Buddhist Philosophy and the Ideals of EnvironmentalismColette SciberrasAbstract
I examine the consistency between contemporary environmentalist ideals and Buddhistphilosophy, focusing, first, on the problem of value in nature. I argue that the teachings foundin the P
āli canon cannot easily be reconciled with a belief in the intrinsic value of life,
whether human or otherwise. This is because all existence is regarded as inherentlyunsatisfactory, and all beings are seen as impermanent and insubstantial, while the ultimatespiritual goal is often viewed, in early Buddhism, as involving a deep renunciation of theworld.
Therefore, the discussion focuses mostly on the Mahāyāna vehicle, which, I suggest
has better resources for environmentalism because enlightenment and the ordinary world arenot conceived as antithetical. Still, many contemporary green ideas do not sit well with
classical Mahāyāna doctrines. Mahāyāna philosophers coincide in
equating ultimate realitywith
and propose knowledge of this reality as a final soteriological purpose.Emptiness is generally said to be ineffable, and to involve the negation of all views. Animportant question is how to reconcile environmentalism with the relinquishing of views.I consider several prevalent themes in environmentalism, including the philosophy of
‗Oneness,‘ and other systems that are often compared with Buddhism, like process thought.
Many of these turn out to have more in common with an extreme view that Buddhism seeksto avoid, namely, eternalism. I attempt to outline an environmental position that, like thedoctrine of emptiness, traverses a Middle Path between eternalism and nihilism.I conclude by proposing that emptiness could be regarded as the source of value innature, if it is seen in its more p
ositive aspect, as ‗pliancy.‘ This would imply that what
Buddhist environmentalists should seek to protect is not any being in its current form, norany static natural system, but the possibility of adaptation and further evolution.