The Urban Dharma Newsletter - Sept. 10, 2007


In This Issue: Buddhism and the Environment

1. Gethsemani III / “Monasticism and the Environment”
2. Buddhism and Environmental Protection - Thich Tri Quang
3. The Green Rule: Buddhism and the Environment - Dave Gould
4. Buddhism and the Environment - Nick Wallis
5. Pollution and the Environment - by Ronald Epstein
6. Bibliography on Treatment of Non-Human Nature - By Peter Harvey



What does Buddhist/Catholic Monasticism have to say about the environment? That topic will be the focus of “Gethsemani III” a gathering (May, 2008) of Buddhist/Catholic monastics and lay people (see below).

Peace... Kusala

1. Gethsemani III / “Monasticism and the Environment”

A Monastic Interreligious Dialogue at Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky May 27-31, 2008 / Sponsored and Organized by Monastic Interreligious Dialogue


The primary purpose of this third major interreligious conference to be held at Gethsemani Abbey is “to foster dialogue at the level of spiritual practice and experience between North American Catholic monastic women and men and contemplative practitioners of diverse religious traditions.” (From the mission statement of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue.)

Two MID-sponsored “Gethsemani Encounters” have already taken place, the first in 1996, the second in 2002. The papers and proceedings were published as The Gethsemani Encounter: A Dialogue on the Spiritual Life by Buddhist and Catholic Monastics (Continuum, 1997) and Transforming Suffering: Reflections on Finding Peace in Troubled Times (Doubleday, 2003).

For the 2008 Gethsemani Encounter MID proposes to bring together about fifty Buddhist and Catholic monks and nuns, along with some lay associates, in order to identify, articulate, share, and publicize the monastic spiritual practices that manifest reverence for the environment and help to preserve it for future generations.

The conference will help Buddhist and Catholic monastic communities in North America,

·recognize that concern for the environment is an ethical, spiritual and monastic imperative,
·become conversant with monasticism’s unique insights and contributions,
·commit themselves to a program of action, and
·become models of environmental responsibility for their students, associates, guests, friends and neighbors.

While this conference will benefit both Buddhists and Catholics, MID’s primary responsibility is to the approximately one hundred and sixty Catholic monastic communities of men and women in North America. More than one quarter of these communities are formally involved in education, sponsoring fourteen colleges and universities, four seminaries, and twenty-six high schools.

Even though Western monasticism can point to a long tradition of environmental concern and action, American Catholic monastic communities have generally not been regarded as leaders in the Green Movement. Moreover, many of these communities have not yet experienced the benefits of dialogue with monastics of other religious traditions. An interreligious monastic conference on the environment will demonstrate the enormous spiritual value of interreligious dialogue for Catholic monks and nuns. In addition, it will provide Catholic and Buddhist monastic men and women an opportunity to speak with a unified voice about their commitment to environmental protection and about the unique contribution monasticism can make to the world-wide Green Movement.


·Insofar as possible, monastic participants will give the formal presentations.

·A full day will be devoted to the preparation of two messages, one for monastic communities, another for society at large. The message to monastic communities will include concrete proposals for action.

·A video (or maybe several shorter videos), audio recordings, and printed texts of the major presentations will be placed on the MID website: www.monasticdialogue.org If papers and proceedings are submitted for print publication, the manuscript will be ready by the end of the year.

·The schedule will allow for common meditation periods, participation in the prayer life of the Trappist community at Gethsemani, and special rituals.

Gethsemani III / “Monasticism and the Environment”

A Monastic Interreligious Dialogue at Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky / May 27-31, 2008 / Sponsored and Organized byMonastic Interreligious Dialogue


Tuesday, May 27, evening


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

What Is Science Telling Us Today? / Buddhist or Catholic

Wednesday, May 28, morning


Presentations and Discussion:

Interrelatedness, Interdependence, Dependent Origination / Buddhist:

The World as Created, Fallen, and Redeemed / Catholic:

Wednesday, May 28, afternoon


Presentations and Discussion:

The Patimokkha/Pratimoksha (Theravada) and The 10 Major and 48 Subsidiary Bodhisattva Precepts From the “Net of Brahma” Sutra (Mahayana) / Buddhist:

The Rule of Benedict / Catholic:

Thursday, May 29, morning


Presentation and Discussion:

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


Thursday, May 29, afternoon


Presentations and Discussion: Good Practices, Ancient and Emerging


Bad Practices Hidden or Justified by Ideology


Friday, May 30


Preparation of messages to monastic communities and to the public

Saturday, May 31


2. Buddhism and Environmental Protection - Thich Tri Quang


Environmental protection is one of the urgent problems facing mankind today. That concern has been manifested in the the World Environment Day on 5 June 1996. All scientists, economists, philosophers, researchers through newspapers, television, radio, etc. analysed and were alarmed on the seious adverse impacts of toxic substances on the living environment of human, animals, and vegetation. It is ironic that man is the one who pollutes his own health, and kill the life of all beings in this Earth. The risk threatening our ecology is not minor. It leads to many mearures to prevent or minimise the pollution, of world-wide scale, including the ten important International Coventions to protect the environment.

The awareness of protecting life and living environment has been generated in recent time. However, in Buddhism, it is one of the main basic laws which was set out by the Buddha some 25 centuries ago for his students to follow.

In fact, Buddhism represents the way of compassion. The Buddha manifested a complete compassion and is respectfully seen as the compasionate protector of all beings. He taught that for those who wishes to follow his Path should pratice loving-kindness, not to harm the life of all beings - not only to protect mankind, but also to protect animals and vegetation. With his perfect wisdom, He saw all beings in the universe were equal in nature, and in this phenomenal world, lives of all human and animals were inter-related, mutually developing, ans inseparable.

However, men have seen themselves as the smartest species of all beings. They have misused and abused their power and selfishly destroyed these species of animals, those forests and mountains, natural resources, ... and finally reaping the results of destroyed living environment of their own. All those damages and destructions to the ecology up to an alarming level are originated from the unwholesome and greedy mind of mankind. While the animals are seen as low-level beings, however fearsome as tigers and wolves may be, they never detroy the nature as badly as done by human. Only human who cause the most devastating destruction in the Earth.

The external environment is seriously polluted because the internal environment in the mind is seriously damaged. The bottomless greed has pushed mankind to satisfy excessive and unnecessary demands, and take them into endless competitions, leading to self-destruction and environmental damage. Contrasting to the unwholesome and greedy mind is the spirit of simple living and contentment by those who practise the Buddha's teaching.

Living in contentment does not mean the elimination of desire of knowledge and truth, but to live in harmony with all beings and with nature. On that basis, those who understand the Buddha's teaching will limit their selfishness, to live in harmony with nature, without harming the environment. They will see what should be explored and to what level, what should be protected for future use by the next generations and other beings. Excessive greed to possess everything for themselves, or for their own group, has make men becoming blind. They are prepared to fight, make war, causing deaths, disease, starvation, destruction of life of all species, gradually worsening the living environment. By all means, they try to maximise their profits, without being concerned of the negative impact of unplanned exploitation leading to depletion of natural resources, discharge toxics into the air, water, earth, leading to environmental pollution, destroying the ecological balance.

For thousand years, the Buddhist forest monateries have manifested a harmonious living with nature, being established in the mountains, in the forests. Tranquil life in the forest helped Buddhist practitioners to improved their inner mind, and at the same time, they also worked for the protection of animals living in the area. With loving and tolerant heart, the Buddhists live with natural vegetation, wild animals in the forest in harmony and for mutual survival. Men used oxygen partly discharged by trees, live by their shadows, and in return, men looked after the trees. Wild animals may come to eat crops planted by the temple without running the risk to be killed. The harmonious living of Buddhism is completely different from the competitive, opposing living and fighting against the nature as seen in the West and also in an increasing number of countries in the East, which tend to destruction for selfish gains.

Today, we can still see the landscape of a number of temples and meditation retreats in Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, ... located in native forests, with green vegetation, clean and refreshing ponds and lakes, clean air, and a variety of species living in peace. These are locations which attract people from all directions coming to enjoy the nature, finding peace of mind, getting away from noisy and polluted places.

I think it is still not too late for all religions, all strata of the society and all nations to come together, jointly participate in the protection of the environment for all living species, based on the harmonious model which Buddhism always advocates.

3. The Green Rule: Buddhism and the Environment - Dave Gould


The Hamilton Interfaith Group and IDEA Burlington presented an interfaith panel to illuminate "The Green Rule: Do unto the Earth as you would have it do unto you." The Buddhist perspective was given with this verse: “Cut down the forest of desire, not the forest of trees”. The Buddha, Dhammapada 283 Lama Yeshe Ling was invited and I participated with a short Dharma talk: To start with consider you reason for listening to this talk. You are looking for someting for:

- This life
- Future lives
- Full Awakening
- To stop harming others
- To offer service to others

To make our time together here most effective, it is very useful to cultivate a motivation for listening that is extensive and profound. In Buddhist terms we cultivate a motivation to become fully awake ourselves, as a means to help every other being discover for themselves the liberation from suffering that comes from living in accord with reality.

What does Awake mean? Consider a night-mare, being chased by monsters. When waking you think "oh that was only a dream". When we are not fully awake to reality we suffer like in a nightmare. We experience fear, we are harmed by others and by natural disasters, and the happiness and peace we search for constantly eludes us.

When we are not fully awake to reality our biggest most terrifying monster is self centeredness. Buddhists believe that self centeredness is the root cause of all our suffering. Driven by selfishness we act in ways that cause suffering for others, and we stain our mind by planting a seed in our mind for a future experience of suffering.

This is the forest of desire. We are lost in an isolating, disturbing inner forest of self-centeredness. Our tight focus on what we take as our own self interest stops us from enjoying the company of others and leads us into a narrow-minded view of the world where we are indifferent to the effects of our actions upon others and upon our environment.

How do we find our way out of this inner tangle? How do we cut our minds away from habitual narrow minded self interest?

The answer is through wisdom. Wisdom is an axe to cut down the trees of self-centred desire. Wisdom knows the nature of reality; wisdom understands the nature of our existence.

This wisdom is known as Interdependence. The nature of our reality is that we are all interconnected. We are not independent in the way we usually see ourselves to be. To think we are independent, and to behave as if we are independent, is to be asleep to reality. Actually our existence is totally dependent on so many other factors external to what we take as ourself.

It is obvious if we think about it, how we are dependent on our parents for our very existence. How we are dependent on the food and resources we consume. How we are depending on thousands of people every day to receive the food and resources we need, to be able to accomplish the work we do.

I would like to quote Joanna Macy, a scholar of cybernetics and Buddhism:

The crisis that threatens our planet, whether seen from its military, ecological, or social aspect, derives from a dysfunctional and pathological notion of the self … It is a delusion that the self is so separate and fragile that we must delineate and defend its boundaries, that it is so small and so needy that we must endlessly acquire and endlessly consume, and that it is so aloof that as individuals, corporations, nation-states, or species, we can be immune to what we do to other beings … What the Buddha woke up to under the Bodhi tree was the co-arising of phenomena, in which you cannot isolate a separate self.

Thich Nhat Hanh a great Vietnamese Buddhist master has created a new word for this wisdom understanding how we exist. The word is Interbeing. You are not as you suppose an independent being, you are an Interbeing. You Interare; we Interare.

Now it is clear that moral exhortation and sermonizing seldom hinders us from following our self-interest as we conceive it. So what else can we do? One effective approach is to become realistic in our view of self, of how we exist; to change how we see ourselves. When we understand that we interare, when bring our concept of self closer to reality so that we feel our interbeing and automatically see our existence this way, then selfishness really starts to look like a ridiculous tragic mistake.

When we know that we inter are, it is obvious we must extend our caring interest to all upon which we depend. The Dalai Lama likes to say "if you must be selfish, then be wisely selfish". When we are wise, our self interest extends beyond this one body and mind outward to embrace the entirety of inter-connected existence. When we are wise, we live leave behind the fantasy world of independence and live in accord with reality, in accord with interdependence.

To go beyond a mere intellectual understanding of interbeing to a deeper feeling and awareness, we do meditation practice. When we have a deeper feeling for the truth then our view of the world and our behaviour naturally changes. I would like to lead you in a meditation on the nature of our body...

Start by focusing on your breath, gently paying attention to your natural way of breathing. Do this for several minutes.

After this meditation has brought you into a calmer, more stable, and focused state of mind, reflect to yourself how your body appears to you. Without disturbing your usual way of thinking with a lot of analysis, become aware of how you usually view your body. It is this solid thing sitting here, always here, this same body - it is something like that isn't it? This is how we see ourselves too, not just our body, but our selves. Isn't it?

Now return your focus to the breath, but now consider how each in-breath contains molecules of oxygen that enter your body and become a part of your body; how each out-breath contains what was a moment ago a part of your body, carbon dioxide for example. With each breath your body is different from what it was. Breathe with this awareness that your body is constantly changing for a few minutes.

Now change your focus to consider from where the air you breathe has come from and to where it will go. With each breath, you breathe air that contains molecules that have recently been a part of the body of someone else, your neighbour for example. With each breath you send out molecules that will soon become a part of the body of someone else. Breathe with this awareness for a few minutes.

Now shift your focus again to consider what you know now about your body. How do you see your body now? From how you see your body now, how do you see your self? Focus strongly on what now know about the nature of your body and your self.

4. Buddhism and the Environment - Nick Wallis


To live in harmony with nature is a crucial Buddhist practice.

Nick Wallis explains why...

When we look at the traditional Buddhist texts there seems to be very little direct reference to what would these days be called environmental or ecological ideas. As we imaginatively enter the world in which the Buddha lived and taught, the reason for this becomes clear. The picture that emerges is one of a culture that lived in far greater harmony with its environment, if sometimes at its mercy, and an 'Environmental Movement' simply wasn't needed. The strong connection that people felt with nature is illustrated particularly in the story of the Buddha's life, in which all the most significant events occur in the countryside and are associated with trees: his birth at Lumbini as his mother grasped the branch of a sal tree, his early experience of states of meditative absorption beneath the rose apple tree, his Enlightenment beneath the Bodhi-tree, and his Parinirvana (death) between twin sal trees. So in seeking to apply the Dharma to the area of the environment, we have to look for underlying principles that are appropriate to the very different world that we ourselves inhabit.

We don't have to look very far. In the vision of universal interpenetration, one of the Mahayana flowers of the Buddha's teaching of Conditioned Co-production (pratitya samutpada), we have a basic insight into our relationship with nature. This vision is exemplified in the simile of Indra's Net: High above in heaven, on the roof of the palace of the god Indra, there hang innumerable jewels interlaced in a great network. As the light reflects off these multifaceted gems not only does each jewel reflect the whole cosmos, but also every other jewel in the net, including all the reflections from all the jewels, the reflections of the reflections, and their reflections.

In this beautiful vision we can begin to connect imaginatively with the mutual interdependence of all processes. Bringing this insight down to earth it becomes clear that by harming nature we are in fact harming ourselves. There are plenty of examples to demonstrate this in the current media: acid rain, the greenhouse effect, the ozone hole, radioactive contamination, to name but a few. These reactions of nature to our carelessness harm us not only physically but also psychologically, as we face the threat of our environment becoming increasingly inimical to healthy human life.

Restating this vision of interpenetration in a positive sense, to improve the quality of our lives we need to live in greater harmony with nature. This may sound like a simple truism, but in fact it is certainly not the way in which our culture approaches nature. In the modern materialist culture, no doubt strongly influenced by the traditional Christian view that God put nature there for people to use for their own purposes, we approach the environment from the viewpoint of resource management. In many cases with large industrial companies this is better termed resource mis-management, as the narrow-minded drive for profit means that huge amounts of toxic substances are pumped into our skies, rivers, and oceans, and scattered across the land where they become someone else's problem'.

The 'resource management' approach leads us into difficulties on a more personal level though. In seeing ourselves as the 'managers', and therefore above nature, we can easily lose those very qualities which give us our humanity. This is particularly noticeable source. Whether it is the immeasurable brutality involved in the slaughter of animals to keep the kitchens of the world constantly supplied with meat, or the killing of the peaceful giants of the sea by wealthy countries such as Japan, these acts degrade the human race as a whole. The Buddhist position, on the other hand, emphasizes a harmonious interaction between ourselves and nature, neither passive nor attempting to dominate, and quite naturally leads us to consider the possibility of vegetarianism.

So this is the vision, but how do we put it into practice? Here we find Buddhist ethics come to our aid, with the basic principle of non-violence (ahimsa) or harmlessness. In the statement of the first precept, abstention from harming living beings, we can see how much of the industrial use of resources contravenes the principle; in chopping down a rain forest we destroy a habitat for other creatures and set up the conditions for top soil erosion, which in turn leads to floods and famine thereby incurring untold suffering on others. So to put this principle into practice we also need a high degree of awareness of the consequences of our actions-this is a prerequisite for any truly skilful action.

Often, the actions that we commit in relation to the environment also contravene the second precept, abstention from taking what is not given. This can happen in quite a crude sense or in a very subtle one. How many of us have, while wandering through a field of flowers, plucked some up-more than we needed-as if they belonged to us and without a thought that others will be deprived of the pleasure of appreciating them? The principle of non-violence should not be taken to mean that people should absolutely abandon their use of the earth's resources for fear of harming any living beings whatsoever. After all, we are also part of nature, and need to maintain a healthy concern for our own welfare and that of fellow human beings. We need to use the resources available to free ourselves from the clutches of nature's destructiveness: storms, floods, and famines. However, with the awareness of the consequences of our actions, we have a great responsibility to use the resources in as harm-free and useful a way as possible. As Sangharakshita has said, 'Right use of nature is part of the spiritual life.' This again leads us to consider the possibility of vegetarianism. At a rough estimate it takes ten times as much vegetable matter as it does to feed that person on a vegetarian diet. In a world with an ever increasing strain on the food supply the luxury of eating meat seems more and more unethical, quite apart from the slaughter of the animals involved.

If we can begin to deepen our relationship with nature through an understanding of interpenetration, and live more in harmony with our environment using the principle of non- violence, then a growing awareness of nature will begin to feed into our spiritual practice. Our ability to develop as individuals is closely bound up with the environment in which we live; harmonizing that environment will have a positive effect on our spiritual practice. After all, in the natural world we find many of the most inspiring symbols of our potential for development; the blue sky, the great ocean, the lofty mountain peaks. There are many examples of the fruits of inspiration that come from humankind's experience of the beauty and splendour of nature, especially the wildest places. From the scientist to the mystic, individuals have found the mysteries and complexities of nature to be a source of insight and uplift. For this reason alone it is vital that at least some of our wild places remain.

We must beware of over-sentimentalizing nature though; the cycle of life in the natural world can be at times a very harsh one. Our technological development has to some extent freed us from this and a 'back to nature' movement will certainly not solve humanity's problems. With so much at stake every little action counts. Hopefully enough people will wake up to the fact that we urgently need to change our attitudes to nature so that we and future generations may continue to be inspired by the process that is life on earth.

5. Pollution and the Environment: Some Radically New Ancient Views - by Ronald Epstein - Dharma Realm Buddhist University Public Lecture Series Talmage, California


Published bilingually in English and Chinese in Vajra Bodhi Sea: A Monthly Journal of Orthodox Buddhism. Pt. 1, v. 30 (Dec. 1999), pp. 36, 12, and following issues.

It is very easy to get the feeling here in our local community that we have reached an impasse on pollution and many other environmental issues. The lines are clearly drawn, and all too often loud name-calling drowns out the little meaningful dialogue that is actually taking place. My purpose tonight is to present some ways of looking at environmental questions that are very old, yet which may represent fresh approaches to many of us. Perhaps some of the ideas can provide new beginnings for meaningful dialogues and perhaps even solutions. The three main ancient traditions that I would like to discuss, albeit very briefly, are Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism.


According to ancient Taoist teachings, our natural state is one of few desires. When our desires are unnaturally increased, psychic and physical imbalance and all kinds of problems result. Yet we all know that our desires are purposely exacerbated by the arts and advertising of our modern civilization. Our economy basically runs on the fuel of 'more is better', a strategy of purposely and systematically trying to push our desires out of their natural tendencies and strengthen them out of all natural proportion. The policy of continuous growth and development, which I see as one of the main reasons why our economy advocates unnatural levels of desire, also makes little sense from a Taoist point of view. Everything in nature has its cycles of coming into being, developing, decaying, disappearing, and then another cycle of birth or coming into being and so forth follows. The only thing in nature I can think of that grows nonstop are cancer cells. Should we then ask the question: Do we have a cancerous economic system? (See Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor, pp. 62, 75ff.)

The Taoist classic The Way and Its Power (tao te jing) gives this advice against the artificial exacerbation of our desires:

No lure is greater than to possess what others want,
No disaster greater than not to be content with what one has,
No presage of evil greater than that men should be wanting to get more.
Truly: He who has once known the contentment that comes simply through being content, will never again be otherwise than contented.
(Way and Its Power, p. 199)

For the Taoists, exacerbation of the sense desires can never lead to happiness. If you think about it, I think you will find that it is fundamentally this exacerbation of the desires, coupled with ignorance, that has led to almost all of the major environmental problems that we are now facing.

Yet, if we do not exclusively cater to our culture's call for every increasing personal gratification, then where do we find our center? The Taoists suggest that the first step is in awareness of the patterns of nature, both within our own body and mind and in the natural environment that we usually think of as "outside". Nature can be for us a template, a model, a paradigm, an anchor, a beacon.

The nature outside of us can resonate with the natural patterns within and help us to get back in touch with our natural selves. When we destroy our natural environment or make it unavailable for people to tune back into, we destroy one of the most precious healing resources for our civilization-jaded psyches.

Recently, in the same vein the Catholic theologian Thomas Berry stated, "The inner world has to be constantly nourished by the outer world. With what we are doing to the outer world now, we are damaging our psychic structure [bold added] as well as reducing our resources." (Timeless Visions, p. 30).


The great inheritor of the Confucian tradition in China, Mencius, who lived in the early 3rd century BC, wrote:

The Bull Mountain was once covered with lively trees. But it is near the capital of a great State. People came with their axes and choppers; they cut the woods down, and the mountain has lost its beauty. Yet even so, the day air and the night air came to it, rain and dew moistened it till here and there fresh sprouts began to grow. But soon cattle and sheep came along and browsed on them, and in the end the mountain became gaunt and bare, as it is now. And seeing it thus gaunt and bare, people imagine that it was woodless from the start.

Now just as the natural state of the mountain was quite different from what now appears, so too in every man (little though they may be apparent) there assuredly were once feelings of decency and kindness; and if these good feeling are no longer there, it is that they have been tampered with, hewn down with axe and bill [a curved tool for pruning and cutting]. As each day dawns, they are assailed anew. What chance then has our nature, any more that mountain, of keeping its beauty? To us, too, comes the air of day, the air of night. Just at dawn, indeed, we have for a moment, and in a certain degree, a mood in which our promptings and aversions come near to being such as are proper to men [and women!]. But something is sure to happen before the morning is over, by which these better feelings are ruffled or destroyed. And in the end, when they have been ruffled again and again, the night air is no longer able to preserve them, and soon our feeling are as near as may be to those of beasts and birds; so that anyone might make the same mistake about us as about the mountain, and think that there was never any good in us from the very start. Yet assuredly our present state of feeling is not what we begin with. Truly

If rightly tended, no creature but thrives;
If left untended, no creature but pines away. Confucius said:
Hold fast to it and you can keep it,
Let go, and it will stray.
For its comings and goings its has no time nor tide;
No one knows where it will bide. Surely it was of the [innate and good] feelings that he was speaking." (Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China)

Even in ancient times people took for granted the degraded state of the environment and did not realize the beauty and richness that been destroyed. Protecting it takes constant vigilance. Likewise protecting our own nature takes constant vigilance and this is the job of ethical education. But awareness of what is innate and good can be uncovered in everyone, says Mencius.

A Sung Dynasty Confucian scholar Chang Tsai [early 11th cent. AD] wrote:

Heaven is my father and earth is my mother, and even such a small being as I finds an intimate place in their midst. Therefore, that which fills the universe [i.e., spiritual energy or ch'i] I regard as my body and that which directs the universe I regard as my nature. All people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my companions."

(Chang Tsai, "Western Inscription", in "The Continuity of Being" by Wei-ming Tu; also Source Book In Chinese Philosophy by W.T. Chan, p. 497)

A modern Confucian scholar Professor Wei-ming Tu commented on these ideas:

This idea of forming one body with the universe is predicated on the assumption that, since all modalities of being are made of ch'i[the primal spiritual energy of the universe], all things cosmologically share the same consanguinity with us and are thus our companions. This vision enabled an original thinker of the Ming Dynasty, Wang Ken (1483-1540), to remark that if [in our spiritual birth] we came into being through transformation (hua-sheng), then heaven and earth are our father and mother to us; if [in our physical birth] we came into being through reproduction (hsing-sheng), then our father and mother are heaven and earth to us. The image of the human that emerges here, far from being lord of creation, is the filial son and daughter of the universe. Filial piety connotes a profound feeling, an all-pervasive care for the world around us." (Tu Wei-ming. "The Continuity of Being: Chinese Visions of Nature." On Nature. Leroy S. Rouner, ed. Boston University Studies in Philosophy and Religion, vol. 6. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984, p. 76)

For some of you this may call to mind some of Saint Francis' comments about our brotherhood and sisterhood with all creatures and all creation. Yet what perhaps needs emphasis, beyond the idea of our profound interrelationship with all being, is the idea of filial piety or respect. If we truly understand the fundamental nature of our interrelatedness, then that should lead to profound respect not only for our fellow human beings, including those on the other side of pollution issues and other environmental issues, but also for all creatures great and small. This respect finds its roots ultimately in fundamental respect for life.


Those Confucian ideas that I have just mentioned bring to mind an ancient Buddhist teaching that the earth is a great enlightened being, a great Bodhisattva, who gives us a place to live on her body, to grow and to walk the path to enlightenment. This being, the earth, is our mother. She gives birth to us, nourishes us, and it is to her that we return at death. We owe her the same kind of love and respect that we should have for our human mothers. The earth is the mother of all the beings that live upon her. Since all of those beings have the same mother as we do, they are all our own brothers and sisters. We should cherish and respect them as we should the brothers and sisters of our own human nuclear family.

In March 1989, the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, Chan Patriarch and founder of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, visited Pendle Hill, a Quaker center in Pennsylvania. When he was there, he was asked the question: "How do we protect our ecology and the global environment?" He replied,

People should model themselves after the earth. The earth produces the myriad things: animals, plants, and the teeming creatures. The earth [sometimes interpreted as the principle of vital energy], on the other hand, models itself after heaven [sometimes interpreted as the principle of spiritual energy]. It is said, 'Heaven covers me from above, while the earth sustains me from below.' A section of the ozone layer has been destroyed in Antarctica and there has been incredible radiation all around that area. That is a case of humans destroying the ecological equilibrium and the protective function of heaven and earth.

The Master went on to say:

Heaven goes on to model itself after nature. Here the meaning of 'nature' is the intrinsic truth that underlies all phenomena. As the eternal life-force, it neither increases nor decreases. You could call it the Buddha-nature, which is found equally and pervasively among all living beings. It is not the case that Buddhas are intrinsically higher than living beings. Rather, it is a question of whether one has wisdom or not. The Buddha has returned to the source and recovered his original nature; living beings are covered over by desire and so have lost touch with their original wisdom. The ultimate way to rescue the environment," said the Master, "is to return to a state of innocence and truth, and not to engage in fighting, selfishness, avarice, and deceit.

What does that mean? "The ultimate way to rescue the environment is to return to a state of innocence and truth, and not to engage in fighting, selfishness, avarice and deceit."

At the time of his enlightenment the Buddha said:

How amazing! How amazing! How amazing! All living beings have the potential to become fully awakened. Only their polluted minds and their attachments keep them from doing so.

The Buddha was saying that the only reasons that we are alienated from the true source of our being, our enlightened nature, is that our minds are polluted and those pollutants--selfishness, desire, greed, anger, and so forth--cause us to cling to the very things that alienate us from our natural enlightened state of being. In our state of alienation, we then influence the world around us in unnatural ways, which sooner or later result in distortion of the natural patterns of the environment. That distortion then can cause pollution and other environmental problems. What this is telling us is, that if we trace the causes of environmental problems back far enough, we find at their source polluted minds, minds that are smogged over so that their original clear, pure, bright nature and their universal interconnectednesss are no longer visible.

Some of you may be thinking: If this was the case at the time of the Buddha, over 2,500 years ago, when problems of pollution were relatively small, why are the problems now so immense? Some of the reasons are obvious, and some are more difficult to get at.

One of the obvious reasons is the population explosion. Think--the population explosion itself is a sign of severe disturbance and alienation from the natural patterns of our own minds and the world. Remember the ancient Taoist teaching that the natural state is one of few desires. Of course the problem of population is extremely complicated, but when we find complication and confusion, we need to return to basic principles.

Another important reason, which is perhaps not as obvious, has to do with causation and responsibility. Jesus’ saying, "As ye sow, so shall ye reap," is also a succinct statement about the workings of cause and effect, or karma, as it is known in the Buddhist tradition. Buddhism emphasizes that our verbal and physical behavior is the outcome of our intentions--subtle or not-so-subtle mental habits, desires, and ideas. If my intentions are good and pure, my behavior will be good and pure. If I am motivated by a turbid mind, filled with selfish desires, greed, hatred, and violence, then my speech and actions will accord with what is in my mind. We do tend to see the world and its living beings through the tinted and distorted lenses of our own minds. Turbid and defiled minds lead to turbid and defiled actions, that destroy and pollute the planet that is mother and home to us all.


How then can we all work together to insure the continued health and vitality of our mother the earth to clean up our own nest? If I am motivated by a mind that is clear and pure, a mind filled with selfless loving-compassion, a mind at peace with itself and the world, then my speech and actions will naturally, and without special effort or intention on my part, promote the vitality of the earth and its ecosystems.

However, one heritage of our modern scientific and technological world has been a widespread breakdown of awareness of the consequences of our actions. If the causal pathways of our actions are very long, complicated and obscure, then it is very difficult for us to take proper responsibility for the consequences of our actions. this, I think, is another major cause of our environmental problems.

In the ancient world, for the most part, people could see clearly the consequences of their own environmental actions. In the modern world, the astute use of our own senses is often not enough. For example, we cannot see ozone. Or when we use paper, do we see or even think about the trees or the dioxin and other chemicals that are used in the paper-making process and then are dumped into our waterways? Or when someone buys a Big Mac, they do not see what is happening when the cow is grazing, what it is eating, where the manure ends up, and of course they do not directly participate in, or even see, the killing of the cow. Many little children do not even know that beef and milk come from cows. Their knowledge of the causal chain stops with what they personally see and experience: the plastic packages in the supermarket. For them beef and milk come from MacDonalds and the supermarket. Therefore, in the modern world we have to realize that paying attention to the consequences of our actions is going to take a new kind of special effort.

In conclusion I would like to suggest that in tackling pollution and other environmental problems, both locally and globally, we can benefit from some of the ancient ideas I have presented. In particular there are three notions that deserve our special attention:

1) We should pay special attention to the state of our own minds and our own intentions. Even if we feel that our cause is noble, if we act out of anger and without fundamental respect for everyone involved, we are only making matters worse. And, of course, violent actin only begets more violence.

2) We should act out of knowledge of the causal consequences of our actions, no matter how obscure and complicated the causal interrelationships might be, and no matter how long term the effects might be. In our daily activities and in our jobs, we have to make a concerted effort to educate ourselves, our children and our communities about the environmental consequences of our actions and to take responsibility for them. We cannot in good faith shift responsibility to future generations. One result of this kind of analysis may be the simplifying of our lifestyles.

3) We should increase our awareness of our fundamental and causal interrelationship with all life on the planet and have profound respect for our mother earth and profound respect also for all the older children of mother earth, for all our brothers and sister both human and non-human.

I firmly believe that, if we can emphasize these three approaches, both through own example and in the education of our children, then we can really begin to make some headway, not only in overcoming pollution and environmental degradation, but in revitalizing and stopping the fragmentation of our communities, and in finding real satisfaction and meaning in our own lives.


Although the problems of pollution are now much more extreme than they have ever been before, the problems themselves are not new.

When we led simpler more natural lives, when there were many fewer human beings upon the globe, the impact of human life was light. Food, clothes, implements, shelter were all made from natural substances and even though the garbage mound was at the front door, it quickly composted and disappeared. What did not disappear left diggings for archaeologists, but took little space on the planet and made little impact on the rest of the world.

With the advent of urban life came deforestation and air and water pollution. Already in the days of Socrates, Plato, and Mencius we have word of some of the developing problems.

In ancient Greece Plato decried the incredible environmental damage that had been done to the Attic peninsula:

And, just as happens in small islands, what now remains compare with what then existed is like the skeleton of a rich man, all the fat and soft earth have wasted away, and only the bare framework of the land ...[is] left." ( quoted in Yi-fu Tuan "Discrepancies between Environmental Attitude and Behavior: Examples from Europe and China", p. 179)

"But in those days [when] the damage had not taken place, the hills had high crests, the rocky plain of Phelleus was covered with rich soil, and the mountains were covered by thick woods, of which there are some traces today. For some mountains which today will only support bees produced not so long ago trees which when cut provided roof beams for huge buildings whose roofs are still standing. And there were a lot of tall cultivated trees which bore unlimited quantities of fodder for beasts. The soil benefitted from an annual rainfall which did not run to waste from the bare earth as it does today, but was absorbed in large quantities and stored in retentive layers of clay, so that what was drunk down by the higher regions flowed downwards into the valleys and appeared everywhere in a multitude of rivers and springs. And the shrines which still survive at these former springs are proof of the truth of our present account of the country. (Lee, tr. Critias, p. 132)

Thirteenth century England also had its problems:

By 1285 London had a smog problem arising from the burning of soft coal. (Lynn White, Jr. "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis")

Over a thousand years ago in T'ang Dynasty China, the hills around the capital, Loyang, were deforested for about 200 miles in every direction. The logs were then burned to provide carbon ink for the burgeoning bureaucracy of the Chinese government.

Even before T'ang times, the ancient pines of the mountains of Shan-tung had been reduced to carbon, and now the busy brushes of the vast T'ang bureaucracy were rapidly bringing baldness to the T'a-hang Mountains between Shansi and Hopei. (E.H. Schafer. "The Conservation of Nature under the T'ang Dynasty." Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient V (1962), p. 299-300)

6. Bibliography on Buddhist Ethics - By Peter Harvey / Treatment of Non-Human Nature


Badiner, A. H., ed. 1990. Dharma Gaia: A Harvest of Essays in Buddhism and Ecology. Berkeley, Ca.: Parallax Press.

Batchelor, M. and K. Brown, eds. 1992. Buddhism and Ecology. London and New York: Cassell (sponsored by the World Wide Fund for Nature).

Callicott, J. B. and R. T. Ames, eds. 1989. Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought: Essays in Environmental Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Chapple, K. C. 1993. Non-violence to Animals, Earth, and Self in Asian Traditions. New York: State University of New York Press.

Dhammika, S., trans. 1993. The Edicts of King Asoka: Wheel pamphlet no. 386–387. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society.

Gallay-Pap, P. and R. Bottomley, eds. 1997. Towards and Environmental Ethic in Southeast Asia. Phnom Penh, Cambodia: The Buddhist Institute.

Hall, F. 1902. The Soul of a People. (on nineteenth century Burma) London: Macmillan.

Harris, Ian. 2000. "Buddhism and Ecology" in Keown, D. (ed) Contemporary Buddhist Ethics. London: Curzon Press, 113-136.

Harris, I. 1991. How Environmentalist is Buddhism? Religion 21:101–114.

Harris, I. 1994. Causation and Telos: The Problem of Buddhist Environmental Ethics. Journal of Buddhist Ethics 1:45–56.

Harris, I. 1994. Buddhism. In Attitudes to Nature, edited by J. Holm and J. Bowker, pp. 8–27. London: Pinter.

Harris, I. 1995. Buddhist Environmental Ethics and Detraditionalization: The Case of EcoBuddhism. Religion 25:199–211.

Harris, I. 1995. Getting to Grips with Buddhist Environmentalism: a Provisional Typology. Journal of Buddhist Ethics 2:173–190.

Harvey, P. 2000. An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values and Issues. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 150–86.

Harvey, P. 1998. Buddhist attitudes to and treatment of non-human nature. Ecotheology, 4:35–50.

Horner, I. B. 1967. Early Buddhism and the Taking of Life: Wheel booklet no. 104. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society.

Kabilsingh, C. 1988. How Buddhism can Help Protect Nature. World Fellowship of Buddhists Review 25 (2):17–24.

Kapleau, Roshi P. 1981. To Cherish All Life: A Buddhist View of Animal Slaughter and Meat eating. Rochester, N.Y.: The Zen Center.

Kraft, K., ed. 1992. Inner Peace, World Peace: Essays on Buddhism and Nonviolence. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press.

LaFleur, W. 1973–74. Saigyō and the Buddhist Value of Nature. In History of Religions, vol. 13 (2), pp. 91–126 and Vol. 13 (3), pp. 227–48. Reprinted in a condensed form, Callicott and Ames, 1989, pp. 183–212.

Macy, J. 1983. Dharma and Development: Religion as Resource in the Sarvodaya Self-help Movement. West Hartford, Conn.: Kumarian.

Macy, J. 1991. World as Lover, World as Self. Berkeley, Ca.: Parallax Press (collected essays).

The New Road: Bulletin of the WWF Network on Conservation and Religion. 1991. Man and Nature: the Zen Buddhists of Brazil. 17:1, 6.

Nikam, N. A. and R. McKeon. 1959. The Edicts of Asoka. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press; Reprint, Midway, 1978 (translation).

Norberg-Hodge, H. 1991. Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. London: Rider.

Piburn, S., ed. 1990. The Dalai Lama; A Policy of Kindness: An Anthology of Writings By and About the Dalai Lama. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion.

Prasad, C. S. 1979. “Meat-eating and the Rule of Tiko ipariśuddha.” In Studies in Pāli and Buddhism, edited by A. K. Narain, pp. 289–95. Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corp.

Ruegg, D. S. 1980. Ahimsā and Vegetarianism in the History of Buddhism. In Buddhist Studies in Honour of Walpola Rāhula, edited by S. Balasooriya et al., pp. 234–41. London: George Fraser.

Sandell, K, ed. 1987. Buddhist Perspective on the Ecocrisis: Wheel booklet no. 346–48. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society.

Schmithausen, L. 1991. The Problem of the Sentience of Plants in Earliest Buddhism. Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies

Schmithausen, L. 1991. Buddhism and Nature: The Lecture delivered on the Occasion of the EXPO 1990, An Enlarged Version with Notes. Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies.

Schmithausen, L. 1997. The Early Buddhist Tradition and Ecological Ethics. Journal of Buddhist Ethics 4:1–74.

Schumacher, F. 1973. Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. London: Blond and Briggs, pp. 48–56. Buddhist Economics first appeared in Asia: A Handbook, edited by G. Wint. London: Anthony Blond Ltd, 1966.

Shasta Abbey (publisher: no editor named). 1980. Buddhism and Respect for Animals. Mt. Shasta, Ca.: Shasta Abbey Press.

Shaw, M. 1985. Nature in Dōgen’s Philosophy and Poetry. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 8 (2):111–32.

Story, F. 1976. The place of animals in Buddhism. In his Dimensions of Buddhist Thought: Collected Essays Vol. 3. , pp. 363–73: a reprint of his The Place of Animals in Buddhism: Bodhi Leaf pamphlet no. B.24, Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1964.

Suzuki, D. T. 1930. Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, pp. 368–71, on meat-eating.

Suzuki, D. T., trans. 1932. The Lankavatara Sutra. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, pp. 211–23, on meat-eating.

Tähtinen, U. 1976. Ahimsa- Non-violence in the Indian Tradition. London: Rider.

Tangwisuttiji, N. 1990. An Environmentalist Monk. World Fellowship of Buddhists Review, 27 (2): 53–5.

Tucker, M. E. and D. R. Williams, eds. 1997. Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions.

Waldau, Paul. 2000. "Buddhism and Animal Rights" in Keown, D. (ed) Contemporary Buddhist Ethics. London: Curzon Press, 81-113.

World Fellowship of Buddhists Review. 1983. Another Buddhist’s View on Buddhists Eating Meat. (editorial) 20 (3): appendix pp. 1–8.

World Fellowship of Buddhists Review. 1984. Buddhists Concerned for Animals. 21 (4): 73–9.


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