Care for Environment – Buddhism

Ordination of TreesA major aim of Buddhism is to relieve suffering, the root causes of which are greed, ignorance, and hatred. The monks see the destruction of the forests, pollution of the air and water, and other environmental problems as ultimately caused by people acting through these evils, motivated by economic gain and the material benefits of development, industrialization, and consumerism. As monks, they believe it is their duty to take action against these evils.


In the words of the Buddha Himself: “Because the cause was there, the consequences followed; because the cause is there, the effects will follow.” These few words present the interrelationship between cause (karma) and its effects. It goes a step further and shows that happiness and suffering do not simply come about by chance or irrelevant causes. There is a natural relationship between a cause and its resulting consequences in the physical world. In the life of sentient beings, too, including animals, there is a similar relationship of positive causes bringing about happiness and negative actions causing negative consequences. Therefore, a human undertaking motivated by a healthy and positive attitude constitutes one of the most important causes of happiness, while undertakings generated through ignorance and negative attitude bring about suffering and misery. And this positive human attitude is, in the final analysis, rooted in a genuine and unselfish compassion and loving kindness that seeks to bring about light and happiness for all sentient beings. Hence Buddhism is a religion of love, understanding, and compassion and is committed to the ideal of non-violence. As such, it also attaches great importance to wildlife and the protection of the environment on which every being in this world depends for survival.

The simple underlying reason why beings other than humans need to be taken into account is that, like human beings, they too are sensitive to happiness and suffering…many have held up usefulness to human beings as the sole criterion for the evaluation of an animal’s life. Upon closer examination, one discovers that this mode of evaluation of another’s life and right to existence has also been largely responsible for human indifference, as well as cruelty to animals, not to speak of violence in today’s world…We should therefore be wary of justifying the right of any species to survive solely on the basis of its usefulness to human beings.

We regard our survival as an undeniable right. As co-inhabitants of this planet, other species, too, have the right of survival…let us share the conviction that conservation of the environment, the restoration of the imbalance caused by our negligence in the past, be implemented with courage and determination. — The Buddhist Declaration on Nature: The Venerable Lungrug Nomgayal, Abbot, Gyuto Tantric University, Assisi 1986

 

Buddha under the Bodhi Tree
The Buddha achieved enlightenment under a tree – alone – and in nature. Care for all living and sentient beings – including Nature and the Earth – is an integral component of Buddhism

The Khoryug Eco-Monastic Movement

The clothes we wear, the food we eat, even the air we breathe, all come from the environment. None of us are truly independent. Our responsibility is to take what scientists teach us to heart, so we actually transform our way of life. Live simply. Act with compassion. Protect the Earth. Our future depends on it. —Ogyen Trinley Dorje, Gyalwang Karmapa

With more than 50 member monasteries and nunneries in India, Nepal, Bhutan, and South India, Khoryug is a network of Buddhist centers in the Himalayas working to protect the Himalayan environment by fostering compassion towards Earth and all living beings on the planet.

Founded in 2009, Khoryug recognises that the environmental crisis is “not just a political or scientific problem, but also a moral and ethical one that Buddhists must address.” The Khoryug movement bases its work on the belief that actions “must flow from our aspiration to benefit all sentient beings and safeguard our mother Earth, and that this positive change in our societies must begin with ourselves first.” Khoryug develops partnerships with community organisations in order to take practical steps to sustain and improve the environment. Its projects include cleaning local areas; planting trees; and raising awareness about environmental protection through service, stewardship, and reverence for nature.

LovingKindness Meditation

The central ethical principle of Buddhism is compassion and lovingkindness towards all sentient beings. A meditation such as the following may be chanted or remembered several times a day by many Buddhists to cultivate these qualities.

May all beings be happy and secure;
May they be inwardly happy!

Whatever living beings there are
Whether frail or firm, without omission,
Those that are long or those that are large,
Middling, short, fine, or gross…

Whether they are seen or unseen,
Whether they dwell far or near,
Whether they have come to be or will come to be,
May all beings be inwardly happy!

Just as a mother would protect her son,
her only son, with her life,
so one should develop toward all beings
a state of mind without boundaries.

And toward the whole world
one should develop loving-kindness,
a state of mind without boundaries —
above, below, and across —
unconfined, without enmity, without adversaries.

— From the Metta Sutta or “Sutra on Loving-Kindness” in The Suttanipāta: An Ancient Collection of the Buddha’s Discourses Together with its Commentaries, pp. 179-80.

Cold Mountain

Bird-song drowns me in feeling.
Back to my shack of straw to sleep.
Cherry-branches burn with crimson flower,
Willow-boughs delicately trail.
Morning sun flares between blue peaks,
Bright clouds soak in green ponds.
Who guessed I’d leave that dusty world,
Climbing the south slope of Cold Mountain?

I’m on the trail to Cold Mountain.
Cold Mountain trail never ends.
Long clefts thick with rock and stones,
Wide streams buried in dense grass.
Slippery moss, but there’s been no rain,
Pine trees sigh, but there’s no wind.
Who can leap the world’s net,
Sit here in the white clouds with me?
—Han-shan, Tang Dynasty. Translated by A. S. Cline.

 

Bhutanese painted thangka of the Jātakas,
Bhutanese painted thangka of the Jātakas, 18th-19th Century, Phajoding Gonpa, Thimphu, Bhutan. Photo in the public domain.

From the Lotus Sutra

The all-compassionate presence of the Buddha in the world is compared to abundant rain that brings life to all universally and without preference.

What falls from the cloud
is water of a single flavour,
but the plants and trees, thickets and groves,
each accept the moisture that is appropriate to its portion.
All the various trees,
whether superior, middling or inferior,
Take what is fitting for large or small
and each is enabled to sprout and grow.
Root, stem, limb, leaf,
The glow and hue of flower and fruit —
one rain extends to them
And all are able to become fresh and glossy
Whether their allotment
Of substance, form and nature is large or small,
The moistening they receive is one,
But each flourishes in its own way.

The Buddha is like this
when he appears in the world,
comparable to a great cloud
that covers all things everywhere.
— Burton Watson, tr., The Lotus Sutra. pp. 101-102.

The Ordination of Trees

Ordination of Trees
Courtesy of buddhistpeacefellowship.org

In the early 1990s “ecology monks” in Thailand’s environmental movement began to wrap orange cloth around trees in a ceremony modelled on the ordination of a Buddhist monk, with full use of Buddhist symbols and participation by local villagers. Ordination makes the tree sacred and draws attention to the importance of trees and the urgent need to prevent deforestation. Many ordained trees bear a sign “To destroy the forest is to destroy life.” The tree ordination movement has spread from Thailand to other countries including Cambodia, Laos, and Sri Lanka. As many as 1,000 trees have been ordained in one ceremony.

A major aim of Buddhism is to relieve suffering, the root causes of which are greed, ignorance, and hatred. The monks see the destruction of the forests, pollution of the air and water, and other environmental problems as ultimately caused by people acting through these evils, motivated by economic gain and the material benefits of development, industrialisation, and consumerism. As monks, they believe it is their duty to take action against these evils. — Susan M. Darlington, “The ordination of a tree: The Buddhist ecology movement in Thailand,” Ethnology Vol. 37, No. 1, p. 1.

The Cosmos is a Cooperative

The entire cosmos is a cooperative. The sun, moon, and stars live together as a cooperative. The same is true for humans and animals, trees, and the Earth. When we can realise that the world is a mutual, interdependent, cooperative enterprise — then we can build a noble environment. If our lives are not based on this truth, then we shall perish. — Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu, as quoted by Donald K. Swearer, “The Hermeneutics of Buddhist Ecology,” in Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds, p. 29.

 

Yangmaiyong Mountain.
Yangmaiyong Mountain. Photo by V. Nattapoom /shutterstock.com.

THe Buddha Touches Earth

When he was about to attain his full enlightenment, Prince Siddhartha Gautama was attacked by the demon king Māra and his armies. Māra challenged him on whether he had the right to attempt the highest spiritual goal. “Who is your witness?” he demanded. Siddhartha stretched out his right hand and touched the Earth, saying “Are you my witness?” and the Earth thundered with a roar, “I am your witness!” Defeated, Māra and his armies withdrew. Seated under the Tree of Enlightenment, Siddhartha became the Buddha.

 

The image of the Buddha in the “Earth-witnessing” posture (bhūmi-sparśa)
The image of the Buddha in the “Earth-witnessing” posture (bhūmi-sparśa) is one of the best known. It is significant for many who feel that today Earth is bearing witness to her suffering and we are called to overcome the forces of delusion.

Source
Image Source

 

 Paro Taktsang Monastery in Bhutan.
Paro Taktsang Monastery in Bhutan. Photo by Avinash Gatreddi/shutterstock.com

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