Why Buddhists Fail as Environmental Citizens. ~ David Delcourt

Via on Aug 12, 2010

Trapped between the Earth and the Cushion.

Recently Waylon posted an article titled “7 Reasons Buddhists don’t Give a Shiite about the Environment,” in which he points out eminent Buddhist teachers such H.H. The Dalai Lama and H.H. The Karmapa have given teachings, written guidelines, and encouraged environmental awareness through the dharma. These actions send a powerful message to the Buddhist community and to outsiders, but there has been no eco-dharma revolution to speak of…in fact, Waylon would have you believe the opposite has occurred.

Why? This failure is because we approach environmental action and awareness as an application of the dharma, rather than recognizing that the Dharma is environmental awareness and action.

In his wonderful book Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote

“When human beings lose their connection to nature, to heaven and Earth, then they do not know how to nurture their environment or how to rule their world…healing our society goes hand in hand with healing our personal, elemental connection with the phenomenal world.”

On a basic level, this means when we begin to see duality between our world, our environment, and the Dharma, we lose the ability to be effective protectors of the Earth. Simply put, the Dharma and the connection we have to the earth are one and the same.

In the Shambhala and other Buddhist communities, we distinguish between external, internal, and secret means. Focusing on the traditional approach to environmentalism, we have only applied external means; for instance we recycle in our homes, we walk to the store, and we teach our children not to litter. What’s missing is the incorporation of internal and secret means achieved through meditation practice. If we treat external as separate from internal and secret, we’ve failed to see that they are inseparable and interconnected, and we (even the most dedicated meditation practitioner or staunch activist) will just be spinning our wheels and, yes, “not giving a shiiite about the environment.”

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for the perfect Buddhist environmentalist. Each of us is different and we possess different faculties, resources, and interests. Nonetheless, the path starts by seeing past our dualistic approach to Buddhism vs. the environment, in order to realize that protecting the Earth is not an application of the Dharma—but actually is at the root of the our practice and teachings.


David Delcourt is an environmentalist, Buddhist, and entrepreneur. He’s the a founder of MakeMeSustainable, a website dedicated to helping people connect their desire to help the environment with their ability to do so. David has been quoted in various periodicals including the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Weekly Dig and numerous blogs, and his writing has been featured in the Huffington post and FoundRead.com. He was featured in BusinessWeek’s special “Switching to Green Jobs” alongside long time hero Al Gore and was voted one of 20 “Hot Hippies” by thefrisky.com. He lives in Boston and is a member of the Shambhala International’s Touching the Earth environmental board.

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4 Responses to “Why Buddhists Fail as Environmental Citizens. ~ David Delcourt”

  1. Linda says:

    Much of what is said in the above article is true, brutally true, yet at the Halifax Shambhala Centre for several years now, under the banner of Engaged Buddhism, has programs such as "Awakening Earth Wisdom", a contemplative ecology retreat, and the Centre itself has gone sustainable as has the Shambhala School to a great extent, using eco-friendly products, etc. Videos are shown often to provoke heartfelt thinking and action. Individual Shambhalians participate in community gardening and actions all over Halifax. We ARE changing, the questions is, are we changing fast enough.

  2. Ari Pliskin says:

    We just had a killer panel today on Buddhist involvement in environmentalism at the Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism. More details to follow…

  3. [...] there was ever a time to recreate to the Woodstock generation’s passion for saving the environment from the devastation of a consumption based culture, it would be [...]

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