The poet loves and adores Nature but cares not to understand her laws. The scientist wants to understand Nature but without any emotional involvement. Both are one sided and inadequate attitudes. The environmentalists of the future must combine both and become the knowing lover of Nature.
Towards a Holistic Environmental Awareness
A complete environmental education or awareness should have four components or aims. First is the cognitive, a scientific or intuitive understanding of the ecology of Nature with an emphasis on awakening the individual to the unity, harmony and interdependence of life in Nature, and also in Man and Nature. Second is the attitudinal, inculcating a positive, healthy, harmonious and friendly attitudes to Nature free from all forms of negative attitudes like violence or fear or the urge for exploitation. Third is the emotional or experiential dimension which means leading the individual to a living contact with Nature and an emotional, aesthetic or spiritual communion with Nature. Fourth is the practical, providing people with whatever knowledge or information required for taking the right green decision or in other words, in choosing the cleaner, greener and the ecologically more healthy or efficient alternative.
The scientific knowledge of ecology, though very much necessary, has to be animated by an emotional bonding with Nature. However mere sentimental “love” for Nature, which can only write nature-poetry is also not enough. There must be knowledge in the mind, which leads to an enlightened attunement with Nature. Without knowledge, “Love” is a helpless sentiment and without true love, knowledge is a cold and barren thing which cannot produce any lasting results. In the Indian scripture Bhagavad Gita, The divine Teacher gives the highest status to the “knowing lover”, Jnani Bhakta of the Divine. The aim of environmental education should also be to shape such knowing lovers of Nature.
The traditional scientific mind believed that emotional involvement is incompatible with the scientific attitude of detachment and objectivity. But the new and emerging scientific mind, especially among woman-scientist, see no contradiction between science and emotions. For example Diane Heger, field biologist and wolf researcher states:
“I’ve concluded that it is ok to have feelings about animals you study, without risking damage to your scientific credibility-objectivity and passion about study of animals are not mutually exclusive. I wouldn’t have devoted my life to studying wolves, if I don’t love them” and quotes further the environmentalist Stephen Jay Gould “we cannot win this battle to save species and environment without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well – for we will not fight to save what we do not love.”
The Integral Ecology
This integral environmental awareness has to be based on an integral ecology.
Ecological awareness is an inherent and inbuilt instinct in the ancient mind. It is a religious instinct based on reverence and worship of the sustaining source of their life. In some of the more mentally and spiritually advanced cultures like India and China, this ecological instinct developed further into an aspiration to understand and live in conscious attunement with the laws and rhythms of universal Nature. Modern ecology is only a partial recovery of this ancient wisdom at the physical level. Partial because, in the ancient Indian and Chinese thought Nature is not only physical, but also psychological and spiritual. Man is a part of Nature not only physically but also psychologically and spiritually. Nature is not only our material Mother from who we draw all the physical energies needed for our material and economic development but also our eternal divine Mother who is the source of all energies in Man and Universe in all levels of existence – physical, psychological and spiritual. Each part or level of our human organism – physical, vital, mental and spiritual – derives its energy from the corresponding levels or planes of the Cosmic Nature and is governed by its own unique set of laws.
Thus, there is a greater and a more integral ecology beyond the ecology of the physical Nature which remains yet to be explored. The aim of this integral ecology is to arrive at a holistic understanding of the laws of human and universal Nature in all the dimensions – material, psychological and spiritual – and explore their mutual interactions, similarities, differences and correspondences and their practical implications for human well-being and progress. This cannot be done entirely by the scientific and rational mind.
We must have the spiritual intuition of the seer, sage and the mystic. If we don’t have it, we must have to draw upon the spiritual wisdom of the past and present and based on it, use our rational scientific and pragmatic mind to arrive at a flexible framework of thought and practice, action and application. The attitude of modern ecology which is that of understanding and attunement is part of this integral spiritual attitude to Nature. But this understanding has to be widened and deepened to embrace all the dimensions of Nature and it has to be synthesized with the attitude of the deeper heart of the artist, lover and devotee.
The other positive features of the modern environmental movement is that it not only insists on awareness and understanding of the laws of Nature but also emphasises that this awareness has to be translated into appropriate decisions and actions which help in preserving the purity of the environment or in other words, I must do whatever I can within my capacity to preserve the environment. For example if I say I am a lover of Nature and travel in a car which causes the highest pollution, then my “love” for nature is only an ignorant sentiment. If I am a true lover of Nature, I will buy a car only when it becomes a real need. Before buying I will make an extensive research and enquiry to know which of the available car models or brands are the most environment-friendly in terms of petrol consumption and emission, and I will buy this model or brand even if it costs a little more than other models. I will use the car only for long-distance journey and for shorter sojourns I will either walk or use a cycle. Similarly, as far as possible, I will not buy or use products and services of companies, which cause maximum damage to the environment. As the environmental activist Alan Sasha Lithman points out:
“What good is it, after all, to attend conferences or workshops on global warming, the control of CO2 emissions on renewable energy systems, grasping the conceptual level of the problem, if we drive to those meetings in gas-guzzling dinosaurs?”
The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc. His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.