Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Three Characteristics of Existence in Buddhism and Environmental Well-Being

In The Greening of Religion, edited by Jonathan Leader (Columbia, South Carolina: Cherryhill Seminary, 2017), 103-124.


As the environmental crisis unfolds in complex and multifarious ways, it is becoming increasingly clear that this is an inter-disciplinary issue with multi-layered causes as well as approaches towards finding effective solutions. Te scope and seriousness of the crisis have become such that it requires a concerted effort from multiple disciplines–science, sociology, public policy, economics, and religion–in order to ad dress all of its dimensions. While no doubt each field is able to offer its own method of dealing with the issue, to rely on any single sector is probably unwise and ultimately less successful than the multi-disciplinary approach. Thus, each respective field must make its own contributions to the entire effort if the problem is to be effectively solved. This paper is concerned with the contribution made by religion, in particular Theravada Buddhism, which is adhered to by the majority of the peoples in the countries of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. Theravada Buddhism, however, also has great appeal to many people outside of the region and its teachings can influence people in their thinking and actions.

Buddhism, both its Theravada and Mahayana ambits, has also been subject of investigation as resource for environmental ethic. Te aim of this task is to delve into the Buddhist tradition in order to retrieve use ful elements to advance an environmentalism that is not only faithful to the tradition but also applicable to the modern religio-socio context. Religion finds its relevance and purpose when it is able to respond to the most pressing issues of human life. In the contemporary era, few would dispute that the issues associated with global warming and climate change cannot be faced with an attitude of nonchalance and unconcern. In this paper, I set out to present one possible way that Buddhist teachings may be examined in order to advance a vision of human-nature relationship that promotes environmental well-being. Te model proposed for this paper envisions human-nature relation ship as that of “mutual service and gratitude on the journey towards liberation.” This model is derived from reflections on what Buddhism holds as the ultimate value in life. Te word “value” here no doubt easily conjures up issues related to the notion of intrinsic value often discussed and debated in environmental ethics. While this inquiry is certainly motivated by what goes on in secular environmental ethics as the question of intrinsic value is of particular interest to many of the environmental philosophies, the result of the reflection pertaining to Buddhism is quite different from what one might expect.

The difference surely is due to the distinctiveness of Buddhist thought which leads us to conceive of ourselves and of nature in unconventional ways. This, however, is the unique contribution of Buddhism to the cause of environmental well-being, and worthwhile for us to consider in a serious manner.

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