From August 26, 2014 to December 18, 2014, I toured Americas, Asia and Europe, holding 115 question and answer sessions in 111 locations. During a question and answer session at Princeton University, a student wanted to know how Buddhist teachings can help with environmental issues.
“When Dr. Matt introduced you, he mentioned about your environmental work. I would like to hear about how you think Buddhist teachings are valuable for dealing with environmental issues and global warming.” In general, there are two different views of how we perceive the world. The first view is that all beings exist independently, that the world is a collection of independent beings. From this perspective, life and death of one being is unrelated to the life and death of another.
The second world view is that all beings, rather than existing independently, exist in relation to other beings. For example, let’s use a hand with five fingers. From a narrow view, we can only see one finger at a time; each of the five fingers exists independently. However, from a wider view, we can see that the five fingers are connected to each other, even though each finger is different from one another.
Buddhism views that everything in the world is interconnected. When Buddha gained enlightenment, it was the realization that interconnectedness is the true nature of all beings. We are not only connected to other people, but to the air through our breathing and to the universe through light. Thus, severing these interconnections means death for all beings.
Therefore, these interconnected relationships should be symbiotic. In the case of the environment, if humans want to develop nature, they need to do so within nature’s ability to recover. Conversely, if nature is developed beyond its ability to recover, all beings will eventually be destroyed.
While overdevelopment of nature may seem beneficial to humans from a short term perspective, eventually there will be long term consequences that will harm humans. Thus, the most important Buddhist value is to respect all living things and not carelessly harm or destroy them. I believe that environmental problems can only be resolved when we adopt the Buddhist world view that all beings are interconnected.
The Buddha said “Since this exists, that exists, and, since this does not exist, that does not exist. That is created because this is created, so if this disappears, that disappears.” We are interconnected beings.