Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Buddhist Attitude Toward Nature

Lily de Silva (BPS.lk/ATI); Amber Larson, Crystal Quintero (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
Wise attention and wise reflection
The Cakkavattisihanada Sutra (DN 26) predicts the future course of events when human morals undergo further degeneration. Gradually human health will deteriorate so much that life expectancy will diminish until at last the average human lifespan is reduced to ten years, marriageable age to five years.
At that time all delicacies such as ghee, butter, honey, and so on will have disappeared from the Earth; what is considered the poorest coarse food today will become a delicacy then. Buddhism maintains that there is a close link between human morals and the natural resources available.
According to a discourse in the Numerican Discourses (AN), when profligate lust, wanton greed, and wrong values grip the heart of humans and immorality becomes widespread in society, timely rain does not fall. When timely rain does not fall, crops are adversely affected by various pests and plant diseases. Through lack of nourishing food, human mortality and morbidity rates rise (A. I, 160).
Several sutras from the Pali canon show that early Buddhism believes there to be a close relationship between human morality and the natural environment. This idea has been systematized in the theory of the Five Natural Laws (niyamas, pañca niyama-dhamma) in the later commentaries (Atthasalini, 854).

There are five natural laws or orders: seasons, seeds, mind, karma, and Dharma.
According to this theory, in the cosmos there are Five Natural Laws, orders, regularities, or forces at work, namely: utu-niyama ("season-law"), bija-niyama ("seed-law"), citta-niyama ("mind-law"), kamma-niyama ("karma-law"), and dhamma-niyama (Dharma-law). 

They can be translated as physical laws, biological laws, psychological laws, moral laws, and causal laws, respectively. While the first four laws operate within their respective spheres, the last-mentioned law of causality operates within each of them as well as among them.
This means that the physical environment of any given area conditions the growth and development of its biological component, that is, the flora and fauna. These in turn influence the thought pattern of the people interacting with them.

Modes of thinking determine moral standards. The opposite process of interaction is also possible. The morals of humans influence not only the psychological makeup of the people but the biological and physical environment of the area as well. 

So the Five Laws demonstrate that humans and nature are bound together in a reciprocal causal relationship with changes in one necessarily bringing about changes in the other.
The commentary on the Cakkavattisihanada Sutra goes on to explain the pattern of mutual interaction further (Dh.A III, 854). 
  • When humankind is demoralized through greed, famine is the natural outcome;
  • when moral degeneration is due to ignorance, epidemic is the inevitable result;
  • when hatred is the demoralizing force, widespread violence is the ultimate outcome.
Nature is sacred and spiritual (jiuzhaigou1/tenlivingcities.org)
If and when humankind realizes that large scale devastation has taken place as a result of our moral degeneration, a change of heart takes place among the few surviving human beings. With gradual moral re-generation, conditions improve through a long period of cause and effect and humankind again starts to enjoy gradually increasing prosperity and longer life.
The world, including nature and humans, stands or falls with the type of moral force at work. If immorality grips society, humans and nature deteriorate; if morality reigns, the quality of human life and nature improves. 

So greed, hatred, and delusion produce pollution within and without. Generosity, compassion, and wisdom produce purity within and without. This is one reason the Buddha has pronounced that the world is led by the mind, cittena niyati loko (S. I, 39). So humanity and nature, according to the ideas expressed in early Buddhism, are interdependent.

Human Use of Natural Resources
For survival humankind will have to depend on nature for food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and other requisites.
For optimum benefits humans have to understand nature so that he can utilize natural resources and live harmoniously with nature. By understanding the working of nature -- for example, the seasonal rainfall pattern, methods of conserving water by irrigation, the soil types, the physical conditions required for growth of various food crops, and so on -- humans can learn to get better returns from our agricultural pursuits.

But this learning has to be accompanied by moral restraint if we are to enjoy the benefits of natural resources for a long time. Humans must learn to satisfy our needs and not feed on our greeds. The resources of the world are not unlimited, whereas human greed knows neither limit nor satiation. 

Modern humans in our unbridled voracious greed for pleasure and acquisition of wealth have exploited nature to the point of near impoverishment.
Ostentatious consumerism is accepted as the order of the day. One writer says that within forty years Americans alone have consumed natural resources to the quantity of what all mankind has consumed for the last 4000 years (Quoted in Vance Packard, The Waste Makers, London, 1961, p. 195). More

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