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The Ecology of Buddhism

Mushroom Cloud Nine

as I learn more in school, I can't help but become aware that there are amazing similarities between the fundamentals of ecology and the fundamentals of certain religions. More specifically, my knowledge of Buddhism reflects many direct comparisons between it and the concepts in ecology. These similarities are of major importance because religion is one of the most important fundamental determinants of culture. If Buddhism is recognized as being an ecologically aware religion, then I could hypothesize that the health of the entire globe could benefit from adhering to Buddhist principles, or at an extreme, from widespread religious conversion to Buddhism.

My understanding of Buddhism includes the following principles. Prince Siddhartha, or the Buddha (enlightened one), spoke out against the inequalities of the caste system in India. According to him, salvation was attainable by everyone not just those in the more important castes. Salvation comes in the form of knowledge, especially self-knowledge through the elimination of covetousness, craving and desire. The principle of complete honesty and the determination to not hurt another person or animal is also a major tenet in Buddhism. Important too, was the concept of karma. All of these principles are an acknowledgement of "oneness" in the universe. Buddha also spoke of pursuing balance, rather than extremes.

Buddha's concerns about the inequalities of the caste system can be seen in a number of ways to relate to ecology. This same concept can be related in many ways to the wealth of the world and how a small portion of the world holds all of that wealth and consumes the majority of its' resources while the poorer (or lower caste) people starve or are seemingly denied resources based on the "natural order" inherent in a caste system. The fact that Nike shoes are produced cheaply in South East Asia for about a $1.50 and sold to us in North America for over a $100 is a sign that Nike profits significantly by farming out work, that would be expensive by North American standards, to poorer countries.

Salvation, according to Buddha, is attainable by everyone. From an ecological perspective, I think that redemption is the closest conceptually that we can get to the idea of Buddha's spiritual "salvation". Yes, everyone can be redeemed. Those who are rich can be saved from spending their life thinking they are the center of the universe, thinking they are the only one's who ever get hungry or sick. Those who are poor can be saved by the rich finding their redemption by feeding and healing those in need.

Salvation comes in the form of knowledge especially self knowledge through the elimination of covetousness, craving and desire. This sounds surprisingly like will power, which us obese North Americans know nothing about.

The Buddhist principle of complete honesty and the determination to not hurt another person or animal, fits into the principles of ecology with amazing ease. Complete honesty is needed in ecology so that we do not overlook or downplay the importance of any one part in an ecosystem as complex as the earth. So too is the determination to not hurt another person or animal. This principle is an important tenet of ecology. By destroying or possibly causing irreversible harm to a species we may be hurting our own future chances for survival. Presently the predominantly non-buddhist world is in a bind. Without military spending or military sales to foreign countries, what would the economies of these countries be based upon? Without war more money would be available to help the sick or starving people in the world, thus supporting the Buddhist principles further.

Inherent in these fundamentals of Buddhism are the fact that Buddha realized the connectedness of all living things. This in itself is probably the most compelling evidence of the connection between ecology and Buddhism.

Prince Siddhartha, as a young man, went through many extremes to find enlightenment. He fasted for long periods, meditated for long periods, took vows of silence and studied things for extreme lengths of time. When he was through, he felt no closer to enlightenment. After a careful review of his path to enlightenment, he discovered the problem with his approach. Instead of these extremes, he thought, perhaps enlightenment lies at the middle most place of all of these extremes, within an absolute balance of everything. This, according to Buddhism is when Prince Siddhartha became the enlightened one, or Buddha. His evolution to Buddha, is one that ecologists wish the whole world could make.

Some other ways that Ecology is related to Buddhism are that they have both been persecuted. Many cultures that openly enjoy the unbridled benefits of a capitalist (extreme) economy are lead to embrace principles that are not ecologically sound (balanced) only because they are more economically expedient. So too has Buddhism fallen prey to criticism by those who consider its principles to be too moderate. Those with more extreme beliefs or ideals can not understand the moderation inherent in Buddhism.

A second way that Buddhism is like ecology is in their apparent coinciding revivals. Ecology is experienced a year or two of their lives to an ecological stewardship, which was actively supported by the rest of the world, we would have greater ecological success living on earth. Despite good ideas, it is clear that much work needs to be done worldwide before such a program could begin.

Mushroom Cloud Nine is a human, a student, and a few other things.

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