When Lord Rama and the army of monkeys led by Hanuman were extending a bridge to Sri Lanka so that Rama would be able to go to the abode of Ravana, the ten-necked demon, to defeat him and to get back his wife Sita, who had been abducted, a little squirrel played an important role in building the bridge. He ran along to the end of the bridge and shook sand out of his fur. This sand provided the binding material that held the building blocks of the bridge together.
The bridge did hold together, Rama killed Ravana, and Sita was returned safe and sound to her husband. In gratitude, Rama thanked the little squirrel, affectionately running his hand along his back. This is the reason that today the Indian palm squirrel has three stripes on his back.
Because of the squirrel’s hard work and devotion to Rama, squirrels today are protected by Indian households, and no one would harm them.
This story, and many others, are recounted in the book by Dr. Nanditha Krishna, “Sacred Animals of India”.
It is a true story. It is true because, of course, the incarnation of God on earth would feel love and appreciation towards a little, innocent creature like a squirrel. A squirrel is indeed very hard-working, and makes a positive contribution towards the environment and towards life on earth (thereby assisting in building a bridge to defeat the arch-demon Ravana, the author of evil).
Science, when it is true to its origins, respects and values all life from the squirrel to the eagle – from the mushroom to the ficus tree. All is valued and preserved.
But there is another kind of science – it’s a kind of pseudo-science, though it has in many ways taken over the place of the rightful, true science.
This pseudo-science began probably in Europe around the time of Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes in the seventeenth century – and its doctrine (it does have a doctrine, just like a religion) is that human beings are the dominant species and have the right to mastery over all other creatures on the earth. In order to pursue that goal more effectively, it is useful to deny that animals have any level of sentience or consciousness—and there is an implicit denial of any genuine spirituality.
There is really nothing “scientific” about that kind “science.” True science, meaning wisdom and knowledge, does something quite different in quite a different way. It observes, watches, notices, catalogues, and seeks to understand the natural world, with respect and open sincerity. Following from this approach, it values and appreciates the natural world, and as a consequence, it seeks to preserve it. This science, which is the real science, is oriented towards conservation, towards the preservation and restoration of eco-systems, of forests, of all the natural habitats of the earth, of the plants, the forests, the birds, the animals, the geological formations, the rocks, and the mountains, and ultimately the people because we need the earth too.
It’s a good idea for us to notice that these two kinds of science are not the same. They are in fact opposite. One seeks to understand. The other seeks to dominate, and when dominance is the goal, really, the less understanding there is the better, because understanding can only get in the way of carrying out that harmful goal.
If one’s purpose is to dig a mine on top of a mountain or a dangerous oil well deep into the earth or under the sea, then the less one knows or understands about these fragile eco-systems, the easier it will be to destroy them without a second thought.
One of these kinds of sciences is life-giving and life-affirming. The other, the false science, is death-dealing and is contributing to destroying the planet. It is helpful not to get them mixed up.
India has always been a life-affirming land, with a philosophy and a culture that values really everything, that sees the validity, the worth and the sacred nature of all things, all animals, and all people. It is a culture that gives warmth and inclusion, that recognizes the consciousness, the sentience, and the value of all beings on all levels.
The ancient Vedic science was alive and well long before the beginnings of modern “science” ever came into being. Many thousands of years in the past, there was an understanding of astronomy, of the stars and the planets, a system of medicine, a practice of metallurgy, cartography, and the development of a number system that the world still uses today. There were surveying instruments, navigation, advanced mathematics, and eye cataract surgery. Along with a great many other advances that we still may not recognize as having originated in India.
All this knowledge is laid out in the ancient Hindu texts. When we see clearly the antiquity and the source of much of the world’s knowledge, that will enable the life-giving essence that was always there within this true science to prevail over the forces of environmental destruction.
Then there can be life, energy, and a restoration of hope and well-being to the planet earth. Then we’ll be honoring the squirrel, and Rama, and the victory of goodness and kindness over evil.
Top photo: Ashraaq Wahab / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ Indian palm squirrel
Second photo: Painting done around 1860 / Wikipedia / public domain / Rama
Third photo: Painting done around 1920 by an unknown Indian artist / Wikipedia / public domain / Ravana