Environmental Ethics: 6 Environment-Friendly Conduct

Author:  Image of S.M. JainS.M. Jain
Published: 21.02.2012

Environment and human Psyche:

Human beings with their most superior brain power than all other life forms have immense power both for good and bad. The same ability having been twisted and distorted as anthropocentric, sensuous and hedonistic to have caused degradation of environment can be reformed to be symbiotic and environment friendly. Forest based life style which would itself facilitate optimising population and symbiotic model can be adopted without any difficulty and hardship. The causes of drift from good to bad have been discussed in preceding pages. The trend can be reversed for benefit of one and all. The hedonistic tendencies which trigger consumerism and reckless exploitation of natural resources and ensuing pollution, hardships, tensions and conflicts need to be regimented by matching good code of conduct. The really well-meaning and enlightened saints and sages, prophets, buddhas, and Tirthankaras have meticulously analysed the bad tendencies and prescribed measures to control these.

Human brain is like a computer. As in the computer the storage, analysis and output is according to data fed into it so the brain stores, analyses and acts according to information and experiences imbibed by it through five senses from its surroundings. A child is born with clean slate. It learns everything, its movements, sitting, walking, language, acquaintances with objects and behaviour by observing objects around. It imitates its parents, children and others. According to a study of two children, one of slum dweller, illiterate, of poor family and other from affluent educated parents, though the child from poor parents had higher IQ (intelligence quotient) than that from affluent family the pattern changed with time. The slum child remained illiterate, learnt abuses, uncouth rude habits, similar to parents, children and people around whereas the affluent child got educated, had polished habits, learnt etiquette and became a senior executive. Initially the chanced combination of genes inherited from parents exhibit the inherent potential but it is subsequent environment which matters. Child born from strong sturdy parents will not be same if it does not get proper diet. Mental capabilities of an intelligent child will not manifest and develop if it does not get proper education. Genetic capabilities are also conditioned by environment. There are children fathered by educated men by rape or otherwise of poor slum girls and women and if brought up in slum conditions will turn out to be similar to children around.

Population control a foremost necessity and first step:

It is necessary that every child gets proper opportunities and environment for its proper development. There are lofty constitutional provisions and laws to provide equal opportunities of education, health and employment but all these are in books and hardly implemented anywhere in poor countries mainly because of the limited resources not sufficient even for one-tenth of their exploding populations. Population control is most essential and it is not possible unless stern compulsory legal provisions are introduced and implemented. Voluntary family planning is a myth with prevailing attitudes and beliefs and low levels of education which cannot be improved because of existing mismatch between resources and numbers. If the present trend of exponential growth of population continues it will never be possible to provide proper education, health facilities, shelter (houses) and opportunities for livelihood. Unfortunately there is no political will because even the enlightened political leadership is selfish and is interested in their own chairs, positions and power, irrespective of what happens to people and country. There is politics of vote banks which does not permit hard decisions like compulsory sterilisation as it will annoy particular communities who deliberately want to proliferate under religious garb for their hidden agenda to outnumber because in democracies it is strength of numbers that matters irrespective of quality. Initially it is necessary to adopt compulsory and punitive measures as people by and large are not voluntarily inclined to follow good desirable code of conduct. It is well known that people generally do not adhere to even traffic rules which are for the protection of all. It is only punitive measures of fine, imprisonment that deters from violating the rules. Compulsory and punitive measures to enforce rules in letter and spirit are necessary.

Children brought up in superstitious, semi civilised poor families cannot have rational attitude and behaviour. Parents, family members and neighbourhood is child's first nursery school. If he is able to go to educational institute, the teachers and fellow students mould his behaviour and subsequently the companions in office and work places exert their influences and the process continues all over the life time. Even if parents and family environment is good and environment in school is bad or child falls in bad company the earlier impressions, good habits are superseded by new bad habits. There are cases of persons brought up in good environment in family and also in educational institution but subsequently falling in bad company of colleagues in offices and work places going astray. As mentioned before, the new impressions go on superimposing on older ones as happens in a computer. Not only family school or college environment but overall social environment is important and it is possible to improve it if sincere efforts are made by all concerned. Once the population trend is reversed it will be possible to provide better facilities of education, shelter, health etc. to reducing numbers and more resources will be generated by improving quality and not quantity of people. The symbiotic aspects of life and interactions in nature and the importance of rationality will have to be inculcated in children through behaviour of parents, education syllabi and congenial social environment. The prevailing predatory, individualistic, selfish life style is aggravating disparities and consequent unhealthy competition through fair or foul means and then conflicts, tensions and miseries. The principle of symbiosis envisage equal importance and contribution of all life forms from tiniest to biggest and also of physical constituents of environment for mutual benefit. Symbiotic and rational attitude will ensure harmonious relationships and passions of anger, vanity, greed and hypocrisy will not overtake people and thus provide no scope for conflicts. This principle is essential to keep individualism and selfishness in check for common good. Laziness, indiscipline and irresponsibility are because of indifference, lack of concern for others and selfishness. The cure is possible but hard decisions at personal, family, social, national and international levels are necessary.

Rationalising five sensory perceptions:

It is individuals that make families, societies and nations. If individual is cured, is rational and symbiotic (not selfish) the attitudes of societies and nations will change. In every individual there is immense potential which can be utilised for good as well as for bad. What is required is diversion of potential of human mind towards good and rational. Human brain has huge capabilities of reasoning, analysing the inputs of knowledge and experience and then giving outputs as desired. The five senses through which brain gets its inputs, analyses and then gives outputs are first the sense of touch, second the sense of taste, third the sense of smell, fourth the sense of sight and fifth the sense of hearing. Through the first sense of touch is experienced softness, hardness, pleasant, harsh and painful contacts and friction from interaction with various objects. Sexual pleasure is through sense of touch. Through sense of taste is experienced pleasant and painful cognition of various objects edibles and others e.g. one likes certain recipes and dislikes others. The sense of smell carries agreeable, unpleasant impulses of various odours oils, scents, filth, rotten objects etc. The sense of sight experiences the pictorial impulses pleasant or otherwise of different objects living as well as non living e.g. emanating from idyllic natural sceneries, beauties of animals, humans and other objects as well as unpleasant impulses from filthy, ugly and uncouth objects. Pleasures experienced from viewing dances, dramas, beautiful objects come under the domain of sense of sight. The fifth sense of hearing carries impulses from melodious or harsh sounds e.g. songs, sweet voice and language give pleasures and harsh words, abuses, reprimands give pain. These five senses are mutually reinforcing both in good and bad activities i.e. indulgence in sensuous activity of one accentuates that of others and vice-versa. It is through indulgence by senses of touch which is most alert of all, hearing, sight that people particularly youth and adolescents get addicted to porn, obscene dances, songs, postures and violence and this then reflects in their morals, values and related crimes etc.

Human brain analyses above impulses the way it has been conditioned by the environment in which it has developed and got the inputs. As the computer works according to the programme fed in it so the human brain is tuned according to social and environmental inputs. If a person is brought up in an environment of irrational excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures he will be disposed to be indulgent. It is common knowledge that excessive indulgence is harmful to the person himself as well society and the environment. Irrational indulgence in sex, the sensuous pleasures of touch harms the individual who succumbs to various diseases including incurable AIDS. Sex maniacs ultimately suffer revenge or legal punishment of even death and cause incalculable harm to victims and society. Likewise excessive indulgence in sensual pleasure of taste like over-feeding, eating spicy, oily, junk and fibreless food etc.  causes various diseases of all sorts including kidney and heart failure. Indulgence in sensual pleasure of smell may lead to diseases of nose, ear and throat because of allergens. The excessive indulgence in sensuous pleasures of sight viz. dances, dramas, duels, fights, violence, T.V., captivating advertisements pollute human mind and is not only waste of time and money but also causes eye diseases, head aches, loss of sleep, distraction of duties e.g. students from studies and imitation in real life the fights, violence, sex etc. Indulgence in sensuous pleasures of hearing viz. high decibel discos, singing in temples, marriages and other places is cause of various diseases from varying levels of noise pollution as mentioned earlier. Alcohol and other such intoxicating psychotropic drugs affect the nervous system and brain directly with serious debilitating effects. Brain loses its power of reasoning between good and bad. More crimes of murder, rape, theft etc. are committed under intoxication than by any other cause. In addition to restraint from indulgence in pleasures of five senses, intoxicating substances need to be banned effectively. Animals in forest, do not eat harmful plants but humans, because of sensuous indulgence, and though with higher brain and reasoning power indulge in consuming tobacco, drugs, spicy junk food etc. even being well aware of their harmful effects. Some persons are so much captive of their passions and sensuous indulgence that they are totally insensitive to the sad plight of others and even to national and international calamities of earthquakes, storms, droughts, floods and consequent hunger, diseases and miseries of people. The new year 2005 was after the 26th December 2004's one of the greatest human tragedy wrought by Tsunami sea waves, killing over a lakh and making several lakhs homeless, hungry and miserable. But people were insensitive even to such a tragedy and celebrated new year with all gala extravaganza and vulgar display of their wealth in pursuit of indulgence in sensuous pleasures. The money spent could have helped several needy destitute persons.

Five vows - antidote to irrational and emotional behavioural patterns:

The slavish disposition and excessive indulgence in above five sensuous pleasures and intoxicating substances accentuate hedonistic, and individualistic tendencies. It triggers more and more consumerism which is one of the most harmful factors affecting individual, society and environment. The various bad emotions mainly anger, vanity, hypocrisy and greed emanate from irrational sensuous attachment and indulgence. These emotions if not checked trigger evil deeds, violence, falsehood, theft, consumerism and sex. Almost all religions barring a few like Charvak emphasise check on sensual indulgence of five senses and inherent emotions of anger, vanity, hypocrisy and greed and also the emanating consequent misdeeds of violence, falsehood, theft, consumerism and sex. The antidote is observation of following five vows to the best possible extent:

Non-Violence (Ahimsa):

Violence in any form to any living being small or big should not be inflicted. Killing is extreme form of violence. Even hurting feelings, exploitation in any from, lack of compassion, denial of help to needy are all different forms of violence. In some religions even air, water, earth forms (Minerals) have been considered as life forms. Excessive use of these natural resources beyond their carrying capacity is also violence. Life-forms have been classified according to the number of senses present in particular living beings. Those with one sense of touch (Sparsa) only are earth form (including all minerals in undetached state, air, water, fire and all types of plants). Next category is of those with two senses of touch (Sparsa) and taste (Rasna) such as larvae. The third category has three senses of touch, taste and smell (Ghran), the fourth category has four senses of touch, taste, smell and sight (chakshu) and fifth category has all the five senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing (Karna). The more the number of senses, greater is the pain, callousness and hardening of heart in killing or harming. Use of water, minerals, fire, plants should be as frugal as possible. Violence with intention and through carelessness are more harmful than unintentional and if occurs in spite of all precautions e.g. while removing an object from one place to another, it should not be dragged but carefully lifted and put at another place after seeing that there is no creature underneath and likewise while walking one should be so careful as if searching for the lost valuable like small pearl to avoid harm to any creatures. Carelessness and laziness (pramada) which also means lack of systematic and regular life-style are root causes of many wrong doings such as waste, pollution etc. The transgressions like overloading of animals, underfeeding them, tying them painfully, mutilating etc. are also violence and prohibited under the vow.

Trutfulness (Satya):

This vow is very closely related to the first one of non-violence. All untruth necessarily involves violence. Even truth if harmful to others is to be avoided. Mere statement of facts is not truth unless it is beneficial, moderate as opposed to exaggeration, cultured and not vulgar, full of esteem rather than denigration. Such transgressions of vow of truthfulness as false preaching, divulging confided secret, breach of trust, forgery etc. should not be committed. The vow if observed in letter and spirit, will ensure mutual trust and harmony and eventually stable social and physical environment.

Non-Stealing (Achaurya):

It enjoins abstention from taking anything which is not given willingly. Ignorant and illiterate may be coerced or tutored to give willingly which is exploitation and this is not permitted. This definition of non-stealing is based on the principle of mutualism (Symbiosis) which is backbone for environment health and protection. For example if we take only the fruits, leaves and wood naturally dropped by trees, there will not be slightest destruction of forest. By eating naturally fallen fruits and then spreading the seeds one helps the tree as an agent for dispersal of seed. If life styles are based on this principle of give and take for mutual benefit, then there will be no degradation of environment and all conflicts will end. The butterfly or honey bees extract nectar from flowers but helps in pollination which is perfect mutualism. There are numerous other examples already mentioned earlier. The vow of non-stealing include avoiding purchase of articles at lower price and sale at higher price, taking forgotten or excavated articles, abetment of theft, receipt of stolen articles, adulteration, use of false weights and measures, violation of state rules viz., tax evasion. This vow also strengthens vow of non-violence as many conflicts are on account of transgressions of this vow of non-stealing.

Non-Possessions (Aparigraha):

This vow enjoins that all types of material possessions should be reduced to bare minimum. The material possessions include land, gold, silver, jewels, food grains, live-stock, servants, clothes and other necessary and luxury items. Shramanik monks even today, demonstrate the principle of least worldly possession i.e. non-consumerism or Aparigraha. This vow is against consumerism and is very important in present context of growing consumerism. These days the very definition of economic growth and quality of life or standard of living is higher and higher consumerism. Such a quality of life, based on unbridled and indiscriminate consumption will be end of life itself. The modern concept of development and growth is contradictory to environment preservation. On the one hand we express love and concern for welfare of sons, grandsons and posterity and on the other hand we are consuming and exhausting all resources at such a speed that nothing will be left for them. Since beginning of industrialisation we have consumed so much that there should be restraint for the sake of future generations. If the present trend of consumerism continues we will not only soon exhaust all material resources but make soil, water and air so much polluted that life may not be possible. This vow of non possession i.e. minimum consumption offers an easy solution to the formidable problem of environment degradation. Many conflicts and wars are because of transgression of this vow i.e. desire for possession of more land, money and material. This vow is therefore also related with vow of non-violence.

The great Indian mathematician Srinivas Ramanujan prescribed a very relevant formula for happiness of one and all. The formula is -

 (i.e. the happiness is inversely proportional to needs and therefore less the needs, more the happiness).

Celibacy (Brahmacharya):

This means abstinence from sexual desires and activity. The various concomitants of sexual desire viz., wine, meat, gambling, titillating songs, dance, persuasive body decoration, libertines, aimless wanderings are also prohibited in this vow. The effort is voluntary and out of one's own express will. This vow ensures voluntary check on population growth which is singularly most harmful phenomenon for environment. Sexual indulgence, licentious and promiscuous mode of life is cause of many conflicts and violence and recently a new incurable disease AIDS. The vow of celibacy is an effective attribute for individual, and better social and physical environment. Celibacy does not imply complete abstinence. Faithful limited sexual relationship with one married partner of opposite sex is celibacy for laity (householder).

Disciplining the mind and the body:

The indulgence in sensuous pleasures of five senses, harmful emotions of anger etc. and five types of bad deeds or sins will be less and less according to the degree of observance of these five vows and this will promote more and more symbiotic and rational life-styles. The greater the commitment and sincerity in observance of these vows the more peaceful will be the life and there will be proportionately less and less harm to environment. The observance of vows has to be at both the levels of mind and body i.e. both in thoughts and actions. If thoughts are not rational and actions are checked only because of compulsions or lack of opportunity then it is hypocrisy. There are examples of people wishing bad for others in mind and thought but pretend to be well wishers. Such hypocrites are more dangerous. Unfortunately some religions prescribe and sanctify such hypocrisy and advise to pretend friendship with enemy till proper opportunity to harm. This is wrong. That both mind and body are synchronised and work in harmony is essential in day to day activities like walking, eating, cooking, driving, bathing, shaving and all other daily routines. Generally people perform these chores with mind thinking and occupied with thoughts in other matters than being performed by body. The result is accidents in driving, in trains, factories and many other situations, slipping while walking, burning while cooking, bleeding cuts while shaving etc. and sometimes this dichotomy of mind and body is disastrous and fatal. A person slips and falls while walking if not attentive and does not see slippery oil or moist objects. In laboratories, offices, hospitals, industries, railways, army and in households costly instrument, equipments and machines are damaged because of lack of coordination in mind and body. This generates wastes and needs replacements necessitating more production of things at much shorter intervals and is therefore harmful to environment by putting more pressure on resources. The golden rule is that mind should be concentrated on the work on any action being undertaken by body. This is best form of meditation and if practised and mastered no other form of articulated and regimented from of meditation is necessary. Idling and wasting time in practising concentration may take years to reach satisfactory levels. It is passive meditation which is unproductive also. Instead it is easier to have concentration by active and productive meditation like gardening, painting and even reading and writing. Another serious flow in concepts is that encouraging or acquiescing in wrong deeds of others is not considered bad. To acquiesce evil is as bad as doing it. It is this attitude misconceived as tolerance and even sanctified in religions that is responsible for deterioration in law and order. To do wrong or to encourage or prompt others to do wrong or even to acquiesce wrong being done by others is equally bad and sinful. Five vows should be practised accordingly. A rational person is always conscious of his thoughts, emotions and actions and does not allow these run haywire or wayward and such a person manifests normal personality traits without any psychological problems, viz. tension, stress, depression, anxiety, paranoia etc.

In order to achieve the objective of peace and harmony among all constituents of nature it is necessary to inculcate the ideals and fundamental principles of symbiosis and rationality in children as well as in adults by education tailored adequately for different age groups as well as by law also. Initially it will be necessary to enforce the required laws and rules strictly by punitive measures also to instil discipline. Unfortunately the necessity of proper behaviour is realised and rules are framed, penalties for violation also prescribed but are not enforced. There are excellent laws but only in law books and are not generally followed and enforced mostly because of selfish interests of politicians, bureaucrats and law enforcing agencies. The situation has been vitiated so much that the law abiding people suffer more than those who violate the laws but ultimately it boomerangs on all. The result is deteriorating conditions of law and order and its direct corollary is damage to physical environment also. If peace and happiness is desired and desired it must be, then the trend has to reversed, streamlined and corrected if necessary by force. Lack of discipline and non implementation of rules are the root causes of almost all of the problems. Murderers, dacoits, thieves, cheats, boot-leggers, adulterators, even traitors and terrorists roam scot free because of indiscipline, laxity, corruption not only in law enforcement agencies but also in judiciary. Educating children from the beginning, parents and all age groups about their rights and simultaneously about responsibilities towards society and also natural environment will go a long way to mitigate the problems and facilitate improvement. However, strict enforcement of laws and rules and proper punishment to miscreants is also necessary.


Environmental Ethics


Prakrit Bharati Academy, Jaipur

Society for Scientific & Ethical Living, Jaipur


1st edition 2006

HN4U Online edition:

Dr. Rudi Jansma



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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Achaurya
  2. Ahimsa
  3. Anger
  4. Aparigraha
  5. Body
  6. Brahmacharya
  7. Brain
  8. Celibacy
  9. Concentration
  10. Consumerism
  11. Discipline
  12. Environment
  13. Genes
  14. Greed
  15. Lakh
  16. Meditation
  17. Non-violence
  18. Pramada
  19. Satya
  20. Sparsa
  21. Tirthankaras
  22. Tolerance
  23. Violence
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