If the massed ranks of the world\’s religions practised more of what their prophets preached, our environment would probably be in much better shape.
"One Buddha is not enough, we need to have many Buddhas."
So said Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hahn in a rare interview that The Guardian newspaper published extracts from on 26 August, 2010.
He argues that the root cause of our environmental problems – from overfishing to climate change, from deforestation to the loss of biodiversity – is that societies worldwide have become spiritually polluted.
In his recent book \’The World We Have – A Buddhist approach to peace and ecology\’, he explains:
"The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquilising ourselves with over-consumption is not the way."
Thich Nhat Hahn has spent 68 years as a Buddhist monk – you can read more about his extraordinary life and illuminating philosophy in the Guardian article.
He concludes that the solution to climate change is for people worldwide to wake up to the idea that it is possible to "live simply and happily, having the time to love and help other people." So that\’s what he means when he says we need not one but many Buddhas.
Buddha urged his followers to value the environment, to protect forests and wildlife – as in this sutra, one of my favourites of many quotations attributed to him:
"The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life and activity; it affords protection to all beings."
But Buddha is not alone. Read the stories of Jesus and Mohammed, Guru Nanak and Krishna and you can see that in, one way or another, they all advocated a love of nature and a rejection of the greed and materialism that can lead to its destruction.
I\’m not religious so let me know if I am wrong, but it seems to me that most faiths share at their roots these very clear principles.
Why then – if 85 percent of the world\’s population claim to follow one of the 11 major religions (as claimed at this recent event I attended at the London Zoological Society) – are these key instructions being ignored?
In the face of monumental environmental challenges, I think that our planet would be in much better shape if these messages were more central to all people\’s thoughts and deeds – whether they are religious or atheists, whether they believe in evolution or divine creation.
It would be great for scientific and religious worldviews to have something to agree about for a change, and for the religions themselves to focus on what unites humanity instead of what divides us.
The environment we all share and depend upon is a good place to start.
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