Questioner (Q): What solution does the Gita offer for contemporary sociopolitical issues like global warming? Could Shri Krishna have anticipated back then that the planet would be facing a crisis like this at some point?
Acharya Prashant (AP): You see, the crisis that you are talking of is man-made. You call it anthropogenic global warming, right? It is not just global warming or climate change; it is AGW (anthropogenic global warming). We did it.
So, it is not of much use to talk about the problem without talking of the problem-creator. We created that problem, the human mind created that problem, and the human mind created that problem because the human mind is infested by and is vulnerable to certain malicious tendencies right from birth. We have almost a design flaw. The child is born enveloped in ignorance, and that ignorance displays itself in everything that we do throughout our lives.
As the flow of history would have it, today we have more material power than we have ever had in the course of time. Now, that is a deadly combination. One, we have tendencies pertaining to accumulation, consumption, ignorance, violence, fear—these are deep-seated tendencies sitting within everyone—and, on the other hand, we have a lot of destructive power in our hands. And these two things have combined to give us this gruesome specter of biodiversity loss, ecological catastrophe, the total vandalization of Prakṛti (physical nature) that we see around us, extinction of species, and, obviously, climate change that you are referring to.
It cannot be solved by just talking of the problem; you will have to go into the mind of the human being. Unless the mind of man is addressed, understood, and purified, these problems will continue to exist. You can probably, to console yourself, take care of one form of problems, but the underlying reason will continue to exist; therefore, the same mother problem will manifest itself in some other way. And then you will say, “Oh! Now we have a fresh challenge in front of us. Let’s occupy ourselves in addressing this challenge.” And that is a great timepass.
One after the other problems will keep appearing, and we will continue to feel great about ourselves by fighting those problems, and we will continue to distribute Nobel prizes and pat our own backs by saying that such problems came to trouble us and we were able to successfully negotiate them, even if partially. We do not understand that no problem is ever solved till its root is taken care of. It’s like having cancer in your body and giving it some kind of superficial or incomplete treatment, and allowing the root of the cancer to exist. And there will be metastasis: the cancer will show up in some other way, at some other place, at some other time, because you are not addressing the root.
The root is called aham-vṛtti (‘I’-tendency). The entire scripture of Bhagavad Gita , the entire domain of Vedanta is devoted to nothing but this one thing: how to placate that primordial tendency, that ancient animal within man? Outwardly, we are cultured and civilized; inwardly, we are what I just referred to as an ancient animal. That ancient animal has started working on laptops, wearing modern clothes, and speaking contemporary jargon, but it wants just the same things as animals in the jungle do, but in a far more powerful and destructive way.
So, all religious scriptures—and I am especially referring to Vedanta here, and Gita is one of the three canonical texts in the Prasthānatrayī of Vedanta—they have no other business to take care of. This is the one thing that they want to take care of: the root problem, the mother troublemaker.
Unfortunately, a lot of our energy and attention goes towards clipping the leaves, the twigs, the branches of the problem tree, and that helps us remain blissfully ignorant about ourselves; that helps us continue our worldly business as it does; that helps us evade the real problem. Because if you address the real problem, you will have to admit that there are a thousand times more problems than you ever want to acknowledge. You acknowledge one problem as a problem, and the other nine hundred and ninety-nine things in your life you take as normal, whereas the fact is that all thousand decisions or actions in your life are coming from the same problematic and diseased center.
Therefore, really, everything needs to change, because the very center, the very origin, the root itself is flawed. We do not want to address the root, and that is the extent of our delusion. That is what is referred to as Māyā : you suffer, but you want to continue suffering. Not only that—to remain in your suffering state, you just take care of teeny-weeny, little, peripheral symptoms of suffering. That is what man is designed to do.
Scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita want to disrupt that design; they want to do something that is actually against our prakṛtik constitution. As we are born, we are not predisposed towards the Truth or liberation or freedom; we are designed to remain in bondages and continue suffering in our problems. The Gita is like a circuit breaker, the Gita is an intruder, so are the Upanishads, and so are the Vedanta Sutras . If they are not there, we will happily continue to move about in our circuit of suffering without ever even realizing how badly we are trapped.
So, once you address the mind of man, not only climate change but so many other problems—in fact, all other problems are taken care of. And it might sound a little incredible, but do understand that all the problematic situations we face, inner or outer, are actually one. You cannot look at one problem as distinct from the other because the problem creator is one.
So, you cannot address climate change in isolation. You cannot have great international conferences that want to look only at climate change and hope for those conferences to bear results. Has anything really happened in the last forty or fifty years? Now you know why things have not happened: because we are not addressing the root. Unless there is wisdom education in the family and in the curricula of schools, colleges, universities, unless the very wisdom quotient of the population in general is uplifted, we will just continue to hop from one problem to the other.
Q: So, you are saying that all these environmental problems, like deforestation and pollution, are just a result of the de-religionization of man’s mind?
AP: Deforestation of the Earth and de-religionization of man’s mind are proceeding hand-in-hand. And there is a great correlation between the two. Both are being brought about by man’s burgeoning greed, self-centeredness, and lust for consumption.