Buddhist Deep Ecology

Presented by: 
Reverend Don Castro

Deep ecology is based on Buddhist principles. It calls for a holistic strategy, what can the earth sustain for the long term? Where will our natural resources come from even in a thousand years. Who are we really? The page below touches and elaborates with some additional description on the points made by Rev. Castro from the Seattle Betsuin in the video clip, this page is a process and it will continue to evolve.

Watch the video clip illustrating these concepts

Buddhist Ecology video
audio only
(Requires the free Real Audio player)

This text looks at 6 Buddhist concepts and how they relate to ecology:

  • Interdependence
  • Emptiness
  • Impermanence
  • Selflessness
  • Non-duality
  • Middle Path


Illustrated by the analogy of Indra's net. Each intersection of the net holds one jewel reflecting all the others through infinity. Pulling the strand in one place in the web affects everything else, similar to a ripple effect. How hard it is to comprehend the vast net of causes and conditions that brought us here! When you look at what brought you here, you can see that there is no such thing as a "self-made man". If any of your ancestors had not been there, you would not be here now.

To understand Interdependence or interbeing, the contemplative Buddhist traditions use what is called deep looking. Thich Nhat Hanh is well known for his poetic analogy of the seeing the cloud in the paper. When we pick up a piece of paper we don't usually think of the drops of water that evaporate, turn into clouds, rain on the forest which grows through the sun, which then gets logged by the logger, who then transports the logs to the factory, both factory and transport use other people, fuels, trucks and so forth, which is run by yet more people who turn the pulp into paper, which goes to the store where you bought this paper. This paper then helps you understand reality through a poem, or perhaps helps you get a job through a resume. This is a simplified example, but it does bring home the point that you can't really say anything is completely independent. Just as when you physically die, the ripple effect of your life will however minutely and subtle affect life around you. With deep looking one realizes that boundaries from mere observations become blurry and downright dissolve from a deeper perspective.


Buddhists say "Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is form" (see Heart Sutra). Emptiness means empty of a separate self nature, an unchanging identity, something that stands alone and is fixed and permanent. Everything is a process. "Life is consuming life" as Joseph Campbell says. "To be empty of a separate self, means to be full of everything, to be alive" says Thich Nhat Hanh. Once this is understood, the ideas of birth and dying is also overcome, and the fear of death disappears naturally.


All phenomenon's are continuously changing, constantly created and destroyed, but the emptiness is not born and destroyed. Although we don't see this impermanence necessarily in all things on a superficial level, if we look on a geologic scale, we can see how even mountains wear down into dust. We tend to cling to permanence, as in clinging to gain, fame, praise, etc, causing us great suffering when we loose things, or when we cling to an impermanent identity or ego. While it might sound rather depressing that everything is impermanent, it is also a cause for joy, as in this example. How can a child grow up if it isn't impermanent, how can a seed of corn turn into your corn flakes, unless its state is impermanent?


As said previously, the ignorance that gave rise to the attachment to a fictitious self, ruled by fears and desires, creates a separation and disconnect with everything else, resulting in conflict, an alienation from your authentic self, or "friction with impermanence" as Dr. Nobuo Haneda puts it. There now is the distinction between this "me" and everything else "out there". Realizing selflessness dissolves this artificial boundary and suddenly there is connection with everything else, there is interbeing, no more inner conflict, struggle. This is also called our "true Self" or True nature. Can you show your original face before your parents were born? An analogy is to imagine each of us a separate cell in a body. This Body also needs each separate cell to be a whole. The healthier and in touch each cell is with their body, the healthier the whole body. If the cell looses its touch and sense of place, we call that cancer. These cancerous cells treat the body as somehow other than themselves.


The previous example of a person feeling separate is an example of dualistic discursive thinking. Buddhist practice is about transcending duality, being "transparent to transcendence", and cultivating a non-dual awareness that allows the practitioner to see things as they are, rather than his/her thoughts about what reality is. It is said that when opposites arise (in one's thinking) the Buddha mind is lost. As soon as our minds come up with "good", then automatically the opposite arises, "evil". Confusing conceptual dualities for reality can easily turn "us and them" into "Us vs them". An example is to look at war time cartoons, usually, the "enemy" is portrayed as the devil, and lumped together with all the people of a country, this makes it much easier to go out and kill and get voter support to kill and torture.

Middle Path

The path that Buddha laid out, that rides in between the opposites, such as existence and non-existence, being and non-being, this middle path is not affected by these opposites. The historical Buddha went through both opposites himself before choosing the middle path. His life started out as a prince being groomed to become a king, he had all the comforts and luxuries, very self affirming and complacent. He renounced this life once he found out about old age, sickness and death, even his comforts would be impermanent. He got inspired by seeing a yogi ascetic. Becoming an ascetic himself, he went into self-denial, the extreme opposite of self affirmation. When he finally became enlightened, he extinguished his self-preoccupation, and so blew out, or extinguished his selfish attachments, this is called Nirvana.

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