Hinduism has a definite code of environmental ethics. According to it, humans may not consider themselves above nature, nor can they claim to rule over other forms of life. Hence, traditionally, the Hindu attitude has been respectful towards nature. A man had to recognise what powers of nature he could not control and was thus compelled to resort to prayer to win the cooperation of the winds and rains to ensure the regularity of the monsoon; for the control of earthquakes, forest fires and all significant elements of nature.
Every aspect of nature is sacred for the Indic religions: forests and groves, gardens, rivers and other water bodies, plants and seeds, animals, mountains and pilgrimage centres. Listed below are five of the best practices for the environment, according to Hindu text.
The basis of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain culture is dharma or righteousness, incorporating duty, cosmic law and justice. It is Sanatana, or eternal, for it is without beginning or end, and it supports the whole universe. Every person must act for the general welfare of the earth, humanity, all creation and all aspects of life: "Dharma is meant for the well-being of all living creatures. Hence that by which the welfare of all living creatures is sustained, that for sure is dharma," (Mahabharata XII.109.10).
Dharma means many things: righteousness, duty, justice and law.
In the Vedic period, trees were compared to gods and humans. The Atharva Veda says: "The earth is the keeper of creation, a container of forests, trees and herbs," (XII.1.57–61).
'Plants are live' (XII.1.57–61); 'Plants and herbs destroy poisons (pollutants)' (VIII.7.10); 'Purity of atmosphere checks poisoning (pollution)' (VIII.2.25); and 'Plants possess the qualities of all duties, and they are saviours of humanity'.
The necessity for maintaining the ecological balance is clearly mentioned in the Vedas. A verse from Rig Veda says, "Thousands and hundreds of years if you want to enjoy the fruits and happiness of life, then take up systematic planting of trees."
These verses emphasise the importance of afforestation for survival, or else the ecological balance of the earth would be jeopardized.
The Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana (2.2.41) states, "Ether, air, fire, water, earth, planets, all creatures, directions, trees and plants, rivers and seas, they are all organs of God's body. Remembering this, a devotee respects all species."
The Hindu belief in the cycle of birth, death and rebirth requires Hindus to give all species equal respect and reverence, for they may be reborn as an animal, bird or insect in another life. Hinduism is noted for its respect and consideration for the natural world. This includes flora and fauna of the earth and creatures in the sky and under the sea.
Water is sacred because all life depends on it; it is the source of survival and energy, the medium of self-purification. "The waters in the sky (rain), the water of rivers, and water in the well... may all these sacred waters protect me," sang the poet of the Rig Veda (VII.49.2).
"Agni and water are givers and sustainers of life; they are affectionate mothers...givers of all, givers of life." (Rig Veda, IX.2)
"Waters, verily are medicinal; waters are the dissipaters of disease; waters are the medicines for everything; May they act as medicine to you." (Rig Veda, X.137.6)
Killing animals has been prohibited since the Vedic period. The term 'ahimsa' is an important spiritual doctrine shared by Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, which implies the total avoidance of harm to any living creatures by thought, word or deed. Ahimsa has been described as a 'multi-dimensional concept', inspired by the belief that the Supreme Being lives in all living beings––human or animal. Therefore, to hurt another being is to open oneself to possible karmic repercussions.
Several scriptures bar violence against domestic animals. The Chandogya Upanishad (8.15.1); Mahabharata (III.199.11–12; XIII.115; XIII.116.26; XIII.148.17); and the Bhagavata Purana (11.5.13–14) strongly condemn the slaughter of animals and meat-eating. The Yajur Veda adds, "You must not use your God-given body for killing God's creatures, whether they are human, animal or whatever."
The Ishopanishad (1.1) broadly characterises the Hindu outlook: 'Ishavasyam idam sarvam' (This entire universe belongs to the Lord). Therefore, take only what you need, what is set aside for you. Do not take anything else, for you know to whom it belongs.
Historian and environmentalist, Nanditha Krishna, in her book titled Hinduism and Nature published by Penguin Random House, provides deep insights into the protection Hinduism offers to the environment, and convincingly argues that we can save the environment today only by turning to ancient wisdom.