Geese living at the tank of the Milapore Temple, Chennai

The earth is a sacred being—along with all aspects of the natural world.

All ancient peoples (and tribal peoples today) knew this.  The early inhabitants of India, the seers who wrote the Rig Veda, (the oldest book in the world) knew this and worshipped the forces of nature—Vayu the wind, Indra the storm God, Agni the God of fire.  Narayana, in ancient temples and inscriptions, is the God of the sea,  Ganesha is the elephant God, and Hanuman is the monkey God, who brought the armies of monkeys to fight alongside Rama.

To see the earth as sacred, one need not look at it from a purely Hindu perspective, though Hinduism offers a lens with an especially crystal clear view.  As I see it, and all of these are only my own perspectives, nothing more, there is truth to be found in all spiritual traditions.

In Christianity too, and in all faiths, one can find windows to the sacred nature of the earth.  Sometimes one has to look a little more intently though, and sometimes more and more layers of obfuscation have been laid over the top of the original truth. So, to get back to Hinduism, which seems to have a clearer glass to look through…

Sea of the Bay of Bengal, near Mahabalipuram

The two first incarnations of Vishnu were the fish and the turtle or tortoise—both are sacred beings: Matsya the fish and Kurma, the tortoise.  Matsya saved all the creatures of the earth by pulling through the sea the great ark holding the animals at the time of the flood.  Kurma supported the mountain of the earth on his back so that it didn’t sink during the churning of the oceans.

It is not just the animals and the elemental forces of nature that are sacred, but also the plants.  Every temple in India has a sacred tree. Generally the tree was there before the temple.  People pray to the tree, who grants their wishes.

The mountains are sacred too and emblematic of Shiva—the power and presence of the Cosmos.

Vishapaharana, a form of Shiva, who swallowed poison to protect others

To see the presence of God in nature is not a primitive way of looking at things. (Though it is a way that we in the west have mostly left behind us.) That we have left it behind does not make it primitive, nor does it make us more “advanced”. It simply means that we have taken a wrong turn.

It means that we in the west have traveled the farthest down the wrong track, having left behind the life-sustaining principles of the universe.  This wrong track has led us to where we are today, with the air polluted, the forests half gone, the animals dying and disappearing, and the great ecological catastrophe in the Gulf.  The rest of the world sadly follows suit.

Now today, we stand by on the sidelines, watching horrified as BP takes over American coastlines and airspaces, and, unhindered, kills American wildlife (on the Fourth of July).  Not that it matters in the slightest whether it’s the Fourth of July or any other day.

When we no longer see the earth as sacred, when we see the natural world, the land, the oceans and the animals as resources, rather than as spiritual beings, then we do not see them as they are.

This lack of reverence leads to desecration, to the destruction and annihilation of all that is sacred—to handing over the fate of the planet to those who will, inevitably, destroy it because, in looking at a mountain, they do not see the presence of God.  They see only a wealth of coal and minerals, so the mountain must be destroyed to get to those.

It is sometimes said that science and technology are neutral and can be used for good or ill, but there is a problem with this.  Accepting a neutral stance is a denial of the sacred nature of life and the soul.  It is like a tone-deaf person listening to music—it is missing the point.  A tone-deaf person may just have a disability and may be fine in other aspects of life, but when we are missing the point of the spiritual nature of the natural world, that is much more serious, it is a fatal point to miss.

(Yet the great heroes of the past, and even the present, do use technology in the defense of what is just—so clearly it is a complicated topic.)

The Goddess Durga, 15th century, the Chennai Museum

In looking at the sea though, when we do not see the face of the divine, but see only a resource under the waves, when we only notice that with technology, we can get the oil to keep our houses warm or cool and our cars running, then we are missing the meaning of existence.

Like shadows in a dream, we watch our species destroying the earth, and this predicament stems from elevating our human selves, our greed and our needs, to a divine status—to worshipping ourselves, our technology, our science, and our power to dominate all that stands in our way.  Nevermind that this is the way to death, and that it brings death to all the gods and to the earth herself—which may be, in fact, the underlying intention.  Still, we cling to our “way of life,” which is only a way of death.

There is another truth though, on another level, beyond the physical destruction of the planet.

Though the physical dies, only the physical form can be killed, the sacred is eternal, living from eon to eon, cycle to cycle, world to world, along with the souls of all innocent creatures, who are blessed, on truer levels, with lives of peace and freedom.

The soul of the seas, the rivers, the trees, the sparrows and the pelicans, the gods of the wind and the mountains dressed in mist do not die, but live on from world to world, epoch to epoch, because their soul, who is the one, eternal soul, is living and is life itself.

Only the physical form is killed, and those who are expressions only of the physical, the walking dead.

Yet the soul of the wind, the pelican, the sea turtle, the moon who lights the sky, the sun, the shining rain, the trees, are all aspects of the sacred, single soul who rides, with grace and magic on the glad clouds of eternity—all are expressions of the one single great soul.

One thousand year old vines at the sacred grove, Puthupet

As for ourselves—the part of us which is absorbed in our unique, personal lives will pass away like the burning smoke in the winds.

While the part of ourselves which works for and cares only for the innocent beings who are the essence of God will fly away one day with them on the wind-enchanted wings of the spirit.

Many wise people in India today feel that this age that we are in will last still many thousands of years. Perhaps they’re right, they’ve often been right before, but I’m not so sure…either that this age will last a long time or that it will be a good idea if it does.

Indeed though, both views are true—the prophecies of doom, with the coming end of time, and also the prophecies of a new heaven and a new earth—magical and eternal.  And on what time scale these events may take place, who really knows?

Photos: Sharon St Joan

 

 

 

(Please be reminded that, as this is my personal blog, it has no connection whatsoever with, nor do the views expressed reflect those of, any other individual or any organization.)