Relation to Nature in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity
Western and Eastern religions have different doctrines and, therefore, a distinct vision on many aspects of human life. Thus, there is a large divergence in the perspective on human relationship with nature in terms of Western and Eastern religions. The difference in the vision of nature is closely interconnected with monotheism, polytheism, and the ideas about the creation of the world. This essay will discuss the attitude of Hinduism, Buddhism (Eastern religions), and Christianity (Western religion) towards nature.
Hinduism has a very peculiar understanding of humanity, nature and, therefore, particular regard to their interaction. Hindu vision of nature is largely defined by Dharma (eternal sacred law of cosmic order), which forms a completely different perception of everything around from that of Islam, Judaism, or Christianity (Frawley). According to Frawley, the vision of nature in Hinduism is formed by the Vedas, Upanishads, and Vedanta, the theories they suggest and practices (rituals) they presuppose. In Hinduism, the Divine and nature have the same reality, they are inseparable, and nature can be considered sacred as the Divine. The reality they both possess is similar to the ocean. Nature can be represented as waves on the surface of this ocean (Frawley).
Hinduism sees the Divine as a force that acts through the forms of nature, because it is an inner spirit of these forms, the thing that is adored (worshiped) by Hindu people (Frawley). Therefore, nature can be worshiped as every living thing contains the Divine spirit, which is the center of everything. The unity of the Divine and nature forms a very “ecological” perception of everything around. The Vedas form a vision, which presupposes honoring the universe, because it is a part of the inner spirit. This spirit can be found in humans as well, because it forms a part of their higher Self. The world did not appear from nothing. Along with God and the soul, it is a consequential aspect of the Eternal Being, which gives rise to everything. Therefore, the Hindu consider that nature should be valued as it is the greater life of people and something inferior they should take care of and protect (Frawley).
As well as in many other religions, there are sacred places in Hinduism. However, the Hindu view of the sanctity of some site is not formed by the human activity as that of people who profess other faiths, but by the nature itself. Consequently, rivers are sacred as they nourish people and purify both their bodies and souls; mountains are sacred as they are good places for meditation and can bring enlightenment to people, etc. (Frawley). As Hinduism is not a monotheistic religion and has many deities, some of which possess human bodies with animal heads, and some are plants, fire or water, the nature is sacred. Vedic vision of things presupposes that every object, in spite of being animate or inanimate, has a soul, therefore, the nature is sacred. It should be honored as a part of human inner Self (Frawley). Consequently, Hinduism regards nature as something essential to people, a sacred element of their existence.
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Buddhism vision of nature is a similar to that of Hinduism. Buddhists treat nature as their equal, because it gives them strength, helps in achieving enlightenment, and releases human suffering. According to De Silva, human suffering is the thing that Buddhism tries to fight or at least reduce. The author states that Buddhists think that any changes in nature inevitably affect people and vice versa (De Silva). Therefore, nature and people are in close “reciprocal causal relationship” (De Silva).
It is possible to find also some relationship between the natural environment and human morality in early Buddhist teachings. There should be harmony between people and the surrounding world. Buddhism presupposes that nature should be treated gently, without any aggression. There should be sympathy and compassion, love and kindness towards every living creature as, according to Buddhist Five Precepts, any living being cannot be hurt (De Silva). Since Buddhists believe in rebirth, which implies being born in subhuman state as an animal, animals are considered equal to humans.
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Christianity has a different view on nature and people. According to Goffman, Christians consider human beings to be superior over animals, plants, and nature in general as they are created by God in his image. The world or rather the Earth is created to be a place for people to live and satisfy their needs and ensure their comfort. Humans are to wisely control nature (Goffman). Adam was allowed to name animals to his own desire. Consequently, he was initially in superiority over other creatures. It is clear that Christianity has a different approach towards the environment. Bergmann mentions the idea of superiority as well. He claims that this factor is defined by anthropocentrism of Christianity and consumerist lifestyle (Bergmann).
Hindu and Buddhist visions on nature are very similar. Both religions consider nature to be equal to humans. They regard animals, plants, and other forms of nature as sacred, because they come from the same Eternal Being, have souls, and possess the energy. Believing in rebirth, Buddhists think that nature is equal to humans as they can be reborn as animals, for instance. Christianity, belonging to Western religions and being anthropocentric, has a diverse perspective on the surrounding world. Though nature is in by Christianity as well as in Hinduism or Buddhism, it is not in the same row with humans, because they are not equal. Nature is created to enable people to live. Humans are superior and, therefore, should control the environment. All in all, Eastern and Western religions do not have the same approach to nature and, therefore, their relationships are different.