In an extended interview, Juna Peethaadhishwar Acharya Mahamandaleshwar Swami Avdheshanand Giri speaks about the need for reviving spiritual values to protect the environment and help people lead better lives
Environment means the balance of living beings. Whatever there is in the world of organisms - earth, sky, water, fire, air, stars, different living beings - these are all part of the environment. Today, because of global warming and the scorching rise of temperatures, glaciers are melting. The way in which greenery is being destroyed, it is not just the forests but the wealth of forests that is being lost; the manner in which availability of water, the flow of rivers is being affected, whose continuity, serenity, purity, continuous nature has been destroyed. At the same time, the changes in untimely seasons, excessive rains, short-fall in rains, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Scientists say that earlier such changes have not been observed. There is unnaturalness in the sky and in the atmosphere, when we look at the earth, we see what kinds of fertilizers are being strewn, and it is having its effect on agriculture. When we speak of the environment, we can see the imbalances in it, and we recognise the crises that are looming over it.
If there are trees, there is life, moisture is there, water and air, medicines, shade, greenery, aroma are all meant for our life. Its moisture draws the clouds, its roots control soil erosion, it maintains the balance of water. These facts have been reiterated all over the country. Madhya Pradesh government has planted 25 crore trees and Uttar Pradesh government is also planting trees, and many other state governments have also become active on this. Our programmes concerning the environment are quite old. We have motivated people in villages and towns to plant trees. We have said that tulsi plant should reach every home, and that among trees neem, peepul and kadamb should be given preference because in these plants there are life-giving air. Fruit trees are also very useful.
Acharya Mahamandaleshwar Swami Avdheshanand Giri is engaged in the service and welfare of people, in which water scarcity is the major issue of concern and the top agenda.
In his words, “Many years ago, in 2004, at the Ujjain Mahakumbh Simhasth I had said that to maintain the natural flow of the Kshipra river, compatible flora should be allowed to grow. And there were positive results. As part of the same environmental movement, we said where there is scarcity of water, there is need to dig water bodies. So, in Jhabua, as part of this movement we had started the Shiv Ganga Project. We helped people. We dug 1000 ponds and we stopped the migration of the villagers, who used to go away to Gujarat and other places for six months of the year. Many people used to lose their lives and homes. But flight of population due to water scarcity has ended.
As part of the Shiv Ganga movement, we dug wells and ponds, and the villagers took part in the work. Some volunteer groups had also joined us in the movement. We have worked similarly in different parts of the country. We have recognised that the basic necessity of a village is water. We have paid attention to the issue of better farming in the villages as well as organic farming. We have worked in different places, but our ideal site has been Madhya Pradesh.
I also want to reveal that in 2004 I had for the first time discussed the issue of water. Though I was not in favour of the word, environmentalists like Jal Purush Rajendra Singh, Prof Rajesh Mishra and Dr Chauhan have named the programme ‘Water Parliament’. About 250 water experts from different parts of the country had taken part in the programme. We had discussed the issue in Indore in 2005, there was a ‘Water Parliament’ at the Kumbh in Prayag (Allahabad) in 2007, at the Kumbh in Haridwar in 2010, and again at the 2013 Kumbh in Prayag (Allahabad). And there was a ‘Water Parliament’ in Ujjain in 2016. Scientists from the IITs and other institutions read research papers and shared their experiences. And the major finding that has been revealed is that less than 1 per cent of water is pure. That is why, it is necessary to save rivers and plant trees to improve ground water sources.
In 2001, during the time of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government, Ganga Yatra was taken to stop construction of Tehri dam. I was president of Ganga Raksha Yatra. Five thousand sadhus went from Haridwar to Delhi. We had talks with Honourable Prime Minister Atalji. Many scientists expressed concern over neglected our rivers. Today you can see the state of the Yamuna. There is no water in it outside Delhi, more than 99 per cent of the water in it is from sewers. The state of Ganga is similar.”
A report says by 2060 there would be no water in Ganga.
Even today there is no water in the Ganga. The people of Haridwar are yearning for a few cusecs of water for their daily needs and rituals. There are plans afoot to make water available for the forthcoming Kumbh. We have held discussions, we have undertaken programmes to plant trees, we have started awareness programmes, and we have set up waterworks. Our ‘Water Parliament’ has not changed into slogans and agitations because I am a sanyasi, and not an activist. But I am in favour of an ideological movement, and I want change in the attitudes of people. People should understand that our God has risen from the waters, and that is why it is necessary to save it. God is generated from the water, the mineral wealth is from water. That is why, I have talked about saving water.
On environment, I have only this to say: save the water in this country. And there is only one way to save water. And that is to plant trees. Dig the banks of rivers, and find alternative arrangements for sewage water. Along with Ganga and Yamuna, we have to save many other rivers in the country. People would be surprised to know that the water of Chambal reaches Prayag (Allahabad) but the water of Yamnuna does not reach the place. Think of it. How sad it is.
What is the way to implement programmes and plans?
There is rampant consumerism in society. Selfishness has reached its peak. People have dedicated their lives to meet their own goals. When you can see only your needs and you cannot see the lane in your neighbourhood, and you throw garbage in that lane, and you take away the light bulb in that lane, the society has deviated. There is need for self-introspection. The direction in which we are moving takes us to the extinction of human life. We are moving towards the murder of this planet. All our tendencies are self-destructive. We do not see anything. We do not think of this earth, nor do we think about the environment. So much so, we are not even thinking about our own health. We are in such stupor that we are caught in the web of attraction of some things.
Atalji had said that we should link the rivers. If rivers are inter-linked, can disasters be averted?
We have seen that waters of rivers are dammed in many countries. There are many ways of doing it. There are ways to generate electricity by using the hydro-systems. There is not much need for dams. We know all this but we do not know the compulsions why they cannot take the right decisions. But the truth is that even after 70 years of independence, we are unable to stand up. We may have become strong in the economic sense but where are the rivers, where is the forest wealth, where are the farms? There are five crore micro-organisms. There are only 40 lakh left in the village soil. We have destroyed so much. If we were to use dung as fertilizer, kept the soil in natural condition, farming is done in the right way, we can once again restore the health of the soil.
What is the reason for this: urbanization or growing population?
See, I think the concept of smart cities is good. But we will have to make our villages smart as well. We have to provide all amenities. There are many government initiatives in this direction. The flight of village assets has to be stopped. We have to retain the resources of the village in the village. We have to set up small cottage industries there. We have to set up cooperatives and this has been there in our villages earlier as well. The way Amul has created the milk movement and the country has become self-reliant in production of milk. Earlier there was shortage of milk in the country. Now the milk revolution has made the country self-sufficient.
There is tension in society today, there is decline in values. You are seen in the country as a symbol of peace and spirituality. What do you have to say?
I will once again say that the reason for the rising tensions is our selfishness. We are not able to think of the other person’s self-respect, we do not care for their identity and existence. We are getting fierce about family, clan, caste, community. That all Indians are one, will come about when we become spiritual. Spiritual people are disciplined people. They are concerned about the self-respect and good of everyone else.
When do you think that Ganga will flow continuously and regain its serenity?
I think that the serious efforts which should have been made earlier are now being made. It is difficult to say what the results of these efforts will be. But it is not the case that efforts have taken a mission-mode. It does not seem to be the case that vision is turning into a mission. There should be efforts that people should not throw even a bit of garbage into the river, industrial effluents should not flow into it, and sewerage should not reach the river.
According to the report there is a rise in the sewerage that goes into the river. It shows that there is a lack in the government’s means to clean the river. I will give you an example of 1830 when the system of flushing toilets was introduced in Delhi. People did not ever use the water of Yamuna for drinking. There were wells in Delhi. The pollution of Yamuna began after the flush system came into use. Earlier people used river water to offer oblations. And they used it nominally for bathing and for worship. Now they use it for irrigation, for flushing toilets. Think of it. Drinking water is being used for flushing, streets are being washed, clothes are being washed. Now there is no water in the Yamuna.
How far have you succeeded in combining spirituality with social responsibility?
We have seen that our programmes had brought about some good changes. People had given up their addictions, they became lovers of Nature, they separated themselves from bad things, and moved away from bad ways. They have stopped misspending their money, unity has been restored to families, love of the country has been awaked in people, spiritual feelings have arisen. When you move out with some good resolve, people are inspired. In this way, transformation takes place. It is true that on one side there is rising consumerism, there is also on the other side enthusiasm for spirituality. While the attraction and greed for worldly goods is overcrowding the mind at one end, at the other end is the call of the soul. And the person wants to know about his existence as well. As a ersult you can see that there is global acceptance of yoga. I see a blessed future through yoga. Now a person is improving his body through yoga, there will come a day when he will improve his mind through yoga and he will heal the diseases of the mind. And if he continues his journey on the path, then he will reach his Atma or Self. It is a good thing that India has inspired the world with yoga. The day yoga takes root in the mind after mending the body, the world will become one. I want to see this world as a village and as a family.
On the occasion of the 125th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekanada, you have received an invitation from Chicago. What message will you be taking there?
Mine will be the same old message that Swami Vivekananda took – that of culture and sacraments. This world is a family. There will also be the message as to why we are spending money, excitements and security? Why are we not spending the money on the welfare of humanity? It would be better if the money is spent on education and health instead of preparations for war. It may well be that there friendships are made on the basis of strength of arms. But I am not alone. I will make every effort to awaken them.
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