The Climate Crisis in Buddhism

As you recall, I went to the International Western Dharma Teachers Gathering in late October.  Last time I talked about what I learned to support practice.  This time I want to share some of what I learned about the climate crisis and the response or lack of response from Buddhist sanghas.

Buddhists Have Been Too Quiet

This was one of the first statements made on this topic—that many religious organizations have responded to this crisis, but little is heard from sanghas or large Buddhist organizations.  That was kind of shocking.  Given our dharma and Buddhist values of decreasing suffering, increasing love, kindness and compassion in the world, it would be natural that we would respond. So why haven’t we?  Sitting on our cushion isn’t enough.  The question is how to bring those values out into the open in a loving, caring way.

Bikkhu Bodhi gave an inspiring talk on the crisis and how to address it from a Buddhist perspective.  He talked about “inverting values” from what we presently have where everything is commercialized, objectified and commodified to one of “qualitative changes for life”.  Not quantifiable but qualitative.  It almost boggles the mind to think of what that would look like and how to get there.

Is it Too Late?

Kritee Khando talked about our “climate grief”—the sadness and anger over what we have done to this planet and the need to face that grief together.  I remember a conversation with two of my college-age grandchildren who were very angry with what we’ve done to the planet, the legacy we’re leaving for them and questioned why they should continue in school “if it will all be gone”.  (I must admit, this sounded like my own angst when I was in college, but they made a different point.)  A pretty dismal and shocking accusation.  Hopefully, they will stay in school and help find a solution.  They are studying physics and astrophysics.  

All of the speakers on this topic spoke to not giving in to fatalism.  There is much that still can be done—it’s not too late. One of the speakers talked about fatalism as an avoidance strategy to create certainty in an uncertain world.  I recognize this in me.  If it’s too late, I don’t have to feel the fear, despair and anger associated with uncertainty.

Common Ground

Many people are doing things to address the climate crisis. One talked about how in the previous administration they weren’t allowed to use the words climate crisis or climate change.  What they did instead was to talk directly about the changes that people saw in their lives: droughts, floods, hurricanes, extreme heat….  When these terms were used, it was hard for people to deny if they were directly affected and they responded positively.  We project that others don’t care, but that’s not true.

I’d like to leave you with a positive thought.  We have resiliency—we as humans have faced awful things in the past, and we can creatively address this too, as individuals and sanghas.

About Erica Dutton

Erica Dutton is an experienced teacher and practitioner of Reflective Meditation. She has dedicated herself to sharing this practice so others can succeed in meditation, see their experience as important and valuable, and realize the benefits.

5 Comments

  1. A beautiful reminder that love is an action verb.

    Thank you for bringing this critically important issue into awareness again.
    Working alone on something as large an issue as “climate crisis” can indeed feel futile. Joining with others can bring about support and structure, and lead to a sense of empowerment. This call for Buddhists and others to think about working together around climate work is a call for compassion and an end to the suffering of all beings. May it bring some positive change. Let’s get busy!

  2. You’re right in pointing out the false sense of certainty that fatalism about climate change engenders. While it is difficult to undertake actions that we will likely not see the full benefit of our lifetime, we must nevertheless persist in our efforts to minimize the impact of the crisis that as already begun. To not do so means that we will be justly vilified by future generations.

  3. Thank you for your comments. My grandchildren are really angry about how we’ve left the planet. It hurts to hear it and makes me sad they’ll live in what we’ve given them.

  4. Pingback: 2021 International Western Dharma Teachers Gathering: Notes from Teachers at Still Mountain – Still Mountain

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