On the back of a wooden bench at Osterley Park someone has carved the words, “Remember the future”. That is what the UN’s Earth Charter is about.
Punch drunk with ego-centric consumerism, and led by short-sighted politics, humankind has forgotten the future. The origin of the Earth Charter tells us that the World Commission on Environment and Development called for “a universal declaration” and “new charter” to set “new norms” to guide transition to sustainable development. On reading the Charter (www.earthcharter.org), my reaction was that the Charter is a long quote from Gurbani and, in that sense, not quite setting new norms but repeating what Guru Nanak preached 500 years ago!
According to Gurbani, this earth is the “dharamsaal” (place where righteous living is to be practised to achieve the purpose of human life), and the diversity of interdependent life forms (“Tis wich jee jugat ke rang..”) which the “great mother earth” (“Mata dharat mahat”) sustains. The following are some pointers to a way of working together with other faiths. The ongoing interfaith dialogue (of which Guru Granth Sahib is a unique example) needs to take on a new urgency.
Governments can do much through eco-legislation, enforcement of rules and regulation and economic policies, but only religion or faith can change habits and attitudes in the longer term. Religion can address almost all the challenges ahead, mentioned in the Earth Charter. Politics in a democracy is about winning votes and short termist by its very nature. Only religion can instil the selfless spirit of sharing and serving.
There is overproduction and much waste while the larger part of humanity is starving or at subsistence level. Affordability itself should not be taken as a right to careless indulgence in luxuries, goods, services and activities with scant regard for impact on the environment. Again, with reference to the Earth Charter, religion can promote equality of all before one Creator and restore the dignity of diversity.
Increasing population is a burden on the global eco-system. Equality of and respect for women can result in smaller manageable families. Fair sharing of world’s resources can raise living standards of families and keep populations stable..
The challenge before world religions is if each religion can accept and adopt the Earth Charter as a common document for interfaith understanding. Sikhi would have absolutely no difficulty in doing this. The role of religious teachers and preachers needs to be revised in the light of the Charter adopted by interpreting religious idiom and allegory in terms of 21st Century needs.
The need is not for a new world religion but for the old world religions to move along their own paths towards a common direction for sustained development and survival. The performance of religious preachers needs to be assessed in terms of conveying their religious message, which covers the issues raised in the Charter.
Religion must continue to remain relevant to the times.
Gurmukh Singh (UK)
© Gurmukh Singh