Core Teachings and
the Environment

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In this lesson we look at some of Buddhism's core teachings from the perspective of our relationship with the environment.

The Four Noble Truths

While we in the West are inclined to think that we know what is going on, it is a fundamental principle of Buddhism that we do not. This is stated in the second of the Four Noble Truths which underpin Buddhist philosophy. The first Noble Truth states that there is suffering. The second, that there is a cause for that suffering which is delusion. The third Noble Truth states that there is an end to the suffering (i.e. the delusion) and the fourth that there is a way or path to reach that end. When the Buddha spoke of enlightenment, nirvana, he was referring to the absolute understanding that ends our suffering.

The First Noble Truth

Sitting under a bodhi tree near the River Neranjana, the Buddha came to understand the nature of the fundamental cause of all suffering. This First Noble Truth was based on observation of the contingent nature of being and the dis-ease that we bring to the realities of pain, suffering and impermanence.

Dukkha (dis-ease or suffering) encompasses a range of feeling from mild irritation to traumas of grief and sorrow. Buddhism is particularly concerned with the kind of suffering based on the clinging to self. In the spiritual sense, feelings of being incomplete, yearnings for inner peace, and desires for purification are all motivated by the omnipresence of Dukkha. This concept does not deny happiness, joy, or laughter but recognizes that life’s impermanent states are conditioned with inevitable suffering.

Thus suffering is to a certain degree inherent in the existence of all living beings, as coming into existence conditions old age and death. Whatever is born is bound to decay. There is no way to escape this natural law of impermanence, neither by trying to satisfy each and every desire that is born in one’s mind, nor by choosing between them. There are many kinds of delusive happiness, but they do not last. Whatever we perceive through our physical senses and our minds is determined and bound to pass away.

How is the nature of "suffering" a part of our everyday experience in the world?

…life’s impermanent states are conditioned with inevitable suffering.

How might wishing for things to remain unchanged affect your attitude toward man's effect on the environment? Does the nature of change result in always being out of alignment? If so, how might that affect your view of environmental change?

Dukkha or the First Noble Truth applies to the natural environment with the recognition that nature is suffering as a whole and that serious environmental crises are appearing locally and globally everywhere. These crises range from loss of tropical forests and their plant and animal species to global warming. With the recognition that life is suffering, exploitation and insensitivity toward the living environment cannot make humankind escape the natural law of impermanence.