International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds

edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker , Duncan Ryuken Williams

Introductory Essay by Leslie Kawamura

Buddhism and Ecology is based on a three-day conference held at the Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions that brought together both scholars of Buddhism and environmentally-involved Buddhists.  

The book consists of eight sections. In Section I, Lewis Lancaster reflects on the challenges that Buddhist scholars face as researchers, and suggests that by researching Buddhism in all of its complex forms, a scholar should become aware of one’s own cultural perspective which has a tendency to blind one to others.

In Section II, Donald K. Swearer, in discussing the hermeneutics of Buddhist Ecology in contemporary Thailand, discusses Buddhadasa who has  identified the dhamma with nature and who is compared to Thomas Merton as an exemplar of spiritual engagement with the world. In their paper, Leslie S. Sponsel and Poranee Natachecha-Sponsel argue that the monastic communities of Thailand serve as working models of a green society. 

In Section III,  Paul Ingram focuses on Kukai’s understanding of nature as an “aesthetic order,” a view that resonates with Western ecological ideas. Steve Odin, using Aldo Leopold’s environmental philosophy, gives a succinct survey of Japanese Buddhism’s concept of nature that represents a shift from an ego-centric to an eco-centric position.  Graham Parks, while challenging the ideas of “bio-centric equality” and “bio-species equality,” turns to Dogen’s and Kukai’s ideas of nature, but ends by asking to what extent Japanese Buddhist views of nature can contribute to the solution of ecological problems.

In Section IV, Christopher Chapple discusses the role of animals in Buddhist ecological themes, especially in terms of the Jataka tales, as a didactic tool that may help us to understand how animals can teach humans a lesson in human behavior. Duncan Williams, discussing the ceremony of releasing animals into the wild (hojo-e), points out the problem of the seemingly Buddhist ecological worldview wherein the worst of the other religious traditions are contrasted with the best of Buddhism.

In Section V, Ruben Habito explains the Zen contribution to supporting the earth’s well-being  and to promoting an ecological way of life by inviting human beings to an experiential oneness with mountain, rivers, and the great earth. John Daido Loori explains that to make the precepts one’s own enables one to empower one’s self and one’s relation to the environment.

In Section VI, David Barnhill sees Gary Snyder’s appreciation of the earth as one of ecocentric egalitarianism and expands on Snyder’s life as an example of a person living to protect the earth. Stephanie Kaza questions whether American Buddhists “walk their talk” by discussing two retreat centers in Califorinai – Green Gulch Zen Center and Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Jeff Yamaguchi presents us with a case study of a Zen Mountain Center in California where he was in residence for two years.

Section VII, referring to various applications of Buddhist Ecological World Views, has Kenneth Kraft discussing nuclear ecology and engaged Buddhism, Rita Gross examining Buddhist resources for issues of population, consumption, and environment, and Steve Rockefeller looking at Buddhism, global ethics, and earth charter.

In Section VIII, David Eckel indicates that if there is a Buddhist philosophy of nature then  it must begin with the purification of one’s mind. Alan Sponberg  argues that the newly emerging, unidimensionally horizontal form of Green Buddhism is fundamentally flawed and Buddhist “eco- activists” need to focus on developing higher states of meditative awareness. Ian Harris addresses his concern that supporters of authentic Buddhist environmental ethics have tended toward a positive indifference to Buddhist history and complexity.