Environmental issues are currently engaging many concerns from many experts from different industries. Especially, Buddhism also expresses interests towards ongoing environment matters that cause many conscious impacts on many parties. The global warning, the exhaustion of the ozone layer, the deforestation, the reduction of biodiversity, the desertification, the seawater pollution and the overuse of agricultural chemicals, the climate change are increasing continuously (Barrow 1995, p. 10). These problems have become the biggest task in the world because their existence leads to destruction of the living base of human race not only at the present but also in the future time. There are many strategic approaches to counter these problems that are classified into two main categories including the development of technology and the control of human activity with the effort to investigate causes behind these issues.
Interestingly, from the viewpoint of religion, environment plays an important role in the network of living beings. However, there are many arguments surrounding the point if a religion can contribute in solving environmental issues from a quite same standpoint of the science and technology. According to Stern (2000, p. 523), from the psychology’s view, human and environment have a close interaction that finding solutions for environmental problems has to explore from the point of human activities. Similarly, a religion could contribute to solve environmental problems through the effort to control human activities such as environmental ethics, conversions of lifestyle, sense of environmental values in life. Therefore, there is in need of examination the contribution of religion towards environmental issues to clarify from the religion’s aspects. In fact, within the Buddhist traditions, environmental problems can cause physical and mental suffering for all living beings (Sponsel & Natadecha-Sponsel 2003, p. 351). Moreover, the goal of Buddhism is to reduce and release suffering. Buddhism has implemented the view of nature and environment, the cause and effect on environmental problems, Buddhist precepts to protect lives, the ideal way of environmental education and ethics. In this paper, the concentration of Buddhism in the contribution to contemporary environmental issues is conducted through the awareness of environmental problems, reexamination of lifestyle, practice and activity to solve the problems.
2. The awareness of environmental problems from Buddhists’ perspectives
Buddhism has been studied the causes of environmental problems from a very different approach. These causes are not only investigated from the cycle and movement of material by the human activity as the viewpoint of science but also from the elements of society and human beings (Payne 2010, p. 2). It seems that Buddhism explore more in depth an evolution of human beings and environment to indicate clearly the role of each player to keep protection for the nature and environment.
2.1 The meaning of living things
In Buddhism, living things and non-living things are basically equal in life level that declares the energy exists in things (De Silva 1998, p. 109). The doctrine of dependent origination describes the occurrence of every phenomenon such as living things and nature. It means that every thing have a relationship with or the conditions of other thing and not independently exist. In additions, the relation of space and time are also included in this concept. Hence, there are always connections in bio diversity, nature and living things in the world. There is fundamental interdependence and interconnectedness in all phenomena. Furthermore, in Buddhism, the life is also emphasized with transmigration and reborn. There is an ideal state of life is enlightenment. In other words, every living being have the same life as humans and both are equal in Buddhism.
2.2 The principle of evolution
Buddhism recognizes a deeper layer of life that is different from ecology perception. In ecology, the viewpoint of environment is the relations of every living being and non-living material. However, Buddhism states the viewpoint expressing karma, cause and effect relationship that defines human as a subject and the environment as an object of the karma. To elaborate, Buddhism has implemented a concept of non-duality of living beings and the environment to explain the relationship between subject and its environment (Harris 1994, p. 45). The influences of an individual living being’s past karma direct themselves in both subjective life and objective environment. Hence, the environment is considered as the result of karma seed that composes two kinds of karma including common karma and individual karma (Reichenbach 1990, p. 85). The common karma is a result shared with others and individual karma is not. For example, mountains, rivers, earth and so on are derived from common karma and living beings are from individual karma. More importantly, the improvement of humans’ karma will improve its environment resulting from common karma. From this doctrine, it shows that the subject and environment can be changed and enhanced positively as well as environmental problems caused by the karma. The evolution here is not only regarding to human but also environment. In fact, from the research of science, living beings and environment had been evolved both while interacted mutually (Swearer 2001, p. 225). The mutual evolution here is explained for both living beings and environments. It is proved that the Buddhism contains not only a physical side but also mutual evolution at the root level of life although the concept of science just includes a physical side.
3. The impact of Buddhism on human lifestyle
For Buddhism, in order to solve environmental problems, Buddhism conducts improvement of the ethics consideration including living beings, human and future generations to change the human lifestyle for an ideal way.
3.1 Buddhism ethics for living beings
There are two main concepts that Buddhism contributes to solve environmental problems comprising of the dependent origination and the middle way. The following paragraphs examine each factor to clarify the ethics of Buddhism for humans to nature.
Firstly, dependent origination relationships are very significant that harming these connections would contradict to what Buddhism has implemented to express the wisdom for human to respect all living beings’ lives (Daniels 2010, p. 952). For instance, the maintaining a balanced ecosystem with a wide range of biodiversity is extremely significant to protect the relationship of dependent origination in Buddhism. In details, every living being live by the relationship with others and Buddhism holds the view that human activities should not interrupt or cut these connections. In order to maintain biodiversity, it is important to consider the life of species and ecosystem that develop themselves naturally. The task to secure the stability of ecosystems is challenging, as it is the way to think about continuing an individual living thing.
Secondly, the middle way in Buddhism is the typical thinking of the Buddha between suffering and happiness. The middle way requires harmony between both elements and does not admit for the elimination of either side (Kaza 2004, p. 330). The skillful mean here is to cope with both suffering and happiness in balance. Environment ethics in Buddhism is emphasized based on the ideas of the middle way and the dependent origination. Compassion and not killing are the top priority in Buddhism to confirm for the protection of equality for all living beings. These factors are mentioned in Buddhism precepts and ethics to promote the wholesome states instead of doing unwholesome actions that can causes bad consequences. In fact, compassion and not killing has become the typical characteristics being highlighted in Buddhism for most of traditions.
Clearly, Buddhism has put all effort to protect animals and relief a dying animal or species from endangered circumstances. In fact, there is a situation that some species can become extinction by a certain of species increased too much and out of control. Buddhism also shows the concerns to adjust these latter species for keeping the harmony of ecosystem and well conservation the former species. Actually, there are human practices to practice birth control and this action is thought as a human intervention to isolate the female or male. These developments cause a decrease of balanced species and extinctions that corrupts the stability of ecosystem and affect on other species. As a result, it is really necessary to maintain the biodiversity and global ecosystem while still being committed with environmental ethics in Buddhism with concentration on compassion and not killing.
3.2 Buddhism ethics for climate change
Climate change is a conscious concern and has become one of the biggest problems in the global. As the consumption of a material is necessary to support for human activities, the side effects are very significant that corrupts environment of all living beings. The typical issue is the increase of carbon dioxide of land plant (Solomon 2009, p. 1704). The emission of carbon dioxide has influenced negatively for the air quality. There is one measure to control lesser carbon dioxide through a new technology. However, the result still has some limitations. Therefore, another potential strategy is to decrease consumption by human being. It means that human activity can be controlled. The challenge here is how to control the desire on the basis of the human consumption activity. This matter is serious as economical development is maintained by stimulating the desire and rising consumption. It seems that between an effort to technological development to decline carbon dioxide and the control of human desire are confusing in a way to find an appropriate approach to cope with climate change.
In this circumstance, Buddhism has explored the climate change issues through the emphasis on human desire. From the view of Buddhism, human craving is one of the major troubles that Buddhism explains that there are two ways for the solution of environmental problems (Webster 2004, p. 20). One is controlling the material desire and other is to change aim for it.
For the human desire, it includes from different aspects such as physiological, material and mental one. It is obvious that desire for material is increasing continuously while physiological desires are regulated depending on the ages and the nervous system. Within the Buddhist tradition, the main cause of desire is the devotion of self that enhances attachment to affect human behavior (Chan 2008, p. 253). These attachments also reach to fixed ideas or false views that are considered to be connected to happiness. However, the more human is craving for, the more satisfaction is not achieved and it will become a never-ending desire for material attachment. As a result, Buddhism focuses on the elimination from self-attachment and enhances no-self awareness in order to remove the desire for material (Chan 2008, p. 253). This practice is helpful and realistic because it helps people to recognize happiness and knows fulfillment in any situations. The sense of value is promoted to enable human to realize and respect it. The practice of knowing fulfillment has become ethically platforms to control the desire for material.
Another strategy is to change direction for the desire when it arises. In fact, the non-stop desire for material causes the exhaustion of the resources and fast deterioration of the environment directly. There are two directions for the desire including material richness and mental richness. It seems that mental richness does not stimulate resource waste and environmental damage. Hence, in Buddhism, the purpose is to reach an enlightenment to complete the human’s way of life (Sharp 2011, p. 137). It is the completion of spirituality and action by keeping compassion as the Buddha’s teachings. Hence, controlling the desire and changing direction to mental richness are very meaningful to environmental problems, especially climate change.
4. The practice of Buddhism conduct and ethics
Although human beings are good at analytical strengths, they are still incompetent in decision-making and ethical thinking (Shackle 2010, p. 10). It means that human behaviors are not ideal even though they can recognize environmental problems. The significant point is how people behave ideally.
From a Buddhist perspective, contributing and solving to the environmental problems are part of Buddhist practice. It is also seen as a natural aspect of Buddhist philosophy. For instance, the Bodhisattva paths has outlined six perfections to convey ethical conducts comprising of generosity, keeping precepts, patience, effort, unwavering and wisdom (Wright 2009, p. 20). These perfections are illustrating ethical thinking and decision making in human actions to protect and deal with environmental issues. To elaborate, giving is the first and fore main characteristic of a Bodhisattva to give a fortune, to moralize a law and remove fear such as doing something good that is helpful for a person and nature without regret. While keeping precepts plays an important role in guiding human activities to commit with Buddhism values and expectations, these precepts are practical that can apply in any circumstances to promote the care for nature and environment such as not hurting or killing living entities and not stealing environmental resources that can harm to the lives of other beings in order to service for one’s own desire. Patience on the other hand trains human tolerance to overcome sadness and pain with fully acknowledges but no suffering to well aware what is going on so that they can have a proper action but ethically environmental consideration. Effort is the factor to encourage people to do the best and always trying to make an effort for a better result. Unwavering element is useful to keep on the right track in all endeavors to support for ethical decision-making. More significantly, obtaining true cognition of wisdom helps to implement the Buddhist concepts and doctrines in real circumstances.
In respect of environment, the six perfections are valuable for solving environmental problems. To be more in detail, the practice of generosity is good for donating an environmental movement, doing useful improvement of education, contributing to technical cooperation and the development to reduce pollution (Edelglass 2006, p. 8). Especially, the key point is to contribute precise knowledge or volunteer actions with the sense to bring security and offer appropriate living places for wildlife. For keeping precepts not killing and not stealing is the commitment not to intentionally killing living beings and destructing the living of wild flora and fauna through the development or destruction of nature. For patience, effort and unwavering are necessary to support ethically environmental actions as well as motivate to get over difficulties. Wisdom is needed to correct the views of nature and environment. Moreover wisdom is useful in creating solutions towards environmental problems.
On the whole, actions and determination towards environmental problems that follow the ways of Bodhisattva ideal are practical and ethical. From this Buddhist practices, these perfections have established the true meaning to protect and conserve the environment in a way to reduce these problems with the deep concerns to the lives and benefits of other entities.
In summary, there is an increasing in environmental issues that needs a lot of contributions from different aspects. Especially, Buddhism has conducted meaningful practices by controlling human activities. This paper has examined various viewpoints of Buddhism towards environmental problems. Firstly, Buddhism put more effort to enhance the awareness of environmental matters through promoting the meaning of living things and the principle of evolution to help human to understand the causes behind the environmental issues. Secondly, Buddhism impact on human lifestyles by encouraging ethics for living beings not harming connections in nature and contributing to solve climate change through the reduction in human desire as well as changing the direction of these desires positively. The main purpose is not to influence or harm to environment. Lastly, Buddhism conducts ethical decision making through the Bodhisattva ideal with six perfections to ensure solving environmental problems ethically.
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