Buddhism and the environment

Posted by on Feb 21, 2013 in Buddhism | 562 Comments

I was recently in touch with the Reverend Danny Fisher.

He wanted to read my MA dissertation – which is about how Buddhism sees humanity in relation to nature and what implications that has for a Buddhist response to climate change.

Perhaps you don’t want to read the whole thing. So here is a very brief summary‚Ķ

Buddhism and nature

The bottom line is Buddhism is about love towards all sentient beings. The first precept (the fundamentals of Buddhist ethics) is ahimsa – non-harm.

We can say, then, that the Buddhist relationship with nature is one based on love for all beings.

One of the key reasons for that is empathy. Just as we don’t want to suffer, all beings don’t want to suffer. For this reason alone, we try not to harm any living being.

The other reason is that Buddhism believes in rebirth.

Whatever you may think about this theory, one of the consequences of believing in rebirth is that it’s easier to empathise with all kinds of beings.

We could be reborn as any conceivable species in the future, and have been reborn as all of them at one time or another in the past.

The Tibetans take this further. They say that because of the countless rebirths we have taken throughout time, every single being you come across was at one time your own mother.

In that lifetime, this being looked after you, so why would you want to harm it now?

(There is an assumption that mothers care for their children and that children have a positive relationship with their mothers. This isn’t always true – just ask Freud – and if this idea is problematic for you, all other possible relationships are equally true – grandparents, best friends, partners, children. Pick one that works for you!)

Engaged Buddhism

I’ve spoken about this before and I’m sure I’ll speak about it plenty again.

The application of Buddhist ideas inevitably leads to engagement with the world. If we are actively practising love and non-harm, we have to get involved in the world. We have to try to reduce the suffering inherent in the oppressive systems in which we find ourselves.

For example, globalised capitalism is inherently exploitative.

It’s possible to buy and sell without exploitation. But when it happens as it does on such a big scale, the exploitation is built in.

In order to have the stuff we have, people and animals have been exploited to significant and sinister degrees. Wars are waged, children are kept in poverty. Animals are experimented on and murdered on a vast scale.

We have to find a way through that. It’s not easy and I have no easy answers other than moving in a positive direction. On every level we can.


The other pole that is just as important in Buddhism is that of emptiness, or not-self. This is the broader context of flux and flow within which all the love and all the suffering sits.

This is the withdrawal into quiet contemplation and inner peace to balance out the action and passionate engagement with the world and all its troubles.


In the end, there is no difference between these two. They are the same thing.

Action is stillness. Passion is peace.

Movement and non-movement, self and not-self. Suffering and not suffering. All the same.

Easy to say, hard to live.


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