By Ven. Sheng-yen
Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association of the United States
08/31/2000, working session on environmental
protection at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
Buddhism is a religion that places great emphasis
on environmental protection. Sakyamuni Buddha was born at Lumbini Garden.
He engaged in spiritual practice in the forest, attained Buddhahood under
a tree, and first began preaching at Deer Park. The major monasteries
where he taught his disciples were all gardens or woods, such as Jeta
Grove, Bamboo Grove, Amravana Garden, and he passed into pari-nirvana
between two Sal trees near Kusinagara. He exhorted his monastic disciples,
when spending the night under a tree, to regard that place as his home
and take loving care of it.
The Buddha told us in the sutras and precepts
that we should take loving care of animals, and that we should not harm
the grass and trees, but regard them as the home where sentient beings
lead their lives. In the stories of the Buddha's past lives, when he was
following the Bodhisattva path, he was once reborn as a bird. During a
forest fire, he tried fearlessly to put out the fire, disregarding his
own safety by bringing water with his feathers. In the Avatamsaka Sutra
it is said that mountains, waters, grass, and trees are all the manifestation
of the great bodhisattvas. So, Buddhists believe that both sentient beings
and non-sentient things are all the Dharma-body of the buddhas. Not only
do the yellow flowers and green bamboo preach Buddhist teachings, but
rocks can also understand Buddhist doctrines. Therefore, Buddhists regard
our living environment as their own bodies. The Buddhists' life of spiritual
practice is by all means very simple, frugal, and pure.
Unfortunately, the immoderate development and
the excessive use of chemicals in the world have led to the rapid consumption
of natural resources, the speedy deterioration of the natural environment,
and the extinction of a variety of species. The collective result speeds
the earth towards doomsday. Although no human being hopes for the early
arrival of doomsday, few are willing to strive together to take action
to salvage the destiny of the earth, despite the fact that most are conscious
of the crisis. Day in and day out everyone still consumes even larger
amounts of natural resources, produces more refuse to pollute the earth,
the air, and rivers and oceans. The remaining tracts of tropical rain
forest become smaller and smaller; the number of species likewise decreases,
and desertification of the land expands at a faster rate. If this situation
is not placed in check and reversed, then humankind will have become extinct
even before the earth is destroyed.
In the modern world, everybody knows that we
should protect our living environment, reduce the amount of garbage we
produce, classify our refuse, and recycle as much as possible. Nevertheless,
we are still consuming substantial amounts of energy resources every day,
and producing tremendous amounts of refuse and pollution. In the former
agricultural and pastoral ages, garbage could become the fertilizer and
soil, returning to nature; in contrast, the natural resources consumed
by the modern industrial and commercial sector are non-renewable. Contemporary
civilization produces a huge amount of pollution, and this act is as horrible
as generating a tremendous quantity of cancer cells in the body of Nature.
We do not curse modern industry and commerce;
neither do we denounce the rapid development of technological production.
Therefore, we are forced to appeal to the religious and spiritual leaders
of the world to advise all humankind that it must take responsibility
to protect the environment while engaged in industrial, commercial, and
technological activities. Human beings should not, just because of their
curiosity for technological innovations and the competition of industrial
and commercial wealth, keep on destroying the environment on which we
rely for our survival; otherwise, humankind's history will not endure
another thousand years!
The wasteful consumption of natural resources
and destruction of ecology are caused by humankind's psychological craving
for convenience and wealth. If we can practice the Buddha's teaching of
"leading a contented life with few desires" and "being satisfied and therefore
always happy", and if we are willing to use our intelligence to deal with
problems and engage diligently in productive work, then, without having
to contend with one another or fight with nature, we can lead very happy
lives. Therefore, the members of our organization use the following four
sentences to encourage one another:
Our needs are little;
Our wants are great.
Pursue only what we really need;
What we want is unimportant.
If, for the sake of satisfying our wants, humankind
consumes natural resources and devastates the ecological environment,
then we repeatedly borrow to repay what we already owe. By borrowing to
cover old debts, one's debts will grow increasingly heavy; by cutting
out one's flesh to appease one's hunger, one is slowly committing suicide.
Unfortunately, humankind loses its head for the sake of temporary convenience
and selfish gains. Some say that future technology will be able to rectify
the errors caused by modern people. Supposedly, this future technology
will be able to solve the problems resulting from contemporary technology.
Further, they say if one group of people causes problems, another group
of people will manage to deal with them. They imply that the act of destruction
should come first before humankind achieves more advanced insight. These
are extremely irresponsible concepts. While engaging in various kinds
of production and manufacturing, if modern people do not at the same time
pay close attention to measures for protecting the environment and cherishing
their resources, this amounts to burying mines everywhere in the environment
to menace future generations of humankind. So, we have to appeal to the
religious and spiritual leaders of the whole world not only to pray for
the success of environmental work, but also to get involved personally
in the all-encompassing movement of environmental protection.
As I said, the environmental protection movement
should be all-encompassing. In addition to cherishing natural resources,
protecting the ecological environment, and lifestyle choices such as reducing
the amount of garbage, recycling, living a pure, simple, and, frugal life,
and minimizing the pollution we produce, we should further learn to respect
lives and others, always reminding ourselves of this thought: apart from
ourselves, there are innumerable other people; apart from our one generation,
there are our innumerable descendants in future generations.
Therefore, Dharma Drum Mountain, our small Buddhist
community of only about one million members, has in the last ten years
promoted four major principles of environmental protection:
1) The cherishing of natural resources and the
protection of the ecological environment;
2) Maintaining cleanliness in family life and
using daily necessities simply and frugally;
3) Improving interpersonal politeness and social
4) Instead of considering everything from the
standpoint of one person, one race, one time- period, and one place, we
should consider it from the standpoint that all humankind of all
and space should be protected in their existence, possess the right to
live, and feel the dignity of life.
In brief, the above-mentioned four kinds of
environmentalism can be restated as natural environmentalism, lifestyle
environmentalism, social etiquette environmentalism, and spiritual environmentalism.
The environmental tasks of general people are mostly restricted to the
material aspects, namely, the first and second items. The environmental
tasks we carry out have to go deeper from the material level to the spiritual
level of society and thinking. Environmental protection must be combined
with our respective religious beliefs and philosophical thinking into
an earnest mission, so that environmentalism will not become mere slogans.
So, strictly speaking, the purification of humankind's mind and heart
is more important than the purification of the environment. If our mind
is free from evil intentions and is not polluted by the surroundings,
our living environment will also not be spoilt and polluted by us. However,
for ordinary people, it is advisable to set out by cultivating the habit
of protecting the material environment, and go deeper step by step until
at last they can cultivate environmentalism on the spiritual level.