Below is the second part of the interview on Hindu ecology with Gloria Germani, an ecophilosopher who has always been engaged in dialogue between West and East, a student of philosopher Serge Latouche, Swedish ecologist Helena Norberg Hodge, and Titian Terzani, of whose thought she is among the foremost experts. She is active in deep ecology movements, the Network for Deep Ecology, Navdanya International and the Association for Happy Degrowth. Since the 2000s she has been keenly interested in the field of education, attending Steiner schools as a parent and activist, and since 2017 has been a coordinating officer of the Alice Universal Education School Project for non-dualistic, eco-centric and holistic education. She is a practitioner of Avdaita Vedanta (Way of Non-duality), the best known of all the Vedānta schools of Hinduism.

The first part of the interview can be read here.

In Hindu rituals, plants and animals (cows and mice) are very present, and India, thanks to Hinduism, is the birthplace of vegetarianism. Trees, forests, lakes, rivers and mountains are considered sacred. What role do they play?

The West is used to thinking of God in anthropomorphic form, a Creator god who creates a separate world. Indeed, still echoing in our subconscious are the words of the Genesis, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth; subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing, which creeps upon the earth.” In India, on the other hand, representations of the divine, of Shiva, of Vishnu, are always accompanied by the paredra or Shakti (the feminine energy or power), so much so that a god without shakti is considered a corpse.

In addition, the god always has an animal vehicle beside him: a bull, a horse, a mouse, and many other forms. Even this iconographic feature only underscores the unity and interdependence of all that lives, along with its profound beauty and magical fecundity. Not only that, according to Hindu tradition the divine essence can descend to earth at any time and in multiple forms. Avatars, indeed, have not only human features such as Krishna, and even Buddha or Christ, but even the form of a horse, boar, turtle, fish, etc. (these are the famous ten avatars of Vishnu).

In this cultural context, vegetarianism is a simple and natural necessity.  The  leggi di Manu (Laws of Manu), the most important ethics text dating back to at least the 3rd century B.C. declares,” One becomes worthy of salvation when one does not kill any living thing.”[1] , and the tradition condemns not only those who eat meat, but those who kill the animal, those who participate in it, those who buy the meat, those who prepare it, and those who serve it. In fact, the principle of ahimsa, of nonviolence, which, like all Hindu precepts, concerns not only actions but also thoughts, words and intentions, is violated. Since time immemorial, vegetarianism in India has been practiced by a large part of the population, because to kill sentient beings is to taint oneself with impurity and to condemn oneself to negative karma in the continuous becoming and interacting of the cosmos.

The Advaita Vedanta philosophy that everything is One finds concrete implementation even in its relationship with mountains, rivers and lakes. To give a few of the most famous examples, the Ganges River is sacred, it is the goddess Ganga, the feminine, life-bearing principle; Mount Kailash is sacred, it is the emanation of Shiva, as is Arunachala in South India. Lake Monasarovar was created in the mind of Lord Brahma and is revered as a source of purity and wisdom. This approach is by no means “primitive,” but rather fundamental to maintaining a true ecological vision. Today we have materialized and exploited everything, and even Serge Latouche talks about the need to re-enchant the world.(Reincantare il mondo.)[2]

In Hinduism there is no concept of evil; the negative sides of existence are seen as products of ignorance (avidya). If for the West, industrial society is the example/fruit of economic development, prosperity and human technical ability, for Hindu ecology,  is the ecological crisis a product of ignorance?

Thank you for this crucial question, because it touches on a peculiar feature of Hindu thought (also shared by Buddhism) that is very different from Western ideas. We think that man is independent and has the freedom to choose, sometimes even evil, or that there is a negative principle-Satan-that attracts man to evil.  In India, on the other hand, everything is played out only on the plane of knowledge: not the knowledge of the useful, of the external world, scientific knowledge-which for Advaita represents only “the gross plane of existence”-but the ultimate knowledge for which All is One and which coincides with the realization of the true Self (atman).

The ecosystem crisis that is getting worse every year is therefore not the result of the actions of bad men (neo-liberals, capitalists, turbo-capitalists, Freemasons etc.), but the consequence of wrong knowledge: having taken the phenomenal level, [the level] of perception, as the only Reality. In India, it is only through knowledge that one becomes truly liberated and achieves that state of supreme happiness that is the ultimate goal of all Indian civilization. The phenomenal world is always considered an effect of ignorance (avidya) and so is that inner ego (ahankara) that is everywhere mistaken for the true Self. Maya, the illusion, deceives the perceptual and rational faculties. The Self, the Atman, is hidden deep down. But as soon as it is recognized, ignorance and illusion disappear. Then (as quantum physics teaches us) the cosmos manifests itself as a whole of vibrational energy in perpetual motion. So your approach is perfectly correct: the ecological crisis is the result of complete ignorance.

The Industrial society was lost to dualistic knowledge, it mistakenly believed that the external world was the only real one, believed in economic progress and technology acting only at the level of the gross state of existence.  As I have long argued, the ecological crisis of the modern world is the result of a cognitive error.

Or perhaps, going even deeper at the psychological level, underlying the quest for domination of the external world and the blindly ego-centric conception of economic thinking, there would be a collective trauma that has cast doubt on the possibility of trusting others and on establishing an empathic and affective relationship with others and with the whole. Instead of the Self, we in the West have developed an ego that is essentially narcissistic and lacks a reality principle.

According to some experts, in India the traditional Hindu practices of taking care of Nature are being forgotten and as a result human survival is becoming more difficult. Do you think this is the case? Do the origins of the loss lie in the Green Revolution?

Certainly Hindu practices are being lost, and I could see this with my own eyes over a period of 30 years traveling in India. Certain simple customs, the presence of animals, cows, goats, chickens, the houses made with the ancient systems and organic and functional materials, the wisdom of herbs, a lot of that is disappearing, replaced by high-rise buildings, hygiene, individualism and Western-style clothing. It is not happening everywhere, but the Nature-bound India I saw 30 years ago has changed a lot.

However, I do not believe that the Green Revolution, which has also been imposed on farmers in many Indian states through industrial production methods, is responsible. It is a far more powerful and insidious process. It is modern science advancing and making traditional wisdom appear backward and retrograde. Until 1994 India maintained a certain autonomy, its own way of life, because of the lessons of Gandhi, because of strong ties with Russia, but then it had to open its doors to globalization. Everywhere there are big billboards advertising “Science and Technology” schools, and the media did the rest. Even Terzani who had lived in Asia since 1971 had no doubts. “One after another, the various countries of Asia ended up throwing off the colonial yoke and showing the West the door. But now? The West comes back in through the window and finally conquers Asia, no longer by taking possession of its territories but of its soul. It does so now without a plan, but thanks to a poisoning process against which no one has found an antidote for now: the idea of modernity. We have convinced Asians that one survives only by being modern and that the only way to be modern is our way: the Western way.[3]

And so, a millennia-old civilization that bowed before the sadhus, the renunciants, the freedmen in life,  today finds itself running after the plastic rabbits of false consumer welfare — inundated with the garbage and wastes of the industrial system. The care of Nature, its sacredness, seem today to be antiquated and outdated things.

Among the leading exponents of Hindu ecology is the Indian environmentalist and scientist Vandana Shiva, who has always been active in subverting the reductionist paradigm of agriculture. How can her thought be summarized among ecofeminism, feminist ecology, social ecology, deep ecology and quantum physics?

I started following Vandana from the 1990s, when she joined the Chipko women’s movement, which was hugging trees to prevent them from being cut down to create large plots for industrial agriculture. She had written a book [titled] Sopravvivere allo sviluppo (Surviving Development). Today I am her friend and I am happy to be part of her organization, Navdanya International.

Vandana was born in the foothills of the Himalayas, and her father was forest manager for a state department.  To her Hindu background-which she always shows off, sporting the red bindu on her forehead-she added a specialization in quantum physics. This combination of quantum physics and of the All is One of the Sanathana Dharma was truly explosive and shaped one of the most important speakers in Asia and the world. About her, you were right to talk about ecofeminism and feminist ecology. The real sense of the feminine, of Shakti, of creative power is, I insist, in the idea of a Nature that connects us all (prakriti in Sanskrit), and so I would say that ecology keeps alive the instances of the most authentic feminine [nature]. The same is true for deep ecology and quantum physics.

Where we break away from the idea of a separate self studying an external Environment, then we find Deep Ecology and understand that we are part of a [All] One, that we are completely part of the Ecosphere.  Vandana has often repeated that “the materialistic, specialized, and mechanistic worldview-which underlies modern science and industrialization-is responsible for the many crises the world is experiencing today.”[4] Especially in her latest, beautiful book titled Dall’avidità alla cura (From Greed to Care),[5] Vandana strongly argues that Baconian-Cartesian or Cartesian-Newtonian thinking underlies colonialism, industrial agriculture, and also the digital revolution and machine learning with their disastrous consequences. This separative thinking, which sees nature as matter to be exploited, taking life to extract profit, has produced 500 years of colonization, 300 years of industrialization and 30 years of globalization. Big Tech is absolutely the offspring of the same kind of thinking, so we should not hope for technological solutions: we need to change thinking. As Advaita teaches us, we need to leave the ignorance that believes in our small self, made up of attachment and greed, to discover below our true Self-the atman-that is openness, that is caring, and that is one with the immense and pulsating life of the cosmos.

Opening up to this is the true end and true happiness.

[1] Manusmriti, 6,60

[2] S.Latouche, Come reincantare il mondo, La Decrescita e il sacro, Bollati Boringhieri, 2020

[3] T. Terzani, Un indovino mi disse,  Longanesi, 1995, p. 69.

[4]  AAVV, Manifesto sul futuro dei sistemi di conoscenza, 2009.

[5]  V.Shiva, Dall’avidità alla cura. La rivoluzione necessaria per un’economia sostenibile, EMI,  2022

Translation of the notes:

[1] Manusmriti, 6,60

[2] S.Latouche, How to re-enchant the world, Degrowth and the sacred, Bollati Boringhieri, 2020

[3] T. Terzani, A fortune teller told me, Longanesi, 1995, p. 69.

[4] AAVV, Manifesto on the future of knowledge systems, 2009.

[5] V.Shiva, From greed to care. The necessary revolution for a sustainable economy, EMI, 2022