BUDDHISM AND ECOLOGY

 By

SOVAN TUN, Ph.D.

President of the Cambodian Buddhist Society, Inc.

Silver Spring, Maryland

 

INTRODUCTION

 

            Buddhism is one of the most ancient religions of the world.  It was founded 2550 years ago by Siddhartha Gautama.  It is practiced by about 500 million people throughout the world.

 

            Siddhartha Gautama knew very well the importance of nature as he lived in the forest.  After he meditated and purified his mind, he got enlightenment, and the title of Buddha was bestowed upon him.  His aim was to learn about life, and he understood life without any teachers; thus, he is called the Supreme Teacher.  His teaching is called Dhamma which means the path of living consisting of codes of moral conduct for people to abide by to live happy and to eradicate human suffering.

 

            This paper will present the close relationship between man and the nature, the treatment of animal and plant life, and the avoidance of pollution, all from the perspective of Buddhism.  It is to note that there was no discourse by the Buddha on ecology per se, but by gathering certain aspects of his Teaching and his laid-out Discipline for Buddhist monks, one can determine the Buddhist attitude towards natural environment.  Due to limitation of space in the publication, explanations of the issues are in a bullet style.

 

MAN AND NATURE

 

            The Buddha knew first hand how to live in the forest among animals and plants.  He understood that human, animals, and plants have to co-exist for each other’ survival. 

 

-         Man is the main actor in Buddhism. 

-         With ingenuity, man can build amazing structures or enhance his/her own status in the society in search of pleasure

-         In addition, man build weapons

-         Resources are limited.

-         Without morality, in search of pleasure man exploits the natural resources without restraint.  Consuming to satisfy the needs not to satisfy your greed.

-         Buddhism commends frugality as a virtue.

-         In of power and winning over competition, man builds stronger and stronger weapons which will destroy the world.

-         Buddha knows the cause of suffering; it is the greed, or the craving.

-         He also put out a permanent law of living with five precepts or commandments in which the first is thou shall abstain from killing.

-         Moral deterioration accelerates: Stealing, Lying.

-         Buddhism believes that there is a close relationship between human morality and the natural environment.  There are five natural laws, namely utuniyama, bijaniyama, cittaniyama, kammaniyama and dhammaniyama.  They can be translated as physical laws, biological laws, psychological laws, moral laws, and causal laws. That means that physical environment influences the growth and development of its biological component which in turn influences the thought pattern of people.  Modes of thinking of people determine moral standards.  The opposite process of interaction is also possible.  The morals of man influence the not only the psychological makeup of people but the biological and physical environment of the area.  Thus, the five laws demonstrate that man and nature bound together.

-         Buddha taught us how to be better human beings who are friendly to all beings in society regardless of their ethnicity, caste, creed, or color.  There are four sublime virtues that should be practiced by everybody: metta or loving kindness, karuna or compassion, mudita or joy for other’s happiness, and upekka or equanimity

 

ANIMAL AND PLANT LIFE

 

-         First precept: abstaining from killing or injuring to life.

-         Abstaining from trading in meat.

-         Strict codes for Buddhist Monks: unintentional injury to living creatures.

-         Understanding of Kamma and rebirth prepares Buddhists to adopt a sympathetic attitude towards animals.  It is possible for human beings to be reborn in subhuman state among animals.

-         Gentle non-violent attitude towards vegetation.

-         One should not even break the branch of a tree that has given one a shelter.

-         Plants are so important in providing us with all necessity

-         Stricter codes for monks: preventing them from injuring plant life.

-         The construction of parks and pleasure groves for public use is considered a great meritorious deed.

 

POLLUTION

 

-         Recognition of problems from pollution

-         Several discipline rules prohibit monks from polluting green grass and water with saliva, urine, and feces.

-         Rules regarding cleanliness of green grass prompted by ethical and aesthetic considerations. 

-         Grass is food for most animals and it is man’s duty to refrain from polluting it by his activities.

-         Noise is a serious personal and environmental pollutant troubling everyone.  It causes deafness, stress, and irritation, etc.

-         The noise breeds resentment, saps energy, and inevitably lowers efficiency.

-         The Buddha ordered a group of monks to leave the monastery for noisy behavior.  He enjoyed solitude and silence and spoke in praise of silence as it is appropriate for mental culture

-         Noise is described as a throng to one engaged in the first step of meditation.

-         Stricter rules for Buddhist monks: do not speak, do not laugh loud, do not tell jokes, and do not tickle.

 

CONCLUSION

 

-         Buddhism offers man a simple moderate lifestyle eschewing both extremities of self-destruction and self-indulgence. Satisfaction of basic human necessities, reduction of wants to the minimum. Frugality and contentment are its important characteristics.

-         With such lifestyle, man will adopt a non-exploitative, non-aggressive, gentle attitude towards nature