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Buddhadharma : Winter 2008
39 winter 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 39 winter 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly human condition. New technologies cannot save us unless they are com- bined with a new worldview. We need to shift our emphasis from fostering never-ending economic and technological growth to healing the relationship between our species and the Earth. Destruction of nature and natural resources results from ignorance, greed, and lack of respect for the Earth’s living things. This lack of respect extends even to the Earth’s human descendants, the future gener- ations who will inherit a vastly degraded planet if world peace does not become a reality and destruction of the natural environment continues at the present rate . ... Clearly this is a pivotal generation. —The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, from Collected Statements on the Environment, 2007 Buddhism offers no easy solution to our environmental crisis. However, its teachings on impermanence, interdependence, and non-self provide valu- able insights into the nature of our ecological predicament. Moreover, its focus on greed, ill will, and the delusion of a separate self as the root of suffering points us in the direction of relief, for these three poisons function institutionally as well as personally. Collectively, we suffer from a sense of self that feels not only disconnected from others, but from the Earth itself. In contemporary terms, the sense of self is a psychological and social construct, without any self-existence or reality of its own. The basic prob- lem with this self is its delusional sense of duality. When we construct a separate self inside, we simultaneously construct an external world that is different from “me.” The Buddhist perspective teaches that this feeling of separation is uncomfortable (dukkha), because a delusive, insubstantial self is inherently insecure. In response, we become obsessed with things that (we hope) will give us control over our situation, especially in regards to the competition for power, fame, sex, and profit that Thich Nhat Hanh refers to. Ironically, however, such preoccupations usually just reinforce that prob- lematic sense of separation. The Buddhist solution to this predicament is not to get rid of the self. This would be impossible, since there never was a self. Rather, as Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separ- ateness.” When I realize that “I” am what the whole world is doing, right here and now, then taking care of “others” becomes as natural as taking care of my own leg. This realization is the vital link between wisdom and compassion. My own well-being ultimately cannot be distinguished from the well-being of others. The Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa: Ever since the human race first appeared, we have used this Earth heavily. It is said that 99 percent of the resources in this world come from the natural environment. We are using the Earth up. The Earth has given us immeasurable benefit, but what have we done for it 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... Ringu Tulku Rinpoche: Innumerable problems in the world come from our failure to understand that phenomena are imper- manent. We plan as if we are going to live five hundred years. We fight about little things. People seek power and hold on to it, imagining they will have it for generations. Even if they get it, nothing lasts. Conflict, aggression, failure to accommodate others’ feelings, or live in harmony—all follow from misunderstanding impermanence. When we understand impermanence, we understand interdepen- dence. They have a subtle balance, and if we cannot keep that subtle balance, things rapidly get out of order. Global warming and the whole ecological crisis have that origin.