Could Tibetan Buddhism Stop Climate Change?

Climate change has become one of the most life-threatening issues that affects life on Earth. Humans are changing the global environment and transforming the planet in many ways that affect the potential for our survival. Some of the scientifically found risks for the planet because of global warming are devastating fires, heat-related deaths, drowning climate refugees, dying seas, rising sea levels, climate conflicts, polluted air, prohibitions on driving, economic collapse, water catastrophes, and epidemic alarms. Unless an effective step to save the planet is taken, the potential risks will be getting worse and worse.


Figure 1: A monk standing in nature.

Numerous potential solutions such as renewable energies and recycling regulations have been offered; yet, none has managed to prevent climate change from getting worse since a strict mind shift on the environment is the most essential factor along with eco-friendly regulations and technological improvements. One particular faith countering climate change is Tibetan Buddhism. Its beliefs and practices are associated with nature, ecology and animals leading to a sustainable green lifestyle. As being the most notable Tibetologists, Dalai Lama roots his works in how beliefs and practices are able to diminish climate change. Hence, Tibetan Buddhism is a substantial example to demonstrate how a shift in belief and practices can help the planet for the well-being of all creatures.


Figure 2: Dalai Lama greets visitors at a prayer ceremony.

In Tibetan Buddhism, they worship by using their time to plant vegetation and avoiding the killing of animals and other living species. In Ecology, Ethics, and Interdependence, Lama states in his speech that “we shouldn’t cut plants or pull leaves off them . . . Plants and trees are the home and source of life . . . Out of our commitment and respect for the right of animals and insects to exist, we have to take care of plants” (158). In Tibet, as practice, thousands of trees have been planted and the monk's monasteries have been creating farm gardens and spreading this work to surrounding towns. Through planting vegetation, they fight against the prominent deforestation and air pollution that Earth is experiencing today. Their perspectives on the plantation and the cycle of nature are built upon ‘respect’ for the environment. Many Tibetan Buddhists are focused on ethical living by taking care of nature.


The teaching of Karma has an enormous impact on ecological beliefs and practices of Tibetan Buddhism as well. Karma is one of the key elements encouraging Buddhists to behave respectfully to nature by cultivating tree plantations and creating a better, happy environment. Karma is a way of justice that is determined by one’s action in their former life while reincarnating. Being respectful of nature accumulates good karma, increasing one’s chance of being reborn into a better realm and also even reaching a Buddha’s ultimate goal: Nirvana, which is an escape from the infinite cycle of incarnation.


On the contrary, accumulating bad karma by going against the beliefs and practices of Buddha increases one’s chance of reincarnating in a worse realm of samsara, which is the everlasting cycle of being reborn and discontent. However, the effects of Karma are not confined to an individual’s experience; rather, it is a collective effect, including the environment in the individual life. The responsibility of a Tibetan Buddhist on nature is not simply pulling off leaves, but also improving the area, making it more hospitable and cleaner as a whole. Hereby, The Tibetan Buddhists are counteracting deforestation as well as the mistreatment of animals by simply practising their faith to build good karma and to avoid bad karma.


Figure 3: Tibetan wheel of life and karma.

One of the prominent principles behind this eco-friendly mindset is their belief in deities, spirits, and gods. Followers of Tibetan Buddhism are under the impression that “mountains, lakes and rivers are places of various trans-worldly deities who protect Tibet” (Yangtso, 4). More specifically, it is believed that there are Yul-lha who are the mountain deities; Lu who is half human and half snake water spirit; and Sa-dak who are the earth spirits. Treating them with respect means being respectful to nature itself. Since each element in nature has a specific spirit, Tibetan philosophy centres around how nature is divine and united. One must take care of nature and treat it kindly as it is completely interconnected and rooted in their religion.


Consequently, in Tibetan Buddhism, there is the idea of three poisons which are ignorance, greed, and lack of respect for living beings. Its beliefs and practices are connected with and rooted in respect for nature by planting vegetation, taking care of the environment and animals individually and collectively. Their interconnection to nature is significant since it demonstrates values and mindsets which are essential and necessary to possess for offsetting one’s carbon emissions and living a more conscious life in the environment. It can be concluded from all scientific research on global warming that only if we combine technology with ethical responsibility, we are able to prevent the worst of global warming.


Resources

Bstan-vdzin-rgya-mtsho, Dunne J., & Goleman, D. Ecology, Ethics, and Interdependence the Dalai Lama in Conversation with Leading Thinkers on Climate Change. Somerville, MA, USA: Wisdom Publications, 2018.


Cantwell, Cathy. “Reflections on Ecological Ethics and the Tibetan Earth Ritual.” The Eastern Buddhist, vol. 33, no. 1, Eastern Buddhist Society, 2001, pp. 106–27, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44362276.


Dalai Lama. “The Dalai Lama Speaks.” The Tibet Journal, vol. 5, no. 1/2, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1980, pp. 5–33, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43299968.


Schmithausen, Lambert. “Buddhism and the Ethics of Nature—Some Remarks.” The Eastern Buddhist, vol. 32, no. 2, Eastern Buddhist Society, 2000, pp. 26–78, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44362258.


Swearer, Donald K. “An Assessment of Buddhist Eco-Philosophy.” The Harvard Theological Review, vol. 99, no. 2, [Cambridge University Press, Harvard Divinity School], 2006, pp. 123–37, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4125290.


Woodhouse, Emily, Martin A Mills, Philip J K McGowan, and E J. Milner-Gulland. “Religious Relationships with the Environment in a Tibetan Rural Community: Interactions and Contrasts with Popular Notions of Indigenous Environmentalism.” Human ecology: an interdisciplinary journal. Springer US, 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4422863/.


Yangtso, Lobsang. “Environmentalism in Tibet.” The Tibet Journal44, no. 2 (2019): 39–56. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26921472.


Image Resources

Pixabay. (2021). "Monk standing alone in nature". [Photograph]. Retrieved from

https://pixabay.com/photos/monk-temple-eminent-monk-6604395/

Frayer, L. (2019). "Dalai Lama greets visitors at a prayer ceremony". [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2019/11/10/776052182/who-will-decide-on-the-dalai-lamas-successor-his supporters-or-beijing


Harris, K. (2022). "Tibetan Wheel of Life". [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://breathetogetheryoga.com/travel/tibetan-wheel-of-life/


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Melis Güven

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