On Sunday, June 10th, 2018, on the occasion of the 4th International Yoga Day,
Radhanath Swami was a featured speaker at the conference “Sustainability From the Inside Out”, hosted by The Bhakti Center, on New York City’s Lower East Side.
The conference was a unique opportunity to hear from a group of leading voices, and about important projects, that are leading the way in exploring the profound connection between spirituality and the practice of yoga, and the sustainability of the Earth and its resources.
The premise of the conference was that the central tenets of yoga, when applied to communities and societies, can serve as a catalyst for change, and as the evidence of climate change continues to draw focus to the urgent need for action, voices from both the worlds of Yoga and Environmental Science can draw attention to the important role that personal transformation through Yoga can play in the solution.
The event was hosted by Vineet Chander, the Director of Hindu Life and the Hindu Chaplain at Princeton University. Vineet also serves as a member of the Sacred Ecology Forum, one the Bhakti Center’s social initiatives. He shared his appreciation for the growing phenomena of the uniting of science, spirituality and activism in the face of the growing ecological threats.
“To have thought leaders and scholars like the ones assembled here today is a remarkable thing. The conventional model was one of everyone staying in their own place— academics stayed within academic silos (and even there, within their own departments), scientists relegated to the world of lab work and cold data, activists kept company with other activists, and religious practitioners couldn’t dare to look beyond their houses of worship. Thankfully, that model is giving way to a new paradigm of collaboration, intersectionality, and cross-pollination. Now, we understand that a fuller picture emerges when the scholar and the practitioner and the scientist and the activist are in conversation with one another. Today we recognize not just that religion and ecology can be approached together, but that to some extent—they must be approached together.”
Speakers included the following.
• Mr. Sandeep Chakravorty, the Consul General of India in New York, who has worked with civil society organizations dealing with natural resources and environmental issues. For Mr. Chakravorty, the intersection of international relations and the environment remains a key passion. He spoke about the yogic vision of need vs. greed.
• Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker & Dr. John Grim, the Co-Directors of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University. Widely recognized as the pioneers of the discipline of Religion and Ecology, they are the co-founders and co-directors of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale, and co-created the Emmy Award winning “Journey of the Universe”, a film and multi-media project that aired on PBS to wide acclaim. Together, they spoke about the intersection of religion and ecology, and the dangers of being disconnected from nature.
• Dr. David Haberman, a Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University and one of the world’s foremost scholars of Braj, the sacred land of Sri Krishna. Dr. Haberman sits on the Advisory Board of the Forum on Religion and Ecology, and is particularly interested in examining how traditional Hindu theologies, and Bhakti theology in particular, are being employed by Indian environmental activists to resist environmental degradation. Dr. Haberman spoke about the sacred Govardhan Hill, Nature Worship, and the vision of personalism in the natural world.
• Ms. Anita Katial, who serves as Counselor for the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, as part of the American Embassy in Costa Rica. The Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) links U.S. agriculture to the world, to enhance export opportunities and global food security. Ms. Katial’s work is instrumental as part of the FAS’s effort to help developing countries improve their agricultural systems and build their trade capacity. Ms. Katial spoke on food justice issues and complexity of sustainability.
• Dr. Peter Whitehouse, the President of Intergenerational Schools International. Dr. Whitehouse spoke about intergenerational bonding as a model of sustainability.
• Gauranga Das, the Director of the Govardhan Eco Village (GEV) who has been recognized as a leader in the world of sustainability and eco-tourism, and received numerous awards on behalf of the Govardhan Eco Village such as the Platinum Award, the Best of India Award, and the Renaissance Award for Water Conservation in the 34th SKOCH Summit. Gauranga Das, who was largely responsible for organizing the event, spoke of how the conference came together.
The event also featured a musical performance by the Bhakti Center’s Jahnavi Harrison, and Youssef Benibrahim, who sang their rendition of the Yamunastakam, an 8-stanza poem composed by Rupa Goswami in praise of the sacred Yamuna River.
Vineet Chander and Gopal Lila Das also spoke briefly about the Bhakti Center’s Sacred Ecology Forum and creating an eco-Bhakti saga (community) in New York City.
Radhanath Swami was a natural fit for the conference. As Founder of Govardhan Eco Village, he has often expressed his conviction that devotees of Krishna—and lovers of the Divine by whatever name they may know Him—must honor the Earth. “Love of God manifests in this world as compassion,” he is fond of saying, “compassion is for all living beings, and for the Earth herself. Wherever there is life, it is sacred.”
He spoke of how Govardhan Eco Village was inspired by the teachings and example that Srila Prabhupada set, including how he saw nature in connection to God in small, simple ways. “Sometimes little things give usthe largest messages.” Included were anecdotes of Srila Prabhupada’s displeasure with the unnecessary cutting down of tress, his insistence on conserving water, and his compassion for all living beings – tying the theme of ecology to the purpose of life as it is explained in the yoga tradition.
“Every living being is sacred. Yoga is learning to understand the sacredness of our own life. And to the degree that we do, we are able to understand our greatest potential, our truest nature, which is to be connected to the Supreme. The Supreme has one quality in which all other qualities are contained – infinite, eternal love for all beings. The word Krishna means ‘all attractive’, ‘the supreme object of love’, and ‘the supreme bestower of love’. As we connect to that infinite love of God, that is all pervading, everywhere – within our own hearts, then there becomes only one purpose of life, which is integrated in every aspect of our lives – and that is to reciprocate with that love, to be an instrument of that love. That, according to the Bhakti tradition, is the definition of religion. That is the essence of yoga. That is the only true purpose of life. And there is nothing else that can bring fulfillment to the heart.”
He further spoke about Srila Prabhupada’s instruction of how we have to learn to live naturally. “Simple living and high thinking, he said, where we are not exploiting the resources of Mother Nature for unnecessary purposes, because it’s unsustainable. Govardhan Ecovillage is one of many communities that were developed on these simple principles. When we see the gifts of nature as the gifts of God, the energy of the Supreme, non-different from the Supreme, we naturally understand it’s value.”
Radhanath Swami went on to describe some of the work the Govardhan Eco Village does in its surrounding villages in terms of water conservation, farming, women’s empowerment and the development of natural handicrafts.
“If people see something that works they believe it. We were going around to the villages for years telling them things, but they didn’t believe it. If we can show them it works they believe it, and they allow us to help. Gandhi said that if you give charity to a poor person you make them feel like a beggar and they have no human dignity. But if you show them the art of how to do it themselves then they will have happiness with dignity. And all of these principles at Govardhan Eco Village are just a way of trying to share an expression of the idea of yoga – that when we are living with harmony with our own soul, through our spiritual practices and association, we naturally learn to live in harmony with each other. And we can’t really live in harmony with each other unless we include Mother Earth and all of her gifts.”