Final Presentation on Hinduism and the Environment

Martha Hoffman


Vasudha Narayanan, “‘One Tree Is Equal to Ten Sons’: Hindu Responses to the Problems of Ecology, Population, and Consumption,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 65, no. 2 (1991): 321.

In “One Tree is Equal to Ten Sons,” Vasudha Narayanan looks at the Hindu tradition for support for the environmental campaign. He begins by discussing the four main tenets: dharma (morals), artha (power), kama (pleasure), and moksha (transcendence). The first three are all considered earthly/concrete than Moksha which has been thought of as the tenet most worth philosophical pursuit. As a result the majority of theological books focus on Moksha while the illiterate public learns about dharma, artha, and kama through various narratives and rituals. Recently, however, as books and ideas have become more accessible through the media, theological treatises have become better known. The Bhagavad Gita, in particular, has become quite popular. It discusses both dharma and moksha principles. Additionally, it provides some basis for environmental discussion as it presents the idea of the universe as Krishna’s body. Krishna is meant to be both transcendent and immanent. But the majority of the influence of Hinduism on Indian culture stems from oral stories, songs, and rituals.

“A king goes to sleep on the banks of the River Ganga. When he wakes up in the middle of the night, he sees some women covered in filth taking a dip in the holy river. They emerge from the river cleansed and then disappear. The king returns on several nights and sees the same thing. Eventually he asks them who they are; and they reply that they are the embodiments of the rivers of India. Everyday, they tell him, human beings bathe in the rivers and their sins are absolved by that act. The rivers—embodied as women—absorb the moral dirt and then come to the Ganga, the grand purifier, to purify themselves”

It seems to me that this suggests that nature can clean up itself and people do not need to care for it, or feel a sense of stewardship.

Narayanan explores how Hinduism has affected population and consumerism as well. He discusses how the high population growth rate is due to a lingering sense of being praised for having children from times when infant mortality rates were higher. In particular there was a strong drive to have sons. In terms of the economy, he feels that India is repeating Western mistakes such as emphasizing consumption. However, atha (power) is closely tied into wealth and is considered important. The current dowry system makes bearing sons even more desired since daughters are expensive. In order to help alleviate these problems, Narayanan suggests the education of women. He also points out that the moral system of Hinduism (dharma) is very flexible.


"Ethical and Religious Dimensions of the Chipko Resistence Movement" in Hinduism and Ecology, ed. Christopher Key Chapple and Mary Evelyn Tucker. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, 2000.

In “Ethical and Religious Dimensions of Chipko Resistance,” George A. James discusses the environmental movement, Chipko. He begins, however, by discussing the analysis of Hinduism by Callicott and Passmore. Hinduism, according to them, lacks the sense of environmental stewardship held in Western religions. In fact, they feel that Hinduism is too preoccupied with transcendence to worry about earthly matters. However, in truth, Hinduism is a dualist perspective meaning that they believe Brahman to be both immanent and transcendent. Therefore it seems that—more so than non-dualist Judeo-Christian religions—Hinduism could help people respect the earth as the body of Brahman. James then wonders if “Chipko is a completely secular movement” or if it has some basis in the religion. Looking at various religious texts, James finds that in each of them one of the worldly traits (artha, kama, or dharma) is as important as liberation from the earthly world. One specific tradition, tying rakhis (or protective bands) around the trees, seems to be based on the Hindu dendrolatry, or tree worship. Between the rakhis, the importance of worldly pursuits, and the fact that at most Chipko resistance events Hindu passages are recited, James believes that there is religious foundation for the Chipko movement.


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last updated 5/15/06