Environmental Thoughts in Theravada Buddhism

With 95% of the population in Thailand being followers of Theravada Buddhism, influencing the support for local and global environmental concerns is quite possible. Donald K. Swearer in the article “The Hermeneutic of Buddhist Ecology in Contemporary Thailand: Buddhadasa and Dhammapitaka” states that the Buddhist lifestyle and the early sangha are contributions to aid in living in a constantly dangerously changing world. Swearer believes that there are distinct ecological lessons that can be drawn from the texts and traditions in Thai Buddhism.
In this chapter he shows how Buddhadasa Bhikkhu and Phra Prayudh both represent two very distinctive but complementary views to the environment issues within Theravada Buddhism. Buddhadasa’s ontologically oriented view of nature as dhamma and the ethic of caring for nature correlates with the idea of EcoBuddhism, while Phra Prayudh is an approach, which is grounded in the reasoning of texts and the historical traditions of ancient Buddhism. Buddhadasa infers that the destruction of nature implies the destruction of dhamma.
Swearer explains that to care for nature in linked to a pervasive feeling of human empathy (Pali, anukampa) for all surroundings, therefore caring is considered the active expression of empathy. Believing that to care for nature derives from a selfless, empathetic response in an ethical perspective. Swearer further explains the empathetic concerns for caring for things in at the core of one’s being. The care for all needs to be done in their natural conditions, that is to care for things as they really are rather than as one may see fit or as one would like them to be.

Phra Prayudh blames the destruction of the environment on a Western world that is flawed by three main beliefs: wrongful idea of nature, bad attitude towards other humans, and the drive for material goods as stated by Swearer. He also states that Phra believes the bases of environmental values are in katannu (gratitude), metta (loving-kindness), and sukha (happiness). This basically translates that being happy and grateful will fill us with compassion and permeate to the environment around. This concept is dealing with an understanding of how our consequences affect the world around us.
Phra tells of how monks use forests for their monasteries and are the ideal place to overcome the difficulties in life. He believes that his ecological hermeneutic is based on the early life of Buddha the early sangha in the Pali scriptures. The main problem with the monks delivering their message and ideas to layman is the local government. Sponsel and Natadecha-Sponsel in the next chapter, ” The Monastic Community in Thailand” states that even the sangha and the state are subject to corruption and abuse.
It is the politics within the sangha can cause problems and inhibit the ability for everyone to realize the potential it can have within Buddhism and the environment. The basis of the sangha is stated as being hierarchical and with its upper levels are conservative the attitude and position on women is not favorable. But even with these issues and problems Buddhism has survived for over 2500 years and is gaining strength. With further understanding in new perspectives Buddhism will eventually become a momentous force in society.

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