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A matured outlook on mother nature

'Tread Lightly on the Earth' by Justice Christopher Weeramantry:

The question that kept chiseling into my mind when writing this review was whether I could do justice to its contents so that another reader would realise the magnificence of this manuscript by the erudite author. It certainly is no novel, more a treasure trove of brilliantly researched information that has been documented together to address one of the most pressing needs of mankind today, saving the environment.

The logic and reasoning of the book are extracted from the ancient wisdoms of the five main religions of the world, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam; revelations that have been available to us since the introduction of these great philosophies which we human beings have wantonly failed to recognise. What is unpardonable is how we have chosen to ignore the primordial teachings that could have deterred or stopped our collective efforts to annihilate the beauty of nature.

The book is all about what we can learn on the international environmental ethic from the five main religions.

The unity that prevails among the diversity of faiths and their points of confluence in addressing the needs for a sustainable lifestyle is the argument. "Ancient wisdom in religions perceived the need for ecological vision long before the problem became an active issue in the modern world" states Justice Weeramantry.

The author skillfully moves from the past to the modern era and quotes from the Babylonian Talmud with the same ease that he brings in the wisdom of the Dalai Lama.

He refers to Hindu texts from Kautilya's Arthasastra (321 BC) on rulers appointing custodians of nature and then iterates the sh'mitah from the much older Exodus, explaining the need for the earth to rest and not to be ploughed every 7th year. The Dhammapada and its simplicity of teaching environmental protection is shown to be consonant with Islam's attitude towards developing science and respect for nature. From the first page to the last the book spells out the duties for future generations, "to begin near to go far" in protection of the environment. I doubt that a reader of this book influenced by Justice Weeramantry's thinking would ever unnecessarily break a branch or pick an axe and unjustifiably chop a tree. I wouldn't.

"The earth provides enough to satisfy everyman's need, but not everyman's greed," Mahatma Gandhi is quoted. In the words of Radhakrishnan it is said "we help to secure the future only to the extent that we ourselves change." Missionary Mahinda's message to Devanampiyatissa "O King, you maybe the ruler of this country but you are not the owner of this land," defines the custodianship sovereigns are required to respect. Of greater significance are the parallels the author draws between religions and religious teachings that elucidate clearly an individual's responsibility to safeguard what he was blessed with to enjoy as an inheritor of the earth and then leave these blessings intact for his children and their children.

"Nature cannot be destroyed without mankind ultimately destroying itself," quotes the author. He reflects on how in Hinduism the Morning Prayer includes asking forgiveness from mother-earth for treading on her. "He raised it up and set the balance - transgress not the balance" is derived from Qur'anic verse.

Justice Weeramantry extracts from the book of Revelations "the time has come for destroying those who destroyed the earth." The author quotes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, how Prince Rama and Prince Arjuna refused the use of hyper destructive weapons which would destroy entire populations. "Purpose of war is to defeat the enemy and live in peace with him thereafter, not to destroy him," quotes Justice Weeramantry.

Then he explains Judaic tradition too, referring to Deuteronomy and says "when you are trying to capture a city, do not cut down its fruit trees, even though the siege lasts a long time. The trees are not your enemies."

The author gives due recognition to the Assisi conference of 1986 where the five major religions gathered to discuss how their faiths could help save the natural world. (The location was chosen in honour of St Francis of Assisi who preached to the birds). The efforts of the gathered may not reap rewards in their lifetimes, but that made no difference to the value of the cause for the future preservation of the earth. On the same thread of protection he clearly illustrates the ultimate sacrifice made by the ordinary to safeguard the environment.

I rest my case!


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