The issue of the relationship between mankind and nature, of the exploitation of the latter by the former, and also of ethical and responsible food consumption, have occupied human reflection for millennia. Mahatma Gandhi in the last century declared that “There is enough wealth in the world to satisfy the needs of everyone, but not enough to satisfy the greed of a minority”, and similar concepts have been expressed since ancient times in different cultural contexts. In the first century AD, from Greece Plutarch raised his voice in his De esu cranium, exclaiming “But what rage is it, and in what way, and what fury pushes you to such abominable slaughters, you who have so much more than you need? Why do you insult the earth as though it was not capable of feeding you?”
The Milan Charter stands out for the extreme urgency of its contents. How can one describe a society as rich or economically advanced when is continues to swell up, to impoverish nature, to pollute it, to destroy its balances, and even to deprive men and women of their most noble values, simply to feed a fake wellbeing?
The Milan Charter is clear about the imperative that “the planet’s resources be managed in a fair, reasonable and efficient manner, so as not be exploited excessively and not create advantage for some by disadvantaging others.”
This calls upon us to ask ourselves about the concept of wealth, and about the related concept of happiness. What is the purpose of the economy? Is it to accumulate goods and technologies or can it be understood as the acquisition of intangible resources such as the values of friendship, peace, the family, spiritual research, health and the environment?
Hinduism, or more correctly the Sanatana Dharma, has been offering answers to these questions since the origins of the Vedas, its founding scriptures, starting from:
- the awareness of dharma: the importance of equilibrium and harmony, and interdependent relationships
- reflections about nature.
The concept of dharma is fundamental: dharma is “that which sustains the cosmos, existence”. Hinduism is also called sanatana-dharma, or “eternal law”. The meaning of the Sanskrit root –dhr, from which the word dharma derives, could be conveyed as “sustaining”, “maintaining” or “nourishing”. Therefore, by extension, it represents everything that favors and feeds life. Dharma is the universal laws which underlie the phenomena on which the cosmic order is based, the all-pervasive quid, the divine intelligence which sustains its manifestation through natural laws – of a physical, chemical and biological nature – as in its relational and ethical principles.
The entire universe is supported by a profound interdependence, on the law of donation and participation in life, dāna-dharma. Contributing one’s own part generates social harmony and creates merits which may encourage nature to be generous with her offerings. The implication is a constant attention on giving, offering part of one’s food or wealth to others: “Life is sustained by food and food is life. Therefore, to offer food to others is like offering them life. (Mahābhārata 13.63.26).
By feeding other living creatures, it is possible to safeguard the conditions of our own food security. It is the recognition, contained in the Isha-upanishad, that the universe is created “by God, for the advantage of everyone.” Every form of life must learn to procure its own advantage, while at the same time remaining aware that these are part of a wider system involving other species.
In the Caraka-samhita, a classic text of Indian medical science, whose written sources date from roughly the 6th century BC, we can find reflections of great lucidity and contemporary relevance, for example concerning the awareness of human responsibility in causing environmental damage. For example, a disciple asks his master what has caused certain damage to the landscape. The master replies that the cause lies in the violation of dharma, the “natural law”, by mankind.
“Lack of equilibrium in certain common factors, diseases with shared timing and symptoms which appear and destroy whole communities. The factors shared by the whole community are the air, the water, the soil and the climate. […] The root of the corruption of the air and the other factors is the adharma, the ‘wrong behavior’ of ‘violation of the natural law’; […] the origin is solely mistakes made by the intellect.” (Caraka-saṃhitā, Vimānasthāna, III.6)
“At that point, populations die due to the poisoning of substances and foods. In the same way, the violation of dharma causes mass destruction by warfare. Those who have developed excessive greed, anger, mental confusion and arrogance, despising the weak, fighting among each other, provoking the deaths of their own people and other people, or attacking others or being attacked by them.” (Caraka-saṃhitā, Vimānasthāna, III.20-21)
The greed of modern society creates erroneous habits and illusory needs, of which mankind is increasingly a victim. Because we know that it is our responsibility to leave behind us a healthier, fairer and more sustainable world to future generations, we commit ourselves to putting into practice and spreading through our religious communities the spiritual and ethical values of non-violence and reciprocal respect, according to the principles of interrelation and dharma.