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How can we describe a society as rich if it impoverishes nature?

Culture / -

Svamini Ghiri
Alessandro Cremasco © Expo 2015

Mahatma Gandhi expressed the same thought when he said “There is enough wealth in the world to satisfy the needs of everyone, but not enough to satisfy the greed of a minority.” For this reason, but also on account of the shared values expressed in the Milan Charter, the Italian Hindu Union subscribes to this important document, expressing its full support.

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.

Rav Elia E. Richetti: What we eat belongs to God, who allows us to eat it on certain conditions.

Culture / -

Rabbino imm rif

These are the words of the Rabbi from Milan, interviewed during the inter-religious round table held in Milan on April 23 focused on The Menu of Happiness and The Ethics of Food.

Elia E. Richetti is Rabbi of the Synagogue in Via Eupili in Milan, member of the Rabbinical Tribunal of Northern&Central Italy, and Reference Rabbi for the Jewish Communities of Merano and Vercelli.
In your religious beliefs, what is the definition of happiness and what kind of diet contributes to feeding it?
Happiness for Jews consists of living within the harmony intended by God when he created the universe. This harmony is part of the rules which regulate the relation between mankind (in this case, Jews) with food.
What significance does fasting have in your religion?
Fasting is a method for separating the mind from its relationship with the body, allowing it to concentrate above all on spiritual considerations.
How is food represented, what are its most important characteristics, and what values is it connected with?
What we eat belongs to God, who allows us to eat it on certain conditions. It has its own dignity as a creature of God, not inferior to that of the human being. The only difference is the origin of the soul, a physical necessity if the animal is to live, a spiritual breath of divine origin and therefore eternal in the human being.
Today’s agricultural systems for producing food threaten to severely damage the planet. How important is it for your religion that food be produced in an ethical manner or that it not be wasted?
The Hebrew religion teaches us that we have no right to consider creation as being our absolute property. This can be deduced from the rules on diet, the Sabbath day of rest, the sabbatical year and all the agricultural rules present in the Pentateuch… all concepts which teach a profound respect for every part of creation, and therefor for the whole system.

Nourishment must be legitimate, pleasant, healthy and not damage nature

Culture / -

distefano per discorso 21 maggio imm rif

All Muslims must feel a sense of responsibility towards preserving nature’s resources and fruits. The science of the rhythms of nature reflects the presence of God and the divine order in the Creation of the World and of humanity.

It is highly significant and important that today the Universal Exposition of Milan is taking this step towards focusing on the religious dimension of our relationship with food. A similar initiative took place in Milan in 2008, when our Islamic organization Coreis Italiana – in collaboration with Regione Lombardia, UnionCamere, the Milan Chamber of Commerce and Promos – promoted a first pilot project aimed at regulating and implementing Islam’s particular dietary practices by drawing up a first set of technical rules for certifying food products as halal (complying with Islamic precepts). This initiative involved a profound and lengthy study both of traditional Muslim texts and of similar initiatives then taking place in other countries.
This project was then boosted in 2010, being chosen as a unique example of best practice in this innovative field, through the signing of an interministerial convention between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Economic Development, Heath and Agriculture… the latter represented here and now by Minister Maurizio Martina. This invaluable process (which still continues today, through the operation of Halal Italia certification) succeeded in applying religious rules in the context of food safety regulations and animal welfare, transmitting high level training in commercial and labor contexts, also highlighting the contribution of the Islamic Community in Italy to promoting intercultural and interreligious awareness in this country, both in commerce and in international relations.
What does my religion have to say about the sustainability (environmental and social) of our way of producing food? Should limits be imposed concerning the exploitation of the land, chemical fertilizers, GMOs etc.? According to Islamic tradition, Adam was created ala surati al-Rahman, according to the form of the Merciful One, and placed at the center of Creation as khalifatAllah, representative of God on Earth, and therefore capable of serving the Lord and benefitting from the resources and fruits, but given the responsibility of caring for and preserving His Creation. For Muslims, nourishment must be halal wa tayyib, i.e. legitimate, pleasant, healthy and above all avoiding alterations to the nature of our resources and the fruits of the earth, and also refrain from “spreading corruption” on and inside the Earth. The science of the rhythms of nature reflects the presence of God and the divine order in Creation and is connected with the metaphysical rhythms of mankind according to the principle of analogy between macrocosm and microcosm: altering this balance causes an obstruction in communicating with the Creator and in spiritual nourishment.
Maximization of profits and production causes us to slip away from approaching Creation through knowledge, drawing us instead towards a taste for the kind of blind speculation which reflects tendencies towards individualism, egocentricity and thirst for power. All of which are characteristics of the modern world wherein the ego takes the place of God as lord of creation and usurps the right to radically change it, to abuse it unjustifiably and to pillage it for personal benefit. These tendencies reflect mankind’s destructive urges, which today operate to drag humanity towards chaos by destroying the bonds between creature and Creator and between one creature and another. This is done in order to loosen spiritual and mental connections and draw man away from his nature and primordial function as a Muslim, which is to submit to God in Peace, according to the etymological significance of the word “muslim”. In Coreis Italiana, it must be said, we are distant from the kind of positions of ideological and militant environmentalism which risk making the problem worse rather than resolving it.
Basically, religious people have the responsibility of carrying out an action of katechon, strengthening a bulwark of spiritual solidity and faith against destructive tendencies, reinforcing the spirit of brotherhood which should be natural to us since we are all created in His likeness. It is our responsibility to bear witness to a sense of order intrinsic to creation, which cannot exist without the presence of God. Our goal must be to achieve the contemplative attitude for which we were created, like mirrors reflecting the Sacred, setting us apart from the speculative and exploitative perspective, in whose mirror we risk seeing only a withered image of our sacred identity and a world hideously deformed by the ego’s arrogant hypertrophy. Islamic tradition teaches us that “God is beautiful and loves beauty”: we must unite to rediscover the immeasurable value of the harmony of all Creation, and how it is reflected inside us.
What is the position of my religion towards sustainability (environmental and social) in our approach to food consumption? How serious is food waste? Islam is based on a unitary vision of Reality (‘ilm al-tawhid) whose metaphysical cornerstone lies in the words of the Sacred Quran Huwa al-Haqq, only He, God, is Truth, is Real. In this sense, our every action must be preceded by an intention to act in the name of God, bismiLlah, who establishes and gives life to this truth. The eating of food is very much part of this concept, whereby God gives us our nourishment, al-Razzaq. It is God who nourishes us with food, through food, and believers must express their gratitude to Him. This is particularly evident during the act of ritual fasting, when the believer realizes that it is God who feeds them, either through the veil of food or without that veil, and so realizes the value of the ontological dependence between Creator and creature.
In this sense, believers respect certain rules, observe a fixed discipline in their approach to eating which allows them to prepare themselves to receive the spiritual influence inherent in the food they eat. These rules hinge on what is permitted to be eaten by Muslims – halal – and what is forbidden – haram – but they also indicate the kind of responsible attitude Muslims should have in consumption: food should never be wasted, because it is a gift from God.
In Islamic tradition, the act of eating also signifies social cohesion: food is shared because people gather in His name, which why at table too, according to the Quran, God is among them. Meals must not be a matter of satisfying the desire to possess or sating personal appetites, they must encourage the circulation of spiritual influence through the sharing of food.
Muslims are often called upon – through the Quran and through the Prophet’s example – to feed the poor: this is particularly evident in the institution of the zakat, or ritual charity, which purifies and renders sacred that which Allah has given us and contributes to the spiritual process we mentioned earlier, reinforcing social cohesion and the harmonious and disinterested communion between all people.
Another of the 99 most beautiful names of God is al-Ghani, the Rich One, since everything belongs to Him, while mankind is fuqara, because humanity has nothing of its own and depends wholly on the generosity of the Lord. Feeding the poor, according to the teachings of the wise, therefore also signifies being aware that our true condition cannot be hidden by our apparent material wealth: the nourishment of the rich man and the poor man alike depend on God, and this implies a responsibility for encouraging the circulation of our benefits and for increasing our gratitude to God and between ourselves. Sustainable consumption, therefore, is a just consumption which reflects the harmonious unity of Creation.

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