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Nature and Man: Gandhian Concept of Deep Ecology

By Poonam Kumaria

Abstract

Environmental crisis resulting from rapid economic growth and deepening consumerist culture on the one hand and rapid growth of population on the other has now put an enormous stress on the vary survival and development of human beings.

Human have always lived in two worlds: the natural world, which is given and the social world. Which is given and the social world. Which is the creation of man through time? These two worlds are not separated from each other. They are interdependent and interactive. The disjunction between economy and ecology has created environmental crisis which man now find difficult to overcome.

The author contends that Gandhi was a deep ecologist in the sense that he did not value nature because it was useful to man but because it was the creation of God and hence must remain as pristine as possible. Gandhi was Adventist; ever thing that existed in the universe was part of a common omnipresent and omnipotent Parmatma and hence has the right of its own.

Gandhi therefore called for the limitations of wants so that man’s stress on nature would be least possible.

The Environment, Concrete Landscape, Silent Spring, Our Ecology, Population Explosion, Damaged Ecosystem, Poverty, Consumerist Culture, Environmental Justice, Universal Ethical Principles, values, rights and obligations, Mother earth the terms such as these have turned into anchor points for social critics, moral philosophers and policy experts over the past decades. Environmental critics, moral philosophers and policy experts over the past decades. Environmental crisis resulting from rapid economic development and attendant consumerist culture on one hand, and equally rapid increase in world population on the other, has now part an enormous stress on the very survival and development of human history. The technological power that man has acquired to transform nature is unparalleled in the annals of human history. Man can use his power to create a heaven on the earth; he can also use to dig his own grave. The most important fact is to know oneself. Self-realization will lead to basics or to the roots of human civilization. We have to rethink the ecology by exploring the totality of all interrelations between human societies with everything in its environment. The deep ecological philosophy reviews the organization and operation of earth first. Mahatma Gandhi realized the importance of living close to earth as part of ecosystem. The philosophy of life and his own experience or our culture and social system.

Humans have always inhabited two worlds. One is the natural world of plants, animals, soils, air, and water that preceded them, by billions of years and of which they are a part. The other is the world of social institutions and artifacts that we create for ourselves using science, technology and political organization. Both worlds are essential to our lives, but integrating them successfully causes enduring tensions. The relationship between man and nature was simple at the early stage of human civilization. The life of a gather, hunter and agricultural society was close to Mother Nature. People had limited ability to alter their surroundings. Now we have power to extract and consume resources, produce waste and modify our world in ways that threaten both our continued existence and that of many organism with which we share planet. Humans have become dominant organism over most of the earth, damaging or disturbing more than half of the world’s terrestrial ecosystem to some extent. By some estimates, human pre-empt about 40 percent of the net terrestrial primary productivity for use, or by altering the species composition or physical processes human dominated ecosystem.

Realizing the seriousness of the ecology problem, we have to rethink ecology by exploring the totality of all human\machine, human animal and human plant interrelations for sustainable development of the society. We have to create alternative forms of our built environments, high technologies and economic communities, by reconstituting the nature economy culture equation. This is the only possible if we are sensitive enough for on going ecological destruction, asking questions from one self, realizing the path of our activities of material wants. Gandhiji never had an intention to evolve a philosophy of life; it emerged as he looked deeper into the root cause of the problem facing the world.

There is a connection between out worldview and our attitude towards the earth. Self-realization is the ultimate objective of Deep ecology. In keeping with the spiritual traditions of our culture, the deep ecology norm of self-realization goes beyond the Western ‘self’, which is defined as an isolated ego striving for a narrow sense of individual salvation. Deep ecology ‘self’ requires an identification which goes beyond humanity to include the non-human world. We must see beyond our narrow contemporary cultural assumptions and values and the conventional wisdom of our time and place are best achieved by the meditative deep questioning process. Symbolically, self-realization is a realization of self in self, where self stands for organic whole. Gandhi’s aim was not only to have political freedom but freedom from poverty, inequality, caster, religion, discontent and fear. The ultimate goal is attainment of Moksha, i.e. freedom from all ills and merging with the nature as part of it. According to him it is the universal self the atman that has to be realized. He further explained that the life in the Brahamcharya ashram is not only that one should follow bachelorhood but also it means close to God, Brahma, where one learns to control over mind, and body. With control over mind and body, one can conquer trishna (greed) which is the root cause of all the problems. This life is meant for righteousness and Nishkan Karma, which purifies the mind and soul for spiritual enlightenment or to be inseparable part of the nature.

With the attainment of moksha or self-realization, living being is intimately connected with the nature. This intimacy follows the capacity of identification and practice of nonviolence or ahimsa. To quote Gandhiji, “The rock-bottom foundation of the technique for achieving the power of nonviolence is belief in the essential oneness of all life”. Ahimsa is a process of purification leading to eradication of the instinct to injure or to kill. It means complete freedom from ill will, anger and hate and an overflowing love for all, i.e. consideration for one and all and offence against none.

Gandhiji believed in the concept of advaita  (non-duality), i.e. the essential unity of atman and Parmatman and body, mind and soul. In this concept the world is one, there is no division between man and nature. He believes “if one man gains spirituality, the whole world gains with him and if one man fails, the whole world fails to that extent”. Thus, Gandhiji recognized a basic, common right to live and blossom, to self-realization of all. Fighting for India’s political freedom, Gandhiji propounded that India does not need freedom only from the Britishers but from the system based on master slave relations. The western model of development of civilization is based on master slave relations. The western model of development of civilization is based on the exploitation of resources and exploitation of man. And there is a need for a basic change in our attitude. Saving environment means saving us. Civilization is that mode of conduct, which points out to man the path of duty. To observe morality is to attain mastery over our mind and our mind and our passion.

Our need will be satisfied if we have less and less of greed. Greed can never be satisfied even if millions go without food and shelter. Gandhiji favored the Jain Principle of Aparigraha, non-possession, i.e. we should voluntarily limit our wants. If one is forced to limit wants one resist and creates discontent among the masses. But if one limits them voluntarily, then happiness pervades everywhere. Aparigraha involves considerations of others, one to limit one’s need to the bare minimum, every one can undergo voluntary starvation in order to nurse feed and clothe others. Unlimited wants affect the carrying capacity of the earth. With the introduction of the machinery, the production has increased at a faster rate, creating more and more wants and it is becoming unending process. Men are now enslaved by temptation of money and by luxuries that money can buy. This development model is taking them away from ethics and morality of life. There are now diseases of which people never dreamt of before. Earlier people used to work in the open air as much as they like using their own wisdom and experiences to earn their livelihood. Now they are working for others, under the conditions set by multinational companies, threatening the genetic diversity of the world. Nature produces enough for man if everybody took enough for himself and nothing more. Then there will be no man dying of starvation and hunger. But we are thieves, keeping things from others whether we need them or not, leading to inequality in the world. We have to follow the principle of asteya, of non-stealing other people’s ‘right on nature and resources. All living beings have equal right to exit on this planet’.

God has to set a limit but man has to found ways to overrides the limit. Unless people seek meaning in life and live beyond the narrow ends of material gains and exploitation of nature and human beings, economic growth and new technologies will bring only more miseries. The potentials of Gandhian holistic view of the world and his principles of Deep Ecology can be used as guiding principles, for finding solutions for a new eco-friendly world order.

Sources: Anasakti, Vol. 2, 2003