Climate change, global warming, environmental degradation are scenarios we all have heard about. What role can yoga play in what is becoming one of the greatest problems facing us today?
Swami Prembhava: Our amazing human mind and its ability to invent and create technology has enabled us to exploit and manipulate nature to suit our needs. The modern attitude and belief is that we are in control of nature, and because of this we have disconnected ourselves from the very source that sustains us both physically and spiritually.
The ecological crisis has many different levels, from the material to the spiritual. The material is governed by industry and economics and is difficult to change. However, from the spiritual and individual perspective, yoga plays an important part. Through yoga we are given the tools to observe our attitudes and relationship with nature and change them to become more ecologically aware, not just externally, but at a psychic and spiritual level as well.
It is our daily actions and behaviours that create the habits and attitudes that influence our relationship with the world around us. Adjusting our individual lifestyles is the first change that we all can make. There has to be an effort to change the consumerist, materialistic and selfish attitude to an ecological attitude that sees and understands our connection and relationship with nature. This cannot happen overnight, we must start to live it day by day until it becomes a natural part of who we are. We cannot change the economic and political situation, but we can, as individuals, change the way we live. The first step in yoga ecology is to start living with ecological awareness, an awareness of oneself and the environment.
Here in Ganga Darshan ashram, we are given the opportunity to live and imbibe a simple yogic lifestyle. Once imbibed the yogic lifestyle can be lived anywhere. Every aspect of the ashram lifestyle is designed on ecological principles. The routine, diet and ashram sadhana all provide us with the training to live with this ecological awareness and ultimately to reunite us with the divine force of nature.
Due to the nature of human desire we are always wanting and craving more, there is no end to it. In many countries around the world people have allowed their desires to rule their lives _ many cars, bigger houses, twenty pairs of shoes, huge amounts of food, monster shopping malls. If you go to any big supermarket in the West, even buying toothpaste can be an ordeal with so many varieties! To whiten, to shine, to polish, etc. This is how people are living now, driven by consumerism and the need to own more, even if they don't need it.
All of this consumerism has detrimental effects on the earth's ecosystems. Plastic and packaging end up polluting the oceans and deserts of the world. The process of manufacturing involves huge amounts of wastes that all end up in our rivers and skies. We must learn to sacrifice all of these shiny products and live simply. This is where the concept of santosha, contentment, is so important. The awareness of contentment helps us to overcome the nature of craving.
The residents of the ashram live simply and receive only two dhotis and kurtas a year. We use the dhotis until they are recycled into cleaning rags. We have one pair of shoes that we wear daily until a new pair is needed. This may seem like a simple thing, but we make that choice to live with the minimum. We may see a lovely shirt and desire it, but there is the awareness "do I need it, is it a necessity?" No. Think twice before you buy.
In winter there are no heaters in the rooms or hot water for baths. The brave residents have cold showers all year round in the dark early morning, and the not so brave wait until the sun naturally heats the water during the day. This not only saves on power, but also makes the body strong and resistant to disease.
Sometimes in winter it can be very cold here. Still the sannyasins do not reach for a heater, rather we put another blanket on the bed, or another jumper on the body.
We have also installed solar power. Solar power will become the energy source of the future. Ganga Darshan ashram will eventually be run solely on solar power, quiet and without pollution.
By living closely with people from every walk of life, (eating, sleeping, working, playing) we start to overcome the selfish individualistic nature and learn to respect others and their needs. If, for example, I have three scoops of sabji at lunch, the person behind me may go without! Swami Niranjanananda has said "Your greed is another person's suffering." When we learn to share and respect others, we step outside of the limited 'ME' and live together harmoniously.
This is a very important ecological awareness that must extend globally, as 20% of the people on the planet consume 80% of the resources without contemplating it.
When people come here to learn yoga, they find themselves involved in many different kinds of ashram activities - cleaning, gardening, packing magazines, counting bed sheets, etc. Seva is one of the most important aspects of yogic lifestyle. It is through seva that we really learn to overcome our selfish, self-centred natures and learn to give of ourselves. Human beings are animals that live only for themselves without respect for the ecological niche of other creatures or future generations. Through seva we begin to change our attitudes and relationship with the world around us.
When you accept the whole ashram environment as your home, then this awareness will remain with you wherever you go, every place will become your home, your place on earth, mother earth. You would not pollute your own home and throw rubbish in your living room or pile up sewage in the kitchen, and this awareness can connect you to the earth as your home, full of such beauty and divinity.
Perhaps climate change is a natural process where the human race will push itself and many species of animals, plants, insects and birds to a speedy extinction. The earth has been through greater changes in the past: ice ages, mass extinction, meteors colliding with the earth, even dinosaurs once roamed this land. The earth will adapt to all the changes we have created. Life will always find a way to live and maybe new species will form that love to breathe carbon dioxide and sulphides.
However, we have borrowed the earth with all her beauty and resources from the future generations, our grandchildren and their children and their children. When we borrow something from somebody, we should return it in the same condition or in better condition than how they kindly lent it to us. We still have such beauty on earth, but if we continue to live without respect or a deep spiritual connection to the earth we will destroy it. The choice is up to us.
We have allowed ourselves to focus on the material world and to forget the spiritual. When there is an imbalance between the material and spiritual, then we experience suffering and destruction. We must return to the spiritual and create a balance. If we can restore that balance within ourselves, then definitely it will be reflected externally also. It is too easy to focus on the negative; human beings are good at that! We must be positive and look for small ways with which we can change the world within ourselves so as to experience the beauty without. Yogic lifestyle offers the tools to begin that journey.