• Buddhism and the earth : environmental thought in early Buddhist philosophy

      Sieg, Tara E.; Department of Philosophy (Brock University, 2004-07-14)
      Introduction Fundamental to the philosophy of Buddhism, is the insight that there is "unsatisfactohness" (dukkha) in the world and that it can be eliminated through the practice of the Noble Eight Fold Path. Buddhism also maintains that the world as we experience and entities that exist are bereft of any substantiality. Instead existence is manifest through dependent origination. All things are conditional; nothing is permanent. However, inherent in this dependent existence is the interconnectedness of all beings and their subjection to the cosmic law of karma. Part of cultivating the Eight Fold path includes a deep compassion for all other living things, 'trapped' within this cycle of dependent origination. This compassion or empathy (karuna) is crucial to the Buddhist path to enlightenment. It is this emphasis on karuna that shows itself in Mahayana Buddhism with respect to the theory of the boddhisatva (or Buddha-to-be) since the boddhisatva willingly postpones his/her own enlightenment to help others on the same path. One of the ramifications of the theory of dependent origination is that there is no anthropocentric bias placed on humans over the natural world. Paradoxically the doctrine of non-self becomes an ontology within Buddhism, culminating in the Mayahana realization that a common boundary exists between samsara and nirvana. Essential to this ontology is the life of dharma or a moral life. Ethics is not separated from ontology. As my thesis will show, this basic outlook of Buddhism has implications toward our understanding of the Buddhist world-view with respect to the current human predicament concerning the environment. While humans are the only ones who can 4 attain "Buddhahood", it is because of our ability to understand what it means to follow the Eight fold path and act accordingly. Because of the interconnectedness of all entities {dharmas), there is an ontological necessity to eliminate suffering and 'save the earth' because if we allow the earth to suffer, we ALL suffer. This can be understood as an ethical outlook which can be applied to our interaction with and treatment of the natural environment or environment in the broadest sense, not just trees plants rocks etc. It is an approach to samsara and all within it. It has been argued that there is no ontology in Buddhism due to its doctrine of "non-self". However, it is a goal of this thesis to argue that there does exist an original ontology in Buddhism; that according to it, the nature of Being is essentially neither "Being nor non-being nor not non-being" as illustrated by Nagarjuna. Within this ontology is engrained an ethic or 'right path' (samma marga) that is fundamental to our being and this includes a compassionate relationship to our environment. In this dissertation I endeavour to trace the implications that the Buddhist worldview has for the environmental issues that assail us in our age of technology. I will explore questions such as: can the Buddhist way of thinking help us comprehend and possibly resolve the environmental problems of our day and age? Are there any current environmental theories which are comparable to or share common ground with the classical Buddhist doctrines? I will elucidate some fundamental doctrines of early Buddhism from an environmental perspective as well as identify some comparable modern environmental theories such as deep ecology and general systems theory, that seem to share in the wisdom of classical Buddhism and have much to gain from a deeper appreciation of Buddhism.