God Is Green: Sikhi and the Care of Nature

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Global Care: Why We Need More Than One Earth Day in a Year. Read other perspectives here.

The Guru Granth Sahib (sacred Sikh scripture) declares that the purpose of human life is to achieve a blissful state, be in harmony with the Earth, and ultimately merge with the Divine. Yet, our Matha Dharth (Mother Earth) has gone through negative changes at our hands. Human action has damaged renewable resources, the atmosphere, the ocean, ecosystems, water resources, flora and fauna. If left unaddressed, our actions will cause more damage. "The viability of many animal and plant species, and possibly that of the human species itself is at stake" (EcoSikh 1).

For Sikhs, a love and concern for nature is part of a holistic approach to life and thus environmental degradation and exploitation cannot be ignored. "As all creation has the same origin and end, humans must have consciousness of their place in creation and their relationship with the rest of creation" (EcoSikh 1). Becoming one with Waheguru (the Divine Life Force sometimes referred to as "God") requires humans to live in harmony with all of creation.

Everything Is God

"You, Yourself created the Universe, and You are pleased…You, Yourself the bumblebee, flower, fruit and the tree. You, Yourself the water, desert, ocean and the pond. You, Yourself are the big fish, tortoise and the Cause of causes" (Guru Granth Sahib, 1020).

As illustrated in this quote from the Guru Granth Sahib, Waheguru created everything in the universe and is also within everything in the universe; thus, Waheguru is nature. Respect for nature is ingrained in Sikh teachings as illustrated by Guru Nanak Sahib's (the first Sikh Prophet) writing, "Air is our teacher, water our father and the great sacred earth is our mother" (Guru Granth Sahib, 8).

Since the universe is the result of Waheguru's will and actions, every part of the universe is holy; the world is a manifestation of Waheguru. "God is an all-pervasive being manifest through various elements of creation… Every creature in this world, every plant, every form is a manifestation of the Creator… Each is part of God and God is within each element of creation" (EcoSikh 1).

With this in mind, when we destroy nature, our actions are no longer divinely inspired and we are disrespecting the Divine by failing to recognize the sacredness within nature. The Sikh Gurus (prophets) lived and preached a life of awareness and respecting the dignity of all life, human or otherwise. This respect for life and for Waheguru can be developed by first recognizing the Divine light within all.

A Hurting Soul, A Hurting Earth

The exploitation of nature by humans can, in part, be attributed to an ego-run society where humans are driven by selfishness and attachment and thus feel entitled to over-consume, over-take, and to live unsustainably. The ego believes it needs and deserves more and feels that this desire can be fulfilled by any means necessary; the ego drives a "keeping up with the Jones'" lifestyle.

Selfishness leads to self-annihilating behavior where a once life-sustaining Matha Dharth becomes wounded and tangled in a downward spiral of negative environmental feedback loops. The Sikh Gurus warn of the dangers of an inflated sense of self, "The world is consumed by ego and selfishness; see this, lest you lose your own self as well" (Guru Granth Sahib, 441).

The Gurus go on to describe how attachment (moh) to worldly goods, materialism, and to a never-ending pursuit of consumerism inevitably leads to environmental degradation. Guru Nanak Sahib writes, "The drug of emotional attachment has destroyed me, as it has destroyed the whole world" (Guru Granth Sahib, 61).

The highest level of spirituality is harmony with the Divine where the ego is brought under control. Becoming in tune with nature and the universe can transform the world into "a spiritual plane of existence" (EcoSikh 1).

Become Creators and Protectors

Several Sikh tenets encourage the protection of the environment. One is seva and the other is protection of the weak.

Seva, or the practice of selfless service, is a main tenet of Sikhsim and has inspired Sikhs to be the front-runners of change for hundreds of years. Applying this to the environmental stewardship, seva can include the reduction of personal carbon footprints, recycling, investing in renewable energies, and being mindful about our consumerism. "When in harmony with nature…we can become more spiritually connected to Waheguru, the creator of all" (EcoSikh 2).