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Conservation Myths Help...Promote Sustainability

Conservation Myths Help...Promote Sustainability

Author: S. M. Bhasker
Publication: The Times of India
Dated: February 20, 2006

At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the Indian prime minister intoned a Vedic hymn: "The ocean is your girdle/ Your bosom the mountains/ Goddess Earth, my obeisance to you/ Forgive me for daring to touch you with my feet".

The mantra helps us to transform our perception of planet Earth by teaching us to revere the planet that is the vessel of our continued evolution and sustenance.

A decade later, at Johannesburg, environmentalists debated how one can transform sustainable growth to a new 'global' or 'holistic' ethic.

Discussions still revolve around anthropocentric, biocentric and ecocentric views, but no holistic view is attempted. Lack of unity at the normative level requires respecting the Earth as a living being.

A hardwood forest in Thailand was ordained as a community of Buddhist monks. Bizarre as this may seem, it did put an end to attempts to cut the forest down, because local people refused to allow these 'monks' to be killed.

Indian tradition worships the Earth as the compassionate Mother goddess, consort of Vishnu, life-sustainer. Earth is the female principle of this life-sustaining power.

Earth is also depicted as the divine cow Prasni, symbolising abundance, for she provides the needs of all creatures. Some Earth myths suggest ecological problems arising from population explosion.

She says: "I cannot endure all the people", and appealed to Brahma the Creator to reduce their numbers whereupon he created Death in the form of a beautiful woman whose tears at having to perform such a task, become fatal diseases and disasters.

Earth myths point to ways of engendering sustainability. Once there was no king on Earth, and the Earth had to hide herbs and fruits within herself as unruly men plundered her resources.

When Prithu was installed by rishis as king, people emaciated from long periods of hunger assembled before Prithu and requested him to feed them as Earth was not yielding her resources.

An angry Prithu aimed his arrow at Earth. Mother Earth assumed the form of a cow and said: "Wicked men were on the increase, they exploited me.

I had to hide resources. Now, you may bring me one of each species as a calf and let the calf draw out of me milk in the form of what they want".

Must we understand now that myths residing in our consciousness and manifesting in our cultural and religious traditions have a grand motif concealing an important message?

When early Greek philosophers declared that they could no longer interpret their ancient writings and symbols, their myths became dead knowledge.

They searched outward. Mythology was rejected as illogical. Luckily, in India we have a living mythological tradition.

We recognised the Earth as a living being much before the Gaia hypothesis postu-lated that the Earth was living organism.

Devotees of Earth, we certainly can't claim to be. But our failure to adapt to a higher level of consciousness may plunge us into an imminent state of ecological cessation. Will the Earth endure?

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