Ecocriticism, Ethics and the Vedic Thought
Author(s): T.J. Abraham
Source: Indian Literature, Vol. 51, No. 6 (242), Golden Jubilee Issue (November-December
2007), pp. 179-186
Published by: Sahitya Akademy
The essay claims to address some fundamental issues plaguing the discipline of ecocriticism and show why in its present form, it is destined to fail as a movement.
- The present deadlock in ecocritical thought springs as much from its inherent contradictions as from the absence of a firm ethical, philosophical underpinning.
- This study tries to highlight a few such paradoxes in ecocriticism, especially in its western variety, and calls for a perspectival shift in the form of a philosophical framework
- human beings cannot entirely do away with the ‘use’ of non-human sphere because cultural productions of all sorts necessitate the use, and even some exploitation, of nature.
- impossible to differentiate the ‘right’ use of nature from the ‘wrong’ one.
- the radical ecologists advocating a return to forests deride the activists of protection of environment describing them pejoratively as “environmentalists” who value nature solely for human survival and for ensuring the promotion
- The fourth paradox concerns ecology and textuality, both about the possibility of an extra linguistic reality and also about the reliability of language-mediated reality. Any signifying system including language cannot be neutral, but only pro speciesist.
- The western enlightenment project, by and large, reinforced the anthropocentric assumption of the centrality of human individual and upheld the view that the nonhuman world existed for human welfare. As a corollary, nature came to be viewed as not only thoroughly knowable but also to be mastered and exploited by man.
- Chaos Theory demolishes the totalizing truth claims of contemporary science, as it cautions us about the mysterious forces (known as strange attractors, butterfly effect, etc.) in control of natural systems, due to which predictions about nature cannot be made with certainty.
- Complexity Theory talks about self-organizing systems in a world teeming with complex systems. The theorists of this school claim that systems, both human and nonhuman, are self-organizing, and that self-organization is a spontaneous process occurring at certain critical periods of time, especially at what they describe as the ‘edge of chaos’.
- Ecocriticism, hence, engages the question of justice and argues for the rights of the nonhuman sphere
- Contemporary western ethical thought, with its deep-seated humanist bias, is not conducive to the acceptance of ecocritical philosophy which insists on a comprehensive ethics appropriate for a more than human world.
- The God equals man equals nonhuman equation, a view that has taken the centre stage down the centuries in the mainstream Indian thought.
- An ethical framework genuinely anti-humanist at its core singularizes the dominant Indian tradition which accorded equal status to the human and non-human spheres.
- Such an egalitarian view was instrumental in engendering a philosophy of immanent monism (advaita). Indeed, the rise of the advaita philosophy may be traced to the realization that human beings live in a more than human world, characterised by mutual interdependence and more importantly, that any alienation of the two spheres could spell doom for the earth.
- In the Taittiriya Brahmana, we are told that “the same divine milk that circulates through creatures here on earth lights the suns—all the suns of the galaxy. It condenses also into the forms of the clouds. It pours down as rain and feeds the earth, the vegetation and the animals. The individual with the awareness of this secret cannot be avaricious for any portion of the abundant food that may come to him. He will share it willingly with his companions. He will not wish to break the circuit by hoarding the substance to himself…. His food avails him nothing: when he eats, eats his own death” (2.8.8).
- The aphoristic words from Aruni to his son “That thou art” (Tat tvam asi) sum up the entire vedic conception of reality including the nonhuman sphere. Tat tvam asi enjoins one to be aware of the identity of one’s core essence with the hidden substance of all and everything, and not to be alienated from the nonhuman world.