There are three grand concepts from Hinduism on the subject of ecology. Hinduism instructs us to have reverence for all things and for all living beings: all is part of God, all is considered divine, and all is to be treated with respect, compassion, and love.
Since everyone and everything is an emanation of the Divine, the Hindu perspective can help us embrace and see our planet as one great village that we all live in. This is similar to the Gaia Theory, in which the Earth is seen as a giant, self-regulating organism seeking to create optimal conditions for life.
Since we are all sacred and we are all children of Mother Earth, we seek to enhance the common good by balancing our individual needs with those of the extended family of life—to follow the Dharma. The Hindu tradition describes Dharma as our sacred sense of duty to create the best possible conditions of life for ourselves and everyone else.
The concept of Karma ties together these three grand concepts. Karma helps us to understand that our current condition is the combined product of past actions—in this life and in previous incarnations—along with actions that we take today. In this way, we are constantly creating our future in the months, years, decades, and even lifetimes to come.
Clearly, our actions influence our family and community, today and into the future. In the law of Karma, by which the effects of our deeds return to us, lies a deep repository of ecological thought and practice.
Dr. Pankaj Jain, in his Huffington Post article “10 Hindu Environmental Teachings,” writes that:
Seeing God in all life gives rise to the foundational ethic of Hindu thought: the virtue of ahimsa—nonviolence in thought, word, and deed, and not harming the presence of God in all life. Ahimsa means that we protect and never violate the inherent integrity of being that exists in everything.
The Five Elements
In Hindu cosmology and in the Hindu conception of ecology, five great elements are central: space, air, fire, water, and earth. All of these elements are interdependent, yet each has its own characteristics. The elements of our ecology are considered inherently sacred in many religious and spiritual traditions.
Reverence for the Cow
The cow is symbolic of the Earth itself: she is a great nourisher, considered generosity incarnate. She is a sacred symbol of dignity, strength, endurance, maternity, and selfless service. The cow’s life-giving gifts, especially milk and ghee, are essential in Hindu worship and culture.
The bull provides labor where mechanized agriculture is not the norm: fields are plowed and grains and vegetables are grown by traditional organic methods.
Veneration of the cow instills the virtues of gentleness, receptivity, and connectedness with nature. Protection of the cow is important both ethically and practically, giving rise to the practice of vegetarianism.