Religion and Environmental Ethics Praves Intongpan abstract


Buddhist Ethics and Man-Nature Relationship



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4. Buddhist Ethics and Man-Nature Relationship

Let us have a look at Buddhism and see how far the greening of religion is required with regard to Buddhism. First of all arises the question of the anthropocentrism found in religions. Man is the centre of the universes, the entire nature is created for man. Man has to perfect nature. Actually Buddhism can be described as a religion much concerned with releasing man's suffering. Though it does not directly deal with environmental ethics yet from the Buddhist writings concern for nature can be found. The natural world passes through alternating states of evolution and dissolution. Buddhists have a very soft corner for nature. They regard living things with great respect and love. They also consider nature as their loving friend.



Men have just the opposite attitude towards nature. They are aggressive due to selfishness. As a matter of fact nature is considered as, Svabhva or Dhamma. Dhamma is the universal order. Its scope aims at the meaning of nature including its process i.e. the law of nature, which is well known as Dependent Origination, orderliness of nature, but Buddhism explains the nature as Dhamma. On this the entire world functions, and keeps on going. Dhamma draws a clear line between man and beasts. Man is supposed to be morally sound and of good conduct. Therefore there has to be a code of conduct in human behaviour and also an order in the nature.

According to Buddhism changeability is one of the perennial principles of nature. Dhamma represents the ethical laws of the universe like the law of nature. The universe is also governed by laws of Dhamma for the sake of individual and social good. Thus Dhamma includes all good and sensible behaviour and actions. According to Buddhism the "world" is of three kinds viz. (Majjhima-Nikya, 1958: 173) the world of formation (sakhra loka), the world of beings (satta loka), the world of space (oksa loka). These three include what we call nature. Today we notice the deteriorating condition of nature, and this because of man's greedy attitude towards nature due to which the whole human race has to suffer the consequences. The theory of cause and effect is continually working in nature.
Buddhism believes that natural processes are affected by the morals of man. That is, man has both good and bad qualities. Because of avijj or ignorance, man has bad qualities like lobha, dosa, moha etc. and due to pa or wisdom, man has good qualities such as alobha, adosa, amoha etc. These good and bad qualities of man are reflected in man's physical action and speech. Man will inevitably exploit the nature if he has bad qualities. On the contrary, if man has good qualities, he will be friendly with nature. Therefore, we see that human morality and natural environment are closely related.

Man's survival is totally dependent on providence of nature. When man feeds his needs the whole natural order is disturbed and consequently everything on earth suffers. It is rightly said that greed breeds sorrow and unhealthy consequences but contentment is a much praised virtue in Buddhism. Thus Buddhism condemns excessive exploitation of nature. Individual moral development and social concerns are therefore inseparable in Buddhist ethical structure. Actually a devout Buddhist must own nothing beyond the basic necessities, no hoarding, no black-marketing.


Buddha wanted to see that there exists harmony in everything, even in nature. Man could only maintain this by his sensible non-greedy behaviour. There must be co-existence relation between man and nature in order to safeguard all kinds of imbalances in the nature and human society. The best way to maintain this is to follow the principle of the Five Precepts (Pañcasl).
Buddha loved all human beings dearly, therefore he stressed on non-violence. Those who practise this great principle he called them noble ones (ariya). Ahims is integral to the eightfold path. The monks are forbidden to travel during rains simply to avoid any destruction of insects while going through the fields. Such monks will never even think to destroy any tree or vegetation unnecessarily, because these could be the dwelling places for birds or insects.


The Mettastta describes in detail how one should cultivate and extend the brahmavihara of unlimited love and good will towards all beings. The stta urges those who wish to attain the ‘state of calm’ that accompanies morally perfected behavior to ceaselessly cultivate benevolent thoughts towards all living beings and wish never to cause them harm. Thoughts of “booundless love” are to pervade the whole world “without any obstruction”. In the Mett teaching, two features of ethical cultivation are given primacy, that is non-harm and loving kindness towards all beings. If these are developed to the fullest extent the spiritual release and the development of moral perfection will be realised.

The Four Noble Truths (Ariyasacca) are actually the essence of Buddhism. Buddhism considers man as part of nature but man has gone astray from nature and has become himself a victim of dukkha, and he does not know its cause (samudya). This is all due to ignorance. He needs nirodha that is available in Buddhism. He needs to attain the position of arahant. This state of spiritual freedom is known as Nibbna.
When man realises his ignorance he comes to rightful understanding that he is nothing but part of the natural environment and when this realization comes there is a harmonious relationship between him and nature and he attains absolute peace and contentment. Moreover the Eightfold Path leads man to the ultimate good - towards Nibbna. He becomes a good friend of nature and not its destroyer.
However the Buddha’s constant advice to his disciples was to resort to natural habitats such as the forests. There, undisturbed by human activity, they could devote themselves to meditation. The open air, natural habitats and forest trees have a special fascination for the Eastern mind as symbols of spiritual freedom. It is seen that the ascetics live in forests. Home life is regarded as a fetter that keeps a person in bondage and misery. The chief events in the life took place in the open air. In the Vanaropama-stta and the Jtaka it is said that any one who establishes vihra, a flower garden, plants for shade, bridge, pool, well, residence, roads for public use gains much spiritual merit. The result of such action will bring prosperity to them all day, all night and all time. In their life after death, they will to go to heaven.
Buddhism advocates a gentle non-aggressive attitude towards nature. According to the Siglovda-stta (Dgha-Nikya,1958: 188) “a householder should accumulate wealth as a bee collects pollen from a flower. The bee harms neither the fragrance nor the beauty of the flower, but gathers pollen to turn it into sweet honey.” Similarly, man is expected to make legitimate use of nature so that he can rise above nature and realize his innate spiritual potential.
The Buddha often used examples from nature to teach. A mind, flickering, difficult to guard is compared to Monkey “Just as a monkey, faring through the woods, catches hold of a bough letting it go catches another, even so that which we call thought, mind, consciousness, that arises as one thing ceases as another, both by day and night.”(Rhys Davids, 1965: 66) On the one hand, it simply evolves the fickle condition of the mind.
Buddhism is said to be and it is undoubtedly a religion which has a high sense of morality and humanity. A moral being is fully conscience about his environment and feels his duty to preserve it. Several sttas from the Pli cannon, such as – Vanaropama-stta, Bhtagma–vagga, Patirpadesavsa in Mangala-stta, Rukkha stta or Jtaka, show that early Buddhism believes there is a close relationship between human morality and the natural environment. This idea has been systematised in the theory of the five natural laws (Pañcaniyma). (Atthasalini, 1965: 354)
The Buddha's life was closely related from his birth to the natural environment and after his enlightenment he spent rest of his life amidst nature. Even his enlightenment wouldn't have been possible had he not gone to nature in search of Truth. A devout Buddhist realizes the contribution of nature in his personal life, he receives mental and physical support for his sustenance from nature. Such a person will always do his best to preserve nature clean and free from pollution. Buddha's teachings and its derivations are absolutely impossible without a clean and peaceful natural environment. If nature is not protected and preserved the ethics of Buddhism can never be achieved. Nature becomes a friend to him a real source of spiritual inspiration. Flora and fauna must be protected for the natural beauty and aesthetics. All these help a Buddhist to express his love and compassion to all beings which is the essence of Buddhism. The Buddha could be considered as a naturalist in his philosophy and a true environmentalist in practice. Thus Buddhism is a science and art for total living and Buddhism offers a solution and means to maintain a balance in nature and to preserve it for the coming generations.

Therefore, preservation of nature is a human-duty. It is man's moral duty to preserve the nature and have an environmental conscience so that good people could inherit this earth for good living. If one is fully aware of Lord Buddha's Dhamma and its follow up, nature can be kept without its ruination.


Thus, we can see that Buddhist ethics is an ecocentric ethics. It stresses on an environment friendly attitude. It is not the anthropocentric theme. Buddha’s life itself was closely related to the natural environment from his birth until he passed away (parinibbna). Buddhism expresses love and compassion for all beings. It stresses on a non-exploitative, non-aggressive, gentle attitude towards nature. Man should live in harmony with nature, utilising its resources for the satisfaction of his basic needs without harming the natural world in which he lives. If we follow the teachings of such an ecocentric ethics, we would go a long way in reducing the environmental crisis.



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