Nature in Early Buddhist Traditions

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When we look to the early Buddhist literature, we do not find an overwhelming amount of teachings addressing issues of the environment. Why is this?

Buddhism strictly limits itself to the delineation of a way of life designed to eradicate human suffering. The Buddha refused to answer questions which did not directly or indirectly bear on the central problem of human suffering and its ending. Furthermore, environmental pollution is a problem of the modern age, unheard of and unsuspected during the time of the Buddha. Therefore it is difficult to find any specific discourse which deals with the topic we are interested in here. Nevertheless, as Buddhism is a full-fledged philosophy of life reflecting all aspects of experience, it is possible to find enough material in the Pali canon to delineate the Buddhist attitude towards nature.

A Buddha knows “what is what” and how to behave appropriately in respect to all things.

A Buddha is an individual who knows the truth about all things. A Buddha knows “what is what” and how to behave appropriately in respect to all things. According to Thai teacher/scholar Ajahn Buddhadassa, Buddhism is based on intelligence, science, and knowledge. Its purpose is the extinction of suffering and the source of that suffering. Liberation from suffering requires examining things closely, understanding their true nature and behaving in a way appropriate to that true nature.

No single dogma, no single Buddhism
Buddhism is not a dogma that binds all adherents to a single regime. Buddhism encourages individual perceptions, even questions and challenges on the part of each practitioner. But the braided paths of individual seekers wind in a common direction. Teachings emphasize the importance of coexisting with nature, rather than conquering it, and encourage a conserving lifestyle rather than one which is profligate. Henning

In this lesson we look at Buddhist views of nature in the earliest recorded teachings. And we look at some of the core Buddhist philosophies elucidated in these teachings from the perspective of Buddhism’s application to the environment and ecological concerns.