June 03, 2010

The Dalai Lama and the BP Oil Spill

Planet Green published an article yesterday entitled, “How Heeding the Dalai Lama’s Advice Could Have Prevented the BP Oil Spill.” Using a statement about interconnectedness on the Dalai Lama’s Facebook page as a launch pad, Matt McDermott considers what a broader sense of self might do to our environmental impact.

Buddhist environmentalists have been saying for years that green thinking is central to the Buddhist tradition. This is the idea: If there is no such thing as a static individual self, and things are only what they are in relation to other things, then it makes no more sense to care for oneself than it does to care for others—and then by extension, the earth. This makes sense to me; if we’re deeply connected to the earth then we should care for it.

However, should we care for the earth if we’re not deeply connected to it? Looking over the tenets of deep ecology put forth by movement founder Arne Naess and George Sessions, it seems like some of the language used might be hard for Buddhists to swallow. The first principal of deep ecology:

The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: inherent worth, intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

Words like “inherent worth” and “intrinsic value” might make a Buddhist uncomfortable. What do you mean values independent of human purposes? Is a natural object’s “inherent worth” at odds with the idea of interconnectedness?

I suspect that these two views are reconcilable. I can’t claim to know Arne Naess’ spiritual inclinations, but I imagine that he has to state his cause in these terms so that people can understand what it is that he’s going after. We humans like to put ourselves at the center of things, and even when we talk about ideas like “interconnectedness,” I think we tend to put ourselves at the center of those connections. We're so into ourselves, sometimes it's probably beneficial to take humans out of the equation to see the world more for what it is.

To read Tricycle articles that explore the relationship between Buddhism and the natural world, see our Earth Day blog post.

Image: From Peter Kurdulija's Flickr photostream.

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abercrombie's picture

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Matt Laurance's picture

What the authors seem to be saying to me is that sentient beings have value beyond the self interest of humans, So I am in agreement with Shala, this article on deep ecology is really not taking a position on the mundane or ultimate nature of reality. I feel a connection to sentient beings in a way that lets me see our self interest is interelated, but this does not mean that sentient beings do not have their own paths and purposes beyond that measurable benifit to humans.

Shala Blackburn's picture

Seems to me by "independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes" he means animals have worth independent of human USES of them, for food, as beasts of burden, entertainment, etc. In other words, NOT that whole 'stewardship' idea. They have inherent worth, just as we humans do, because we are all the Buddha-in-progress.

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wisdom's picture

tommy gold...

Bill Gerlach's picture

They are only at odds as much as you let them be. I'm not a professed Buddhist (not taken formal refuge), but for me, stewardship of all life within the eco-sphere is a natural extension of this interconnectedness.

I write about it all the time at http://www.thenewpursuit.com and recently wrote a post exploring how embracing the perspective of interbeing is a game changer for the world (http://www.thenewpursuit.com/2010/05/29/interbeing-why-seeing-everything...)

We get so caught up in labels and the exact black-and-whiteness of this or that. If we can rise above that and find the essence of things we will find that we are all more or less working towards the same end; it's just that our means are tailored to who we are. Co-existence is a beautiful thing.

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