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By Ven K Sri Dhammaratana Nayaka Maha Thera,
Buddhist Maha Vihara Brickfields, Malaysia
Chief Sangha Nayaka of Malaysia

    It is amazing that the Buddha taught us to “GO GREEN” more than 2,600 years ago while we got thrilled and excited about this phrase only in the last few decades. The momentum of course truly picked up in this last decade with many country level commitment and signatories such as the Kyoto Protocol. 

    We today talk about the thinning of the ozone layer, efforts to reduce the greenhouse effect, reducing carbon footprints, etc which will go a long way to reduce the level of carbon dioxide and other harmful gasses in the air. All efforts are directed to institutionalize these processes within time definite deliverables on levels of emissions because individuals, Companies or even countries cannot seem to be trusted to bring down the emission levels without proactive monitoring by an external party, due to sheer concern on profits and/or inability to see that short term investments in these areas are critical for the very survival of planet Earth.

    The Buddha has taught many aspects of environmental conservation and stressed on the need to respect life.

    A beautiful aspect Buddha’s advice on recycling is the monks’ robes. Once the robes are worn out, it is used to as a blanket. Once it outlives its use as a blanket, it is then used as a pillow case. Once it outlives its use as a pillow case, it is then used as a handkerchief. Once its use as a handkerchief is outlived, it is then used to wrap a dead body or to be part of the wall of a structure. It is interesting to see that the robe is not just discarded away but has an extended useful life through many phases and forms.

    The fact that monks are advised to only keep two sets of robes itself, from the Middle Path viewpoint of keeping to contentment and simplicity, consumption is reduced and thus there is reduced utilization of resources to fulfill needs, thus less assailing on nature and its resources.

    The essence of Buddhism has been the Middle Path, to avoid the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. In encouraging simplicity and fulfillment of our basic needs, and reducing one’s infinite wants, we are encouraging less assailment on our Earth’s limited resources.

   When monks consume food from their bowl, after eating, they are advised to wash the bowl in the river or waterway so that the leftovers are consumed by life forms in the river. Food is thus not wasted but supports other life chains in the ecosystems.

    Monks precepts forbid the destruction of trees and plant life as other living beings live there. Monks are also not allowed to consume fruits with seeds in it. These seeds need to be cleaned and the fruits offered to monks.
    The Buddha also mentions that Karma is only one of Five Niyamas (Orders) that govern the earth and that everything is not due to Karma. The other Niyamas being :

Bija Niyama – the order of germs or seeds
Citta Niyama – the order of mind or psychic law
Utu Niyama – the physical inorganic order
Dhamma Niyama – the order of norm

    All of this act in a flux that once disturbed, releases negative or adverse reactions for us.
In Paticca Samuppada (the law of Dependant- Origination), it is explained that in the action and reactions relationship, reactions are not a simple linear function, but rather a product of many other contributory factors. Similarly our own actions of good begets good and bad begets bad is a function of that action and other contributory factors or conditions.

    A beautiful example of this multi function influence is attempting to light a fire by rubbing together two dry sticks. Firstly the friction between both sticks must be sufficient to cause a spark. However that spark will die if there is insufficient air. The wood must be sufficient to allow the fire to continue to light. Take away one of the conditions, and the spark will just die without giving rise to a continuous fire. All conditions must be present for the fire, without which the spark will not even give rise to a fire.

    Therefore we cannot reason out to say our actions, how insignificant it way seem to us, will not have an effect on others or the environment. It does. Consider the butterfly effect theory and compare it with the Twelve Links in the Law of Dependant Origination taught by the Buddha which is almost similar. The Buddha says:

Imasmim sati idam hoti
Imasmim asati idam na hoti

When this arises, that arises
When this does not arise, that does not arise.

    During the 2004 Asian Tsunami, mangroves in many places in India were destroyed by development and it resulted in severe destruction and loss of lives. But in areas where there were mangroves, the loss to property and lives were minimized significantly. This had several Niyamas operating together at the same time. It was nature’s fury, but man’s wisdom in protecting mangroves resulted in nature protecting lives.

    Where foolishness and short-term gains prevailed, countless lives were loss. Japan has studied Tsunamis for years and have been able to minimize destructions from Tsunami significantly. We may not be able to stop the Tsunamis from happening, but we could certainly minimize its destruction with Right Actions. It is amazing that we could send people to the moon and space, but we could not find a way to minimize and predict where and when Tsunamis will occur-again a case of priorities!
    Humans can protect nature to protect humans, and they can also destroy nature to eventually destroy humans. We can try to restore some of our lost natures resources, and mitigate what has been lost with wisdom, investing in right things, not weapons of mass destruction, etc.

    In the Dhammapada, the Buddha beautifully describes a monk : ‘As a bee that gathers honey from a flower and departs from it without injuring the flower or its colors or its fragrance, the monk dwells in his village.’ The flower moreover ensures the continuity of the species and the bee in taking pollen does not interfere with nature’s design. Man’s life should be similar- being part of Earth in a symbiotic manner in a win-win relationship with nature and all the other living beings.

    The Karaniya Metta Sutta is a true expression of Buddhist universal love towards all life forms as mentioned below. Humans must learn to assume their symbiotic role on Earth and not as a virtual consuming animal who disregards nature, its wonders and its resources:
“Whatever breathing creatures there may beNo matter whether they are frail or firm,With none excepted be they long or bigOr middle-sized, or be they short or smallOr whether they are dwelling far or nearExisting or yet seeking to existMay beings all be of a blissful heart.”

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