Caring for the Earth

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The three poisons

Cardinal Buddhist teachings invite fresh interpretations in environmental contexts.

In the Buddhist teachings, suffering arises from the afflictive emotions of greed, anger/hatred, and delusion/ignorance. These "three poisons" are symbolized by a rooster, a snake, and a pig.

How might these afflictive emotions affect how we -- as individuals and as a society -- interrelate with our environment?

Consider ignorance. The original meaning—that people are ignorant of their true nature and the true nature of existence—is as valid as ever. In addition, we seem to be increasingly ignorant of our place in nature.

How many of us know where our water comes from or where our garbage goes? When you put gas in your car, do you know where it came from and how it got to you? The pump tells you the price per gallon, but do you know the ecological cost of fueling and driving your car?

Bodhisattva mind

In the field of caring for the Earth, bodhisattva mind manifests as a heartfelt sense of oneness with other beings and the Earth. Zen students at the Green Gulch Zen Center in northern California have been struggling to save what remains of an old-growth redwood forest. After a recent demonstration, a member of the group was asked if she was going to return to the Zen Center for the next training period. "No," she replied. "I'm going to practice in the trees."

Oneness with other life-forms is also expressed in less lofty ways. The medieval Japanese Zen monk Ryokan was reportedly so considerate toward all beings that when he sunned himself in the morning he would carefully pick the lice out of his robe and place them on a nearby rock. After sunning himself, he would gently place the lice back in his robe.