Applying ancient Dharmic wisdom to UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Applying ancient Dharmic wisdom to UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Dharma Alliance – a non-profit organisation based in Geneva that seeks to promote Dharma-based perspectives and practices across the world – recently launched a lecture series on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Dharma Traditions. SDGs comprise of 17 goals developed by the United Nations (UN), and agreed upon by world leaders, with the aim to tackle the challenges facing the world today, including poverty, equality and the climate crisis.

One of the most recent speakers invited by Dharma Alliance was Dr Rajinder Singh, a transplant surgeon from the Manchester University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. The talk focused on exploring the ways in which the Dharmic traditions of India – namely Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism – align with the third SDG, ‘Good Health and Well-Being’.

“SDGs need to be reinterpreted after the impacts of Covid-19 through a dharmic lens,” says Dr Singh, explaining the importance of the talk.

One of the key tenets of good health, Dr Singh says, is maintaining good mental health. Dr Singh emphasises the need to approach the topic of health from a holistic viewpoint which considers the extensive negative impact of factors like chronic stress and anxiety can have on the individual’s physical and general wellbeing.

Both meditation and yoga, rooted in Indian and dharmic culture, provide stress-busting effects and keep the mind and the brain from becoming overwhelmed, thus enabling a holistic approach to wellbeing as a whole.

As well as this, Dr Singh stresses the positive effects of practices like japa [a meditative repetition of a mantra or the name of deity] on mental wellbeing.

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If you see how a temple is structured, there's a dome on the top that can only be placed if the rest of it remains stable and you have a nice, broad base,” Dr Singh notes, explaining the need to incorporate spirituality to allow holistic wellbeing.

Talking about eating healthy and cultivating good eating habits, Dr Singh notes: “We also talk about intermittent fasting, which is an emerging concept nowadays. We can see this while referring to Dharmic teachings from the exemplar lives of Mahavir Buddha, Lord Rama, when he was in vanavas [exile], and Guru Nanaji.”

Similarly, another key aspect which the SDGs focus on and also impacts health is air pollution.

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“Pollution, as you all know, is associated with cancer and respiratory diseases,” says Dr Singh. “Looking at the Sikh tradition, Guru Nanakji once said that the air is our Guru, water the father and earth is the mother. And same principles are there in our Vedic scriptures too.”

“To summarize the Dharmic traditions believe in a walk the talk approach and in achieving sustainable development,” he explains.

The overarching message of the talk was embracing Dharmic values and traditions through understanding and adapting their core teachings of compassion, sustainability and good conduct – goals also promoted globally as a way to make the planet a better place - as this will inevitably help create a better future.

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Organised in partnership with Swiss Learning Exchange, Dharma Alliance’s series invites scholars, thinkers and experts engaged in the practical application of ancient wisdom to global challenges.

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