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Sikhism, originating in 15th-century India, offers a unique view on environmental and sustainable development matters. Rooted in Sikh scriptures and contemporary endeavours, it emphasizes principles like oneness (Ik Onkar), highlighting interconnectedness and divine presence in nature. This concept guides Sikhs to practice stewardship, compassion, and justice, embodied in values like seva (selfless service) and sarbat da bhala (welfare of all). Real-world initiatives exemplify this commitment, such as Bhagat Puran Singh's awareness campaign, Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal's cleanliness efforts, and Eco-Sikh's Guru Nanak Forest project. These actions combat pollution, deforestation, and climate change, embodying Sikh principles and fostering hope for a sustainable future.

Introduction

The world is waking up to the urgency of environmental conservation and sustainable development. Amidst the clamour for change, diverse voices and perspectives emerge, each offering unique insights and solutions. Among these, the Sikh perspective stands out as a harmonious blend of spirituality, compassion, and practicality, deeply rooted in the teachings of Sikh Gurus and the scripture, Guru Granth Sahib [1-2].

Sikhism, a monotheistic faith with roots in the Indian subcontinent, strongly emphasizes the interconnectedness of all living beings and reverence for nature. At the core of Sikh teachings is the concept of 'Ik Onkar,' meaning 'One Creator,' which highlights the unity of the universe and the divine presence in all creation. This core belief forms the foundation of Sikh environmental ethics, guiding followers to honor and safeguard the environment as an integral part of their spiritual journey [3-4].

Sikhism’s Perspective

At the heart of Sikhism lies the principle of 'Seva,' or selfless service, which extends beyond human interactions to encompass the care and preservation of the environment. Sikhs are encouraged to see themselves as custodians of the Earth, entrusted with the duty to protect its resources for future generations [5-6]. This principle of stewardship is mirrored in various aspects of Sikh tradition, from community kitchens (langar) that foster equality and sharing to the practice of planting trees (Kar Sewa) around Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) as acts of devotion and environmental conservation. 

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The concept of "Pavan Guru, Pani Pita, Mata Dharat Mahat" encapsulates the Sikh reverence for the elements: air, water, and earth. Sikhs are taught to regard air as the teacher, water as the father, and the Earth as the great mother [7-8]. This profound acknowledgment underscores the interconnectedness of human life with the natural world and the vital role of environmental sustainability in maintaining the balance and harmony of existence.

Furthermore, Sikhism emphasizes the importance of living in harmony with nature, rejecting excessive consumption and exploitation of resources [9-11]. The principles of moderation (Tyaag) and contentment (Santokh) encourage Sikhs to lead simple, eco-friendly lifestyles, minimizing waste and adopting sustainable practices. By cultivating a mindset of gratitude and mindfulness, Sikhs strive to reduce their ecological footprint and contribute to the well-being of the planet. 

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The concept of "Sarbat da Bhala," meaning the welfare of all, is central to Sikh ethics and extends to environmental activism. Sikhs are called upon to advocate for policies and practices that promote ecological justice and address environmental inequalities [12-13]. This commitment to social and environmental justice is exemplified in Sikh history, where Gurus and followers have fought against the oppression and exploitation of both humans and nature. 

Moreover, Sikhism condemns the commodification of nature and the exploitation of natural resources for profit. The doctrine of "Kirat Karni," or honest labour, emphasizes the ethical use of resources and discourages greed and exploitation [5]. Sikhs are encouraged to engage in sustainable livelihoods that respect the environment's integrity and prioritize the well-being of communities over individual gain. 

In the present-day context, Sikhs worldwide actively engage in environmental initiatives to promote sustainability and combat climate change. From organizing tree-planting drives and clean-up campaigns to advocating for renewable energy and conservation policies, Sikh communities are making tangible contributions to environmental protection.

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Contemporary initiatives, such as Sant Balbir Singh Seechawal's Kali Vaien cleanliness work, Eco-Sikh's Guru Nanak Forest initiative, Baba Sewa Singh, Khandoor Sahib's tree plantation project, and D. S. Jaspal’s drive to establish ‘The Museum of Trees’ at Chandigarh are powerful demonstrations of the Sikh commitment to environmental activism and sustainability. These efforts, driven by Sikhs, tackle pressing environmental challenges, including pollution, deforestation, and climate change. They not only promote community values, solidarity, and responsibility but also inspire hope for a more sustainable and equitable world [9].

In addition to grassroots activism, Sikh organizations and institutions increasingly incorporate environmental education and awareness into their programs. Through workshops, seminars, and educational materials, Sikhs raise awareness about environmental issues and inspire individuals to adopt sustainable lifestyles and practices. 

One of humanity's most significant environmental challenges is climate change, which threatens ecosystems, biodiversity, and the livelihoods of millions worldwide [7-8]. Recognizing the urgency of this crisis, Sikh leaders and organizations are calling for collective action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. 

In line with Sikh teachings, efforts to address climate change are grounded in justice, equity, and compassion principles. Sikhs advocate for climate policies prioritizing the needs of vulnerable communities disproportionately affected by environmental degradation and climate-related disasters. This emphasis on social justice underscores the interconnectedness of environmental and human well-being and the importance of addressing the root causes of inequality and injustice. 

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Furthermore, Sikhism emphasizes the concept of "Chardi Kala," or eternal optimism, in the face of adversity [5]. While the challenges posed by environmental degradation and climate change may seem daunting, Sikhs believe in the power of collective action and the capacity of individuals to make a positive difference. By embracing a mindset of hope and resilience, Sikhs are galvanized to confront environmental challenges with courage and determination.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Sikh perspective on environment and sustainable development offers a holistic approach that integrates spirituality, ethics, and activism. Grounded in the teachings of Sikh Gurus and the principles of compassion, stewardship, and justice, Sikhism provides a profound framework for addressing the interconnected crises of environmental degradation and climate change. As custodians of the Earth, Sikhs are called upon to embody the values of seva, sarbat da bhala, and chardi kala in their efforts to create a more sustainable and equitable world for present and future generations.

 

Header Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

 

References

  1. Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), 1983 (Reprint), S.G.P.C., Amritsar, p 1-1430.
  2. Khalsa, S.S. English Translation of SGGS. www.srigranth.org/servlet/gurbani.gurbani?S=y
  3. Singh, D.P. Ecological Teachings in Sikh Theology. Academia Letters, USA. (August 2021) Article 2653.
  4. Singh, D.P. Guru Nanak’s Philosophy of Social Change. The Sikh Review, Kolkata, WB. India. Vol. 69:11 (2021) 19-22.
  5. Singh, D.P. Relevance of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in the Present Era. Asia Samachar, Malaysia, 10 July 2021.
  6. Singh, D. P. Barah Maha - The Changing Phases of Nature, The Sikh Review, Vol 68:10, Oct. 2020, 9-16
  7. Singh, D. P. Ecological Concern in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Abstracts of Sikh Studies, Vol.XII: 4, Oct-Dec 2010. 
  8. Singh, D. P. Environmental Concerns in Guru Granth SahibThe Sikh Review, Vol. 58:3 March 2010.
  9. D. P. Singh, Prime Environmental Teachings of Sikhism, Sikh Philosophy Network, Chandigarh, India. 9th April 2021.
  10. Singh, D. P. Environment and Sustainable Development - A Perspective from Sikhism, Paper presented at the International Seminar on “Guru Nanak’s Philosophy & UN Agenda of Sustainable Development” and launch of “Guru Nanak Chair for Studies in Universal Advancement,” 23rd Nov 2020, Chandigarh University, Mohali, Punjab (India)
  11. Singh, D. P. Nature in Guru Nanak’s Holistic Vision, Paper presented at the Seminar on ‘Guru Nanak, His Philosophy and Modern Society,’ IUS, Montreal, QC, Canada, Nov. 22, 2014
  12. Singh, D. P., The Climate Crisis - Current Scenario and Future Options (A Global Perspective)", Lecture delivered in the Webinar e-Diwan Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 11 Oct. 2020.
  13. Singh, D. P. Environment and Sustainable Development - A Sikh Perspective, Invited Talk delivered in the Webinar organized by Canadian Sikh Study and Teaching Society, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, on 21st April 2024. 
Dr. Devinder Pal Singh

Dr. Devinder Pal Singh

Dr Devinder Pal Singh, Center for Understanding Sikhism, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, has published about 100 articles on various aspects of Sikhism in several newspapers and magazines of English, Punjabi and Hindi.

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