I rarely recommend films, but we saw a new one last week that is not only engrossing, but important to the future of humanity. It is called A Life on Our Planet, by David Attenborough, and is available on Netflix. He was born in 1926, less than two weeks before Swami Kriyananda, making him 93 years old. In the film, Attenborough talks about the earth-changes he has seen during his single lifetime. He is a lifelong explorer, naturalist, and filmmaker for the BBC. Some of his award-winning works include Planet Earth, The Blue Planet, and other series that open up to his viewers the wonders of nature. The photography of his films is magnificent, and toward the end of each episode he offers us a gentle reminder that mankind is harming the planet’s ecosystems.
In A Life on Our Planet, his reminders are no longer understated, but urgent. He tracks three factors that have worsened during his life: population, atmospheric carbon, and the percentage of land that is still wild. Devi and I came away both moved and shaken, having seen one of the most powerful wake-up calls we’ve ever experienced. Attenborough makes it quite clear that if we don’t make some drastic changes in the way we treat this planet, we will make it uninhabitable.
These issues are not just environmental. The way we treat the natural world shows deep-seated attitudes, which are expressed also in how we relate to life in general. It is reflected in whether we include or ignore the welfare of others, especially the vulnerable and marginalized, in our decisions. These attitudes underlie many of the political and social problems we are currently facing.
This is a deeply spiritual issue. Feeling our connection with animals and nature deepens our connection to God, who has become all things. We must remember that everyone and everything—even a rock—is conscious, and a unique part of the Divine. If we hold ourselves apart or, even worse, exploit the planet, we separate ourselves from God and get further enmeshed in delusion.
Swami Kriyananda was highly sensitive to these issues. At one point he suggested that we each choose a particular aspect of nature and connect more deeply with it. For some it might be birds, for others rivers, or mountains, or trees. He even wrote a wonderful song in six-part harmony called “Channels,” which is a delight to sing in a group setting.
Paramhansa Yogananda, too, wrote and spoke extensively about the need to feel our unity with nature, and urged us to see God hiding behind its many forms. The inspiring chant “O God Beautiful” (which he chanted for nearly two hours with a crowd of thousands at Carnegie Hall) is a lovely example: “O God Beautiful: In the forest Thou art green; in the mountain Thou art high; in the river Thou art restless; in the ocean Thou art grave. To the serviceful Thou art service; to the lover Thou art love; to the sorrowful Thou art sympathy; to the yogi Thou art bliss.”
In closing, I urge you to watch this vital film, and to do your part in making needed changes. The lives of eagles and elephants, of water bugs and whales, of roses and redwoods all depend for their perpetuation on the love of mankind. Perhaps nearer to us is that our children and grandchildren will flourish or perish depending on whether or not each of us does our part.
In God’s light,