The interdependence between nature and human: the Buddhist view.
Ven. Dr. Ethkandawaka Saddhajeewa
Vice president- Bhavana Society West Virginia USA
Buddhism can be defined as an art or path of practice and spiritual development leading to insight into the true nature of reality. The teachings and ideologies of Buddhism tend to create a cohesive relation between the human and the sense of reality such that it enables people to access practical methods that lead to transformative experiences and drive responsibility in their lives (Jones, 2003). The practice advances the idea that true happiness for the human can be attained through detailed understanding of the forces in nature and oneself.
Modern man, as the primary entity of interaction with nature, has over time exploited nature without moral restraint in search of happiness, self satisfaction and pleasure. This, in effect, has led to adverse consequences in terms of deterioration of nature, rendering the environment incapable of self-sustenance. The reverse effects of these unethical processes have led the human beings to give in to the concerns of conservation for the purpose of rescuing the future and preservation of what is left of nature.
Although Buddhism defines the human life as very important, it does not entirely apply itself as a form eliminating the human suffering and finding a means to its end. It is also notable that it does not provide opinions on the concept of unethical exploitation and pollution of the environment. The practice is, however, a philosophy that provides reflection on aspects of experience and it therefore bears a relationship between nature and humans (Rāhula, 1974).
The Buddhist view on the mutual dependence between nature and the humans
The Dalai Lama indicates that the world grows smaller and smaller, more and more interdependent. Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal Responsibility not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life (Swearer, 2001).
The doctrinal tradition in and local practices which are referred to little tradition, bear a great relationship. The most significance is given to the doctrine of interdependence which relates and regards to nature conservation. In the Theravada tradition in Buddhism, it is believed that the spirits inhabit trees and other animal species in nature. This belief influences and encourages the nature conservation by the humans.
Buddhism harbors great values that are critical to the discipline of the human mind. Such values lead to passionate protection of the environment since the faith benefits from nature (Darlington, 1998).
The values are, however, fading among the humans and this is leading to such actions as the pollution of the environment. This has thus led to such countries as Thailand encountering mass ecological destruction. The human suffering that is the effect of the destruction can also be felt in the country.
The philosophy of Buddhism provided a large tool in environmental conservation. The relationship between man and nature comes from Buddha’s life and teachings (Darlington, 1998). The teachings and practices involve the use of nature and this compels the humans to interact with nature. In Buddhist literature nature was never treated as something ‘outside’ the human realm but rather as an extension of human love. These ideas are linked to the attitude of respect for nature amongst the Buddhist community.
In the relationship between man and the environment, Inada, a Buddhist, developed this argument. In defining the place of human beings in the environment, one should not regard humans and the environment as independent of each other, bringing forth the foundation of concern for environmental preservation (Simmons, 2013). The Buddha concentrated on the human’s experiential nature and developed a vision of the ‘continuity of existence.’ This vision indicates that to involve our nature is to involve the more extensive and unlimited relationship to our surroundings. He indicated that as part of the living entities of nature, all that we do in order to increase our survival, we in the same way affect the nature around us.
The philosophy dims the human life as the highest form of living. But by the same effect, a monk in the practice is prohibited from causing harm to animals and plants which are the formations of nature. This gives a glimpse to the values that the philosophy adheres to in guarding against the violation of the rights of other entities in nature.
In the perspective of Karma, moral value is always assumed to be present in the human life. The doctrine offers teachings on the persistence of such moral value. These values are thence passed to other generations and also to the non-human lives. The relationship he provides between humans and nature is that even though animals have less good karma in comparison to humans, they are of high value since they were and may hence be in time human beings.
The different viewpoints of the interdependence of humans and nature
There are various principles that guide the interrelation between humans and nature.
- Regarding nature as Dynamic. Buddhists regard that everything changes in nature and nothing remains static. This holds that all elements formed by the process of change continue to undergo change (Macy, 1991). This attribute of nature and humans changing often depends on the two and it is by mutual relation that the successful change occurs.
- Morality and nature. Buddhism believes that even though change is an inherent concept, it is often directly affected by the morals of man. According to the Aggañña Sutta in the commentary of the evolution of man, the appearance of greed in the primordial beings led to a loss of the joy and the luminous attributes that they previously held (Collins, 1993). This also affected the supply of a food resources they had. The substance was completely exhausted due to the greed that stemmed from them. This particular case narrates the possible effects of the human morality to the resources and the survival of nature. Buddhism believes that though change is a factor inherent in nature, man’s moral deterioration accelerates the process of change and brings about changes which are adverse to human well being and happiness.
- The human consumption and use of natural resources. Man solely depends on nature to acquire his basic needs and for ultimate survival. The natural resources also rely on the human activities to flourish. It is thence upon the human being to understand that nature is the source of his survival and through good consumption trends he can be able to benefit from it. Buddhism tirelessly advocates the virtues of non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion in all human pursuits. Greed breeds sorrow and unhealthy consequences. It emphasizes the fact that contentment is a virtue that is supposed to be upheld for mutual benefit between the humans and nature.
- The Attitude towards Pollution. The environmental pollution in the current time has brought a calamity in the state of nature. With so many forms of pollution, the environment is in a crisis of degradation. Such trends were not common in the time of Buddha. This is because the environmental conservation was highly appreciated and the forms that were experienced had policies implemented to help in the reversal. This was because the Buddhists considered the advantages the environment provided to their practices.
- Regarding nature as beautiful (Brown, 2003). The Buddha and his disciples regarded natural beauty as a source of great joy and aesthetic satisfaction. The essence of nature in the life of a human being is still a significant thing. The most serene places in nature are treasured and humans always have a longing to visit such scenes. The beauty of nature provides an appreciated form of happiness and psychological calmness. The world has changed and the beautiful places remain scarce but adored amongst humans.
The mutual interdependence of the humans and nature is inevitable. The current trends engineered by humans have sought to reverse this relationship. Man has lost the belief in the essence and beauty of nature and gears towards the developing of the economic and industrial processes. The capitalist nature has led to greed for possessions and artificial developments while depleting the natural resources. The human entity has polluted the environment and forgets that he holds a part of nature and he is bound to protect it for his good.
Moral degeneration exercises adverse effects on man’s psycho-physical well being as well as on nature (Hillel, 1992). A number of simple ancient societies had advanced technological skills, as is evident by their vast sophisticated irrigation schemes designed to feed the fundamental needs of several millions. Yet they survived in some countries over 2000 years without such problems as environmental pollution and depletion of natural resources.
The effects of the pollution and unethical use of nature can already be felt in such factors as the current climate change and global warming. Buddhism offers man a simple moderate lifestyle eschewing both extremes of self-deprivation and self-indulgence. Satisfaction of basic human necessities, reduction of wants to the minimum, frugality, and contentment are its important characteristics.
It is through nature that humans shall be happy and have life fulfillment while also giving their part in the accomplishment of the mutual factors for development in nature.
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Collins, S. (1993). The Discourse on What is Primary (Aggañña-Sutta): An Annotated Translation. Journal of Indian Philosophy, 301–393.
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