turn upon my right side or my left,
or whether, extended flat upon my back,
I meet your pressure from head to foot,
be gentle, Earth! You are the couch of all!
35. Whatever I dig up of you, O Earth,
may you of that have quick replenishment!
O purifying One, may my thrust never
reach right unto your vital points, your heart!
We absolutely do not care for whatever the ancients pray in these two verses above. What we find often is miles of dug earth for all sorts of cables and underground transportation. This has indeed gone to the level of "reaching her vital points" and has created havoc.

"While most earthquakes are caused by movement of the Earth's tectonic plates, human activity can also produce earthquakes. Four main activities contribute to this phenomenon: constructing large dams and buildings, drilling and injecting liquid into wells, and by coal mining and oil drilling. Perhaps the best known example is the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China's Sichuan Province in May; this tremor resulted in 69,227 fatalities and is the 19th deadliest earthquake of all time."   (courtesy: wikipedia)

 Soil pollution has reached its heights and exponentially etches our planet's capacity as a resource base. I have personally seen quite a few places like the one in the picture above in the outskirts of major cities. A literal 'alert' sign has been issued by concerned organisations like WHO and sustainability establishments regarding the whole issue of pollution of all kinds.
Great Pacific garbage patch, oil spills and the list is endless. My emphasis in this essay is more on the general feeling and the importance accorded by ancients to mother earth and our recklessness rather than discussing the nuances of environmental pollution. Actually, most of us have enough knowledge about the environmental degradation (all kinds of environmental damages including water, soil, air) but refuse to see the big picture for fear of losing small comforts. We should keep in mind that all these ecosystems are fragile and hence balanced only until left alone. As observed in the opening quote, we meddle with all of these ecosystems and rapidly moving towards self-destruction.

A new movie, called HOME is a high quality presentation on our atrocities on this planet.

Each one has to give a thought about these serious environmental issues especially when our Earth is so special in our vicinity at least considering the fact that we might not spot liquid water for atleast another 500 million km from Earth and habitable planet for atleast  41,325 billion km from us.

May bhumi devi as well as the mighty Lord save us!

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