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Environmental protection is one of the urgent problems facing mankind today. That concern has been manifested in the the World Environment Day on 5 June 1996. All scientists, economists, philosophers, researchers through newspapers, television, radio, etc. analysed and were alarmed on the seious adverse impacts of toxic substances on the living environment of human, animals, and vegetation. It is ironic that man is the one who pollutes his own health, and kill the life of all beings in this Earth. The risk threatening our ecology is not minor. It leads to many mearures to prevent or minimise the pollution, of world-wide scale, including the ten important International Coventions to protect the environment.
The awareness of protecting life and living environment has been generated in recent time. However, in Buddhism, it is one of the main basic laws which was set out by the Buddha some 25 centuries ago for his students to follow.
In fact, Buddhism represents the way of compassion. The Buddha manifested a complete compassion and is respectfully seen as the compasionate protector of all beings. He taught that for those who wishes to follow his Path should pratice loving-kindness, not to harm the life of all beings - not only to protect mankind, but also to protect animals and vegetation. With his perfect wisdom, He saw all beings in the universe were equal in nature, and in this phenomenal world, lives of all human and animals were inter-related, mutually developing, ans inseparable.
However, men have seen themselves as the smartest species of all beings. They have misused and abused their power and selfishly destroyed these species of animals, those forests and mountains, natural resources, ... and finally reaping the results of destroyed living environment of their own. All those damages and destructions to the ecology up to an alarming level are originated from the unwholesome and greedy mind of mankind. While the animals are seen as low-level beings, however fearsome as tigers and wolves may be, they never detroy the nature as badly as done by human. Only human who cause the most devastating destruction in the Earth.
The external environment is seriously polluted because the internal environment in the mind is seriously damaged. The bottomless greed has pushed mankind to satisfy excessive and unnecessary demands, and take them into endless competitions, leading to self-destruction and environmental damage. Contrasting to the unwholesome and greedy mind is the spirit of simple living and contentment by those who practise the Buddha's teaching.
Living in contentment does not mean the elimination of desire of knowledge and truth, but to live in harmony with all beings and with nature. On that basis, those who understand the Buddha's teaching will limit their selfishness, to live in harmony with nature, without harming the environment. They will see what should be explored and to what level, what should be protected for future use by the next generations and other beings. Excessive greed to possess everything for themselves, or for their own group, has make men becoming blind. They are prepared to fight, make war, causing deaths, disease, starvation, destruction of life of all species, gradually worsening the living environment. By all means, they try to maximise their profits, without being concerned of the negative impact of unplanned exploitation leading to depletion of natural resources, discharge toxics into the air, water, earth, leading to environmental pollution, destroying the ecological balance.
For thousand years, the Buddhist forest monateries have manifested a harmonious living with nature, being established in the mountains, in the forests. Tranquil life in the forest helped Buddhist practitioners to improved their inner mind, and at the same time, they also worked for the protection of animals living in the area. With loving and tolerant heart, the Buddhists live with natural vegetation, wild animals in the forest in harmony and for mutual survival. Men used oxygen partly discharged by trees, live by their shadows, and in return, men looked after the trees. Wild animals may come to eat crops planted by the temple without running the risk to be killed. The harmonious living of Buddhism is completely different from the competitive, opposing living and fighting against the nature as seen in the West and also in an increasing number of countries in the East, which tend to destruction for selfish gains.
Today, we can still see the landscape of a number of temples and meditation retreats in Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, ... located in native forests, with green vegetation, clean and refreshing ponds and lakes, clean air, and a variety of species living in peace. These are locations which attract people from all directions coming to enjoy the nature, finding peace of mind, getting away from noisy and polluted places.
I think it is still not too late for all religions, all strata of the society and all nations to come together, jointly participate in the protection of the environment for all living species, based on the harmonious model which Buddhism always advocates.
Thi'ch Tri' Qua?ng
Note: Ven. Thi'ch Tri' Qua?ng is a Buddhist monk and Chief Editor of Gia'c Ngo^. Buddhist magazine in Vietnam