Reverence for the Earth

Originally written for the magazine “Mandir Vani,” Allegra Lovejoy and Parth Parihar are sharing our article here.

History_of_Yamuna_River_Indian_River_1Dharmic traditions are Earth-honoring traditions. While the prevailing response to climate change in the West has emphasized stewardship and responsible management (i.e., for future generations), the dharmic standpoint accords moral value, even divinity, to the environment itself, independently of its utility to humans.  That is, while the former view is distinctly anthropocentric in lamenting the destruction of the environment as it affects our children’s ability to partake of this beautiful earth, the dharmic view provides agency to the environment and thus views its destruction as an act of injustice against a manifestation of divinity (hence, the word “Mother” is appended after Bhoomi and Ganga in the Indian lexicon).

We see this ethical view strung throughout our texts.  One early example comes from the Rigveda Samhita (RV 3.33), in a famous samvada between Vishwamitra and two rivers, the Vipash and the Shutudri.  Here, Vishwamitra must cross the river and seeks their permission to do so.  What is distinctive about this conversation is not necessarily the humanization of the rivers, who speak to Vishwamitra— “the most maternal river” (3), “we will listen to your words” (11)—as non-human beings have sentience and voice in Dharmic traditions.

No, what is most insightful is that this exchange places the rivers at a station equal to or higher than Vishwamitra.  Vishwamitra’s entreaty to the rivers is: “Wait, a little at my request, in order to gather Soma; rest, waters of truth, a moment in your journey.  With powerful prayer asking favor, [Vishwamitra] has called to the river (5).”

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