Humankind can be seen as either the climaz of evolution's course, or as its greatest error. No other creature is a fraction so precocious. No other can think about the world, plan to make it better, and dream of the best possible. Yet no other displays such capacity for perverse behaviour for gross misuse of its habitat and for reckless proliferation of numbers, without thought for the consequences.
In a sense, humankind is becoming a supermalignancy on the face of the planet, spreading with insidious effect and fomenting ultimate crisis in covert fashion. A cancer cell is unusually vital, since it replicates itself with remarkable vigour; it is also exceptionally destructive, since it ends by killing the host upon which it depends for its survival. But unlike the cancer cell, human beings must realize the implications of their doings for their own survival. Can we learn fast enough, and act soon enough
The hard truth is that human destiny is inextricably linked with the environment and conditioned by it. Besides, it is foolhardy and even suicidal to think in terms of man being above nature, leading a separate and superior existence, for some kind of a unique destiny. In this sense, the destiny of both human beings and nature are coterminating and there can be no getting away from it.
This question of destiny makes the prevailing ecological crisis very much a religious and spiritual issue and demands a befitting response at that level. It is here that the major religions of the world each in its own way have a crucial role through their unique set of moral and spiritual precepts and values to guide humankind's conduct and relationship with nature and the environment. The conservation ethic based on a spirit of caring and sharing is central to all faiths and religions. This has to be the cornerstone of the strategy, pervading and influencing all thinking and action, for a safer and more sustainable tomorrow.
The Latin word for religion is 'religare', which means to bind strongly. The term 'ecology' is derived from the Greek word for house, 'oikos'. What is common to both is the concept of binding, of inter-connectedness and interdependence. This inherent and symbiotic relationship has to be understood and fostered.
Fortunately, in recent times this realization is gaining ground. In 1982, all nations got together to adopt, through the United Nations General Assembly, the World Charter for Nature, which is like a collective call to humankind for a more responsible behaviour towards the natural world. The Assisi Conference is 1986 and the Windsor Summit in 1995, both organized by the WWF in association with its partners, brought together the major religions of the world in support of conservation. A major outcome of these significant events were the Declarations on Nature by nine Faiths. This publication is the first time when the Charter for Nature and these nine Declarations on Nature are being brought out together in a reader friendly form for wider dissemination and in the fervent hope that collectively these will bring about the change which is the need of the hour.
It is highly appropriate that this publication is being released on the occasion of the National Consultation on Religion and Conservation at New Delhi on 21 April, 1999, which is being jointly organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-India), The People's Commission on Environment and Development-India (PCED), The Temple of Understanding (ToU) and World Conference of Religion for Peace-India (WCRP-India), with the encouragement and support of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.
In September 1986, a unique alliance was forged between conservation and five of the world's great religions. The venue was Assisi in Italy, the birthplace of St. Francis, the patron Saint of ecology who centuries ago preached and lived the message of conservation and respect for Creation. The event marked the 25th Anniversary of WWF, and involved several groups with which WWF had worked over the years. By celebrating its 25th Anniversary in this way, WWF aimed to show that people everywhere in the world, regardless of their ideology or race, have an abiding faith in preserving nature and the environment. The core purpose of the Assisi event was to concentrate on cooperation between ecological and religious organizations in promoting the cause of conservation, spreading the conservation message around the world and strengthening the ethical base of conservation.
The Interfaith Ceremony held in the Basilica of St. Francis, culminated with the Declarations on Nature by the five participating religions Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. For the first time in history, religious faiths categorically stated that their beliefs lead them to conservation. This opened new doors for the WWF. I had the privilege of writing the Hindu Declaration and also addressing the WWF event, WWF sought to enlarge and consolidate the network and encourage more religious groups to produce declarations on man and nature. As a result, four more faiths the Bahai's, the Sikhs, the Jains and the Taoists issued written statements expressing specific commitments in favour of nature conservation and environment protection.
Several years later, a Religion and Conservation Summit was held at Windsor in April 1995, where religious leaders from nine of the world's main faiths expressed a determination to guide their followers towards achieving a balanced existence with nature. The WWF family gained recognition for bringing about the Summit under the overall inspiration of HRH Prince Philip, International President of WWF. Secretary General of WWF-India, Samar Singh was invited in view of the Vrindavan Conservation Project, which was recognized as a major field level activity as a follow-up to the Assisi event. Speaking at the valedictory function at the Westminister Cathedral, I described the event as a sangam, a creative confluence which linked religion to the cause of conservation.
A major outcome of the Windsor Summit was a decision to further the links between different faiths and secular bodies. The World Bank agreed to convene a meeting of senior religious leaders and conservationists to meet its key directors. Subsequently, the World Faiths and Development Dialogue was held in London in February, 1998. Representatives from nine major world religions met with the President of the World Bank to discuss religion and development, a new factor in project assessment. The Bank and the faiths agreed to continue to dialogue by setting up joint working groups to explore further themes of mutual concern.
In this volume, the WWF has brought together not only the text of the statements made by nine major religions but also useful supplementary material. This makes it a publication of great interest to conservationists, educationists and religious leaders alike. I have pleasure to presenting this book to readers around the world concerned with ensuring a better life on Planet Earth.
Back of the Book
Human destiny is inextricably linked with the environment and conditioned by it. It is foolhardy and even suicidal to think in terms of man being above nature, leading a separate and superior existence, for some kind of a unique destiny. The destiny of both human beings and nature are coterminating.
The prevailing ecological crisis is very much a religious and spiritual issue and demands a befitting response at that level. The major religions of the world each in it own way have a crucial role through their unique set of moral and spiritual precepts and values to guide humankind's conduct and relationship with nature and the environment.
Presented in this volume are statements made by leading thinkers of the nine major world religions and the path-breaking United Nations World Charter on Nature.
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