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A Sikh Perspective on Care of the Earth
Submitted by AFAN team member navleenk a on 29/11/2008 20:06
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The Sikhs of the Punjab have been primarily a peasant and farming community. As such, they have a great love and a fascination for the earth and land. They have acted as guardians of the environment because their vocation depends on it.
The current trend for recycling and eco-friendly consciousness is not alien to most first- and second-generation Sikhs living in the West as it was a part of their daily practice at home. Food would be shared with the poor or given to stray animals. Clothes and household objects were always passed around the family and then given to the poor.
In most villages, burning cow-dung created heat energy and tandoors (ovens) made of mud and water are used today.
My first experience of how a child raised in the West has no idea how to take care of the planet, came when I reached the Punjab to do voluntary work. The village children would play with our rubbish, they had never seen deodorant cans and toothpaste tubes. They were filling the toothpaste tubes with water and using them to squirt water on each other in the heat! The local villagers became fed up with us because our rubbish would no burn with the local people’s and the smell of rubber and cans was intolerable for them. Our lifestyle did not fit in with that of the Sikhs in the Punjab so we had no option but to recycle our waste, use leaves and bark from trees, flower remedies as toiletries and antiseptics, just as those around us did.
Sikh principles stress the Earth is a sacred creation and a supreme mother of world kind. The Sikh Gurus demonstrated a positive love for the Earth and all its inhabitants.
Creating the world, God has made it a place to practice spirituality.
(SGGS pg 1035)
The Sikh faith with its affirmation of the Earth as Divine calls for continuous consciousness of its harmony and unity. The Earth’s resources cannot be consumed for selfish purposes, but must be conserved on a basis of need. The Earth, being part of the universe, is a creation of God and all the life on Earth is, therefore, a creation of God.
The Sikh Gurus also reaffirmed the Punjabi belief that our Earth is like a mother nourishing its inhabitants. This aspect of Earth is highlighted in the Shalok (Epilogue) to the Japji Sahib (the Morning Prayer), which starts:
Air is the Guru,
Water is the Father,
and Earth is the Great Mother of all.
(SGGS pg 8)
The life-giving Mother Earth (terra mater) is the source of life and its great Sustainer and Supporter. The third light of Nanak, Guru Amar Das, uses the example of the garden to explain this concept:
This world is a garden, and my Lord God is the Gardener.
He always takes care of it, nothing is exempt from His Care.
(SGGS pg 117)
The voice of Mother earth
The Gurus were the voice of Mother Earth and of the soil of the Punjab, coming from deep within their spiritual consciousness, echoing hauntingly through the dark, empty void of the universe. Their shabads (verses) on Mother Earth reach to the core of ourselves, invoking a vision, of oneness, separation and reunion, helping us identify ourselves as earth’s offspring and cosmic beings.
The womb of the great mother earth gives birth to all.
(SGGS pg 1020)
Another interesting concept is that the earth was considered a dharmsal (place of worship). The example given confirms that lighting candles and incense on trays are rituals performed in temples, but we only need look at this earth and notice that it has been created by God in such a beautiful way that it is worship itself:
Upon that cosmic plate of the sky, the sun and the moon are the lamps. The stars and their orbs are the studded pearls. The fragrance of sandalwood in the air is the temple incense, and the wind is the fan. All the plants of the world are the altar flowers in offering to You, O Luminous Lord. What a beautiful Aartee, lamp-lit worship service this is! O Destroyer of Fear, this is Your Ceremony of Light.
(SGGS pg 13)
The Gurus refer to the earth as a place not only to live in or survive but more importantly a creation of God to practise ethical, moral and spiritual living. ‘Amidst this creation, God has established the earth as a place for righteous action.’ This is further emphasised by Guru Amar Das:
By the Hukam of His Command, He created the earth, the true home of Dharma.
(SGGS pg 785)
Living in harmony with the earth
The Sikh scripture declares that the purpose of human beings is to achieve a blissful state and to be in harmony with the earth and all its creation. Today, however, it seems that humans have drifted away from that ideal and the earth is beset with myriad problems. There is a serious concern that the earth may no longer be a sustainable and viable ecosystem in future:
The major crises facing the earth are the social justice crisis, caused by humanity’s confrontation with itself, and the environmental crisis, caused by humanity’s confrontation with nature.
(Alliance of Religious Conservation)
Respect for Mother Earth is the only solution to these problems. It is our moral and spiritual duty to have reverence for this earth in our hearts and prove it by changing our daily practices. Healing the earth can only come from a reverence for nature. The Sikh Gurus also emphasised that it is the spiritually enlightened people who are able to perceive God on earth and, as such, have a reverence for our beautiful planet.
The Gurmukh sees the Lord on the earth,
and the Gurmukh sees Him in the water.
The Gurmukh sees Him in wind and fire;
such is the wonder of His Play.
(SGGS pg 117)