On June 5, 2010, the Isha Foundation, founded by Sadhguru, received India's highest recognition for environmental work: the Indira Gandhi Award. Through its Project GreenHands initiative, Isha Foundation has mobilized over 2 million volunteers to plant 8.2 million trees in Tamil Nadu, India; efforts which have resulted in setting a Guinness Book of World Record. Below is an excerpt from Sadhguru's acceptance speech.
I have been asked repeatedly by many people, "Why is a spiritual leader, a yogi and a mystic planting trees? Why are you planting trees?"
Trees are our closest relatives. What they exhale we inhale, what we exhale, they inhale. Trees keep our lives going, just like the outer part of our lungs. You cannot ignore your body if you want to live, and in no way is the planet different from this. What you call "my body" is just a piece of this planet. And the very essence of the spiritual process is about just this.
When we say "spirituality", we are not talking about looking up or looking down. It is about turning inward and knowing the nature of what "this" is. The first fundamental fact of looking inward is always to see that you are naturally very much a part of everything around you. Without that realization, there is really no spiritual process. That is not the goal of spirituality, that is the fundamental - that who you are, or what you think you are, is just a part of everything else.
Today, modern physics is establishing that the whole existence is just one energy. Scientific evidence is establishing that every particle in your body is in constant communication with the whole cosmic space. The spiritual process is about enhancing one's perception and bringing this into one's experience. Anyways, what is a dry scientific fact that doesn't change anybody's life except trigger the imagination? If instead it becomes a living experience, then to care for what's around you as you care for yourself is just a natural process.
So in the year 1998, when certain experts from the United Nations came to Tamil Nadu, they made a study and prediction that by the year 2025, 60% of Tamil Nadu would become a desert. This is a land that has been continually farmed for more than 12,000 years. Probably nowhere else on the planet, except perhaps in parts of South America, agricultural activity has been happening continuously like this. The ethos of agriculture is so deep in the Tamil farmer. His understanding of the land, crop, seed and everything around him is so deep. Even today, most of the Tamil farmers grow three crops per year, many of them four crops in a year; very few places on the planet can do this. Such rich land which has nurtured us for thousands of generations. So when I heard that within one generation, Tamil Nadu would become a desert, I didn't like it. Essentially, I don't like predictions because when people make predictions, they are making predictions from existing facts, existing statistics and cold figures. They are not taking human aspirations into consideration; what's beating in a human heart is completely ignored. What individual people are thinking and dreaming and longing for within themselves is completely ignored in all predictions. The future is not created by cold statistics, but by human aspirations.
So I drove around Tamil Nadu, I just wanted to see if this prediction was real. And I found that it is not real. It is not true in the sense that, in my estimate, I realized that it would not wait until 2025, it would happen much faster. In the last 10-15 years, small rivers have dried up completely. People were now building homes in riverbeds. About 20 years ago in Coimbatore city, one could get water at 120-125 feet. Now they are going 1,400 feet. What tree can put its root to 1,400 feet? And all the palm trees around Coimbatore - their crowns have fallen off. Palm trees, which survived in the Arabian Desert, are dead in Tamil Nadu. There's not enough moisture in the soil for even them to survive.
So when we saw this, we thought we'll do something. One of the immediate things that we did was turn a mountain green at our ashram. We are at the edge of a rain forest in Tamil Nadu, and it's a very beautiful place. But this particular hill right behind us was completely shaved of all timber because there was an illegal furniture industry in the land. We had to pay almost 3-4 times the land price and buy them up, but we dismantled this and the next thing to do was put back the trees on the hill.
So putting back trees into the forest is not an easy thing to do. People said, "Sadhguru, this is not going to work." The more I hear, "This is not going to work." The more I know this has to happen because if more and more people think it is not going to happen, that means we're heading for a disaster for sure.
So we came up with an innovative idea. We invited about 3-4,000 volunteers to come and we took simple sheet metal and rolled it like a cone with a stick attached. They just pressed it into the earth and made a hole, then put two seeds in it. We planted the seeds a few inches deeper so the birds and other animals wouldn't eat them up. And if you put the seed in mud, then the sprout won't come because mud is clay, it gets packed and will never sprout. So another set of volunteers carried sandbags and just filled up the holes. We must have thrown about 7-8 million seeds. We had close to 100% sprouting because the land was rich and wet, and about 75-80% of them have survived. Our experience of the hill has completely changed.
About 6-7 years ago, if you came to the ashram, this particular hill would go completely brown during April and May and it would radiate heat. Today, if you come at the peak of summer season, it is still green and the temperatures have come down at least 2-3 degrees. So we are not experiencing global warming. And, I want to insist on this, it took only 20-22 days of work and 3-4,000 people. We just went about singing songs, joyfully doing it. And all that we provided people was just food, two meals a day.
Then we took on the more difficult task of planting across Tamil Nadu. We made a simple barefoot calculation - the national aspiration is 33% green cover. We were at 16.4% green cover in Tamil Nadu. So if you plant 114 million trees in about 6-8 years time, in 15 years we'll have 33% green cover. When I said this figure - 114 million trees - people said, "Sadhguru, do you how many zeros this number has?" So I just asked them a simple question. "What is the Tamil population?" They said, "Sixty two million." I said, "If all of us plant one tree today, nurture it for two years, and plant one more, it is done."
So the first 6-7 years were spent planting trees in people's minds, which is the most difficult terrain. Now we are transplanting with much more ease onto the land because the idea is standing on people's heads. If we had not spent those 6-7 years of planting trees in people's minds, today this work could not have happened.
I see that if anything has to happen, it is never going to happen by policy change. Unless people can emotionally relate to it, unless people can have an emotionally charged movement, there is no way anything is going to happen on the ground. So we went about creating the experience of how a tree is not a project for you; a tree is your life. It is an outside part of yourself. It breathes for you everyday. It is more than your lungs; your lungs cannot do anything without trees. We made people understand this in very simple ways and the rural folk, the way they stood up and their commitment, focus and enthusiasm with which they went about, has been so phenomenal. Just seeing this has been such a joy.
When I go to the villages and see people who have to work for their bread everyday, when I see them taking time off and doing this work, it really brings tears to me because these are not people who know what climate change is. These are not people who know what global warming is. These are people who have the least in the world, the smallest carbon footprint on the planet, if they have any at all. Even a sparrow leaves a larger carbon footprint than these people because they just live off the land. They don't have power in their homes, they are not burning anything. They are the most eco-friendly people, but we are asking them to do this. And their response and their enthusiasm have been so fantastic. I hope these simple folks' audacity and concern to plant a seemingly impossible number of trees will inspire many across the world.
VIEW the desertification of Tamil Nadu, India:
Find out more about Project GreenHands: http://projectgreenhands.org/
Isha Foundation, founded by Sadhguru, implements several large-scale human service projects. For more information, visit http://www.ishafoundation.org
Sadhguru posts weekly articles covering such topics as health and wellbeing, cultivating meaningful relationships, living joyfully, enhancing human consciousness and how to make this planet a better place to live.
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