With the commencement of spring and the rebirth of plants and nature, I thought it would be interesting to contemplate Sikhism and the environment….
Saffron has always been the Sikh colour. Saffron and Blue. Deep navy blue, even indigo. These colours together are enough to arouse memories or thoughts of the Khalsa, nagar kirtans, and Sikhi in general. Though Sikhs are told to admit all colours to be equal, like all days, all religions, all occasions, etc., it would be futile to deny the potency of the afore mentioned colours in arousing spirit and sentiment in those who have any connection to Sikhi whatsoever. Today I would like to add another colour to this faith, this way of life. That colour is the colour green. It might just be coincidental that saffron and blue mixed make green. Then again, it might not.
Green, the colour of nature, the colour of all that is yet young and vibrant, is the colour of the earth and the environment. Indeed, it has been flagged by the environmental activists everywhere, whether the issue be excessive fishing and hunting, or logging and pollution. Green Peace, is world famous, and the Green Party is certainly gaining momentum in Canada. Today more and more people are coming to realize the importance of not being selfish when it comes to this earth. They are coming to realize that instead of simply an optional act of good will it is in fact the duty of the worlds citizens to take care of the earth. The very earth that has sustained humans, and that humans repaid by plundering and violating. Being green is becoming more and more popular and even easier. The word is out. Its official. Green, is in.
So how can Sikhs fit in this new Green invasion? What role does this responsibility play and how can we make a place for it in out Sikh way of life? What does the environment have to do with spirituality anyway? Or with the Gurus teachings for that matter?
These were questions I asked myself time and time again. Then one day I was asked to represent the Sikh aspect of an environmental group. Rather then wonder about these questions, I was now forced to find the answers. And like almost everything else, the answers were waiting to be understood from the moment I had started reading the Guru Granth Sahib. Not only was I forced to accept the undeniable relationship between spirituality and the environment, but was also amazed at the science presented to us by our Guru. Literally.
So lets start with the most famous of environmental issues. Pollution. While there may not be explicit calls against polluting the oceans, air, and earth, there were definitely words that would make us think twice before doing so.
Regarding these three elements, Guru Ji says on Page 8 Line 10 of the Guru Granth Sahib:
“Air is the Guru, Water is the Father, and Earth is the Great Mother of all.”
If we can learn any primary values in Gurbani, some of the first would be to learn of the importance of the Guru, and ones mother and father, who are in reality, a child’s first Gurus. Guru Nanak tells us here that Air is our Guru, water our father and the earth is our mother! Would anyone dare disrespect the their guru and their parents the way that we do the air, water and earth? All of these elements are sacred to us – or at least should be.
Further on in more detail the Guru reveals how scientifically forward thinking and understanding our Gurbani is. On page 19 Line 18, Guru Ji says:
“From the True Lord came the air, and from the air came water.”
Today every seventh grade child (possibly even younger) likely already knows the reality and science of condensation. Gases in the air raise and accumulate to a point at which they bond and form water droplets when then come down on earth as rain. From the air came water.
And yet we are further told in Asa Di Var, of the qualities of the water. On page 472, line 14, the Guru tells us:
“First, there is life in the water, by which everything else is made green.”
Not only did the Guru explain to us, molecular activities, but also went on to help the layman understand the concept of micro-organisms, and also then the more obvious immediate effects of water.
Having spoken of air and water the Guru goes on to say of the earth on page 7 line 12:
“…in the midst of these, He established the earth as a home for Dharma.”
The earth as a home for Dharma? Would we throw garbage left right and centre in a Gurdwara? Or even a church for that matter? Would we pollute the air inside so that worshippers had no pure air to breath? What about poisoning the water in langar, so that they had no energy to pray? I think not. Then why do we do it to this earth, which, as the Guru tells us, was established by God as a home for Dharma? While many may take Dharma to mean religion, they would not be totally wrong in doing so. But the more literal meaning is “duty”. I think the word was put in a perfect context in this case.
And the Trees? The plants? Nature? Guru Ji tells us on page 223, line 16:
“The Lord is among the trees and the plants, within the household and outside as well. 1”
And yet we have no problem in wasting loads of paper, and wiping out hectares of plants. That is someone else’s problem. It’s so far away, and has so little to do with me. But we are told by our Guru that God resides within these creations. Caring little or not at all about the welfare of the future of this part of our environment is caring little or not at all for Waheguru. I do not think that the path of the Gurmukh lies apart from one of the environmentalist. Indeed they seem to be very much aligned.
We are shown time and time again, in the Guru Granth Sahib that God pervades in the air, water, earth, trees, wind, and in essence out very environment. We are even told of the close familial ties we have with the elements as they are Guru, Father and Mother. So when we disrespect our environment, we are in actuality disrespecting our family.
“The devotees are in harmony with their God; He is in the water, the land, and the sky. 1” – Page 748 line 3
“The Lord is totally pervading the water, the land, and all space. He is contained in the forests as well.” Page 133 line 13
“O Nanak, He is pervading and permeating all places, the forests and the meadows, the three worlds, and every hair. 2” - Page 966 line 9.
“Behold God in all the earth and sky, in the water, on the land, in the forests and mountains, and in the nether regions of the underworld.” - Page 299 line 16
All of these quotes are from the Guru Granth Sahib, which we accept as the absolute and infinite Guru. Finally one quote which I would like to bring direct attention to is:
“If someone is going to teach me something, let it be that the Lord is pervading the forests and fields.” – Page 92 line 12
So it seems to me that Environmentalism and care for the earth is not just a path aligned with the Gurmukh’s. It is the Gurmukh’s path. How can one possibly disrespect the same environment that the Guru pays such tribute to?
I don’t think the issue is how many activist groups we join, or whether we try and have our governments pass environmental laws. I think the issue is rather us as Sikhs learning that the Environment is a rather large part of our religion! Its time for us as a community to be come more environmentally conscious and aware. Once we are, we will find ways to work forward, and act in this new found consciousness.
One final point comes to mind. It may be small, but I feel like it might have a possibility of merit. We so often hear the Guru refer to God with the word “Har”.
“Obtaining the Name of the Lord, Har, Har, they are satisfied; joining the Sangat, the Blessed Congregation, their virtues shine forth. 2” – Page 10 line 5
The similarity between this name and the Punjabi word for Green seem to me to be uncanny. It looks like the colour Green is already taken – by none other than God.