The “Misguided God”

November 22, 2014 at 12:11 pm

We often say we live on Planet Earth. We don’t say we are Planet Earth. The natural world is something out there that we inhabit. There is an imaginary boundary that separates us from the plants, trees, animals, insects, rivers and mountains, which constitute the natural world. When did we start separating ourselves from the rest of the planet and how is this separation affecting us?


Image courtesy Soem Live

How much paper do you think you could use up in your lifetime? A little research throws up the following:

  • Approximately 1 billion trees worth of paper are thrown away every year in the U.S
  •  If all our newspaper was recycled, we could save about 250,000,000 trees each year!
  •  It takes about 384 trees to make the toilet paper that one man uses within his lifetime.

The problem with these numbers is that they are so large that we would need to use figures and metaphors to really comprehend their enormity. They leave us numb. We feel helpless and inadequate because no matter what we do, we will barely leave a noticeable impact. So, why do anything? Let me be a little conservative wherever I can and feel good about the fact that at least I am doing something!

The other issue with such reports is that they are very impersonal. If you could somehow see all the paper you have used in your life so far, and all that you would use until you died, stacked up in front of you, I guarantee it would make a difference. I had that experience recently. Not all the paper I used, but something to give me an idea.

A close relative of mine was retiring and in preparation for his retirement he had spent the months leading up to it, in cleaning and sorting everything in his office. During his career, he developed the habit of storing every document that he felt could be of any relevance. He would never throw anything away, always anticipating that it could come of use later. By the time he was retiring, the amount of paper he had hoarded up amounted to almost 700 Kilograms. They filled up 16 gunnysacks. Keep in mind; this was just the paper concerning relevant office work. He had obviously used a lot more paper in his life – bills, wasted prints, magazines, books, newspapers, junk mail, packing paper, paper towels, toilet paper etc. But this was none of that. Only the tiny fraction of important office work that he chose to hold on to. Just that. 700 Kgs of it.

While a number as large as this made me judge him initially, I soon realized his footprint was far humbler than mine could ever pretend to be. And this was just paper. There is plastic, aluminum, glass and other forms of solid wastes too. But lets not go there yet, that will only numb us sooner. We cannot shy away from this any longer saying it is too big to solve. It isn’t going to disappear if we stopped looking at it. But will controlling our consumption really help? It is not our habits alone that contribute to this. What we really need to question is our relationship with the planet. How has it changed in the last few generations and how is this change destroying the planet?

Every culture had its own way of making the planet its home. As an Indian, I descend from a race of forest dwellers. A community that grows up in the forest has a very personal and intimate relationship with the forest and its inhabitants. Some of our earliest spiritual texts are called Aranyakas which means “belonging to the wilderness”. A person’s life as per the Vedic system was divided into 4 stages – the Brahmacharya (The Student life), Grihastha (The family life), Vanaprastha (The hermit) and the Sanyasa (The wandering mystic). The Vanaprastha was the ‘forest stage’, which required a person to relinquish his material needs and live in the forest. We originated in the forests and went back to it.

Our relationship with the planet was very similar to our relationship with God. The Bhagavad Geeta urges us to worship God in all beings.

With the mind harmonized by yoga he sees the self abiding in all beings, and all beings in the self; he sees the same everywhere

To the self there is nothing but self everywhere. To the mud, there are no pots; to the gold, there are no ornaments separate from itself. – The Bhagavad Geeta Chapter 6 Verse 29.

Man was referred to as the “Misguided God”. That is why people in India greet each other by saying ‘Namaste’, which means ‘My salutations to the divinity in you’. A race of people who believed that God was everywhere was intrinsically built to respect nature. They belonged to nature and saw themselves as a part of it. They didn’t see nature as something that was created by God for our consumption. This concept of nature being out there is a borrowed thought. I am not trying to assign blame or establish the superiority of our culture, but it is important to understand who we were and how we have changed over the years. We are no longer that race. That belief has slipped through the cracks between generations.

The moment we separated ourselves from God and Nature, we fractured the respect we had for both of them. We abuse nature and all we do with God is engage with him in elaborate rituals that we don’t completely understand. We dress up as we are told to and follow protocols that don’t make sense to us anymore. We have pushed God away from our daily lives and locked him up in the temples where we can access him at a safe distance. He cannot get to us until we choose to enter the temple. Such is the control we exercise on our boundaries.

This phenomenon of separation extends even further. Divorced from our communities, we have moved into tiny disconnected families. Our body is no longer the temple of our soul. There is neither nature nor God inside us anymore. This is probably why so many of us feel an inexplicable void inside us. How disconnected can we be that we have made our own planet alien to us?

Disassociation is the first step. Abuse follows soon after. Just look at how much more we abuse our bodies when compared to our parents and grand parents. As our identity shrinks into us, we actively disassociate with the world around us and stop investing in it. From a culture that lived by the principle of Tat Tvam Asi, (“That art thou” or “You are that”) we have gone to the other extreme of identifying everything as not being us.

We cannot nurture and respect things that we don’t identify with. Putting it out there makes it someone else’s problem – The government, the industries or the philanthropists. It’s not our problem anymore because it isn’t affecting us. How many times have we heard this argument? There is a certain entitlement that creeps into us as we push things out. We take from an environment that we don’t give back to. As long as we continue to ask without giving back, it should be acknowledged that we are still the disease and not the cure.

Penthrall Misguided God

Image Courtesy Lindsay

To fix this problem, let us start first by admitting that we feel a certain unexplained void inside us. That is the first indication that we feel incomplete. We have plucked ourselves out of an ecosystem and compensated for it with steel and plastic replacements. Like the animals in the zoo that have been forced to live outside their habitat, we haven’t really adjusted to the change ourselves. We keep compensating for the change but we really cannot. We belong in the ecosystem. We are a part of nature, an inseparable ingredient of this planet. The external damage is only a reflection of the estrangement we feel inside. Solving one will fix the other. The choice is now ours as to which we choose to fix. If you want to go out and clean up and educate people, then that’s great. It is also sufficient if you only want to clean yourself up. It is sufficient because if each of us stops separating ourselves from the planet we will reverse the change. Our children will learn to do the same by imitating us and soon within a few generations we would have brought about a cultural transformation. We would have reconnected and reinvested ourselves in nature, the way our forefathers did for centuries. It is not our devices, but we, who need to get inclusive. We cannot afford to drift apart anymore. As a community we need to move from the Grihastha stage of our lives into the Vanaprashtha stage. We need to relinquish our unreasonable materialistic demands and nurture our forests with the same love and intimacy that our ancestors did. And we need to let the forests inhabit us.

Once we stop living in our minds and start living in our bodies, maybe then, we can expand a little and include our communities within us, and then our habitat and finally our planet. Maybe if we achieve that, we can then go beyond and find God as well. He isn’t out there. He cannot be out there, when the emptiness we feel is in here.

PS: I do not know if it makes any sense referring to God as a he or a she. I have used “he” here only because substituting it with another word would take the attention away from the main thought being presented. Such distraction is unnecessary.


Reference Credits:

Indira’s Net by Rajiv Malhotra

The Holy Geeta – Commentary and translation by Swami Chinmayananda



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