The Buddhist Tradition of Protecting the Environment

Most people regard the Buddhist religion as conservative and passive. Many think that Buddhism only teaches people to meditate, recite mantras and be vegetarians. They do not associate the religion with active and progressive ideas such as environmental protection. In truth, Buddhism is a religion that embodies the spirit of environmental protection and it has a long history of being active in such matters, well before the concept became popular as a modern social cause.

Throughout its history, Buddhism has had a profoundly positive impact on the environment. In the Buddha’s former life as a deer king, he laid down his own life to save that of a doe. A human king witnessed his compassion and was so moved that he designated the area as a wildlife sanctuary where hunting was forbidden. The Buddha also ceaselessly reminded his disciples to protect trees and animals. Over time, Buddhist temples and monasteries have followed the Buddha’s teachings and the Buddha’s example by caring for the great earth in various ways. Monastics have planted trees, dredged rivers, repaired roads, mended bridges and thoughtfully used and cared for natural resources.

During discourses, monastics encouraged devotees to free captured animals, promoted vegetarianism and reminded everyone to value the gifts of nature. There is a story about a bodhisattva who loved the environment so much that he feared polluting the great earth every time he discarded a piece of paper, feared disturbing the planet every time he uttered a phrase, and feared injuring the ground every time he took a step. His keen awareness of the environment provides a good role model for us.

Protecting the environment does not always mean leaving it untouched, reserving it for viewing from a distance. We live on this planet and have to utilize the natural resources it offers. This, however, must be accomplished with utmost respect for nature.

Venerable Mingyuan of ancient China planted thousands of trees along the Sizhou River to prevent flooding. Venerable Daoyu of Luoyang saw that many ships had capsized along the Longmen Gorge on the Yellow River. To prevent further tragedy, he and his friend Bai Juyi rallied the local residents to widen the river in order to slow its flow. These two examples are well documented, but there were many similar environmental works that escaped recognition.

In their travels, many monastics had forged paths through the jungle and laid steps over jagged mountains to ease the passage for future travelers. Without any fanfare, they worked to balance the needs of the environment with those of mankind, nurturing a harmonious relationship between human beings and the earth we live upon, and practicing the bodhisattva spirit of providing ease and convenience for all.

We encouraged everyone to start with beautifying one’s mind and spirit and then extend outward to beautifying the environment. We offered twelve guidelines, as follows:

  • Speak quietly—do not disturb others.
  • Keep the ground clean—do not litter.
  • Keep the air clean—do not smoke or pollute.
  • Respect oneself and others—do not commit violent acts.
  • Be polite—do not intrude upon others.
  • Smile—do not face others with an angry expression.
  • Speak kindly—do not utter abusive words.
  • Follow the rules—do not seek exemptions or privileges.
  • Be mindful of your actions—do not act unethically.
  • Consume consciously—do not waste.
  • Be grounded—do not live aimlessly.
  • Practice kindness—do not create malice.

From Living Affinity, written by Venerable Master Hsing Yun.

Image from Pixabay.

More Featured Articles

The occurrence of a disease is closely related to one’s mental health, physical health, spiritual health, behavior, habits, living environment, and even the society and culture in which one lives.  Harmonizing all of these elements and engaging in specific practices can help to bring about optimum health and prevent illness.  Read more
The analysis of the mind in Buddhism is both multifaceted and sophisticated. As a spiritual practice, Buddhism contains numerous descriptions of the nature and function of the mind and instructions on how to search for, abide with, and refine it. In this regard, Buddhist psychology has much to offer, as Read more
What are people supposed to do when they are troubled by afflictions? Some people are troubled by very specific things, others encounter poverty, and many have poor relations with other people. Some individuals are disturbed the moment they hear even the slightest comment they do not like, or they become Read more
Buddhism says we should see friends and enemies as equal. This means we should learn to tolerate unfriendly people, unideal environments, and language that is hard on the ears. Read more
Trees have their roots, and people have their origins. As hu­man beings, we must endeavor to increase joy in the world for the sake of everyone in the world, and we also must ensure that life will sprout flowers and bear fruits as strong and stur­dy as the peach. “Mother” Read more
What, exactly, is the meaning contained within this gong’an? For instance, some have asked, what are people like? This is a very difficult question to answer because if there are things they are like, then there are things they are not like. If we answer that people are like ghosts, Read more
True stature is not created by form or ornament; words spoken out of jealousy and greed oppose it. Only when evil has been stopped at its roots, and when there is wisdom without anger is there true stature.— Dharmapadavadana Sutra The False Stature of This WorldEveryone wants to be well Read more
It is only through loving-kindness and compassion that we can find room in our hearts to forgive others. It is only through our willingness to let go of resentment that we can find a way to magnanimity.  Read more
In the early days of Buddhism, how did monastics observe the Way and live their lives? As the daily lives of these monastics were not one of material things, emotional ties, or sensory pleasures, they led a lives of few material things and cool emotional ties. The world within their Read more
If we want to understand what the Dharma teaches us about building affinity and living in harmony with others, we must first understand the four great all-embracing virtues. The Buddha teaches that for us to realize our true capacity of connecting with and serving our fellow citizens, we have to Read more
Lessen desire and be without any wishes and the body and mind will be at ease.When our desires are balanced and reasonable, we can be content. The Buddha taught that deep wisdom can be found only by following a “middle way” between dualistic extremes. The middle way can always be Read more
Although "compassion is the foundation of Buddhism" is a popular slogan, compassion is not the exclusive property of Buddhists. It is a common treasure shared by all sentient beings. Because there is compassion in this world, life is full of meaning. As we endure the trials and tribulations life offers Read more