Conversation without end
Elaine Brook, with other like-minded people, has started an interesting website www.buddhistecologylink.org where lively debate about the environment fairly sizzles off the screen. Here’s just a taste …
A: So, as a Buddhist, have you given up flying because of the effect it is having on climate change and the harm to living beings?
B: Oh, of course not – we can’t possibly go back to living in a primitive way! I could not imagine life without flying. I hope somebody will find a way to ameliorate the bad effects, but I don’t feel it’s my responsibility.
C (addressing A): Why would you expect Buddhists to be any better on carbon-reduction than any other religion? There are people from all religions carrying on with daily activities that contribute to climate change, that they could reduce but don’t. Why should Buddhists be any different?
A: Many Buddhists I met in the East were very careful about not harming other beings – so I suppose it left a kind of expectation. The main thing about most religions is a belief in their particular God, so you’d expect them to be a bit hit and miss about a particular focus on anything beyond that, even though there is a common theme about love and compassion, etc. But – the heart of Buddhism is about developing awareness of interconnectedness and compassion, and understanding and subduing one’s own mind. Put those things together, and you can’t avoid seeing the need to avoid harming other beings as much as possible. So yes, of course, human nature wants to have all its consumer goodies and feel lovely and spiritual as well; but if the teaching and practice is doing its job, then that bit of human nature will be transformed. And if it isn’t transformed, then surely the teaching and practice isn’t doing its job – and if that’s the case, then surely anyone who cares about the Dharma will want to find out why, and sort out whatever gap has been left in the process.
I feel it is doing sincere students in the West a disservice to be encouraged to think that just because they are meditating and thinking beautiful thoughts they don’t have to actually change what they do day to day.
Enter Mark Gerrard: Re the ‘debate’ [on personal responsibility], to me this is a bit of a no-brainer. Taking personal responsibility for all your actions is the foundation of being a Buddhist, so to me it seems like B and C haven’t understood the teachings on everything being interdependent. And B’s argument is a copout – the question was addressed to Buddhists, not all religious practitioners.
I’ve been associated with Chenrezig Institute in Queensland, Australia since 1980, living and studying there, building a house and raising a family there, many years spent on the executive. committee, etc., but a couple of years ago I realized how limited meditating and studying was with respect to the bigger picture of helping as many others as possible. Now I know for some people they can help most by meditating and/or studying, but I can only talk from my own point of view.
There are of course many ways, at different levels, to help beings, but it’s pointless to teach somebody to meditate if they don’t have enough food to eat, or have so many stresses in their life because of their environment. Climate change and the coming peaking of oil will have huge implications for how people live, and if you don’t have some awareness of these factors and their consequences you’re going to be in trouble, like the majority of the population.
A couple of years ago I felt the best way for me to actualize helping others was to start a sustainability group. We work with other like-minded groups in the area and are looking to establish a transition community (see www.transitionculture.org, run by a Buddhist in the UK) to a more sustainable society. So far we’ve organized a solar hot water drive (about 80 purchasers), have established a community garden, run film events to raise the awareness of others in the community, and have a website www.sustainablemaleny.org. When the situation gets really critical, we hope to have at least partial solutions in place, and to be able to limit the panic that may result from the loss of services in the wider community.
I’ve visited a number of Dharma centers and retreat centers, and sometimes wonder how they will handle what’s coming in the years ahead. I see very little sign of residents growing their own food or becoming a little more self-sufficient with their water, energy or transport needs. When petrol gets to $5 a liter in Australia, there won’t be a lot of tourists visiting places like Chenrezig Institute. And it will become too difficult to live in a center and work outside. …