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Former inmates of Ferndale Minimum Security Institution in Canada, Segen Speer-Senner and Gareth Robinson (Miki & Robbie,) have created a peaceful garden and shrine in the prison grounds, beside a small stream and just across from the American Indian spiritual grounds. Deer, bears and small mammals visit the area – and occasionally chew the vegetation. Statues of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, Avalokiteshvara in the aspect of Kwan-Yin Bodhisattva and Maitreya Buddha have been placed in the shrine. The project has been generously supported by prison administration.
One prisoner, who is now back out in the community, built the platform and used it after working hours to do many hours of Vajrasattva recitations. Buddhist and non-Buddhist inmates helped Miki and Robbie to erect a shelter and translucent roof on the platform. Bright paint makes the belvedere clearly visible from a distance, and prayer flags abound.
Reg Dyck, a devout Mennonite at the Ferndale Horticultural Department, who supervised the men’s gardening, gave advice and generously donated trees, perennials, flowers and labor. A footpath of about eighty-eight paces allows one to circumambulate the holy statues and the gardens.
Eighteen months ago, Miki and Robbie, who are serving life sentences, were transferred to nearby Mission Institution, but Miki, who was able to email Mandala thanks to the kindness of prison chaplain Reverend David Price, says that, “The shrine is in good hands, and being carefully maintained. Our precious Ani-la Ann [Ven. Ann McNeil, director of Kachoe Zung Juk Ling Abbey in British Columbia, who regularly visits both prisons,] reports that kind non-Buddhist inmates at Ferndale have taken over the upkeep when we left. Buddhist inmates who transferred from here have kept it in good order, planted more flowers, and repainted the gazebo.” …
DHARMA AND THE MODERN WORLD
By Andrea Husnik
Panchen Losang Chogyen Gelugzentrum in Vienna, Austria, developed environmental guidelines after moving into our own center space. The guidelines cover all aspects of center administration over which the center is able to make a decision.
First, we started by finding a center space very easy to reach by public transportation. Also, the center tried to use as much as possible ecological materials for various elements of interior design (varnishes, paints, etc.). In Europe, there are many reliable eco-seals (like the EU Ecolabel, EU Energy Star, Fair Flowers Fair Plants, and Fairtrade) for all types of things.
Although the insulation, heating system and windows are the responsibility of the building owner and cannot be changed by us, we tackled the things we could change, such as buying the most energy-saving light fittings. The center board also decided to avoid using a lot of energy, so we have only a refrigerator and do without a freezer. We bought energy-saving household appliances as much as possible and to conserve water, we installed special toilet flushing features while renovating our restrooms.
Not every member who engaged in the renovation of the center agreed completely with these eco-conscious decisions and some accepted ideas only when we could prove that our decision was not particularly more expensive then the conventional, non-ecological alternative. For example, to save membership fees and resources, we made use of second-hand furniture and dishes for the office and the kitchen.
The center also uses marked bins to separate waste. We canceled advertising materials and try to use recycled paper (both sides!). When possible, envelopes are reused. Although we have no garden, we use indoor plants for health, cleaner air and wellness. Pesticides are forbidden.
Our guidelines also address issues like food and drink. We buy only fair-trade and organic tea, coffee and fruit juices, and we check for reliable food and eco-labeling on products. Having mountain water in Vienna means we don’t need drinking water in bottles at all. Aluminium cans are banned because of their energy consumption during the production and its effect on the environment.
Cleaning is done with labeled ecological detergents and cleaning agents. Systems at our entryway reduce the dirt carried into the building. Disinfectants are not used because centers are not hospitals and are not needed (although they are hospitals for the mind!). We talk about getting rid of scents used in the toilets, but it is very difficult because some members love it so much and don´t understand that others might be sensitive to them.
Mindfulness in connection with environmentally correct behavior is not always easy. One has to work against ingrained consumer habits. Being a member, or even being a board member, of an FPMT center does not mean automatically that one is more free of old patterns and aware of sustainability. Often ecologically oriented advice is not well received and even if it is, it is not always valued enough. I’m unsure why this is so. Perhaps its because practitioners are already trying hard to be compassionate in daily life, forgetting the little beings who get killed or will be by the consequences of consumption. Perhaps some practitioners believe that their behavior has nothing to do with environmental protection because they are each only one person. Perhaps it is just laziness and unawareness in daily life.
Although a good start, having environmental policy guidelines is not enough. To live in an ecologically friendly way requires more than just someone knowing what to do. It requires that we think of the environment holistically – remembering all its different parts – and consider all the resources going into the products we consume. We need to ask: Do we really need to buy this? Is this food locally, seasonally and organically produced? We want to get the most beautiful looking fruit for the altar, for example, but we don’t reflect on the impact of it coming from an other continent or being produced by child labor.
So far, Panchen Losang Chogyen Gelugzentrum has not found time to create a system for measuring and evaluating our decisions. But will do so in the near future.
It will take time to raise awareness on environmental issues. In response, as an eco-counselor by profession in the biggest independent educational and counseling NGO organization in Austria (“die umweltberatung”), I started to offer lectures on Buddhism and ecology to the Buddhist Union of Austria and other interested groups. Donations from these events go towards the center.
Soon we hope to post the main points of these lectures on our homepage. And eventually, the center will offer printed materials to students to provide tips for an ecological lifestyle and ways to implement them as consumers in their everyday lives.
Andrea Husnik is spritual program coordinator (SPC) of Panchen Losang Chogyen Gelugzentrum.
DHARMA AND THE MODERN WORLD
In May 2013, Maitripa College hosted the Dalai Lama Environmental Summit in Portland, Oregon, U.S. During the summit, Canadian scientist, broadcaster and environmental activist Dr. David Suzuki took part in a panel discussion “Universal Responsibility and the Global Environment” with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and Oregon environmental leader Andrea Durbin.
A few weeks before the summit in April 2013, Mandala interviewed David over the phone from his office in Vancouver, Canada. We started the conversation by talking about David’s first encounter with His Holiness.
David Suzuki: A few years ago, I was asked by His Holiness if I would be one of the scientists teaching his chosen monks. He really believes that his monks have to know about modern, Western science. Apparently, he periodically invites scientists to come and teach in Dharamsala. I was asked and I first turned it down. I said, “Gee, I really have got too much going on.” And my family, when they found out that I had turned it down, got so mad that they made me call them back and say, “OK, I’ll do it,” because they wanted to go with me.
We went and stayed in Dharamsala for two weeks and I taught a group of monks. It was an amazing thing to teach in a room where I was dressed up with down jackets like a Michelin man and these guys were sitting in their robes with bare shoulders. They were long sessions: two-hour sessions with me twice a day. They sat there just completely locked into what I was saying; it was really remarkable. And they got it. They got what I was saying immediately, and they could see it through the perspective of their own world view, the spiritual aspects of what I was saying. It was a very, very exciting exchange. I got to meet the Dalai Lama before I started to teach a class for half-an-hour in Delhi. That was a wonderful experience for the family.
Mandala: What kinds of things did you talk to the monks about? What were your topics?
David: Our fundamental needs are defined by our biological nature, by our social nature, and by our spiritual nature. Now, I don’t have any expertise in terms of the spiritual aspects, except for my long experience with First Nations in Canada. But when I begin to talk about our fundamental biological needs beginning with a breath of air, the monks got it right away.
We’ve got such a screwed up system; we put the economy above everything. It just boggles my mind that we can put the economy above the very air that we need from the moment of our birth to the last breath we take before we die. That necessary exchange of air connects us with each other and every other terrestrial animal and plant on the planet. And it is a very, very profound connection. My whole point is: there is no environment “out there” that we have to regulate our interaction with. We literally are embedded in the air through the hydrologic cycle with water, with the earth through the food we eat, and through the energy in our bodies that comes from the Sun. We are literally made up of what aboriginal people call Mother Earth.
Mandala: I was looking at the David Suzuki Foundation website today and I saw a post titled “Strong Environmental Policy is the Best Economic Policy for British Columbia” And since you brought up the economy right away, I was wondering if you would talk about the benefits and draw backs of looking at the environment through economic measures and policy.
David: My position is that we live in a world that is shaped by laws of nature. In physics we understand that we can’t exceed the speed of light. Nobody sets out to build a rocket that can travel faster than the speed of light. We know the laws of gravity say there’s no anti-gravity possibility here on Earth. And the first and second laws of thermodynamics say you can’t build a perpetual motion machine. These are limits that shape the kind of world that we live in. And nobody objects to them. That’s reality. It’s the same in chemistry. There are laws that regulate diffusion, constants, reaction rates, the kinds of molecules you can synthesize. Those are all dictated by chemical principles. In biology we know that we have absolute need for air, water, soil and sunlight. These are dictated by biology. We have to live within that world.
But other things like the borders we draw around our property, our cities, our states, our countries; concepts of economics, corporations, and markets – these are human-created things, they are not principles that emerge from nature. Yet we elevate corporations and economies and boundaries above the very natural world that we depend on for our survival. This is, as far as I’m concerned, suicidal.
At our foundation, we’ve heard many times, “You always criticize, but you don’t offer solutions.” But we’ve actually spent a lot of time offering all kinds of ways that corporations and our governments can save money by becoming more efficient and reducing throughput of raw materials and all this stuff, but it still buys into the economic system that itself is destroying the biosphere.
You see, the economic system that we bought into acts as if unlimited growth forever is the goal. No one ever says, “Wait a minute now! We live in a finite world, the biosphere. Nothing can grow within that world indefinitely.” Growth becomes cancerous. Instead, we’ve got to have steady-state economics [a system that does not exceed ecological limits]. So that’s the number one problem: the insane notion that we have a system — that everyone bows down before — that we believe can grow forever. It’s just not possible.
Another aspect is that this economic system is based on the incredible productivity and creativity of human beings yet doesn’t acknowledge that everything we do exists within the biosphere and that it is nature itself that provides the raw materials and absorbs the waste from our industrial activity. None of that is really factored into the economic equation that we live with. They are considered externalities.
When I fight for a forest, and try to prevent clear-cut logging, I have to try to argue that there are economics benefits of maintaining that forest: maybe there are few nuts or berries that we can pick, maybe we’re going to find a cure for cancer. Meanwhile, the forest companies argue there are jobs to be created, pulp we can make for paper, lumber. It’s a totally unequal argument. Yet the real reason we want to protect that forest is because it’s exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen – not a bad service for an animal like us. That forest is holding the soil so it doesn’t run into the spawning grounds of the salmon; it’s pumping water out of the soil and transpiring it into the air and modulating weather and climate; it’s providing habitat for countless other organisms. None of that can be argued in an economic way because they are considered externalities.
We are, I believe, buying into a system that is inevitably destructive because it doesn’t account for the services nature performs for us. It’s built on an absolutely unsustainable concept of steady growth forever.
Mandala: How do we shift these priorities? And how do we not make our decisions based on this economic model but instead value our biological needs and the way nature works?
David: There is a line of ecology today called “ecological economics” and people like Robert Costanza have tried to put a price on nature’s services. For example, Vancouver, Canada, gets all of its water from three watersheds surrounded by old-growth forests. There is this constant pressure to cut down the trees and build a filtration plant, but we can show the value of just leaving the trees and allowing nature to filter that water. So we can try to put a dollar value on the cost of replacing nature by our own creations.
Most things nature does, we can’t possibly duplicate, like, for example, the pollination of flowering plants. Without pollination, we’re screwed. We couldn’t exist as a species because terrestrial ecosystems would collapse. There’s no technology we have to do what insects, bats, mice and wind do in pollinating things. I worry about ecological economics in that a lot of stuff nature does we will never be able to replace. And I believe that much of nature is sacred. How do you put a price on things that are sacred? They are priceless.
We’re running right now, especially in North America – Canada and the United States – on an agenda that is being set by corporations. Corporations are not people! Yet the American courts have decided that corporations are people and therefore have all the rights of people. Well, corporations can put massive amounts of money into supporting political candidates for office, and so when they are elected, who gets first in line to see those politicians? Those corporations. But the corporate agenda is not a human agenda because corporate agenda is based solely on the drive to maximize profit – that is the only reason they exist. They may produce things that we need or want, but the only reason they exist is to make money. I just think that as long as corporations continue to set the agenda, then you’re going to see the kind of dysfunction that we have in the U.S. government. … We have to find ways of getting corporations back out into their place.
Mandala: Getting back to the Environmental Summit and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I was wondering if you have thoughts about where you might see interest in maintaining a healthy environment overlapping with Buddhist practice.
David: I’ve just come back from 10 days in Bhutan and I’ve never been in such a strongly Buddhist country. They’ve really electrified the world by offering a different paradigm for development. I was just astounded when I first heard about their presentation at the United Nations last year. And there’s a huge amount of interest and support for this. I think the reality is that we know the current economic paradigm is broken and it’s fundamentally destructive. Short of total economic meltdown (which I’d hoped 2008 would be), people are saying, “What’s the alternative? We’re stuck with this system, can’t we just improve it?” But I think it’s got to be completely thrown out. What Bhutan is offering is a radically different perspective on the meaning of our existence and the purpose of governments and economies.
Here’s a country that was basically isolated from the rest of the world for 300 years. The third king [Jigme Dorji Wangchuck] in the mid-1900s decided that Bhutan couldn’t remain isolated any longer and he had to find out what was going on in the world outside. In 1961 they began to send a hundred students out to schools in India to be educated. From there, many of them went on to Oxford, Harvard and Cambridge. As these students began to come back to Bhutan, they said, “You’re not going to believe what the West thinks development is. They think development is about money and material goods.”
In 1972, the fourth king [Jigma Singye Wangchuck] was asked by a reporter about Bhutan’s GNP and he said, “In Bhutan we’re not interested in the GNP, we’re interested in GNH – Gross National Happiness.” The Bhutanese have really embraced that notion of happiness and well-being of the rest of life as the goal of governments. The economy should be there to serve the people and that goal will be happiness and well-being. A very, very different message from what we say in the United States or Canada. We say, “Well, the key to our well-being in Canada is economic growth.” Economy and money are seen as the very measure of the success of our government; and it’s fundamentally wrong.
I’ve been involved in the environmental movement ever since I read Rachel Carson [who wrote Silent Spring] in 1962. I’ve been telling people now for years that the environmental movement has fundamentally failed. In Canada we saw that the Americans were proposing to bring supertankers with oil from the North Slope down along our coast down into Seattle. We fought that and we stopped it. We stopped dams that the World Bank was funding in the Amazon. We stopped a dam on the Peace River in Northern British Columbia. We’re realizing now – despite these successes – we’re fighting the same bloody battles over and over again.
I did three programs on the Porcupine caribou herd in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. These are the calving grounds of the herd. I’ve done three shows on that herd trying to show the incredible abundance and importance of this great wildlife phenomenon. But the pressure to drill ANWR is every bit as great today as it was 40 years ago. So what does that mean? In focusing on these battles to stop clear-cut logging, or drilling for oil, or supertankers, or big dams, we kind of acted as if winning – stopping the dams or the supertankers – somehow represented a victory, an environmental victory. But these are just symptoms of our underlying value system that shapes the way that we react and treat the environment. They were really just Pyrrhic victories. We didn’t win anything because we didn’t change the perspective through which we see ourselves in this world. What Bhutan does is offer us a very different perspective. It’s very exciting.
Mandala: What do you think can be gained by having His Holiness the Dalai Lama involved in this conversation on the environment? What does he bring to an environmental summit?
David: Of course he brings an incredible credibility when you talk about issues of spirit. There ain’t none better than him. He has an enormous following and wide admiration. So if there is a coming together of values that can be shaped within his community, I think that’s a huge opportunity.
Mandala: I’ve always seen environmental issues relating to spirituality. I feel like my experiences in wilderness as a child and teenager in the North American West gave me my first spiritual experiences, if you will. And it’s been 25 years since I’ve been concerned with environmental issues. But I feel like I’ve seen so many losses and not that many gains. I honestly have come to feel quite discouraged and cynical at times. How do you keep on working to protect the environment given our grim state of affairs?
David: Because what’s the alternative?
The alternative is simply despair. There are many of my colleagues, people I have enormous respect for, who are saying it is too late. James Lovelock, who coined this idea of “Gaia” to explain the web of life on Earth, says in his latest book that 90 percent of humanity will be gone by the end of the century. I’ve interviewed him a number of times. When I say, “Well, what do we do?” He’s basically saying, “Head north and head for the hills.” He favors nuclear energy as one of the options. Basically he’s saying it’s too late; it’s survival of our skins. That’s it.
Martin Rees, a very distinguished astronomer, the Astronomer Royal in the United Kingdom, was asked recently on BBC what are the chance our species will survive by the end of this century? His answer was 50/50. That was a real shock to me. Clive Hamilton, a very respected eco-philosopher in Australia, his second to last book was called Requiem for a Species, and guess what species it’s a requiem for? It’s us. Now, I’ve read Clive’s book from cover to cover, I don’t disagree with anything he says. When you look at the history of our inability to really act in a serious way over the last 40 years about major issues, we’ve passed a lot of points of no return.
We’ve already set in motion the experiment with the planet’s climate. There’s nothing we can do about the fact that we’re well over a level of atmospheric carbon content that will zip us way past an average global increase of 2° C [3.6° F] in this century, and that’s catastrophic as far as I’m concerned. But what’s the alternative then? Do we say, “Well, it’s too late” so we give up and just party until we all go down?
That’s not acceptable as far as I’m concerned, not when you have grandchildren as I do. That’s what pushes us on. I’m in the last part of my life. What happens or doesn’t happen is going to have very little real impact on my life, but it will reverberate through the lives of my grandchildren. I have no choice but to say my generation and the Boomers that followed, have done a very, very irresponsible job. I believe that these generations have committed crimes, inter-generational crimes; it’s been criminal what we’ve done. The only way I can try to make up for it is do the best I can to at least minimize whatever is lying ahead in the future. The answer to the enormous carbon output is not to just carry on and try to geo-engineer the planet, which a lot of scientists are now saying we’ve got to do. We’ve got to stop producing so much carbon.
Mandala: It seems to me that we can anticipate there will be increased suffering because this, extreme weather, sea levels rising, warming and so on. So there is this spiritual component: how do we as a people handle suffering? How do we respond to each other? Are we going to help each other? From a Buddhist point of view, you are also concerned about all the other living beings on the planet as well. I was wondering if you had more thoughts this.
David: I think that as a species we haven’t demonstrated much concern about our fellow human beings. Look at the level of poverty in the richest nation on the planet. I don’t know what the statistics are in the U.S., but in Canada, it’s one out of five children goes hungry. We vowed as a species at the United Nations to eradicate poverty long ago. We haven’t even done that in the richest countries in the world. We don’t care about the inequities and the lack of social justice in many parts of our country, and we certainly couldn’t care less about the Inuit in the Arctic whose ice is melting; or people in Vanuatu or the South Pacific islands whose homes are going to be sunk by sea-level rise; or the people in the Horn of Africa who are going to suffer tremendous consequences. We don’t give a shit. Let’s face it. We’re going to look out for our own skins and we only look out for the skins of a certain sector of our own population. We certainly could use some good Christianity. I’m not a Christian, but I know the story of the Good Samaritan, and we could certainly use the Buddhist perspective that respects all life on Earth, but we’re a far cry from that, even in our own country.
Mandala: What do you suggest to people that say, “What do I do now?”
David: In the 1960s and ’70s we used to run around saying “think globally, act locally” and in many ways that was completely wrong because when people began to think globally, in terms of issues like species extinction or climate change or ocean acidification, it was so immense that people said, “Well, what the hell? There’s over 7 billion people. What difference does it make what I do?” It imposed a sense of helplessness.
I think we have to think locally and act locally in order to have a hope of being effective globally. I find that where you get that real sense that we can do something is when you get involved at the local level. Of course, one’s eye is always on the collective impact of communities around the world. But at the community level, we can really see the consequences of what we do. It’s very uplifting.
If you go the David Suzuki Foundation website there all kinds of thing one can do, like the “10 Most Effective Things that Reduce Your Carbon Footprint” and all that kind of stuff. The most important thing right now is to become very, very involved in our political process. If we believe in democracy, and if we realize we have to make some big changes that can only be made at a level of governments, then we have no choice but to engage ourselves in the political process.
Mandala: Did you have anything you’d like to add?
David: May I just say that I agree with you that nature is a profound spiritual connector. We’ve now got a huge outreach program trying to reach ordinary Canadians, but especially kids, who aren’t spending any time outside. When you ask their parents or grandparents, “Did you have a special place when you were young?” Almost always it’s something out in nature. “Well I had a ditch I used to play in” or “I had this little group of trees where I had a branch I could hang out on.” We have these magic places and they’re really spiritual touchstones of nature. Our kids are losing that because they’re spending more and more time in front of computer screens and inside houses. I think the message the Dalai Lama is spreading, hooked together with the environmentalists, is a very, very powerful one.
David Suzuki is a Canadian geneticist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. He hosted the long-running CBC TV series “The Nature of Things” as well as taught at the University of British Columbia, where he is a professor emeritus. He has published over 40 books and is widely recognized as a world leader in sustainable ecology. For more, visit the website of the David Suzuki Foundation.
FPMT News Around the World
As preparations continue in Portland, Oregon, for the Environmental Summit with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Maitripa College President Yangsi Rinpoche went to the studios of KGW for an interview about the visit and summit. On the local TV program “Straight Talk,” Yangsi Rinpoche discussed His Holiness’ acceptance of Maitripa’s invitation to come to Portland, how His Holiness offers inspiration to people and how Buddhism touches people in our hyper-digital age.
The Dalai Lama Environmental Summit, hosted by Maitripa College May 9-11, 2013, is inviting people to submit a question for His Holiness the Dalai Lama via their website. Maitripa is the first Buddhist college in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and is affiliated with FPMT.
If you like what you read on Mandala, consider becoming a Friend of FPMT, which supports our work. Friends of FPMT at the Basic level and higher receive the print magazine Mandala, delivered quarterly to their homes.
FPMT News Around the World
In May 2013, His Holiness the Dalai Lama will participate in an Environmental Summit hosted by Maitripa College in Portland, Oregon, U.S. His Holiness will be joined in panel discussions by religious leaders and politicians to talk about spirituality and the environment and universal responsibility.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been advocating publicly for the environment for several decades. In 2006, Mandala reported on the impending climate crisis, a topic that both His Holiness and Lama Zopa Rinpoche have addressed. In 1988, in a speech entitled “Humanity and Ecology,” His Holiness said:
“Peace and the survival of life on earth as we know it are threatened by human activities that lack a commitment to humanitarian values. Destruction of nature and natural resources results from ignorance, greed, and lack of respect for the earth’s living things. … Just as we should cultivate gentle and peaceful relations with our fellow human beings, we should also extend that same kind of attitude toward the natural environment. Morally speaking, we should be concerned for our whole environment. … This, however, is not just a question of morality or ethics, but a question of our own survival. … We must now help people to understand the need for environmental protection. We must teach people to understand the need for environmental protection. We must teach people that conservation directly aids our survival.”
In the article “What Does Al Gore Know that Everyone Should Know?” Mandala shared Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s perspective on the environment. When Rinpoche saw the movie An Inconvenient Truth, Rinpoche commented that former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who helped create the movie, knows something everyone should know: We are in an environmental decline of global proportions … Action must be taken. Rinpoche said:
What Al Gore really wishes is for every sentient being, regardless of religion or nationality, including creatures of the land and sea, all to be free of the impure substances, pollution, and the atomic bomb that are harmful to all of us and the environment. … This includes beings such as nagas and worldly gods who are also involved in the elements, and who are harmed and even destroyed due to these man-made pollutions, harmful chemicals, and other things that are damaging the earth and air.
People in business who think only of personal profit without consideration for others and the environment are causing great danger to all of us – the country we live in and this whole world.
Al Gore is making us aware of so many things that harm us and our environment. Your happiness depends on others, and others’ happiness depends on you. We all have to live in this world, so we need to be harmonious and happy in a healthy way. No matter who you are or where you are, we all have a responsibility to protect this world.
Maitripa College is the first Buddhist college in the Pacific Northwest and is affiliated with FPMT. Yangsi Rinpoche, Maitripa’s founder and president, extended the invitation to His Holiness to come to Portland and has been closely involved with the development of the summit. Mandala will offer ongoing coverage of the summit and His Holiness’ visit to Portland.
Read more about Buddhism’s environmental roots in “What Does Al Gore Know that Everyone Should Know?” from Mandala October-December 2006.
With more than 160 centers, projects and services around the globe, there is always news on FPMT activities, teachers and events. Mandala hopes to share as many of these timely stories as possible. If you have news you would like to share, please let us know.
It’s not too late to become a Friend of FPMT at the Basic level or higher and receive the April-June 2013 issue, featuring the complete “Skies of Benefit” article!
- Tagged: al gore, environment, his holiness the dalai lama, lama zopa rinpoche, maitripa college, mandala
By Catriona Mitchell
“Should we live with ever-growing mountains of garbage because we are unable to manage the effects of consumerism?” – His Holiness the 17th Karmapa
A site of brutal poverty, pollution, bacteria and dirt, Bodhgaya is arguably one of the most blessed places on earth.
The challenges faced by visitors to Bodhgaya have never been more apparent than at the Kalachakra 2012 initiation, given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama December 31, 2011 to January 10, 2012. The celebration of world peace drew visitors in astonishing numbers to the site where the Buddha attained enlightenment: there are reports that as many as 350,000 pilgrims made their way to a village that’s normally home to 30,000.
People of all nationalities wrapped themselves in blankets against the cold, many in face-masks to keep the dust out. Thousands of monks and nuns came from Nepal, Mongolia, Bhutan, China, Cambodia, Japan, Korea and Thailand. Beggars lined the streets, dressed in rags, clutching begging bowls, some bandaged or on crutches, some so badly deformed they shuffled along on all fours, all without a place to sleep at night. Black hogs, goats, cows and people alike scavenged through piles of rubbish.
Although peace was unmistakably the focus of the event, the environmental consequences of this brief but overwhelming burst of tourism were devastating. Huge numbers of tents were erected to provide temporary accommodation for the masses, and severe strain was placed on the village’s infrastructure. Sewage systems were blocked, water resources drained, and untenable mountains of rubbish built up and were burned on the streets.
While His Holiness has long advocated the importance of environmental protection and several other prominent lamas have become spokespersons for the green movement, raising awareness is no small issue, particularly in such intense and hectic circumstances.
“It was unbelievably crowded,” said Caroline Martin, an American journalist who writes about India and Nepal, on a visit to Bodhgaya for the first time. “Things were really chaotic. During the Kalachakra I basically felt like I was fighting for air the whole time.”
Although confronting for first-timers, the melee was predictable, and methods were put in place well in advance to curb the worst of the problems. The precautions were spearheaded by Sacred Earth Trust (SET), an organization with headquarters in both India and the UK, established to support the environmental protection of sacred sites and UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world. SET has been working since 2009 to address the problems brought on during the tourist season in Bodhgaya.
In preparation for this season’s throngs, 80,000 cloth bags were sewn to be used in lieu of plastic bags, bringing much-needed income to local women; local hoteliers and businesses, monasteries and schools were educated about environmental hazards, recycling and waste disposal; and SET put the word out to Buddhist centers around the world as well as to various media outlets, encouraging people to travel to Bodhgaya responsibly.
Perhaps most importantly, SET went about making changes at government level. In 2009 SET’s UK-based Director Lillian Sum and a team of local and international volunteers successfully campaigned to have all disposable plastics banned from the area by collecting 7,000 signatures in favor of the ban. It was a jubilant moment when the campaign was approved by local government, with new practices being adopted from April 2011.
This campaign was inspired by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, whose winter residence at Tergar Monastery lies on the fringes of Bodhgaya. In recent years the Karmapa has become increasingly engaged with environmental concerns. “As I grew up and began studying Buddhist philosophy and teachings,” he said. “I discovered great harmony between Buddhism and the environmental movement. The emphasis on biological diversity, including ecosystems – in particular, the understanding that animate and inanimate beings are parts of a whole – resonates closely with Buddhism’s emphasis on interdependence.”
A few years ago the Karmapa became aware of various dumping grounds for rubbish in the vicinity of Tergar. It was immediately apparent that plastic was the main pollutant – disposable plastics such as bags, polystyrene plates, cups, and packaging for food and domestic goods like washing powders.
These all-too-common disposable plastics can leach chemicals that are perilous to human health, and contaminate soil when left to decompose for long periods in dumping grounds. When burned, they release chemicals into the atmosphere that contribute to respiratory and other health problems as well as carbon emissions.
The Kalachakra and its accompanying influx of tourists really put to the test the effectiveness of the plastics ban and SET’s efforts to control waste. Three hundred laborers were brought in to work night and day to keep the village tidy, along with 13 supervisors. Close to 50 vehicles were brought in for the purpose of garbage removal. Two hundred dustbins were set in place permanently, and three large permanent garbage dumping sites were created to replace the side-of-the-road dumping grounds.
According to Ven. Tenzin Yangdron, a German nun who lives in Dharamsala and stayed at Root Institute during the Kalachakra, “When I went to the teachings in the mornings, I saw a lot of local people sweeping the streets and collecting garbage. The streets were clean around the temple area. But in the fields, you could still see lots of garbage around the tents. A lot of cleaning was going on, but there was just too much garbage so they couldn’t take away everything.”
Lillian concedes that despite their best efforts, SET’s measures were hopelessly inadequate in the face of the numbers who came for the initiation. “Local government was great during the whole time, keeping the main areas really clean,” she said. “But it wasn’t possible to implement the plastics ban at this time at an event of this size.” This was in part due to the locals’ hesitation for financial reasons. “Most understand the issue, but if they feel it will affect their business, they will not make changes.”
Caroline Martin feels disturbed by the waste problems she witnessed. “Burning plastic every evening around 5 p.m., it’s like a ritual. The burning plastic smell comes up and you have to cover your mouth. The tourists can just come through and grumble about it and leave, but I really feel for the people who live here because they’re being exposed to a lifetime of these burning toxins, and certainly it’s going to limit their life expectancy. I’m not sure what the fumes are, but I get chest pains when I smell them. And it seems like they destroy any kind of healthy environment that could exist.”
Given the amount that still remains to be cleaned up, long after the dispersion of the Kalachakra’s crowds, does Lillian feel that SET’s efforts have collapsed in the face of so many tourists? “We were lucky to have it so clean during the event,” she said. “But now it’s the aftermath and most – if not all – of the support and resources have been reduced back to normal size. Only minimum equipment is available.”
It’s no easy territory to navigate, but Lillian is far from giving up. She’s aware that the government’s implementation of the plastics ban is key, but also that a long-lasting result will only come about through education. SET’s ultimate goal is to encourage local people to take responsibility for the caretaking of their own environment and resources. To this end, SET will facilitate workshops this year that continue to raise the villagers’ awareness about plastic pollution and its effects on land, water courses, human and animal health. Other subjects are on the curriculum too: zero waste, permaculture, how to reduce carbon emissions, green building design, tree nurseries, organic plantations, seed sovereignty, renewable energy, eco-technologies, and the production of cottage handicrafts using waste materials, to name a few.
Good news came on February 4: the chief minister announced that he would continue to support Bodhgaya as a plastic free zone and give funds to develop a solid waste management system. In addition to the workshops, then, SET will be working with the government on setting up a recycling center for the polystyrene and plastic bags which currently aren’t being recycled. Government officials and the heads of the village are also ready to start enforcing the plastic ban, a necessary step at least in the beginning until people really understand how harmful the waste can be.
Sustainable practices such as these are essential for a sustainable future for Bodhgaya. The need for them is all the more urgent due to a decision recently announced by Bihar’s chief minister: a new four-lane road is to be built between Patna and Gaya in order to encourage greater numbers of visitors to Bodhgaya in the future.
Catriona Mitchell is an Australian literary events programmer and producer, as well as a freelance writer on arts and the environment. She has an M. Phil. in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.
Sacred Earth Trust is a not for profit organization set up in 2009 to support and encourage the sustainable development and environmental protection of Sacred sites and UNESCO world heritage sites around the world, through working in co-operation with the local, indigenous people and international groups. It has offices in the UK and India.
DHARMA AND THE MODERN WORLD
By Andrea Husnik
The United Nation’s World Environment Day (WED) is an annual event celebrated on June 5 to help promote societal and individual awareness surrounding ecological issues and to encourage direct action to address unsustainable living.
On June 5, 2011, Panchen Losang Chogyen Gelegzentrum, an FPMT center in Austria, celebrated WED by creating an ecological mission statement and plan of action. The plan for our center addresses subjects such as energy conservation, waste management, environmentally friendly cleaning products, fair trade and organic food and drinks, and fair trade flowers for the altar. We decided to make a concerted effort to raise awareness among our members and students that one’s actions do have an impact on the environment in which all sentient beings are living. We also decided that over the next year we will try to put all our principles into practice step by step.
Elaine Brook, with other like-minded people, has started an interesting website www.buddhistecologylink.org where lively debate about the environment fairly sizzles off the screen. Here’s just a taste …
A: So, as a Buddhist, have you given up flying because of the effect it is having on climate change and the harm to living beings?
B: Oh, of course not – we can’t possibly go back to living in a primitive way! I could not imagine life without flying. I hope somebody will find a way to ameliorate the bad effects, but I don’t feel it’s my responsibility.
C (addressing A): Why would you expect Buddhists to be any better on carbon-reduction than any other religion? There are people from all religions carrying on with daily activities that contribute to climate change, that they could reduce but don’t. Why should Buddhists be any different?
A: Many Buddhists I met in the East were very careful about not harming other beings – so I suppose it left a kind of expectation. The main thing about most religions is a belief in their particular God, so you’d expect them to be a bit hit and miss about a particular focus on anything beyond that, even though there is a common theme about love and compassion, etc. But – the heart of Buddhism is about developing awareness of interconnectedness and compassion, and understanding and subduing one’s own mind. Put those things together, and you can’t avoid seeing the need to avoid harming other beings as much as possible. So yes, of course, human nature wants to have all its consumer goodies and feel lovely and spiritual as well; but if the teaching and practice is doing its job, then that bit of human nature will be transformed. And if it isn’t transformed, then surely the teaching and practice isn’t doing its job – and if that’s the case, then surely anyone who cares about the Dharma will want to find out why, and sort out whatever gap has been left in the process.
I feel it is doing sincere students in the West a disservice to be encouraged to think that just because they are meditating and thinking beautiful thoughts they don’t have to actually change what they do day to day. …
ADVICE FROM LAMA ZOPA
Regarding global warming, usually the real cause – karma – isn’t talked about. The reality is that nothing happens without it being related to the mind. People think this can be a natural disaster, but it doesn’t happen without a cause, and the main cause is karma.
Generally it comes from everyone’s karma, and of course there are conditions, such as pollution from the cars, etc. that we commonly understand. But we have to understand there IS a reason and that is our past negative thoughts and actions. There is so much negative karma created in the world – so many animals are killed and slaughtered, etc. For example, when a new disease is identified, and it comes from a chicken or bird or cow, then automatically millions of them are killed. If it were humans we would never think of killing. Even if one human has a virus we would never kill.
Of course we don’t normally talk of karma in a general situation regarding environment, etc. but it is important to educate people. For example, fifty years ago almost nobody in this world knew the word karma, but now many people know what karma means. So it is important to educate people. Another example: A very tragic situation such as many children killed in a shooting situation by another child, and everyone is horrified and shocked and can’t understand why. But this is due to karma. There is a reason that this happened, and it’s due to past negative thoughts and actions.
What I think is most important is to have qualified meditation masters taking care of the meditators in our retreat places, and taking care of the students who are sincerely trying to do retreat to actualize lam-rim. Just doing three years’ retreat doesn’t mean much, but meditating on the lam-rim is very, very important. What we need to do is to learn all the meanings, etc., from the Geshes; then we need to apply ourselves to the actual practice.
In order to realize these things, in particular within the Gelugpa tradition now, there are a lot of teachings, and then more teachings, and then more teachings again. Then the students think, “I know these subjects,” but they never meditate on them. So your mind and the Dharma have a big gap. So then one doesn’t get anything done; one doesn’t develop compassion. Even if one has all the intellectual studies, when problems arise, nothing is done so there is danger. One spends the whole life studying, but nothing is experienced in the heart. So there is a risk to be like this. Even if one has devotion but it can be like a cloud in the sky, easy to disappear. So, again another danger.
In the Gelugpa monasteries or centers there is so much learning, but not meditation. Meditation on the basis of learning is extremely important. I think if a Westerner can get realization, then that person would be a great inspiration to others.
Again, regarding the environment, anything well-proven scientifically is worth following through on. The main thing is to understand how things come to the mind, how things are dependent-arising, how things are the consequence of past actions. So the conclusion is that those people undertaking retreat, serious meditation, etc., can help the environment, can bless the earth, etc.
How to prevent global warming
To prevent global warming, the most important thing is to read the Sutra of Golden Light. This becomes a blessing to the earth and gives nourishment to the earth, similar to protein in food. Reading the Sutra of Golden Light not only blesses the earth, but also the whole country, city, house and also yourself. It also helps to reduce/stop violence.
Other things you can do to prevent global warming is to organize teaching on emptiness, reciting the Vajra Cutter Sutra, reciting the Prajnaparamita in 8,000 and 12,000 stanzas. There could be a group of people who read it; this would be very powerful for the earth. Also one could read the whole Kangyur – this also contains the Prajnaparamita. Reciting of the Prajnaparamita is the main one to purify and in order to have all the realizations; it cuts the root of all the sufferings – ignorance. This may be the reason why it comes out very beneficial to prevent and help stop global warming, because this is the result of non-virtue, which comes from the root: ignorance. All the unpleasant things such as earthquakes, global warming, tsunamis etc. all come from this.
Scribes Ven. Roger Kunsang and Ven. Holly Ansett, Aptos and Kopan, December 2007
By Elaine Brook
… For the past twenty-five years, I have spoken about environmental concerns and how I believe these concerns dovetail in particular with the mission of Buddhist organizations and our individual Buddhist practice. I have encountered enthusiastic support, as well as disagreement and disinterest.
Among the counterarguments to my belief has been the position that environmental issues are the province of politics, not the Dharma; that the Dharma is focused on transforming our thoughts and feelings, not taking action; and that the sufferings of environmental degradation are a result of karma, and thus, not our responsibility to solve. Some have expressed that they feel prayers to be reborn in a better world are a more appropriate response to environmental concerns than taking action. I have also been challenged by those who argued that if they hadn’t directly caused harm – for example, by not directly operating a sweatshop – then they could enjoy the results – in this case, inexpensive clothing – without incurring the negative karma.
Many Buddhists today feel that the core principle of compassion should be more than thoughts, feelings, prayers, meditations, and being kind to the people we meet: It is an ethic that needs to be extended to our ordinary, everyday habits – how we use energy, transport, food, clothing, and so on …
… Buddhism offers us a tremendous tool to support us in making the necessary changes. When we meditate, we allow our hearts to open, to realize the principles of interdependence and compassion. When we buy and consume in line with the selfish mindset of our industrial-growth society, we close our hearts so that we don’t see the suffering we are colluding with and causing. There is a mental continuum that accompanies our everyday actions, which needs to become congruent with our feelings in meditation; otherwise, we begin to suffer from a kind of spiritual indigestion …
… It is useful to engage in measuring one’s own “Carbon Footprint” which is a way of calculating the amount of land needed to supply our needs and absorb our pollution – there are a number of these on the Web. If everyone in the world lived like people in the UK we would need three planets! If everyone lived like Americans, we’d need five planets. So working on ways to get ourselves back to “one-planet living” by reducing our material demands is a way of keeping the second precept, not to steal – because anything over “one planet” rightfully belongs to other beings …
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Without understanding how your inner nature evolves, how can you possibly discover eternal happiness? Where is eternal happiness? It’s not in the sky or in the jungle; you won’t find it in the air or under the ground. Everlasting happiness is within you, within your psyche, your consciousness, your mind. That’s why it’s important that you investigate the nature of your own mind.
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