With Love from Indonesia to the World

Global Warming is (also) a spiritual issue

Impressed by Al Gore’s 2006 “An Inconvenient Truth”, I discussed the movie with a good friend of mine, an environmentalist like myself. In the midst of the conversation, he asked where I had seen the movie. “In my ashram,” I said. He looked at me rather incredulously and blurted out, “Why did your ashram screen such a movie?”

Now, it was my turn to be flabbergasted. Why couldn’t a spiritual community like Anand Ashram play an environmental movie? Is spirituality so far apart or independent of environmental issue? To put in the movie’s perspective, is spirituality so unrelated to the global climate change?

I think not.

Yes, perhaps my friend’s surprise was ‘just’ based on a mindset that a spiritualist just does what a ‘normal’ spiritualist does, i.e. chanting mantra or zikir, doing rituals, doing bits of yoga, walking meditation, zazen, and similar practices, etc. I think my friend was just not paying attention and just had a thought that an environmental topic is not the usual issue to discuss in a spiritual community. After all, he was also a yoga practitioner, and he adores planet Earth. As in so loving her, that he nurtured his bamboo trees at the back of his house on the brink of Ciliwung River (the package included snakes, monkeys, and civet cats), and by doing so, the trees literally saved his home from the recent Jakarta flood.

Yet, if I do an extrapolation, this very attitude at a larger scale worries me. What if most people on this planet fail to see the spiritual connection between Earth and themselves? What if they see this planet as a massive rock covered with oceans and – occasionally – trees? Worse, what if they just consider Earth as a massive money-maker for them, always giving them everything without risk of fatigue? My ashram friends and I see the Earth as a noble living being that always gives us Life; and hence we should safeguard her, becoming her utmost vanguard.

In accordance, there were a lot of good reasons why “An Inconvenient Truth” was opted as a nominee for Best Documentary Feature and Original Song for the upcoming 79th Academy Awards. A bunch of well-packaged scientific data and pictures swarming in front of us, telling with great accuracy the extent of global climate change (a.k.a. global warming – because the Earth’s surface temperature has indeed increased at an alarming rate). Director David Guggenheim successfully engaged with former U.S. Vice President and former U.S. Presidential nominee Al Gore to cook hard-to-chew data for easy spectators. You don’t need to be a scientist to digest the facts described in the movie. Rottentomatoes, a popular independent movie reviewing site, gave 92% fresh tomatoes for this movie. Duh! Even I as a scientist salute the team for their brilliant deliverables.

Yet to me one of the amazing impact of this movie is its ability to make people who do not care of the health of this planet (hence, I dub ‘non-believers’) see the issue with a different set of spectacles, were convinced that global warming indeed takes place, and thus took actions to make a difference. “An Inconvenient Truth” sells, harvests $24 billion dollars from ticket purchase only, and – most importantly – brings new perspective of what is the importance and extent of global climate change to our daily lives. But to me, the movie should be able to do more. Or at least, we believers should be able to see beyond the apparent cause of global climate warming instead of merely ‘blaming’ our ignorance.

Now, let’s go back to my main premise here, as to the position of spirituality in global climate change. My argument is simple: there should be a link between spirituality and the state of the planet; hence a solid link between spirituality and global climate change should also occur. Yet, to date the link is sadly almost non-existent.

What happened? Where did we go wrong?

I see that we simply do not care or aware that our daily lifestyle greatly affects the Earth. We do not care because: a) we don’t see the impact immediately and hence we don’t care (the frog in the hot water, everyone?); and b) we simply lose our connection with Mother Nature. And point B leads to new worship of Money and Power. Point B also automatically leads to ignorance, as only those without strong connection with this planet would be able to continue hurting her and still manage to have a good night sleep.

We have forgotten the olden ways of living. Do we still remember how our ancestors used to live hand-in-hand with the Nature? Heh, unlike most of us now, they didn’t even see that human is the sole manager and owner of this Earth, and hence his/her unlimited power and authority to do whatever he/she wants to achieve the final goal: material accomplishment. ‘Modern’ people often dub them ‘primordial’. Yet these primordial people paid respect to the Nature with such intensity, in a way that the majority of us have forgotten.

Let me see. Thousands of years ago, we have various incarnations of Paganisms and ancient traditions all over the world: Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa…you name it. These ‘barbaric’ people prayed and made offerings before they cut down a tree or took their annual harvest. True, they didn’t have any machines, let alone ultra-modern ICTs (information/communication technologies). But they live with high reverence to the Nature. And the Earth sang and danced with them.

Then, new religions (whose name I’d rather not tell for now) sprung up. I believe that their prophets did not mean to disconnect the link between their followers with the planet. Yet, sadly, that was what happened. People started to lose the connection with the Earth, for they see the planet as just one among the many creations of the Supreme Creator. Hence, it was okay for them to clear the forests, to dump untreated grey waters into rivers and seas, to pollute the air with such intense grey smokes produced by those iconic factories, that in turn would create acid rains for us. It was okay to ignore international guidelines and drill the Earth recklessly, despite the fact that it would create a man-made mudflow in Porong, East Java. For to them, the planet was only a dead rocky place that happens to have trees and waters, gold and oil; it was okay to do anything to her. She would not scream back; for she was, after all, a dead planet.

These ‘new perspective’ also gave no room for interaction with natural elements. Offerings to the Earth, the Ocean, and other natural elements are considered blasphemy; and hence the practice should be obliterated. In this ultra-modern age, those practices still take place here and there. Yet sadly, practitioners of those beliefs are easily labeled as heretics and threatened not to continue their practice.

Yes, dear readers, such injustice still happens here, in my Motherland Indonesia. Take Bali for instance. The Balinese has a habit to wrap big trees with black and white checkered clothes as a symbol of respect to the spirit of the trees. The Balinese also makes offerings to the river, the ocean, and any water bodies; again as a symbol of reverence and gratitude (European Neopagans should be familiar with this practice – what with dryads, nereids, naiads, and those fairy tales?). Many outsiders would question the practice in the first place. And FYI, in another part of Indonesia ancient rituals and wisdoms similar to those in Bali (often dubbed ‘Kejawen’) still take place, but conducted in partial secrecy, as the majority of the society thinks of it as blasphemy. So much for respecting the Nature.

Let me state myself clear here: I do not wish to clash old religions with new religions. I simply think that there has been a huge misunderstanding on the interpretation of the Prophets’ messages, and hence the gradual fading of connectivity between humankind and the planet. This phenomenon does not only happen among followers of new religions. Sadly I should say, followers of old traditions such as Hinduism in Bali have also forgotten that the Earth is sacred, and hence should be treated with veneration. For why should any one ‘worship’ the trees, the sky, the ocean, the river, stones, and even a simple flower? They are not God; they are created by God. God would be able to replace them right away; those elemental things are, after all, created for mankind to use.

Duh! Surely there have been some mistakes here. Even if they do not see that Earth and the entire creation as an essential part of the Supreme Creator (and to me, those words – Nature and God –are interchangeable), they should have seen that humankind were created to preserve and wisely use the Nature, as opposed to rule (and hence rule out) the planet. If not ‘Reverence’, at least ‘Coexistence’ should be the keyword. Yet, this attitude does not even take place.

What happens now? Well, scientists and the United Nations have agreed that the major source of the current global warming is anthropogenic. That’s bad news. But also good news; depends on your perspective. As Maya Safira Muchtar, Chairwoman of the National Integration Movement said, exactly because this global warming was human-induced, hence we human hold the key to the preservation of Earth. We can save the planet, as long as we work together relentlessly. And I think it is a much better spirit as opposed to blaming each other, whining, and complaining about all the disasters that we have to suffer; as if God is punishing us or testing us (what, are we all in high school or something?).

Let me draw an example here. My guru Swami Anand Krishna admitted that since he learned of the global climate change, he had adjusted his air conditioner temperature to automatic switch off every night; hence saving the energy and help saving the planet. Mr. Krishna also told his experience in the compound of Shri Satya Sai Baba’s ashram in Puttaparti, India, where ‘save the energy, save the water, do not waste food’ was a common signboard in the canteen. Two spiritual gurus (and I’m sure many more of them) had lead the way to preserving the planet with what seemed to be small steps of action. Yet, it matters. Every single step matters.

Before I wrap this story, let me return back to the previous conversation with my friend. I answered him like this:

“My ashram screened the movie because caring for this planet is a spiritual endeavor.”

Al Gore stated that global warming “is not a political issue. It is a moral issue.”

I agree. And let me add another spread on the sandwich: Global climate change is also a spiritual issue. And bearing in mind (or soul?) that the catastrophe happened due to the lack of spiritual connection between the so-called evolved Homo sapiens and their home planet, I believe that every living human on Earth share equal responsibilities and should take appropriate action to mitigate global climate change and deliver a healthier Earth to our descendants.

We can do many small things together. Start with the energy. Replace your light bulbs with energy-saving fluorescence; you will not only save money in the long run, but will also hamper the global warming. Opt to walk for walkable distances instead of hastily mount on your motorbike (as often happens in Bali). Campaign for a better, more efficient, more comfortable, and on-schedule public transportation system (again, especially in places like Bali). Regularly service your cars or motorbikes; and if possible, sell the old, inefficient car with new cars with more efficient fuelling systems. If possible, use electric fans instead of air conditioners.

Take care of your garden. Plant more trees or vegetations, including in the corner of your ultra-small garden and on top of your roofs (they call it ‘green roofs’, and I’m sure your architects can design it for you) to reduce heat and provide steady oxygen supply in your neighborhood, especially in cosmopolitans such as the Greater Jakarta. And please refer from burning your garbage. The organic waste can be turned into composts that will help your green roofs; the absence of plastic being burned will also secure your health, for we would not need to breathe dioxin released from burning plastics. Don’t forget to save the water. If you use environmentally-friendly soaps, you can reuse your grey waters to water your garden, and hence saving our scarce reservoirs.

Recycling companies are growing; help them by using their services to recycle your used papers, cans, tins, and even used glass bottles. And don’t forget to force the government to take better actions towards illegal and uncontrolled loggings. By now we would have learned that forest conservation is not only for the trees. It is also to secure our water and food, and hence our life and future.

Last but not least, pray. Pray for the betterment of the Earth, and ask for her forgiveness, for we have let ourselves so far astray from the sacred path. She will forgive us, like mothers who re-embrace their disobedient children.

But we must make the first steps. Do the small things we can do together. I believe we have the power and chance, and I do hope you all believe it too.

By Putu Liza, a Bali-based marine biologist

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