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Why Forests Were Worshipped

An ancient text says: "God is a forest. Worship the forest." Now, why would God be a forest?

In a forest everything has its place, from the mightiest animal to the innocuous bug. Each lives in balance and harmony with the other. Life in a forest embodies plenitude. None of its inhabitants takes more than it needs; there's plenty for all.

Forests -- and other natural, green settings -- can reduce stress, improve moods, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness. Forest visits may also strengthen our immune system by increasing the activity and number of natural killer cells that destroy cancer cells.

Despite being home to diverse species, forests are pristine. Seldom does one find a mess in a forest. God has provided natural clean-up agents. What is waste for one creature is useful or essential to another creature. The eternal circle of life is palpable in its entire splendour. To survive in a forest you need to be in tune with the natural rhythms that is all-inclusive.

A forest contributes to the welfare of the entire planet, breathing out life-giving oxygen into the atmosphere while serving as habitat to a variety of life forms. It is a rich source of curative herbs and micro-organisms and we are yet to know all there is to know about them. We may have left our imprints on the moon, but are yet to fully explore the potential of a natural forest system.

Even without gaining complete knowledge of forests, we choose to unleash wanton destruction on them, only fuelling our greed. Rainforests at one time covered more than 14 per cent of the earth's surface. Today, they are less than 6 per cent. If we continue consuming forests at the current rate, we might lose these divine life sustainers in just another 40 years.

According to experts, we are losing rainforests at a rate of more than one acre every second. Each day, we are losing 137 species of plants, animals and micro-organisms. More than half the planet's species – of animals, plants and micro-organisms – could go extinct if forest destruction goes on unabated.

Ancient texts extol forests as life enhancers; they were believed to be infused with divine spirit and hence were considered sacred. Sacred groves were respected as significant ecosystems that engendered rich biodiversity. An object of worship has sanctity and it is unthinkable to destroy what we hold dear and sacred. Don't we treasure objects of worship?

Vedic wisdom expounded on the need for conservation of natural gifts. Perhaps rituals related to conservation were instituted to ensure that these treasures were not desecrated. We need to understand the significance of such conservation rituals and respect them in context. Green living was a way of acknowledging the divine nature of forests. Ancients considered it important to respect the interconnected nature of life.

In tribal cultures, before axing a tree, people would ask permission of the tree, promising to plant five trees as compensation. Today, these rituals are being abandoned as irrelevant.

Trees symbolise spirit of service, as they serve dead or alive. They sustain ecological balance when standing tall and protect and serve as wood after death. We need to give something back in the same altruistic spirit.

We must look at the lifestyle choices we make every day. The choices we make ought to be mindful of environmental conservation to restore and cherish natural gifts. Let's green our thoughts and remember M K Gandhi's words: " Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed.'' To take more than we need is to sow seeds of self-destruction. If we continue in this vein, we would be subjecting ourselves and other life forms to needless suffering and perhaps accelerate a process of extinction for all.

Khurshed Batliwala is founder-director, The World Alliance for Youth Empowerment (WAYE).


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