Want Nirvana? Care for Samsara

When this exists, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises. When this does not exist that does not come to be; with the cessation of this, that ceases.”


There is indeed a very strong relation between Buddhism and ecology, as the Buddhist belief is among the fiercest in humanity to stress the interconnectedness between humanity society and nature, and among them the actor of change are humans, starting from self-care and recovery aiming towards wholeness, which can be accomplished in an environment where such healing can happen, freeing oneself from the destructive aspect of human nature, and balance in nature and society starts with self balance.

Self protection and environmental protection and mutually fulfilling, when the individual renounces selfishness and replaces it with altruism, ignorance and wisdom; hatred biomes love, compassion, mindfulness and selflessness, thus gaining the essence of Buddhism. 

Paying respect to nature will gain nature’s respect, as nature is our parent, caring, nourishing, teaching and loving, expecting in return mutual love and respect. Therefore the Dharma (truth) tells us that protecting nature means protecting ourselves and vice versa. Accepting this truth implies accepting also belonging and responsibility towards the wellbeing of the local and wider human community, and save all that lives from suffering, as humans have suffered and are suffering greatly and suffering creates compassion which in turn brings peace to the heart and to the mind, extending peace to family, community, country and planet for all beings. 

Buddhism was probably the first of all faiths and philosophies to identify the interconnectedness with nature, by identifying that nature is a teacher, a spiritual force and a way of life. 

Above is a chapter inspired by the words of Maha Ghosananda which, though simply, summarises the Buddhist link to ecology, probably the first to address this topic and issue far before the environmental and climate crisis could even be imagined, and therefore among the leaders in reconnecting faith and ecology and its scholars rather than focusing on how to connect belief and ecology have been recently focusing on the “how”, as the ecological spirit was already present in Buddha’s Dharma. 

Much of the “how” goes around the Paticca-Samuppada (interdependence) concepts, where the argument is supported that Buddhist interconnectedness is what lays at the base of the principles of ecology, promoting intimacy and identification with the natural world, where a broad concept of eco-self is born, ecological in the sense of caring for the self implies caring for the community and for the non-human world, which strongly supports social activism and environmentalism. And what about the Buddhist view that the material world is a chain and prison from which we must meditate and operate to unbind ourselves and transcend? Buddhism reaffirms that detachment is not from the world itself, rather from a certain way of living and viewing the world and life which is not enlightened. That can be understood as Nirvana (heaven) not being something so far away from Samsara (material world) which resonates with emerging Mahayana Buddhism, where the understanding is that one may live in a Nirvana state while being present in the Samsara and positively influencing it, thus promoting and even more positive outlook and view on the material world as interdependent with the enlightened one.. 

Early Buddhism put a lot of stress in validating wilderness, as its silence, solitude and impermanence makes it the perfect place for meditation, while never perceived nature as a tool of exploitation subdued to humanity’s whim, nature is the teacher from where we can learn impermanence and experience in its cycles death and rebirth and grasping that open the path to Nirvana. 

Concerning other animal species, Buddhism, along with Hinduism, are among the few that attribute virtue, value and dignity to non-humans, as far as mentioning human-animal kinship, Buddhists as well as Hindus and, as advised in Jewish texts are advised against the consumption of meat and fish, viewed as kin since they too are born into this world. A step much farther than that of the monotheistic faiths, and yet, like all faiths, maintaining a human-centred viewpoint on the world and life. 

While environmental ethics are something that belong to this specific age, and unthought of at the times of Buddha, Mohammed or Jesus, the struggle some faiths are making to fit doctrine and ecology seems lesser among buddhists. Mostly because the lack of western dualism in its core essence and tendency to have a potentially very holistic worldview on life and humanity, especially recognised in the more modern and recent trends, including that of the Dalai Lama to stress a more socially and environmentally responsible Buddhism towards fellow humans and especially the planet.

Published by Lorenzo Nava

Consultant, Trainer and Coach, on participatory learning processes, experiential learning dynamics, non formal education and NLP certified practitioner