When I spotted a bumper sticker stating in bold green letters: “Well… at least the war on the environment is going well,” I found myself not knowing whether to laugh or cry. This clever use of facetiousness reminds us to reflect on the growing risks of today’s economy-centric world. There is money to be made, technology to advance, and the terrorist to fight. Who on earth wants to think about environmental issues? Rather than acting as a rallying cry for all the great thinkers and philosophers of our time, it seems the more that the world’s environmental problems come to the forefront of news reports, the more assertively we bury our heads deep beneath the sand. Our shared environmental crisis is in the too hard basket, and we all know it. It’s easier that way. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Some rare persons devote their lives to help—and they should be commended for their sincere endeavours. But the question I would like to put forward is this: Are we equipped with the right knowledge to understand the root cause of the environmental issue, let alone solve it?
If we try to reflect for a moment on how we humans interact with nature, somewhere along the line we must accept that human greed is an underlying problem to the “the climate” issue. This issue is a big problem and it appears a little too hot to handle for most. Should I mention billion dollar profits in oil or gas industries here? But hang on a minute, we need petrol right? Hmmm here is a paradox. So, what to do? Albert Einstein once said that a problem cannot be solved by the same consciousness that created it. Einstein rather wisely encourages us to elevate, not degrade our consciousness, if we at all want to alleviate our problems. If we adopt this ethos, we will become part of the solution.
In helping us to understand our macro-level predicaments, first we require focus on the micro level. After all, the whole is the sum total of its parts. At this point we can turn toward ancient knowledge for assistance. The timeless Vedic knowledge has for me been the greatest discovery. Contained within its encyclopedic depths, a wealth of wisdom and enlightenment has helped me in my personal search for reason in an age of folly. In ancient times, they lived a little more sustainably than today.
As a first step, Vedic knowledge asks that we correctly identify the self. In the prime yoga text, Bhagavad-gita As It Is (translated by the renowned scholar in Vedic knowledge, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedenta Swami Prabhupada) Krishna says:
“That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (2.17)
Krishna goes on to explain how the real identity of the living being is actually nonmaterial and that consciousness is the symptom of the nonmaterial self. We could accept or reject this as belief, however, Krishna presents the methodology by which we can verify this knowledge scientifically and objectively. By practically applying this knowledge we will gradually recall our original blissful nature and purpose in life.
Bewildered by a powerful illusion (that is, thinking oneself as the physical body) we think ourselves to be the “suit” we currently and temporarily reside in. Therefore we assume that gratifying the senses of our temporary fallible bodies is paramount. This is the primary mistake and problem from which all other mistakes and problems arise. Krishna elaborates in Bhagavad-gita that distinguishing between the superior conscious nature and the inferior material nature is of great importance in understanding the reason why humans are so apt to exploit our surroundings:
“There is a superior energy of mine, which comprises the living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature in attempting to extract happiness by manipulating matter.” (7.5)
Vedic knowledge advises that neither unlimited amounts of material objects nor limitless variations thereof will ever be able to fully satisfy us, the nonmaterial self.
When we take from the environment to build rockets, nuclear weapons, way too many plastic trinkets, highways, factories, and more, we have to ask, why? The insatiable fervour for materialistic expansion, aimed at satisfying a false material identity, sooner or later renders the environment exploited and abused, the climate corrupted, species extinct, the rivers and seas polluted. Does it need to be this way? To maintain body and soul together, we only need a little water, food and shelter, and our friends and family around us. In a simple, spiritually focused environment, a person only takes from Mother Nature the necessities of life.
What lies at the heart of the environmental crisis is in actuality an identity crisis. An upward shift in consciousness is paramount. Satisfaction in the real self, the imperishable spirit soul, inspires a desire to give to others the same sense of inner contentedness that comes through living a more genuine, natural existence. Consequently, shifting the pursuit of happiness from an external, materialistic one to an internal spiritual one purifies our subconscious desire to want to exploit everything around us.
Environmental degradation is a by-product of a materialistic, capitalistic, and selfish existence that no one is satisfied with anyway. Lacking genuine knowledge, we continue our pleasure pursuit, hoping against hope that somehow everything will work out. Sensing the inner emptiness of a life devoid of real soul food, the tendency is to again and again want those things that lack the satisfaction X-factor. This is greed. How far will we go?
Enough. What we need is more and more wisdom, not more and more economic development. You’ve made it. Welcome to the cutting edge of environmentalism—a soulsearching journey that rewards one with the best realisations: understanding the real self. In this way, ultimately, you will find real answers and real solutions. The soul by nature is eco-friendly. We just need to rediscover ourselves.