What Is EcoSangha Buddhism?
By Rev. Don Castro
To be a Buddhist is to be both an ecologist and a conservationist. This is the vision EcoSangha strives to promote. It is a vision modeled on the Buddha as the Great Physician who is called to the service of those in pain and suffering, who scientifically investigates the nature of and prognosis for an ailment and then compassionately effects a cure. The progression from symptom to cure is presented by the Buddha in his fundamental teaching of the Four Noble Truths: symptom, diagnosis, prognosis and cure.
In terms of ecology, the Buddha fully understands the profound problem of our earth in crisis. His insights of non- duality and interdependence are applied on a cosmic scale. In fact, the late professor of Buddhist Studies, Francis Cook, in the 1970's referred to Buddhism as "cosmic ecology." This is not ecology in the shallow sense but "deep ecology" in the deepest sense.
Not only does Buddhist ecology encompass the study of forest and ocean systems but also human values, family life and political activities, etc. Nothing is left out because everything is mutually interpenetrating and interdependent. Buddhist ecology, then, is the overarching science bringing all sciences together, both human and natural. For instance, a psychological analysis of human greed is related to consumption of oil is related to global warming, etc. Buddhism always teaches of profound causes and conditions.
Implicit in any scientific endeavor are values. Values can be investigated rationally but reason alone cannot explain values. As the Great Physician, the Buddha identifies with the pain of the patient and compassionately devotes himself to a cure. In terms of our environmental crisis, the Buddha prescribes what might be called "deep conservation", a way of living that is in harmony with our environment.
This vision of Buddhism as ecology and conservation is a dynamic and inspiring view with profound personal and social implications. It is a vision that all Buddhists can embrace, uniting us in addressing a most crucial issue facing all life on this earth. We may disagree for personal or sectarian reasons on the method conservation to cure our sick planet. But, we should all be able to agree on the inherent, ecological nature of Buddhism.
Among our many sublime Buddha images with their various postures and mudras, there is one image that is so wonderfully appropriate for Buddhist ecology that it has been adopted by the EcoSangha as its symbol. The "Earth- Touching" mudra of the Buddha depicts the very moment when Shakyamuni Buddha called upon our Mother Earth to bear witness to his enlightenment. Today, Mother Earth is bearing witness to our wanton mistreatment of her. To cure our mother, we must truly change our mind (and lifestyle) so that conservation becomes an integral part of our Buddhist practice.
EcoSangha urges Buddhists of all traditions to truly demonstrate the spirit of interdependence and non-duality of a Maha Sangha by joining together to form an EcoSangha. We urge all Buddhists to give dynamic new meaning to the Earth- Touching mudra of the Buddha by also regarding it as "The Ecology Mudra." This can be a unifying image for all Buddhists and can be displayed and venerated as a part of every EcoSangha Buddhist shrine. Finally, we hope to promote dialogue and cooperation among Buddhists to strengthen our mutual commitment to harmonious living.
EcoSangha Seattle's programs are primarily conducted on-campus at Seattle University, located on First Hill near downtown Seattle.
For information on the EcoSangha program at Seattle Buddhist Temple, please contact:
Rev. Don Castro
Seattle Buddhist Temple
1427 So. Main Street
Seattle WA 98144
Phone 206 329-0800.
A WESTERN SOTO ZEN BUDDHIST STATEMENT ON THE CLIMATE CRISIS
As Buddhists, our relationship with the earth is ancient. Shakyamuni Buddha, taunted by the demon king Mara under the Bodhi Tree before his enlightenment, remained steady in meditation. He reached down to touch the earth, and the earth responded: “I am your witness.” The earth was partner to the Buddha’s work; she is our partner, as we are hers.
From the Buddha’s time, our teachers have lived close to nature by choice, stepped lightly and mindfully on the earth, realizing that food, water, medicine, and life itself are gifts of nature. The Japanese founders of Soto Zen Buddhism spoke with prophetic clarity about our responsibility to the planet and to all beings. In Bodaisatta Shishobo/The Bodhisattva’s Four Embracing Dharmas, Dogen Zenji, the founder of Japanese Soto Zen, wrote:
To leave flowers to the wind, to leave birds to the seasons are the activity of dana/giving.
Keizan Zenji, a Zen successor of Dogen, built two temples in the remote woodlands of the Noto Peninsula. In 1325 he protected the local environment, writing:
Ever since I came to live on this mountain… I have particularly enjoyed the presence of the pine trees. This is why, except on festival days, not a single branch must be broken off. Whether they are high on the mountain or in the bottom of the valley, whether they are large or small, they must be strictly protected.
In early December of 2015, the United Nations climate conference in Paris, including governments, activists, and religious leaders, took a remarkable step to set goals and provide initial resources to address the crisis. Their agreement promises to hold global warming under two degrees Celsius and to move towards a net-zero level of human-made greenhouse gas emissions. We praise their collective efforts while acknowledging that this will not be enough.
Today it is our responsibility as Buddhists and as human beings to respond to an unfolding human-made climate emergency that threatens life. There is an uncontestable scientific consensus that our addiction to fossil fuels and the resulting release of massive amounts of carbon has already reached a tipping point. The melting of polar ice presages floods in coastal regions and the destabilization of oceanic currents and whole populations of sea life. Disappearing glaciers around the world promise drought and starvation for many millions living downstream. Severe and abnormal weather bring devastating hurricanes and cyclones around the world. Eminent biologists predict that petroleum-fueled “business as usual” will lead to the extinction of half of all species on Earth by the close of the twenty-first century.
In May 2015, a Buddhist declaration on climate change, “The Time To Act Is Now,” was presented at a White House meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama’s staff. In part, the statement says:
Many scientists have concluded that the survival of human civilization is at stake…There has never been a more important time in history to bring the resources of Buddhism to bear on behalf of all living beings. (Buddhism’s) Four Noble Truths provide a framework for diagnosing our current situation and formulating appropriate guidelines—because the threats and disasters we face ultimately stem from the human mind… Our ecological emergency is a larger version of the perennial human predicament. Both as individuals and as a species, we suffer from a sense of self that feels disconnected not only from other people but from the Earth itself. As Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” We need to wake up and realize that the Earth is our mother as well as our home—and in this case the umbilical cord binding us to her cannot be severed. When the Earth becomes sick, we become sick, because we are part of her.
Soto Zen Buddhists stand side by side with compassionate people of all religious traditions. Our Precepts resonate with the natural and universal morality of all beings. Our second Precept is “not to steal” or “not to take what is not freely given.”
This Precept speaks directly to the climate emergency. It is our responsibility as living beings on this earth to be mindful of the needs of the earth’s being by not depleting the lives of beings with whom we share this earth through our desire to serve ourselves. This greed is the act of taking what is not given; it is the mind of seeing things as existing for our own use. Our world is dependent upon the activity of all beings. If we do not sustain each and every thing, we are stealing their lives and ultimately stealing our own life.
Violating the Precept of not stealing is a systemic matter, an expression of structural violence. The unfolding effect of a petroleum-fueled world heralds sickness, death, and social chaos — first to the world’s poor who are most vulnerable. Very soon it will knock on every door.
Buddhist philosopher and activist Joanna Macy writes of the necessity for a paradigm shift, what she calls the “Great Turning.”
The Great Turning is a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.
The essence of Zen practice—in its deep stillness and in its manifestation in everyday activity—moves towards the life-sustaining culture we yearn for.
Since the 1990s the Japanese Soto Zen School (Sotoshu) has maintained a clear focus on environmental concerns. In Japan, Soto Zen’s Green Plan has reached a network of more than fifteen thousand temples, encouraging study, conservation, reforestation, and sustainability in energy use and agriculture. “Five Principles of Green Life” provide a basis for these efforts:
· Protect the green of the earth; the earth is the home of life.
· Do not waste water; it is the source of life.
· Do not waste fuel or electricity; they are the energy of life.
· Keep the air clean; it is the plaza of life.
· Co-exist with nature; it is the embodiment of Buddha.
In our Zen centers and temples here in the United States, teachers and practitioners join hands with Soto Zen Buddhists in Japan and with people of all faiths. Many of our communities are converting to solar, radically cutting water use, and investing our modest funds in sustainable industries that do no harm to humans, animals, or the environment. We encourage our members and friends to act with generosity, nonviolence, and mindful effort to protect all life. We encourage friends to speak “truth to power” that political and business leaders know we care passionately about the fate of the earth and that all of us are accountable.
—Rev. Gengo Akiba
for the Association of Soto Zen Buddhists (N.A.)
Director, Soto Zen Buddhism North America Office
—Rev. Hozan Kushiki Alan Senauke
for the Soto Zen Buddhist Association (President)