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Buddhist Ecology of Compassion - Caring for Creation

Buddhist Ecology of Compassion - Caring for Creation

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Published by Charles Day
An essay promoting an ecology of compassion based on Buddhist principles.
An essay promoting an ecology of compassion based on Buddhist principles.

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Published by: Charles Day on Dec 01, 2008
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BUDDHIST ECOLOGY OF COMPASSION – CARING FOR CREATION*by Charles DaySee www.desmoinesmeditation.org & Click above on More from this Publisher What does Buddhism say about nature, the environment, and ecology, about caring for creation? A brief understanding of its history helps answer this question. SiddarthaGautama, the son of a royal family in Northern India, founded Buddhism 2600 yearsago. His lifelong contemplative nature led him at the age of 29 to forfeit his inheritanceto the throne and leave his family to search for a way to end suffering, not only for himself but also for all beings. He wanted everyone to experience the bliss andcompassion of enlightenment, or in Christian terms, the grace of God and the peacethat surpasses understanding.He studied with India’s two most revered Hindu masters, learning their teachings sothoroughly that he was asked by both to become their successors. But he declinedbecause neither was able to explain fully what caused suffering and how to end it. Healso practiced with other spiritual aspirants the severe austerities, including virtualstarvation, commonly felt to facilitate spiritual growth. But he concluded that these onlycaused more suffering. So he left his teachers and fellow seekers to meditate alone inthe forests of India. And six years after he began his quest, sitting all night beneath thefabled Bodhi tree, after wrestling with the temptations of lust, greed, anger, power, andpride, he attained full enlightenment. And for the next 45 years he taught what he calledthe Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path or the middle way to end suffering.Buddha, the name given him after his enlightenment, meaning "awake" or "aware,"taught that suffering would end only when one realizes that true happiness,contentment, and peace must transcend and can never depend upon external or internal conditions. He taught that the four divine virtues of lovingkindness,compassion, joy, and equanimity were innate but were obscured by the inevitablesuffering caused by three basic conditions: (1) Our endless pursuit of physical and mental pleasures,(2) Our tendency to react with anger and aversion to physical pain and frustration of desires, and(3) Ignorance of our interconnectedness with all physical and mental phenomena,resulting in an illusory sense of having an independent, autonomous, andseparate self or ego that can control its own destiny..Buddha taught meditation, mindfulness, and other practices that would lead to thewisdom, compassion, and insights necessary to end these causes of suffering.From a Buddhist perspective, then, failure to care for creation, to be compassionate for the animal, plant, and mineral kingdoms, results when we separate ourselves fromthese domains of life. When we exploit them in the pursuit of satisfying our selfishneeds and desires, and when we deny our connectedness to and interdependenceupon them.
 
Genuine caring for creation is an ecology based on compassion and is a natural,spontaneous result of understanding that everybody and everything is connected andinterdependent, that Thou art That, in Hindu terms. To hurt, harm, exploit, neglect or cause suffering to any living being, or to our natural resources, environment, or theplanet is simply to hurt, harm, exploit, neglect, and cause suffering to ourselves.This recognition has led to the development of what contemporary Buddhist scholarscall engaged Buddhism. They recognize that to ultimately end our individual andcollective suffering, we must consciously confront the suffering that exists on all levels:physical, mental, social, as well as ecological. I would like to quote from a couple of books: (1)
The Path of Compassion: Writings on Socially Engaged Buddhism
, edited byFred Eppsteiner, Parralax Press, 1985, and (2)
For a Future to Be Possible
, by ThichNhat Hanh, Parallax Press, 1993.Zen master Philip Kapleau says, "A major task for Buddhism … is to ally itself withreligious and other concerned organizations to forestall the potential catastrophes facingthe human race: nuclear holocaust, irreversible pollution of the world's environment, andthe continuing large-scale destruction of non-renewable resources. We also need tolend our physical and moral support to those who are fighting hunger, poverty, andoppression everywhere in the world” (1, pg. xii)." He said this in the early 1980's.Nobel Peace Prize nominee, poet, and Vietnamese Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh isunexcelled in adapting Buddhist teachings to modern society. He advocates practicingcompassion and reverence for all life by learning ways to protect the lives of, not justpeople, but of animals, plants, and minerals. He urges us all to resolve not to harm, letothers harm, or support any act of harming in the world, in the way we think, in the waywe speak, and in the way we act. (2, pg. 13).And he advocates practicing lovingkindness and generosity by becoming "aware of thesuffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression" and learning"ways to work for the well-being of all people, animals, plants, and minerals" (2, pg. 20).The Dalai Lama says "because the individual and society are interdependent, one'sbehavior as an individual is inseparable from one's behavior as a participant in society"(1, pg. xiv).Author Kenneth Kraft suggests that a Buddhist "awareness of interdependence fosters asense of universal responsibility" (1, pg. xiv). Engaged Buddhism, according to ZenBuddhist and Poet Gary Snyder, can lead to specific acts of "civil disobedience,outspoken criticism, protest, pacifism, voluntary poverty, and even gentle violence if itcomes to a matter of retraining some impetuous crazy" (1, pg. xvii).Engaged Buddhism is a practical manifestation of caring for creation. It is a Buddhistecology of compassion. Once we realize the interconnected nature of all people, allbeings, and all things, that everything is a manifestation of God, we will recognize our involvement in the conditions we deplore and become empowered to do somethingabout them. Until then, until we realize that everything is God, we will continue to hurtGod.

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