Vedas and Environment

Vedas a brief Introduction

Man unlike other animals does not get contented with the instinctual knowledge of fulfilling hunger, having rest, perpetuating population and protecting oneself. Man always possesses a drive to obtain knowledge that cuts the boundaries of his instincts to move ahead and derive logical comprehension of everything around him. This search for knowledge of man revealed to him the truths and systems in nature and beyond visible nature in many words and ways such as Vedas, Bible and Koran and so on. Hence all these renowned holy books do reveal the intricate systems that are manifested in nature that is visible and that which is invisible.

 Among the above and all other treasures of knowledge available to us today, Vedas happen to be the oldest available material of knowledge.  It is widely accepted to be as old as ten thousand years by Scholars world over. Knowledge in the name of Vedas was propagated by the Indian folk.  The word Veda is developed from the root verb “Vid” which implies “Gnane”, the knowledge.

 The knowledge in the name of Vedas branch out into four, namely Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Saama Veda and Atharva Veda. Rig Veda advocates knowledge, Yajur Veda emphasizes on implementation of the knowledge in real life, Saama Veda highlights devotion and Atharva Veda is the collection of scientific knowledge which makes man get sturdy and tough.  These four Vedas again have given birth to four Upa Vedas or Sub Vedas namely Ayurveda, the knowledge of life, Dhanurveda, the knowledge of defense or protection, Gandharvaveda, the knowledge of fine arts of all forms and Arthaveda, the knowledge of wealth and economic principles respectively. These four Upa Vedas shot off from their mother branches based on the subject that has been prioritized in the respective mother Veda.

Although Vedas have made a phenomenal proposition of knowledge to the mankind, leaving nothing in the universe untouched, often questions have been raised, especially by modern scientific and highly advanced social groups, regarding the relevance of this oldest source of knowledge to the present day man’s life.  The modern man has placed himself in several major predicaments, owing to the so called advancement, especially of technology, resulting in the deterioration of environment. Here is a brief summary of how Vedas promulgate environment and ecological balance, some hymns are cited and explained.


Perception of nature in Vedas

Aapra rajaamsi divyaani paarthiva  shlokan devah krunuthe swaaya dharmane.

Prabaahu asraak savithaa savimani niveshayan prasavannakthubhirjagath.                                                                                                                                       (RigVeda: 4.53.3)

The lustrous, all arranger almighty has pervaded the cosmic and the visible world. To unfold his innateness he has published the group of hymns. The all producing, the all inspiring God has embedded qualities in this world to reveal his creative and preservative powers in the nature.

The above hymn describes how god has manifested or displayed himself to the world through his various creations in the universe. This quote of Vedas primarily sends the message that god is omnipresent.  The hills, the rivers, the flora, the fauna, the air, the ether have all been blended with wonderful qualities that nobody can refute to live apart from. There is love, accommodation, interdependence, coexistence, facility and wealth in every nook & corner of the universe. Thus another hymn states in support –

Yunjathe mana uta yunjathe dhiyo vipraa viprasya bruhatho vipashchitaha.

Vihothraadadhe vayunavideka inmahi devasya savituh parishtuthihi.                                                                                                                                      (Yajurveda : 37.2)

The scholarly great men will fix their thoughts and actions in that greatest soul as he is the only light giver, well versed, the creator and the perpetuator of several worlds.

Vishnoh karmani pashyatha.  Tato vrathaani paspashe. Indrasya yujyassakhaa.                                                                                                                                 (Rig Veda: 1.2.4)

Oh man you look at the deeds of that Paramaatma, the supreme soul.  Follow the path of righteousness.  He alone is your friend.

The above statements justify the Vedas do not just view the world or the nature as God but also dismiss the common presumption of God being visible only through sculptures and portraits. They also dismiss the arguments of those who deny the existence of god.  A great scholar once narrated an impressive story. Once a few men were crossing a jungle; they identified some footsteps of elephants to realize the presence of those creatures in that forest. Then they thought when it is possible to understand the presence of elephants in a forest by its footprints why is it difficult for many to realize the presence of God when so many creations by the God are available to us and visible to us.  Who else but God’s creation will be this universe? So look at God through universe, adore God through nature, serve the whole kingdom of life created by God to understand him and reach him for the ultimate eternal bliss.

Devayagna

Devayagna is the composition of two words Deva and Yagna. Deva is developed from the root verb “Dudaai” implying “Daane” meaning giving without any expectation and the word Yagna is developed from the root verb “Yaj” implying Devapooja sangathikarana daaneshu meaning worshipping god, moving together and giving without any expectation.

The word Deva is defined in Nirukta, one of the six Vedangas or the parts of Veda as Devo Daanaath, she/he who gives without any expectation as “Deva”. Yagna is defined in the same Niruktha as shresthatamo karma, the best deed. The God is commonly described as Deva as he has endowed us all with so many best things in abundance and for free!

Devayagna happens to be one among the five “Mahaayagnas” namely Brahma yagna, Deva yagna, Pitru Yagna, Athithi Yagna and the Balivaishwadeva Yagna which are required to be performed by everyone, every day. With no delay one might now question why should this be performed and how should this be performed?

Deva yagna is the manifestation of worshipping God who is displayed through nature by primarily respecting nature. To support this a Vedic hymn states –

Agnir Devatha, Vaatho Devatha, Suryo Devatha, Chandramaa Devatha …..    (Yajurveda 14.20)

Meaning heat/fire is God, air is God, sun is God, moon is God etc., and worshipping God or showing devotion to God is an act that enriches the life of man. Thus man has to perform Yagna, the best deed to show his devotion. If man uses fire or heat for a constructive purpose then it becomes a best deed, so is with air, not polluting air but helping to maintain its purity happens to be the real respect we pay to nature or god and of course also water and earth.  The efficient use of these resources without causing any pollution happens to be the way of respecting God in true sense. The heat/fire, air, water & earth here represent nature. In wider sense it shows, as told previously, that everything in nature is a gift of god and is supposed to be properly used not misused or abused.

The word “vivaha” meaning wedding is derived from the root verb “Vaha” implying “Praapane” meaning taking on responsibilities.  Vivaha happens to be an occasion where two human beings acquire special responsibilities. One among the special responsibilities they acquire is the duty of protecting nature and living in cohesion with it.  In the Vedic weddings the couple who are about to become man & wife will be made to perform “Rashtrabhrut Yagna”, wherein they understand the new family that they are going to set up is part of the society and the world.  They also understand that it shall be their duty to maintain peace in society and world, whereby they too can experience the same as they are building block of the society and the world.  And finally they take seven oaths as a part of wedding rites, known as “Saptapadi”.   Among them the fifth one happens to be “Prajabhyah Panchapadi bhava” meaning let’s take the fifth oath for bringing noble progeny on to this earth, it is also statedPrajathanthum maa vyavachhethseehi – do not cut the chain of progeny or generations. Further Vedas state that man has to produce progeny in appropriation with the wealth that comes to is share and not go on producing offsprings without any control, as he is given the intelligence to adapt himself to any condition in the world. This is called as “Maryaada santaana”. Man should not assume lenience to modify the nature to gratify the ever growing demands of the population. This shows that man is strongly advised not to go against nature, here, in this context the natural law of procreating.  This logic is extended and man is not supposed to commit atrocities on animal population, he is not the agency to alter the animal numbers as per his wish. The sixth oath happens to be “Ritubhyahshatpadi Bhava”, that describes let’s take the sixth step to pledge that we shall live our lives in accordance with the rules of rithus or seasons. Devayagna is popular even today as homaas, havanaas and yaagaas. The homaas and havanaas are   smaller forms and yaagaas are the large scale forms of  Deva Yagna. These acts are part of every samskaara or the rites to be performed for sanctification of one’s life. In these rituals the Ritvik, or the leader of the yagna offers “Aahuthis” meaning offerings, composing of cow’s ghee and various medicinal plants into the fire or Agni which help in purifying the environment by dispersing disintegrated particles of the offerings that go into yagna. 

Respecting nature will undoubtedly do a lot of good but by performing homaas and havanaas it has come to light that dispersion of medicinal particles into air has cured many diseases of human beings and animals. It has also come to be known that performing yaagaas and havanaas in agricultural fields has helped farmers fight the menace of insects that are harmful to crops.  It was referred to as “Dhathri Havana”, which may perform even today, but they are a minority.  In the past, it is also recorded that cloud seeding was possible with the practice of this kind of Deva Yagna.

It could become a subject of argument that ghee and medicinal plants could benefit more if they are given for direct consumption for the needy than be used as offerings, but it often goes unnoticed that the offerings that are made in these yagnaas are small in quantity and will benefit a lot more people than when distributed for direct consumption. As the offerings get reduced to its smallest form and get dispersed in the air that is accessible to everyone without any manmade barriers or toll or billing systems. For that matter, even giving away of things without any expectation in return is also not neglected in anyway, more so it has been made a rule not to accumulate anything in unnecessary proportions and adopting wrong means.

Ma Grudhaha                                                                                     (Yajurveda 40.1)

Do not steal. Do not establish ownership on others’ wealth. This may look like an instruction given in consideration of the wealth of only fellow human beings but this applies also for not stealing the facilities reserved for animal species. This could be understood more clearly by the study of another yagna of the pancha mahaayagnas or the five great deeds, the Balivaishwadeva Yagna.

Balivaishwadeva Yagna

The word Balivaishwa is composed of two words “Bala” which means strength and “Vaishwa”, this word vaishwa gets developed from the root verb “Vishlru” implying “Vyaaptou” meaning pervasive. Balivaishwa means strengthening of the whole world or everyone and the Deva Yagna as already explained is the worship of lord by protecting and conserving nature. The Balivaishwadeva Yagna altogether is the worship of the lord performed through serving of the weak, needy and the helpless, helping them get better. The Balivaishwadeva Yagna is popularly performed not only by giving food and other necessities to the helpless poor and the needy but also by sharing a part of our food with the animals and creatures around us. This is famously practiced by drawing ‘Rangoli’, an art of lines and dots, in front of houses using flours of food grains so that they could be consumed by ants and other such small insects. Placing cooked food or food grains on the rooftops and dropping a few grains of food beside the plate while beginning to eat are some of the other ways of performing the Balivaishwadeva Yagna. Vedas support this act through this hymn –

Priyaah pashoonaam bhooyaasam (Atharvaveda: 17. 1. 4)

Oh lord I will become lovable for animals. With this prayer man should offer a part of his food according to his capacity to all the animals which are useful to mankind in several respects. Further Vedas have very clearly insisted man on leading his life with peace and harmony by not hurting animals. They state,

Anaago hatyaa vai bheema (Atharvaveda: 10.1 29) killing sinless animals is terrific.

Yajamaanasya Pashoon paahi (Yajurveda 1.1) Protect the cattle of the leader of Yagna.

Ashwam maa himseehi (Yajurveda 13.42) Don’t cause harm to horse.

Gaam maa himseehi (Yajurveda 13. 43) Don’t cause harm to cows.

Avim maa himseehi (Yajurveda 13. 44) Do not hurt a goat.

Imaam maa himseerdwipaadam pashum (Yajurveda 13.37) do not harm two legged animals.

Imaam maa himseerekashapham pashum (Yajurveda 13.48) do not harm one hoofed animals.

Uthsam maa himseehi (Yajurveda 13.49) Do not harm an ox.

Oornayum maa himseehi (Yajurveda 13.50) Do not harm a sheep.

This is again, as quoted earlier, is a representation of animal kingdom as a whole. Vedas advocate kindness towards all animals. Thus, it would be an easy task to prove that yagna has to be free of any kind of violence or killing of animals.  A few more citations from Vedic hymns to prove this –

Agneyai yagnamadhvaram vishvatah paribhoorasi.

Sa iddeveshu gachchathi.                                                     (Rig Veda: 1. 1. 4)

Oh Agni, the lord, you will pervade in only those harmless deeds and only in those deeds the great men will take role. Hence killing of animals is completely condemned in Vedas.  Despite this there has been a continued killing of animals in various parts of the country in the name of Balis by the so called Vaidikaas, the people who call themselves the followers of Vedas.  There is absolutely no mantra or hymn stating killing of animals, and nobody till date has been able to find even one hymn to rule out the advocacy of Vedas on kindness towards animals. Indeed there have been innumerable proofs even outside Vedas to support that Vedas stand for non-violence and peace. The most notable of them are in the shanthi parva chapter of the Mahabharatha the great epic of India written by the great sage Maharshi Vyasa reading –  

Suraa matsyaah pashormaamsam aasavam krusharoudanam. Dhoorthaihi pravarthitam yajne naithadvedeshu vidhyathe (Mahabharatha; Shanthi Parva: 263.6)

Liquor, flesh of animals and aqua beings, groaning of weak are practiced by the rouges in the yagnaas and they are not the opinions of Vedas.

Shanno asthu dwipade shan chatushpade                                     (Shanti Mantra)

Let the two legged be well and also let the four legged keep well. This is the message delivered by Vedas. It’s left to the opinion of one to find out the truth in Vedas or believe in the comments passed by people who are ignorant and not educated about Vedas.

 

Vaishya Varnam, the professional group engaged in distribution of wealth

The word Varna is taken from the root verb “Vrui” implying “Varane” meaning selection.  Often mistaken as “castes”.  The varnas described in Vedas are assumed to be propounded to stratify society. The fact that remains un-understood and hidden is that every human society to establish a strong economy and social security needs four kinds of labor. The first kind of labor Brahmana engage in acquiring knowledge and distributing it in the society, the second kind Kshatriya, which physically protects society from injustice and aggression, the third kind of labor Vaishya performs the duty of protecting, enriching and distributing of natural resources in the society and the fourth kind of labor, Shudra, performing all other necessary services for the society. This is a natural division of labor and is inevitable for any society. Choosing a job that interests one is the actual choosing of Varna. Varna is embraced by a person after finishing his studies as per his attributes and interests when they are well defined and understood by him. It cannot be forced upon anybody by birth and none of the above listed labor is inferior to any other, but all are equally superior and equally important for a society. This is proven by Vedas as follows:

Ajyeshtaaso akanishtaasah ethe sambhratharo vaavrudhah soubhagaaya. Yuvaa pithaa swapaa rudra eshaam sudhugha prushnihi sudina marudhbhyaha.                                         

(Rig Veda: 5. 50. 5)

No human is superior and no human is inferior. All are equal like brothers. They progress together. That eternal, all securing, guilt punishing god is the father of all. Mother earth will facilitate & strengthen all.

Ruchan no dehi braahmaneshu rucham raajasu naskrudhi. Ruchanno dehi vishyeshu shudreshu mayi dehi ruchaa rucham.                                                                                 (Yajur Veda: 18. 48)

Oh lord fill love in all of us for Braahmanas, fill love in all of us for Kshatriyas, fill love in all of us for Vaishyas and fill love in all of us for Shudras.

Among the four Varnaas or professional groups advocated by Vedas the Vaishya Varna shall be considered here for discussion.  Vaishya is from the root verb Visha Praveshane which means to enter all territories.  The one who chooses this profession should not only do the job of distributing wealth ie, the natural resources available in a society, amongst everyone in it fairly, but also should take care to see that those natural resources in the society are getting conserved and also replenished.  Vaishya is specially assigned this responsibility along with what all others are commonly ought to do, the Deva yagna, protection of nature. Vaishya is supposed to perform this Deva yajna on a special and large scale. He is expected not to rob the share of wealth meant for fellow human beings or animals.  He is also assigned the duty of alleviating disruptions in society caused by scarcity of resources.

Here is the Vedic verse that supports the said statements

Indramaham Vanijam chodayaami sa na aithu pura etha no asthu.   

Nudannaraathim paripanthinam mrugam sa eeshano dhanadaa asthu mahyam.

                                                                                                (Atharva Veda: 3. 15. 1)

I shall inspire the prosperous vaishya to perform great deeds. Let him be available to us let him lead us all towards prosperity. That rich human being shall give me wealth keeping away selfishness & stealthiness.            

Purusharthas, the goals of human beings

The Vedas are a progressive congregation of knowledge that is true for ever. It never stated that one has to sacrifice everything, dump everybody and run away from world to attain happiness/salvation. The four Purusharthaas, the goals of human life substantiate this concept. Dharma the righteous path or the God’s path has to be followed to acquire Artha, the wealth, Kaama, the desires and Moksha the final destination of eternal bliss.

Among these four Purusharthaas the Artha, accumulating of wealth happens to be the most fascinating or found to be most relevant for the present day life of man, but it should be understood that without its encompassment by Dharma, the righteous path, acquiring wealth will do no benefit. The right path or Dharma is defined as the path shown to us by God through nature which is accommodating everything in it. Further Deva Yagna & the Balivaishwadeva Yagna, the two of the five great deeds that are to be performed by everyone have provided us a more lucid view of the way they should be performed. Acquiring wealth uncompromisingly, by respecting and conserving nature, is a significant point to note. 

The Atharva Veda has branched out into Artha Veda, the lore of wealth. It does not mean that other Vedas do not speak of wealth. Atharva Veda talks predominantly about wealth and the other Vedas give the knowledge in smaller quantities. Here is a quotation from Rig Veda regarding the way in which wealth should be acquired.

Akshairmaa deevyaha krushimit krushasva vitte ramasva bahumanyamaanaha.

Tatra gaavaha kitava tatra jaaya tanme vichashte savitaayamaryaha.

                                                                                                (Rig Veda: 10. 31. 2)

Do not gamble, work hard, work on fields, do agriculture. Whatever is obtained from the true toil only is great. Get happy only by that. Oh gambler, in that toil your cattle treasure and your family health and happiness will stay. This is what the great supreme soul revealed to me.

These words of Rig Veda reveal that the right way of earning livelihood for man must be agriculture. Agriculture should be the primary occupation of a human society. Only based on agriculture any other profession should develop, because agriculture alone sustains not only human beings but also animals.  Only when farming is practiced a human society will be able to generate wealth. Farming gives way to production of food and food fulfils the basic drive of hunger of all living beings.  Satisfying hunger only shall enable the other activities to be carried on. Farming also happens to be the most eco friendly profession. Appropriate farming practices will take care of not only humans and cattle but also many other flora and fauna and nature as a whole.

Ayur Veda, the Upa Veda of Rig Veda is a science of study of mortal life of man, animals and plants. This off shoot of Rig Veda emphasizes the importance of entire environment for the successful and satisfactory survival of human beings.  Ayurveda is directly linked with farming, as the medication part of it depends mainly on the extracts of various plants and herbs for curing diseases.

Vrukshaayurveda is a part of Ayur Veda that deals with the study of the life of flora and finding solutions to the problems of it with the help of other plants and animals around, a sustainable and eco friendly cure.

 

Anthyeshti, the Final Rite

Anthyeshti happens to be the last of the sixteen Samskaraas or the rites to be performed by man. The word Anthyeshti means, anthya (the last) ishti (yagna). It means handling of a dead body.  Anthyesthti is also considered as the final yagna or the great deed to be performed by man in his life.  But man at this stage will be dead.  Then how shall he perform yagna?  Man when dead will offer his corpse to the sacred pyre and performs yagna, but this yajna will be performed by his relatives or the members of the society.

Bhasmaanthagam  shareeram                                             (Yajurveda: 40.15)

Vedas clearly advocate that a dead body should not be disposed off in any way other than cremation, because only cremation is the most eco friendly way of disposing off the dead body.  Cremation is the quickest way of reducing a corpse to ashes which can blend with nature.  Cremation also saves the earth from pollution.  When a dead body is buried it takes a lot of time to disintegrate and completely mix with nature.  Until this activity is completed the ground under which the body is buried cannot be used for any other purpose nor can another dead body be buried on it.  This consumes a lot of space too.  This problem has taken alarming shape in many countries today.  The space required to bury the dead has severely fallen short.  This problem is easily solved by Vedas by recommending cremation of the dead.  This solution also happens to be the most dis-infectious and safe.  Some communities do believe in offering dead bodies to the scavenging birds directly, but this is found to be a very harmful way of reduction of dead matter.  Many governments across the world have passed a rule to cremate the dead to avoid all problems in handling them. 

One may worry that burning of dead requires fuel and where shall this fuel come from?  More over this combustion releases toxic fumes into the environment, what is the answer to this issue? It should be noted that firewood is the most common fuel that is used for this purpose and it is renewable.  In other words, to have a constant supply of firewood for human activities Vedas are insisting upon maintaining forest treasure.  And the toxic fumes, as mentioned already, the Anthyesti is the last Yajna that a man performs in his life offering his corpse to the yajna and this last yajna will be performed using not just fire wood but also medicinal herbs and cow’s ghee that checks the toxins released into the atmosphere.

Vedas on a whole advocate that everyone should live happily and complete life span. 

Pashyema sharadhah shatam, jeevema sharadhah shatam, shrunuyaama sharadhah shatam, prabhravaama sharadhah shatam adeenaaha syaama sharadhah shatham, bhooyashcha sharadhah shathaath.                                        (Yajurveda.36.8,10,11,12,17,24.)

We shall be seeing, living, listening, speaking for hundred years.  These hundred years shall be without dependency and self pity.  Let us live beyond hundred years.

Shatam jeeva sharado vardhamaanah.                              (Rigveda 10.161.4)

Live for hundred years progressing always. This progress of man should be accompanied by the peace of everything in the universe. 

Dyouhu shanthihi, antariksham shanthihi, pruthivi shanthihi, aapah shanthihi, oshadhayah shanthihi, vanaspatayah shanthihi, vishvedevaah shanthihi, brahma shanthihi, sarvagam shanthihi, shanthireva shanthihi, saa maa shanthiredhi.                                                                                                                                                                 (Yajurveda 36.17)

Let the ether be peaceful, let the space be peaceful, let the earth be peaceful, let the water be peaceful, let the plants be peaceful, let the trees be peaceful, let every physical and mortal resource be peaceful, let the progress be peaceful, let everything be peaceful, let the peace be peaceful out of prosperity and progress and not a resultant of the culmination of a war or a violent activity; let that peace be experienced by me.

Vedas propagated peaceful co-existence of humans, animals, birds, insects and nature at large.  Safeguarding of nature is the responsibility of every man because human race is the most superior creation of God.  Vedas show us the safest ways of utilization of resources given to man by God and thus satisfy our needs.  We all should take this up as our combined responsibility to utilize this abundant rich knowledge available to the mankind in the form of Vedas and make this earth a heaven to live, and keep it going for millions and zillions of years to come.

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