Lesson
7

Caring for the Earth

6 of 7

Acting on behalf of the environment

The practices characteristic of this path, broadly speaking, are restraint and stewardship.

Restraint

Less consumption, more joy.

Restraint grounded in ecological awareness means: being conscious of what one consumes; distinguishing between real needs and artificial desires; and finding ways to live more simply. Here is a critical point of intersection between ecology and economics.

Contentment isn’t valued in this high-speed and high-greed culture. If people were content with what they have and who they are, why would they go shopping? Learning to cultivate and acknowledge your own contentment is a revolutionary act in these times.

Every time you feel content—in a conversation, a meal, a sunset—really sense the contentment. What do your body and mind feel like?...

We can train our minds to settle for less. Just this.
                       
                                                                  Diana Winston

Contrary to expectation, this kind of restraint is not a grim exercise in self-denial; the true spirit of "downshifting" has been captured on a bumper sticker: "Less consumption, more joy."

Stewardship

Stewardship is conduct that aims to protect humans, other creatures, and the Earth's resources. The watering of a plant, as depicted in the Wheel, is a down-to-earth example. One can be watering the seeds of awareness at the same time. At the Green Gulch Zen Center, in order to restore and protect the land, members plant trees annually, improve field soils by large-scale composting, cull non-native plants, and maintain a twenty-acre organic farm.

A more complex and disturbing dilemma is the disposition of long-lived nuclear waste. That may require a form of stewardship that Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy calls "nuclear guardianship." Since it may not be possible to contain radioactive waste through technological means alone, Macy envisions an ongoing role for human guardians, a collective form of mindfulness that would have to be sustained generation after generation.

Joanna Macy developed the concept of guardianship primarily in regard to nuclear waste. How might it apply to other environmental issues, such as biodiversity or global climate change?

Buddhist-inspired environmentalism is also becoming manifest in national and international arenas.

  • The Earth, our mother, is telling us to behave.

    When the Dalai Lama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, he explicitly called for environmental protection of the Tibetan plateau, citing the Buddhist principles of nonviolence and compassion for all beings. The Dalai Lama proposed a five-point peace plan for Tibet that extends the notion of peace to the entire Tibetan ecosystem

  • Monks in Thailand have started to take an active role in protecting the environment. Known informally as ecology monks, this small but visible percentage of Buddhist monastics have pioneered several new methods, including “ordaining" trees to protect forests targeted for clear cutting.



    Monks also protest pipeline construction through the rainforest.

In the West, Buddhists in many walks of life are grappling with the ecocrisis personally and politically, using methods that range from self-restraint to organized group action.