Isha and the Environment
In the past couple of years, there has been quite a lot of slanderous talk in certain sections of the media about Isha Yoga Center and the environment around us. Accusations of many kinds have been made: that we have encroached on the forests, that we have built on elephant corridors, that we have razed whole tropical rainforests, that we are chopping trees indiscriminately and mindlessly. Even after we countered these allegations with the facts, showing reports and documents, some quarters are persistently creating the impression that we are insensitive to the environment we live in and that we are causing damage to these beautiful foothills that we call our home.
As an organization that has undertaken massive environmental projects such as Project GreenHands (PGH), Rally for Rivers and Isha Agro Movement (IAM), is it conceivable that we would ignore or damage our own spectacular backyard?
The truth is: it has been our constant endeavor to improve situations around us in every way possible. Care and concern for the environment we live in, and for the planet we live on, is natural to us at Isha.
What the Velliangiris Mean to Us
The Velliangiris are not just a range of mountains. Called “Kailash of the South” or “Then Kailayam” in Tamil, these hills have been steeped in southern mysticism for thousands of years. Countless sages, seers and siddhas have walked these mountains and lived here for a long time. Isha Yoga Center is located at the foothills of this spiritual powerhouse. Sadhguru himself is deeply and profoundly connected with these peaks. He says, “If you ask me which are the highest mountains on the planet, I will say Himalayas. But if you ask me which are the greatest mountains on the planet, I will say Velliangiri Mountains. I am terribly biased.”
As spiritual seekers, the cascade of Grace that flows from these mountains enrich our sadhana and our seeking.
Isha and the Velliangiris
Before we moved here in the 1990s, the land was occupied by a furniture factory that had been involved with illegal trafficking of forest timber. It had been going on for years and consequently, the mountains were completely barren. The whole place would radiate with heat in the summers, with the sun reflecting off the mountain rocks.
When anyone moves to a new place, and wishes to make a home out of a dwelling, among the first things he or she would do is to put in a few flowering shrubs. Sadhguru decided to plant trees all over the surrounding hills. About two hundred volunteers gathered, and they were given a sack of seeds, which had been collected from the same region. They each carried a rough-and-ready implement – a bamboo stick with a conical metal cup at the end of it. As they went up and down the hills, what the volunteers did was to simply poke the sharp end of the cup into wet earth, put two seeds in it and cover it up with sand. This ensured that the seeds could easily sprout during the monsoon, and not be scattered when trodden by cattle and wild animals. The sprouting was almost 100% and survival was about 80%. Today the hills are a vibrant green, and they stay that way even through the scorching summer months.
For a very long time, pilgrims have been going up these hills. Since, as a culture, we have not been paying too much attention to this, the paths were littered with paper, plastic and bottles – everything was thrown on the way. It was causing injury and death to the animals that had been eating plastic and even glass pieces. When we decided to do something about it, naturally we turned to our volunteers. Over a thousand volunteers turned up in answer to the call. For two weeks, they went into the mountains and brought down truckloads and truckloads of garbage, especially plastic waste. After the initial clean up, now we have taken to stopping pilgrims at the steps, taking away their plastics and giving them a cloth bag instead.
Over the years, Isha Foundation has worked unswervingly for the holistic wellbeing of the people of the Velliangiris as well. Our Outreach programs are too numerous for us to do more than list them here, but they encompass a range of areas: sanitation, rural health, rural education, agriculture, rural sports, community building as well as disaster response.
Creating Larger Ripples
Looking back, we can see that Isha Foundation’s response to its immediate neighborhood was the beginning of a pattern. Since then we have expanded into greater and greater circles.
In 2004, we started to make a push to increase the green cover by 10% in our home state Tamil Nadu with the ambitious Project GreenHands (PGH). The avowed mission of this project was to reverse desertification, reduce soil erosion and counteract climate change. PGH inspired people to plant trees and develop a culture of care towards the environment: so far, the project has enabled the planting of over 35 million saplings in southern India, with over 2 million people participating.
Then Sadhguru led us into Rally for Rivers, a massive nation-wide sustained campaign to revitalize our waters and restore our soil. The herculean work that was projected during the month-long Rally in 2017 is now being undertaken at various locations, on various levels.
Over the past years, we have surged ahead with the Isha Agro Movement (IAM), to offer a suitable alternative model for agriculture, helping farmers transition from a chemical-based system to a more sustainable system. Today IAM has roots across Tamil Nadu.
Whether it is the government’s Swachh Bharat Mission, the United Nations’ initiative to ban single-use plastic or the UN’s Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development, Isha has been committed to every national and international campaign that is targeted at making humanity move towards a cleaner and ecologically sustainable lifestyle. This long list of involvements and achievements is not to prove our environmental credentials. Rather, it is an outcome of our engagement with nature.