(45) Spiritual ecology at the heart of environmentalism

INTRO: In today’s episode, I discuss the importance of spiritual ecology as a concept that can revolutionise modern environmentalism, with an in-depth example of the evolution of eco-spirituality within India and the consequences of its abandonment as the country shifted to a more secular governance framework. I argue that spiritual ecology acts as a tool to reimagine environmentalism, where conservation efforts are decolonised to embody Indigenous practices, and ancient eco-spiritual values are revived by both religious and secular communities in India so that the nation’s ecological and waste crises can be successfully resolved.

Growing up in a western country, the notion that spiritualism and science are two separate realms had been embedded into our growing minds as we continued on in our academic journeys. Despite being part of a religion and culture that stated otherwise, the influence of colonial scientific belief systems gradually became stronger [for me], and like many people with rich cultural backgrounds living in western countries, or in environments with strong colonial mindsets, I too believed that science has no space for the abstract spiritual world. Nevertheless, as I matured, the historical nostalgia of a time where science was just a fragment of spiritualism in ancient India grew as rapidly as my knowledge of conventional science, but so did the difficulty of balancing [knowledge of] the mechanisms of the natural world and valuing ancient knowledge which extended well beyond the human-nature dualism.

One thing was certain, no matter how much I learned about Earth’s processes or anthropogenic climate change, the desire to reconnect my knowledge base to Indigenous knowledge systems, both Indian and non-Indian, remained, and as I explored the connection of spiritualism with science, the desire soon transformed into urgency in decolonising the scientific knowledge I had gained over the years.

As global economies shifted to more secular frameworks, particularly for professional and academic sectors, spiritual practices, which included religious belief systems, were naturally disfavoured and the emotive aspects of systems such as conventional science were soon lost. Whilst completing my undergraduate degree, a sense of irritation and dissatisfaction towards the lack of effort in incorporating the environmental justice framework into scientific environmental knowledge developed over the three years. It wasn’t until the final year where I was able to put some of my understanding of spiritual environmentalism into practice, yet it wasn’t near enough to erase the dissatisfaction.

Spirituality, as previously discussed with Dr Linda Bender in the ‘Spiritual animal wisdom’ episode, is not set in stone like western knowledge systems are. Spirituality is neither a concept, theory or belief system, and it’s this “undefined” and abstract nature of spiritualism that doesn’t sit well with material science and other modern-day dogmas. Spirituality, unlike material science, doesn’t have a universal definition, in the sense that spirituality is defined by the spiritual path of a being; not one person experiences the same things in life as someone else and therefore, establishing a definition for everyone to use is impossible. This isn’t the case for science where fundamental concepts have been formed to be used by everyone.

Whilst western science aims at understanding the tangible in the world and beyond, spirituality seeks to determine the meaning of experiences both sensory and spiritual, the purpose of co-existence and the necessity of protection and care of all , all of which have now been identified as key in solving our climate and ecological crises through the existence of frameworks such as environmental justice and ecofeminism. * For more on ecofeminism and the importance of the ecofeminist framework in environmental policy making, listen to the “Ecofeminism as a solution to the climate crisis” episode *

The modern-day environmental justice movement in the US began as early as the late 1960s, led by those most impacted by environmental degradation and violation of environmental rights: the poor and people of colour. Whilst Native Americans had been fighting for the protection of their ancestral lands well before, the environmental justice movement gained more political and academic interest from the 1970s and onwards, particularly with the rising resistance to systemic racism by Black American activists such as Martin Luther King. The first large-scale event held to shed light on environmental injustices faced by the poor and people of colour took place in the rural and predominantly black Warren County in North Carolina. Black environmental and civil rights activists held a peaceful sit-in protest in 1982 against the state government’s decision of creating a polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) landfill site in the county. Over 500 were arrested and unfortunately the protest was unsuccessful in preventing the construction, but the protest marked the beginning of the modern-day environmental justice movement in the US.

Following the protest, the US General Accounting Office conducted a study which found that 3 out of 4 of the hazardous waste landfill sites that had been examined were located in communities where at least 26% of the population were from families living below the poverty line, many of these families were Black. A further study in 1987 by the United Church of Christ Commission on Racial Justice, looking at the statistical relationship between the location of any hazardous waste site and the racial and socio-economic composition of communities on a nation-wide scale, found that over 15 million Black Americans, 8 million Hispanics and ½ of all Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders lived in communities with at least one abandoned or inadequately controlled toxic waste site. The study also ruled that the residents’ race was a more significant factor in determining the location of waste sites over socioeconomic statuses; this study was the first study which analysed environmental injustices with regards to race and class on a nation-wide scale and helped to provide more momentum to the growing environ justice movement. Various other successes in the movement soon followed, such as the formation of the Indigenous Environmental Network and Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice in 1990, the establishment of the Office of Environmental Equity in 1992 and signing of the Executive Order 12898 by former President Bill Clinton in 1994 to focus federal attention on environmental justice for minority and low-income populations.

Whilst spiritualism is not directly addressed in environmental justice, there are elements of the framework which embody spiritual environmental values such as overcoming the dualism of humanity’s relationship with the natural world, so that everyone can be respected and protected, and valuing emotional intelligence as a tool to reconnect heart with science and see beyond the base-level ecological relationships that conventional science has defined.

Still, the ubiquitous definition of environmental justice, or even ecofeminism, makes these concepts far too human-centric to replicate the urgency of preserving all ecological relationships, including and not including humans, benefitting and not directly benefitting humanity. This is not to diminish the potency and the success of environmental justice and all other concepts which strive to embed social sciences into western environmentalism, but rather encourage a change in perspective for those accustomed to western lifestyles and mindsets which tend to focus on the environmental rights and health of humans and the land they occupy.

Spiritual ecology, whilst conceptualised by human emotional and spiritual wisdom, is a realm of environmentalism which extends beyond the protection of human environmental rights and seeks for meaning in the connections we all have with the living and non-living world, not just on the basis of ecological relationships such as mutualism or cyclical geographical processes but rather the reasons behind the need for us to preserve the relationships we have with the natural world that are powered by compassion, love, altruism and stewardship. Such values that bring sentient beings to preserve their lands not because it will benefit them but because it will benefit all, benefits that are obtained when matter meets spirit and sacrality.

Indigenous spiritual and environmental wisdom holds the foundations of spiritual ecology and environmentalism, and despite these knowledge systems being ancient, this wisdom continues to be put in practice in the modern day. Religion has played a major role in environmental activism; whilst Christian doctrines teach of human dominance over the natural world, ancient religions have always advocated for environmental stewardship so that the sacredness of Earth, that has been gifted by God/a greater force, can be protected and preserved for future generations. Ancient religions and cultures attributed all natural components of Earth, and even the Universe, with divinity, either representing an avatar of God/a greater force, or being a gift from the Almighty that was too holy to be degraded or overconsumed.

Hinduism is the oldest documented religion that also is animist; eco-spiritual values are embedded into the foundations of the religious belief system where every planet and celestial object in our solar system detectable by the human eye, and every natural resource and process of Earth has been viewed as an avatar of God, part of God (known as the soul) or a blessing by God which must be respected and protected.

The days of the week have been named after the planets and the Sun, which are also known as demi-gods. Somvar (Monday) translates to the day of Earth’s Moon, Mangalvar (Tuesday) is the day of Mars, Budhvar (Wednesday) is the day of Mercury, Guruvar (Thursday) is the day of Jupiter, Shukrvar (Friday) is the day of Venus, Shanivar (Saturday) is the day of Saturn and Ravivar (Sunday) is the day of the Sun. Each demi-god, in which the days of the week are named after, also rule the planets that are named after them, and it’s the positioning of the planets and the Moon and the rotations of the Sun which gave birth to ancient Hindu astrology that has been used extensively by Hindus for many events such as determining the name of a new-born child or matching horoscopes of two individuals for arranged marriages. Whilst beliefs upon the credibility of astrology in dictating one’s life have drastically changed with time, the extent to which spiritual ecological beliefs aided Hindus to practice gratitude towards the planet they lived on and the Universe that holds our solar system can be seen by the day naming system used in modern India by those speaking Hindi. The respect for the planets, Moon and the Sun as deities is still in practice, such as offering water to the Sun in the morning after praying, breaking the Karva Chauth fast upon the siting of the moon and holding prayer ceremonies for the planets on their assigned days. These practices have been put in place to help Hindus remember our dependency on not just the Earth but also on the entire Universe.

Human custodianship of Earth’s sacredness however has been most emphasised in the ancient Indian culture; the planet as a whole is viewed as the mother of all life, and all mediums sustaining life are believed to hold these feminine and maternal qualities as well. Many water bodies in India have never been viewed as just rivers, lakes or oceans, but rather life-giving and sacred boons gifted to the world by Goddess avatars who represent motherhood, life and purity.

It’s water which quenches the thirst of dry soils after periods of droughts, it’s water which cleanses and nourishes our bodies, it’s water which brings peace and tranquillity to a landscape in its most still form yet eradicate everything in its path in extreme weather events, and it’s this potency of water which has been given divine values by Hindus, and all ancient cultures and religions.

The Ganga river (also referred to as Ganges in English) is believed to be Goddess Ganga in water form within Hindu mythology; flowing from Lord Shiva’s dreadlocks, Ganga descended to Earth and began her course from the Himalayan holy site of Gangotri, located in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, and flowed from northern India into modern-day Bangladesh, the mouth of the river being at the Bay of Bengal. Ganga is also the only river that is believed to flow from all three worlds, Swarg Lokh (Heaven), Prithvi Lokh (Earth) and Patal Lokh (Hell). Whilst Patal usually refers to the land of the demons, in this case it would mean groundwater flow. The Hindu religious scriptures, the Vedh and the Puran, state the Ganga is the most sacred river, this is why millions of Hindus travel from afar to experience the divinity of the Ganga river and to make pilgrimages to holy sites located in the western Himalayas. Many devotees believe bathing in the river will cleanse their sins and Ganga jaal (water) is bottled for Hindus and tourists to take back some of the holy water for prayers or as a keepsake from the religious site. Since Ganga flows from Heaven to Earth, Hindus scatter the ashes of the dead in the river with the hope that their loved ones attain salvation as their ashes flow to Heaven. Not only is the Ganga a religious symbol but the river has also been an essential water source to Indians for centuries. Currently 40% of India’s population depends on the river, particularly for irrigation and agriculture; the Ganga basin holds fertile soil which Indian and Bangladeshi agricultural economies depend on, and the river also supports Indian fishing industries.

There are many other religious rivers named after other Goddesses, such as the Yamuna and Narmada rivers, and other Gods such as the Brahmaputra (translating to the son of Lord Brahma). Nevertheless, the Puran clearly state “All rivers are holy. There are hundreds rivers and all of them remove sins. All of them are bestowers of merit”, therefore, ancient Indian eco-spirituality began with the worship and protection of the rivers that flowed through the country and gifted life to Earth.

Devotion to the rivers has also been replicated in the preservation of soil and land, the womb of Mother Earth personified as the Goddess Prithvi or Bhumi (Goddess Earth). The soil blesses our lives by providing us food, a medium for water to flow and a foundation for our homes. Prithvi Maa showers the world with her unconditional love, therefore Hindus believe it’s their responsibility to ensure the blessings we receive from her, in the form of natural resources, are protected and replenished to show their gratitude.

One such blessing of Mother Earth are trees; also symbolic of motherhood, trees give us shade, play an essential role in the water cycle, female trees bare us fruits, they give us wood for fuel and construction materials, all without anything in return. Although there is no single Hindu mythology which signposts when trees became sacred symbols, various religious texts mention their spiritual and ecological importance.

A passage in the Upanishad, comprising of more than 100 books, goes as follows:

Truly man is just like a tree. His hairs are the leaves and his skin resembles the natural bark. His blood streams forth out of his skin like the sap of a tree … The flesh is comparable to wood, the sinews are like the inner bark, the bones are the inner core of the wood and the marrow resembles the pith of the tree” (Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad 3.9.28, cited in Dwidevi and Tiwari 1987:23).

The Puran itself states that “Those who plant trees will attain the highest position”. One specific tree mentioned in Hindu mythology which can be found in Heaven is the kalp-vriksh, translated to the “wishing tree”. it’s this tree that has the power to give anything that the wisher desires, and it’s believed that most trees are connected to the  kalp-vriksh due to their abilities to provide many resources, hence the respect for all trees in ancient India. Every temple in India will be found having at least one of the 5 most holy trees, the burgut tree (also called banyan), its relative the peepal tree, the Bel tree, Myrobalan and neem. These trees will be found being adorned with saris, religious threads and holy spices and powders such as haldi (turmeric) and Kumkum. When visiting temples, Hindus offer their respects to these trees by offering flowers, Indian sweets, money and Ganga water – everything that Hindus would be offering to deity statues inside the temples. Despite not having specific deities for trees, they are given as much respect and devotion as avatars of God.

The respect for trees and plants later gave birth to the ancient Hindu medicine system of Ayurved, where herbs and fruits from plants such as Neem, peepal, turmeric, cardamom, mango and coconut have been included as sacred ingredients for Ayurvedic medicine due to their healing properties and religious origins. * For more on the healing powers of herbal medicine like Ayurved, listen to the Healing Power of Nature episode part of the Beautiful Planet series *

Our duty as environmental stewards also extends to protecting non-human animals, primarily by not consuming them; Hinduism is the oldest known religion to promote vegetarianism, and this arises from teachings of all non-human animals being equal to humans. This is further supported by the concept of reincarnation in which Hindus believe that all souls have been, or will be reborn (unless they attain Moksh) into any living form, be it a tree, a bee, a dog or a human. Therefore, all life forms must be valued as all living beings are temples holding souls which are parts of God themselves. The doctrine of Ahinsa/Ahimsa teaches Hindus to not harm God’s creations through the practice of non-violence, and it’s these teachings which we further strengthened later on in Buddhism and Jainism, particularly Buddhism which elaborated further the spiritual ecology of our natural world that extends beyond religion.

Hinduism is also one of the most famous religions where zoolatry is commonly practiced, even in the modern day. There are many deities that have part animal bodies such as Lord Ganesh (half-elephant) and Lord Hanuman (half-monkey), and nearly all avatars of God are remembered along with their animal companions. Goddess Durga, also called Goddess of the Tigers, is the protective mother of the Universe and has a tiger companion. Lord Vishnu, part of the Hindu trinity and protector of Universe, resides on the coils of the serpent god Lord Sheshnag. Lord Shiva, also part of the trinity, the destroyer of the Universe, not only has Ganga flowing through their hair but also has the serpent god Lord Vasuki resting on his neck and his closest devotee and guardian of his family residence Mount Kailash is Lord Nandi, who is half bull. Goddess Saraswati, the mother of speech, wisdom and learning, has a swan companion and many other deities have similar animal companions. Since these companions are non-human animals that also live on Earth, hurting or consuming these animals would be akin to harming the companions of God.

But just like certain species have been given more religious importance than others, certain animal species have been worshipped more than the rest, the main example being cows. Being symbolic of motherhood and prosperity, cows have always been worshipped in India since they give us milk, which is a substance that has significant cultural and religious importance. Families who have their own cows are deemed lucky because they get a constant supply of milk which holds nutritional benefits but also monetary benefits when sold. Similar to the sacrality of trees, the origins of cow sacredness in Hinduism are difficult to pinpoint but deities such as Lord Nandi and Goddess Kamdhenu (the mother of all cows and giver of all wishes) represent the ancient relationship between cows and Hindus.

Some of the criticisms of spiritual ecology, in general, is that the practice, at the least in its ancient form, is now outdated; a lot of eco-spiritual values and ways of life are way too rural-based for fast-paced contemporary capitalist systems, or the religious angle of spiritual ecology is too biased for secular Western societies. How can we use religious eco-spiritual teachings to inspire those that have moved past religion?

My first argument towards the religious aspect of eco-spirituality would be that despite Western systems favour secularism, for countries like India who are still predominately religious, eco-spirituality in the form of religion holds a massive potential for catalysing the environmental movement within such religious countries. Religion formed the basis of human responsibility towards controlling usage of natural resources and conserving environments in ancient populations. Hindus would feel that disregard of their natural environments would be disrespecting God’s creations and blessings, therefore disregarding the most powerful force and energy to exist. If people didn’t feel a sense of respect or love towards Nature, they would follow the environmental rules put in place by religious leaders to avoid punishment or ostracisation. Although, I do strongly believe that doing things out of fear rather than genuine interest and concern is never sustainable, and the consequences of this can be seen in modern India which now suffers a major environmental crisis of its own.

Leading on from this, critics of spiritual ecology would also argue that if spiritual ecology had enough potential to revolutionise the environmental movement in a country as religious and culturally-rich as India, why is India facing a waste and ecological crisis?

If indigenous wisdom and knowledge systems are replaced by a belief system which does more harm than good to the natural world, be it forcefully or adopted due to colonisation, Indigenous spiritual ecology which helped in sustaining the ancient Indian landscape will no longer have the same influence on modern environments.

Whilst it’s “easy” to blame colonial powers and Western cultures for the environmental problems India is facing, colonisation during British rule heavily influenced India’s shift in environmental practices and inhibited the adoption of ancient eco-spiritual values by contemporary Indian societies. Dr Pallavi Das (2010 paper) used government records from Parliamentary reports, scientific journals, newspapers and books as primary sources to show that much of the deforestation experienced in the Himalayas today is traceable to the second half of the 19th century as  railway construction began in colonial India. Historians studying the forest history of colonial and pre-colonial India argue that the colonial phase helped to bring deforestation under control, relative to the pre-colonial phase, however, the extent to which areas in India experienced ecological consequences of colonial rule were highly varied, with some ecologically fragile regions such as the Himalayas experiencing irreversible changes to local ecology during British rule.

The agricultural state of Punjab was vigorously promoted for railway expansion between the 1860s-80s, particularly as the railway network was also used for agricultural exports such as cotton, tea, coffee and wheat. Investment into railways in Punjab, as a percentage of the total investment in other public works by the colonial state, was a massive 51.4% (on average) from the same time period, which converted Punjab into what Das calls as the “bread basket” of the British empire.

Railways required wooden sleepers and firewood, which was the fuel used in Britain, therefore, directly depended on local forests for timber, inducing an increase in deforestation with increased trade. Not only were natural resources being extracted through the rail network, but to expand the network, timber and firewood were also being depleted. An excerpt from a document from the Government of India in 1861, just a few years after the start of Punjab’s railways, mentioned that:

The resources of Jhelum and Chenab, regions of Punjab within Pakistan, are almost exhausted, and the forests on the banks of the Sutlej river (Punjab) have been entirely neglected. The forests close to the water edge have long since been cleared away, and it is only at a distance of a mile or more from the river base that trees are found

In contrast, British officials in the 1850s had shockingly declared that the forests of Chenab and Sutlej had a “inexhaustible” supply of deodar timber; just 10 years later that supply had been drastically depleted. From 1861-62 ~78% of timber was consumed by railways and that percentage shot up to ~92% between 1862-63.

There was a sudden unsustainable growth in demand for these raw materials and eventually these resources were depleted. As a response to the growing concern that timber scarcity would pose as a barrier for construction for the Delhi railways, the state decided to implement forest conservation measures in Punjab and throughout India through the establishment of the Forest Department e.g. putting restrictions on private industries for timber extraction. It’s important to note here that this conservation scheme was purely initiated for the sole benefit of the British empire, not for the protection of Indian forests. The colonial state harvested forests for their railways and for British capitalists without any efforts in regenerating forests so overall, deforestation continued to rise as railways expanded.

Similar effects of deforestation were experienced across India, such as the East India Company exploiting south Indian forests to extract timber for shipbuilding; an estimated 500,000 cubic feet of wood was consumed by military factories from 1857-63 and despite conservation efforts being implemented, the loss of forest, along with subsequent effects of felling such as changes in the water cycle and biodiversity, could not be controlled. Accounts were also made of tigers attacking and killing railway staff (and subsequently being shot by British officials), disease outbreaks and accidents within forests also resulted in many deaths of labourers and engineers, but also of wild animals.

The British railways are powerful examples of the way in which colonialism, imperialism and capitalism can permanently shape socio-political and natural environments. India, overall, still remains a highly colonised nation, where Western cultures and mindsets are given priority of native ones.

It’s heartbreaking to see, even today, my older family members viewing colonisation as a force that done more good than harm, a force that strengthened India rather than made the country highly depend on colonial systems and lifestyles. Now part of the race to attain the development of Western countries, India no longer values the eco-spiritual practices and systems put in place thousands of years ago as they are seen too “weak” and slow-paced for the rapidly growing economy.

But the tolls of this toxic, unsustainable growth have disproportionately impacted the natural world and the most vulnerable of society. The Ganga river, once seen as the avatar of Goddess Ganga, is now one of the most polluted rivers in the world, brimming with antibiotic resistant bacteria and industrial waste. Uttarakhand (also referred to as the Land of the Gods) is facing a major tourism crisis in which infrastructure is being built on ecologically sensitive zones, such as floodplains and mountain slopes, as well as extensive deforestation occurring in the state to free land for construction; the consequences of unstable mountain slopes can be seen in extreme flood events such as the deadly 2013 floods.

As mentioned in the Zero Waste Movement episode, India is now generating the most amount of waste in the world, as a nation (not per capita). There are many eye witness accounts of cows eating litter and plastic waste as they struggle to find grasses in the drought periods. In 2019 alone, 1.7 million premature deaths, 18% of all deaths, occurred in India due to air pollution, which has also led to increases in diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease, diabetes and respiratory diseases, resulting in more deaths. New Delhi becomes the most polluted city in the world during winter, when the city is blanketed in thick smog and toxic air particles rise 500% higher than what the WHO determines as healthy.

In a country led by political corruption and the urgency to reach a higher development rate, even through unsustainable means, it seems difficult to see where spiritual ecology can re-emerge as a widespread environmental concept. Luckily, we don’t have to look too far; Indigenous Indian environmental conservation and preservation efforts, as a whole, have not been suppressed by colonial science and Western understandings of what “successful” conservation looks like. As early as the 1970s-80s, ecofeminist approaches to conservation were being embraced by Indigenous women in Uttarakhand through the Chipko movement, which I go into more depth in the previous episode.

The Bishnoi faith, stemming from Hinduism and originating from the state of Rajasthan, is founded on 29 principles, one of which is environmental stewardship, and so the Bishnoi strictly forbid the harming of trees and animals. Guru Jambeshwar found the religion in 1485 BCE in the desert region of Marwar, Western Rajasthan. When he witnessed the cutting down of trees to feed livestock during droughts, which later died as the drought period continued, he realised the importance of trees within the local ecosystem and ended up banning the cutting down of green trees and killing of animals and birds. The Bishnoi have continued on Guru Jambeshwar’s legacy of eco-spirituality and their success in managing their environment can be seen; in the middle of an arid desert, the Bishnoi successfully cultivate lush vegetation, collect drinking water and tend to animals. Bishnoi breastfeeding mothers are also known to breastfeed orphaned or injured fawns to nurse them to health because they believe that in their presence, no infant can ever be an orphan. However, the biggest sacrifice that the Bishnoi have demonstrated is the 1730 massacre of 363 Bishnoi who were protecting their acacia trees by clinging onto them that had been ordered to be cut down for the construction of a palace of the King of Jodhpur. When the King realised what had happened, he ceased the violence and as an apology, he designated the Bishnoi state as a protected area, where both trees and animals could not be harmed. The legislation is still in place today. The sacrifices of the Bishnoi community later inspired the Chipko movement which is still in practice in India today.

In 2018, two Indigenous organisations from Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland won the 2018 India Biodiversity Awards for their work in conserving endemic and threatened wild species like the Bugun liocichla bird and the red panda.

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change now define conservation reserves and community reserves as “protected areas of India which act as buffer zones or wildlife corridors to national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and protected forests”.

The launch of the Ganga cleaning government project saw over 1,900 local volunteers cleaning the river sides and removing 16 tonnes of waste materials from the water surface and river banks in just one hour in March this year.

The sacred Soppinabetta forests in the Western Ghats of India, first created by the British to combat deforestation, have been cultivated for more than 2,000 years by betel nut farming communities through sustainable agricultural practices. This has helped in maintaining significant forest cover in the Western Ghats (with the forests having around 30% of forest cover in the region) and provides a sustainable source of local income, however the sacred forests are now under threat of fragmentation due to changing government policies on restrictions for forest resource harvesting and planting of monocultures.

To say that eco-spiritualism is far too fundamentalist and “primitive” for modern societies is a comment made out of ignorance. Spiritual ecology had been successful in the past, and continues to be successfully realised within Indigenous communities, not on the basis of religious belief systems but on the basis of mutual respect, harmony and community stewardship.

Fundamentalism has never been a successful agent of change and there are a plethora of examples of such. In the case of spiritual ecology, religion acted as a medium for eco-spiritual values to be embedded within society, yet when religion transformed into a dogma, people felt drawn to the evolving principle of secularism, which granted them the freedom of self-expression yet strengthened the dichotomy between Nature and humanity.

Colonialism and capitalism uprooted the homology between humans and the natural world, that ancient religions and cultures taught of, and ensured that materialistic and capitalistic relationships were valued above spiritual connections.

Within western cultures, we feel as if we have achieved a “non-biased” complex system of laws and knowledge, yet we are oblivious to the power of deep ecological wisdom that we have lost along the way, the knowledge systems which never limited science to a doctrine solely benefitting humanity.

No matter how far we may have come from our ancient knowledge systems, spiritual ecology is still available for us to conceptualise and embed into secular environmental policy frameworks. For this to be successful however, environmentalism must be decolonised and Indigenous practices and communities, who have been successful in preserving ancient environmental wisdom, must be protected and embodied in Western conservation work if we want to solve the climate and ecological crises we are facing.

For countries like India who still value spiritual and religious values but are rapidly becoming westernised, religion must be incorporated into environmental work so that religious communities are involved within conservation and are reassured that conservation efforts are done for community benefit and not just for political purposes. For Indians who are part of Hinduism, and other religions, and are non-practicing, or those without a religious belief, spiritual ecology should be seen as a tool to not dismantle secularism and enforce religious beliefs but rather a tool to reimagine secular and Westernised cultures and mindsets which seek to dissolve the human-nature dualism in order to revive our broken relationship with Nature and reconnect spirit and heart to modern environmentalism.