JS: Rinpoche, what distinction should we make between the relative and absolute dimensions when it comes to such an unprecedented crisis as global climate change?
DR: Of course if one is a follower of either Mahayana or the Great Perfection, then it is fine to rest in the view of Emptiness or the view of the Great Perfection, in which everything is complete and perfect. That is excellent. On the other hand, on the relative level, we are people who have taken birth. And the reason we took birth was basic ignorance. So once we are already in the whole machinery of samsara, where we are born and subject to the environment we live in, then of course we need to pay respect to that, and take care of it.
To do so, it is important to investigate what is happening. Scientists should investigate and establish the causes and reasons for global warming and ecological degradation. Then, as much as we are able to rid ourselves of all the pollutants concerned, we should actively try to solve this crisis. We are products of the world and we live in interdependence with the world, so it is very important from the relative perspective to be engaged in solving environmental issues.
JS: Science has identified the root cause of global warming as 200 years of humans extracting coal and oil from under the earth - which is hundreds of millions of years old - and burning them in all kinds of combustion engines for transportation and to generate electricity. The residual gas from that has seriously contaminated the atmosphere. That is the chain of causation. The situation is maintained and worsened through the profit motive, through greed.
DR: Many highly realized masters of the past prophesied that events could occur in the Kaliyuga such as the melting of great mountain snow caps and glaciers, and other disasters involving the four elements. Peoples’ activities in general have been changing in ways that bring about an outcome like global warming. In the relative dimension, that is indeed the case. The environment has been polluted, underground water is drying up, ancient ice and snow mountains are melting. And human beings are the cause of such things happening.
JS: The most powerful sector of the world economy is the fossil fuel sector. Their purpose is to continue ‘business as usual’. Yet if they do, there is tremendous danger to the world’s climate. It is no longer just about sentient beings, ‘the contained’. Even the container itself is now beginning to break. This has never happened before in human history. In China and India, industrialization is based on coal, the worst form of carbon pollution. Yet they have huge possibilities to use wind or solar energy for electricity generation instead. How can we, as Buddhists, influence this situation?
DR: Future energy sources will be environmentally benign—wind and solar. If such innovations are applied, and can be enforced, it will help everybody. It can be established whether renewable energy is sufficiently viable or cost-effective. We should ask why our societies continue to use coal and other dirty energy sources. If there are viable ways of using solar and wind energy, everyone should concentrate on putting them into use. There needs to be more of a push towards renewable energy.
JS: In Europe they plan to get 20% of total electricity in this way by 2020. The idea that renewable energy is not viable is fossil fuel industry propaganda. If we do not change course, now and over the next decade, frankly it may become too late. We may end up with a climate breakdown that makes half of all animal and plant species extinct by 2050.
DR: Buddha taught that all the causes and outcomes are created through our own thinking. If we could control our negative thinking, everything would proceed on a more constructive level. If the cause is good, the effect is that you yourself will be benefited. The great teachers have pointed out that the world is not changing, peoples’ minds are changing. Since peoples’ negative thinking is increasing, that creates all the kinds of negative outcomes society is experiencing at this time. Buddhism recognizes that the world environment has not changed by itself - it has been changed by human error or greed. With respect to the role of fossil fuels and the energy industry, we need to combine the latest scientific facts and figures with the way of thinking of the Buddha to bring about a good resolution. That would be very useful.
JS: There will be a big struggle. The fossil fuel economy is characterized by extraordinary greed. Presently this is the decisive influence on our societies. If we are Buddhist, even if we are just decent human beings with a heart, it seems we have no choice but to oppose activity that has such negative consequences for all sentient beings.
DR: Well, then it seems renewable energy is possible, but the negative forces who seek to continue excessive use of fossil fuels are still too strong. It would be very difficult to change all these things at once. If we want to climb upstairs, we have to go step by step. If we build a house, first we lay foundations, and that takes time. Scientists and others should work together to progressively establish the benefit of new, harmonious energy sources. We have to make real effort to achieve the benefits of renewable energy. It is probably not possible to change everybody’s attitude immediately. But I think, cooperative, progressive efforts can lead to better results in the future.
JS: Would it be possible for example to arrange or compose a sadhana that certain monasteries could practice, say over the next, critical 7 years, and then we could raise money to fund this? I am referring to a specific activity that Buddhists could support, as a positive energetic contribution in the invisible realm, so to speak.
DR: Yes, there would be great benefit if we could do such pujas. We place our confidence in the three jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and there is definitely great positive benefit in this. At the same time, everything depends on individuals. The individual person has to improve their own way of thinking. Buddha said ‘I have shown you the path that leads to enlightenment, but you yourself have to use that path’. Let’s say we ignore the path. At the time of death, we experience a completely confused and disturbed state. Although we appeal for help to be taken out of it, even a Buddha cannot do so because our own negative karmic deeds have brought about that suffering. So there are these two aspects. Individuals have to improve their way of thinking. And without doubt, if we could practice pujas like Drollo, Phurba or Jinseg [Burnt Offering], they could benefit the whole world now.
This world evolved on the mandala of the 4 energies. Accordingly, in the Kaliyuga there is the possibility of destruction by the elements of heat, water, and wind. We are living in a kalpa that ultimately will come to an end. We believe that, because great masters have prophesied it; it is all in our texts. We cannot specify the time frame. This world’s existence has gone on for billions of years, so to pinpoint an end-phase exactly is not possible. I think that science and Buddhist philosophy go together. Using them together, not harming sentient beings or the living world – this will benefit beings and be really positive. If we can establish the facts correctly, and change the general attitude towards the living world and renewable energy, that could benefit all beings, not only humans. It is a worthwhile, noble cause. I am happy to support it.
Interview by John & Diane Stanley,
Bodh Gaya, India & Bodnath, Kathmandu, Nepal; March 2007
Dudjom Rinpoche III, Sangye Pema Zhepa, is the reincarnation of Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche [d.1987]. He was born in E. Tibet [Qinghai] in the Iron Horse year of 1990. His father was Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche’s son, Dola Tulku Jigmed. He was recognized by Khandro Tare Lhamo and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. He was enthroned as Dudjom Tulku in 1994 by Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche, the most senior disciple of Dudjom Rinpoche, who is also his root teacher.