Semester research: The (de)evolution of Hindu environmental ethics

Pollution

I spent the semester tracing the evolution of Hindu orthodoxy and orthopraxy as it pertains to conservation, resource consumption and environmental stewardship from Vedic times to modern days through several key texts. Of course, the Hindu canon is much too large for any definitive conclusions, but these texts were selected by my professor as representative of the larger (vastly larger) body of texts.

You can read the full draft paper here. The academic abstract would go something like:

This paper examines Hinduism’s evolving attitudes toward nature and prescriptions of ethical environmental practice during the history of the religion. The paper critically considers eight texts that represent major trends in Hindu philosophy and practice, through the Vedic, classical, medieval and modern periods. In early times, Hindu society associated divinity and worship with natural processes. This was soon challenged by a renunciation theology that rejected the material/natural world entirely. Yet as polities and kingdoms swelled and expanded, social organization and material well-being became chief concerns of philosophers; the natural, wild world took on a negative connotation. Hinduism’s complex and changing cosmology further muddied the waters for questions of right action in environmental dilemmas. Nonetheless, there have been various counter trends with religious roots that may serve as a starting point for a Hindu-centric discussion of environmental protection.

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Puja day in Tughlaq ruins

Hurry up, mom

The last time I visited Tughlaqabad Fort, a small shrine was drawing a crowd for puja. Despite multiple trips to the fort, which is my absolute favorite hideaway in Delhi, I have yet to discern just who this shrine celebrates.

A small stream of worshippers continued even in the afternoon heat, as they carried food and items for puja. Festive times for a fort that is usually home to herdsmen and a handful of tourists who escape the beaten path.

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‘No charge for pagri’

I became a public spectacle

The Golden Temple is Sikhism’s most holy place. All those entering the temple must out of respect and acknowledgement for tradition cover their heads.

This has given rise to a whole industry of people selling scarves, kerchiefs and other headgear in the bylanes leading to the Golden Temple complex. The temple itself also offers free head coverings in the form of simple scarves.

Since I often wear a long stole with my kurta-pyjama, I have learned to tie myself a makeshift turban, or pagri, on festive or religious occasions. That had been my intention again, when I visited the temple complex on holiday in March.

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Prayer wheel redux

Many wheels to go

The trip to Dharamshala two months ago certainly was photogenic. And I do like photos of faith and the faithful: people practicing their rituals, at that moment when, for many, meaning and the divine are most accessible.

And prayer wheels make for good color and meditation.

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Monk’s mood: Candelight march

Protest

Monks and others march ’round the main square of Dharamshala in memory of a young monk in Tibet who a day earlier had set himself on fire in protest of Chinese rule over his country. As the primary community for Tibetans in exile from Chinese rule, Dharamshala is something of free expression zone for all manner of protest and sociopolitical thought, like the monk’s vigil.

They do here what they would be shot for doing in Tibet.

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Pilgrims and flags

Pilgrims

A family on a pilgrimage walk around the Namgyal monastery at Dharamshala. This venture through the woods is one of the most peaceful “trails” I’ve encountered in a long time.

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Dharamshala mountain way

Solitary

Monk out for a walk on a sunny day.

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Monk out for a hike

Monk walks

A monk hikes along a small trail surrounding Dharamshala’s Namgyal Monastery. The circuit draws pilgrims and is littered with shrines, prayer flags and other objects of devotion.

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Om mani padme hum

Turning the wheels

More than a hundred prayer wheels around the Namgyal Monastery in Dharamshala.

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Pensive monkishness

Thoughtful

Namgyal Monastery in Dharamshala boasts a large cadre of monks who worship, study, chant, argue and more.

Here, they pause in contemplation (probably of the goo-for-lunch they’re about to receive).

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