and other Buddhist practices to save the planet
3 Practice nonharming in your everyday life Everything we do makes a difference. Every action creates karma. In a world governed to a horrifying extent by corporations, the choices we make as consumers are another kind of voting.
Save money as well as resources by replacing standard light bulbs with energy-efficient fluorescent lights. Use green cleaning products in your home. Use one hundred percent recycled paper products with a high percentage of post-consumer content. Do you really want big old trees to get cut down expressly for making your toilet paper? Seventh Generation is one of several companies that make nontoxic household cleaning products and recycled paper products. These products are widely available in most supermarkets, and if they are not in your store, ask the store manager to carry them. Boycott Kleenex, which makes paper products from clearfelling vast tracts of forests, and use a handkerchief instead. How would you feel if a bird bulldozed your home in order to have something to blow its nose on?
Hang your clothes up to dry. This can be a meditative time, standing outside in the sun. Smell the freshness of the laundry. If you live in a city apartment, get a wooden clothes rack that folds away between washes.
Excellent information and many more what-you-can-do lists can be found at the Web site for Green Sangha [see "Corporate Takeover," Summer 2005]: www.greensangha.org, and also that for New American Dream: www.newdream.org. The recently published What Can I Do? An Alphabet for Living, by Lisa Harrow (Chelsea Green Publishing), lists many helpful actions and resources.
4 Join the slow food movement Make time to cook and eat together with people you love. Have more potlucks. Eat organic food and avoid genetically engineered food. Shop at local farmers’ markets, where you’re likely to meet friends and hear some live music while you shop. If there isn’t a farmers’ market in your area, join with others to start one. See the compelling new film The Future of Food to learn more about the dangers of genetically modified foods, the corporations that patent them, and what you can do about it. Go to to purchase the film.
Some friends and I had a series of “dine-by-color” potlucks. On Valentine’s Day we had all red food. On St. Patrick’s Day we ate only green. A month later, on tax day, we had a challenging but delicious menu of black food (caviar, black beans, black rice, black lentils, seaweed, olives). Yes, I know we won’t save the planet with monochromatic menus; the point is to enjoy each other’s company over homemade meals and thereby foster the spirit of slow food. So why don’t you try it? White’s an easy one to start with. As the thirteenth-century Zen master Dogen said in his “Instructions to the Cook,” “If there is sincerity in your cooking, whatever you do will be an act of nourishing the sacred body... A refined cream soup is not necessarily better than a broth of wild grasses. When you gather and prepare wild grasses, make it equal to a fine cream soup with your true mind.”
For more information about the power of our food choices, see www.organicconsumers.org.
5 Stop driving! Or at least cut down on it. Other options can be fun: carpool, ride a bike, skateboard, use public transportation, go by raft, and—hey—walk! You can even do walking meditation on your way to the grocery store. When I walk, I feel grateful for the ground under my feet, which keeps me from falling into the hot center of the earth, and for gravity, which keeps me from flying off into space. According to the organization New American Dream, if you eliminate one weekly twenty-mile car trip, “you’ll reduce your annual emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by nearly a thousand pounds.”
Most radical of all, stay still. To quote Dogen again, “Why leave behind the seat in your own home to wander in vain through the dusty realms of other lands?” And Buddha said that one of the eight awarenesses of the enlightened person is “enjoying serenity and tranquility.” Sit on the front stoop and talk to your neighbors.
Don’t think that your individual actions don’t make a difference. Every little bit helps. Besides, you are modeling for others. Who knows how many people you might inspire? And you can also bring these environmental practices into the groups you are part of: help your workplace get green, your sangha, your local government. Change happens when people—and that includes you—join together and do things differently.
Susan Moon is the editor of Turning Wheel, the journal of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and the editor of the anthology Not Turning Away: The Practice of Engaged Buddhism.