Buddhism and our Environmental Obligation


Within our society, there are certain innate concepts that every individual is equipped with. Virtues, morals, or the concept of “right and wrong” are just a few examples of such ideals. To help make humanity a more positive atmosphere, there are a few models one should strive to accomplish in their everyday life. These include but are not limited to: compassion towards all individuals who are less fortunate, non-violence towards any and all living and non-living things, and a natural want or need to help sustain the environment we live in. The most critical of these ideals would be our responsibility to help reverse the immense damage already being done to our ecosystem in the forms of global warming, ozone layer depletion, deforestation, and a reduction in biodiversity, to name just a few. By incorporating the Buddhist philosophy, one can fulfill an environmental obligation towards bettering our “eco-crisis.”

Buddhism and Sustainability

Sustainability, on the other hand, is an ideal that societies everywhere seem to slowly be adapting to. In definition, sustainability is the ability to provide a healthy, fulfilling and just life for all living beings on earth, now and for generations to come, all the while enhancing the health of ecosystems and the capability of other species to survive in their natural environments. Within the Buddhist philosophy, the Middle Way is followed to promote detachment and moderation in one’s life.

The Middle Way “avoids extremes of denial and overindulgence and produces a ‘rationed life,’ unlike in consumerist societies where maximum satisfaction of needs, wants, and desires occur” (Sponsel 148). Pertaining to Buddhism and the environment, though, there is a more direct path to supporting environmentalism. Buddhism encourages individuals to “limit their resource consumption to the optimal satisfaction of the four basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and medicine” (Sponsel 147). The biggest growing issue about our society’s environmental crisis, in my opinion, is the immense amount of over-consumption that occurs. Individuals have come to naturally consume large amounts of resources that are unnecessary. Buddhism, and rightly so, advocates a form of living that contains so much simplicity that could humbly save our environment in more senses than one.

Buddhism and our Environmental Obligation

Moving forward to other concepts of Buddhism and our environmental obligation, the principle of compassion is one that is in dire need of important attention. In relation to the Buddha, it is said that his choice of sharing his insight about the cause of and the path to end suffering after his own enlightenment occurred was an act of true universal compassion.

Compassion is one of those virtues that, I believe, is open to numerous personal interpretations. Pertaining to the environment, though, compassion consists of being empathetic and showing concern to all forms of life whether it be humans, animals, insects, or nature. Compassion thus refers to an unselfish, detached emotion that gives an individual a sense of urgency in wanting to help others. From the perspective of a Buddhist, helping others to provide a cessation to suffering by stopping the process of rebirth is the ultimate goal. According to one source on the origin of Bodhisattva, or a being whose aim is to achieve Buddha-hood, started when traditional Buddhist monks began to stray away from Buddhist ideals of love and altruism. In order to steer the monks back on the right path, a sort of Bodhisattva doctrine was put into place with compassionate action as its motive. This new Bodhisattva doctrine required the selflessness of compassion as its ideal in order to direct the Buddhist monks back to the proper teachings and the goal of “saving all creatures” (Walsh-Frank 5). Living compassionately towards all living creatures, and nature as well applies to all individuals whether they aspire to become a Buddhist or not. However, the concept of compassion towards all creatures, both living and non-living, is another Buddhist principle that advocates the said non-violent ecology.

Environmentalism – The notion of non-violence

One of the most influential and essential principles of incorporating Buddhism into environmentalism is the notion of non-violence. Within the eightfold path, the fourth imperative of “right” action represents abstinence from taking lives, or “ahimsa,” and from stealing. A few conditions arise from this point of view that has transformed “ahimsa” in Buddhism to a more modern tone. Practicing Buddhists support “suitable” forms of killing and stealing. In the case of a poor man stealing to feed his starving family or Buddhist exterminating pests who are destroying their crops, these actions are exempted from being considered wrong (Living Buddhism 18-30). Therefore, non-violence takes on many different forms in discussions pertaining to its depth but holds true to one simplistic notion. With regard to the environment, all living and non-living beings should be respected as well as preserved.

Although not all individuals will be eager to wholly convert to Buddhism as a philosophical lifestyle change, I do concur that some of the Buddhist tendencies of awareness and simplicity can drive our environment to be capable of correcting its downfalls. Most importantly, the four basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, and medicine are aspects in which all individuals must strive to incorporate into their everyday lives. While there are some principles of a Buddhist environmental ethic that move our ecosystem on the right path to salvation, there are still some included that I personally do not believe would be successful applications to the majority. The sustainability, responsibility, compassion, and harmony that encompass the Buddhist philosophy fully promote a better situation for our environment.

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