“We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.” – Shoghi Effendi
Baha’is believes that nature is an imperative component of life – to such an extent that Baha’i scriptures describe nature as a reflection of God. We believe that it is our duty to preserve and value nature, as it is a crucial step in ensuring an ever-advancing human civilization.
We view ourselves as the trustees of the plethora of resources that our beautiful planet has to offer. Humanity is urged to utilise the Earth’s resources (whether renewable or non-renewable) in a way that is sustainable – and ensures that future generations have equal access to the same resources.
To attain a sustainable way of living necessitates that we always consider the environmental impacts and consequences of all the activities that we undertake. We need to realise the importance of humility and moderation in our actions – and cease to view nature in terms of economics and currency. Most importantly, we need to understand the importance of nature in our material and spiritual development as humanity; that sustainable development is not just an optional commitment, but one of the requirements for the physical survival of the individual and the spiritual growth of the individual.
Baha’is believe that the following changes must be made at social and institutional levels in order to foster sustainable development and the preservation of nature:
• At a governmental level, questions challenging the distribution of resources and the responsibility of environmental destruction must be posed – this will encourage governments to implement policies that take into account the health of the environment and entire communities.
• At an institutional, non-state level a global scientific counsel is needed to make more efficient decision making and reporting – paying close attention to the three fold relationship between environmental issues and social and political issues.
• At an educational level, the curriculum provided should try to establish a sense of responsibility for the environment in learners.
Every Baha’i is given the opportunity to contribute to the educational level – in the form of actively teaching the Baha’i scriptures and principles. Every Baha’i is obliged to teach the ways and beliefs of the faith and in doing so we hope to establish a strong sense of responsibility and spiritual growth through spiritual education. One of the ways this can be achieved is through a Junior Youth Empowerment Programme – a programme offered by Baha’is to individuals of all faiths between the ages of 11 – 14.
This programme aims to help youth grow at an individual and spiritual level – and become productive members of society. To help them build a better relationship with themselves, their community and God. This programme places a huge emphasis on the development of virtuous moral characteristics and behaviour – and includes an element of environmental awareness and protection.
One of the Junior Youth Groups in Durban, South Africa, ‘The Happy Peace Lovers’, recently decided to put their newfound erudition into practice – in the form of a ‘clean-up’ service project at their school (Hillview Primary School – Reservoir Hills, Durban). The junior youth showed a clear understanding of the importance of having a clean and healthy environment, and were more than gratified to undertake this activity. They wished to keep their environment in the pristine state that they left it in after their litter ‘wipe out’, and believed that their actions would encourage other learners to do the same in future. They suggested that any disregard that is observed in society for the environment could possibly be attributed to the lack of understanding between the complex, yet indispensible marriage between nature and humanity.
Although all the members of the group are not Baha’is, they often reflect on Baha’i scriptures to motivate them and encourage them in their endeavours. The scripture they reflected on before the clean up spoke about the importance of serving the community (and in this instance the environment too). The scripture states:
“God is the helper of those souls whose aim is to serve humanity and whose efforts and endeavours are devoted to the good and betterment of all mankind.”
This quote highlights the importance of service – and the proactive and loving characteristics that develop in one through serving. These characteristics transcend beyond the individual, and the community – they reach nature too. The characteristic flaws in humanity such as carelessness and greed (that contribute to environmental degradation), can ultimately be attributed to spiritual weakness. By building spiritual strength we become more proactive protectors and guardians of this precious Earth.
Well done to the Happy Peace Lovers!