Environmental Action

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Recent history of Buddhism and ecology

I am reminded of a Zen koan still used in the training of monks. The master says to the student: "See that boat moving way out there on the water? How do you stop it?" To give a proper answer the student must be able to demonstrate that he has "become one" with the boat. Just as one must penetrate deeply into a koan to solve it, Buddhists around the world have begun to immerse themselves in environmental issues, attempting to approach urgent problems from the inside as well as the outside. An increasing number of practitioner-activists believe that the only way to stop the boat of ecological disaster is to deepen our relationship to the planet and all life within it.

Contemporary Buddhists are responding to the environmental crises facing our world. In this lesson we see some of the ways today’s Buddhists adopt Buddhist principles and practice to "greening" of Buddhism. 

Some of the Buddhist responses to ecological concerns include:

  • For more and more American Buddhist centers, living in harmony with their surroundings has become a locus of practice. Zen Mountain Monastery in New York took a strong stance over forestry and beaver dam practices. Green Gulch Zen Center in California negotiated responsible water usage with its neighbors. Within the workings of the centers themselves, conservation of resources and reduction of waste have become practices.

  • Upaya Zen Center in New Mexico and Ring of Bone Zendo in northern California, among others, offer retreats that integrate hiking, pilgrimage, and meditation

  • Thich Nhat Hanh led a week-long meditation retreat for environmentalists. In his talks, the Vietnamese teacher stressed the value of "deep, inner peace" for environmental activists. Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on 'interbeing' focus on our interrelationship with our environment.

  • Joanna Macy has focused on the cultivation of ecological awareness, and the fruitful resonance between Buddhist thought and contemporary science. Her group methods, known as the Work That Reconnects, help people transform despair and apathy, in the face of overwhelming social and ecological crises, into constructive, collaborative action

  • The Dalai Lama’s Five Point Peace Plan calls for the transformation of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace and the restoration and protection of Tibet's natural environment and the abandonment of China's use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste.

  • The Buddhist Perception of Nature Project uses traditional Buddhist doctrines and practices to teach environmental principles to ordinary villagers and city-dwellers.

  • In rural Thailand, environmentally conscious monks attempt to protect endangered forests and watersheds by "ordaining" trees and leading meditation walks around endangered places.

  • Buddhist teachers in the West have approached the Buddhist precepts from an environmental point of view.

  • Buddhists throughout southeast Asia are drawing attention to the devastating impact of economic development.

  • The Nuclear Guardianship is a citizen commitment to present and future generations to keep radioactive materials out of the biosphere.