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Environmental concerns

Buddhist responses

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As many religious people view it, Buddhist reality is profoundly ecological, and Buddhism itself is an ecological religion. It powerfully expresses human identification with nature. Buddhists believe that all things, including humans, exist by their interrelationship with all other parts of nature To think of one's self as isolated from the rest of nature is be unrealist.

José Kalapura said:

"The Buddha taught that respect for life and the natural world is essential. By living simply one can be in harmony with other creatures and learn to appreciate the interconnectedness of all lives. The simplicity of life involves developing openness to our environment and relating to the world with awareness and responsive perception. It also enables us to enjoy without possessing, and mutually benefit each other without manipulation." 1

Buddhist teachers and masters constantly remind us of the importance of living in tune with nature and respecting life.

Buddhist precepts direct the faithful to seek a right livelihood, an essential dimension of which is concern for the life of all creatures. 2 This puts emphasis on "ahimsa" (avoiding injury to any sentient creature) . This is the first of the five precepts of Buddhist life and a major principle of Jainism. In practice, Buddhists believe that it is the act of killing or hurting an animal which is harmful, but not the eating of meat that someone else has provided.

Note that the Buddhist king Asoka the Great established hospitals for both human and animals. He insisted on kindness to animals, and forbade their killing even for food.

Buddhism teaches that if we wish to save the environment, we must first analyze our lives to determine how our self-deification is destroying the world by depleting, overpopulating, and polluting the environment.

The Buddhist approach to solving the global ecological crisis then includes :

  1. Compassion is the basis for a balanced view of the whole world and of the environment.
  2. The use of the "save and not waste" approach means that nothing in nature is spoiled or wasted. Wanton destruction upsets the vital balance of life.
  3. Ecology is rebuilt through the philosophy of Sarvodaya (uplift of all), which is based on loving kindness, compassionate action, and altruistic joy. 3

Suval Sivaraksa and Aubrey Meyer have suggested the following modifications of the Buddhist Four Noble Truths to make them relate to ecology:

  1. Climate change is a reality. It is the source of flooding and drought, desertification and loss of land.
  2. Climate change is caused by over-consumption of fossil fuels, loss of soil, and excessive herds of livestock. Individual over-consumption in the global North is an expression of greed and a fear of loss. Fear and greed are root causes of all suffering. Capitalism thrives on individual fear and greed.
  3. The climate we have to change is the climate of greed and fear, in which consumerism and profiteering can thrive.
  4. To overcome suffering, start at home, with yourself. Ask yourself: Where can I cut down my consumption? How can I repay my carbon debt to my children’s children? Plant trees. Don’t fly. Eat local and organic foods. 4

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A search of the data base shows the following books on Buddhist responses to the environment:

At least, it should. Sometimes Amazon returns the strangest selections.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Robert A White, "Spiritual Foundations of an Ecologically Sustainable Society," The Journal of Bahá’í Studies 7.2 (1995), Pages 47-74.
  2. Sean McDonagh, "To Care for the Earth," Geoffrey Chapman, (1989).
  3. José Kalapura , "Science-Religion Dialogue & Ecology: An Asian perspective."
  4. Michael Schut & Tanya Marcovna Barnett, "The Cry of Creation," Earth Ministry, (2003).

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Copyright © 2006 by Vladimir Tomek
Original publishing date: 2006-SEP-03
Latest update on: 2006-SEP-03
Author. Vladimir Tomek

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