When I was young, I was taught a Sanskrit prayer that says:

“I bow to Mother Earth, who has mountains and jungles on her body and whose clothing is made by the ocean. The wife of Lord Vishnu, please pardon me for touching you with my feet.”

Every morning before I place my feet on the ground, I still ask forgiveness of the Earth for touching her with my feet and walking upon her sacred body.

As a young child growing up, my grandmother taught me that the grass and trees would rest when the sun went down. If I ran late with my evening devotions, and I needed to pluck a flower for my worship, I should first gently ask the tree for that flower before taking it. Already annoyed that I was going to awaken the tree, my grandmother would add scoldingly, “And don’t shake the tree when you pluck the flower!”

Now, even as an adult, if I must walk upon the grass or pluck a flower after the sun has set, I say, “Sorry,” repeatedly for disturbing their rest.

I grew up in a tradition that has been worshipping the lingam, a stone, as God for thousands of years, a tradition that worships the mighty Ganga as a Goddess.

More than having been taught the traditions, I was involved in the daily practice of the traditions, until they became a part of me. I continue to practice these traditions in my adult life.

Telling our communities that we are facing a monumental environmental crisis makes them aware that a problem exists. Showing them the statistics and the photos certainly play an important role in educating them. I was taught French in high school, but I don’t remember a lot of it now because I have not applied that knowledge in years. But engaging or involving our communities in the protection of the Earth will help them to better understand that all things are bound together, that all things interconnect. And gradually, their wakefulness, through the insight into the truth that man, nature and the Divine are inextricably interconnected, will become infused in their consciousness.

How do we as a community with a profound concern for our environment, and a deep sense of duty to and responsibility for our communities in which we live, work and play, get to a position where we can re-vision our future, and begin to execute actions, starting with our children, our families and our communities, to build a resilient and sustainable future for our future generations fuelled by ancient wisdom and enlightened living?

At our Sacred Earth Leadership Forum that was held on February 1, 2012 at Vassar College, 100 people along with respected leaders from the Native American, Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist traditions came together to begin the process through inter-religious dialogues.

The program began with a panel discussion that reflected on where we are right now, and the immense repositories of ancient wisdoms, symbols and ritual practices that are available to us, and that can provide a solid foundation for establishing principles for environmental actions – unparalleled repositories that have the potential to play a critical role in leading, inspiring and arousing us to awaken and heed the urgent call of nature in peril.

The gathering then divided into groups to explore the principles that should guide our actions, as well as the challenges and innovative opportunities that are open to us in forging links between spirituality and secular environmental ethics and ecological activism.

Finally, we have begun to re-visit and examine the statements and recommendations, that have emerged from these inter-religious dialogues and re-visioning, to establish a sound and sustainable framework to take us forward into developing innovative programs to educate and engage our communities in a broader vision of kinship, interconnection and interdependence of man, nature and the Divine, and ultimately, enlightened living and environmental activism.

One message was unequivocal throughout the evening, and remains clearer now – the need for religion to fulfill its role in the dialogue, re-visioning and actions toward sustainable development and environmental well-being, and to reconnect spirituality to secular environmental ethics and ecological activism.