Protecting the environment begins in the heart, says Buddhist leader

Posted: April 11, 2015 at 6:50 am


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As a child living in a rural area in eastern Tibet, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje recalls a natural environment that was pristine and untarnished by modern development.

It was there, he said during his Chubb Fellowship Lecture at Yale on April 7, that he first experienced a feeling of intimate connection with and respect for the natural world.

Where I was born, we regarded and experienced our environment as a living system, a living being: The mountains, the sources of water were all regarded as the dwelling places of what I would call holy spirits of various kinds, the Karmapa told the packed audience in Woolsey Hall. We therefore respected every aspect of the environment as part of a living system. We didnt wash our clothes or even our hands in flowing water sources. We didnt cast any kind of garbage or any kind of other pollutant into our fire in our hearth. We regarded the entire environment as innately sacred.

Today, the Buddhist leader hopes to inspire others to see the interconnectedness of humans and their environment, and discussed that theme in his Chubb Lecture on Compassion in Action: Buddhism and the Environment.

Addressing the audience through an interpreter, the Karmapa decried the human-contrived distinction between their own being and the external world and described environmental stewardship as a moral responsibility.

For us to acquire or eat any food, have clothes to wear, or even to have the bodies we do, all of these require the interconnectedness of many things and many people within the environment, he said. The value of understanding interdependence in this regard is that we often feel at some distance from our environment. We divide the world into subject and object, and we feel that the external environment is an object separated from us by some kind of boundary and some distance from ourselves as subjects. We need to dissolve this artificial boundary and decrease the distance from ourselves and our environment.

In Tibet, he told his audience, people compare the interconnectedness of humans and their environment to a container and its contents where one cannot be separated from the other. To think of our interconnectedness with the environment in those terms, he said, makes it easier to understand our responsibility for protecting it.

We need to acknowledge that our environment can affect us, and we can also affect our environment, he commented. Some people have the idea that the environment is so vast and so primordial that nothing we do is actually going to affect it. Unfortunately, thats been proven not to be the case, and we need to begin to acknowledge the aspect of interdependence that is our effect on the environment even as the environment affects us.

Having scientific knowledge of the symbiotic relationship between humans and their environment is not enough, however, to make people feel protective of all that surrounds them, the 29-year-old Karmapa acknowledged.

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Protecting the environment begins in the heart, says Buddhist leader

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April 11th, 2015 at 6:50 am