Greenvalues for Grey Minds : The Hindu Experiments and Experience for a Sustainable World – Dr. T.V. Muralivallabhan


Greenvalues for Grey Minds : The Hindu Experiments and Experience for a Sustainable World

Dr. T.V. Muralivallabhan


(Modern mechanistic models of development have resulted in the depletion of resources and degradation of environment. Therefore, the central concern of all nations over the world is to make all development efforts and results sustainable. Green Technology and Green Policies form two means of attaining sustainable development. These are two essential aspects of sustainable development, but they are not sufficient. The moral, ethical, cultural and spiritual aspects of human life also do influence the mind set and life style of 80-90% of the people all over the world. Hence the religions of the world in general and the spiritual aspects in particular, do play an important role in realizing the objectives of sustainable development.

This paper is an attempt to relate the philosophy and practices of Hinduism with the broad objectives of sustainable development- an attempt to draw the green wisdom of the past, to be applied in the present, for the welfare of the future generations.)

Key Words : Mechanistic development, Sustainable development, Hindu experiments and spiritual experience, green values, sustainable life style


For the question regarding God’s most precious gift to man there can only be one answer – the earth and its environment. But man’s reckless pursuit of accelerated economic growth has brought on, as we realize now , a host of environmental problems, consequent upon pursuing an obsession with infinite growth. This mad race for infinite growth and super normal profit resulted in the depletion of resources and degradation of environment. Therefore a re-thinking of the mechanistic models of development became inevitable and an integrated approach and holistic vision in development became the feature of most modern development.


Sustainable Development

In 1954 UNESCO and FAO organized the World Population Conference, where development issues were linked to environment. After this a series of conferences and summits were held to explore and explain the obvious and hidden dimensions of man nature relationship. The message that was conveyed from these conferences was that environment and development are interrelated and that the promotion of development and protection of environment should go together. The WCED which submitted its report suggested sustainable development as the best alternative to the present mechanistic models of development as it envisages “ the development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”1

The definition and the consequent discussions that followed on the theme of sustainable development proved that it is a multidisciplinary concept. As development involves a progressive transformation of the society in all aspects, sustainable development indicates the uninterrupted continuity of the improvement of social, economic, political, scientific, technological, educational and spiritual condition. Thus it is an all-round development of an integrated or holistic nature. The multi disciplinary aspect of sustainable development brings out the inter dependence of all biotic and abiotic factors that are clear or hidden

Along with material prosperity, sustainability requires social justice and equality as necessary conditions, but these are not sufficient. Above all, sustainability should assure human happiness. The World Bank President Mr. Wolfanson, in 1998 called for the intermeshing of spiritual and economic concerns. After visiting several developing countries he said “These visits have been extra ordinarily meaningful for me. They have brought to me that world Bank’s central mission has weld economic assistance with spiritual, ethical and moral development”2

In February 1998, Wolfenson and Arch Bishop of Canterbury organized a meeting of world faiths and development dialogue, where leaders of nine different faiths assembled to discuss spirituality and economic development. The repercussions of the meeting revealed that economic world has already taken spiritual concerns seriously and vice versa. In a closing statement at the conference, the WB President said, “ what is clear is that there is a unity among us. A unity of the concern not only for physical livelihood, but also for spiritual and cultural continuity”3. More over , the fact that about 80-90 percent of the world population belong to one or the other of the 10,000 or so religions and spirituality in attaining sustainable development4


Religion consists of a set of belief system, philosophy and practices that would give satisfaction to individuals both internally and externally. The practice of the aspects external of the religions like the belief system, rituals and institutions have an internal impact/ experience called spirituality. The outward expression of spirituality gives rise to the values in human beings.

Belief System Internal. Love
Rituals and Sources of Values  Simplicity Sustainability
Practices Austerity

These value system really result in avoiding over consumption and over production and hence can be treated as green values for achieving a sustainable world. Those who follow the mechanistic model of development cannot inherit any values, since machines do not possess any values and consequently they will have a Grey mind set up which leads to destruction of nature instead of a Green mind, that helps sustainability.


The ‘Hindu’ Experiments and Experiences

Hinduism cannot be regarded as a religion in the strict sense of the word. The word Hindu was used to designate the group of people who lived on the banks of the river Sindhu and Hinduism is the way of life followed by this group.

The philosophy of ‘Unity in Diversity’ for sustainability

Unity in Diversity is the plan of Hinduism, even as it is of nature. It recognizes the oneness of all beings (Yatra Vishvam bhavati Eka needam) and that the whole world is one family (Vasudha Eva Kudumbakam)5. It has also the great Message of the omniPresence of God in the biotic and abiotic world .(Isa Vasyamidam Sarvam, Yat Kinja Jagatyam Jayat, Isuvasyopanishad)

In Hinduism ‘God’ is an expression of cosmic manifestation of the supreme infinite spiritual reality (Brahman). It is the inner self of man and of all beings and entities and is all the inclusive Atman in the universe. It is the essence of the presence of the inter relatedness/interconnectedness of everything , in spite of the outer/external differences in name and form. Here man and nature are not separated , but integrated and united in a systemic manner. They are not two, but one and the same (Advaitha Philosophy of Vedantha). This philosophy is highly relevant in the light of the fragmented thinking and partial analysis of the mechanistic model of the universe propounded by Bacon and Newton and which has totally declined the interrelationship of man and nature and thereby resulted in the exploitation and unsustainable development.

II The Principle of Five Elements (Panchabhootas) for a Sustainable World

The five basic elements by which the external (Prakriti) and human beings are made up of are ether air, water, fire and earth. Any imbalance in any one of these elements can cause imbalance in the nature. For example, over heat (agni) will dry up streams and water scarcity will be the result. It may adversely affect the soil (prithvi) productivity also. It can also cause the heat waves in air and the entire space will be disturbed. The imbalance in five elements cause global warming, climate change etc. It was considered as the duty of every Hindu to worship these five elements by atributing them Godliness (Vayudevatha, Jaladevatha, Agnidevta Bhoomi Devi etc.) and not to disturb them.

The ‘Pancha Matha’ Concept

Dehamatha (biological mother), Govmatha (cow mother), Desa matha (Motherland), Bhoo Matha (Mother Earth) and Prapancha Matha (Supreme Mother) are the five concepts in motherhood at different levels that promote love and respect to nature. It keeps away individuals from over exploiting Mother nature and thus promotes a sustainable life style.

The ‘Purusharthas’

The main objective of the life of a Hindu is to attain Dharma and Moksha. ‘Dharma’can be considered as the corresponding word for sustainability. That which upholds and sustains is Dharma. Dharma is the code of conduct to be observed by the individuals to keep the physical balance of man and nature along with keeping the cultural and spiritual integration of individuals. The very saying that if you protect Dharma, Dharma will protect you, shows the inherent interrelationship between man and nature. Thus dharma demands a simple and austere life which helps a sustainable life style.

Wealth can be desired and acquired and it could be used to satisfy human wants only according to ‘Dharma’. After a period of hectic activity, there should be retirement –Moksha-again a stage of very simple and austere life. All these principles and practices provide a sustainable life style.

The Four Ashramas (Stages)

Brahmacharya (student life) , Garhastya (House holder), Vanaprastha ( Hermitage) and Sanyasa (saint) are the four stages of a person’s life in Hinduism. Out of these four, three stages- Brahma Charya, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa- recommended very simple and disciplined life and this contributes towards a sustainable life style.

Gods, Goddesses and their Vehicles

Thanks to the innumerable Gods and Goddesses in Hinduism, a large number of animals, plants and trees are protected and the bio diversity loss is checked. The real worship of God Shiva ought to protect the bull, the snake, the mountain eco system including water (Ganga). Stories of Lord Vishnu’s life is also very much related to snake ( Ananthan), Lotus and water and many other life forms.


Gods Vehicles

Ayyappa Tiger
Subrahmanian Peacock
Ganapathy Mouse
Durga Lion

People’s birth star and their corresponding plants, trees, birds and animals were protected by the society. This is also an easy way to protect the bio diversity of a place.

Sacred Groves and Sustainability

Sacred groves form a unique tradition that has been responsible for preserving pockets of diversity in various parts of India. They do many ecological services such as water conservation, Bio diversity conservation and air purification. They also control the micro climate of the region and preserve the soil moisture. The protection of sacred groves is very urgent in the modern times especially in view of the ruthless and indiscriminate deforestation. “Behind the façade of superstition was a wonderful sensitive truth, amply demonstrating the wisdom of our ancient people”6

Modern Experiment : The Chipko Movement

Sundarlal Bahuguna’s fight to save the Himalayan environment used religious beliefs of the people of India. The secret of the success of the Chipko Movement lies in the interpretation of the religion is its real natural sense. “ Ritual has done so much harm to religion in India that people have forgotten the real spirit of religion. The body is there, but without any heart. We have to revive the real spirit of the religion”7. It is the real spirit of religion that protects nature. This is clear from the following verse.

“ The whole life of the trees is to sense with their leaves, flowers, fruits, branches, roots, fragrance, sap, bark, wood and finally even their ashes and coal and they exist for the purpose of others” (Srimat bhagavatham). But our modern mechanistic grey minds are not able to grasp it. . Therefore it is high time to declare that the real spirit of religions lies in being in tune with nature and that promotion of development and protection of environment are the two sides of the coin of religion.

All religions possess green beliefs and practices to promote a sustainable world. Let us realize this and practise it in our lives.


1. WCED, 1987. Our Common Future. OUP Delhi P-43)
2. The Hindu, Aug 30, 1998
3. Ibid
4. World Watch paper 164, 2002
5. Mukhya Nanda Swami, (1986), Hinduism, Sri. Ramakrisha Mah, Trichur, Kerala, P-7
6. K.M. Unnikrishnan Nambeesan, 1993. Sacred Groves, Pockets of Bio Diversity, SPEK, Kozhikode .( P-1)
7. Ranchor Prime, 1992. Hinduism and Ecology. Motilal Banarsidos Publishers Delhi. P-96.

Source: WHN Media Network

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