The Urban Dharma Newsletter - May 23, 2008


In This Issue: Buddhism and Gethsemani III

1. Gethsemani III an Overview.
2. Zen, Ecology, and the Inner Life - an Interview with James Thornton
3. Environmental Ethics: An Overview / J. Baird Callicott
4. Buddhism and Ecology: Challenge and Promise / Donald K. Swearer



Next week I fly to Gethsemani Abbey. I’ll be helping with the recordings and photos... The plan is to have podcast's posted of the talks and an overview of the conference published in book form.

The idea of Catholic and Buddhist monastics coming together in dialogue at Gethsemani Abbey to address one of the most important topics of our time is long overdue, and I’m honored to be a small part of the process.
Peace... Kusala

1. Gethsemani III an Overview.

Christians and Buddhists: Caring for the Planet Earth

Dear Buddhist Friends,

1. On the occasion of the festival of Vesakh, I am writing to you and your communities worldwide to convey my own warm greetings, as well as those of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

2. It gives me much joy to recall the positive relationships that Catholics and Buddhists have enjoyed for many years. I am confident that this foundation will serve to strengthen and deepen our understanding of each other as we continue to work together to build a better world not only for ourselves but also for the entire human family. Experience teaches us that dialogue fosters the desire within the person and the community to share the goodwill and harmony which already exists, and indeed to reach out ever more courageously to others, ready to embrace the challenges and difficulties that may arise.

3. Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2008 Message for the World Day of Peace, observed: “For the human family, this home is the earth, the environment that God the Creator has given us to inhabit with creativity and responsibility. We need to care for the environment: it has been entrusted to men and women to be protected and cultivated with responsible freedom, with the good of all as a constant guiding criterion” (no. 7). The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2008 as The International Year of Planet Earth. As inhabitants of the earth and believers, Christians and Buddhists respect the same creation and have a common concern to promote care for the environment which we all share.

4. Preservation of the environment, promotion of sustainable development and particular attention to climate change are matters of grave concern for everyone. Many governments, NGOs, multi-national companies, and research and tertiary institutes, in recognizing the ethical implications present in all economic and social development, are investing financial resources as well as sharing expertise on biodiversity, climate change, environmental protection and conservation. Religious leaders, too, are contributing to the public debate. This contribution is of course not just a reaction to the more recent pressing threats associated with global warming. Christianity and Buddhism have always upheld a great respect for nature and taught that we should be grateful stewards of the earth. Indeed it is only through a profound reflection on the relationship between the divine Creator, creation and creatures that attempts to address environmental concerns will not be marred by individual greed or hampered by the interests of particular groups.

5. On a practical level can we Christians and Buddhists not do more to collaborate in projects which confirm the responsibility that falls to each and every one of us? Recycling, energy conservation, the prevention of indiscriminate destruction of plant and animal life, and the protection of waterways all speak of careful stewardship and indeed foster goodwill and promote cordial relations among peoples. In this way Christians and Buddhists together can be harbingers of hope for a clean, safe and harmonious world.

6. Dear Friends, I trust that we can promote this message within our respective communities through public education and our good example in respecting nature and acting responsibly towards our one common planet Earth. Once again let me renew my heartfelt greetings and wish you a Happy Feast of Vesakh.

Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran

Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata

G-III Daily Schedule

All participants are welcome to join the monastic community of Gethsemani Abbey
at its daily times of prayer (indicated in italics)

3:15 Vigils
5:00 Meditation (Guest Chapel)
5:45 Lauds/Mass
7:00 Breakfast
7:30 Terce
8:30-11:45 Morning Session
12:00-1:00 Dinner
12:15 Sext
2:15 None
2:30-5:15 Afternoon Session
5:30 Vespers
6:00 Supper
7:00 Evening program (TBA)
7:30 Compline


Tuesday, May 27, 7:00 PM (Chapter Room)

opening session

The Destructive Effects of Modern Technology
On the Environment and Society
As Seen by Thomas Merton

Father Ezekiel Lotz OSB
Mount Angel Abbey, Saint Benedict, Oregon

Wednesday, May 28, 8:30-11:15 AM (Chapter Room)

the world in which we live
What Is Science Telling Us Today?

Dr. Stephanie Kaza
University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont

Wednesday, May 28, 2:30-5:15 PM (Conference Room)

Buddhist and Christian understandings of the world and our place in it:
religious vision and ethical choices Interrelatedness, Interdependence, Dependent Origination

Ajahn Punnadhammo
Arrow River Hermitage, Thunder Bay, Ontario

The World as Created, Fallen, and Redeemed

Father James Wiseman OSB
Saint Anselm’s Abbey, Washington DC

Thursday, May 29, 8:30-11:15 AM (Conference Room)

how monastic rules speak of the world and our life in it:
bringing new awareness to ancient yet living documents
The Patimokkha/Pratimoksha (Theravada) and
The Ten Major and Forty-eight Subsidiary Bodhisattva Precepts
From the “Net of Brahma” Sutra (Mahayana)

Rev. Heng Sure
Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, Berkeley, California

The Rule of Benedict
Sister Judith Sutera OSB
Mount Saint Scholastica Monastery, Atchison, Kansas

Thursday, May 29, 2:30-5:15 PM (Conference Room)

monasticism vis-à-vis the consumer society

The Monastic Instinct to Revere, to Conserve,
To Be Content with Little, and to Share

Rev. Eko Little
Shasta Abbey, Mount Shasta, California

Simplicity of Life

Father Charles Cummings, OCSO
Holy Trinity Monastery, Huntsville, Utah

Friday, May 30, 8:30-11:15 AM (Conference Room)

the environmental practices of American monastic communities
Good Practices, Ancient and Emerging

Ven. Thubten Semkye
Sravasti Abbey, Newport, Washington

Renée Branigan OSB
Sacred Heart Monastery, Richardton, North Dakota

Bad Practices Hidden or Justified by Ideology

Ayya Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni
Dhammadharini Vihara, Freemont, California

Father Hugh Feiss OSB
Monastery of the Ascension, Jerome, Idaho

Friday, May 30, 2:30-5:15 PM

monasticism for the good of the earth
Buddhists and Catholics speaking with one voice
Preparation of a written statement of understanding and commitment

Saturday, May 31

closing ceremony and departure


The invitation to submit these brief biographies did not indicate if they should be written
in the first or third person. They appear here as submitted, with only minor editorial changes.

Not all participants were able to submit a biography. Information about them
was taken from publicly available sources.

Terminology and abbreviations:
Bhikkhu/Bhikshu Monk
Bhikkhuni/Bhikshuni Nun
Ajahn Teacher (Thai)
Lama Teacher (Tibetan)
Thich Vietnamese monastic title designating membership
in the Shakya clan
OSB Order of Saint Benedict
OCSO Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (aka Trappist)
Brother/Father The title “Father” indicates that a Catholic monk (Brother)
is also a priest

Sister Joan Therese Anderson OSB
I am a monk living at our monastery in Tucson, Arizona. I have been involved in East/West dialogue for twenty years. I attended the first Gethsemani Encounter as an observer. I was moved by the attentiveness, gentleness and respect with which all beliefs were received. I saw love in action.

I’m looking forward to Gethsemani III to enter into dialogue on environmental issues to explore facts, beliefs and monastic practices. I’m certain it will be an enriching spiritual experience.

Dr. Bettina Bäumer
Has a PhD in Philosophy, an Honorary Doctorate in Theology, and is a Professor of Religious Studies. She has been living and working in Varanasi, India, since 1967, and has been teaching in the Universities of Banaras, Vienna, Berne and Salzburg. Her special fields of research and publication are Sanskrit, Indian philosophy and spirituality, Indian temple art, and interreligious dialogue. She was a disciple of Swami Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux OSB) and was President of the Abhishiktananda Society (Delhi) for nineteen years. She has published a number of books on Indian spirituality and art. For the last twenty-two years she has been deeply involved in the spiritual tradition of Kashmir Shaivism and has translated some of its basic texts from Sanskrit. She has also been guiding meditation retreats on these spiritualities for the last sixteen years. Participating in Gethsemani III in the company of such a wonderful group of spiritual people from the two religions is a great honor and joy. For me it is a pilgrimage to Thomas Merton and a way of establishing direct contact with the members of MID, who invited me to be an advisor to their board. The theme of ecology is very dear to my heart and belongs to what Raimon Panikkar calls the cosmotheandric understanding of Reality. Unless the leaders of the religions can give an example of a spirituality that respects and loves the Earth and Nature, we cannot expect politicians to solve the problem. And it is in this area where a dialogue between religions is both possible and necessary. My contribution, if any, will be more from my experience with Hinduism, but Buddhism and Hinduism cannot be artificially separated.

Father David Bock OCSO
Entered monastic life in 1962 at the Abbey of New Melleray in Peosta, Iowa. He has been a board member of MID for the past six years. He is currently engaged as cook, librarian, and teacher of monks in monastic formation and training.

My hope is that the mutual exchange between the Buddhist and Christian monastic experiences will make more evident the living connection that exists between personal and environmental practice. I hope to question some of my own assumptions in light of this dialogue. Given the foundational role that monastic experience has in broader spiritual traditions, I hope that the demands of a practice of integrity toward the earth we may discern can be seen as formative for those following various spiritual paths.

Sister Renée Branigan OSB
I have been a member of Sacred Heart Monastery in Richardton, North Dakota, since 1964. My degrees in communication and spirituality have served me well in my ministries of teaching in high school, the university, and monastic formation, as well as editing publications for our community, participating in the American Benedictine Academy, and being editorial assistant for The American Benedictine Review. Having been reared in the Air Force I came to the monastery knowing there was a vast, wonderful world out there. When I was ten or eleven my father asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told him I wanted most to study how people of different faiths came to know God. That fascination has never waned. I came to the monastery to seek God, and my life as a monastic has whetted my appetite to find God in more vast and varied venues.

My hope for this conference? To sit in the midst of people with the same hungers and listen. And maybe speak now and then.

Brother Dominic Cason OSB
I grew up in thirteen foster homes until I dropped out of high school and entered the service. While serving I did three tours in Vietnam. On returning I worked for many years as a field tester, testing outdoor equipment. When I could do this no longer due to knee problems I went into retail management until monastic life came along. When I was growing up music and art were always very big and consistent things in my life as well as a great love. My degrees are in studio art and art history. This is of importance since I am the director of Saint Benedict’s Abbey Art Gallery, sing in our choir, and started our college’s ceramics program. There were some times in my life that were not good, but now with God in it things have changed and of course for the better and are a true blessing. I will not share all here in fear of boring you, plus you might want to ask questions. One thing I will tell you is that I was in legal trouble ages ago for having taken part in hanging a banner on the Sears Tower in Chicago. It was written in Japanese and Russian and said we should stop killing whales. I have always been a very big environmentalist over the years, working in a variety of projects. Monastic life in many ways has brought me full circle; I would not trade it. For some reason it just took me longer to get here. But now that I am here I have found that God seems to have had a great gift waiting for me.

I do pray that we may all leave this encounter with new knowledge and a greater drive to try and bring our homes into a greener existence. And that we try in the ways we are allowed to help those around use a greener path.

Sister Catherine Cleary OSB
I am a member of Saint Mary Monastery, Rock Island, Illinois. I am on our retreat house staff serving as a spiritual director and retreat presenter. As a member of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, I have initiated a Women’s Muslim/Christian Dialogue that has led to interest and friendship among Muslim and Christian women in the area. We are hosting a Cambodian Buddhist monk in May who will teach us posture and breathing techniques and meditation. He will also tell us about his monastery’s school for orphaned children and its housing and rehabilitation of women victimized by trafficking. Our monastery is hosting the 2008 Buddhist/Benedictine Sisters dialogue.

My hope for the Gethsemani Conference is that I will be more converted spiritually and practically so when returning home I can energize the community to more radical practices of going green.

Father James Conner OCSO
Is a monk at Gethsemani Abbey and was for many years the editor of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin. He has spoken and written widely on Merton, with whom he worked as Assistant Novice Master in the 1960s.

Father Charles Cummings, OCSO,
Has been a monk of Holy Trinity Abbey in Utah since 1960. He currently serves as vocation director and novice director and helps make flavored creamed honey. He is the author of Eco-Spirituality: Toward a Reverent Life (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1991, ISBN 0-8091-3251-6, out of print).

Rev. Thich Hang Dat
Came to the United States as a teenager in the 1980s. In 1990 he graduated from Penn State University with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. After that he moved to Ukiah, California, where he earned a master’s degree in Buddhist studies from Dharma Realm Buddhist University and became a monk He established the Ten Thousand Buddhas Summit Monastery (TTBSM) near Corydon, Indiana, on October, 2001. The monastery is an organization of Buddhist monks, nuns, and laity who place emphasis on practicing Buddhist Mindfulness, Loving-Kindness, Broadmindedness, and Skillfulness, which are beneficial to family, community, and society. He has taught Buddhism classes at four schools: the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, Indiana University-Southeast in New Albany, and Bellarmine University and the University of Louisville’s Shelby Campus, both in Louisville, Kentucky.

Dr. Ron Epstein
Is a scholar-practitioner affiliated with Dharma Realm Buddhist University, Ukiah, California. He previously taught Buddhism and comparative religion at the University of California at Davis and at San Francisco State University, where he also developed classes in environmental ethics. As a founding member of the Buddhist Text Translation Society, he has translated both Buddhist sutras and exegetical works. He has written on a wide range of Buddhist topics. Among his publications on environmental topics are “Environmental Issues: A Buddhist Perspective,” “Genetic Engineering: A Buddhist Assessment,” and “Redesigning the World: Ethical Questions about Genetic Engineering.” He was also co-sponsor of the first county-wide legislation in the United States that bans the growing and raising of genetically engineered plants and animals. For the past six years he has been a participant in the annual Northern California Chan, Zen, Catholic Dialogue Group retreats, which are co-sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

My hopes for the outcomes of this conference are as follows: 1) a greater awareness of the importance of developing purity of heart as an essential component of action to significantly decrease the amount of the pollution of our environment; 2) a shared appreciation of the scriptural roots of respect for life in the sacred texts of both Catholic and Buddhist traditions; 3) development among participants of a sense of deep caring and fellowship that transcends religious traditions and that is based on mutual respect, loving compassion, and shared daily practices during the conference; 4) Buddhist-Catholic cooperation in sharing methods for making monastic communities greener; 5) cooperative efforts to share the insights of the conference with the greater Buddhist and Catholic communities.

Father Hugh Bernard Feiss OSB
Is a monk at the Monastery of the Ascension in Jerome, Idaho. Having earned licentiates in theology and philosophy at The Catholic University of America and a doctorate in theology from the Anselmianum in Rome, he taught theology at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon for thirty years, including a course on “Theology and Ecology.” He contributed to the Bishops’ Pastoral on the Columbia River.

I hope to receive encouragement and ideas regarding role of monastics and monasteries in living on the earth in a way that is sustainable and deals with ecological issues, to learn about Buddhist monasticism, and to have a chance to experience again Trappist life.

Bhikshuni Heng Jen
Is a disciple of Master Hsuan Hua, has been a fully-ordained nun in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition for eighteen years. While residing at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Northern California, she served as an instructor for Developing Virtue Girls and Boys high school and as a member of the Sangha faculty of Dharma Realm Buddhist University. Currently resident at Gold Buddha Monastery in Vancouver, Canada, she continues her decades of active participation in the Buddhist Text Translation Society, serving as a reviewer of Chinese transcripts, a translator from Chinese to English, and a certifier of English translations. Heng Jen Shi is a proficient Cantor of classical Buddhist rituals and a lively speaker of Dharma.

Jason Kaas
Graduated this year from Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, with a major in Peace Studies and minors in environmental studies and philosophy. His major areas of research have included Native American spirituality and the Jain tradition.

I am quite honored to be able to attend an event with such a wise community of participants. The potential fruits of the upcoming dialogue could be of great value to the world given our present global condition. I look forward to helping out any way I can and learning as much as is possible. Peace.

Rev. Chandana Karuna
Is a Dharma teacher at the International Buddhist Meditation Center and a member of its residential program for monastics, clerics and laypeople in Los Angeles. She is committed to interfaith/intra-Buddhist dialogue, with a special interest in peacemaking/peacekeeping.

I hope that Gethsemani III will help focus intention, through faith, into compassionate options and community action.

Dr. Stephanie Kaza
Is Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont, serving the Environmental Program with an appointment through the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. She teaches and advises undergraduate and graduate students with a concentration in the environmental humanities. Her courses include: Religion and Ecology, Ecofeminism, Unlearning Consumerism, and Introduction to Environmental Studies. Dr. Kaza’s interdisciplinary approach is reflected in her academic training: Ph.D. in Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz; M.A. in Education, Stanford University; M.Div., Starr King School for the Ministry; and B.A. in Biology, Oberlin College. As co-chair of the UMV Environmental Council, Professor Kaza has been actively engaged in campus sustainability initiatives to reduce waste, conserve energy, and promote environmental values. Dr. Kaza is currently President of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies and is an active member of the Religion and Ecology group of the American Academy of Religion. She is the author of numerous articles on Buddhist environmental thought as well as The Attentive Heart: Conversations with Trees, meditative essays on deep ecological relations with trees, and co-editor (with Kenneth Kraft) of Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism. Her latest book is an edited collection on Buddhism and consumerism entitled Hooked! Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume. She writes a regular ecology column for Turning Wheel, journal of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

Rev. Kusala Bhikshu
Lives and works at the International Buddhist Meditation Center in the Korea town section of Los Angeles. He cares for the Center’s animals leads a weekly discussion group and a twice weekly meditation group. He continues to give presentations at local high schools, colleges, and churches on basic Buddhism and social action. Kusala is the web-master for International Buddhist Meditation Center, as well as his own websites: Kusala.info, UrbanDharma.org, DharmaTalks.info, BuddhaBooks.info. He is Buddhist Chaplain for the University Religious Conference at UCLA and director of the University Buddhist Association at UCLA with an on-campus Buddhist Club that meets weekly at the UCLA Catholic Center.

I am really excited about the possibility of adding a monastic statement to the ongoing dialogue of global warming, the environment, and compassionate food processing. Being part of the Los Angeles Buddhist/Catholic dialog since 1994, I feel both Catholic and Buddhist monastics have something unique to offer the world: a voice rooted in faith, love, wisdom, compassion and religious practice.

Rev. Eko Little
I am the abbot of Shasta Abbey, a monastery of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, home to approximately twenty-eight male and female monastics. Our monastery is located in the Siskiyou National Forest, a beautiful place if there ever was one. I am eager to talk with other monastics about the spiritual responsibilities and religious vision we have for caring for our world, as well as to discuss constructive ways to help beings cherish life, protect resources, purify the environment, and regard the world as sacred.

I aspire to more deeply understand the potential of monastic values and virtues to help beings cope with the current environmental-spiritual crisis. I see the “monastic vision” as one which can offer great courage and solace to people who will find themselves deeply challenged by environmental suffering in the years and generations to come.

Our rich religious traditions include many wonderful examples of people who cherish both the earth and the beings residing on it. I’m searching for a deeper understanding of how best to apply those examples in kind, skillful, and practical ways.

Father Ezekiel Lotz OSB
Is a member of Mount Angel Abbey, Saint Benedict, Oregon. He earned a D.Phil. degree from the Faculty of Theology at Oxford University in 2005 and teaches at Mount Angel Seminary.

Sister Anne McCarthy OSB
Is a member of Mount Saint Benedict Monastery in Erie, Pennsylvania, and is on staff at Benetvision: resources for contemporary spirituality. She lives at Mary the Apostle, a new Catholic Worker house in inner-city Erie, chairs the local peace coalition, and gives retreats on nonviolence and monasticism. She has served in national leadership with Pax Christi USA and the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

My hopes for this encounter: that our experience will deepen my intention and our intention to live monastic life in a way that is healing for the planet.

Sister Hélène Mercier OSB
Is a member of Saint Benedict’s Monastery, Saint Joseph, Minnesota, where she is Director of Oblates. Sister Hélène began her monastic life at the Benedictine Priory of Montreal, founded by Dom John Main.

Dr. Donald W. Mitchell
Is professor of philosophy at Purdue University, where he teaches courses on Eastern philosophy, especially Buddhism. He has been involved in the Buddhist-Christian dialogue for a long time, was co-founder of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies, and has been advisor for MID, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. He was also a member and then coordinator of the International Buddhist-Christian Theological Encounter. His books include Spirituality and Emptiness, Masao Abe: A Zen Life of Dialogue, and Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience. He is also co-editor of The Gethsemani Encounter and Transforming Suffering. Don is a member of the Focolare Movement, and in recent years has been involved in dialogue and exchange programs with Muslims.

My hope for this third Gethsemani Encounter is to learn more about the monastic traditions, both Buddhist and Christian, and their wisdom concerning the environment and its care.

Father Markus Muff OSB
Is a monk of Engelberg, a Benedictine monastery in Switzerland. His university studies at the Hochschule Sankt Gallen, Switzerland, were in economics and business administration. In preparation for ordination to the priesthood he studied philosophy and theology at Einsiedeln, another Benedictine monastery in Switzerland, at the international Benedictine House of Studies (Sant’Anselmo) in Rome, and at the University of Lucerne. He taught English in the high school at Engelberg and was Business Manager of the monastery for sixteen years. He served as spiritual director for Catholic seminary students in Lucerne for three years and now is in Rome as Director of Development for Europe at Sant’Anselmo. He is a member of about ten different international foundations—including the Rotary Club Roma Appia Antica—that support culture, education, monasteries, interreligious dialogue, and social welfare.

Father Jerome Naduvathanyil OSB
Is a monk of the monastery of Asirvanam in Bangalore and served as secretary to Benedictine Interreligious Dialogue (BID) in India. He is beginning a three-year appointment to serve as a parish priest in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Lama Norbu
Began his study of the Dharma in the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and was ordained in Sera Mey Monastery in 1987. During his fourteen years of monastic studies, he was blessed to study with teachers such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness Sakya Trizin, Ven. Khen Sur Rinpoche Ngawang Teecho, Ven. Dhakpa Tulku Rinpoche, and Ven. Geshe Danche Zunpo. After he passed his Geshe Degree in 1997, he traveled to Singapore and Taiwan. In 1998, he accompanied the abbot of Sera Mey University, Ven. Khen Sur Rinpoche Ngawang Teecho, and became his Tibetan-Chinese Dharma translator in Taiwan. Soon he was invited by the Chinese Buddhist Association to be the resident teacher in Taiwan, where he stayed for three years. Ven. Norbu Lama then came to the United States to explore the world, meet people from diverse backgrounds, and teach the essence of Buddha Dharma, which transcends culture and ideology. He is currently teaching Buddhism and living in Phoenix Arizona as the spiritual director of Bodhiheart.

Father Michael Peterson OSB
Has been a member of Blue Cloud Abbey in rural South Dakota for twelve years. He is the director of the Retreat Program and also the abbey’s choir director and organist. He is deeply rooted in the land through his vow of stability.

Michael hopes to gain a better understanding of humanity’s relationship to the earth, not only in a deeper Christian context, but in the broader milieu through dialogue with other religious traditions.

Brother Daniel Pont OSB
Is a monk of the Abbaye d’En Calcat in south of France and serves as European Coordinator for Dialogue Monastique Interreligieux/Monastic Interreligious Dialogue. He attended a Kumbha Mela in India when he was eighteen and spent seven years in Jerusalem in a Byzantine rite monastery. Several trips in Asia across Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim countries rooted him in the need for interreligious dialogue. He is the director of the ecological commission in his monastery. In partnership with WWF (World Wildlife Fund), he compared the ecological print of his monastery with that of a French Buddhist monastery. The forest of his monastery has been devastated by the mountain pine-beetle infestation, a result of the 2003 drought. All the monks less then sixty years old are working once a month to replant a new forest. A new wood power boiler is about to be built. He is the monastery’s bee keeper and works in its zither workshop.

As a member of the European MID Board, I am looking forward to this opportunity to meet with American Board members and other monastics, and to deepen my understanding and appreciation of what monasticism, with its symbolism and sense of reality, can still do for our world.

Ajahn Punnadhammo
Is a Theravada monk ordained in Thailand in 1992. He is currently the abbot of the Arrow River Forest Hermitage near Thunder Bay, Ontario.

What I hope will come out of the conference: A clearer awareness of our relationship to the planet which sustains us and an exploration of possible ways monastic communities can help to keep the planetary system healthy for future generations.

Brother Aaron Raverty OSB,
Is a monk of Saint John’s Abbey, project editor at Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, and a cultural anthropologist. He is serving his second term on the MID Board of Directors, and also serves as the book review editor for the MID Bulletin.

He hopes that this conference will further the goals of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, and continue to foster the rich, mutual exchange of the first two Gethsemani Encounters.

Thubten Semkye
Has been practicing Buddhism since 1997. She met her teacher Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron at Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle, Washington where Venerable Chodron was spiritual director. While a member of Dharma Friendship Foundation she organized teacher’s visits and lead meditation classes as well as attended retreats lead by her teacher. A lay practitioner at the time, Venerable Semkye studied horticulture and was a master gardener for the Seattle area. In 2004 she relocated to Newport, Washington shortly after Venerable Chodron founded Sravasti Abbey. Ordained in 2007, Semkye facilitates volunteer activities at the Abbey and is responsible for the perennial gardens and grounds. She also heads the implementation of the Forest Stewardship plan for the Abbey’s 240 acres of forest and meadows.

She hopes that the conference garners spiritual as well as practical support, resources and a network for Catholic and Buddhist monastic communities in the West that will help us now and in the future be even brighter beacons and inspiring models for our society’s cultivation of simplicity, an appreciation of the interdependence of all beings, a wise and compassionate practice of stewardship for the land, and a sense of contentment in the minds and hearts of those who turn towards us for inspiration.

Abbot Mark Serna OSB
Is a priest and monk from Portsmouth Abbey, Rhode Island. He entered the monastery in 1979 and served as the monastery’s Abbot from 1991 to 2005 and Headmaster of the Portsmouth Abbey School from 1995 to 2000. Over the years he has led many retreats and has had experience as a Spiritual Director. He is actively engaged in interreligious dialogue and is the President/Chairman of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue.

Abbot Mark hopes that the Gethsemani III Encounter will provide a climate for deep dialogue between Buddhist and Catholic monastic representatives, and others, at a contemplative level. In addition, he expectantly wonders what such deep listening will offer all participants as they pay attention to issues concerning the environment.

Father Philip Simo OSB
Is a member of Saint Anselm’s Abbey in Washington DC and teaches at the Abbey School.

My hopes and expectations for the conference are that I will truly listen and learn so that I with others can take more action to help our world reverse the damage we are doing to it!!

Father William Skudlarek OSB
Is a monk of Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota, where his most recent work was as Administrative Assistant to the Abbot. In addition to having taught theology and homiletics at Saint John’s University, he served as a Maryknoll Associate in Brazil, where he lived with a small lay monastic community and assisted the pastor of a rural parish for five years. He was also a member of Saint John’s Abbey’s priory in Japan for seven years. During his time in Japan he began to practice zazen with the Sanbyō Kyōdan. After serving for five years as President and then Executive Director of the North American branch of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, he was appointed General Secretary of Dialogue Interreligieux Monastique/Monastic Interreligious Dialogue in November 2007 and will move to Rome in August 2008 to promote and coordinate monastic interreligious dialogue worldwide.

He hopes that the conference will help the participants come to a deeper appreciation of the many ways in which the monastic path and the ecological path intersect, to their mutual benefit.

Sister Sarah Smedman OSB
Of Saint Scholastica Monastery, Duluth, Minnesota, is a retired professor of English. Currently she is Director of Continuing Education and Life Development and is a member of the Administrative Staff at the Monastery. She serves on the Monastery Council and on the Boards of Trustees of Saint Mary’s Medical Center/Saint Mary’s Hospital Superior, Wisconsin, of Saint Mary’s—Duluth Clinic, and of the College of Saint Scholastica, where she is also a member of the Advisory Boards of the Interreligious Forum and of the Braegelman Catholic Studies Program.

As a new member of the MID Board, I am looking forward to Gethsemani III as an opportunity to get to know and interact with Board members and other monastics and to deepen my understanding and appreciation of our common concern with, and responsibilities as co-partners to, our world. I am also excited just about spending time at Gethsemani Abbey.

Sister Katherine Ann Smolik OSB
Has been a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of Clyde, Missouri, since 1994. She lived at their Osage Monastery, a Catholic ashram in Oklahoma, for two years and attended Nuns in the West II, held at the Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California. She has been a member of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Board for three years and is currently coordinating Nuns in the West III to be held this year at Saint Mary Monastery in Rock Island, Illinois, on Labor Day weekend.

My hope is that our sharing will bring us to a deeper appreciation for and understanding of our responsibility to care for the earth.

Ajahn Sona
Is a fully ordained Theravada monk of nineteen years seniority. He is the abbot of Birken Forest Monastery in British Columbia, Canada. He has trained in the Thai forest tradition in Thailand and also with Ven. Gunaratana in the Sri Lankan forest tradition. Ven. Sona’s lay background has been deeply involved in Western cultural studies of classical music and Western philosophy.

For the last twenty-five years Ven. Sona has lived in secluded forest hermitages and monasteries in North America and Asia. It is from this long love affair with nature, peace, and wisdom that his interest in our present ecological conundrum has evolved. He feels that our present monastery is serving as an example of the possibilities of harmonizing the best of Eastern and Western thought, technology, and emotional training in an earnest physical structure developed for minimizing negative ecological impacts. The monastery can accommodate twenty-five people, is in the middle of 400 square miles of empty forest, and it is off-grid (generating all its own heat and power through solar panels and a high efficiency wood boiler). The particular impact of global warming is profoundly evident in the last three years around the monastery. The forest to the horizon has been devastated by the mountain pine-beetle infestation which is a co-result of warming trends and mono-culture planting of pine trees by giant forestry companies. So environmental issues are not “distant and abstract” but daily a contention for our community, affecting every aspect of our operation.

Ajahn Sudanto
Became interested in Buddhism and Indian spiritual traditions while completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Oregon. After graduation he set off for an open-ended period of travel and spiritual seeking in India and Southeast Asia. After a year of traveling, he proceeded to Thailand to begin a period of intensive study and meditation, which drew him to Wat Pah Nanachat in the Northeast of Thailand. There he met Ajahn Pasanno (then the abbot) and requested to ordain and train with the resident community, taking full ordination as a bhikkhu in 1994. After training for five years at Wat Pah Nanachat and various branch monasteries in the Ajahn Chah tradition, he came to Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in Redwood Valley, California, to live and train with the emerging sangha in America.

Rev. Heng Sure
I have been ordained for thirty-two years in the Chinese Mahayana Tradition. I’ve been a pilgrim, a translator, a lecturer on sutras, a musician, and an interpreter of the Buddha’s Dharma for Westerners and more often these days, for Asians raised either in the West, who meet Buddhism in the United States, or for Chinese raised in a secular state without access to religion or spirituality in any form.

As a practitioner and scholar I am deeply interested in Interfaith and Intrafaith Dialogue; what we do in these first years of the Dharma’s advent in the West, in particular what we can learn from our Interfaith neighbors will determine how the Buddha’s teaching will take root, adapt and grow in the West

I hope that our conference will heighten our awareness of the role of monastics’ stewardship of land and resources for the well-being of all creatures. Further I hope that what we do and say at Gethsemani III will contribute to the public’s awareness of the greater Sangha’s historical example of living gracefully and wisely on earth.

Sister Judith Sutera OSB
Is a member of the monastery of Mount Saint Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas. She is editor of Magistra, a biannual journal that features translations of sources and original research in the history of women's spirituality from all religious traditions, and editor in chief of The American Monastic Newsletter, a national news channel for American Benedictines and Cistercians sponsored by the American Benedictine Academy. She is also a charter member of the steering committee of the Conference on the History of Women Religious.

This will be her first Gethsemani Dialogue as a member of the MID board, and she is looking forward to learning more about the Buddhist perspective on the important topic of the environmental crisis, an issue to which she has a deep commitment.

Bhikshuni Heng Syun
Entered the Sangha in 1990 in Taiwan and received full ordination thirteen years ago.. She has served as a monastic administrator and manager of Gold Mountain Monastery in San Francisco, Gold Wheel Monastery in Los Angeles, Long Beach Monastery in Long Beach, Gold Summit Monastery in Seattle, and is currently manager of Avatamsaka Monastery in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She has lectured on precepts to novice nuns during several of the intensive 108-day training periods leading to full ordination. She is an experienced speaker of Dharma and is qualified to lecture on Mahayana Sutras, following the oral traditions of the late Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. She enjoys sharing thoughts and talks with members of her Wednesday night meditation group.

Heng Syun’s wishes for this conference are: 1) To gain insight and to experience religious dialogue through participation in Gethsemani III. 2) To deepen awareness of how spiritual practice enhances the well-being of sentient beings and the planet in this time of global warming and pollution. 3) To discover ways to enhance collaboration among those committed to a spiritual and religious vocation; the hope being that through resolve, vision, and practical application we can cherish the resources of our earth, to prolong the lifespan of the diverse species on our planet and through wisdom and compassion, make our planet a better place on which to stay.

Bhikkhuni Tathaaloka
Is the founding Abbess of Dhammadharini Vihara, a women’s monastic retreat residence in Fremont, California. She is an American-born member of the Buddhist Women’s Monastic Sangha with a background in Zen and Theravadan Buddhism. She began monastic life in 1990 and was granted Higher Ordination by an ecumenical gathering of the Bhikkhu & Bhikkhuni Sanghas under the late Bhante Ratanansara in Los Angeles in early 1997.

Dr. Victoria Urubshurow
Has been a practicing Buddhist since 1975. She was a student of the late Geshe Wangyal at the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in Washington, New Jersey, where she lived for extended periods of time. She earned a doctorate degree from the Committee on the History of Culture at the University of Chicago (1984), and has taught college courses on Buddhism, Asian Religions, World Religions, World Mythology, and Comparative Spirituality for two decades. Presently she is a Collegiate Associate Professor of Humanities at the University of Maryland University College. Her recent publications include The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Life of Buddha (Penguin Group 2007), and Introducing World Religions (Routledge and JBE Online Books 2008).

I hope for three things to come as fruits of the Gethsemani Encounter: (a) deepening of my own awareness of environmental problems, and increased motivation to respond to them, (b) more extensive and ongoing communication between Christian and Buddhist practitioners with a common interest in problem-solving with respect to the environment, and (c) a formal statement of purpose that captures the participants’ understanding of certain aspects of environmental problems to which they (we) may be in a position to respond, coupled with a “strategic plan.”

Sister Mary David Walgenbach OSB
Is prioress of Benedictine Women of Madison, a newly established ecumenical community at Holy Wisdom Monastery, Madison, Wisconsin. Along with the community’s ecumenical work, an environmental initiative begun in 1995 has resulted in restoring farm land to natural prairie, participating in the Mendota Watershed Project, and restoring an oaks savanna. We collaborate with many environmental and ecumenical groups to further our mission. The community is in the process of building a LEED platinum monastery which will be completed in June 2009.

I look forward to meeting new people and to forming a group that keeps the environmental issues on the table.

Father James Wiseman OSB
Is a monk of Saint Anselm’s Abbey in Washington DC and a professor of theology at The Catholic University of America. He is a former chair of MID and has been editing its online Bulletin since 1998. His most recent book is Spirituality and Mysticism: A Global View (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2006), and his article on Thomas Merton and Theravada Buddhism appeared in Merton and Buddhism, edited by Bonnie Thurston (Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2007).

He hopes that this third Gethsemani Encounter will lead to some very practical ways in which monastics in both the Buddhist and Christian traditions can work together to improve the health of our fragile planet.

2. Zen, Ecology, and the Inner Life - an Interview with James Thornton


Radical Confidence: Opening the Heart to the Living Earth

THE CALL to go deeper - to explore ways of working, living, and being beyond those of the lives we create for ourselves - comes to most of us at some point along the way. Some of us answer that call and are brought into new ways of seeing, gaining insights that allow for an opening of the heart, mind, and soul. James Thornton is such a person. James was a top notch litigator for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), winning over 100 federal cases. Yet he came to feel that the tools he was using as a litigator and environmental advocate "were used up." He felt that beyond the changes in policy he could effect as a lawyer, a shift in consciousness on the cultural level was needed.

In the following interview with Earthlight Editor Kurt de Boer, James Thornton talks about his departure from the NRDC to follow his passions of earth and spirit, and how this led him to found Positive Futures, which teaches wisdom practices to policy-makers, social activists, and future leaders. The goal is to help heal humankind's relationship with the Earth by changing the world one mind at a time, by becoming confident and positive - radically confident - so that we make our minds available to long term solutions.

Kurt de Boer: Your departure from the NRDC eventually led to, among other things, your founding of Positive Futures. Could you speak a little about that process?

James Thornton: It was a process that surprised me. I wound up staying in retreat for 14 months in Germany in a small village. What I was doing there was combining a very intense solo Zen-style retreat with visiting a Hindu teacher called Mother Meera. Each week she had sittings I would attend as well. In the middle of that year, I made a pilgrimage to India to visit the Dalai Llama and I had a very clear question for him - "how do I bring spiritual practice and environmental practice together?" He said, "you must become confident and positive. Out of angry mind, long-term solutions can never come. You must get over your own anger. Achieve a confident and positive mind. Then," he said, "help others to reach that place."

At the end of that interview, I had to begin to admit to myself that much of the work I had done as an environmentalist was based on anger. Because so much of my work was based on anger, a kind of righteous anger - what any person feels when they look at what our society is doing to the Earth - was that it had burned me out. I had to admit to myself that I hadn't gone beyond anger in my own thinking about the environment. Six more months of intense practice in Germany and one day I realized that I had become confident and positive and that it was then time to continue with the suggestion of the Dalai Llama - to share it with others.

I came back to the US and with a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation began a six month process of interviewing 100 environmental activists, a process that was very powerful for me - very surprisingly. I had assumed at some level that the anger that was motivating my work was largely my own thing. It turned out that it was widely shared among all these top activists - professional fulltime activists, lawyers, scientists, lobbyists. We investigated what their motivations were in their work, where they would go for vision and to refresh themselves when they got tired and burned out, and whether they thought that the environmental movement had a vision. Pretty much every person told me the same story: their work was motivated by anger. They had become an environmentalist because they were outraged by what we were doing as a society. But these very self-reflective people also said, "I know that I do not in fact have a positive vision of the future."

I'd then ask, "well look, if every thing you and your colleagues are advocating were put in place - which as we know is unlikely because of the way the political system works - would that be enough? Would we then be in a sustainable and harmonious relationship with the Earth? Everyone said "absolutely not. If everything I am fighting for were put in place, it would not be enough."

They felt that they were dealing in the realm of real politics and the types of large scale changes they would like to see were the ones they could not even advocate because of the political realities and the consciousness at play in politics. Genuinely fundamental changes were ones that required a change in consciousness. But they just weren't things you could discuss in Washington without being laughed at.

When we asked them if they were willing to try some kind of meditation or contemplative process to get beyond the anger and begin to experiment with a new consciousness in their life and practice, the immediate response was yes. What I found subsequently was that for these professionals it was a slow process to move that 'yes', which occurs in a conversation when they are looking at their own life in a deeply reflective way, to actually showing up to begin such an experiment. That's happening slowly, it's a big shift for people.

KdB: Is there a way in which Buddhist practice and other contemplative practices can contribute toward healing the alienation that has divided us from the Earth, our thoughts from our bodies, and us from other species?

JT: My own sense is that some kind of contemplative practice - and it can be from a Christian tradition, a Hindu tradition, a Jewish tradition, or Buddhist tradition - is absolutely required. Simply being in the space of quiet mind in the natural setting and allowing the heart to speak allows a surprisingly rapid experience of intimacy with the earth of the kind that I actually thought took years of meditation and contemplative practice to achieve. Let me give you an example. Last summer I was teaching a group of graduate students with the Harvard Center for Psychology and Social Change. What we were doing there was using the conjunction of analytic and contemplative modes. We were studying Gaia theory, chaos theory, meditating, and having group council process - all very deep things. Combined, what it did was to give people a sense that the analytic and contemplative were both aspects of a single experience of consciousness, not divorced or alienated from each other, and that the mind and the soul could speak the same language.

On the fourth day, we had people spend some time in nature. This was a group of people who had never experienced any kind of contemplative work before. The instruction was to sit with one square foot of earth and simply be with it for an hour. The hope was that by paying total awareness to one square foot of earth, you're experiencing in the natural world what you do contemplatively when you give total awareness to the inner world - the "inscape."

One woman came back and told a story of how she had sat with her square foot of earth which was full of grass and it took twenty minutes for her to quiet down to the point where she noticed a small caterpillar that she had in fact been looking at for twenty minutes. She remembered the instructions that if a question was coming up from your heart, to simply allow it to come and in fact to direct it to the creature that you were sitting with. Out of her heart rose the question for the caterpillar: "will you teach me about metamorphosis?"

The caterpillar responded rather like a tough old Zen master: "Why should I teach you about metamorphosis?" She said, "because you will be going through complete metamorphosis and turn into a butterfly - who better to teach me about it?" He said, "you don't seem to understand - most of us don't make it to butterflies. Either we don't find the right food plants and die or we're eaten by predators. There's no guarantee at all that I'll become a butterfly. On the other hand, you, as a human being, experience metamorphosis all the time. If you want to know about metamorphosis, study yourself."

KdB: The focused awareness and opening of the heart opened a dialogue that actually wound up teaching her something about herself.

JT: At the most profound level. And that's what I see again and again - when people are given permission in a safe space to open in the natural world, they were having experiences like hers. What's lovely about it for me is that I see people having what is in a very deep way a contemplative relationship. They are speaking with their larger self, represented by the Earth, opening in a way that generally transforms them. And it comes in a way that is very gentle and very subtle.

Simply opening produces healing. When a person, as that young woman did, opens to that part of us, that which needs healing the most comes forward. There is a very gentle progression of material that emerges when we begin opening in this way, so that the things that would overwhelm us don't come up and things that need to be healed, that we can in fact deal with, are what come up first. Progressively deeper material comes up.

Part of my intensely deep practice in Germany was walking for several hours a day in the woods that surrounded the town. It was an integral part of the meditation. I began to think that meditation or contemplative practice that is divorced from the world is a little bit crazy. These practices in fact tend to have been developed in the natural world. Buddha sat under a bodhi tree. Jesus wandered and fasted in the desert. All of these practices are very deep in their origin, with a very deep connection with the Earth. You open so much that the Earth then teaches - the wisdom encoded in nature simply speaks. It's wonderful to meditate in a hall or to pray in a church - it's fabulous. But if that's the only place we do it, we're actually missing what the practices originally gave people when they were founded.

KdB: Which was a felt sense of connection to the larger world, to the cosmos, to the Earth.

JT: Yes. To the living Earth. The wisdom encoded in the living Earth. The wisdom very explicitly present in the natural world is encoded in the four billion years of its evolution. And wisdom, in a certain way, is learning to live together. There is a sense of connection to the whole cosmos which comes immediately when there is the sense of connection with the living Earth. To my mind, contemplative practice, at this point, has to connect us with the living Earth and the cosmos and each other. That's the level where healing has to occur. Once there's a deep sense of rapport with the living Earth, the sensitivity toward other human beings is automatically increased - they're not two different things. I know there are people who worry that tuning in to the Earth means you're not sufficiently interested in human problems, social problems. That's not my experience. My experience is that compassion grows in all directions simultaneously. For me the best entry point is this opening into the living wisdom of the Earth that simply starts opening itself once you get quiet in it and let the heart open.

KdB:Would you speak about your work with Washington DC policymakers?

JT: What we did there was to get together a group of environmental policymakers from the major federal agencies. What we found was that we had very highly motivated people, hard working people who said, when we met together in retreat, that they had never met each other except as adversaries. There was actually joyful weeping - the joy in simply being together in this positive context was so enormous. They said, my God, twenty some years of education, a professional life, and we've never been in a place where we could actually share our deep need for connecting with each other and with the Earth. It's never happened. The deepest thing for them was coming together in a purely human way. It was so nourishing that they then went on from this three day experience to their own get-together once a month over the last year - either to read poetry, to meditate, or to do something that would bring them into a contemplative space. To do that in a group is such a rich and nourishing thing. And when people feel it for the first time, they say, "why have I never done this before?"

KdB:It's providing a sense of community within which they can bring contemplative practice to their work.

JT: Yes. And they call each other with ideas, support each other in times of stress, and learn from each other in a way that just wouldn't have happened. There's a whole human dimension of richness they're willing to share once they see each other open and vulnerable in that community heart space. In a certain way, everything in our culture conspires to prevent people from doing that.

KdB: There seems to be a sense in a lot of places that a wider evolutionary shift is happening. It seems like it's a phase of groping as well, where people are really trying to figure out another way.

JT: My own sense is that we are on a cusp of human evolutionary history. Looking at our own experience as humans on the Earth in the last, say, fifty years, we've gone from being a species with generally localized impact to a species that has very significant global impacts. We've become the dominant species, we control much of the biomass of the Earth, and are beginning to change the climate, the atmosphere, and so on in a significant way. But we haven't had a shift in consciousness consonant with our shift in status as a species. My sense of how to bring about that shift is a simple and humble one - if enough people are willing to experiment and experience a shift in consciousness, then Earth itself, Gaia itself, as the superorganism that is the living Earth of which we are a part, can push on our consciousness, accelerate the process and a global shift in consciousness becomes imaginable.

These shifts have happened throughout history. Most people thought slavery was reasonable up until astonishingly recently. We're also seeing shifts in women's rights, gay rights, and issues of sexual abuse all in just the last couple of decades. The shift I'm thinking of is, I think, on a much larger scale, but these other shifts are evidence that such things can happen spontaneously when enough individual hearts have been opened and changed.

Groping is part of it and a wonderful open way to be, really. I can say from an environmental perspective that the problem we've had for so long is that we weren't willing to be confused. We thought we knew exactly what the answers were. And that's where you really get into problems.

KdB:It wasn't the full answer.

JT: It wasn't even a partial answer. That willingness to be vulnerable to the truth is really what we need. So I see that groping is terrific. It's kind of a longing for more open and complete answers, and that longing itself is already being there. Because as long as you stay open, everything can move. In a way that's all that contemplative practice, even at the highest level, can ever do for you. It's simply staying open in the "not knowing," staying vulnerable to the truth. There's a Sufi story about someone who met a great Sufi master and they asked "what is practice." He said, "practice has four stages: the first stage is bewilderment; the second is opening; the third is awakening;; the fourth is bewilderment." I think our bewilderment at the cultural level is actually a very good sign. If we then are willing to go deep and follow the heart. Which is quite possible.

KdB: So often I hear people ask "what can I do?" They feel the despair. They want to take action, and very often that notion of action is to "get out there and do something" - protest, resist - which is certainly important, too. But it seems that contemplative practice also is a kind of action. It's not simply a passive thing. It's taking action of a sort, isn't it?

JT: It's certainly taking action. In fact, I think to meditate in our culture is a radical act. To reflect in this way is a radical act. And when you're doing it for the purpose of helping the world, it is a very deeply connected act. In no way is it a selfish removing oneself from the flow of things. It's staying in there with it. What I like to encourage people to do is to keep up their activities, whether it's protesting or whatever, and add the other component to it. Because then they begin to learn how to refresh themselves. People who stay in an activist role and open up in some form of contemplative work will have their activism enormously enriched. They'll see opportunities they haven't seen. The whole experience of doing contemplative work is very much a non-linear experience. You can't predict what insights you're going to have. You just know you'll have insights. That's what's guaranteed.

KdB: You've been working on a book on the ecology of the inner life. What do you mean by an ecology of the inner life?

JT: My word is "ecology of the inscape." I started thinking about the word inscape as all of the inner life that we have as contrasted to the landscape, or the outscape. The metaphor I've been working with a lot is that when we are confronted with difficult material - anger, and so on - the essential contribution of contemplative practice is that we are the landscape and not the storm. Anger, for example, will sweep through and the energy of anger can go ahead and move right through. Our mistake is to identify with the storm and forget we're the landscape. That metaphor is what opened the notion of ecology of the inscape for me. I began thinking of all of our emotions, thoughts, bodily sensations, traumas, and everything as the population of beings in our inner landscape, or inscape. When you start to think about it in that way, it's quite interesting because you can then see that natural selection occurs in the world of the inscape on those populations of thoughts, feelings and emotions, just as it does in the external landscape. And there is an evolution that goes on internally as well. You can begin to control your evolution toward how you want to be. That really is the notion of the ecology of the inscape - that you can begin to see evolution toward a more open, spacious, loving nature. And you can begin to control the natural selection with your intention and your practice.

*James Thornton's book, Radical Confidence: A Field Guide to the Soul, was published by Dutton Penguin in Fall 1997.

3. Environmental Ethics: An Overview / J. Baird Callicott / University of Texas


As a systematic and focused field of intellectual inquiry, environmental ethics was conceived after broad recognition in the 1960s of an impending “environmental crisis.” Developing embryonically during the 1970s, environmental ethics came into its own in 1979 with the publication of the journal, Environmental Ethics.

The growth of environmental ethics was heavily influenced by cultural factors. During the mid-twentieth century, environmental degradation reached crisis proportions after technologies, developed for war, became redirected to peaceful uses. In the spirit of beating swords into plowshares, atomic weapons technology was adapted to generate electricity; DDT, originally manufactured to delouse soldiers, was indiscriminately broadcast as an agricultural pesticide; and high compression internal combustion engines designed to power military aircraft and tanks, were redesigned to power automobiles, trucks, tractors, crop dusters, and bulldozers. These developments contributed to the dramatic rise in the postwar standard of living in industrialized countries, but at a terrible cost—toxic radioactive wastes were produced, non-targeted organisms were killed, and formerly clean air and water were heavily polluted with petroleum by-products.

People were alerted to the insidious dangers of postwar technologies in two ways: through the testimony of their senses—the air and water were palpably befouled, the landscape had become deranged, and the biota had become impoverished—and through the testimony of distinguished statespersons, writers, and scientists. The most influential writings of the time included: Our Plundered Planet by Fairfield Osborn, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962), The Quiet Crisis by Stewart Udall (1963), and The Closing Circle by Barry Commoner (1971). A Sand County Almanac, written by Aldo Leopold (1949), had prophetically anticipated the emergence of an environmental crisis and proposed the evolution of a “land ethic” as the only appropriate remedy to these complex environmental problems.

In a widely reprinted and enormously influential article published in Science, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” (1967), Lynn White, Jr. set the agenda for future environmental ethicists. His fundamental assumption, that what we do collectively depends on what we collectively think; and the corollary to this, that to change what we collectively do depends on changing what we collectively think, led us to the conclusion that if we are to change what we do to the environment, we must begin by changing what we think about the environment. White himself argued that what Westerners collectively think about the environment is ultimately derived from a few verses in Genesis (1:26–28): human beings alone among creatures are formed in the image of God, have dominion over nature, and are commanded to subdue it. White’s specific analysis of the biblical roots of the environmental crisis was cavalier and simplistic at best, but his initial, more general intellectual analysis was compelling. This analysis included three major points. First, White believed that one had to identify and criticize the inherited attitudes and values regarding the characteristics of nature, human nature, and the relationship between humanity and nature that underlie and subtly shape our behavior toward the natural world. To do this, one must recognize, that the Bible is only one of many Western sources expounding such values, and it is perhaps less important than other historical sources such as Greek philosophy, the Enlightenment, modern science, capitalism, consumerism, and patriarchy. Second, White believed that one needed to reinterpret or revise one’s inherited attitudes and values regarding the traits of nature, human nature, and the human-nature relationship. Ecologically minded biblical scholars working with White’s critiques, for example, later reinterpreted the human-nature relationships sketched in Genesis. Alternatively, one could propose new values that incorporated an understanding of the exciting new developments in the sciences (ecology, quantum theory, and big-bang cosmology) or other religious worldviews. Third, White believed that one must develop and defend a new environmental ethic in order to guide and restrain anthropocentric environmental degradation.

As scholarly discussion in environmental ethics developed, a major theoretical cleft between anthropocentrism and nonanthropocentrism became apparent. Anthropocentrists upheld the conservative Western view that only human beings are morally significant. For anthropocentrists, polluting or destroying various aspects of the environment is morally wrong because human beings are adversely affected. Nonanthropocentrists countered that an anthropocentric environmental ethic is inadequate, because, in some cases, the extinction of some scientifically unremarkable and commercially worthless species that do not seem to be vital to any ecosystem processes would not materially harm human beings. Even if anthropocentrism broadened its position to include various benefits to future human generations, nonanthropocentrists believe that many endangered species may never be considered as possible resources for pharmaceuticals, foods, fibers, or fuels, nor will they ever be of more than a passing scientific and aesthetic interest. Such species would not be well protected by an anthropocentric environmental ethic, however broadly construed.

Philosophers committed to the Western tradition of moral philosophy have attempted to theoretically extend anthropocentric ethics in order to create a nonanthropocentric ethic. Classical anthropocentrism is justified by appealing to the value-conferring property of rationalism that is allegedly possessed by all and only human beings. Not all human beings, however, are functionally rational. Thus, if anthropocentric ethical theory is applied even handedly, infants, developmentally handicapped persons, and victims of Altzheimer’s disease, would fall outside the moral pale; they would be no more morally considerable than nonhuman nonrational beings, and therefore would be treated with callous disregard. To include nonrational people within the purview of an anthropocentric ethic, we must lower the bar of moral considerability. Sentiency, the capacity to experience pleasure and pain, is the most commonly suggested property to which this bar shall be lowered. Many animals possess this capacity, and, by parity of reasoning, they too should be morally enfranchised. Yet, animal liberation, as this brand of nonanthropocentrism is called, is also an incomplete environmental ethic because it fails to encompass a great deal of the environment. Indeed, animal liberation and more expansive environmental ethics are often in conflict, especially in situations where bloated populations of feral animals threaten the extinction of rare and endangered plant species. It is, however, a way to begin extending moral consideration to the environment.

Some environmental philosophers, notably biocentrists, have recommended lowering the bar for moral entitlement even further to include any being that has interest (e.g., a good of its own; ends, goals, or purposes of its own). Thus the basic idea shared by biocentrists, as those taking this approach to environmental ethics are called, is that any being which has interests, whether conscious or not, warrants moral consideration. Biocentrism has become the end-point in this project of extending traditional Western ethics to wider and wider circles of entities. The main problem with including all living beings within the purview of ethics is not the plausibility of the theoretical project, but that most of our environmental problems remain unaddressed by this approach. The individual welfare of each and every bug, shrub, and grub is just not very high on the list of environmental concerns. We are concerned, rather, about air and water pollution; soil erosion; global climate change; and, probably more than anything else, about species extinction or the catastrophic loss of biodiversity at every level of biological organization. From this viewpoint, a species as such, is not sentient; nor has it interests (no ends, goals, or purposes). If environmental ethics is to be connected with our perceived environmental concerns, thereby allowing constructive responses to the crisis that gave birth to environmental ethics, then we must work toward a more holistic environmental ethic.

Aldo Leopold’s seminal “land ethic” has this crucial holistic quality. Leopold writes, “a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such”1 (emphasis added). Indeed, when Leopold states the summary moral maxim, the golden rule of the land ethic, no mention whatever is made of “fellow-members”; only that the community as such is the beneficiary of environmental moral concern: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”2 A Western precedent for ethical holism can be found in Charles Darwin’s account of the origin and evolution of ethics in the Descent of Man, from which Leopold seems to have borrowed heavily. According to Darwin, ethics arose to foster the integrity of human societies (or communities), upon which human survival is utterly dependent. As Darwin put it, “No tribe could hold together if murder, robbery, treachery, etc., were common, consequently such crimes within the limits of the same tribe ‘are branded with everlasting infamy.’”3 Indeed, if a tribe disintegrated, the survival and reproductive success of its former members would be doomed. Therefore Darwin thought that “actions are regarded by savages and were probably so regarded by primeval man, as good or bad, solely as they obviously affect the welfare of the tribe—not that of the species, nor that of an individual member of the tribe.”4 Darwin, in turn, borrowed heavily from David Hume’s ethical philosophy in which there also runs a strong strain of holism. For example, Hume insists that “we must renounce the theory which accounts for every moral sentiment by the principle of self-love. We must adopt a more publick affection, and allow that the interests of society are not, even on their own account, entirely indifferent to us.”5 This holistic Leopold land ethic has a pedigree in Western moral philosophy traceable through Darwin back to Hume.

The major theoretical problem with Leopold’s land ethic is how to balance its holism with the individualism of our precious humanitarian ethics. Surely, we cannot agree that a thing is right only if it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community; and that it is wrong if it tends otherwise. What about basic human rights? What are we to do when respecting human rights conflicts with preserving the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community? Leopold did not intend for the holistic land ethic to replace individualistic human ethics, but rather he wanted it to supplement them. He did not, however, provide any guidelines for resolving conflicts between human rights and environmental integrity.

As environmental philosophy has matured, a number of green ideologies emerged that united environmental ethics with various political movements. Ecofeminism, for example, unites environmental ethics with feminist politics. At the core of ecofeminism are three, not unrelated, claims. First that the dominance of nature by “man” and the dominance of women by men are similar in form. More recent thinking in ecofeminism has found the general “logic of domination” manifested in still other putatively “oppressive” relationships, such as the domination of people of color by “whites,” and the domination of the people of the South, globally speaking, by those of the North. Second, ecofeminists believe that in Western thought, all the way back to the ancient Greeks, women have been cognitively associated with nature. The Greeks identified material nature, which they regarded as chaotic, erotic, recalcitrant, and irrational, as a female cosmic principle while they identified immaterial form, which they regarded as disciplined, ordering, and rational, as a male cosmic principle. Third, ecofeminists find that patriarchy is an attempt to control and bend to the masculine the will of both women and the material natural world in which women are embedded and with which women are associated. Thus, solving our environmental problems from an ecofeminist viewpoint, requires the dismantling of patriarchy.
Similarly, social ecology unites environmental ethics with a more or less Marxist critique of capitalism, consumerism, and free-market economies. Here the key to solving our environmental problems is engaging in the dismantling of the capitalist economy through the disempowering of multinational corporations. Environmental justice focuses on the unequal distribution of environmental “bads,” which are disproportionately visited on the poor and women and children of color. Environmental justice, therefore, unites environmental ethics with political concerns about economic and racial inequities.

Among the various ideological schools of environmental philosophy, deep ecology retains its own unique perspective. Deep ecologists hold that all of our environmental problems stem from our anthropocentrism. They believe that distinguishing the manner in which different kinds of Homo sapiens (male or female, rich or poor, black or white, Northern or Southern) exploit nature is not very pertinent. Furthermore, deep ecologists do not believe that resolutions to environmental problems can be completely fashioned from the field of ethics alone. Rather, if the deeper lesson of ecology—that all things are connected—is absorbed viscerally, the distinction between self and nature will be blurred and this ambiguity between self and nature will permit people to identify with nature, thereby allowing them to perceive the destruction of nature as self-destruction. Biocide, from a deep ecological point of view, is suicide.

The most radical challenge to mainstream environmental ethics has emerged from a pragmatist perspective. Pragmatists claim that environmental philosophy has been too preoccupied with internecine disputes that are virtually unintelligible to nonphilosophers. According to pragmatists, the arcane philosophical debates about what set of entities have intrinsic value and thus moral consideration; the war of words and name-calling between deep ecologists and ecofeminists about whether the core problem is anthropocentrism or androcentrism; even the distinction between anthropocentric and nonanthropocentric environmental ethics—all are irrelevant to real-world environmental problem solving and policy making. Environmental ethicists, the pragmatist environmental philosophers argue, should not be in the business of generating a one-size-fits-all theory, but instead be engaged in casuistry. They believe that one should begin with the actual issue in its local context. This facilitates the involvement of all the various interested parties (animal rights advocates, developers, stakeholders, and environmentalists) and helps to work toward a more democratically oriented solution. It rejects the binary notion that all environmental ethics should be one thing or the other—all theory or all pragmatic casuistry—and permits the complementary interaction of both top-down theory and bottom-up problem solving.

In the span of scarcely a quarter of a century, from humble and scattered beginnings, environmental ethics has grown explosively into a multi-faceted and sometimes fractious field of inquiry. Indeed, it has overflowed the banks of ethics to constitute a more general field, “environmental philosophy.” To the surprise, and in some cases consternation, of more conservative philosophers—who thought it would prove to be an ephemeral fad—environmental philosophy promises to grow even more robust as the twentieth century gives way to the twenty-first century. Two forces will continue to drive its development. First, far from being “solved,” the environmental crisis is only getting worse, with the increasing rates of species extinction and the onslaught of global climate change. Second, despite the pragmatist’s efforts to redirect it, environmental philosophy is more than an “applied ethics,” it is a largely theoretical inquiry and thus subject to an ever widening and deepening dialectical development of its theoretical foundations.

4. Buddhism and Ecology: Challenge and Promise / Donald K. Swearer / Harvard University


Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth (1982) and Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature (1989) addressed three different global environmental problems—toxic contamination of the food chain, the worldwide consequences of nuclear proliferation, and the impact of global warming. These warnings led to major changes in national and international policy: the banning of the widespread use of DDT as a pesticide, the START treaties that negotiated nuclear arms reduction agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the Kyoto agreements to cut carbon dioxide emissions. Each utilizes science to advance a public policy agenda. In addition, each shares a similar holistic worldview, namely, that all life-forms are interdependent or, as the 1975 National Academy of Sciences Report stated, our world is a whole “in which any action influencing a single part of the system can be expected to have an effect on all other parts of the system.” The “Religions of the World and Ecology” project brings the rich historical and contemporary resources of the world’s religions into critical dialogue with the global environmental crisis. In particular, it seeks to broaden and deepen the symbolic, conceptual, and practical dimensions of their distinctive holistic worldviews for an understanding of human flourishing, community, the natural environment, and their interactions. The project also seeks to influence both social behavior and public policy by encouraging ongoing collaboration among various interdisciplinary arcs that must be forged if the environmental crisis has any hope of being resolved.1 This paper explores ways in which the Buddhist traditions might contribute to this discussion and to the practice of a more ecologically aware lifestyle.

Buddhism’s Holistic World View

Despite significant variations among the different Buddhist traditions that have evolved over its 2,500 year journey throughout Asia and now in the West, Buddhists see the world as conjoined on four levels: existentially, morally, cosmologically, and ontologically. Existentially, Buddhists affirm that all sentient beings share the fundamental conditions of birth, old age, suffering, and death. The existential realization of the universality of suffering lies at the core of the Buddha’s teaching. Insight into the nature of suffering, its cause and its cessation, and the path to the cessation of suffering constitutes the capstone of the Buddha’s enlightenment experience (Mahasacakka Sutta, Majjihma Nikaya) as well as the content of the four noble truths, the Buddha’s first teaching. That the Buddha decides to share this existential insight into the cause and cessation of suffering is regarded by the tradition as an act of universal compassion. Buddhist environmentalists assert that the mindful awareness of the universality of suffering produces compassionate empathy for all forms of life, particularly for all sentient species. They interpret the Dhammapada’s ethical injunction not to do evil but to do good as a moral principle advocating the nonviolent alleviation of suffering, an ideal embodied in the prayer of universal loving-kindness that concludes many Buddhist rituals: “May all beings be free from enmity; may all beings be free from injury; may all beings be free from suffering; may all beings be happy.” Out of a concern for the total living environment, Buddhist environmentalists extend loving-kindness and compassion beyond people and animals to include plants and the earth itself.

The concepts of karma and rebirth (samsara) integrate the existential sense of a shared common condition of all sentient life-forms with the moral dimension of the Buddhist cosmology. Not unlike the biological sciences, rebirth links human and animal species. Evolution maps commonalities and differences among species on the basis of physical and genetic traits. Rebirth maps them on moral grounds. Every form of sentient life participates in a karmic continuum traditionally divided into three world-levels and a hierarchical taxonomy of five or six life-forms. Although this continuum constitutes a moral hierarchy, differences among life-forms and individuals are relative, not absolute. Traditional Buddhism may privilege humans over animals, animals over hungry ghosts, male gender over the female, monk over laity but all forms of karmically conditioned life-human, animal, divine, demonic—are related within contingent, samsaric time: “In the long course of rebirth there is not one among living beings with form who has not been mother, father, brother, sister, son, or daughter, or some other relative. Being connected with the process of taking birth, one is kin to all wild and domestic animals, birds, and beings born from the womb” (Lankavatara Sutra).

Nirvana, the Buddhist highest good, offers the promise of transforming karmic conditionedness into an unconditioned state of spiritual liberation, a realization potentially available to all forms of sentient life on the karmic continuum. That plants and trees or the land itself have a similar potential for spiritual liberation became an explicit doctrine in Chinese and Japanese Buddhism but may even have been part of popular Buddhist belief from earliest times—in sum, a realization that all life-forms share both a common problematic and promise.

Although the Buddhist doctrines of karma and rebirth link together all forms of sentient existence in a moral continuum, Buddhist ethics focus on human agency and its consequences. The inclusion of plants and animals in Buddhist soteriological schemes may be important philosophically because it attributes inherent value to nonhuman forms of life. Nonetheless, humans have been the primary agents in creating the present ecological crisis and will bear the major responsibility in solving it.

The myth of origins in the Pali canon describes the deleterious impact of human activity on the primordial natural landscape. Unlike the garden of Eden story in the Hebrew Bible where human agency centers on the God-human relationship, the Buddhist story of first origins describes the negative impact of humans on the earth created by selfishness and greed. In the Buddhist mythological Eden, the earth flourishes naturally, but greedy desire leads to division and ownership of the land that in turn promotes violent conflict, destruction, and chaos. In short, in the Buddhist myth of first origins, human agency destroys the natural order of things. Though change is inherent in nature, Buddhists believe that natural processes are directly affected by human morality.2

Within the Buddha’s enlightenment vision (Nirvana) all the major dimensions of the Buddhist worldview are found. Tradition records that during the night of this experience the Buddha first recalled his previous lives within the karmic continuum; then he perceived the fate of all sentient beings within the cosmic hierarchy; finally he fathomed the nature of suffering and the path to its cessation formulated as the four noble truths and the law of interdependent coarising. The Buddha’s enlightenment evolved in a specific sequence: from an understanding of the particular (his personal karmic history), then to the general (the karmic history of humankind), and finally to the principle underlying the cause and cessation of suffering. Subsequently, this principle is further generalized as a universal law of causality: “On the arising of this, that arises; on the cessation of this, that ceases.”

Buddhist environmentalists find in the causal principle of interdependence an ecological vision that integrates all aspects of the ecosphere—particular individuals and general species—in terms of the principle of mutual codependence. Within this cosmological model individual entities are by their very nature relational, thereby undermining the autonomous self over against the “other,” be it human, animal, or vegetable.

Buddhist environmentalists see their worldview as a rejection of hierarchical dominance of one human over another or humans over nature, and as the basis of an ethic of emphathetic compassion that respects biodiversity. In the view of the Thai monk, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, “The entire cosmos is a cooperative. The sun, the moon, and the stars live together as a cooperative. The same is true for humans and animals, trees, and the earth. When we realize that the world is a mutual, interdependent, cooperative enterprise . . . then we can build a noble environment. If our lives are not based on this truth, then we shall perish.” A Western Buddhist, observing that the Buddhist worldview or dharma not only refers to the teachings of the Buddha but also to all things in nature, characterizes Buddhism as a “religious ecology.”3

In later schools of Buddhist thought the cosmological vision of interdependent causality evolved into a more substantive sense of ontological unity. Metaphorically, the image of Indra’s net found in the Hua Yen (Jp. Kegon) tradition’s Avatamsaka Sutra has been especially important in Buddhist ecological discussions. For Gary Snyder the image of the universe as a vast web of many-sided jewels each constituted by the reflections of all the other jewels in the web and each jewel being the image of the entire universe symbolizes the world as a universe of bioregional ecological communities. Buddhist environmentalists argue, furthermore, that ontological notions such as Buddha-nature or Dharma-nature (e.g., buddhakaya, tathagatagarbha, dharmakaya, dharmadhatu) provide a basis for unifying all existent entities in a common sacred universe, even though the tradition privileges human life vis-à-vis spiritual realization. For T’ien-t’ai monks in eighth century China, the belief in a universal Buddha-nature blurred the distinction between sentient and nonsentient life-forms and logically led to the view that plants, trees, and the earth itself could achieve enlightenment. Kukai (774–835), the founder of the Japanese Shingon school and Dogen (1200–1253), the founder of the Soto Zen sect, described universal Buddha-nature in naturalistic terms, “If plants and trees were devoid of Buddhahood, waves would then be without humidity” (Kukai); “The sutras [i.e., the dharma] are the entire universe, mountains, and rivers and the great wide earth, plants and trees” (Dogen). Buddhist environmentalists cite Dogen’s view as support for the preservation of species biodiversity.

Two types of criticism have been leveled against Buddhist environmentalists (sometimes characterized as ecoBuddhists or Green Buddhists); scholars who argue that ecologizing the Buddhist worldview distorts the philosophical and historical integrity of the tradition; and, practioners who see a tendency in Green Buddhism to reduce the tradition to a one-dimensional teaching of simple interrelatedness at the expense of its classical emphasis on the development of spiritual and ethical transformation. The four dimensions of the Buddhist worldview as proposed above offer a framework for understanding both the advocates of Buddhist environmentalism and their critics.

The Ecology of Human Flourishing

Buddhism arose in north India in the fifth century BCE at a time when the region was undergoing a process of urbanization and political centralization accompanied by commerical development and the formation of artisan and merchant classes. The creation of towns and the expansion of an agrarian economy led to the clearing of forests and other tracts of uninhabited land. These changes influenced early Buddhism in several ways. Indic Buddhism was certainly not biocentric and the strong naturalistic sentiments that infused Buddhism in China, Korea, and Japan appear to have been absent from early monastic Buddhism, although naturalism played a role in popular piety. Nonetheless, the natural world figures prominently in the Buddhist conception of human flourishing perhaps, in part, because of the very transformation of the natural environment in which it was born. As we shall see, while nature as a value in and of itself may not have played a major role in the development of early Buddhist thought and practice, it was a necessary component of the tradition’s articulation of an ecology of human flourishing.

Although the picture of the Buddha seated under the tree of enlightenment has not traditionally been interpreted as a paradigm for ecological thinking, today’s Buddhist environmental activists point out that the decisive events in the Buddha’s life occurred in natural settings: that the Buddha Gotama was born, attained enlightenment, and died under trees. The textual record, furthermore, testifies to the importance of forests, not only as an environment preferred for spiritual practices such as meditation but also as a place where laity sought instruction. Historically, in Asia and increasingly in the West, Buddhists have situated centers of practice and teaching in forests and among mountains at some remove from the hustle and bustle of urban life.

The Buddha’s own example provides the original impetus for such locations: “Seeking the supreme state of sublime peace, I wandered . . . until . . . I saw a delightful stretch of land and a lovely woodland grove, and a clear flowing river with a delightful forest so I sat down thinking, ‘Indeed, this is an appropriate place to strive for the ultimate realization of . . . Nirvana’” (Ariyapariyesana Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya).

Lavish patronage and the traffic of pilgrims often complicated and compromised the solitude and simple life of forest monasteries, but forests, rivers, and mountains constitute an important factor in the Buddhist ecology of human flourishing. Recall, for example, the Zen description of enlightenment wherein natural phenomena such as rivers and mountains are perceived as loci of the sacred. Although religious practioners often tested their spiritual mettle in wild nature, the norm appears to be a relatively benign state of nature conducive to quiet contemplation as suggested by the above quotation, or by the naturalistic gardens that one finds today in many Japanese Zen monasteries originally located on the outskirts of towns.

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu called his forest monastery in south Thailand “the Garden of Empowering Liberation,” observing: “The deep sense of calm that nature provides through separation from the stress that plagues us in the day-to-day world protects our heart and mind. The lessons nature teaches us lead to a new birth beyond suffering caused by our acquisitive self-preoccupation.” For Buddhist enviromentalists, centers like Buddhadasa’s Garden of Empowering Liberation also present an example of a sustainable lifestyle grounded in the values of moderation, simplicity, and non-acquisitiveness. Technology alone cannot solve the ecocrisis. More importantly, it requires a transformation of values and of lifestyle.

Buddhadasa intended the Garden of Empowering Liberation not as a retreat from the world but as a place where all forms of life—humans, animals, and plants—live as a cooperative microcosm of a larger ecosystem and as a community where humans can develop an ecological ethic. Such an ethic highlights the virtues of restraint, simplicity, loving-kindness, compassion, equanimity, patience, wisdom, nonviolence, and generosity. These virtues represent moral ideals for all members of the Buddhist community— religious practioner, lay person, political leader, ordinary citizen, male, female. For example, political leaders who are mandated to maintain the peace and security of the nation, are also expected to embody the virtue of nonviolence. In this connection, King Asoka is cited for his rejection of animal sacrifice and protection of animals. The twin virtues of wisdom and compassion define the spiritual perfection of the bodhisattva (saint) but these prized moral qualities, associated especially with the Buddha or monks, are represented in narrative and didactic literature by a variety of human and animal life-forms. For contemporary engaged Buddhists—the Dalai Lama especially—a sense of responsibility rooted in compassion lies at the very heart of an ecological ethic: “The world grows smaller and smaller, more and more interdependent . . . today more than ever before life must be characterized by a sense of universal responsibility, not only . . . human to human but also human to other forms of life.”4

For many Buddhist environmentalists compassion necessarily follows an understanding of all life-forms as mutually interdependent. Others argue that a mere cognitive recognition of interdependence is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for an ecological ethic. These critics emphasize the centrality of practice in Buddhism and the tradition’s insistence on training in virtue and the threefold path to moral and spiritual excellence (morality, mindful awareness, wisdom). Among contemporary engaged Buddhists, the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, has been the most insistent on the central role of mindful awareness in the development of a peaceful and sustainable world.

Critics of the ethical saliency of the traditional Buddhist vision of human flourishing argue that philosohical concepts such as not-self (anatman) and emptiness (sunyata) undermine human autonomy and the distinction between self and other, essential aspects for an other-regarding ethic. What are the grounds for an ethic or laws that protect the civil rights of minorities or animal species threatened with extinction when philosophically Buddhism seems to undermine their significance by deconstructing their independent reality as an epistemological fiction? Furthermore, they point out that the most basic concepts of Buddhism—Nirvana, suffering, rebirth, not—self, and even causality-were intended to further the goal of the individual’s spiritual quest rather than engagement with the world. They conclude, therefore, either that Buddhism serves primarily a salvific or soteriological purpose or that the attempt to ecologize the tradition distorts the historical and philosophical record. Buddhist environmentalists respond that their tradition brings to the debates about human rights and the global environment an ethic of social and environmental responsibility more compatible with the language of compassion based on the mutual interdependence of all life-forms than the language of rights. Furthermore, to apply Buddhist insights to a broad ecology of human flourishing represents the tradition at its best, namely, a creative, dynamic response to its contemporary context.

A related but more sympathetic criticism from within the Buddhist environmental movement suggests that for Buddhism to be an effective force for systemic institutional change, the traditional Buddhist emphasis on individual moral and spiritual transformation must be adjusted to address more forcefully the structures of oppression, exploitation, and environmental degradation. While preserving the unique Buddhist emphasis on the practice of mindful awareness and a lifestyle of simplicity, today’s engaged Buddhist activists are, indeed, addressing head-on international issues ranging from the disposal of nuclear waste to human rights violations in Myanmar and a just and peaceful resolution of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. The most internationally visible leaders in this movement are the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh but they are joined by many others from around the globe including Sulak Sivaraksa, Ahangamage T. Ariyaratna, Joanna Macy, and Kenneth Kraft.

About this Author

Donald Swearer joined the Harvard Divinity School as Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies after he retired from Swarthmore College in 2004 as the Charles and Harriet Cox McDowell Professor of Religion. His recent publications include: The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia (SUNY, 1995/rev. ed. Silkworm Books, 2007); The Legend of Queen Cama (SUNY, 1998); Becoming the Buddha: The Ritual of Image Consecration in Thailand (Princeton, 2004); and The Sacred Mountains of Northern Thailand and Their Legends (Silkworm Books, 2004).


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