Buddhist leaders make an encouraging commitment to wildlife conservation
Recently I attended a meeting of Buddhist leaders and practitioners from around the world in New Delhi to celebrate the 2,600 Anniversary of Buddha’s Enlightenment and to consider how best to apply Buddhist principles to address the environmental crisis facing the world. The opening speech of the environmental session was given by His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje who made the most appropriate point saying there is “great harmony between Buddhism and the environmental movement”.
Compassion to sentient beings is a sentiment at the heart of Buddhist teachings and concern for the welfare of individual animals is a growing philosophy shared by people all over the world. It is hard to reconcile this concern with the fact that so many species are facing the threat of extinction as a direct consequence of human activity. The reasons are complex.
On the one hand we are all able to view extraordinary footage from talented and dedicated wildlife filmmakers about the complex lives and relationships of so many species with whom we share the planet, on the other hand our own lives are increasingly divorced from the natural world. It is, paradoxically, easier now, with our new found knowledge, to declare our interest in preserving nature and protecting animals from harm while, in reality, finding it more and more difficult to disengage from the very practices that are destroying the natural world and harming sentient beings.
As has been often stated by Buddhists we measure success in our ‘globalised world’ by Gross National Product, not Gross National Happiness. This can lead to the commodification of the natural world instead of treasuring it for its own sake, its intrinsic value. All too often whole populations of animals are seen as commodities, not sentient beings. In spite of our great interest in the natural world it seems as though we have an insatiable appetite for products that are produced by killing wild animals.
From a Buddhist perspective the rejection of compassion and ignorance are at the root of egotism and greed which cause us to look at the rich diversity of life through a narrow and selfish lens.
Faith leaders, as well as the scientific community, have an important role to play in encouraging greater understanding of the need for us all to address the global environmental and animal welfare crisis. It is very encouraging that during the Global Buddhist Congregation a commitment was made to ensure Buddhist engagement in support of the conservation of species and the protection of individual animals.