Monday, June 21, 2010

The Trees on the Hill

The Panch Rathas at Mamallapuram in the state of Tamil Nadu are monolithic cut-rock shrines from the 7th century. These incredible stones were carved on site to resemble wooden temples and structures that later became influential in South Indian style temple design. The name is from the sanskrit epic Mahabharata, naming the five Pandava brothers and their queen Draupadi.

This epic, supposedly recorded by Ganesha - a deity resembling an elephant, known as a "Remover of Obstacles" - is a rich tapestry of stories and legend that informs Hindu culture. It is also one of the great philosophical tracts of all time, with part of its material comprising the Bhagavad Gita, its verses encompassing Hindu theology. The great value of Hindu philosophy is that life is manifest as a web of energies that interact on material and spiritual levels. This is distinctly different from the western view of things as isolated entities that have only material properties.

This world view is one that has enabled the spiritual leader Sadhguru, acting through his Isha Foundation, to counteract the desertification of Tamil Nadu by claiming land decimated by illegal forest logging and then planting trees. Millions of trees. By the inhabitants of Tamil Nadu that barely touch the land in the way they live. They regenerated their land by returning trees to the hill.

Tree planting and urban forestry are becoming the way to bring nature back, in the face of climate change. It is a regenerative strategy that requires people to make individual efforts to plant trees and conserve water that have a huge aggregate effect on the local climate. So it takes people working with the planet. Many organizations across the globe are putting this strategy into place as the simplest and most effective way for local action to restore bioclimatic cycles and structures. Tree planting and watershed restoration efforts are going on all over the world as alternatives to resource depletion, human habitat expansion and the ecological damage wrought by large dams. It's a strategy that mimics the action of natural processes and networks by linking actions as a "hub" system. The very small seed that becomes exponential growth; once again the metaphor of the mustard seed, exponential growth of all life processes, the mathematics of fractals and the geometries of the spiral.

So this view that life is a web, and that it is possible to repair it exponentially with efforts from all people, is an idea whose time has come. It's not the brute force of machines and the concrete and the industry and the oil and the coal that deplete resources and ultimately come to a dead end. It's a transformative view that can inform the way humans inhabit the earth and enhance its resources.