In the times of our environmental crisis, I long for rituals, literature, music that can help me navigate the challenge of figuring out how to help, that can inspire me, keep this reality in my mind. I would love to write earth-based poetry myself, but I’m not nearly as connected or intimate or hopeful within my soul as such a task might require.
I think Carol Christ’s Goddess Pilgrimage would be lovely for re-connecting with the earth. I would love to read a post or comments on just how ecology and earth-based awareness factor into this project. I have the pilgrimage on my list to go to some day when I can.
Another possibility is Starhawk’s permaculture retreats. She and other teachers regularly hold “Earth Activist Training” which teach about permaculture as a way to save the earth and mitigate violence. If any of you have taken part, let’s discuss!
In the meantime, as a student of Sanskrit, luckily, I have been assigned to choose a chant that I would like to memorize, and so I have chosen the first two verses of the Ganga Stotram. A stotra (Sanskrit for ‘hymn of praise’) is a poetic conversation with or about the divine with guidelines for life embedded within. This particular stotra, 14 verses in length, honors the mother, the goddess of the waters, in the form of the Ganges River in India. It originates from the glaciers in the Himalayan mountains. About 1/4 of the country of India is made up of the river basin and 40% of the country’s population resides in this area as well. It is prominently featured in the sacred literature of Hinduism, such as the Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata and, as the strota mentions, the Vedas. This is the chant in transliteration with the English below.
devi sureśvari bhagavati gange
mama matirāstām tava padakamale.
bhāgīrathi sukhadāyini mātas
tava jalamahimā nigame khyātah,
nāham jāne tava mahimānam
pāhi krpāmayi māmajñānam.
Oh Goddess of the Gods, Divine Ganges,
you liberate the three worlds with your merciful wave.
Oh pure one who amuses herself on the crown of Śiva’s head,
my mind is continuously dwelling at your lotus feet.
Oh Ganges, mother who bestows happiness,
the greatness of your waters are celebrated in the Vedas.
I do not know your might fully.
Oh compassionate one, protect me from ignorance.
This chant has meaning for me because of the environmental crisis we are in. The polluting of the Ganges River in India, a river that is sacred to Hindus and many other spiritually-minded people in the world as well as necessary for the thousands of Indians who use the water for survival and hygienic reasons, is a tragic example. Due in part to the excessive consumption of the Global North and the outsourcing of fabric and textile factory jobs to developing regions in South Asia, such as Bangladesh and India, there has been continual waste and factory run off in Gaia’s water sources. According to one scholarly source, industrial pollution makes up 20% of the wastewater that is in the Ganges River, and over half of it comes from a region in the north where the Ganges exits the mountains and into the basin. From this point, the fecal coliform count creates poor water quality. According to R. C. Trivedi, “the river is actually being used as if it is higher grade.” There are industrial towns that include tanneries, textiles, fertilizers, distilleries, and refineries, among others that are along the river.
Often, corporate practices of oppression and greed as well as the ecological effects of them affect women and children the most. Women are often the ones to seek fresh water sources that are clean for their families for cooking and washing, and the children have Nature as their playground. This chant calls upon the chanter to acknowledge the sacred aspects of water as well as its connection to women, and the feminine as well. The reference to ‘purity’ in the first verse is a reminder of what our earth’s body naturally is and what it might be again if humans learn to tread more lightly for perhaps the first time in our existence. The naming of the Ganges as “mother” in the second verse implies how water is a creative, living source of life. I think the plea for saving the chanter from ‘ignorance’ is especially apt and in alignment with my ecological reading, for to honor her, our earth’s rivers, in a way that has any meaning at all, we must be saved from our ignorance, our denial of what we individually do to contribute to and perpetuate its, and therefore our own, destruction. The ending is also hopeful, for if we can be protected from ignorance, there is indication a shift in mindset and practice can cause change in terms of healing and restoration.
As an example of actual hope, earlier this year (actually in process in 2016), one of the High Courts of India (there are 24), has declared the rivers Ganges and Yamuna (and all the streams associated with them) to be recognized as having the same legal status as a living being, specifically, a human being. If, from a perspective of most humans, there is no living entity deserving of more rights than humans themselves, then let it be.
May all our water ways and the land and air everywhere be given any status that would grant it more dignity and protection than we humans have afforded it thus. Whatever you want to call it.
Trivedi, R. C. “Water Quality of the Ganga River – An Overview.” Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management, vol. 13, no. 4, 2010, pp. 347-351.
LaChelle Schilling, Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a book project titled Minimalism, Mindfulness, and the Middle Way, incorporating guidance from sacred wisdom literatures. She is also working on certification as a yoga instructor.