Gyalwang Karmapa's Foreword for " Environmental Guidelines for Karma Kagyu Buddhist Monasteries, Centers and Community"

A PDF of His Holiness' Environmental Guidelines Booklet can be downloaded here.

In the past, people in most parts of the world had a very straightforward relationship with the environment. They used the resources provided by nature as needed and due to the simplicity of their lives, rarely did great damage to the Earth. However, this has changed considerably in more recent times. Not only are our lives no longer so simple, our relationship with the environment is much more complicated and we now have tremendous power to do it harm.

Our lifestyle in the 21st century makes huge demands on the environment. We use more and more resources like fossil fuels, timber and water without any understanding of what the outcomes will be. We think we need all kinds of gadges, toys and machines without stopping to think if these are really important and useful to us. Sometimes there seems to be no natural limit to human desires. But there is a limit to how much Mother Earth can sustain us and we cannot afford to indulge in our desires unthinkingly.

During the time of the Buddha, the monastic community lived carefully and frugally and nothing was wasted. I have read that when new robes were offered to the monk, the old robes were used to cover their cushions and mattresses. When those covers wore out, the cloth used as dusters and finally when even that wore out it was mixed with clay and used to plaster the walls.

The Buddha followed a way of life that did not fall into either of two extremes-utter poverty and suffering of the one hand or accumulation and hoarding on the other. Monks lived from day to day with no need to store food and resources and such a lifestyle accorded with the middle way. The Buddha didn’t want a monk’s life to be very difficult, but neither did he encourage the hoarding of offerings from the faithful. Similarly, today our lifestyle should be neither too hard nor overly indulgent.

When writing about the Bodhisattva vow, Chandragomen said:

    For others and also for yourself,
    Do what is useful even if painful,
    And what is both useful and pleasurable,
    Not what gives pleasure but is of no use.

So, if something we want brings benefit but does not harm us or the environment, then we can think of it as necessary. But, if that is not the case, we should certainly think twice about why we want it and if we need it at all.

Still, this is something that individuals must weight up and choose for themselves. Making this kind of active decision means that you are making a choice with some confidence and not just blindly. In this way you can match your actions to your aspirations.

I was born in 1985, in a very remote area without modern amenities. As a result, I grew up experiencing the old way of life as it had been led for centuries in Tibet. People were very careful about how they used water, wood, and other resources. I don’t remember there being any garbage because people found a use for everything. They were careful to not spoil the springs from which they took their drinking water. In fact, I remember that as a child I planted a tree to protect our local spring and asked my father to look after it once I left for Tsurphu.

People in my homeland may not have much formal education but we have inherited a deep traditional concern for the environment. Even the children regard many of the mountains and rivers in their landscape and some of the wild animals as sacred and treat them with respect accordingly. This is part of their family heritage and our cultural tradition.

These days, however, I hear there is a move for nomads to settle down and become farmers. The traditional way of life is rapidly fading away. The communities that are settling down use more resources; they cut a lot more trees and they generate a lot more garbage, which needs to be disposed of. Framing means that the grassland themselves will disappear and maybe the soil itself will not be able to sustain this lifestyle without more and more fertilizers and chemicals.

Many of these aspects of life are similar throughout the Himalayan region. The Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayan region are especially important because they are the watershed for much of Asia; therefore I hope that the people who live here can set an example of how to take care of the environment. Many of the people in this region are Buddhist, and have a respect for the Buddha dharma. I hope that their faith and devotion will be a source of practical benefit for all beings and bring peace and harmony in the world. Otherwise our prayers for the welfare of all sentient beings will not be much than words of consolation.

We have already done such immense damage to the environment that it is almost beyond our power to heal it. As a small step, I requested during the 25th Kagyu Monlam in 2007 that environmental protection and community service be incorporated into the program. Climate change is having a direct effect on our lives here in this region, more that most places. Therefore, I advised all the monasteries and the wider public with whom I have a connection to engage actively wherever they could to protect the environment.

Building on this, and combining the Buddhist tradition and our respectful attitude to the environment with contemporary science and practices, I have directed the following guidelines. They are but a small drop in a huge ocean. The challenge is far more complex and extensive than anything we alone can tackle. However, if we can all contribute a single drop of clean water, those drops will accumulate into a fresh pond, then a clear stream and eventually a vast pure ocean. This is my aspiration.

Written by the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Drodul Trinley Dorje, at Gyuto Monastery in Dharamsala on October 1st 2008


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