GOD, MAN AND NATURE

 

Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam.

This Sunday, we offer thoughts that are in continuation of what we presented last week. Last Sunday, we commented on the relationship of the individual to Society, and the mutual responsibilities of the two. We tried to argue that this connection is very basic to the fabric of Creation, is Spiritual at that level, and that is why Swami attaches so much importance to this connection. Today, we take the next step and consider the question of how the individual must relate to Nature. Inevitably, this would also require us to consider how not only the individual but Society too must pay to attention to issues related to Nature.

If we go back in time, almost all the so-called Pagan cultures involved reverence of Nature. Inevitably, there were also many rituals associated with this reverence of Nature. One can find such practices in the traditional African cultures, in the culture of Native Americans both in North and South America , in various societies in Asia , including in India of course, and amongst the Maoris also. There is a historical reason for such reverence in ancient times. Basically, in those days, people in all lands were simply overawed by the forces and the power of Nature. Indeed even today, with all our knowledge of Science, one cannot but be impressed and even humbled by the power of a hurricane, a tsunami, etc. What then to speak of Pagans of ancient times?

Having said that, one must also recognise that the progress of Science has allowed humans to understand why many things happen in Nature the way they do. We may be awed by the power of a tsunami; but one can pretty well understand why and how a tsunami occurs. In fact, once it is triggered, one can even follow its progress via satellites, detectors on and deep in the ocean, etc. It is this ability to understand natural phenomena that has demystified acts of Nature. In turn, this has sharply decreased reverence for Nature. The view seems to be: “Nature is something that exists, and works according to laws many of which we know. As for the other laws, even though presently we do not know what exactly they are, some day Science would reveal them for us. Therefore there is no mystery really and no need to revere a supernatural agency whose existence is by no means proved beyond doubt.” This is roughly the attitude of the rationalists, found in large numbers in Western countries and elsewhere too, amongst people exposed to western education.

All this we know. Where then is the problem? That is what we are coming to. The problem starts with the huge population of the world. We tend to forget that there are over six billion people on this planet. By 2050, they say it could rise to ten billion. A thousand years ago, the population was much, much smaller. The present large number is one part of the problem; technology is another. Technology gives man a lot of leverage and an individual today has the potential to do much more damage than an individual say a thousand years ago.

Here is an example. A thousand years ago, there were no air-conditioners. One wonders whether there were any even say a hundred years ago. But between 1950 and 2000, the number of air-conditioners and refrigerators increased enormously. OK, but how does that pose any problem? In the following way: The refrigerant used in all refrigerators and air-conditioners is a chemical called CFC. When the refrigerators and air-conditioners became old and people condemned them, the junk equipment lay around in junk yards, and tons and tons of CFC escaped into the atmosphere. Soon the CFC found its way to the very top of the atmosphere. Up in the stratosphere, the CFC molecules began to interact with various molecules present in that layer and as a result of various chemical reactions the molecular composition of the upper atmosphere changed significantly; in particular, the density of ozone molecules decreased. As a result, ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, which previously used to get trapped by the ozone molecules up there, could now come down all the way to the surface of the earth. Careful investigations showed that there developed what was called ozone hole, right over the South Pole, and this hole was huge. Thus countries in the southern hemisphere, particularly Australia and New Zealand, began to receive a much larger dose of UV radiation than earlier and this led to a significant increase in skin cancer, among other things.

This caused an alarm, and soon manufacturers of refrigerating systems switched to a chemical that did not disturb the ozone layer. Recent studies have shown that the ozone hole above the South Pole has in fact shrunk in size, which is a good thing. This example shows how humanity acted sensibly to save damage to the environment. However, such examples of eco-recovery are rare, and the recent concern about global warming ought to powerfully bring home the fact that when big money is involved, powerful interests do obstruct measures that would benefit the planet.

There are many examples of this, and we would like to mention a few. Take fishing. For thousands of years, people living along seashores caught fish to provide them food and proteins. We are not commenting here on the moral legitimacy of eating meat but merely trying to place some practical information before you. Fishing in those days did not have the “benefit” of technology. Nowadays, it is an entirely different ballgame. Fishing has become heavily mechanised and “efficient” and as a result, the catch sizes have increased enormously. The net result is that the population of certain types of fish like cod, for example, have sharply declined in many parts of the world. Before we make further comments on that, we would like to say a few words on how Nature delicately maintains balance, when she is not interfered with.

More than a hundred years ago, there was a well-known mathematician in Italy named Volterra. He lived in the coastal town Trieste , which for a while was a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Volterra, like many intellectuals in Hungary , loved visiting cafes, drink a lot of coffee there, and do his work. Only, Volterra used to frequent cafes near the wharf. Sitting there and scribbling in his notebook, Volterra also watched fishermen as they brought in their catch every evening. He was struck by what he saw. He found that some months, they brought in huge numbers of small fish; at other times, Volterra noted that instead of small fish, they were bringing in mostly large fish.

Volterra thought about this consistent pattern that he had been observing for many years, and eventually developed a theory. Essentially, he wrote down equations that govern the population of the small fish on the one hand, and the population of the big fish on the other. These two population growths were coupled in an interesting manner. Volterra argued that big fish ate the small fish and this helped the population of the big fish to grow. However, voracious eating by the big fish begins to deplete the population of the small fish and a time comes when the big fish start dying due to starvation – less food for them. With a sharp drop in the population of the predator, namely the big fish, the small fish now begin to multiply without any danger, and their population begins to grow. In short, said Volterra, Nature maintains a beautiful balance – the big fish eat the small fish and the small fish eat the big fish. Each acts as a sort of check on the other and a balance is maintained. By the way, this is the famous prey-predator problem and Voterra’s equations have wide applications even in physics, a subject far removed from ecology.

Enter now highly mechanised and efficient fishing. It just scoops up everything in the sea right down to the bottom and massively disturbs the population of marine species, sometimes far beyond sustainable limits. This has actually happened in many places. In Newfoundland in Canada , where fishing was THE main occupation for over a hundred years, over-fishing has literally destroyed the fishing industry. There is simply no fishing possible there and people have lost the livelihood that kept them alive for decades. Many have left in search of jobs elsewhere, and those who are still living there are trying to survive through tourism, not very successfully one must add.

Over-fishing is common in many parts of the world and we will not go into that any more. There are many other such examples of man, aided and abetted by technology, and driven by greed, spoiling land, water and air. It is affecting the planet and our lives in ways we have not bothered to appreciate in detail. Take meat eating. Do you know that to produce one kilo of beef, one has to use a hundred times the amount of water needed to grow one kilo of wheat? Just consider this: The amount of water need to supply beef to the population of a small country like Holland for one year is equal to the water that 2 billion would need in one year! Two billion, that is, roughly one third of the current population of the world.

It is not just water. Land availability is decreasing even as water demand is increasing. Not only is land being made waste due to bad grazing [this has happened to a huge extent in Kazakhstan , for example] but land is also being lost to increasing urbanisation. What once happened only in America is now happening in China and India too. In recent years, Bangalore has been growing and growing and slowly creeping towards Mysore another city, supposedly a small one, which too has started growing. Looks like that in fifty years we would not know where Bangalore ends and Mysore begins and the two are about a hundred plus kilometres apart. This is happening in India!

So you see, technology, increase of earning power, sharp increase in consumerism, are all together causing serious problems to the environment. All of sudden, issues like conserving water, saving energy, and putting a sharp ceiling on desires have ceased to be merely spiritual requirements but urgent necessities for saving the planet! Let us remember that planet Earth is a space ship with NO LIFEBOATS! When Titanic sank, many could escape thanks to lifeboats, but if planet Earth is in trouble, then the whole of humanity has to sink together.

Swami does not impart vital lessons by ringing warning bells the way the “greens” do. He simply says: “Bangaru, you should not forget your Divine Genes. You have come from God, and are a part of Creation or Srishti. You may see yourself as an individual with all kinds of liberties and rights. However, you as an individual represent only the micro; there is a macro aspect to you, which is Society. So your actions must not harm your macro self or Society; nor should it harm Nature of whom you are a child. To harm Society and to injure Nature would be to go against your true nature. Do you want to do that? Do you want to be untrue to yourself?”

Swami has been saying this for years and years but few pay serious attention. So last week and this Sunday too, we spelt out the practical implications in order to highlight how vital Swami’s teachings are for the very survival of the human race and planet Earth. That said, survival must not be seen in limited terms; rather, being in conformity with our intrinsic Divine Nature must be the real goal. The first practical step in this is not to do anything that harms Society and anything that disturbs Nature.

We hope we have been able to get across our points; or have we lost you? Are there things we have said that are not clear? Please let us know. We would be very happy to hear from you, always!

Jai Sai Ram.


With Love and Regard,

"Heart2Heart" Team.

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