One of the most challenging problems confronting humanity at this juncture of our history is the rapid degradation of the environment and its so far not fully understood adverse effects on the quality of life that we humans as a race have come to appreciate and aspire to. The natural resources that we have known to support life and its continuity for billions of years past now no more seem to be the same secure, safe nurtures as they used to be.

Gurbani tells us that the temple of Akal Purkh is this very world – har mandar eho jagat hai – that we live in. God gave us the humans, some extra merits – manas ko prabh deiyi vadiayi – and even as other beings have their own place and purpose in the Divine scheme – jetai jee likhi sir kaar – they also serve the purposes of humans – awar jauni teri panihaari. On us thus rested the burden for care of this created world that God so lovingly created, continues to nurture, provide for and love.

True to some dire warnings by the scientific community, in recent years we have experienced raging Katrina, Tsunamis, violent climatic changes, earth quakes et al as if the tired and over burdened dhaul – the mythical bull representing the critical natural balance – is struggling to regain its poise, so necessary for the natural order to continue in harmony. This is even as we experience pollution levels and diseases never known before affecting our pursuit of peaceful enjoyment of comforts we thought we had created.

Witnessing all this, a realization seems emerging that a more secure and sustainable world will require a significant shift in values that are driving our collective life styles and social habits. We have to draw upon our spiritual roots to seek guidance from the wisdom of Gurus, Savants and Sages to understand these developments and develop constructive initiatives to help, even if in some small ways, to retrieve the situation.

Some faith groups have taken a head start in this effort and have, by getting the congregations actively involved, succeeded in significantly enhancing their abilities to influence public policy formulation as well as implementation. We as a community have not been a part of such conversations because of our institutional weaknesses thus far.

Sikhs have traditionally been known to be so much closer and empathetic to nature and our theology teaches us to be respectful of creation and interdependencies in the created world, yet we have watched this growing debate as if we were not concerned. I am thankful that at last Eco Sikh have given a lead to our involvement in this vital area. Celebration of 14th March as the Sikh Environment Day is a step in the right direction.

It is creditworthy that that Eco Sikh have got the highest seat of Sikh Temporal Authority, Sri Akal Takht to give this initiative their support and blessings. That should auger well.

While appreciative of the mission of Eco Sikh, I would like to take this opportunity to share some thoughts for consideration. Firstly, even as we begin to celebrate the Sikh Environment Day on March 14th we should for a start, begin with some symbolic ecological changes that woefully are missing in our contemporary religious life. We have no vegetation or green cover around the best of our Gurdwaras. We generate a great amount of waste, mostly un-recycle-able plastic or synthetic materials, our settings are not energy efficient, our langar waste goes to garbage dumps rather than compost pits. So even as we sing and listen to, so reverentially the praises of mother earth, the resource for all our nurturing, our sacred trust we should ask ourselves if we are playing out our dharma in the time cycle of day and night?

Also as we encourage Gurdwaras to join in to further this mission, let us leave the specifics of the program and their scheduling to the local teams. Let us help and guide. Let us organize to offer them training facilities and other tools and aids. This will facilitate institutionalizing the celebratory day with programs and projects tailored to local needs and resources as well as seasonal variables.

We should also try and create a resource center that could offer advisories on suggested Sikh positions on ecological matters and related legislative issues that may come up for discussion or get taken up for advocacies so that local Sikh groups can make constructive contributions.

Let us also remember that designating a celebratory day is taking on a huge and continuing responsibility. Success will breed success and create pride in the community in its continued and demonstrated commitment to – sarbat kaa bhalaa – the common good. We would therefore be well advised to take on projects that create some impact and have demonstrable results. Fortunately opportunities for such initiatives are plentiful – especially in India and even more so in Punjab. Eminent examples are the commendable work done by Baba Sewa Singh in tree planting, Baba Balbir Singh Sinchewal in cleaning up of the Kali Bein nadi and Pingalwara Trust in promoting organic farming.

To me our more likely initial focus should be to get our religious leadership to encourage in catalyzing improved agricultural practices, potable water resource management, recycling and effective waste management – in other words trying and create small rural communities that are a little more earth friendly. The lead for catalyzing such change will have to come with the support of various extension agencies with the Gurdwaras playing a spiritually bonding role.

Possibly some pilot projects could be taken by the Akal Academy. PAU in collaboration with Sikh studies programs in various universities could be persuaded to develop practical models for reconstructing ecology of Punjab villages that could become a lead example for similar failed intensive farming, unplanned development situations. For this Eco Sikh may have to limit to a facilitator role leaving the major controls or priorities to lead groups.

The ongoing works of Babas are very important to continue to transform the country side and get lay people involved. In fact more such scattered projects should be encouraged because it will set the ground for projects like alternate energy sources, infrastructural changes, newer agricultural practices etc that may be promoted by the universities.

Sikhs with their spirit of seva are capable of changing the very contours of community life as they did in the canal colonies in Lyallpur area, in the Doabas and Malwa, in Ganganagar and Terai and even in far off Madhya Pradesh, sunshine state of California and Canadian forests.

A re-transformed Punjab will be a beacon and visible symbol of the Sikh spiritual inspiration whose changing hues of sky, rain, clouds, cool breeze, budding flowers, trees, woods, animals prancing in the wild, chirping birds, breaking dawn, the early morning feeling of expectancy – will again reach the inner depth of one’s being transporting one to a state of ecstatic wonderment – vismad – and oneness with God’s creation, closer to a deep, uplifting spiritual experience, giving witness to the Guru’s celebratory odes:

– bhini rainariye chamkan tare – twinkling stars of a mellow evening

– mori run jhun laiya, bhenai sawan aaiya– see, my friend, the peacock dancing, the pitter-patter of rain; for sawan [the rainy season so welcome in tropics] is here

– chiri chahki, poh phutti, wagan bohut tarang –the birds are singing, the dawn is breaking and [my] heart is filled with joyous expectation

– sun samadh, anhat te naad – in the silence of spheres, the floating sound of celestial music .

Let us go for it. Go, Go, Eco Sikh!

Nirmal Singh

Camp New Delhi

8 March, 2011

[The above statement was written for the EcoSikh website in response to the February 18, 2011 request by Dr Rajwant Singh.]

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