The 17th Karmapa on Environmental Buddhism
I found this article that the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader, His Holiness The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, wrote for “Conservation Biology” December issue to be very enlightening in explaining the relationship between Buddhist philosophy and environmental ideology.
I have inserted some excerpts from the article here and provided a link to the full article in its title below-
Ultimately, a call to action.
“As I grew up and began studying Buddhist philosophy and teachings, I discovered great harmony between Buddhism and the environmental movement. The emphasis on biological diversity, including ecosystems—in particular, the understanding that animate and inanimate beings are parts of a whole—resonates closely with Buddhism’s emphasis on interdependence. The essence of Buddhism lies in the union of compassion and emptiness: the deeply felt dedication to alleviate the suffering of all living beings and the understanding that everything is devoid of self-nature. These two halves of a philosophical whole speak particularly to the goals of the environmental movement. Let me explain what I mean.
The most exalted example Buddhists use to explain compassion is motherhood. Consider all that your mother probably has done for you since the time you were conceived—carrying you for 9 months, experiencing the hardship of labor and birth, feeding and clothing you, taking care of all your needs, and worrying about you long after you reach adulthood. Most mothers never stop caring unconditionally for their children. Regardless of whether one believes in reincarnation or not, one can suppose that all living beings are like mothers to us. The food that appears in front of us at dinner was grown, packaged, and prepared by people we probably do not know. The clothes we are wearing were produced by people we probably will never meet. Yet we are benefiting from their hopes, dreams, and labor. Plants, animals, and raw materials have all been used to provide us these things. This is the interdependence that characterizes life—no one thing exists by itself alone, or can survive alone. We are all part of one world ecology and the world is extremely compassionate to us.
Emptiness, in contrast, can be best explained by using the example of the self. What do we imagine when we think of the self? Exactly where does the self reside? Is it in the heart or the brain? In the incoming breath or the outgoing breath? In the movement of our limbs? In our interaction or relationship with others? The self differs greatly at ages 15 and 25. Because it is impermanent and intangible, the self is empty of any inherent self-nature. And, because this is so, our happiness, our sadness, our successes, and our failures are also empty by nature. This does not mean that we are nothing, but that we are constantly moving, absorbing, and shedding. Consequently, we need not experience great attachment to our experiences and can develop equanimity regarding all phenomena. To experience this freedom from the conviction of a self and the self-importance it creates means that we can dispense with the artificial distinction between self and other and can be part of all phenomena everywhere.
How does this relate to the environment? According to Buddhism, ignorance of the empty nature of self and the rejection of compassion is the root cause of egotism, anger, attachment, and greed. Ignorance is why human beings have degraded the environment and are driving so many species to extinction. Ignorance causes us to place an excessive worth upon the self and anything related to it; my family, my possessions, my country, and even my race. Perceiving the diversity of the world through the limited lens of self means we can impose grave harm upon Earth without concern, because Earth has become “other.”” …
“During the last 100 years, over 95% of the world’s wild tigers (Panthera tigris) have vanished. As human needs have continued to expand, we have taken more and more from nature and left less and less for other animals. However, the magnificent tiger has almost completely disappeared due to consumer demand for its skin and body parts. We are driving a species to extinction simply because we believe wearing its skin makes us look wealthy or that consuming tiger parts will make us healthier. Doing such a thing is essentially non-Buddhist and uncompassionate—not only for the tiger, but also for ourselves, because this act is bound to have negative karmic consequences for us.
Compassion for the “other,” whether people, animal species, trees, or other plants, and for Earth itself, is the only thing that will ultimately save us human beings. Most people are primarily concerned about their work, wealth, health, or family. On a daily basis, they probably feel they have more urgent things to worry about than their environmental footprint. Of course, paying attention to this issue would mean having to make inconvenient choices and changes in their lives. I am not so different. Although I had considered giving up eating meat for many years, I became a complete vegetarian only a few years ago. Somebody presented a short documentary that showed how animals suffer before and during the act of killing. Watching it, I could feel the fear felt by the animals. Like a thunderclap, I became aware that these living beings were suffering so greatly simply to satisfy my habitual preferences. Eating meat became intolerable for me at that moment, and so I stopped.” …
“Finally, I believe that the very future of life on Earth depends on those of us who are privileged to live more simply. To live simply is to be compassionate to yourself and to the world. A life full of material goods and barren of compassion is quite unsustainable from an ecological and karmic point of view. Of course, advertisements are always telling us that the path to happiness lies in purchasing the goods they sell. How is it that the advertising convinces us even when we are skeptical of its message? Our attachment to our own happiness, possessions, family, and self creates a lack of perspective that makes us susceptible. However, if we can be mindful of the emptiness of self, we can create a space for choice rather than habitual consumerism. We don’t have to live a life that is sold to us—we can make the brave choice to live simply.”
Transcript: An Explanation of the Kagyu Monlam logo by the Gyalwang Karmapa December 29, 2007
On December 29, 2007, His Holiness talked movingly about protecting the environment in a speech in Bodhgaya:
“There is a new logo for the Monlam this year, and I would like to explain it.
“Throughout my life I have always felt that the outer natural elements and my own mind are close. I have a special connection with the four elements. I am not being superstitious and saying I can talk to the elements, but sometimes it feels that way.
“Ever since the human race first appeared on this earth, we have used this earth heavily. It is said that ninety-nine percent of the resources and so on in this world come from the natural environment. We are using the earth until she is used up. The earth has given us immeasurable benefit, but what have we done for the earth in return? We always ask for something from the earth, but never give her anything back.
“We never have loving or protective thoughts for the earth. Whenever trees or anything else emerge from the ground, we cut them down. If there is a bit of level earth, we fight over it. To this day we perpetuate a continuous cycle of war and conflict over it. In fact, we have not done much of anything for the earth.
“Now the time has come when the earth is scowling at us; the time has come when the earth is giving up on us. The earth is about to treat us badly and give up on us. If she gives up on us, where can we live? There is talk of going to other planets that could support life, but only a few rich people could go. What would happen to all of us sentient beings who could not go?
“What should we do now that the situation has become so critical? The sentient beings living on the earth and the elements of the natural world need to join their hands together—the earth must not give up on sentient beings, and sentient beings must not give up on the earth. Each needs to grasp the other’s hand. So doesn’t the Monlam logo look like two hands clasping each other?
“Its shape is also similar to the design of the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa’s Dream Flag of peace and serenity, which is used regularly among the Karma Kamtsang. If I were to make up everything myself, I doubt it would have any blessings, but using the previous Karmapa’s design as a model probably gives this blessings.
“This is a symbol of the Kagyu Monlam. We hold the Kagyu Monlam for the benefit of the entire world. We will not give up on the earth! May there be peace on earth! May the earth be sustained for many thousands of years! These are the prayers we make at the Kagyu Monlam, which is why this symbol is the logo of the Kagyu Monlam. I also think this might become a symbol of people having affection for the earth and wanting to protect it.
“Now I will boast a bit. As I mentioned before, I am the one who designed this logo. I have the strong feeling that I am connected to the natural elements. Technological devices do not agree with me. I feel most comfortable using natural things. When I use technological devices, my body feels rather uncomfortable, although I have no choice but to use them.
“Both the body and mind are strongly connected to the unaltered, natural elements. Because I made this logo, I think it could probably provide some protection against dangers from the natural elements of the external world. But do not think that this logo alone will protect you: if you jump into fire or water while wearing it, you will still die. It is first and foremost a symbol that we are not giving up on the earth.