Buddhism and Environmentalism

Buddhism and Environmentalism

The environment isn’t just ‘out there’, it includes our minds

How fortunate we are to live in a time when so many of us are asking, what can I do to support the health of the environment that sustains us?
“It’s compelling to consider that our minds are the first layer of our environment: our mindstate is the backdrop in which we live, the breath we take and the dreams we see at night. It’s also the setting we share with anyone we connect with,” explains Doug Duncan Sensei.

Healthier mindstates make a healthier environment

And what better mindstates are there than loving kindness, compassion, wisdom and joy? Imagine how ongoing practice of these kinds of states affects us and those around us, including our environment – the ecosystems, animals and plants, down to the microorganisms.
Compare that creative scene with the effects of states of fear, greed and confusion, generally conveyed through the mass media. Which ones do we want to choose daily as the ecosystem we inhabit? Which ones do we choose?
The health of ourselves and our planet is in our power; how healthfully our planet and all of us on it can flourish with training for positive and altruistic mindstates! And it all begins with you and me, right now, in each and every moment.

Manifesting a healthier environment on the material plane too

That said, hands-on, practical application on the material plane is part of creatively manifesting this divine mandala. At Clear Sky Retreat Centre in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, founded in 2005, we’ve combined a commitment to awakening in this lifetime with a commitment to a quadruple bottom line: spiritual, social, ecological and financial sustainability. This means that ongoing retreats on meditation and teachings of spiritual transformation are augmented by projects focusing on green building, ecological restoration, and permaculture and food forests.

A fascinating challenge for us has been balancing all four bottom lines; if one leg is short, the whole stool tips. As meditators, most of us had decided that money wasn’t of central importance in our lives, and most of us easily embrace spiritual, environmental and social values. Ironically, we’ve had to work through shadow issues around financial health in order to keep our stool well balanced.

mind state and environment

mind state and environment

Inner and outer growth through Karma Yoga, the Path of Service

Another aspect of sustainability for us has been recognizing that many people are drawn to the spiritual exploration, and can’t necessarily carve out the time and save the funds to do weeks or months of retreats and course work. We innovated a program called Karma Yoga, the Path of Service, whereby people can live and work at Clear Sky and enjoy becoming a part of what we offer to our community – to our center visitors, neighbors, the local towns, North America and the planet. Like our mindstates, our practice of service starts with us and moves outward, like ripples on a pond.
“Karma Yoga taught me more than I ever could have possibly dreamed; I learned from various skilled, experienced people about different aspects of ‘going green.” shares Australian karma yogi Emma Roberts, who worked on Clear Sky’s eco-friendly building and on its organic, social enterprise farm.

An opportunity to learn more deeply about ourselves

Perhaps more to the point, in undertaking to provide service to others, Karma Yoga gives us the opportunity to learn more deeply about ourselves. Our positive motivation of service to others helps us transform our less-than-pleasant experiences –fatigue, frustration, impatience, irritation – to those much more awesomely helpful, enjoyable and powerful states of loving kindness, compassion, wisdom and joy. “I experienced much of my own conditioning arise through working with others and it was a great way to experience growth,” says Emma. Talk about a cause for celebration!
“I benefited by gaining a sense of immense gratitude for all that life has to offer. It truly opened my mind to possibilities for transformation from within,” describes Priyantha Muthugala from Sydney, who spent the summer of 2012 working on the permaculture food forest at Clear Sky. “This centre offers a colourful, well rounded approach to awakening, especially the Karma Yoga program; most retreats are confined to the cushion, but this enables a person to apply the learning in a real life environment, where the real work is.”

The role of joy and balance in all we do

AGM Frisbee Teams at Clear Sky Meditation CentreTurning our minds, hearts, hands, pocketbooks and sweat equity towards creating solutions to making all this work well together can truly test the mettle of a community of people who originally just wanted to meditate. This led to a valuable insight for us into social sustainability: we need learning and discipline and training for things to go well … and we need to really enjoy it! This inspires us to get creative so that we’re more likely to take delight from whatever life requires from us at the time, by doing things like framing our Annual General Meeting with ultimate frisbee (see photo to the right) and an awesome dance party, led by a community member who specializes in dancing meditation.

How fortunate for us that joy is an important (and fun) part of the sustainability mandala.

Sustainability is another word for balance – of discipline and rest, inner work and outer work, self-determination and acceptance, the recognition of ‘enough’ – empowers us to have a healthy mindstate, the basis for a balanced, ‘personal ecosystem.’ There’s no better thing to share with others around us, and extend out to benefit all beings on this planet we call home.

This article is written by Dharma Teacher Catherine Pawasarat and was originally published in 2013 in Connect Magazine, Australia.