What Does Sikhism Teach Us About Ecology?
Based on the Sikh text of the Windsor Statements, 1995. arcworld.com
The Sikh Cycle of Creation
Sikhism follows three hundred year cycles, the most recent of which finished in 1999. In 1699 – a time of terrible persecution of the Sikhs – the coming cycle was named the ‘Cycle of the Sword’. The three centuries following this were indeed dominated by long periods of armed struggle.
In 1999 the name of the next cycle, due to end in 2299, was chosen by the Sikh leaders. It is the Cycle of Creation, and the giving of this title has already led to a dramatic increase in environmental practices by Sikh temples.
Sikhs teach that humans create their surroundings as a reflection of their inner state, and hence the increasing barrenness of the earth reflects a spiritual emptiness within humans. The solution according to Sikhism can be found in prayer and the spirit of humility before the divine will of God.
Sanctity of nature
Sikhs cultivate an awareness and respect for the dignity of all life, human or otherwise. Such respect is fostered where one first recognises and nurtures the divine inner spark within oneself, then sees it and cherishes it in others.
The history of the Gurus is full of stories of their love for animals, birds, trees, vegetation, rivers, mountains and sky. Many Sikhs, though not all, also have a strong tradition of being vegetarian. A simple life free from conspicuous waste is the Sikh ideal – a life that stresses mastery over the self rather than mastery over nature.
Equality and service
Sikhism places a strong emphasis on equality and service. This encourages a spirit of co-operation and an equal sharing of resources. For example, the langar, or community kitchen, is maintained by the voluntary services of the community and the donation of foodstuffs by the farmers.
In the Punjab, where many Sikhs are farmers, water is seen as a source of life, bringing food for humans and animals. The element of water is therefore a primary link in the interdependence of humanity and nature, to be used is in a sustainable and fair way. In particular access to clean water is a focus for the community and the Gurdwara is often sited beside a water tank or a river.
A strong Sikh tradition is the equality of men and women. Special attention is paid to education in Sikh communites and to making it available to all both men and women.