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130 chapter five Ecology and Karma Peerless One Who, seeing the all-pervasive nature Of interdependence Between the environment and sentient beings Samsara and Nirvana Moving and unmoving Teaches the world out of compassion Bestow thy benevolence on us. reflections commemorating the dalai lama’s opening of the international conference on ecological responsibility: a dialogue with buddhism [other verses distributed throughout this chapter] Interdependence is the spiritual truth that biologists have independently discovered through the scientific discipline of ecology. ecological buddhism: a buddhist response to global warming he connection between Buddhism and ecology is profound . As the second quotation that opens this chapter suggests, Buddhism discovered ecology before ecology did. The interdependence that is ecology (a term coined in 1866) is a central concept and value of Tibetan Buddhism. Indeed, interdependence is tightly woven with two other central Buddhist concepts: emptiness and compassion. Mothers are held up as the ultimate examples of compassion and emT ecology and karma 131 pathy in Buddhism. They provide for and unconditionally love their children . All living beings can be thought of as our mothers. Humans rely on other humans (and other organisms)​ —many with whom we never directly interact​—for food, clothing, transportation, and safety. We benefit from each other’s “hopes, dreams, and labor.” All beings need each other for survival in our one world; we all need each other’s compassion.1 The self is on the other side of the spectrum. From both biological and Buddhist perspectives, the self is always changing. Buddhism takes this idea one more step to say that, therefore, the self is impermanent, an entity empty of permanent essence​ —not meaningless, but always shifting and evolving. Thus all emotions, experiences, and actions are also impermanent and empty in the continually changing, moving, adapting lives humans (and other sentient beings) lead. Because of this vital emptiness, attachment is unnecessary, even problematic. The realization of this impermanence of things allows people to “develop equanimity regarding all phenomena.”2 A key point here for the relationship of Buddhism and ecology is that letting go of the fixation on the self enables one to soften the distinction between self and others and thus to more easily behave as a compassionate part of the whole. the tibetan plateau is one of the most important ecosystems on earth. (Figure 5.1 shows its location within Asia.) The plateau’s glacial ice helps provide water to nearly a quarter of the world’s population. Perhaps much of the future of the human species hinges on these glaciers in the context of the region’s vast grasslands, stunning lakes, millions of square miles of permafrost, extensive forests and wetlands​ —home to over twelve thousand species of plants, hundreds of bird species, yak, panda, snow leopard, and Konchok and his several million nomadic Tibetan brethren. Is it more than mere cruel irony that the resilience of the Tibetan Plateau ecosystem is being dramatically tested at the same moment as that of the Tibetan Buddhist culture? In my home region of Phuksundo on the Tibetan Plateau, we are all ecologists .Ourlives,religion,andancestorsdeeplyconnectustoourenvironment. 132 the enlightened gene I remember hundreds of stupas, shrines, and stone pyramids as far as I could see in all directions, and especially at every mountain pass. They are indicative of the religious devotion my people have to our local deities, who connect us to the land and our ancestors. The villagers worship and honor them throughout the year. In summer, when the villagers move to higher altitudes to graze their animals, everyone gathers next to the shrine of the local god. Families bring tsampa (roasted barley flour), yogurt, chang (local beer), and dried fruits. The religious leaders take part in preparations for the annual ritual ceremony honoring the local deities and their ancestors. Tsampa is used to make tormas (offering cakes) of different animal shapes and colors (red for wrathful, yellow for peaceful) to embody each individual deity, local god, figure 5.1 The Tibetan Plateau, native home to Konchok and most of the monastics in our project. ecology and karma 133 spirit, and serpent naga (evil spirit). We place these offerings around the shrines, which have been beautifully decorated with khatas (traditional scarves) and colored wool​ —of white, blue, red, yellow, and green. While this is happening, the women and girls collect firewood, juniper, and other aromatic ingredients to make the smoke offering, or purifying fumigation. Some women clean the area and make butter tea; tea and chang are served to...


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