2010 Environmental and Spiritual Preservation
Keynote speech given at the 2010 BLIA General Conference Fo Guang Shan, Taiwan October 2-7, 2010
Vice-Presidents, Elders, Directors, Chapter Elder-Advisors, Chapter Presidents, Distinguished Guests, Buddha’s Light Members, greetings to you all! First I would like to welcome everyone back to Fo Guang Shan (FGS) for the BLIA General Conference. A few months ago, the eruptions of Eyjafjallajokul Volcano and Katla Volcano in Iceland caused major air traffic disruption in Europe. The volcano ash plume spread across the sky, causing serious threats to flight safety and grounded a majority of airplanes in Europe. Not only did the eruptions have a severe impact on the economy, they also caused fear and anxiety in people. Now, almost six months after the eruptions, everything seemed to have returned to normal, I feel especially joyous in seeing that everyone from the Five Continents has returned to FGS safely for the conference.
As the volcanic eruption is mentioned, it has been said that the 21st century is an era of environmentalism. Indeed, the United Nations Declaration on the Human Environment (Stockholm Declaration) was introduced in 1972 to raise awareness in environmental preservation. In addition, the United Nations also declared June 5th as World Environment Day (WED) to urge people to realize that we only have one earth, and that humans and the environment are one and inseparable. The subject of environmental preservation has since been the central focus of the world.
In the years that followed, the United Nations held several earth summits to discuss environmental issues, and passed various international conventions, hoping that through establishing international cooperation and treaties, nations will minimize the emission of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases that are harmful to the ozone layer, and slow down global warming.
However, it is regretful and worrisome to see that, despite the fact that the world has already realized the worsening problem of global warming and destruction of the ecological system, “to value environmental preservation, and rescue the earth” is still only a slogan to many, and is not being put into real action.
The reason is the conflict between environmental preservation and demands for a material life. Most people still see physical comfort as their priority. Home appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners, and transportation vehicles such as motorcycles and automobiles are emitting waste gases that are causing severe damages to the ozone layer. As a result, the living things on earth will no longer have protection against the harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the Sun. In addition, humanity’s pursuit for materialism has caused extreme industrial development, consuming large amounts of fuels such as coal and petroleum. The excessive green house gases such as carbon dioxide have resulted in global warming effects, causing extreme weather.
Extreme weather includes weather phenomena that are at the extremes, either extreme cold or extreme hot weather or even the concurrence of flood and drought. For example, in July and August this year (2010), heat waves swept across the Northern Hemisphere. More than fifty thousand people in Japan were struck by heat stroke, resulting in more than hundred deaths. In Russia, continued high temperatures and drought caused forest fires that almost engulfed Moscow City, with an estimated loss of fifteen billion US dollars.
Wildfires caused by high temperature also occurred in mid-America, Portugal, and Spain. Worse, in Kashmir, India, sudden torrential rain after six months of drought caused the worst flood in one hundred years, killing more than one hundred people, wounding more than four hundred, more than six hundred people missing, and leaving thousands of people homeless. This downpour turned Kashmir, known as “heaven on earth” into hell on earth immediately. As the intense heat of summer covered Europe, Asia, and America, South American countries such as Paraguay and Argentina were struck by a very rare cold front, killing more than a hundred people and thousands of animals.
Climate changes and global warming are certainly related to the large-scale construction and excessive over development. As is known to all, forests conserve water resources, produce oxygen, and absorb exhaust fumes such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, which help reduce the speed of global warming. In particular, experts say that the tropical rain forests within the Amazon River and its rainforest basin, the largest on earth, produce 33 percent of the earth’s oxygen. Thus, it is called “the lungs of the earth.” If one day, all the Amazon rainforests are logged, 1/3 of the oxygen that sustains the earth’s lives will disappear. When that happens, not only will our living environment worsen, the earth’s climate will also become more unpredictable.
Sadly, such an important rainforest that serves to sustain the lives of humanity and the entire earth is not being valued or protected. In the past few decades, massive logging has occurred for paper manufacturing, grazing lands, farmlands, and construction lands.
Decreasing tropical rainforests not only signify decreased forest resources, thousands of species that live in it will also become extinct, and the entire ecological system will face severe damage. In particular, excessive logging will cause soil erosion, desertification, and land erosion. Excessive cultivation, deforestation, and construction by humans have also resulted in frequent landslides. For example, the September 21 Earthquake in Taiwan caused an entire mountain slide in Nantou County, killing and wounding countless lives. The Morakot Typhoon caused Siaolin Village to be buried in a landslide. The floods of Zhouqu in Gansu and Gongshan in Yunnan also resulted in mudslides that destroyed beautiful landscapes just overnight.
All of these are a sign that the threats which environmental problems place on humanity’s future survival, not only include global warming and damage to the ozone layer, there are also sharp decreases of forest resources, desertification, accelerated extinction, garbage hazard, toxic waste, and acid rain caused by massive industrial air pollution that severely pollute the rivers and soil. As a result, humanity will face the crisis of water and food shortage, or even wars over limited natural resources.
Up till now, the focus that every nation is paying close attention to is still on the fight against global warming. Nowadays, many western scientists have continuously warned humanity with statistics on the seriousness of global warming. If people do not pay attention to environmental preservation, and do not control the emission of carbon dioxide, then by the end of this century, the earth’s temperature will rise from 1.4 degrees to 6.4 degrees. When the time comes, it will cause destructive changes to humanity’s future.
How do you let all the people understand global warming? Including the natural calamities that the increase of one degree Celsius will bring to humanity? National Geographic broadcasted a special documentary called “Six Degrees Could Change the World.” The documentary explains that when the entire earth’s temperature increases by one degree, Western United States would face severe droughts where most of it will turn into deserts.
When the earth’s temperature increases by two degrees, Greenland’s glaciers will melt faster. When the time comes, the sea level will rise up to seven meters. Some coastal cities including New York, London, Bangkok, Shanghai or Taipei, will be entirely flooded.
When the earth’s temperature increases by three degrees, after passing this critical point, humanity will have no power to control global warming. When that time comes, the summer heat wave in Paris will become a regular phenomenon. There will be no ice in the North Pole during summer. The Amazon Rainforest will gradually wither, and the drought may even cause rainforest fire.
When the earth’s temperature increases by four degrees, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Venice would be flooded by the ocean. The world’s largest rivers may dry up, jeopardizing the existence of millions to billions of people.
When the earth’s temperature increases by five degrees, the North and South Temperate Zones will be unsuitable for living. Water sources in Los Angeles, Mumbai, and Cairo will dry up. When that time comes, the number of climate refugees around the world cannot be estimated.
When the earth’s temperature increases by six degrees, many of the major cities will be lost to the rising seas. When that time comes, natural disasters will become a norm. When that day arrives, it is the so-called “end of the world.” Humanity will probably follow the extinction of the dinosaur kingdom. From then on, human civilization will no longer exist.
Will the above natural disaster predictions occur? When will it happen? Even the world’s top scientists cannot be sure. However, British scientist Stephen Hawking is the first to provide sincere advice for humanity. He thinks that if humanity wants to continue to live in the future, they should abandon earth and start immigrating into space!
Whether it is scientists’ speculations or warnings, we do not need to be afraid. But we should not take them as sensation or ignore it completely either. Because in recent years, humanity has been exploiting the earth ceaselessly, it has caused nature to pounce back. Thus, the continuous natural disasters all over the world such as earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, droughts, hurricanes, fires, landslides, and mudflows should be a warning for us: that the earth is sick!
Just as we get sick physically, the earth is sick too. When people are sick, they need to be treated and saved. When the earth is sick, it also needs everyone to care for it and save it. To save the earth, we must begin with environmental preservation. On the other hand, the protection of nature depends on humanity to self-awaken, which also starts with preservation of the spiritual environment.
To ensure that environmental and spiritual preservation are well practiced is regarded as the most urgent task for humanity right now, if we do not wish to end up as refugees of climate and environment change. Based on the topic of this year’s keynote speech, “Environmental and Spiritual Preservation,” I would like to present the following four perspectives of Buddhism: 1) The Buddhist Perspective on Environmental Preservation As mentioned before, environmental preservation is the most discussed topic today. Environmental preservation includes care and protection of the natural environment and respect for all lives. All of today’s environmental organizations are actively devoted to promoting the preservation of the environment as well as maintaining the balance of the ecological system.
The truth is, the concept of environmental preservation, life protection, and rescuing the earth are not recent, but have existed since early times. From as early as Buddha’s time, the words and conduct of Sakyamuni Buddha and various great bodhisattvas all show that Buddhism is a religion with deep awareness for environmental preservation.
Buddhism has always advocated no killing and protection for life. To abstain from killing and to protect life means respect for all living beings. Buddha established summer retreats because he was afraid that during the rainy seasons, when the monastics went out to beg for alms, they would step on and kill the insects and young sprouts on the ground.
In one of the Buddha’s previous lifetimes, out of his compassion to protect life, he once cut off his own flesh to feed an eagle, and sacrificed his own body for a hungry tiger. Furthermore, when King Asoka planted trees and built forests to provide shelter for living beings, established animal hospitals, and set a rule of no killing within the palace kitchen, these are also demonstrations of the Buddhist practice of environmental preservation and life protection.
Buddhism advocates that all living beings possess buddha nature; and that both the sentient and insentient possess the potential to attain Buddhahood. As mountains, rivers, grass and trees will all attain Buddhahood, thus Buddhism advocates no killing, thus no deforestation; no stealing, thus no unlawful logging. The Buddhist doctrine of equality views all beings as equals, and advocates that not only do humans and animals deserve love and care, mountains, rivers and the great earth also need to be protected.
In the Sutra of Sadaparibhuta Bodhisattva, this bodhisattva disposed of every piece of waste with care to not pollute the land. He spoke every word with caution not to frighten the land. He took every step with fear of hurting the land. This is in fact a sense of environmentalism shown through the compassion to care for things.
Buddhism has always played a vital role in protecting the wildlife and the environment. In the past, many Buddhist masters planted trees to build forests, dredged rivers, repaired bridges and built roads, cherished their resources, and even when they gave Dharma talks, urged people to protect life, release life, and to observe vegetarianism to nurture a mind that cherishes one’s blessings and possessions. Thus, monastics since ancient times, can be said to be the best volunteers in promoting environmental preservation.
Although the phrase “environmental preservation” did not appear during ancient times, Amitabha Buddha was already an expert in this area. His Pureland of Ultimate Bliss has grounds covered in gold, seven layers of pavilions, seven tiers of railings, and seven rows of jeweled trees. This solemn and pure environment is without water or air pollution or any environmental pollution caused by noise, toxic gas or nuclear radiation. In particular, residents of the Pureland are all people of virtue gathered together. Everyone is physically and mentally healthy, has an infinite lifespan, and is pure with their three karmas of body, speech, and mind, free from the Three Poisons. No one logs trees willfully, and everywhere in sight are flowers of bright colors, lush trees, and meadows. Thus, Amitabha Buddha is indeed a pioneer in physical, spiritual, and environmental preservation.
The Purelands in Buddhism only provide for public welfare, with no pollution; there is only beauty, no uncleanness or disorder. Buddhism is a religion that places great value on environmental preservation. Such a thought originated from the law of Dependant Origination which Sakyamuni Buddha had awakened to. This law tells us that everything in this world depends on various causes and conditions to exist. For example, in order for humans to exist on earth, they must have the great land to support them. They also need the three essentials: sunlight, air, and water in their daily lives in order to survive. Thus, human survival cannot depart from the Four Elements: earth, water, fire and wind.
The so-called Four Elements are what all matters in the universe depend on to exist. Buddhism believes that the myriad phenomena, including the earth, people’s lives, flowers, grass, sands and stones all depend on the elements of earth, water, fire and wind to come into existence. For example, in order for a flower to bloom, there must be fertile soil, which is the earth element. The growth a flower also requires water, sunlight, and air, which are the water element, fire element, and wind element respectively. Without any one of these, the flower will not be able to blossom.
The human body also relies on a balance between the Four Elements to sustain life. The solid components of the body such as hair, nails, teeth, skin, bone, muscle, and flesh belong to the Earth element; the fluids or moist components of the body such as mucus, saliva, pus, blood, phlegm, tears and sweat belong to the Water element; the body temperature or warmth belong to the Fire element; while the air that we breathe in and out belongs to the Wind element.
Just as everything in this world is composed of the Four Elements, the earth is also the same, where it depends on earth, water, fire and wind to maintain operation.
With the great earth, we can build houses, plant crops and survive. Some people can live without eating for an entire day, but will not survive without drinking water.
Places with water mean survival, places with water mean prosperity, and places with water are more suitable for communities to flourish. In this world, not only is the Sun important. The reason that humanity is able to surpass other animals in survival is because they discovered fire, which is extremely important to a civilization. No living creature in this world can live without air, just as has been said, “Life exists between each breath,” without the flowing of wind, there will be no air, and all forms of life will suffocate to death.
The Four Elements provide the essential conditions of survival, yet they are also a threat to the safety of life. Since ancient times, hasn’t humanity been battling against natural disasters brought about by water, fire, and wind? The seemingly peaceful life does not guarantee safety from unexpected disasters such as earthquakes. Take January of this year for example, first there was the 7.3-magnitude earthquake in Haiti, followed by an 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile which also generated a tsunami. One month later, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake also occurred in Yushu of China’s Qinghai Province. All of them resulted in tremendous casualties and damages.
The truth is, disasters such as earthquakes, floods, fires and storms have existed long before today. According to the Buddhist sutras, the world’s formation is divided into the following four stages: establishment, existence, deterioration and destruction. Towards the end of the stage of destruction, not even the realm of form can escape the Three Disasters: Fire, Flood, and Wind.
According to the teachings of Buddhism, after karma has been created, due to their severe transgressions in addition to their exhausted merits, people must bear their karmic retributions once the time comes. As a result, disasters will come one after another. First fire occurs; everything below the First Meditation Heaven will be burned down by fire. This is what the Chan masters mean when they said that everything will be burned down by the fire in the kalpa of destruction. After the fire, flooding will occur, where the entire world will be under a vast expanse of water. Everything below the Second Meditation Heaven will be flooded. Next comes the wind that blows away everything below the Third Meditation Heaven. This is much more severe, just as high lands or higher stories of a building will not be affected by a flood, but when a hurricane comes, the more fragile buildings will collapse, while the stronger ones will not be affected.
Nowadays, people often mention the end of the world. According to Buddhism, human beings go through the cycle of birth, old age, sickness, and death; thoughts within the mind go through the process of arising, existence, change, and extinguishment; weather involves a cycle of spring, summer, autumn and winter; while the world experiences the stages of formation, existence, decay, and extinction. Since there are such stages, of course there will be the end of the world. However, there is no need to be overly worried, because the so-called “age of the end of Dharma,” commonly known as the end of the world, if calculated according to the Buddhist perspective of time, it is still many thousands of years away. However, there will still be some unavoidable disasters, but they are not the universal ones that will destroy the entire earth immediately.
Furthermore, while the First, Second, and Third Meditation Heavens will be destroyed by the Three Disasters, there is still a Fourth Heaven, which is free from disasters. Therefore, while there may be such disasters as earth, water, fire and wind, as long as we have the right conditions and merits, we will be among those who are fortunate enough to live within the Fourth Meditation Heaven. Thus there is no need to be afraid or worried. Instead of that, it is better to accrue merits. As long as we love and cherish our blessings, keep accumulating merits and virtue, and look after the earth, then we will give it a longer life. Nevertheless, the future of the earth still depends on human behaviors, because everything in the world follows the law of cause and effect.
2) The Importance of Environmental Preservation More than one hundred years ago, Native American Indian Chief Seattle made a statement that shocked the entire world, “This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it.”
What he means is that humans may utilize the earth’s resources, but it does not mean they own the entire earth, because on this place, hundreds and thousands of beings, whether sentient or insentient, all coexist with us. We are all part of the global village, and thus share equal rights to life. That is why we must show respect and care for them.
To love the earth and protect the environment means to respect life, and protect the ecology. In the same way, to love the earth means to protect the ecological system, and respect all living beings’ right to life.
Within the universe, not only humans have a life, the mountains, rivers, flowers, sun, moon, and stars all have a life. The School of Consciousness-Only says, “The three realms are only in the mind; the myriad dharmas are only in the consciousness.” The great nature is filled with life. Without my dedication and wisdom, how can clocks and watches exist? Thus the clocks and watches embody my life. A house is only possible because of my design and supervision, thus the house embodies my life.
From the Buddhist perspective, life is the most valuable thing in this world. Anything that is active, alive, and serves a purpose has a meaning and value to life. The value of life lies in compassion and loving-kindness, while the meaning of life is to cherish. Thus, be it a piece of clothing, table, chair, air conditioner, or an automobile, as long as you cherish it and look after it. To lengthen its time of usage means to extend its life.
Everything in this world has a life, thus, we cannot just cherish our own life but also that of others. Without other lives in this world, there will not be causes and conditions that allow our existence. “I” will not exist. Therefore, in order to survive, we must love and cherish our causes and conditions and “be one” and “coexist” with all things. Only mutual respect, assistance, and support can enable all beings to coexist on earth.
“Oneness and coexistence” is the most liberal and beautiful idea in the modern era. What it means is for humanity to celebrate their differences and share their commonalities. Just like the five facial features, only by embracing and respecting each other can we coexist and live as one.
Sadly, for too long, humanity has regarded itself as “master of the myriad creations of this earth,” thinking that it can dominate everything. Humans would even so selfishly think that every life and resource on earth is at their disposal. Thus they willfully consume and waste; recklessly exploit and destroy; and ruthlessly harm and slaughter lives.
If we take a look, people nowadays kill and eat anything that flies in the sky, crawls on land and swims in water. Just to satisfy their taste buds, they catch and slaughter without any consideration, causing the extinction of rare species and indirectly destroying the balance of the ecological system.
Moreover, due to humanity’s greed and negligence of environmental preservation, the law of nature has been violated, causing the earth to be covered with serious wounds and damages. In the past few decades, many mountain slopes in Taiwan have been excessively cultivated, deforested and developed due to the growing demand for leisure, tea planting, and orchards. As a result, mudslides occurred, causing severe sedimentation in rivers and reservoirs. The excessive excavation of sand and gravel caused damages to bridges and roads. The massive extraction of underground water has caused land subsidence. Burning toxic wastes, and improper treatment of wastes such as industrial wastewater, nuclear waste, and industrial manure have also caused air, water, and land pollution.
As we are faced with a destroyed natural environment, an unbalanced ecological system, and an earth covered in wounds, how should humanity save ourselves? I think the most urgent matter is for humanity to wake up and realize that the earth we live on is a universe within the vast space. Within it, the land, mountains, rivers, forests, meadows, and social environments all play a very important part in our survival. Thus, we must be grateful to the various kinds of causes and conditions, cherish what others have given and done for us, respect life with a humble heart, and treat all living beings with equality.
All living beings depend on the earth to survive, and the earth is also a home to humanity. The earth protects our lives and supplies us with resources for survival. Without the earth, where would humanity and all living beings reside? Thus when the earth is facing devastating damages and gasping for breath, we as “masters of the myriad creations of this earth” must be the first to protect the environment by caring for wildlife and nature, and not to kill lives carelessly; afforest and plant trees, and prevent excessive deforestation; protect water resources and dispose of wastes properly; and use things sparingly and recycle goods.
Cherish our blessings, cherish our conditions, cherish our possessions, and cherish lives. This is a very wonderful concept in Buddhism. As has been said, “To cherish what we have to eat and wear, not because it is our wealth, but our blessings.” To apply this saying to today’s situation means to love and care for the earth. In other words, value environmental preservation and cherish our resources. Only by the actual practice of environmental preservation and caring for nature and wildlife can the green hills and crystal clear water on earth last over time; and then spiritual purification and sublimation will be possible, so as to leave behind a beautiful living environment for our future generations, and to ensure physical and mental health within humanity in the future.
3) The Relationship between Environmental and Spiritual Preservation Survival is a right for all sentient beings. But as humans are the central focus in Buddhism, we find that within the universe, humans are the most precious.
Between heaven and earth and amongst all animals, only humans are able to stand erect. With our head pointing at the heavens, and feet standing firm between heaven and earth, we are unlike other animals that have their backs against heaven, and are unable to stand erect on two legs.
Humans are “masters of the myriad creations of this earth,” but are also creators of problems. The arising of all problems in this world is related to humans, including today’s environmental preservation problems. It is also because of humanity’s selfishness and ignorance, interrupting the harmony and cycle of the natural world up to the point of continuous natural calamities and changes. Thus how to solve the present environmental preservation problems? Besides doing well in preserving the ecological system, we should also place value on preserving our spiritual environment.
Preserving the ecological system includes nature conservation, air purification, water source clean up, noise pollution control, trash management, and radiation protection. Also, from the protection of the living environment to the ecology and even the entire earth, these are all under the area of ecological preservation.
Spiritual environment preservation includes the purification of concepts, language, and intentions. For example, when you refuse useless knowledge and the pollution of thoughts, then that is the preservation of thoughts. When your concepts are righteous and always optimistic, then that is the preservation of concepts. When speech is pure, you refrain from swearing, duplicitous speech, and speaking harshly, then that is the preservation of language. When you have no worries, jealousy, unfairness, hatred, and such negative emotions, then that is the preservation of the mind.
Protecting the ecological system relies on everyone’s concerted support. The preservation of the spiritual environment relies on the individual to purify the three karmas of body, speech, and mind. Environmental preservation usually takes place externally. The purity of the mind is the greatest environmental preservation because Buddhism believes the establishment of the notion of environmental preservation should start from the human mind.
Our mind is like a factory. If the factory facilities are in good condition, and the factory process is normal, then the products will be of high quality. If the facilities are not good, then not only are the products of low quality, they will also pollute the air and water and create a polluted environment. Thus, environmental preservation should start from the mind. When the mind is well protected, then preservation of the external environment will be successful. It is as the “Chapter on Buddha Land” in Vimalakirti Sutra states, “If one wants to be in a Pureland, one should purify the mind. When the mind is pure, the land is pure.”
But how are we able to do spiritual environment preservation? It is like the saying, “to do a good job, one must first sharpen one’s tools.” Usually, we sweep the floor with a broom, wash clothes with laundry detergent, and battle with weapons in good condition. Similarly, we need to clean away the filth in our minds with tools and weapons. For instance, right view, right faith, compassion, wisdom, tolerance, diligence, friendliness, devotion, sacrifice, shamefulness, repentance, and so on. With these tools, the mind will be clear, bright, and clean. Then it will be able to defeat the army of defilement and become invincible, and win every fight.
Economists aim to “tap new resources and economize on expenses.” This does not just apply to money and materials. Actually, it is the greed, hatred, and ignorance of human minds that is the main cause in the destruction of the ecological system and energy crisis. Thus, to “tap new resources” is to open up the source of Dharma. It is to also open up our own shamefulness, gratitude, joy, and mind of being touched. To “economize on expenses” is to reduce the amount of money used, especially to restrain our own greed and hatred. Thus, to place value on environmental preservation, and care for the earth requires us to “tap new resources and economize on expense.”
To advocate environmental preservation, a Fo Guang Shan Devotees Gathering for Environmental and Spiritual Preservation Ceremony was specially organized during the Devotees Gathering in 1992 at Fo Guang Shan. It was to encourage everyone to participate in the environmental and spiritual preservation and purification campaign. Through it, it was hoped that everyone would start with beautifying the mind and spirit and then extend outwards to beautify the environment.
At the event, the following twelve guidelines to practice the preservation of body and mind were offered:
(1) Speak quietly – do not disturb others.
(2) Keep the ground clean – do not litter.
(3) Keep the air clean – do not smoke or pollute.
(4) Respect oneself and others – do not commit any violence.
(5) Be polite–do not intrude on others.
(6) Smile – do not face others with an angry expression.
(7) Speak kindly – do not utter abusive words.
(8) Follow the rules – do not seek exemptions or privileges. (9) Mind your actions – do not violate rules of ethics.
(10) Consume consciously – do not waste.
(11) Be grounded – do not live aimlessly.
(12) Practice kindness – do not create malice.
Environmental preservation starts with oneself. It starts with purification of the individual then to leading the nation, society, and the entire world in purification. Hence, in recent years, Fo Guang Shan has been actively advocating the Four Givings and Four Harmonies of Humanistic Buddhism. It is hoped that during our everyday lives we will do our best to “give others confidence, give others joy, give others hope, and give others convenience.” By practicing the Fo Guang Motto, one will continuously purify and elevate oneself. As such, one shall be able to assist in establishing a Humanistic Pureland through “family harmony achieved through deference, interpersonal harmony achieved through respect, social harmony achieved through cooperation, world harmony achieved through peace.” In addition, BLIA has continuously initiated and organized spiritual environment preservation events for many years like “Retrieve Your Heart,” “Seven Admonitions Campaign,” “Compassion and Loving-Kindness Campaign,” and “Three Acts of Goodness Campaign.” These were all to purify the minds of people and reform society’s customs.
Especially within recent years, the problem of global warming has continued to worsen. To resist global warming and save the earth, motions were passed at the 5th Meeting of the Fourth Board of Directors by BLIA World Headquarters.
Resolutions were made to save the earth together by reinforcing actions in environmental preservation, conserve energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, planting more forests, using non-disposable cutlery, recycling, and separating trash. Currently, BLIA chapters around the globe have planted over five million trees as part of echoing the campaign for environmental preservation. Also around the world, they have conducted clean ups of river banks, beaches, oceans, and parks, so that the environment will become clean and green.
Besides that, BLIA, Chunghwa and Merit Times Daily Newspaper also organized the International Vegetarian & Organic Food Festival in part of environmental preservation and to urge the public to cherish the earth together. At the same time, an “International Forum on Ecological Awareness: How Nations Take Stewardship of the Commons” was organized, and economist Professor Charles H.C. Kao was invited to be the host. Besides the attendance of Environmental Protection Administration Minister Stephen Shen, International Department of Norsk Energi Consultant Allison Eun Joo Yi, and television commentator Sisy Chen, eight hundred participants gathered together to read “A Prayer for Our Natural Environment.” Everyone took an oath to implement the saving of energy and reducing of carbon dioxide emissions.
Recently, every time devotees take refuge in the Triple Gem, I would also lead everyone in saying, “I am a buddha!” This phrase is indeed an amazing saying, because if everyone willingly accepts that they are a buddha, then couples will not argue. If “I am a buddha,” then relationships between self and others would not be filled with pointing fingers and complaints. If “I am a buddha,” then I will not smoke, drink alcohol, nor even break the law and commit crimes. Not only is “I am a buddha” helpful for oneself, because of “I am a buddha,” I will treat others and the world’s myriad phenomenon with compassion, and cherish it. This is spiritual preservation, which is saving the earth.
Thus, as long as people claim “I am a buddha” then there is buddha in everyone’s mind. In their eyes, they see the world of the buddha. In their ears, all are the sounds of the buddha. From the mouths are the words of the buddha. All that one does are compassionate deeds. Then even growing up in the polluted Saha World, we can also ensure spiritual environmental preservation and then build a Pureland. This is the actualization of a Pureland on earth.
4) How to Actualize Environmental Preservation in Life To establish a humanistic Pureland is the ultimate goal of Humanistic Buddhism. However, we cannot just dream of an ideal goal, we also need to take action in actualizing it. As the saying goes, “It is better to practice a teaching than to lecture on it.” Although modern people are generally aware of environmental preservation, however, what is more important is exactly how to respond by taking action, and participating in environmental preservation campaigns.
To actualize environmental preservation, each person must first know the concept of environmental preservation. The instillation of environmental preservation should start with education. Adults need to set an example for children. For instance, parents need to teach their children to respect life, and cherish and care for all things. Teachers needs to teach their students to respect elders, treat others with manners, and so on. Especially in the elevation of the notion of morality and the maintenance of the public environment, we need to start with reinforcing awareness through education.
Once an old American lady saw a teenager discarding a finished pop can on the ground, so she said, “Young man, pick up the can. You can’t just throw your trash on the ground.”
The youth answered, “This is a public road, not your home, so why should it matter to you? Mind your own business. I won’t pick it up.”
The old lady then said, “How can it not be my business? This is our living environment. If you wantonly throw away things, then trash is found everywhere that pollutes our environment and decreases the value of our properties. How can it not be my business?”
Yes! In our everyday lives, when we wantonly throw away things, we are hurting the environment. By carelessly letting it crumple in our hands, it is also wasting the great earth’s resources. On the contrary, if we can recycle at hand in our everyday lives, especially with the recycling of scrap paper, then not only will there be renewable resources, we will also decrease the logging of trees, which is also a meritorious deed.
According to statistics, a tree that takes ten years to grow can be cut down in a matter of minutes. The amount of diapers for a toddler from birth to the age of two requires twenty trees to produce. Every ton of paper recycled can help save twenty trees that are 8 meters tall with a diameter of 14 centimeters. Using recycled paper can save at least around 400,000 trees from being logged. Thus, recycling waste paper materials and reusing them not only decreases the logging of trees, it can also save water resources.
Besides reuse of scrap paper, there are also many ways to recycle resources in our everyday lives. If we can actively enforce the separation of trash and recycling of resources, then there will be renewed resources. Not only can this decrease environment pollution, it can also turn trash into wealth.
Many years ago, in order for Fo Guang Shan to raise funds for Fo Guang University, many BLIA members took the initiative to participate in the recycling profession. They withstood the scorching sun and cold wind and did not even frown upon the toilsome and dirty tasks. Everyday they drove the recycling truck around to collect truck loads of waste, and then separated and sold them for money. Although, sometimes an entire truck of waste does not sell much. But it was how they slowly accumulated the funds. Finally, they could leave behind a university for the world and the merits and wisdom for themselves.
In addition, Fo Guang Shan has a branch temple named Fu Shan Temple in central Taiwan. Devotees took ten years of funds accumulated from recycling materials to build the temple.
On the surface, recycling and separation of trash seems like an individual conduct, but as long as more people participate, a group of people will become a mutual support. Especially with recycling, it originally was a way of cherishing one’s blessings, and environmental preservation. It gives even greater meaning to the dual cultivation of merit and wisdom by establishing universities and constructing temples with funds raised from recycling materials.
Dual cultivation of merits and wisdom are Buddhist cultivation. Cherishing and caring for things are beautiful virtues of the Chinese. Traditional moral principles and concepts have always had the awareness of environmental preservation by cherishing. For instance, as a child, parents would often tell us, “A person can only use 3.5 liters of water per day.” Beyond that, then you will be overdrawing your merits!
Merits are like a savings account. Only with deposits can you then make withdrawals. Similarly, as long as we treasure the various great natural resources, and not let it diminish, then humanity can continue to live on earth.
Cherishing and caring for things originally are beautiful virtues of life. However, society nowadays is rich in materials. Many people are used to being extravagantly wasteful with no moderation on food and drinks, no restraint in wasting and discarding, recklessly wasting natural resources, and not knowing how to cherish.
There was an Asian student studying in Germany. He rented a room at an old man’s place. The room’s facilities were complete with air conditioning besides the bedding, furniture, and lighting. Every time the student went out, he always left the light and air conditioning on. The landlord told him, “Young man, you need to save energy. When you aren’t using the light, please turn it off.” This young student believed that he paid for the room rent, so the right to use the facilities was his own. Disagreeing, he said, “What business is it of yours?” The old man said, “Young man, this is the energy resources of our country. Every person living in Germany should protect the country’s energy resources. If everyone doesn’t save energy, you are wasting, he is also wasting. If our country’s energy resources decrease, the country will become poor, then it will be difficult for everyone to live.”
“Characters should be cherished as they are the root of wealth; a grain of rice should be cherished as it is the source of fortune; a few words should be discreet as it is the base of merit; a small life should be protected as it is the essence of longevity.” No matter what thing it is in the world, they are not easy to come by. Thus, we have to know how to cherish them. If we decrease the amount of waste and over-consumption in our lives, not only are we cherishing our merits, we are also helping the country and society to save energy. This is the actualization of environmental preservation.
According to a report, humanity is currently consuming natural resources at a rapid pace. Calculating that with the population growth rate of the entire world, in no more than fifty years of time, we may need two earths to fulfill humanity’s need for natural resources.
This warning tells us that we are already facing a serious energy crisis. Thus, energy saving and preserving the environment requires everyone’s effort. Most important is that everyone should foster everyday habits at home and work, and practice environmental preservation in life. For instance, “work when the sun rises, rest when the sun sets.” A disciplined life is eating and using things at a suitable amount. Buying too much and not using it is a waste. Go out regularly to breathe fresh air. Do not stay at home in the air conditioning watching television. Not only is that a waste of electricity, it will not benefit our health either.
Air conditioning and freezers that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, and cars and motorcycles that emit carbon dioxide, have been the main causes of global warming. Thus, when going out, if it is close by, then we can take a walk or ride a bicycle. If it is far, then we should take public transit. Even if we drive our cars, we should try to carpool, and have the car checked up and maintained regularly, so that it will not emit black smoke. All of these can result in reducing carbon and pollution.
Actually, to avoid environment pollution, we should decrease pollution and be active in preventing pollution. For toxic wastes, everyone should with their conscience safely manage it. Of course, if science and technology can invent for humanity objects that will not harm nature, and can be recycled readily as a renewable energy source, then that will certainly be the ultimate way.
In addition, we can practice environmental preservation in our daily lives through fostering the habit of turning off lights when you leave. Even before sleeping, you can unplug the computer, television, and other home appliances not in use to save electricity. Other things like not wasting daily supplies such as tissue paper, paper cups, chopsticks, and so on. When you go shopping, buy things that can last long such as a china tea cup, cutlery, and a shaver that can change blades rather than disposable items.
Most household items can be bought in bulk at the wholesalers or you can buy a big box of detergent, concentrated detergent that can be diluted. Try to decrease packaging waste, and even choose as priority, glass and metal cans that can be recycled. In addition, you can organize an advocacy group requesting local stores and markets to decrease the use of packaging and plastics.
At the workplace, try to recycle disposable items in the office such as envelopes, memo pads, photocopied paper, newspaper, paper boxes, aluminum cans, glass bottles, plastic, X-ray film, batteries, iron wires, lead, iron, bronze items, and so on. You can use email to replace letter writing in communication and contact. You can adopt the circulation of a notice or memorandum to decrease the amount of photocopies. Documents can be printed on both sides of the paper to decrease the waste of paper. Donate unused household items and office equipment to needy organizations. These are all practical ways to put environmental preservation into action.
Many years ago, there was a Japanese Environment Minister who suggested that men should not wear a suit and tie to work during summer because they would then have to sit in the air conditioning, which is a waste of energy. Thus, it can be seen that everyone is already aware of the limited energy resources that one cannot wantonly waste. If every person is aware of environmental preservation, and earnestly carries it out, then our earth will definitely be able to rest and gradually return to its original appearance. The crisis of human existence will also be resolved and disappear.
Conclusion In the Sutra of One Hundred Parables, there is a story about a parrot that quenches a fire.
A forest was on fire. A parrot carried water in its mouth from outside to put out the fire. Such a small parrot, how much water can it hold in one mouthful? How can a parrot with mouthfuls of water be able to put out an entire forest fire? This simply was not possible. But the parrot was oblivious to that and still spared no effort in carrying a mouthful of water each time.
At this time, Celestial King Indra came to the parrot’s side and asked him, “You are just a small parrot. With such a large wild forest fire, how is it possible to put it out with your capability?”
The parrot replied, “Whether the huge fire can be put out, I don’t know. However, since I am a member of this forest, then I must save the place that I live in. I need to try my best.”
Because of the parrot’s great vow, King Indra was deeply touched, and said, “Although you are a small parrot, you have a great compassionate mind and vow. Okay, let me help you.”
Using his supernatural power, King Indra stopped the forest fire in a moment. Today’s earth is facing global warming, melting of glaciers, a hole in the ozone layer, lack of water sources, and various other problems. Some people cannot help but doubt, “With our little bit of strength, how much can we help? How can I save this earth?” Actually this is not a problem. More importantly, does one have the heart? As the saying goes, “The Buddha spoke all the Dharma to remedy all minds; if no such minds exist, then what is the use of all the Dharma?” If everyone has the heart and wish to save the earth and think, “The earth is sick. I want to help her to not let it worsen.” The saying, “Take such measures as the situation calls for.” Then the calamities of the earth will not be a problem.
In other words, environmental preservation must be a long-term battle work. It also is a campaign that is beyond races and crosses borders. Today, as members of the global village, we are all responsible for caring for the continuous existence of the global village. Because the Dharma clearly explains that sentient and non-sentient all exist “because there is this, there is that. If this is not, then that will not be.” Thus we coexist as one. Thus, within the continuous flow of change, even something as tiny as a speck of dust has a subtle relationship with the environment. While there is no doubt that we should strive to eliminate the dusts in our inner world and change them, we must also raise people’s awareness and take action to preserve the external environment. Not only is the 21st century the era of environmentalism, it also will be a beautiful era of purified minds.