The purpose of this dissertation is to examine Buddhist teaching in relation to the ecological issues of environmental protection, both narrowly and broadly defined. The Mahayana Buddhist concept of compassion is used as the force lying behind the five chapters. My rationale and arguments show that Buddhist compassion can motivate and bring about sound ecological practices that protect the environment.
Chapter One discusses the cosmology of Buddhism, explaining trayo dhatavah (the Three World Levels), the Six Realms of Rebirth, and bhajana-loka (more specifically, the ideal country in the “container-world”). Chapter One also discusses the six characteristics of Buddhist cosmology: (1) the origins of living beings, (2) the role of human beings, (3) the Buddhist system of Samsara and the retribution of Karma, (4) the Buddhist doctrine of collective retribution, (5) the Buddhist belief in the power of the mind, and (6) the Buddhist view of the Big Self.
Chapter Two discusses how Buddhism cultivates common people to be Bodhisattva-like people and examines two categories of people: the “ecokiller” and the “ecohuman.” This chapter proposes the characteristics of true eco-Buddhists, namely, avoiding of the three poisons (greed, hatred, and delusion); keeping the Five Precepts; leading a simple life; practicing and teaching nonviolence; benefitting people through kind thoughts, words, and deeds and through merit-transfer; practicing the Four All-embracing Virtues; working pro-actively and actively in the impermanent world; cultivating patience and endurance; and nurturing compassionate thoughts.
Chapter Three critiques Callenbach’s idea of ecotopia as it appears in his novel Ecotopia: The Notebooks and Reports of William Weston. Callenbach’s version of ecotopia has some defects. Examples given here, among others, are that his version indirectly encourages brutality by permitting the hunting, killing, and eating of game; and that his version encourages sexual license, thus feeding the jealousy and hatred that such license can provoke. A consequence is that destructive forces are unleashed in the society. My counter-proposal examines three examples of ecological environment that present better, more “Buddhistic” programs for an ecotopia and environment: (1) Aldous Huxley’s “Kingdom of Pala” in his novel Island, (2) Buddhism’s description of “pure land” in the Larger Sukhavati-vyuha Sutra, and (3) the policies of the real-life country of Bhutan as described in Wander Bhutan.
Chapter Four discusses the protection of wildlife in an ideal but concrete country that belongs to Buddhist cosmology’s “container-world.” Such a world practices (1) the Buddhist precept of not killing, (2) the act of the life-release rite (“liberation of animals”), and (3) vegetarianism. Associated with “not-killing” is “not-stealing,” since—for example—animal infants are often stolen from their parents to be killed: such an act also violates the more general norm, “Do not take what is not given.” In the case of vegetarianism, in the Lankavatara Sutra, the Buddha supplies five reasons for strict adherence to vegetarianism, and they are explained here. Chapter Four also provides examples of various measures taken to protect animals and plants; and it supplies examples of such social engagement undertaken by contemporary Buddhists.
Chapter Five first describes the perfect country as laid-out in the Flower Adornment Sutra. Then the chapter discusses several ways of “living well,” including: (1) the “simple life” as described by the Buddha (here the Buddhist dhutaga-niddesa is used as an inspiration); (2) dissolution of belief in the inherent “self”; (3) the severing of attachments; and (4) cultivation of the mind in accordance with the Heart Sutra (and via the Eightfold Path, the Ten Wholesome Deeds, the Three Ways of Stopping Outflows, etc.). Lastly, the chapter explains in detail the “art of caring for the dying,” and the “art of dying well.”
This dissertation brings together various Buddhist themes that together show humanity how to exercise universal compassion, thus healing the environment in the narrow and even the broader sense.