Environmental and Buddhist perspectives find confluence at Earth Day

Satish Kumar

Satish Kumar is chair of trustees of The Resurgence Trust, which publishes The Ecologist. 

A free public event to celebrate Earth Day is being held on Sunday the 22 of April in Bermondsey by the Kagyu Samye Dzong London Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Centre for World Peace and Health. The day will feature Satish Kumar alongside a range of speakers, workshops and activities to inspire the local community to end plastic pollution and protect the environment in daily life, write KIMBERLEY GRAHAM, GELONG TRINLEY and LAMA ZANGMO

The perspectives of Buddhism and the environment share much in common, since they both highlight the reality of interconnectedness, our constant state of interdependence with each other, and the importance of mindful action. 

The perspectives of Buddhism and the environment share much in common, since they both highlight the reality of interconnectedness, our constant state of interdependence with each other, and the importance of mindful action.

Buddhism has long been synonymous with living in harmony with nature. For more than 2,600 years Buddhists have recognised the interconnectedness of all life on earth. Living with the understanding that our happiness depend on others highlights the relevance of traditional Buddhist practices to cultivate peace and harmony for the benefit of all.

Understanding the environment also provides an opportunity to know more deeply the reality of interconnectedness. The rivers run into the sea, trees span above and below the earth, terrestrial inhabitants including humans all breathe the same air, while marine-life shares one ocean.

The reality of the environment dissolves divisions in society based on categories such as politics, religion and ethnicity by highlighting the unity of our shared dependency on one single planet.

Taking care of the environment and giving attention to the state of the environment are ways to recognise and deepen our understanding of the constant state of interconnectedness and interdependence of all life on earth. When we take action to benefit the health of the environment, we are simultaneously taking action to care for ourselves and others.

Defining our relationship with the environment and ourselves

The Kagyu lineage of Buddhism, headed up by the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, emphasizes the continuity of oral instructions passed on from master to student. The 17th Karmapa often cites his interest in environmental matters as ensuing from his childhood experiences growing up in a nomadic family in a far-flung part of the Tibetan plateau.

The family lived close to nature in high altitude conditions, depending on their livestock of yaks, sheep, and goats for their survival. They understood that their welfare depended entirely upon the health of their natural surroundings.

In this world of Tibetan nomads, mountains are not considered as lifeless features with potential to be exploited, but in some sense as living entities with the ability to protect or disrupt the lives of those they tower over. Clean springs are recognised for their life-supporting role. In his childhood the Karmapa is known to have brought a local spring back to life by planting a tree there.

We believe our actions must flow from our aspiration to benefit all sentient beings and safeguard our mother Earth and that this positive change in our societies must begin with ourselves first” - His Holiness the 17th Karmapa

The Karmapa develops a central teaching of The Buddha, the causally interrelated nature of our existence, by demonstrating how this has evolved through technology, worldwide distribution systems, and social media in our own era.

More than ever before, as he shows, what we do affects everybody else. In his latest book, “Interconnected - Embracing Life in our Global Society”, as well as in talks at Ivy League universities and elsewhere, he brings this crucial truth of our mutual interdependency as inhabitants of this single planet into sharp relief.

In particular he argues that it is not enough to merely know about our responsibility to each other. In order for that knowledge to become a force for changing our behaviour, he argues that the idea of interdependence must travel from our head to our hearts: we have to care.

He also points out that whilst the nature of our desires is that they are potentially limitless, the world’s resources clearly are not. Therefore technological solutions alone cannot suffice to conserve our planet, we need to change on the inside too. Through reflection, and the development of mindfulness and loving kindness, he also shows how it is possible to achieve this inner transformation.

The Karmapa highlights the huge ecological significance of the Tibetan plateau as the world’s “third pole”, since there is so much water stored there in the form of (rapidly receding) glaciers. Asia’s four great rivers all originate in the Tibetan plateau, so what happens there has major implications for the rest of the continent and beyond.

In recent years the Karmapa has been resident on the other side of the Himalayas in Dharamsala India, close to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. From there he has drafted environmental guidelines for all his monasteries, nunneries, and centres worldwide, so that they act as examples of best practice amongst Himalayan and international communities.

In particular he advocates vegetarianism, both for compassionate reasons and since it is known that cattle produce more greenhouse gases around the world than all vehicles put together. Members of all his centres are required to refrain from eating meat. He also devised a list of 108 things to help the environment.

The Karmapa’s main monastery in the UK is in the Scottish borders. There at Kagyu Samye Ling there are solar panels and a large reed bed to purify brown and grey waste water, while the monastery’s Holy Isle project in North Ayrshire works to restore the spiritual and ecological values of the land through conservation activities. 35,000 native species trees have been planted on the island, while its east coast has been designated a nature sanctuary for animals, birds, and sea-life. 

To celebrate Earth Day the London centre is delighted that Satish Kumar will be the main speaker and guest of honour for the day. Satish Kumar met His Holiness the 17th Karmapa some years ago and commented that he was inspired by the level of his commitment to environmental and social issues.

Earth Day Event Highlights

Earth Day will be an opportunity for the London community to come together, inspire each other and be inspired to take action for the environment.

Satish Kumar - Editor Emeritus at the Resurgence Trust which publishes The Ecologist - will outline why catering for the natural environment (Soil), maintaining personal wellbeing (Soul) and upholding human values (Society) are the moral imperatives of our time. He highlights that we are all members of a one-earth society, and caring for the earth and soul are interrelated.

Satish encourages everyone to work towards creating a new consciousness that reveres nature and will explore how, as a global society, we need to embrace diversity and become pilgrims on this earth, not tourists. His talk will be followed by a Q & A with the audience as well as a book signing after the talk.

The centre’s resident teacher Lama Zangmo will speak about how compassion and acknowledgement of our global interdependence are key to environmental protection and the sharing of natural resources.

The steps that the London Centre have taken to improve environmental sustainability will also be on display. Housed in a listed Victorian building and former library, the London temple, Kagyu Samye Dzong, has brought the vision of the Karmapa to life by installing 60 solar panels on the roof, investing in insulation such as secondary glazing, and regular composting of green waste. 

A Focus on Ending Plastic Pollution

The theme globally for Earth Day in 2018 is to end plastic pollution. London based artist and environmentalist Maria Arceo will talk about her work, Future Dust, a collaboration with Thames 21, to highlight the long term health and environmental impacts of plastic debris entering both the fluvial and marine environments.

Her latest work utilises discarded plastic objects collected from various locations in the Thames. Her sculptures with these plastics are virtual ‘time capsules’, preserved and displayed as visual evidence of the long-term properties of these polymers. 

Maria’s fascination with plastics started when she moved near a river. When she walked along the shore she found ceramics, bones and metal but also old leather soles, heels, and fragments of shoes.

One day an archaeologist told her that one of the shoes was Tudor and that you can find shoes from Roman times – which blew her mind. If a natural, biodegradable material can last over 2000 years in the river, what happens to the plastic? Most plastics are not biodegradable.

Environmental processes only erode and destabilise plastics. This means they break down into micro-particles, or dust, that can be very difficult to remove from the environment. These small plastic fragments are already present in the food chain and are causing harm to fish and other species.

Maria said: “I want the viewer to question consumption and disposal habits. Rubbish collection and disposal needs to be addressed. We forget that there are over eight million people in London, and that the systems we have in place currently are not adequate.” 

Maria highlights that 80 percent of plastic found in the sea are actually land-based, in particular plastic which is discarded and does not end up in the bin. Londoners, and city-dwellers, need to make the connection between the plastic on the street and what ends up in the Thames, or is carried out to sea. Her artwork is aiming to quantify and demystify just how much plastic is out there, and make the point that we have control over this.

Plastic pollution highlights the reality of so many environmental issues. The interconnectedness of the environment means the plastic that we use in everyday life, if not properly disposed of, ends up in natural environments.

It has been estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastics in the ocean than fish. And yet daily decisions can have a big impact on the issue. Most people are familiar with the three R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle, but are less familiar with refusing, or removing plastics.

For example, refusing straws is one way individuals can easily contribute to lessening the estimated 550 million plastic straws that are used in the UK each day. Removing plastics that you come across during a walk is another way to help. 

Interactive Activities

Other activities on the day include a poetry open mic session, a green business exhibition space, and workshops for children and adults. Other speakers and activities will focus on permaculture (Kevin Mascarenhas), bee-keeping (Barnaby Shaw from BeeUrban), energy (David Longden), soil regeneration and plant-based diets. There will be an opportunity for attendees to publicly pledge an environmental commitment on the day.

A series of films will also be shown that raise awareness of plastic pollution in the environment, identify ways to minimise plastic use and showcase innovations and scientific breakthroughs that are occurring in the race to create a plastic-free society.

The day will end with a meditation for world peace. Everyone is invited to contemplate the effect that their choices and actions for the environment, in terms of the degree of benefit and harm, and identify ways to improve their relationship with the planet and other sentient beings.

Event Details:

22 of April 2018

10:00-17:00

15 Spa Road

Bermondsey SE16 3SA

Contact Details:

Reception +44 (0)20 3327 1650

Reception ksdlondon@samye.org

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