Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Spiritual environmentalism

(5.46) If for no reason I begin to perform actions
That cause damage to the environment,
I should recall Buddha’s advice
And, out of respect, stop straightaway.

Shantideva’s advice here is to be friendly to the environment.  Not caring about our environment, being un-thoughtful, reflects a more general attitude which is not in accordance with a Bodhisattva’s moral discipline.  Many of the acts we do to be more environmentally friendly, such as recycling, arguably have a negligible impact compared to the scale of the environmental crisis we face.  But the point is not the physical action, rather it is the mental intention of wanting to protect the whole world.  This mental intention is hugely beneficial because it is motivated by a concern for everyone.  Besides, every little bit helps, so even if a small action, it is better than nothing.

Being considerate of others means being mindful of the impact our actions have on the lives of others, and then taking steps to minimize such harm.  For example, it is the industry and consumerism of the rich world that is causing climate change, but it is the poor of the world who will suffer most from sea-level rise, drought and desertification.  More than a billion people in China are choking on the pollution from the factories filling our stores with goods.  Do we think about them?  Do we think about the species dying out, the fish poisoned by our chemicals, or future generations who will be left with a planet stripped bare?

Sometimes we think there is nothing we can do, we are such a small part of a larger machine destroying the planet.  This may be true, but it is no excuse for not doing what we can do, in our own small way.  Even if no one act solves the problem, every little bit helps.  There are things we can do, the question is are we doing them?  If not, why not?  Is it because of some valid reason, or is it we just can’t be bothered, or worse we just don’t care?

There is a branch of Christianity called “creation spirituality.”  They view the world as it unfolds as the on-going creation of God, and to harm any part of the world is to harm God himself.  They cherish and treasure all of creation, and seek to love creation as their way of loving the creator.  Substitute creation for emanation and creator for Buddha and we have our tantric practice.  There is a branch of feminism called “eco-feminism.”  They view the environment as the body of Mother Nature, and encourage people to always remember with gratitude her kindness.  Sounds awfully similar to a Lamrim meditation.

As Buddhists, we understand that contaminated environments are created by contaminated karma.  If we want to clean up the environment, we need to clean up our own karma and help others clean up theirs.  Samsara is nothing other than the appearing object of ripened contaminated karma.  We do not merely seek to stop littering and polluting, rather we seek to completely eliminate the karmic causes of all contaminated environments by purifying our own and others minds of all contaminated karma.

We all love the teaching, “a pure mind experiences a pure world and an impure mind experiences an impure world.”   Normally we think of the verb “to appear” as an intransitive verb, meaning the subject of the sentence has no role in bringing about the object.  We say, “a Buddha appears.”  Geshe-la, however, likes to use the verb to appear as a transitive verb, meaning the subject brings about the object.  He says, “we appear Buddhas.”  In the same way, as Tantric bodhisattvas, we are not content to intransitively have a clean environment appear, rather we transitively seek to appear a pure environment.  Buddhists, especially Tantric practitioners, are fundamentally profound environmentalists.  We are spiritual environmentalists.

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