“The environment is irreplaceable. All life forms on earth coexist in delicate balance. Although some habitats are naturally more abundant than others, we are degrading the environment by exploiting and polluting it, affecting the entire world irrespective of borders.” ~ His Holiness, the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje
What is impressive about the present 25 year old Karmapa is that many of the issues he tackles, such as social action, environmental protection and sustainability, vegetarianism and conflict resolution, are not often tackled by heads of religion. Here is a profoundly spiritual leader encouraging all the followers of his Kagyu Buddhist lineage worldwide, both monastic and lay, to care for the environment, to plant trees, to be vegetarian.
Can you imagine the Pope preaching sustainability?
Even in the United States where the Big Mac was first conceived, Kagyu teachers such as Ponlop Rinpoche, whose seat is in Seattle, Washington, encourage students of the buddhadharma to try to be vegetarian for many of the same reasons proclaimed in Diet for a Small Planet 40 some years ago.
This is compassion and mindfulness in action.
As the Karmapa points out, “Greed and the consumerism it leads to cause serious harm—to us on a personal level, to our society, and to the planet.”
Beyond greed’s devastating effects on the natural environment, the Karmapa points to the root of the problem, which we could call a spiritual or psychological one.
“Greed keeps us focused on what we do not have, and blinds us to all that we already have.”
Whether we meditate or not, the simplicity and contentment that comes from just being fully present and relaxing a bit reveals our ability to be open, attentive, appreciative, kind, patient, and to listen. This is our noble heart.
When we walk, to just walk, no need for toys all the time. Then we are more in tune with the interdependence of everything all around us and can feel compassion for the baby bird fallen from its nest, hold a door open for an elderly woman struggling in front of us, or be mindful enough to pick up some discarded trash.
When we experience simplicity and contentment in our lives, we feel enriched rather than needy. From this space of resourcefulness we can better distinguish between genuine necessities and the latest “upgrade.” We instead will buy what is more durable.
As the Karmapa says,
“Everything we own is ultimately made of the material extracted from the earth and the sea. These natural resources all have limits, but the greed that drives our consumption of those resources has no limit built in to it. It is up to us to actually limit our own greed.”
He then goes on to cite scientific information revealing that we have consumed one-third of the planet’s resources in the past 30 years. Here is a spiritual leader, like the Dalai Lama, who listens to scientists! If only Canada’s Prime Minister would do so!
Aware that the earth does not belong to humans alone, the Karmapa asks us to consider the multitude of animals and plant species that are sacrificed as human greed goes rampant.
As the Karmapa says,
“One effect of globalization is that more and more of the people on this planet are being encouraged to join in the culture of consumption…This places an added responsibility on developed countries to think deeply about the trends they are setting for others.”
Yet he realizes that it is futile to think that bucking this trend will come from either governments or corporations. It has to start with individual consumers—with each of us. But the Karmapa is working within his worldwide community and leading in a sustainable direction.
And other Buddhist lineage holders are beginning to do the same.
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Ed: T. Lemieux & B. Bemel