Stewards are called from a wide range of spiritual traditions to undertake the task of preserving the biosphere for the sake of future generations. Artifacts can be preserved by separating them from every day life in the way that a painting can be preserved locked away in a museum, but the preservation of life and the living isn’t achieved so easily. For example, heirloom seeds can be saved, but seeds need to be planted and new seeds grown every few years in order to maintain viability.

A person embarks on the path of Stewardship when they recognize within themselves a personal sense of responsibility for the ongoing welfare of the world around them. Stewardship is not about seeking control or dominion; instead, it’s about seeking an understanding of the natural environment and using that knowledge to facilitate positive outcomes.

Stewardship involves an ongoing search for a true understanding of how natural processes interact to create the dynamic world we experience. This knowledge quest is important because we can not facilitate a process which we don’t understand. Today, we have an unprecedented amount of knowledge regarding how natural systems work, and consequently an unprecedented opportunity for stewardship.

Stewardship is an integral part of many spiritual paths. For example, a Christian basis for Stewardship is laid out in Matthew 25:14-30, and a Native American basis for Stewardship is expressed in the Great Law. Similarly, the Dalai Lama has described a Buddhist basis for Stewardship, and Islamic scholars have asserted that a pro-active practice of Stewardship is an essential component of Islam.

Historically, many have seen the relationship between humankind and nature as adversarial, but that time is clearly past; today, we need to find ways to collaborate with nature in order to preserve its ability to sustain life. For the past two centuries, humans have lived off a vast inheritance of natural wealth, but the Age of Dominion is passing away; the old growth forests are gone, the great schools of cod are fished out, the aquifers are being pumped dry. Soon, humankind will have to learn how to live solely on the things we create and the things we recover. Either we will transform ourselves into good and faithful stewards of nature’s bounty, or we will pass away.

Stewardship, at its heart, is the ongoing, hands-on search for harmony with other people, with other forms of life, and ultimately, with the entire biosphere. To be effective, Stewardship must be founded on sustainable practices that focus on creative principles—it is both a living practice and the practice of living.

The call for Stewardship flows from the understanding that only the cultivation of sustainable practices will ensure and enrich our future. And therefore, the Steward’s quest is to search out sustainable practices that use knowledge gleaned from nature to create working models which function as an integrated part of nature.

Whether or not humans heed the call for embracing the role of Stewardship, nature will ultimately produce sustainable systems. The question that remains to be answered in the coming years is whether humanity will play a positive role in that process, or become its victim.


Islamic Stewardship

The world is sweet and verdant, and verily Allah has made you stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves.
– from Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change (PDF)


Christian Stewardship

Matthew 25:14-30

14 – Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them.
15 – To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
16 – The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more.
17 – So also, the one with the two talents gained two more.
18 – But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 – After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.
20 – The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’
21 – His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 – The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’
23 – His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 – Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.
25 – So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 – His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?
27 – Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 – ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents.
29 – For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.
30 – And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’


Iroquois Stewardship

In our every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.
– From the Great Law of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy)


Buddhist Stewardship

From the Dalai Lama

Peace and the survival of life on earth as we know it are threatened by human activities that lack a commitment to humanitarian values. Destruction of nature and natural resources results from ignorance, greed and lack of respect for the earth’s living things.
Our ancestors viewed the earth as rich and bountiful, which it is. Many people in the past also saw nature as inexhaustibly sustainable, which we know is the case only if we care for it. It is not difficult to forgive destruction in the past that resulted from ignorance. Today, however, we have access to more information, and it is essential that we reexamine ethically what we have inherited, what we are responsible for, and what we will pass on to coming generations.
As people alive today, we must consider future generations: a clean environment is a human right like any other. It is therefore part of our responsibility towards others to ensure that the world we pass on is as healthy, if not healthier, than we found it.

Donald Swearer

Historically, in Asia and increasingly in the West, Buddhists have situated centers of practice and teaching in forests and among mountains at some remove from the hustle and bustle of urban life.
The Buddha’s own example provides the original impetus for such locations: “Seeking the supreme state of sublime peace, I wandered… until… I saw a delightful stretch of land and a lovely woodland grove, and a clear flowing river with a delightful forest so I sat down thinking, ‘Indeed, this is an appropriate place to strive for the ultimate realization of… Nirvana’ ” (Ariyapariyesana Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya).