Protection of the Environment : A Protection for Life
By Acharya Chandanaji
Puspaih Suraganan Vrksah Phalaiscapi Tatha Pitrn
Chayaya Catithintata Pujayanti Mahiruhah
'Look at the tree! It worships the
gods with its flowers, it honours the
ancestors with its fruits, and it
provides shade for its guests.'
A couplet from the Mahabharat.)
Trees swaying in the wind, every twig laden with smiling buds, flowers giving off their perfume, breezes running through velvet grass; these exquisite sights of nature bring joy to men's hearts. The gods also delight in such places. The splashes of green spattered across this canvas of creation give us untold bliss. But nature has feelings as well. Take the fragile little mimosa flower for instance. At the merest brush of our finger it shrinks away and curls up within itself, making us realise just how sensitive nature is. It seems to be asking humankind to look at it with love and understanding.
Trees and plants have been friends to man through the ages. From ancient times man has worshipped and looked after all sorts of plant life - fruit trees, flowers, medicinal herbs, grains and pulses - as they have been very useful to him. Two and a half thousand years ago Tirthankar Mahavir distinctly proclaimed: "Plants have life as well; they have a consciousness and a sensitivity. Like all other creatures, life and death also affect them. Nature experiences sorrow and joy, pleasure and pain, despair and delight, so do not torment or torture it. Do not cause it pain." Through his knowledge and experience he revealed his oneness with nature. He declared that earth, air, fire, and water are all sentient; they are man's benefactors, so we should not hurt them in any way.
What is amazing is that these pronouncements were made at a time when there was no such thing as environmental pollution. There was still a feeling of equilibrium in nature. There was no question of an ecological imbalance, as water and plant life was abundant. Even so, a declaration during that era for the protection of earth, air, water, fire and plant life was extremely important in itself.
Tirthankar Mahavir has gone so far as to say, "To be violent against these elements of nature is to commit an act of violence against oneself." Nevertheless man began the process of exploiting nature for his own comfort and convenience. He proceeded to appropriate and squander nature's treasures without any feeling of remorse. An increasing population as well as man's growing material needs and his aspirations to a comfortable life, have resulted in an ever escalating race to exploit the natural resources of the planet. The realisation that this process is not sustainable has finally dawned on people, but it seems to have accelerated the pace of exploitation, not slowed it down. Our present day attitude seems to be, 'It won't be here tomorrow, so let us use it today!' Man is facing the consequences of having looted the treasures of nature. The pollution of the air, the destruction of the forests and the misuse of water resources have become major problems on this fragile earth.
The scriptures cry out, the voices of the sages reverberate down the ages and the message of the great thinkers echoes in our ears, "O man! Do not destroy nature! Its beauty and tranquility are created for your happiness. The sweet waters flowing in rivers and streams were put there to quench your thirst. The ocean that roars thunderously and washes the shore with its waves every hour of the day and night is also for your benefit. The lofty mountains stand as your sentinels. The cool and bracing breezes, so clean and healthful, are there to bring inspiration and blessings and a renewed vigor into your life. You have a unique connection with all the elements of nature. Your very existence depends on them. Do not destroy them! "However, man has been blinded by his own selfishness, he turns a deaf ear to all that is good for him.
In the Vishnu Puran it is written, 'Where fruit-producing and flower-bearing trees are destroyed, droughts, cloudbursts, flash floods and famine are inevitable.' Has man seen or heard this message? To satisfy his material desires, he has disregarded the teachings of the seers by continuing to destroy the remaining forests. Man has cut down the trees that are our friends, set fire to the green forest and hunted down the wild life. The waste from our factories and workshops has not merely polluted, but poisoned such sacred rivers as the Ganges, the Jamuna and the Gomati. Exhaust fumes and the smoke from chimneys choke the air. Desertification is increasing, species after species is becoming extinct. Life-sustaining forests are vanishing. It seems that children of the future will see birds and beasts, trees and shrubs, only in picture books. The next generation will be bereft of the vast wealth of nature.
Some years ago UNESCO organised a conference in Indonesia in which 150 scientists and environmentalists from countries like Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, the U.K. and the U.S.A participated. The chairman of the conference, Mr.Vladimir, issued a timely warning regarding the fearsome consequences of the indiscriminate razing of forests and cutting down of trees. He said, " If trees die out, man will die out. Tornadoes in America, floods in Russia and monsoons m India have become unpredictable. Earthquakes and the shadow of famine are spreading everywhere along with new strains of disease. The reason for all this is the destruction of nature. Unless timely measures are taken the whole world will become a desert!"
Physicians tell us that oxygen is essential for life. Its depletion in the atmosphere does not merely cause infirmity but also results in the multiplication of new, highly resistant, strains of virus. In the absence of fresh winds, the stagnant air breeds mental instability. People are highly excitable or very depressed, and this results in increasing acts of violence. When violence and terrorism prevail, we generally find that it is due to the lack of oxygen in the atmosphere. This is one of the results of the unthinking destruction of the environment.
Plants are the greatest benefactors of human life. They provide us with plenty of tasty and nutritious foods and give us medicines to cure diseases. They produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. Men and animals exhale carbon dioxide and inhale the oxygen produced by the trees. Trees are the lungs of the planet, absorbing our waste products and breathing out the pure fresh air we need to survive. This exchange is nature's gift to us all. Vegetation is essential to both man and animal.
Apart from carbon dioxide, our workshops and factories are continuously pumping sulphur dioxide, cadmium, lead, nitrogen oxide and so forth into the atmosphere. There are parts of Tokyo, New York and London where it is difficult to breathe. The air has become so poisonous that breathing it in is as harmful as the daily consumption of forty cigarettes. The toxins in the air cause problems such as lead poisoning that damages the kidneys, raises blood pressure and impairs mental function. The inhalation of sulphur dioxide causes asthma and other respiratory ailments. Like the god Shiva, the trees 'drink up' all of these poisons and as Shiva gives us blessings in return, so the trees release life giving oxygen to us. How good and kind then is the tree! Its every leaf is a blessing!
Dr. T. M. Das, a prominent environmental scientist attached to Calcutta University's College of Agriculture, recently revealed the amazing fact that an average tree during the 50 years of its life, provides Rs.l.5 million worth of benefit to humanity in the form of oxygen production. On the other hand, the cutting down of one tree will bring in a maximum of Rs. 2,000 or Rs.3,000. For this small immediate gain, a gift to humanity worth Rs. 1.5 million is lost.
Trees, forests, shrubs and creepers are truly man's most selfless benefactors. They are nature's mightiest watchmen and the environment's most trustworthy guardians. Without them, all life is in danger.
Scientists have proved that in the coming years, trees will be our most important natural defence against modern hazards such as atomic radiation. So, in order to safeguard your future, protect and nurture all plant life.
At the sacred spot of Veerayatan, in the land of Tirthankar Mahavir, the sound of his voice still rings out to awaken mankind, "0 beloved of the gods! In the same way that nature's treasure-trove is open to you, it is there for the benefit of all sentient beings; all life forms should be able to share in the vegetation that covers the earth. Do not then use them only for your immediate gratification. Such overall destruction will be a catastrophe for all the different life forms. Rise up! Turn those hands raised in destruction into tools for creativity and compassion. Use your energy for the planting and nurturing of trees." Only in the protection of all plant-life, can we find our protection. Only as plant life grows and develops will we grow and develop.
Source : "The Jains Through Time"
Veerayatan's Silver Jubilee A Commemoration-An English Translation of' Samay Ki Parto Mein' published to celebrate the Twenty-sixth Centenary of the birth of Tirthankara Mahavira, English Translation by Sadhvi Shilapiji
Published By : Veerayatan U. K. The Wentworth, Pinewood Close, Oxhey Drive South, Northwood, Middlesex HA6 3ET