By Ali Krishna devi dasi
On Thursday, October 29th, I represented ISKCON and participated in a panel, organized by graduate students in the University of Florida (UF) Religion Department, discussing religious values and the environment. The other panelists included a representative of Islam, Professor Sarra Tlili from the UF Department of Asian & African Languages, a local Jewish rabbi, and another student from Campus Crusade for Christ.
Having an undergraduate degree in environmental science and as an environmental activist for the past 15 years, my personal conclusion is that Krishna consciousness is the climax and saving grace of any environmentalist’s career. I emphasized in my introductory statement why vegetarianism and simple living are two of ISKCON’s most relevant values when it comes to ecological awareness. As we strive to see all living entities with equal vision, embracing vegetarianism is an immediate symptom of higher consciousness. Naturally, vegetarianism is also a symptom of ecological awareness. As the industrialized agricultural industry and meat consumption continues to expand, the environmental impact has been detrimental. I explained that by the end of our discussion, over 1.5 million animals will have been slaughtered in the U.S. alone. What this translates into is over 55 billion animals slaughtered annually. Thus, an unprecedented demand for petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides is needed in order to grow enough feed crops, which means more land to grow these crops, which demands one-third of the world’s arable land and another 25% of the world’s ice-free land to “graze” them. I further explained that 5000 gallons of water are used to produce one pound of beef versus 25 gallons of water to produce one pound of wheat or lettuce, and that last year, the UN made a statement that 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions were attributed to the livestock industry, whereas all modes of transportation, including cars, trucks, trains, planes, and ships combined, account for a lesser 13%. I quoted manta one from the Sri Isopanisad, “isavasyam idam sarvam…” and concluded by saying that ISKCON sees the root of all sin as the deliberate disobedience of the laws of nature through disregarding the proprietorship of the Lord.
In summary, I felt the other panelists had much to say philosophically but few examples of “lived religion” or organized efforts of environmentalism in practice. An interesting point I observed was that every panelist commented on the environment as being under humanity’s stewardship yet also existing for our enjoyment. After all the panelists presented their opening statement, the forum was opened up to questions from the audience. Approximately 50 students and community members were in attendance. The lively discussion that followed centered on vegetarianism, global warming, death rites, and war.
This panel is the first of a series of three. My professor, Dr. Whitney Sanford, who has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies with a specialization in north Indian devotional traditions, is very favorable towards ISKCON and recently attended the Vaishnavi Retreat at New Vrindavan. The following day, Professor Tlili approached a devotee on campus and asked for a copy of the Bhagavad-gita. In my opinion, ISKCON has an invaluable voice that must be strengthened and refined in order to be heard and understood by modern society and academia in regards to environmentalism. Yet, embracing or even discussing vegetarianism as a solution seems to be a truth even too inconvenient for Al Gore.
Filed under: Education, Environmental Politics, Morality, The Mother of Science
by Jayadvaita Swami
Twenty years ago, no one gave a damn. You could gum up a river with factory sludge, chop down rain forests wholesale, spray fluorocarbons into the air like a kid sprinkling confetti, and no one would say boo.
No longer. Grade-school kids want to grow up to be ecologists. New York tycoons sort their trash to recycle. Rock singers play concerts to save prairies and wetlands. Political candidates tell us they’re worried about the fate of the three-toed baboon.
Caring about the environment helps you feel good about yourself. At the supermarket you choose paper instead of plastic. You write your thank-you notes on cards made from ground-up newsprint and cotton waste. You chip in a few dollars for Greenpeace. Hey, you care about the earth. You’re a righteous human being.
Yet too often our concern for the earth lacks a metaphysical grounding. Intuitively, living in harmony with the earth feels right. If the earth is the house we’re going to live in, why litter the rooms with beer cans or pee all over the carpet?
But in an ultimate sense, so what? If life is just a series of chemical reactions, what does it matter if the chemicals go messy? Species come and species go. Why get all mushy and teary-eyed if a few berserk bipeds wipe out some hundred thousand kinds of their neighbors? The earth may be our mother, but sooner or later she’s going to blow to atomic dusting powder anyway. And from a cosmic point of view that’s just a few mega-moments down the line. So why all the fuss?
You can say it’s for our children, it’s for future generations. But they’re also just a flash in eternity. Why bother for them?
Guardians of the green remind us urgently that dirtying and devouring the earth is short-sighted. But to be far-sighted we have to look beyond what seems clean, pleasant, and harmonious on a physical spot of earth on a brief ride through the universe. We have to ask ourselves not only how well we’re treating the earth but why we’re on it and where we are ultimately going.
Otherwise, though ecologically aware, we’re metaphysically dead.
“In the rainy season, when the rivers swell and rush to the ocean, and as the wind blows the waves about, the ocean appears to be agitated. Similarly, if a person engaged in the mystic yoga process is not very advanced in spiritual life, he can be affected by the modes of nature and thus will be agitated by the sex impulse.”
-Light of the Bhagavata, Verse Eleven
“A picturesque scene of green paddy fields enlivens the heart of the poor agriculturalist, but it brings gloom to the face of the capitalist who lives by exploiting the poor farmers.”-Light of the Bhagavata, Verse Nine
“The colorful greenery of the newly grown grass, the seasonal flowers, the frog’s umbrellas, the butterflies, and the other variegatedness of the rainy season perfectly represent a well-to-do family absorbed in vanity over their personal assets.”-Light of the Bhagavata, Verse Eight
“The small rivulets that almost dried up during the months of May and June now begin to overflow their banks, like upstarts that suddenly overflow the limits of expenditure.”-Light of the Bhagavata, Verse Seven
TRANSLATION by Srila Prabhupada
The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brāhmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].
A Krsna conscious person does not make any distinction between species or castes. The brāhmana and the outcaste may be different from the social point of view, or a dog, a cow, and an elephant may be different from the point of view of species, but these differences of body are meaningless from the viewpoint of a learned transcendentalist. This is due to their relationship to the Supreme, for the Supreme Lord, by His plenary portion as Paramātmā, is present in everyone’s heart. Such an understanding of the Supreme is real knowledge. As far as the bodies are concerned in different castes or different species of life, the Lord is equally kind to everyone because He treats every living being as a friend yet maintains Himself as Paramātmā regardless of the circumstances of the living entities. The Lord as Paramātmā is present both in the outcaste and in the brāhmana, although the body of a brāhmana and that of an outcaste are not the same. The bodies are material productions of different modes of material nature, but the soul and the Supersoul within the body are of the same spiritual quality. The similarity in the quality of the soul and the Supersoul, however, does not make them equal in quantity, for the individual soul is present only in that particular body whereas the Paramātmā is present in each and every body. A Krsna conscious person has full knowledge of this, and therefore he is truly learned and has equal vision. The similar characteristics of the soul and Supersoul are that they are both conscious, eternal and blissful. But the difference is that the individual soul is conscious within the limited jurisdiction of the body whereas the Supersoul is conscious of all bodies. The Supersoul is present in all bodies without distinction.
“On hearing the sound of the torrential rains, the frogs come out of the mountain caves and begin to chant, like brahmacaris who chant the Vedic hymns by the order of the spiritual master.”- Light of the Bhagavata, Verse Six
“The evening in the rainy season is dark all around. There is no sight of the twinkling stars on the horizon or the pleasing moon. They are covered by clouds. And the insignificant glowworms become prominent in the absence of the luminaries in the open sky.”-Light of the Bhagavata, Verse Five
“After heavy rain showers, the fields and forests in all directions appear green and healthy. Thus they resemble a man who has undergone severe austerities for some material gain and has achieved his end, for such a man is strong, hearty, and good-looking.”-Light of the Bhagavata, Verse Four