Buddhists believe that all things are interconnected. Nothing lives or dies in isolation, and the very idea of an autonomous existence is an illusion: we are intimately connected to the state of our environment. As such, the First Precept of Buddhism is to practice nonviolence and loving kindness toward all things, living and nonliving. Protecting human life requires us to protect all other kinds of life. Therefore, we have a moral responsibility to protect our environment.
The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Buddhists believe that the reality of the interconnectedness of human beings, society and Nature will reveal itself more and more to us as we gradually cease to be possessed by anxiety, fear, and the dispersion of the mind.” In order to act with compassion, we must train ourselves to be mindful. The Buddha said that the mind is the root of all actions. In order to be truly nonviolent, one cannot kill in the mind. In order to feel compassion, we must be aware of the suffering around us. Therefore, we practice mindfulness so we can become increasingly aware of the ways in which we are connected to everything around us.
Nature as Teacher
The Buddha taught that understanding the natural world will show us the Truth of the world. The soil, trees, and air are all part of one ecosystem, all affecting each other all the time. From this we can learn that one’s own existence is not more important than anyone else’s, for we are all connected. In nature we can also see the suffering and transience that is the reality of all life. If we treat nature as a teacher and a friend, we give up the desire to control it.
Nature as a Spiritual Force
The survival of the forest is necessary for the continued balance, harmony, and morality of the environment and the world. We have a duty to protect that balance, but we can also draw upon it for spiritual strength. Retreating into the natural world reminds us of the fragility of our attachments and our worldly possessions. In the solitude and quiet of nature, we can develop our mindfulness and deepen our understanding of the natural rhythms of life.
The Simple Life
By becoming mindful of ourselves and our lives, we begin to see that we are the root of the environmental crisis. Greed and craving will only cause us to be unhappy. It is only through moderation that we can achieve tranquility and balance. If we cultivate a reverence for nature and treat it with gentleness, we will move away from the destructive mindset that causes us to take more than our due.
- Read more about the above concepts at Environment and Ecology
- Find Buddhist statements and other resources on ecology at Yale’s Forum on Religion and Ecology