Monastics, Dependent Origination & Climate Crisis

Posted by on Sep 28, 2010 in Uncategorized | No Comments
[Part of the Daily Lectio series, named after the Benedictine tradition of lectio divina, “divine reading.” For instructions and background on the series, click here. Subscribe to Daily Lectio. Send comments or suggested readings to nathan@artmonastery.org]

Take your pick:

1) This is from Green Monasticism: A Buddhist-Catholic Response to an Environmental Calamity, edited by Prof. Donald Mitchell, and William Skudlarek, O.S.B.

Why should monks, men and women, think they have something to say about caring for the environment? After all, haven’t they opted to flee the world?

In the West, at least, that common misunderstanding of monastic life comes from a mistaken interpretation of “fuga mundi,” a Latin expression frequently found in medieval monastic literature. Literally translated, those words do, in fact, mean “flight of [i.e., from] the world.” However, the word “world” in this context refers not to our natural surroundings, not even to human society absolutely speaking, but to all that is opposed to goodness and truth.

The history of monasticism—a particular way of living in the world that originated in India some three-thousand years ago and then appeared in the western world about a thousand years later—actually reveals that monks have generally appreciated, even celebrated, their natural environment and have been careful to avoid any action that would damage or disfigure it. Jain and Hindu insistence on not harming (ahimsa), Buddhist teaching on non-attachment (upadana), and Western monasticism’s emphasis on being rooted in one place (stabilitas loci), have insured, each in its own way, that monks treat the natural world with reverence and walk lightly through it. A rich tradition of preserving and beautifying their natural surroundings leads monks to believe their way of life can offer guidance and encouragement to a society that is finally coming to grips with the realization that it will have to treat the world differently if there is to be a world to pass on to future generations.

2) Ajahn Punnadhammo, of Arrow River Hermitage, Thunder Bay, Ontario, writes on “Dependent Origination: A Buddhist Analysis of the Causes and Conditions behind the Climate Crisis” (PDF):

One of the central axioms of Buddhist thought is the principle of causality. The short formula, occurring in several places is “This being; that exists. Through the arising of this that arises. This not being, that does not exist; through the ceasing of this; that ceases.”

The underlying problem is not the way we produce things, it is in the sheer volume of things we produce above and beyond what is needed to sustain physical health and well-being. The solution will not be found in seeking a different way of doing the same things, but in finding ways to do with less. For this to have any hope of working, it would require a radical change in our value system. We need to find ways to happiness that are not based on consuming resources. It may be here that religious and especially monastic traditions can make a contribution. Buddhism often speaks about finding our real happiness within. The Buddha praised jhana (meditative absorption) as “the blameless happiness divorced from the senses.” Likewise, one of the virtues to be cultivated is santutthi, or contentment with little. Serving as an example of a life-style which offers fulfillment without frenzied consumption may be one of the most useful services that monastic communities, whatever their tradition, may be able to provide the world at this time of crisis.

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