Sustenance Of Biodiversity: An Action Line Through Bhagavad Gita

-Dua Kamal Kumar, Ph.D.
Dept. of Zoology, Dayalbagh Educational Institute,
Dayalbagh, Agra 20205, INDIA

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 8 (1998), 46-49.

Life exists on earth as plant, animals and microorganisms. Further, their size vary from microscopic to giant form. Examples of the former are amoeba, bacteria while that of the latter are elephant and giraffe. No doubt, their forms and physiology differ but their very survival and actions are linked with each other directly or indirectly, actively or passively.

The Lord Sri Krishna is Bhagavad Gita (BG) states to Arjuna (The representative of mankind) that so long as a living being carries his body, he is bound to perform actions in one form or another, according to his nature. The activities include locomotion, rest, feeding, thought and other vital sensory functions. "Surely none can ever remain inactive even for a moment; for everyone is helplessly driven to action by nature born qualities." (BG III-5)

These activities are performed under the impulse of one's nature, which is formed under the latencies of one's deed and as carried out by their ancestors. For example a dog will give rise to a dog and it will perform activities accordingly. This is what is meant by being helplessly driven to action by one's nature born qualities. Therefore, plants animals and microbes are all involved in their natural activities.

The Ecological Cycle

Further, in an ecological cycle they occupy a definite and irreplacable position. Plants are the primary producers in an ecosystem. They use the energy from the sunlight to combine carbon-dioxide and water to form energy stores mainly in the form of carbohydrates. Plants take minerals from the soil. It is important to note that plants form the basic food of all animals. The herbivores like deer, goat, cow, rabbit etc., take plants as food. There are carnivores like lion and tiger which feed on these animals. All these plants and animals on death are decomposed by the micro-organisms to form manure or raw material/natural pool for the other surviving plants. Therefore, in an ecosystem it is observed that all forms are interdependent like a chain.

"Beings are in a state of un-manifestation before birth and at death they return to the un-manifestation again. They are manifest only in the interim period between birth and death. (BG II-28) The idea is that in a living being from birth to death, the body is in manifest form i.e. a man's child will look like a man and a monkey's like a monkey. However, after death they are disintegrated in the same carbon, nitrogen, iron etc., Environment plays a very important role in the transition of a being from un-manifestation to manifestation stage.

Evolution and Extinction of Biodiversity

Evolution and extinction have always been taking place in the nature. New forms are evolved at the expense of weak forms. "The unreal has no existence: the real never ceases to be the truth about both has been realized by seers." (BGII-16)

As per the law of evolution, beings are always seeking to adapt themselves in relation to the changing environment and other related factors. This is only possible if their understanding of nature and its forces is correct. Further, their adjustment with environment is also perfect. Life is a series of experiments to get at the permanent. As there is constant change in the environmental cycle, this may be slow, resulting in the formation of a new condition. Therefore, whatever form an individual may have, with the change of environment, modification with respect to the altered environment is required for their survival.

The fossil record shows that the rate of evolution is greater than the rate of extinction resulting in the formation of millions of varied related and unrelated species.

Importance of Biodiversity

The importance of biodiversity for human beings cannot be under estimated. The various medicines, foods, energy sources and industrial products used by humans have come from virtually every ecosystem and every corner of the earth. Humans have used plants and animals as medicines from the earliest times. Even today the tribals in different parts of the world, who are cut off from the so-called modern world use plants and animals as medicine. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 80% of the people in the developing countries rely on traditional medicine. In South East Asia 6500, China 5000 and India 2500 plant species are used as medicine. In India, Ayurveda, the science of medicine based on plants is in practice successfully followed from thousands of years and it is claimed that this system of therapy has some answers to diseases which Western medicine does not have.

Animals and plants have contributed as medicine to humans for our well-being in a big way. For example, didemnin, a chemical, derived from sea squirts, is active against a broad range of viruses ranging from colds & influenza to herpes and meningitis. Shark livers contain lipids that enhance human resistance to cancer. Blister beetle provide cantharidin used to treat urinogenital disorders. Apart from these certain animals are used as models for research programs for which there are no or few alternatives, for example, Armadillo for the production of anti-leprosy vaccines, some species of snail and American bison for studying the defense mechanisms in cancer as they do not contract cancer.

Approximately 119 pure chemicals substances extracted from higher plants are used as medicines throughout the world. Over 40% of all United States prescriptions depend upon natural sources. Some of these drugs are classics, which have fundamental uses in modern medicines. Quinine an alkaloid from the bark of Cinchona tree isolated in 1820 even today has an effective agent against malaria. Caffeine (Tea) acts as a nervous system stimulant and Morphine (opium poppy) as an analgesic. In fact only 500 species of higher plants worldwide have been thoroughly studied for their potential as a source of new drugs and the majority of them are found in temperate zones, leaving the tropical forest scarcely explored. Regrettably, these reserves are the rapidly being lost forever with their forest habitats. Agriculture production has increased along with scientific development. Humans have been able to develop new strains of high yielding crops for feeding humankind. The new varieties, unfortunately, have been observed to provide good results by way of disease resistance and increase in output for a limited period, as observed in wheat, rice, soyabean, coffee etc. After which more new strains are required and this is only possible through genes from wild species.

The contribution of biological diversity to industry cannot be ignored. Forest that stored solar energy millions of year ago provide us oil, coal and nature gas for industry. Natural fats and oils contribute to chemical manufacturing, cosmetics and adhesives, preservation, foods, beverages, lubricants, polishes and whole variety of medicines.

Timber is the biggest wild contribution to industry with a world trade value of US$ two billion per year, with increasing domestication of trees and shrubs, the input of wild genes will be needed for maintaining and increasing adaptability and disease in tree plantations. With the exception of teak, all world trade in hard wood is derived from natural forests entirely maintained by the ecosystem services of biological diversity. The current contribution of biological diversity is to provide medicine, agriculture and industry in immense way. Many other properties in nature are yet to be discovered. Only ensuing the survival of raw material can provide full potential of biological diversity which is yet to be realized.

Role of Humans in Nature Conservation

The present composition of natural wealth including humans is the result of selective elimination of some species and advancement of others. In the natural process of extinction and evolution, species disappeared naturally during the course of time, perhaps 99% of all those that ever lived are gone. No doubt, this process has been slow and the ecological cycle has not been disturbed. However, undesirable human activity has speeded up the rate of extinction. With the present rate of human exploitation of natural wealth, it is estimated that one quarter of earth species may be lost within 30 years.

Species die out as their natural habitats are destroyed. For instance, more than half the world species live tropical forests, by 2020 deforestation could wipe out between 5 and 15% of them. Over exploitation is another threat and commercial interests have jeopardized many species including whales, elephants and fishes. The African elephant is poached for its ivory and rhinoceros for their horn. Modern agricultural methods have seriously reduced the ecological diversity where the emphasis is placed on production in huge monocultures. The planet's natural wealth lies not just in species but in genetic variations within them. Specialized breeding has dangerously narrowed the genetic variability of many species restoring their ability to adapt pollution, climate change disease or other forms of adversity.

Guidance Through Scriptures

"He who, casting aside the ordinances of the scriptures, acts on the impulse of desire attains not perfection, nor happiness nor the Supreme goal." (BG 16-23) "Therefore the scriptures be your authority in deciding what ought to be done and what not to be done. Having known what is said in the ordinance of the scripture you should act here." (BG 16-24)

The purpose of the scriptures is to guide man to live a perfect life on earth and to remind him repeatedly of the Supreme Goal which is supermundane and which ought to be sought earnestly. This being the case, man is required to act in nature as per the sanctions of the scriptures so that the natural cycle is not disturbed. The World Charter adopted the United Nations General Assembly in 1982 state's: "Every form of life is unique, warranting respect of its worth to man, and to accord other organisms such recognition just be guided by moral code of action."

Yet many people and governments believe that they have a right to consume more, without concern for the consequences. This explosive attitude towards nature is leading to species extinction, threatening levels of pollution, depletion of stocks of land and wildlife, and overall impoverishment of many people's lives. Global per capita production of all the basic renewable resource system like forests, fisheries, croplands and grassland, has begun to decline after reaching peaks in 1960's and 1970's because selfish activities are limiting the production of the planet.

The Enemy Of Nature - The Demonical

Lord Sri Krishna has analysed the reason of the deterioration of the natural wealth, the persons involved and the reason of their unethical thinking. "Men possessing demoniac disposition known not what to do and what to refrain from; neither purity, nor right conduct nor truth is found in them". (BG XVI-7)

The acts which are directed towards the general welfare of man are commendable. They are designated as ethical acts and worth performing and such action as is attended with evil consequences is worth eschewing and one should abstain from it. Men possessing demoniac disposition never realize that they should undertake only such actions as are worth performing and should abstain from those which are worth eschewing; hence it is observed that these people are guided in their activities by their own whims or caprices. Their entire actions and personality appears to be polluted.

"Men possessing a demoniac disposition say this world is without any foundation, absolutely unreal and Godless, brought forth by mutual union of the male and female, hence conceived in lust; what else"? They believe that this universe, consisting of animate and inanimate creation, has no basis in the shape of God or there is no moral law. They have a feeling that no living being had any existence prior to its birth nor a creature have any life after death, nor there is any creator or controller like God. These people have no other objective to fulfill in life except the gratification of carnal desires.

"These men of atheistic persuasions deny the existence of God. They are body-centered or materialists. Hence, their nature gets debased, they never feel inclined to perform any virtuous deed. All their resolves are made with the aim for sensuous enjoyment. Their mind is ever busy hatching evil designs against others. In this way they harm themselves too. They habitually perform their mind, speech and body in the in gruesome deeds that tend to inanimate and exterminate the animate and inanimate creations. Further, whatever their intellect, mind or body may be, it is solely intended to torment or obliterate the entire creation, thereby, effecting the smooth functioning of the ecosystem. The accumulation of wealth and enjoyment of luxuries of various kinds is the sole aim of their existence. (BG XVI-11)

"Held in bondage by hundreds of expectation and wholly giving themselves up to lust and answer, they strive to amass by unfair means hoards of money and other objects for the enjoyment of sensuous pleasures." (BG XVI-12) "They say to themselves, this much has been secured by me today and not, I shall realize this ambition, so much of wealth is already with me and yet again this shall be mine." (BG XVI-13) "Given over to egoism, brute force, arrogance lust, anger etc., and culminating others, they hate me (inner controller of all) dwelling in their own bodies as well in those of others." (BG XVI-18)

Those people possessing a demoniac disposition proclaim themselves as the lord of all, they enjoy all luxuries, accomplished in every way, mighty and happy. Nothing is rational in their thinking. Resorting to brute force they antagonize others. Giving over to lust, they indulge in immoral acts of various kinds and obsessed by anger they threaten to kill whose ever acts in opposition to their will or dares to offend them.

The Righteous War : The Answer

The Lord Sri Krishna states that a righteous war is required against these demoniac people i.e. in the present context against those persons who are involved in poaching deforestation, ozone depletion, polluting the environment and other such acts which has led the present state of the planet. "Beside considering your own duty too you should not waver; for there is nothing more welcome for a man of a warrior class than a righteous war." (BG II-31) The Lord explains that each member of a society has a duty to perform towards nature's well being and to protect to his fullest ability and he has termed these persons as men of warrior class. In the present state, a war against the demoniac persons responsible for the present state of earth is required to be launched, not from any wicked motive or greed, in which no injustice is perpetrated, but which is conducted in conformity with the laws of morality and which devolves on one as a matter of duty, and has been waged for upholding equity and justice; there is no better religion than this in which there is participation in such a righteous war for a righteous means.

"Now if you refuse to fight this righteous war, than shirking your duty and losing your reputation, you will incur sin" (BG II-33) The Lord here proceeds to state that if he (man) withdrew from the fight he would be guilty of falling from his allotted duty and the leaders, politicians, environmentalists and other persons who have acquired world fame by their righteous acts would be utterly destroyed and lost. Over and above that the neglect in performance of an obligatory duty would make them guilty. "May people will also pour undying infamy on you; and infamy brought on a man enjoying popular esteem is worse than death." (BG II-34) The Lord seeks to show Arjuna that for a man enjoying wide fame, as well as esteem of the people, loss of credit and honour is more painful than death.

"Your enemies, disparaging your might, will speak many unbecoming words; What can be more distressing than this." (BG II-36) The Lord points out if these esteemed persons fail to perform their obligatory duty by fighting the enemies of the congenial ecological cycle will come to conclusion that some lack of fear and courage has desisted Arjuna/man to take the righteous path. Therefore, a strong line of action is required to be taken.

Action Line

A path of action is required to restore the loss already done in the nature. In the path of action, there should no loss of effort nor there be fear contrary result. Even little effort or practice of discipline will be an act towards right direction. (BG II-40) In this act, the intellect has to be determinate and directed singly towards one ideal, i.e. saving the planet. The Lord states that for any act there are two courses; Jnanayoga or path of knowledge and Karamyoga or path of action.

For the survival of the planet and the sustenance of the biodiversity, the action line demands these two factors. In the path of knowledge one has to determine the factors responsible for the loss of biodiversity and about those plants and animals which are facing extinction. In the path of action, the practical aspects are required to be taken into consideration and evolve and implement such methods for the restoration of the threatened plant and animal species. In the path of action of action there should be no loss of effort nor there be any fear of contrary results. Even little practice efforts of this discipline will be an act towards the right direction. (BG II-40)

Many International agencies including the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), Worldwide Fund, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO's) in different countries, and many other Governmental agencies of respective countries, are working in this direction to find out the reasons for the depletion of biodiversity (Jnanayoga) and the mode of protecting this loss (Karmayoga). The factors responsible for the vanishing species are the destruction of the natural habitats and use of trade of plants and animals. It has been reported by CITES that smuggling of endangered species is one of the largest of the problem facing the customs department. (UNEP, 93-Vol. 10-No.1).

The CITES and other International organisations conducted intense surveys and listed species that are threatened or potentially threatened by the international trade, for example, those species that are threatened with extinction and they are, or may be, affected by trade. For example all lemurs and apes, giant panda, many South American monkeys, great whales, cheetah, leopard, the Asian elephants, rhinoceros etc. In the Appendix II they gave animals which might become endangered if trade were not controlled or monitored. Regulated trade is permitted by issuing proper licenses. This helps in monitoring and analysing the wildlife trade. This appendix contain 259 named taxa but many ten of thousands of species including all cacti and orchids, primates, cats otters, whales dolphins birds of prey, tortoises and crocodiles. Appendix III contains species for which trade is regulated with in the country. All this acts as an effective tool to monitor the trade of plants and animals. This act can be termed as an act of Jnanayoga. To stop the illegal trade the role of customs and police is very important in combating the criminal activities and fraud. They have to fight the righteous war against the criminals.

The population of the threatened flora and fauna have been increased by the help of breeding programs. The successful breeding of turtles and crocodiles are the burning examples. In collaboration with UNESCO's Man and Biosphere Programme, a network of 286 biosphere reserves in 72 countries and a network of six regional microbial gene banks and training centres have been set up.

All these acts, no doubt, are commendable but in this million of dollars are spent including constant involvement of people and material. This for the simple reason that it is due to our deleterious activities that the smooth functioning of the natural cycles is threatened.

The establishment of natural reserves, gene banks, breeding programs and other activities as part of path of knowledge and path of action are commendable in which the seeds of various flora are stored. People may forget that nature itself is a 'Great Womb' The seeds of all life types are stored and germinate in it and the expression of the genetic material takes place here. "My womb is Nature, in that I place the seed; thence O Arjuna, is the birth of all beings" (BG XVI-3)


Therefore, for the sustenance of the biodiversity and smooth functioning of the natural cycles, the role of environmental education at the grass roots level is very important. Through this the demoniac person can be transformed in divine person. The divine natured man believes in well-being of living beings. Further, they are of the opinion that all levels are the manifestations of one's Cosmic Life. The Lord. thereby recognizing the sacredness in them and not choosing to hurt them for sport, illegal trade or any other form of lust.

This requires sincere efforts at the global level by the government, people and individual. As for the result the Lord says: "Your right is to work only, but never to the fruit thereof, Be not instrument in making your action bear fruit, nor let your attachment to be inaction." (BG II-47)

Man has the right to work in the right direction without the caring about the fruit. As for the fruit is concerned, it is the business of The Lord.

Go back to EJAIB 8(2) March 1998
Go back to EJAIB
The Eubios Ethics Institute is on the world wide web of Internet: