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Friday, April 22, 2011

A Buddhist Earth Day Message.

Buddha's foundational teaching of interconnection and interdependence, or co-arising demands that we live in balance with the environment. If we are just as apart of a towering tree as it's leaves, then to recklessly destroy our forests, rivers and oceans is to slowly but exponentially kill apart of ourselves.

The Buddha's teaching on walking the middle ground between extremes of over-consumption and austerity fits perfectly into the modern, environmental practice of living in balance with nature. It's what we speak of today as "sustainability" or living within our means. It's not necessary to live like a cave man to be an environmentalist in the Buddhist sense, as that would be living out of balance in austerity. It's structuring our lives, so that when we utilize nature's resources, we do it in a balanced and sustainable way.

This "one or the other" thinking that exists in the environmentalist debate today is a less skillful approach. We don't have to choose between environmental sustainability and destructive over-consumption. The environment uses our byproducts of exhaled carbon dioxide to live, and our body waste (or that of animals) as fertilizer, so it's a symbiotic relationship of give and take. The problem comes, of course, when we take much more than is given and the entire ecosystem is throw out of balance, endangering all.

Another modern day environmental tenet is recycling, which, again fits snugly within the Dharma. Buddha's robes (and those of his fellow monks) where said to be fashioned from scraps of cloth found discarded and donated by generous families. They would even use scraps from the clothes of dead people donated by grieving families!! How many of us wear second-hand clothes made from discarded fabric?!! However, we don't have to adorn ourselves in tattered cloth in order to leave a soft footprint on the environment. It's a matter of repairing garments that are otherwise perfectly wearable, rather than throwing them in the trash.

Buddha also didn't have a fancy, extensive wardrobe to choose from, but rather only what was necessary. For us, today, that means buying less clothes than we need, which is not only in keeping with the middle path, but also the Buddhist ideal of balanced consumption. It also means donating old clothes, instead of throwing them in the garbage. And less garbage means a less polluted environment; thus, a healthier place to live.

In wrapping up the post, I want to come full circle back to interconnection. As Buddhists, we believe that all sentient beings are reborn upon death. Therefore, we should feel a strong commitment to leave a better world for those beings. To paraphrase a famous quote, the environment is on loan to us from future generations. Let's not ruin it for them--and us. Happy Earth Day everyone!!

~Peace to all beings~

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3 comments:

Existential Buddhist said...

I was concerned to see people doing one day Earth Day pledges. While it's great to get involved, taking one day out of the year to be mindful of the environment, a greater culture of environmentalism is needed permanently.

They call him James Ure said...

Hi, Existential Buddhist. I agree that we need to be aware of the environment and work to protect it all year round. The environment is a very important issue for me and I can assure you that I think about it all the time.

I do my best to chip in and help reduce my use of energy and consumption but I hope one day to move into a small cabin with solar and wind energy to be self-sustaining.

Anne Wayman said...

Acting on living lightly sounds fine, and I work at it. Consumption seems so all pervasive! Thanks for the reminder that we conserve, become conscious of our interbeing regardless.

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