By Ven. Sheng-yen
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,
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
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
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
3) Improving interpersonal politeness and social etiquette; and,
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 time 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
working session on environmental protection at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel