By Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi, Resident Minister
ECOLOGY AND BUDDHISM
Earth Day was celebrated on April 22. In February, the BCA National Council passed the
“EcoSangha Resolution.” This resolution encourages temples to promote “ecologically friendly
behavior, in the spirit of mottai-nai.” An article in the April Wheel of Dharma, by Rev. C. Yakumo,
provides several meanings of mottai-nai. Often translated as “how wasteful,” its deeper meaning
gives every object a sense of value for its own sake. This reflects the fundamental Buddhist
concept of interdependence. No object or life exists separately from every other object and life.
Every entity is temporary, and depends on all other entities. I think this is why Rimban Castro
considers that being a Buddhist would automatically identify us as ecologists.
The term “ecology” is often defined as a study of the inter-actions of different objects or
organisms in their environment. The current concern of our human involvement in our environment
brings the teachings of the Buddha as a clear and substantial guide, for the quality of life. Human
progress has often been made at the expense of the natural environment. Over many centuries,
human life has gradually shifted from a nomadic life to an agrarian one; and then to an industrial
one with cities being the focus of the comfort and convenience of humans. During this human
“progress,” the scale has tipped toward the benefit for humans over the value of the natural
environment. Except for minimal strands of national, state, or county parks, nature was not valued
for its own sake. In the second half of the 20th century, a large portion of the Western world was
able to experience the life of devas, or of royalty, of ancient times. Yet, Siddhartha Gautama, who
lived the life of a prince, renounced that lifestyle to seek true liberation and happiness. His decision
to forsake a life of luxury and convenience might be a clear indication of our plight and future.
California is in a long drought. There are beautiful pools, lawns, and golf courses in the deserts of
Southern California and Nevada. Oklahoma has more earthquakes than California. Fracking utilizes
pressured water to extract deep oil reserves. The industrialization of China has created air pollution
beyond any experienced before. Western countries are able to purchase many goods, made
inexpensively, in China. The self-indulgent habits of the late 20th century continues at the
beginning of this 21st century. The “Inconvenient Truth,” voiced by Al Gore a decade ago, is
becoming more than an inconvenience. The relationship between an organism and its
environment is no longer a “study.” It is the reality of our everyday life. Anatman, or
interdependence, is a fundamental Buddhist concept. Any honest observer of life, might admit to
this truth. The other truth of anitya, that all things are impermanent and therefore change, must
also be heeded. We must change our mind-set if we are to implement change in our environment.
As Shin Buddhists in a Christian society, our efforts to live a religious life is often confused by the
dualistic principles of the greater society. The middle path of the Buddha is a wise alternative to
the impossible task of determining the right good, over the wrong evil. Religions, civilizations, and
nations, have battled throughout human history, each claiming to know the ultimate “good.” How
might our life change, if we used the context of ecology (the proper balance of organisms relating
to its environment) as a guide? The evidence of ecological balance is something that can be
observed. Of course, there will be doubters, but they also have their motives, usually financial. But
even doubters of human caused climate change can experience the shortage of natural
resources and population growth. Impermanence is experienced by dwindling oil and water
supplies, and interdependence is experienced as population growth challenges our cities.
There are often questions as to the practice of Shin Buddhism. My response has been that a
simple guide would be to determine if our actions are to achieve a goal, or to acknowledge
receiving a benefit. My understanding of Shinran’s teachings are that no amount of personal
achievement can account for our awakening. The reliance on the Nembutsu is a deep spiritual
acknowledgement, or expression of gratitude, for receiving the gift of awakening. Expressing
“thank you” is a beginning step toward this experience of “Namo Amida Butsu.” The joy and
gratitude experienced in this practice can lead to our efforts of service to others.
Living our lives in the context of ecology, is another paradigm that clarifies our practice. We
can focus on the benefits we have received, from natural resources and efforts, of past
generations of humans. In turn, we might evaluate our place in this interdependent world. Modern
science, communications, and analysis provide excellent information regarding the effects of our
lifestyle. Honoring the spirit of “mottai-nai,” we may judge the balance of value we place on
ourselves, in relationship to the natural resources. As Shin Buddhists, we realize the tenacity of our
ego. But our ego is satiated, as we acknowledge gifts already received (which we call Amida’s
Compassion). We are then able to consciously join in the exchange of Light and Life. Reduce –
Reuse – Recycle – Rethink.
Interdependence and impermanence are the recurring messages, as ecology becomes a
conscious part of our lives. The ME appreciates what is received from the WE. An ecological
lifestyle is a practical way of awakening to the spiritual depth of Namo Amida Butsu.
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