From Radhanath Swami at the Huffington Post
A crippled economy and a polluted environment plague our social
body. Both largely stem from the same core disease -- pollution of
hearts. Blinded by distractions one can forget how to invest in what
awards a meaningful, fulfilling life.
Parallel to our vast strides in technology, there is a dangerous rise
in unemployment, foreclosures and degrading education. Millions of
people are stricken with hopelessness and strife. Sadly, in the name of
progress we have polluted the air, water, soil and the food we eat. What
can we do? The following is a story about an encounter I had with
someone who cared.
It was winter in New Delhi when the days are mild and the nights are
biting cold. New Delhi's wide roads are lined with massive government
buildings, the older ones built by the British perhaps a century back
with stone pillars, ornate statues and vast lawns. Others built after
independence in 1947 are adorned with Indian style arches and domes. I
rode toward the airport. Monkeys appeared everywhere, scampering along
the boundary walls.
At the crossroads on the way to the airport we passed circular
islands of grass and trees surrounding memorials for the country's
freedom fighters. The streets were congested with cars, trucks and
motorcycle rickshaws spewing out trails of exhaust fumes. Overhead a
murky cloud of smog hung in the sky and reduced the sun to a gray
lifeless ball. The fumes were thick, the smells toxic, and they sat on
our tongues like sour lozenges. On the roadside an elderly man squatted
cross-legged with back erect performing pranayama, a yogic breathing
exercise. He vigorously inhaled and exhaled. I wondered if it did him
more harm than good.
We crossed a bridge over the Yamuna River. I looked down and
remembered 30 years before, when I had first come to India, that under
the same bridge the Yamuna flowed in her full glory. Now, she looked
plundered and crippled. What was once a pristine river had now become a
thick blackish liquid, foaming bubbles, and a current so lame she barely
When I reached the airport and was waiting at the gate for my flight,
a lady informed me that sitting close by was the Union Minister for
Environment and Forests. She wanted to talk to me. I obliged.
The minister stood up and greeted me, "Namaste Swamiji." After a pleasant exchange she suddenly challenged me with a passion.
"What are you spiritual leaders doing about the ecology?" She was very serious.
"Every second the air is being saturated with cancerous smog," she
said. "Tons of raw sewage and toxic waste are dumped hourly into rivers
where millions of people bathe and drink. The earth is being stripped of
its forest and has become a dumping ground for deadly waste. The world
is on the brink of ecological disaster while all of you spiritualists
are praying, meditating or chanting. What is all your devotion doing to
save the ecology?"
Her concern was real and impassioned. It was exciting to see that
depth of concern from a powerful leader over an issue that affects us
"Yes, the environment is everyone's responsibility," I responded,
"and I sincerely admire your tireless commitment. The spiritual leaders I
know believe that along with passing laws and doing the cleaning work
we need to address the root cause of the problem. If a person is covered
with boils, the symptoms must be treated, but unless the cause of the
problem is addressed, the boils will recur. In the case of boils, the
cause may be a disease in the blood. The root of cause of pollution in
the world is pollution in the heart.
"Toxic greed has contaminated the minds of human society. The
environment is simply an external manifestation of the ecology of the
mind. Greed is an obsession, an addiction. It can never be quenched. The
more it gets, the more it needs. Greed hardens the heart and fools us
into rationalizing cruelty and justifying crime. Greed induces envy,
divides families, provokes wars and blinds us to our real self-interest.
Greed for money, power, fame, sex -- the world is ravaged by greed. It
is practically an exercise in futility to attempt to clean the
environment when politicians are corrupted by bribes, industrialists
pollute rivers to maximize profits and scientists put aside their ethics
"The Bhagavad Gita states that greed is a symptom of avidya
or ignorance that covers the natural virtues of the true self within us.
I'm sure you would agree with me that most people are not bad spirited,
but due to a lack of awareness they may be destroying the environment,
not understanding that what may seem convenient, like dumping industrial
waste into a river, is actually killing fish, animals and people. So
along with the pollution of our rivers, we must give attention to the
pollution in our hearts. If you successfully clean the air, the sky,
every river and every ocean, it is for certain that people will pollute
them again unless they reform the ecology of their hearts.
"Spiritual life is the science of cleansing the heart and tasting the
joy of living in harmony with God, each other and nature. It begins
with cultivating good character, the willingness to make personal
sacrifices for a higher cause, to make the right choices even in the
face of temptation and fear, and put concern for the well being of
others as a priority.
"How to do that? All of these virtues can spring from Bhakti or
spiritual love. The Bible teaches that 'the first and great commandment
is to love God with all one's heart, mind and soul.' And the natural
result of that is, 'to love your neighbor as yourself.' Nature is also
our neighbor, she is alive with rights like everyone else, but too many
people don't see nature that way. The Vedic scriptures tell that the
most simple and powerful method of cleansing the ecology of the heart
and awakening this dormant love within us is to chant God's names. In my
tradition we chant the names of Krishna."
"God has empowered all of us in different ways and if we agree on
what the real problem is, then we can all contribute our part of the
solution. The well being of Mother Earth is everyone's problem. It is
crucial for leaders in all fields to serve cooperatively."
At that point the minister was called to board her flight. She
thought for a moment, then stood up and smiled saying, "Yes Swamiji,
What you say is true. We all need to work together."
She was right to take me to task. Religious and spiritual leaders
should be held accountable for environmental activism, not only because
they have access to large communities and can influence votes but
because service is integral to religious and spiritual life. Reducing
carbon emissions is important, but it is shortsighted if not coupled
with reducing the toxic emissions from our heart; and that is something
spiritual leaders are supposed to teach and something all thinking
people, regardless of their beliefs, should practice.
We should honor Mother Earth with gratitude; otherwise our
spirituality may become hypocritical.
The earth nourishes us with every
necessity for a prosperous life. When, on a massive worldwide scale we
plunder her oil, destroy her forests, pollute her resources, torture and
kill her animals, soak her with the blood of her children, exploit one
another and trample her with immorality, there will naturally be
We should honor our mother and respect all of her children as our
brothers and sisters. Otherwise, we may force her to react. Humanity
has reached a critical crossroads. We have made monumental progress in
technology, medicine, science, academics and globalization but if we do
not use them with compassion what will be our fate? The dire need is at
hand to take responsibility as caretakers of the helpless and live as
dedicated instruments of God's love.