Editor’s Note: A version of this piece first appeared on the Huffington Post.
At the end of this month, leaders from around the globe will convene in Paris for the latest round of talks to combat climate change and global warming.
For the first time, Hindu teachings will take a prominent role in this effort, as a growing coalition of Hindu organizations, leaders, and interfaith allies are ramping up efforts to protect Matru Bhumi through the Bhumi Devi ki Jai! A Hindu Declaration on Climate Change.
The declaration, first signed six years ago, is now back on the frontlines as the majority of world leaders are finally acknowledging the reality of climate change and the urgency of fighting it.
The declaration, authored by the Oxford Center for Hindu Studies and the Bhumi Project, with support from the Hindu American Foundation, is a call to action for the world’s approximately 900 million Hindus to take the lead in combating global warming. As Hindu leaders note, the effort highlights the natural leadership of Hindu scriptures in calling for action.
The declaration, in part, reads:
“Today, with the 2015 Paris Climate Conference nearly upon us, members of the global Hindu community again urge strong, meaningful action be taken, at both the international and national level, to slow and prevent climate change. Such action must be scientifically credible and historically fair, based on deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through a transition away from polluting technologies, especially away from fossil fuels. A transition towards using 100-percent clean energy is desperately needed, as rapidly as is possible in every nation. Doing so provides the only basis for sustainable, continued human development. It is the best hope for the billions of people without electricity or clean cooking facilities to live better lives and reduce poverty.”
The statement also affirms that governments alone cannot fight climate change and that individuals must return to the idea of revering the earth through their actions, not just rhetoric.
This is why the Hindu Declaration on Climate Change, grounded in Hindu scriptures on protecting the Earth, is more than just a sign-on petition or a social media campaign designed to generate likes. Instead, it goes to the heart of what ordinary people can do in their daily lives to reduce their carbon footprint, become aware of how their actions impact the environment, and become leaders in their own communities on these issues.
Already, more than 60 organizations and leaders have joined this effort, with more signing on in the coming weeks and months. This marks a culture shift within the Hindu community and among Dharmic faiths at large, as the scriptural basis of protecting the environment is now being transformed into praxis. As the Mahabharata notes: “Dharma exists for the welfare of all beings. Hence, that by which the welfare of all living beings is sustained, that for sure is dharma.”
Too often, however, Dharmic communities have not practiced what they have preached when it comes to the divinity of all beings and reverence for Mother Earth. Some of these examples of disconnect include pollution, particularly in revered rivers such as the Ganga, or mistreatment of animals at sites of worship.
But as more reports highlight the extent to which climate change is impacting our world, Hinduism’s progressive teachings on preserving the earth are vital to solution-based actions.
Scholars such as Pankaj Jain have written extensively on the role of Hinduism and Dharma in combating climate change, while Hindu social and environmental justice champion Vandana Shiva, echoing the approach of Mahatma Gandhi, uses the Bhagavad Gita to guide her efforts to save Matru Bhumi. Both Jain and Shiva have also signed onto the Declaration.
On a local level, Hindu temples and cultural centers are embracing the importance of connecting scriptures to praxis. The Bhumi Project has been at the forefront of “greening” temples on the Indian subcontinent, while in the United States, sampradayas, such as Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in Saylorsburg, Pa., and temples, such as the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Lanham, Md., have taken concrete steps to reduce their carbon footprint. Local Hindu groups such as New York-based Sadhana have made cleaning up local rivers central to their idea of seva, while HAF organizes cleanups around the country in observance of Hindu Environmental Week.
When taken in sum, these measures represent the realization among many Hindu organizations that their scriptural basis for action can no longer be ignored. Even as other religions issue their own proclamations for fighting climate change, Hinduism must be prominent in this fight.
Let the conch shells blow as the Hindu community comes together to lead the effort to stop global warming and preserve Matru Bhumi.