Blog: Four ways that spirituality can revolutionize climate adaptation

Submitted by Ase Johannessen | published 1st Dec 2021 | last updated 18th Dec 2021
A evening shot of a woman putting blessed puja flowers in the river Ganges in Varanasi, India

Four ways that spirituality can revolutionize climate adaptation

By Gabriela Díaz Musmanni, 30 November 2021

What if the solution to the world’s climate challenges didn’t cost a penny, require paperwork or government approval?

According to several faith communities, it doesn’t. The solution lies within every one of us and it involves a change of awareness and our relationship with nature.

“The solution becomes a question of individual, personal choice, and a decision that I am going to turn things around, in my life, 180 degrees. Simply by the change of consciousness, a change of awareness, and living in the awareness of my own spiritual identity. Because from there, then, our relationship with nature would completely change,” said Valériane Bernard, Brahma Kumaris representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

In October, the Global Center on Adaptation’s Water Adaptation Community (WAC) and the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Water and Heritage (ISC Water) organized the webinar Water and Spirituality for Climate Adaptation ahead of the dialogue among spiritual leaders that will take place at the UN Mid-term Review of the Water Action Decade in New York in 2023.

Spiritual leaders from different faiths convened to exchange insights on how spirituality can not only provide resilience to climate impacts, but help boost adaptation. The event was also held to launch WAC’s Community of Practice on Water and Culture.

The spiritual leaders, who tuned in from all over the world, proved that faith communities have a lot to say about climate issues. As noted by Maria Hammershøy, the Vice-President of Justice and Peace Europe and Secretary General of Caritas Denmark, faith communities often step up to help after climate disasters strike. Their insights, sacred relationship with our natural elements and traditional practices can advance adaptation, protect nature, and are crucial, although not always present in climate discussions.

The following are four practices that spiritual communities promote, which can help individuals take matters into their own hands for the planet’s common good.

1. Understanding the root of the problem

A lack of spirituality could be at the root of the global problems we face today, including the climate emergency, according to some of the leaders gathered for the WAC webinar.

“Could it be that we have forgotten the sanctity of life, overlooking what is the most important aspect of each human being, that is the inner being, the spiritual being?” asked Bernard, explaining that in today’s world, consumerism and materialism have moved us away from our understanding of the spirit or “life force.”

“Equally there is no respect for other forms of life and no sooner respect for other human beings,” she added.

Iberê Guarani Mbyá, Leader of the Guaraní people of Brazil, who walked 12 hours to find internet to participate in the webinar, expressed that our fast-paced lives shield us from spirituality and simplicity.

“We live in a…country, where there are 83,000 kilometers of rivers – and all of them are polluted. 32 million Brazilians do not have running water. And 11.5 million live in homes with more than three people per room. 5.8 million do not have a bathroom,” he said.

“We, the original peoples, respect everything that surrounds us, because everything that surrounds us is us,” he said, adding that “Perhaps the civilized people, perhaps the ones who emerged, were born and grew up in cities do not know it, have never come to know the beauty of simplicity and imperfection. We, being simple and imperfect, learn from everything around us. A society of speed, a society incapable of experience; a society in which nothing touches the heart.”

2. Realizing our oneness

At the spirit level, we are all one and the same. In the poetic words of Guarani Mbyá, humans, animals and nature are all related:

“We are kin to all that lives and all that pulsates. We are kin to all that flows, and to all that unfolds. We are all kin. The hawk is kin to the snake that unfolds itself, as if unsheathed. The wind blowing on the water, in the air, forming words, these are the beautiful words of our grandparents. We are relatives of those who live in the water, together with Jasuka Sy Ete, the first mother, the great-great-grandmother of the grandmother we see. We are relatives of the dead and of the mountains; kin to Yamandu, whose heart is the sun, the great-great-grandfather of this sun that we see,” said the Guaraní leader, who is a doctoral student of Social Anthropology from the University of Brasilia.

Dharma Master Hsin Tao, Founding Abbot of the Ling Jiou Mountain Buddhist Society and Founder of the Museum of World Religions, explained that spirituality and ecology are inseparable and that once we understand our interconnectedness with nature and others, compassion will inevitably follow, leading us to protect the Earth and all living beings.

“We are talking about the vision of adapting to climate change from the perspective of Buddhism. Buddhism is returning to the original spiritual nature, realizing that all things have the same root and the same life entity, therefore transcending the material phenomena of the world, and then we can send out compassion and great love from our inherent spirituality” he said.

3. Establishing a sacred relationship with the elements

Mona Polacca, a Native American Spiritual Elder and member of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, shared that her people, the “People of the Blue Green Water” who live at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, have a sacred relationship with their surroundings, particularly water.

“When it comes to indigenous wisdom and knowledge, we do not have sacred texts. We do not have scholars of our spirituality, our spiritual practices and beliefs. What we base our wisdom and knowledge on is our relationship with the place where we live, the place where we come from, which we consider our life,” she said.

“We are all related through the basic foundations of life, of which water is the first foundation, according to the teachings I follow. We were inside water in our mother’s womb, we lived there for three quarters of a year. And when it was time for us to be born, the water came out of our mother’s womb and we followed it into this world. And because of that we call the water our Sacred Mother Water,” Polacca said.

4. Practical Solutions to Adapt to Climate Change

According to Dharma Master Hsin Tao, all awakening must start with education. This is why he founded the University for Life and Peace, a global education platform where he plans to promote “Spiritual Ecology,” which he defines as “the discovery that everything has spirituality.”

“Through the platform of university education, we will integrate spiritual ecology into various professional fields, achieving cross-cooperation, and generate actions based on spiritual awakening and knowledge. Spirituality, which is similar across religions, is like water, irrigating a multi-connected, mutually dependent and benefitting ecology, guiding us to love the earth together,” he said.

Polacca, who has a Master of Social Work degree and serves on several United Nations committees on indigenous people’s issues, expressed that her people have a sacred relationship with water. But, how does that translate into action and how can such a relationship be achieved?

Polacca shared that indigenous practices include Water Ethics – the simple practice of honoring water.

“Water is a blessing and water is used as a blessing. In my teachings, when I come upon water, it’s important for me, for my wellbeing and spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, to acknowledge the water in a sacred manner. To approach it with respect and humility. To introduce myself to it and acknowledge that it is my life…In our ceremonies we have time where we take a moment to acknowledge the water…We sprinkle the water on Mother Earth as an offering to Mother Earth and all of life on Mother Earth,” she said.

Bernard spoke about the Law of Karma, stating that “nature protects when she is protected.” In practical terms, the Brahma Kumaris perform actions such as tree planting, caring for forests, water management and purification work, and awareness raising to save water and promote vegetarianism.

“As you might be aware, a lot of the water of our Earth is used by the food industry to grow meat, which is something that produces a lot of carbon dioxide and also consumes a lot of water,” she said.

To watch the WAC webinar, click here. For more information about WAC, its Communities of Practice and future events, click here or contact GCA’s WAC Facilitator, Ase Johannessen, at wac@gca.org.

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