The Green Rule: Buddhism and the Environment

The Hamilton Interfaith Group and IDEA Burlington presented an interfaith panel to illuminate "The Green Rule: Do unto the Earth as you would have it do unto you." The Buddhist perspective was given with this verse: “Cut down the forest of desire, not the forest of trees”. The Buddha, Dhammapada 283 Lama Yeshe Ling was invited and I participated with a short Dharma talk: To start with consider you reason for listening to this talk. You are looking for someting for:
- This life
- Future lives
- Full Awakening
- To stop harming others
- To offer service to others

To make our time together here most effective, it is very useful to cultivate a motivation for listening that is extensive and profound. In Buddhist terms we cultivate a motivation to become fully awake ourselves, as a means to help every other being discover for themselves the liberation from suffering that comes from living in accord with reality.

What does Awake mean? Consider a night-mare, being chased by monsters. When waking you think "oh that was only a dream". When we are not fully awake to reality we suffer like in a nightmare. We experience fear, we are harmed by others and by natural disasters, and the happiness and peace we search for constantly eludes us.

When we are not fully awake to reality our biggest most terrifying monster is self centeredness. Buddhists believe that self centeredness is the root cause of all our suffering. Driven by selfishness we act in ways that cause suffering for others, and we stain our mind by planting a seed in our mind for a future experience of suffering.

This is the forest of desire. We are lost in an isolating, disturbing inner forest of self-centeredness. Our tight focus on what we take as our own self interest stops us from enjoying the company of others and leads us into a narrow-minded view of the world where we are indifferent to the effects of our actions upon others and upon our environment.

How do we find our way out of this inner tangle? How do we cut our minds away from habitual narrow minded self interest?

The answer is through wisdom. Wisdom is an axe to cut down the trees of self-centred desire. Wisdom knows the nature of reality; wisdom understands the nature of our existence.

This wisdom is known as Interdependence. The nature of our reality is that we are all interconnected. We are not independent in the way we usually see ourselves to be. To think we are independent, and to behave as if we are independent, is to be asleep to reality. Actually our existence is totally dependent on so many other factors external to what we take as ourself.

It is obvious if we think about it, how we are dependent on our parents for our very existence. How we are dependent on the food and resources we consume. How we are depending on thousands of people every day to receive the food and resources we need, to be able to accomplish the work we do.

I would like to quote Joanna Macy, a scholar of cybernetics and Buddhism:

The crisis that threatens our planet, whether seen from its military, ecological, or social aspect, derives from a dysfunctional and pathological notion of the self … It is a delusion that the self is so separate and fragile that we must delineate and defend its boundaries, that it is so small and so needy that we must endlessly acquire and endlessly consume, and that it is so aloof that as individuals, corporations, nation-states, or species, we can be immune to what we do to other beings … What the Buddha woke up to under the Bodhi tree was the co-arising of phenomena, in which you cannot isolate a separate self.
Thich Nhat Hanh a great Vietnamese Buddhist master has created a new word for this wisdom understanding how we exist. The word is Interbeing. You are not as you suppose an independent being, you are an Interbeing. You Interare; we Interare.

Now it is clear that moral exhortation and sermonizing seldom hinders us from following our self-interest as we conceive it. So what else can we do? One effective approach is to become realistic in our view of self, of how we exist; to change how we see ourselves. When we understand that we interare, when bring our concept of self closer to reality so that we feel our interbeing and automatically see our existence this way, then selfishness really starts to look like a ridiculous tragic mistake.

When we know that we inter are, it is obvious we must extend our caring interest to all upon which we depend. The Dalai Lama likes to say "if you must be selfish, then be wisely selfish". When we are wise, our self interest extends beyond this one body and mind outward to embrace the entirety of inter-connected existence. When we are wise, we live leave behind the fantasy world of independence and live in accord with reality, in accord with interdependence.

To go beyond a mere intellectual understanding of interbeing to a deeper feeling and awareness, we do meditation practice. When we have a deeper feeling for the truth then our view of the world and our behaviour naturally changes. I would like to lead you in a meditation on the nature of our body...

Start by focusing on your breath, gently paying attention to your natural way of breathing. Do this for several minutes.

After this meditation has brought you into a calmer, more stable, and focused state of mind, reflect to yourself how your body appears to you. Without disturbing your usual way of thinking with a lot of analysis, become aware of how you usually view your body. It is this solid thing sitting here, always here, this same body - it is something like that isn't it? This is how we see ourselves too, not just our body, but our selves. Isn't it?

Now return your focus to the breath, but now consider how each in-breath contains molecules of oxygen that enter your body and become a part of your body; how each out-breath contains what was a moment ago a part of your body, carbon dioxide for example. With each breath your body is different from what it was. Breathe with this awareness that your body is constantly changing for a few minutes.

Now change your focus to consider from where the air you breathe has come from and to where it will go. With each breath, you breathe air that contains molecules that have recently been a part of the body of someone else, your neighbour for example. With each breath you send out molecules that will soon become a part of the body of someone else. Breathe with this awareness for a few minutes.

Now shift your focus again to consider what you know now about your body. How do you see your body now? From how you see your body now, how do you see your self? Focus strongly on what now know about the nature of your body and your self.