Global Environment 2013:
A Buddhist Perspective
by Kyabje Sakya Trizin
Life is not only precious to us. It is precious to every living being, from the tiniest insect to the highest god. Life is what is most precious to every single other being. When we experience our own feelings, we can remember how every individual also feels the same way.
We have to always remember how we need to protect the many forms of life, and also to protect the environment that harbours it. No one can live in a place where there is no water, where there are no trees, and so forth. Our lives are completely dependent on our environment.
We might say that the Buddha was the founder of environmentalism. His Vinaya – the code of behaviour that he instituted for monks and nuns – stipulates that “You cannot cut trees, you cannot cut leaves; you cannot cut flowers; you cannot disturb the forest; you cannot foul the river; you cannot foul the grass.” In his own time, the Buddha instructed his Sangha to observe the same guidance nowadays set forth by environmentalists.
Today, our world is experiencing serious environmental problems. Many of my friends are very concerned about this, and have concluded that the Earth will eventually become like a desert; without water, trees and rain. So we need to think about the future beings who will inherit our Earth; our children, grandchildren and everyone else. We need to consider the problems they will face, and ensure that the Earth will remain suitable for them to inhabit.
Buddhist teachings have much to offer in making this world a better place. Their reach somehow goes beyond ordinary human effort, however worthy the latter may be. They are deeper and all-inclusive. Environmentalists are to be highly praised for all the work that they do, for their marvellous accomplishments. Yet we cannot say their philosophy is all-embracing. The Buddhist view of love, compassion and the protection of all beings is deeper and wider than conventional thinking.
Most Buddhist practitioners do not actively help beings. On the other hand, many animal lovers or environmentalists neither pray nor meditate, yet they step in to help animals in any kind of pain or danger. Ideally, we could combine these two attitudes—the Buddhist and environmentalist practices of compassion. It would be enormously beneficial to our world. The Buddha, after all, was a forerunner of environmentalists. Buddhism teaches that we should make this world beautiful, free and clean; not only for human beings but for every living being that inhabits it. It seems to me that modern environmentalists could learn something from the Buddha’s teachings, especially the rules of the Vinaya. By incorporating them into their own philosophy, environmentalists might deepen and broaden its scope.
The work of protecting the environment cannot be simply left to a few individuals or organisations. It is now is everyone’s responsibility. It is essential that everyone become aware of how things might turn out to be on our Earth if we don’t take care of it. If many people make an effort, this will certainly make a considerable difference. Whatever we do, it is important to fully appreciate that life is precious and that we must all do something to preserve it, making it fruitful and long-lasting. We need to do this for our own benefit...all the more so for the sake of future generations. Our environment has already entered into a rapid process of change. Many of my friends in Tibet tell me how the climate there is changing dramatically. Great snow mountains are melting—some at a very rapid place.
We Tibetans believe that it’s not only the visible aspect of Nature that is affected. There is also an invisible dimension to it that we are not always aware of. In Tibet, every mountain has its own local deity that resides there. According to our ancient beliefs, these deities are affected by degenative changes, and this makes them unhappy, leading to more natural disasters. Due to people’s greed, chemical refuse is thrown into rivers, forests are decimated and the ground is cut open to extract valuable minerals. All these natural environments are home to deities, and when they are violated in this way, so are their resident deities. Many people don’t believe in gods, local deities and other invisible beings. But I believe that they do exist and that they make a substantial difference to how things are.
The visible and invisible aspects of Nature are intrinsically linked to each other, and as a result of their being affected, many disasters arise. In order to remedy this state of affairs, I believe that we need to adopt a two-pronged approach. Not only do we need to follow the directives of environmentalism on how to physically take care of our world, but we need to perform protective and rejuvenating rituals. I truly believe that these rituals have a definite effect on things.
By trying from every angle, everybody in their own way, matters will definitely improve. It is very important that everyone plays a part in taking care of our Earth, not merely delegating it to a few individuals or organisations. Are we not all part of the human race? We have now to think of its future, and of those who will follow us. If we don’t act now, they will have to live in a sort of hungry ghost land.
The Buddha’s wisdom perceives the present and the future, just as we can see the palms of our own hands. He sees every effect to every cause, and every cause to every effect. That is why his teachings are authentic and wondrous. They lead us to work for the benefit of beings, the world and the environment.
◊ Kyabje Sakya Trizin is the spiritual leader of the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Publ. here 4.6.2013