In most major religions there is scripture encouraging the protection and care of nature. From Buddhism to Christianity, Hinduism to Islam, faiths recognize the need for environmental stewardship and urge followers to be caretakers of the planet and its biodiversity.
Spiritual leaders play an important role in sharing religious practices and passages so that followers can live a more sustainable lifestyle respecting the 8 million species we share our planet with.
That message was echoed by World Environment Day 2020, which fell on 5 June. The celebration cast a spotlight on the services nature provides us—from food to medicine—and highlighted that, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, life on earth would not be possible without nature’s bounty.
Here are how seven faiths remind us how we are connected to nature.
The Baha’i writings are replete with statements on the importance of the harmony between human life and the natural world. Bahá’u’lláh’s writings are imbued with a deep respect for nature and the interconnectedness of all things, seeing especially in nature a reflection of the divine:
Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity, there are signs for men of discernment.
Buddhism inspires ecological mindfulness to address the loss of biodiversity. It seeks wisdom through adherence to the Five Precepts, the pursuit of the Noble Eightfold Path, and the understanding of karma. Buddhists find themselves in harmony with nature by acknowledging the interdependence of all forms of life.
At the core of Brahma Kumaris’ work is the understanding of the connection between our consciousness, thoughts and actions, and their impact on the world. It is seen that long-lasting change in any social or environmental system starts with a profound shift in the minds and hearts of people. The current loss of biodiversity is therefore a clear call to transform our awareness and lifestyle, and start caring for all living forms on the planet.
“Our capacity to change ecosystems is proportional to our capacity to change our own consciousness” – Brahma Kumaris
For Christians, biodiversity conservation is a role that is at the heart of their daily lives. In the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, Christians are called to experience the world as a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise, as St. Francis does in the words of the Canticle of Creation:
“Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.”
Hinduism has a deep reverence for biodiversity which is reflected in several of its scriptures, texts and followed through daily rituals and practices. The references of flora, terrestrial fauna, birds and fishes are found in the Rig Veda, Yajurveda, Upanishads, and Manusmriti, along with the sacred books of Ramayana and Mahabharata and later in folklore stories, like Hitopadesha and Panchatantra. Cattle, birds, animals and fish are personified as agents for sharing knowledge, and acquiring wisdom, peace and moksha (enlightenment).
To the animals of the earth and those of heaven, to the wild beasts of the forest, to the winged birds, do we speak: they shall deliver us from calamity! – Atharva Veda, 188.8.131.52
The teachings of Islam are inherently environmental and promote the protection of biodiversity. These teachings make it clear that the human population must coexist with nature to ensure the good health of all the species living on earth. For example, if there were no pollinating insects on earth like bees and butterflies, there would not be any fruit. Many ecosystems rely on a wide variety of plants and animals interacting with one another. The Qur‘an mentions this balance:
“Allah raised the heaven and established the balance, so that you would not transgress the balance. Give just weight – do not skimp in the balance.” (Qur’an 55:7-9)
The Jewish tradition is rich with sources indicating the importance that God places on the continuity of species, from the prohibition against mixing species (kilayim) to the requirement to send away the mother bird before taking eggs (shiluach haken). The Ramban understands the “continued existence” of creation to be a key reason for why God considered it “very good” on the sixth day. In the Talmud, Rabbi Hanina bar Papa explains a verse about God’s great joy with the creation as stemming from the fact that even simple species seek to ensure their genetic survival.