Dalai Lama XIV
Buddhism and the Global Environment
Abridged & arranged from Collected Statements on the Environment (2007)
Ecology & the Human Heart
I deeply believe that we should not only maintain gentle, peaceful relations with our fellow human beings but also that it is very important to extend the same kind of attitude towards the natural environment. We need to teach people that the environment has a direct bearing on our own benefit. If you think only of yourself and forget about others, ultimately you will lose. That is also something like a law of nature. If our generation exploits everything available—the trees, the water, and the minerals—without any care for the coming generations or the future, then we are at fault, aren’t we? But if we have a genuine sense of universal responsibility as our central motivation, then our relations with the environment will be well balanced, and so will our relations with our neighbours, both domestic and international.
A Green Environment for Now and the Future
Now the adverse effects on forests through over-population and the development of various chemical elements in the atmosphere have led to irregular rainfall and global warming. This global warming has brought changes in climate, including making perennial snow mountains melt, thereby adversely affecting not only human beings but also other living species... Older people say that these mountains were covered with thick snow when they were young and that the snows are getting sparser which may be an indication of the end of the world...The harmful effect on the atmosphere brought about by chemical emissions in industrialized countries is a very dangerous sign.
A Clean Environment is a Human Right
If I were actually to vote in an election, it would be for one of the environmental parties. One of the most positive developments in the world recently has been the growing awareness of the importance of nature. Since we human beings come from Nature, there is no point in our going against Nature, which is why I say the environment is not a matter of religion or ethics or morality. These are luxuries, since we can survive without them. But we will not survive if we continue to go against Nature. It is up to us as individuals to do what we can, however little that may be. Just because switching off the light on leaving the room seems inconsequential, it does not mean that we should not do it.
Universal Responsibility and the Environment
Our belief in reincarnation is one example of our concern for the future. If you think that you will be reborn, you are likely to say to yourself, I have to preserve such and such because my future reincarnation will be able to continue with these things….the idea of reincarnation gives you reason to have direct concern about this planet and future generations. Our planet is our house. If we think of the planet as our house or as our mother, Mother Earth, we automatically feel concern for our environment.
The Buddhist attitude is one of contentment, and there may be some connection here with our attitude toward the environment. We put a limit on our consumption. Our ancient scriptures speak of the container and the contained. The world is the container – our house and we are the contained – the contents of the container. From these simple facts we deduce a special relationship, because without the container, the contents cannot be contained. Without the contents, the container contains nothing, it’s meaningless. Everything has its limit. Too much consumption or effort to make money is not good.
Practical Steps Toward Protection of the Environment
At this time it is extremely important that every human being, according to his or her ability, consistently puts effort into ensuring the conservation and protection of this planet’s environment and its inhabitants. The drawbacks of a polluted environment include a decline in the pure, cool qualities of the oceans and lakes, so that the creatures dwelling in those places are disturbed. The loss of vegetation and forests causes degeneration in the earth’s nourishment. Rain does not fall when it is needed. Unprecedented fierce storms rage, and so on...This is a request that, through understanding the interdependent nature of the world and its inhabitants, people will implement practices based upon unmistakenly accepting the correct means to cherish the potential of the vast natural realm.
Politics and Environment
At present (2007) there are six and a half billion human beings on Earth. If the living standard of the southerners were raised to the level the northerners are presently enjoying, what would happen to the world’s natural resources? This situation would not be sustainable. China, for example, has a population of 1.2 billion. If each family were to have two cars, the environmental damage would be unimaginable. Nine hundred million people live in India.
The Western concept of increasing the GNP each year must change, and fast. The principle itself contradicts all natural and logical laws. Westerners certainly need to develop a sense of contentment and more consideration towards others. In the meantime, the birth control question must also be addressed. The southern countries must curb their population growth. To tell you the truth, I think the first thing the southerners must do is recognize the negative consequences of the present Western concepts of life and economy. We have to correct or remould this erroneous belief in the value of an ever-increasing GNP.
It seems quite simple. First, it is important to realize we are part of nature. Ultimately, nature will always be more powerful than human beings, even with all their nuclear weapons, scientific equipment, and knowledge. If the sun disappears or the Earth’s temperature changes by a few degrees, then we are really in trouble. Morally, as beings of higher intelligence, we must care for this world. The other inhabitants of the planet—insects and so on—do not have the means to save or protect this world. Our other responsibility is to undo the serious environmental degradation that is the result of incorrect human behaviour. We have recklessly polluted the world with chemicals and nuclear waste, selfishly consuming many of its resources. Humanity must take the initiative to repair and protect this world.
The Natural World
If there is one area in which both education and the media have a special responsibility, it is, I believe, our natural environment. This responsibility has less to do with questions of right or wrong than with the question of survival. The natural world is our home. It is not necessarily sacred or holy. It is simply where we live. It is therefore in our interest to look after it. This is common sense. But only recently have the size of our population and the power of science and technology grown to the point that they have a direct impact on nature. To put it another way, until now, Mother Earth has been able to tolerate our sloppy house habits. However, the stage has not been reached where she can no longer accept our behaviour in silence. The problems caused by environmental disasters can be seen as her response to our irresponsible behaviour.
All this points to the need to recognize the universal dimension of our actions and, based on this, to exercise restraint. I believe that family planning is important. Couples do have a duty to consider the impact our numbers have on the natural environment. This is especially true given the impact of modern technology.
The fact that the air we breathe, the water we drink, the forests and oceans which sustain millions of different life forms, and the climatic patterns which govern our weather systems all transcend national boundaries is a source of hope. It means that no country, no matter how rich and powerful or how poor and weak it may be, can afford not to take action in respect of this issue. It is time for all those living in the industrially developed nations to give serious thought to changing their lifestyle. The cost to the planet, and thus the cost to humanity, of ever-increasing standards of living, is simply too great.
The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso is the spiritual leader and head of state of Tibet. He was born in 1935 in Takster, N.E. Tibet into a peasant family. When the Tibetan national uprising spread to Lhasa and was brutally crushed by the Chinese army, he escaped to political asylum in India. He resides in Dharamasala, India, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, he is now an international spiritual leader, speaking and teaching all over the world.