Nature, God and Us
From Back to Godhead 23-07, 1988
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
For as long as there has been civilization on this planet, human beings have been abusing the earth. Thinking themselves lords over all they survey, they have taken without restriction whatever they desire for sense gratification, without considering that in the future there may be nothing left. Whole species have been killed, rivers and seas ruined, and the air polluted with poisonous waste. It seems only a matter of time before mankind destroys its habitat and that of all other creatures.
Sri Isopanishad describes man's proper relationship to the earth: "Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong." Clearly, this philosophy must be applied not only to individuals but also to governments. In the purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada says that there can be no peace if countries claim proprietorship over the resources of nature. "If they do not recognize the proprietorship of the Supreme Lord, all the property they claim as their own is stolen. Consequently, they are liable to punishment by the laws of nature." The possible agents of punishment are innumerable. The earth can be destroyed by nuclear bombs, or slowly choked to death by fumes.
The earth, which is God's energy, supplies all creatures, each taking from it according to his particular body. But among the species, human beings have a responsibility toward the earth. Man is the big brother of all other creatures. As it states in the Bible, man has "dominion" over all the animals. Although many persons take this to mean that they can kill other species, a devotee of Krishna understands that "dominion" means that man has the responsibility to protect all life on earth and to allow the different creatures to take from the earth what they need. If everyone takes only what is needed, this will guarantee the proper relationship between the planet and those who dwell on it. By Lord Krishna's grace, there is enough for everyone, but when there is misuse and the balance is disturbed, everyone's life is endangered.
We can find few modern examples of peoples who live in a healthy relationship with the earth. Native Americans, as they lived prior to the invasion of the white man, are among those who maintained a sane relationship with nature. They did not consider themselves proprietors of the land, for they believed that the land belonged to the Great Spirit, who provided it for their use. They were religious and believed that all things in nature were regulated by gods. Their religion was primitive in the sense that they prayed for material things, such as rain. A relationship with God based on personal maintenance is not the highest form of religion. But at least the Native Americans lived in harmony with their environment, in a God conscious way.
The Krishna conscious devotee, concerned for all living entities, naturally advocates a proper relationship with the earth. Although devotees are transcendentalists and aspire to go back to the eternal kingdom of God, a spiritual planet, they still care about the earth. It is here that we must develop our God consciousness. And unless we live here peacefully, we will not be able to pursue spiritual life.
To prosecute God consciousness on earth, as well as to attain ecological balance, devotees recommend living simply. The Bhagavad-gita states, annad bhavanti bhutani parjanyad anna-sambhavah (Bg. 3.14): All living beings subsist on food grains, and food grains come from the rain. According to Vedic knowledge, grains grow because of rain, and rain comes from yajña, or sacrifice performed in the course of executing one's duties as taught in the Vedas. Certainly, everyone lives on the earth and takes his foodstuffs from the earth. Even meat-eaters depend on food grains, since the animals they eat live off the grains. Therefore industry is not as important as growing food. Man can actually solve his economic needs just by living on a little land and keeping cows. Living simply in relation with the land creates a natural balance between ourselves and the earth and encourages us to take only what we need.
The principle of yajña, sacrifice, points up another relationship the Krishna conscious devotees have to the earth. The first major newspaper coverage of Srila Prabhupada and the Hare Krishna movement in America appeared in a New York City newspaper, the East Village Other, with the headline "SAVE EARTH NOW!" A photo with the article showed Srila Prabhupada and the devotees chanting in Tompkins Square Park, New York. The editors, whether they meant it seriously or in fun, were saying that Prabhupada had come to preach a message to save the world.
In fact, by performing kirtana (the chanting of God's names), which is the prescribed yajña for this age, the earth can be saved. As Srila Prabhupada has written in a Srimad-Bhagavatam purport, "Ultimately, we have to depend on the production of the field and not on the production of the big factory. The field production is due to sufficient rain. Sankirtana yajña must therefore be performed to save us at least from scarcity of food supply."
Chanting the holy names of God is the best method of serving Krishna and pleasing ourselves. As food comes by yajña, so by chanting Hare Krishna people are getting food. We still must plow the earth, but if the earth is plowed and there is no God consciousness, there will be scarcity. By the public chanting of Hare Krishna, which is sankirtana-yajña, devotees are trying to safeguard the population from hunger and other difficulty.
The atheist will scoff at the idea that there is a relation between praise of God and natural production, but when there is a severe drought, the atheist can bring hundreds of tractors into the field, and he can bring forth all modern technology, but he cannot produce food. And when leaders lack God consciousness and deny that all creatures are God's offspring, they do not allow for fair distribution of food among the people of the earth.
Sankirtana yajña also means distribution of knowledge. By this yajña, devotees are performing the most important welfare activity. Some people think that the Hare Krishna devotees would be doing better if they worked in some other way to help the social condition. But pleasing God is the most important thing, and if everyone did it, so many problems would be solved.
People are taking unnecessarily from the earth and upsetting its natural balance. They should learn from Krishna what their quota is, and they should not take more than they need. Although the situation on earth is already critical, it is still not too late, provided we turn to a sane and spiritual relationship with the earth and among human beings. The current mismanagement of earth's resources will only end in ruin.