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Buddhism in the News


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Green Buddhism.

Our environment is the ultimate middle-path. In order for life to exist and thrive upon Earth the environmental conditions must be perfectly balanced for optimum benefit. It is because of the importance of this delicate balance that, as a Buddhist, I am also a committed environmentalist.

So, as you can imagine I've been watching with horror like everyone else the volcano of oil gushing night and day from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Ultimately this BP disaster has come about from our collective greed for cheap fuel at the expense of our greater environment to power our excessive lifestyles.

Part of this lifestyle comes from a long human tradition of the ignorance that nature plays in our lives. Humanity has for centuries seen nature as an impediment to its happiness and material success. Because of its ease of exploitation nature was seen not as an equal but merely as a means to an end.

So, we sought to "tame" it to further our desires for material wealth and success.
We ignorantly assumed that since we were the "smartest beings" on the planet that we didn't have to live within the limits of nature. We saw ourselves as not only independent from everything else but superior. Thus, nature was there to satisfy our insatiable greed. This was especially embraced by the monotheistic cultures who saw themselves as divine offspring and Earth their property to do with it whatever they pleased. Since in ignorance these cultures believed that they weren't interconnected with other beings, (which would have required them to live in greater harmony) and had been given dominion over all other living things then surely (they thought) pursuing such a individualistic destiny couldn't hurt us.

In Europe, they chopped down tree after tree. They couldn't tear the trees down fast enough to keep up with the insatiable fires of industry. The race to industrial wealth and easy living was so ferocious that soon Europe was nearly completely nude of trees. Yet no matter how much steel was turned into new machines to make our lives easier it wasn't enough for our greed, and so industry accelerated further and further. Once the trees were gone we began burning dirty, toxic materials such as coal and oil. Raw sewage and toxic byproducts from production were pumped mercilessly into pristine rivers, lakes and seas. The cities were dirty and the air hazy and acrid from pollution causing much sickness. Yet our lust for the easy life grew unabated.

Today we humans are waking up one by one from our egotistical binge to one nasty hangover. It is clear now that our actions aren't independent of everything else, and that our greed has sped up our own destruction. Yet still this greed has a strong hold over many people, and like an addict who knows the drug is poison, we continue to use deadly energy regardless of the consequences. Why? Because no one wants to give up living the easy life of cheap energy that enables us to spend that money on pleasure pursuits.

In order to make the right sacrifices to bring humanity more in-line with nature and the middle-path we have to realize that we are all interdependent upon one another. And none more so than Earth herself. Our past actions of environmental rape through excessive industry are already coming back to cause us suffering via climate change--in my belief, that's societal karma bearing fruit. And just like pain is the bodies way of warning us to stop what you're doing, so to is the suffering we experience now from environmental degradation an alert to change our behavior. As we know, karma has an energy of its own, which could be seen in the very real possibility of environmental destruction getting too far gone to reverse course. I fear that could happen soon if we don't take immediate action. This BP spill is one of those pains that should serve as a warning sign. Buddhism demands that we care for nature as much as we care for ourselves.

~Peace to all beings~

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TormentedSoldier said...

Heard about ? You might want to check it out :)

mindyourmind said...

A beautiful, thoughtful, wise, sad, necessary post.

Thank you.

Tullik said...

Wonderful article!

rain said...

thank you, inspired while not simply stroking human egos - you're demanding authentic responsibility.

panchenlama said...

There is no way out of it.

Gypsy's Bang said...

As if the mere fact that this 'accident' happened wasn’t devastating enough, we have the too-little-too-late dismembered, pathetic reaction of those in power. Makes me wonder if what they are really trying to save is the ecosystem and people’s lives or their egos and bank accounts.
The prolonged disaster brings two images to my mind:
1) From The Matrix, ironically said by one of the ‘bad guys’ of the movie, one of the alien agents: “Humans multiply, deplete environment (that is the difference with the rest of the mammals who live in balance with the environment) and then they have no choice but to move to another area. Do you know who follows the same pattern in Nature? Virus! Humans are like a disease.”
2) From a Dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, where he is lecturing on consumption and shares a story told by the Buddha: a couple needs to cross the desert with their baby. Once well into the desert, they realize to their horror that half of the food that they had prepared to take with them has disappeared. The couple realizes that they will not be able to survive on what they have with them, and that the only way to survive will be to sacrifice their only child. And so they did. And they survived. TNH asks how the audience feels after this story. Horrified, sad, in pain. TNH continues on to say that this is what we do to our environment, to Nature, to ourselves: just like eating our own and only child.

deepian said...

yes, collectively we reap what we sow - thank you for this excellent article - very well put :)

They call him James Ure said...

Thanks for the link Tormented Soldier. It looks like a great site. I'm a big believer in "Engaged Buddhism."

@Mindyourmind...Thank-you. We need to constantly be reminded of our place within the greater existence.

@Rain...Yes, we can all always do better in helping maintain our species upon the middle-path.

@Gypsy...yes, in many ways we humans behave like parasites. And being a student of TNH I appreciate the desert story. I hadn't heard of it yet, so it is a great addition to this post. So, true. He is such an enlightened being.

@Deepian...You're welcome. We do reap what we sow and, so we really have no one to blame but ourselves.

Gypsy said...

Thanks James. Thrilled to have bumped into your blog.
The Dharma talk where Thay tells that story is "The Present Moment, A Retreat on the Practice of Mindfulness" [soundsTrue presents].
I am also a follower of TNH. I was blessed earlier this year: I spent a week at Blue Cliff Monastery. Feel free to check out my experience and photos at [entries reflecting this experience are only for March+April+May].
A lotus flower for you!

Rob Gee said...

I agree with the sentiment that greed and a general disrespect for our home has lead to this environmental disaster. Ultimately, pointing fingers at BP, or the consuming public, or the government, or anyone for that matter is not productive. We must recognize that we all have a shared stake in our environment and a shared responsibility for its protection.

I cringed a little bit at your comments on monotheistic religions. While I am not particularly religious, and Buddhist if I am to be called religious, I do recognize that the monotheistic religions all have a concept of interdependence and unity in the form of the The Father and the Holy Spirit, which is said to pervade all living things. All of existence is said to be the creation of The Father, the incomprehensible God. In this sense, we cannot fault the message of these religions. Rather, we should generate compassion for those who ignore the message of unity and respect, for they suffer and cause suffering.

They call him James Ure said...

@Gypsy...Yeah, TNH is AMAZING!! That's so exciting that you got to go to Blue Cliff. Thay is a wonderful teacher.

@Rob...Indeed, we do have a shared responsibility but since we still live in a world of rules and responsibility we need to discover who did this. So that it doesn't happen again. Or at least that we drastically reduce the chances of it happening again.

I raised the Christianity issue because I grew up Christian and spent 22 years as one. I was taught that I was a unique, individualistic, permanent soul. That's not interconnection.

Yes, they teach being interconnected with the trinity but not so much other people around them to the degree that Buddhism does.

It's not necessarily an indictment of them but merely the difference between the two religions. It is also taught that "God" gave dominion over the Earth to humans, and unfortunately many (but by no means all) interpreted that as being able to basically rape the Earth.

I agree with you that we need to convey compassion, and I do as much as my non-enlightenment self can. However, again, while they deserve our compassion and love we also have a responsibility to try and protect what is left. And in doing so try without forcing it to change peoples' way of thinking about the environment.

And yes, there are Buddhists in the world who trash the environment too. I didn't mean to say it was only the Christians fault. You're right, we all have a responsibility but it's frustrating when I'm doing all that I can to help and I see others (often from Christians) purposefully ignore the dire signs of environmental degradation.

Ironically, while "God" did give man dominion over the Earth he also charged man with stewardship of it. And if Jesus should come back to Earth I doubt he'll be too happy with what man has done to his garden.

This is the only planet we have and so we need to find a way to protect it for ALL religions and those of no religion to live upon.

Rob Gee said...

Namaste James,

Thanks for clarifying your perspective. I agree that many people of all faiths have gone astray, and the more powerful people who have gone astray have lead still more people astray by their example. It is a tragic situation. I too am American and grew up around Christian hypocrisy. That is probably why I am not Christian, as when I examine the life of Christ, his gnostic teachings and so forth, I feel a great brotherhood with him. However, I find little common ground with people who call themselves Christians today. They seem to be caught up in dogma and ignore the truly important messages of Christ. Suddenly the quest for union with Christ becomes about avoiding Hell rather than about experiencing the Kingdom of God on Earth.

As for responsibility, I think that there is so much shared responsibility that to punish the left hand but not the right would be unjust. The consuming public, government and BP are all at fault. Ultimately, we all suffer for this ignorance.

I feel that the only real solution is to foster the values of stewardship and unity. In a very real way, the fate of humanity is tied to the fate of the Earth. Changing the attitude in America is the only way to really address the root of the problem, which is ignorance.

I believe that mindfulness and interdependence should be taught and heavily emphasized in schools as a secular practice. Imagine if people looked deeply at their consumption every time they filled their gas tank, or ate a steak, or watered their lawn. Imagine if they realized the impact their consumption and the consumption of others was having on the environment. This would have huge ramifications for the way we act towards our environment.

These values are universal values. They are found in the true practice of many religions, but they need not be religious in nature. We must ingrain these values in our youth instead of ingraining them with capitalistic, selfish, materialistic values.

Oh boy, I can feel myself getting pessimistic.

Gypsy said...

Re. 'our responsibility' in BP's catastrophe, I have a very pragmatic question. Why do i continue seeing cars fueling up at BP's stations??
There is a Spanish saying: The one who feeds the pig, is as pig as the pig itself. Why do i see people still feeding this pig?
A pity, considering it is something at reach of everyone.

Chris said...

Thanks for sharing

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