Wishing everyone a happy and stress-free day! May we take a moment to be grateful and count the blessings in our lives! May we remember to be kind and to focus our thoughts on light and blessings for the earth and for all her creatures. May all the animals be blessed with peace and well-being, as well as all the plants, the trees, and all the features of the earth – the rivers, the oceans, the forests, the deserts, the rocks, the mountains, and the clouds in the sky. All are expressions of the life of the universe — not inanimate objects, but expressions of cosmic awareness and transcendent beauty, which we too are a part of.
Well, I can hear you thinking – What a silly question, of course, wildlife are important! They are sentient beings, beautiful animals that have feelings. Of course, they are important.
Most kind people who care about animals would reply this way. As for those who genuinely do not care, we lost them when they saw the title. So, this is for those who do care.
But let’s pause for a moment. Many of us, especially at the moment, are quite overwhelmed. If we are fortunate enough to have a relatively secure situation in life – if we have a job, if we are not lining up for a food bank, if we are not in a state of crisis – we may still either be afraid for the future or in a state of distress at the suffering of our fellow human beings. To some extent this is not new – it is worse now, but it is not new. Life has always had difficult times – for those who have a sick child, or elderly parents, or who are sick themselves – or who are struggling in any of many, many ways. And yes, absolutely, if we have a sick child, the child must come first, and we need to care for the child – or whoever else we may need to care for.
Even in the best of times, many of us are just busy – really busy. We rush here. We rush there, and if we stop rushing, things fall behind and do not get done. So to stay on top of our situation, we need to take care of those immediate, insistent things that require our attention. No one is saying that we shouldn’t do this.
Some of us, perhaps most of us though, do have a little bit of leeway – there are the couple of hours in the evening we spend in front of the TV. There is some time here and some time there. There are days, weeks, months when there is no crisis – when we do have some time.
And what are our priorities? In the past few years, statistically speaking, our priorities have been health care, national security, the economy, maybe climate change, social and racial justice – or stability, depending on how we look at the world. If we are asked if we care about wildlife, we say, yes, of course. But really, that’s not at the top of our list. Overwhelmingly, our concerns are human concerns. We care about ourselves and other people. Now, there’s nothing wrong with caring about other people. It’s a wonderful quality to have. It is essential. There is really in our country a state of vast social and racial injustice, and it is fundamentally important – and this moment in time is, we trust, a profound turning point for change.
But, then where are we with wildlife? We care about dogs, cats – sometimes we care about horses, or even elephants and tigers. Somewhere, somehow, the little songbirds, the dragonflies, the coyotes, the squirrels, and the bobcats just do not quite register in our consciousness. And their habitat – without which they cannot survive – even less.
Let me give a couple of examples based on real, factual situations. When there is a water shortage due to lack of rain, and there is a stream – a little stream – and a coal company wants to pollute the waters of the stream just a little bit more than it already does – first, when it appears that this might affect the town’s drinking water, there is huge concern – then, when it is understood, that, no, nobody is talking about drinking water, this would only affect the water way upstream, and any tiny bit of pollution would just be washed away naturally by the rain (forgetting conveniently that there is no rain), without affecting the water downstream (which doesn’t make sense, but nevermind), then, amazingly all concern vanishes – and the same people who were alarmed about their own drinking water, somehow can no long find the time to be interested in this situation. What about the deer, the ring-tailed cats, the badgers, the songbirds who also need to drink? Somehow, they are just not anywhere near the top of our list. They may take our attention for a moment, just a moment – then they are gone from our thoughts.
And what about climate change? For many of us this means our own clean air, our own clean water – it means kids not having asthma (which is absolutely important) – it means developing clean energy so that, whatever the future may bring, we will be able to drive our cars, heat and cool our homes, and live decent, comfortable lives. Yes, these things are important. We’re used to them and we would get frazzled (myself included!) if it were freezing in the winter and boiling hot in the summer. Really, are we giving a single thought to the plight of the birds for whom breathing adequately is even more necessary than it is for us? Have we noticed species after species of songbirds greatly diminished in numbers or gone altogether? Have we noticed that, without rain, there are no butterflies at all? And so few insects that insect-eating birds have nothing to eat? The answer is – no, we haven’t noticed. It’s not because we don’t care. If someone told us, we would care. We just literally haven’t noticed. For the vast majority of us, we simply do not see wildlife. Wildlife just do not appear on our radar screen.
So why does this matter? What difference does it make? And, yes, we don’t want to see wildlife suffer, but really we can’t spend our whole lives worrying about bobcats, let alone butterflies.
Why are wildlife important?
But there is one extremely relevant reason why wildlife are important – not just for their own sake, but for our sake as well – and this is the reason: Wildlife are the children of the earth. They are part of the earth. They may be invisible to us, but they are an essential part of the universe. As children of the earth, they, in a truly meaningful way, are life itself. Yes, we are all children of the earth – but to us as humans this is mostly an abstraction – a truth to be remembered only occasionally, if at all. But a wild being – a deer, a wolf, an eagle – is the earth – is part of the fabric of life. And when we deny life, deny nature, deny existence, and deny the universe, then we will soon be in trouble, just as we are now. When we alienate ourselves from the natural world – to the extreme extent that we no longer even think about the natural world, not even in passing, then we have climbed to the end of the tree branch, and we are about to saw off the branch on which we are sitting, thereby sending ourselves plummeting down to injury and death – and that is precisely where we are now. We have alienated ourselves from life.
The consequence of we, as the human race, alienating ourselves from life is this: We have become parasites – unthinking, unconscious parasites who are destroying life, and nature – maybe not intentionally, but sometimes just accidentally – unaware, unconcerned. And the only solution that will make the slightest difference, ultimately, is not the Paris climate accords, or the Clean Air Act or clean energy or any number of government meetings and agreements (which are not happening much, but even if they were, they would not reach the root of the problem). The root of the problem is our disassociation, our alienation from nature. This concept is woven into the fabric of western civilization – which is a topic for another time. But this is killing us. Alienation from nature is killing the source of our lives – the earth herself – who we, without even paying attention, have thoughtlessly and unconsciously – abandoned, neglected, ignored, and then slaughtered and destroyed. When we kill the earth, we kill ourselves.
The first thing we can do – is un-alienate ourselves. This may not save the planet. It is quite late for that and, until we can engage others, we are, by ourselves, just one person. Yet still we must start somewhere. We must shine a small light into the darkness. Not by feeling bad – feeling bad accomplishes nothing, but instead by re-connecting with nature. Just simply doing that.
Take a walk in the woods. If there are no woods because you are in a city, then go to a park, sit by a tree. No trees? Then go to a flower shop and smell the flowers. If nothing else, then watch the clouds overhead – watch the sunlight or the rain. Watch a pigeon fly through the air. Be thankful, be grateful, and acknowledge the reality that you and I are not superior beings at all. We are at one with the natural world, with the earth – and this will be a step. The first thing this will do is put us in touch, just a little bit, with the peace of the universe. And the second thing it will do, is create a little wave in the ether – a little life-giving wave that will help someone somewhere – another being – a fish in a river, a tree in a park, another human being – and by becoming part of the resurrection of life – we will have played some small part in renewing the earth – if not in this age, then in the age that is to come – building a bit of a bridge to a world of light.
I know this seems simplistic, and it is not a remedy meant for everyone – if it were, we would all already be doing this, and there would be no problem. But if we are to some extent, in touch with real reality, then this will not be incomprehensible to us. We will remember sometime in our life when we felt in contact with the earth, with a tree or a bird or a sunset, and we will understand that this is the point where we must begin – to be at one, once again, with the web of life that is the earth – that is our life and the life of the universe.
On a practical note – and unrelated to the thoughts below: I am no longer able (for purely technical reasons) to post reblogs on this site – either temporarily or maybe for quite a while. I’m quite sorry about this since many of them were beautiful glimpses of nature and very much worth reblogging. Thank you to all those who created them. In any case, I shall have to do a bit more writing myself in order to have something to post.
Today, the sad passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has left us as a nation teetering on a brink that we may not get past.
This compounds the sense of danger and a sense of impending doom that we may feel creeping here and there, through the shadows, that menaces our country and our future.
This morning I noticed that an acquaintance of mine had discontinued his blog. The other day, a friend mentioned that probably, this was all just a “blip in time” and that we would soon get past it – a thought that sounded optimistic, but that revealed an underlying sense of fear.
A black patch?
Some of us, for better or for worse, have learned to become quite good at escaping black patches of reality – at just skating away into a dreamland – but as one looks around it would be hard not to notice that others seem to be sinking fast into a certain black patch. So here are a couple of reflections that might help — a few tips just in case a black patch might be looming ahead.
There can be a growing sense of futility if we begin to wonder how it is possible to do anything positive in our own lives – when justice, at this moment in time, does not seem to prevail.
A conversation long ago
I have been recalling a lot lately a conversation that I had ten or twelve years ago with a friend who has done a great deal in his own life, especially in east Asia, but also in the rest of the world, for the cause of animals. He had gone on a solitary retreat to try to sort out his purpose in life. In a state of profound despair, he felt that the suffering of animals was so immense and overwhelming that nothing could help. After three days spent alone – I think on the top of a mountain – he came to the awareness that he would spend the rest of his life just helping when and where he could. He would never be able to help all animals. But he could alleviate the suffering of just one dog here and one cat there – just a few in one city — a few hundred in another city — and maybe also a squirrel or a bird in distress, along the way — and that this was worth doing and would be his purpose in life. He has done this since, and after that insight, he felt some clarity and peace.
A bridge to the future
To go back for a moment to Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a woman of extraordinary brilliance and accomplishments who has even bent the trajectory of history, she wrote many dissenting options for the Supreme Court. Interestingly, she said that she was, in some ways, most proud of her dissenting opinions. She did not regard these dissenting opinions as losses or defeats. Instead, she viewed them as possibilities for the future — as views whose time had not yet come, but that might pave the way for a changed and more just future, when others might come to agree and more enlightened action might be possible — in short, as a bridge to the future. Life is not static — there are highs and lows – positives and negatives – cycles. When we focus on windows for change – no matter how tiny these little windows may be, there can be momentum and ultimately, transformation.
Focusing on the immediate
It is good for us to value the work that we can do right now to help one animal, or one human being, or to plant one tree that may grow up in the sunlight. This is enough. It is enough because it is a beginning. Do not focus on the grand outcome. That is the responsibility of the universe. It is not your responsibility and not my responsibility. The universe will do what it does.
According to The Hindu faith, there are four ages that cycle on, one after another. After the last age, the terrible time known as the Kali Yuga – then there will arise another age – the beginning one – of great vision and great insight, of love and compassion, of new life and energy. What we do now, even when it may be unseen or unacknowledged, can help build a bridge to that new age.
There is a great cycle of many yugas, following each other.
Let us focus, in the meantime (in this time of transitions and endings), on the good that we each can do — imparting peace to the earth, wherever and whenever we can – not wasting time on fear for the future or on regrets about the past — or, even worse – on blame and anger. Let us spend our days living in peace and imparting peace and reassurance to others — not just humans, but to animals and to trees and to the land of the earth as well.
One step, then another
Not all of us may be able to do much at his moment because truly there is a potential for very great catastrophe, and some may see that more clearly than others. If you find yourself caught in a moment of despair — just try to do one very small thing — extend a hand of kindness to someone — then later on to another and then to another — that will be a beginning. Water a flower or call a friend, or a stranger, or say a prayer.
Remember the Great Light of the Universe who enters the world and who makes the world out of Her (or His) own being – who takes on the mantle of time — who lives and dies and rises again, who is the heart of all faiths. (Yes, there is profound truth, even in Christianity. ) (There, now I have offended everyone – Christians, atheists, Moslems, everyone — oh, well, so be it.)
Let us carry a light each day — a beacon — big or small — a gift that comes to us from that Great Light from which all arises and to which – and to whom – all returns.
In 2002, the Indian Parliament enacted the Biological Diversity Act followed by the National Biodiversity Rules in 2004. The main objectives of the Act were the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. Earlier, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1973, and its 1991 Amendment provided for the protection of birds and animals, while the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980, a vast improvement on the earlier Act of 1927, was intended to provide a high level of protection to the forests and to regulate diversion of forest lands for non-forestry purposes.
Biodiversity – or biological diversity – includes all the organisms found on our planet, the plants, animals and micro-organisms, the genes they contain and the different ecosystems of which they form a part. India is one of only seventeen mega diverse nations in the world, with over 85,000 out of 12,00,000 animal species in the world, and 45,000 out of 3,90,000 plant species. It is estimated that the world knows only about 17,70,000 species out of 5 to 10 million. We hardly know what we have, leave alone what we have lost.
Biodiversity is essential to the survival of every species, as each organism is linked to another in a fragile web of life. These form a food chain that links food producers to consumers, and maintains ecosystem diversity. The amount of green plants in any environment should be much more than the animals or insects that feed on them. Humans are only a strand in this delicate web of relationships. Every living creature is a part of a food chain. There are several food chains which, depending on the environment, could be simple or complex. But all food chains are fragile, and if even one link is broken, it sets off a series of reactions that could cause the collapse of the ecosystem. If predators are killed, the herbivores will multiply and eat up green plants and grains, leaving the land barren and unproductive. This is how a biologically-rich region like North Africa became the Sahara Desert. What would happen to public health if scavenger birds like the vulture were wiped out? Every species has its role, making species diversity essential.
Loss of biodiversity impacts immediately. There is the example of the genetic similarity of Brazil’s orange trees causing a terrible outbreak of citrus canker in 1991. The rapid deterioration of the ecology due to human interference is aiding the rapid disappearance of several wild plant and animal species.
As natural resources are depleted, there is less to go around, less to share. Economic, social and political problems are a natural corollary. Water, the most important natural resource which comes from hills and forests, is a source of discord today.
Loss of biodiversity is a threat to civilization, second only to thermo-nuclear war in its severity. The consequences could be quite incalculable. Other environmental problems like pollution, global warming and ozone depletion could be overcome, but not the erosion of biodiversity or extinction of species. Species once lost cannot be brought back.
The current Covid 19 pandemic, which has emerged from the wet animal markets of Wuhan, China, is the result of human interference with nature, the destruction of the intricate web of life and the loss of biodiversity. The virus always existed. Its predator is missing. Habitat destruction, air and water pollution, indiscriminate poaching and killing of wildlife, intensive farming of animals and the disappearing green cover have combined to cause global warming, climate change and now this destructive pandemic.
In this lockdown, people are celebrating the return of avian and terrestrial wildlife, or birds and animals in cities and in the countryside. Air and water pollution have decreased, while the North Pole’s largest-ever Ozone hole has finally closed. What humans could not achieve despite spending millions of dollars or rupees, Nature has achieved – a rejuvenation of planet earth. Humans are a very small part of the web of life, but cause the greatest damage. Celebrating biodiversity is celebrating Mother Earth.
I would like to end with a hymn to the tree and the forest from the Rig Veda (IX 5.10.):
The cosmos is a tree with a thousand branches…
The tree is the lord of the forest…
Which is a symbol of life that is self-regenerating and immortal…
And a Hymn to the Earth from the Atharva Veda’s Bhoomi Sukta (XII.I.26, 28):
Earth, my mother, set me securely with bliss…
The earth, which possesses oceans, rivers and other sources of water;
Which gives us land to produce food grains on which human beings depend for their survival;
May it grant us all our needs for eating and drinking: water, cereals and fruit.
Let us celebrate biodiversity by making time and space for nature, by remembering that the earth was made for animals and plants too. Ahimsa is non-violence in thought word and action, and non-violence to all creation would be the best celebration of biodiversity.
June 5, 2020 global online broadcast, World Environment Day, 2020: