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Environmental Protection is a Moral Issue

On his three-month tour of the U.S., His Holiness the 17th Karmapa has often used the environment -- and the threats it faces from human misuse -- as an avenue for Buddhist teachings.

At Yale, where his visit was sponsored by a diverse set of programs (Yale Himalaya Initiative, the Forum on Religion and Ecology, the Department of Religious Studies, the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale Divinity School and the Macmillan School for International and Area Studies), he noted that protecting the environment is a moral imperative, not just a scientific issue.

Conserving the environment is fundamentally a moral issue. Its degradation has been caused by human greed, exacerbated by the media and the advertising industry. As we all know, human desire is limitless and environmental resources are limited. Since we depend on these resources, it is our responsibility to rein in and control our greed. It is essential that religious leaders not only teach about individual moral issues but global issues as well and provide moral guidance on environmental stewardship. Spiritual teachers can evoke an emotional feeling and commitment, encouraging us to change so we come to see that the environment is not external but in our minds as well.

Karmapa spoke movingly of his own personal relationship to the Earth, which was rooted in his childhood in a remote area of TIbet. He urged audience members to contemplate their own relationship to the environment, to see not only how they connect to the natural world but also how the unnatural things in life -- clothing, cellphones, cars -- all depend on and affect the environment. 

But knowing intellectually is not enough, he said.

“We tend to separate ourselves as persons from our knowledge. If we know the need for environmental protection, we should apply it in our daily lives. It has to become so intimate to our being that we feel it in our hearts and it changes our behavior.”

The change has to start with us before we can go out and try to convince others to change, he added, saying that is "the only solid basis for the type of courage it will take to make these changes. We have to make changes in our life with a courage that can’t be taken away from us and this way we can have a long career. If we have not changed ourselves, we fuel ourselves with expectations and get burned out when others do not change.”


Join IDP for a special Earth Day event on Monday, a talk on the Buddhist response to climate change by Amma Thanasanti.

The photo shows the Karmapa planting a tree in New Haven, Conn., as part of Yale's Urban Resources Initiative. See more here

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