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Water, a Sacred Object in Crisis

BG 9.26 patraṁ puṣhpaṁ phalaṁ toyaṁ yo me bhaktyā prayachchhatitadahaṁ bhaktyupahṛitam aśhnāmi prayatātmanaḥ

Meaning: If a devotee offers to Me with love, devotion, and pure consciousness a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or even a sip of water, I delightedly accept that offering. – Austin Sanderson

Every morning, the ritual of opening Urban Sadhu Yoga Shala is the same. Before tuning on the computers, in an act of Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of devotion), starting with the large murti (embodiment of the divine) Ganesha, we make an offering of a fresh glass of water and ring a small bell to start the day. This ritualistic act is repeated at the Shiva altar and then Krishna altar. Offering a small glass of H2O is an expression of devotion that is easy to achieve as a daily ritual.

Water has always been sacred, a key component in spiritual rituals around the world. Christianity is linked to the water through the act of Baptism, symbolizing rebirth. Buddhism embodies the calmness and serenity of water by practicing water offerings at Buddhist shrines. In Islam, the holy book of Quran, water symbolizes wisdom. And in Hinduism, water is believed to have the power to transfer the sound vibration of mantra, creating a physical medium that holds and transmits the healing vibrations of mantra.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna (the supreme personality of the God) tells Arjuna (Krishna’s devotee) that even a “sip of water” offered to him will be accepted with delight. 5,000 years ago, Krishna was suggesting that an offering of water would be a simple to act of devotion. In Krishna’s mind, the devotee will not have to “put themselves out” too much, it’s a simple sip of water. But a lot has changed in 5000 years, and for many, a simple sip of H2O has become a daily struggle.

Earth is 70% H2O, only 2.5% is drinkable and only 1% of that is accessible. Like the Earth, the human body is made up mostly of H2O, 60% and yet more than a billion people live without clean, safe drinking water around the world.

Extreme weather events and changes in water cycle patterns are making it more and more difficult to obtain water security. What use to be seen as a problem in developing countries, now affects the US. In California, aquifers are drying up and the Colorado River has shrunk down to a mere trickle. Water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell (the United States largest water reservoirs) are at record lows. As of 2020, listed 12 US cities that the public waters system is unsafe to drink, Newark, NJ is one of them.

In less developed countries water related calamities keep people in a cycle of poverty and despair. reports that women and young girls across the world, spend in total 200 million hours a day collecting water just to survive and around the world 785 million people lack access to safe water. According to UNICEF, 74 percent of the natural disasters between 2001 and 2018 were water related. Droughts and floods are becoming common place both in intensity and frequency and we should expect an increase in water related disasters because of climate change.

While humans are being affected by the water crisis, plants and animals also suffer. As the world’s natural reserves of water dwindle, so too do the populations of animals and plants life that depend on that water for life. Elephants, monkeys, salmon and whales are just a few of the animals that have been called out by news media as being severely affected by the worlds water crisis. However, there are many other species that go unnoticed under the radar.

While animals in the wild struggle to find drinking water, domesticated animals consume water at an alarming rate. It takes 1,800 gallons of water resources to produce a single pound of beef. Compare that to the 146 gallons needed to grow a pound of corn or the 28 gallons to grow a pound of lettuce and we can see just how big animal agriculture consumption of fresh water can no longer be validated.

Around the world wildfires have intensified because of the droughts and heatwaves caused by climate change are affecting wildlife, humans and even the economy, and are all linked back to the world’s H2O crisis. Conflicts over water, both within countries and between countries, have been sharply increasing in recent years. According to Peter Gleick PH. Water Conflict Chronology. The World’s Water, 2008–2009 between 1990-2007 there were 83 violent conflicts over water usage and rights. That is 4.6 violent conflicts a year, tripling from past decades.

For much of history, humans have regarded water ways as dumping ground for human waste, chemical pollution, and discarded trash. The Earth’s oceans today are filled with the unwanted and discarded plastic of our so-called modern age. The decaying micro plastic fill the bellies of fish, birds and other creatures dependent on the ocean for life. It has been noted that the toxic micro plastics and chemicals found in the salty waters of the seas now can be found in our fresh drinking water also. Now human bellies will be filled with plastic waste.

The earth is running out of water and human action and inaction are at the center of this crisis. For an object to be considered sacred, it must be treated with respect, and reverence. Humans throughout history have spoken of water as sacred but ironically, the majority of us give little thought to water until a water related crisis affects us personally. Yoga allows us to see the sacred in all things, even water. We still have time to become more conscious of our destructive patterns, and change them toward a more sustainable way that will benefit the planet and all life big and small.

~ Austin Sanderson Urban Sadhu Yoga


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