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Buddhism and Environmental Protection: A Journey Towards Harmony and Compassion

by Surya Narayan
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In a world grappling with pressing environmental challenges, it is crucial for all individuals, communities, and nations to unite and take collective action to safeguard our planet. The importance of environmental awareness and responsibility has been underscored through various avenues, including initiatives like World Environment Day. As scientists, economists, philosophers, and researchers emphasise the detrimental effects of harmful substances on the natural environment, Buddhism offers timeless wisdom that aligns with this urgent call for environmental protection.

Fundamentally, Buddhism embodies the path of compassion. The Buddha himself embodied profound compassion and is revered as the compassionate guardian of all sentient beings. He instructed his followers to cultivate loving kindness and refrain from causing harm to all forms of life, encompassing humans, animals, and vegetation. Acknowledging the interconnectedness and interdependence of all beings, the Buddha’s teachings stressed the equality and mutual development of all life in the universe.

Regrettably, humanity, often regarding itself as the most intelligent species, has misused its power, resulting in the destruction of animal species, forests, mountains, and natural resources. This reckless destruction arises from the unwholesome and greedy tendencies of human beings. While animals may possess formidable qualities, they never wreak havoc on the Earth to the extent that humans do. It is humankind that has caused the most devastating harm to the planet.

The external environment is severely polluted because the internal environment of the human mind has been significantly damaged. Insatiable greed has driven humanity to pursue excessive and unnecessary desires, creating ceaseless competition that ultimately leads to self-destruction and environmental degradation. Conversely, those who adhere to the Buddha’s teachings embrace values such as simple living and contentment.

“We should think of the environment as our mother—Mother Soil, Mother Sea, Mother Earth. There is no crime worse than harming one’s mother. Nature is not something for human beings to use and exploit as they see fit, solely for their own interests. Both nature and humanity are and whole of the life of the universe. Nature and humanity are one.”

Living contentedly does not entail eliminating the desire for knowledge and truth, but rather living in harmony with all beings and nature. Those who truly grasp the Buddha’s teachings acknowledge the importance of curbing selfishness, conserving the environment, and safeguarding resources for future generations and all sentient beings. Excessive greed has led humanity astray, blinding us to the adverse consequences of unbridled exploitation, depletion of natural resources, and environmental pollution, which, in turn, disrupts the delicate ecological balance.

For thousands of years, Buddhist forest monasteries have exemplified harmonious coexistence with nature. Nestled in mountains and forests, these serene abodes have served as retreats for practitioners to nurture their inner selves while simultaneously working to protect the animals and vegetation in the vicinity. With hearts filled with love and tolerance, Buddhists coexist with natural vegetation and wild animals, promoting mutual survival. Buddhists depend on the oxygen produced by trees, seek refuge in their shade, and reciprocate by caring for the trees. This harmonious way of life in Buddhism stands in stark contrast to the competitive, exploitative mindset that has become prevalent in many societies today, resulting in the destruction of nature for personal gain.

Even today, we can witness the beauty of Buddhist temples and meditation retreats in countries like Cambodia, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam, nestled amidst native forests. These sanctuary-like settings are replete with luxuriant greenery, refreshing ponds and lakes, pure air, and a diverse array of peaceful coexisting species. These places attract individuals from all walks of life who yearn to reconnect with nature, find inner peace, and escape the clamour and pollution of modern existence.

It is never too late for people of all religions, societal backgrounds, and nations to unite in the pursuit of environmental protection and preservation. Buddhism, with its emphasis on harmonious coexistence and compassion for all beings, provides a timeless model that offers a path towards sustainability and environmental stewardship. By embracing Buddhist principles and joining hands, we can collectively strive to create a harmonious and compassionate world where nature is revered and cherished for the benefit of all sentient species.

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