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Buddhism Buddhism and the Environment
by
Richard Payne

Introduction

The relation between Buddhist thought and contemporary environmental and ecological concerns has become one of the most important dimensions for the development of Buddhist thought as applied to contemporary issues. Although for many practitioners the supportive function of Buddhism in relation to their environmental concerns seems unproblematic and obvious, closer readings of texts and more historically and philosophically informed explications of traditional Buddhist thought have led to a large body of discussion and critique. In general, the discourse on Buddhism and environmentalism takes place within a wider discourse of the social relevance of Buddhism most commonly known as “engaged Buddhism.” Engaged Buddhism itself developed out of Buddhist modernism and integrates presumptions from late-19th- and early-20th-century liberal Protestant ideas of a “social gospel.” This is in contrast to the institutional role of Buddhism during most of its history throughout Asia, where it was largely either in active support of state power or in reclusive separation from the state, but in neither case did it take an active role in trying to effect social change.

Collections

Concern over the utility of a Buddhist perspective for resolving the environmental crisis has found expression in several collections of works. These are gathered here, and important individual essays from them are cited under the more specific subheadings. Badiner 1990 is oriented toward providing resources for the development of an eco-Buddhism, as is Kaza and Kraft 2000. Batchelor and Brown 1992 attempts to systematically work from scriptural resources to application. Gallay-Pap and Bottomley 1997 discusses both Buddhist theory and specific social and governmental programs related to environmentalism. Tucker and Williams 1997, the first volume in an entire series on religion and the environment, provides a variety of critical studies, sectarian analyses, and advocacy statements. A review of Tucker and Williams 1997 may be found in Waldau 1998, providing critiques regarding the use of key concepts. Expanding the discourse to include Pure Land authors, Payne 2010 intends to provide a critical and analytic contribution to the discussion.

  • Badiner, Allen, ed. Dharma Gaia: A Harvest of Essays in Buddhism and Ecology. Berkeley, CA: Parallax, 1990.

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    Wide-ranging collection of many resources for Buddhist environmental activism. Section headings under which selections are grouped include: “Green Buddhism,” “Shifting Views of Perception,” “Experiencing Extended Mind,” “Becoming Sangha,” “Meditations on Earth as a Sentient Being,” and “A Call to Action.” Popular rather than scholarly in orientation.

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  • Batchelor, Martine, and Kerry Brown, eds. Buddhism and Ecology. London and New York: Cassell, 1992.

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    Comprises ten articles by activists, teachers, scholars, and leaders, divided into three sections: scriptural bases, relation of teachings to environmentalism, and case studies. Reprinted in 1994.

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  • Gallay-Pap, Peter, and Ruth Bottomley, eds. Toward an Environmental Ethic in Southeast Asia. Papers presented at a seminar on environmental ethics in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 5–7 November 1997. Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Buddhist Institute, 1997.

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    Includes essays from Buddhist, Islamic, and indigenous religious traditions of Southeast Asia. Buddhist papers discuss both theoretical aspects (abhidharma, “inner ecology”), as well as specific social, political, and governmental programs.

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  • Kaza, Stephanie, and Kenneth Kraft, eds. Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism. Boston and London: Shambhala, 2000.

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    An extensive collection of materials that the editors consider useful resources for the formulation and support of an environmentally oriented Buddhism. Contents are described as “classic Buddhist texts, modern commentaries, resources for ecologically oriented spiritual practice and guidelines for action” (pp. 1–2).

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  • Payne, Richard, ed. How Much Is Enough? Consumerism, Buddhism, and the Human Environment. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.

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    This collection seeks to broaden the discourse on Buddhism and the environment by including works by both Western and Japanese scholars. Just as the problems are global, the responses have been global as well. Also adds voices of Shin Buddhists to a discourse in which they have been largely ignored in the past.

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  • Tucker, Mary E., and D. R. Williams, eds. Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

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    Compendium of nineteen essays covering a range of topics, from both practitioners and scholars of Buddhism. Focus tends to be on South and Southeast Asia, Japan, and North America. Specific essays discussed individually (see Waldau 1998). Some are scholarly articles.

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  • Waldau, Paul. “A Review of Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds; Buddhism and Ecology: Balancing Convergence, Dissonance, and the Risk of Anachronism.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 5 (1998): 374–383.

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    Provides a critique of the essays for failing to adequately nuance the meaning of ecology, treating it as a monolithic entity. Comments on the ambivalence of Buddhist cosmology as not only providing a rationale for environmental concerns but also contributing to the obscuring of environmental issues.

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Bibliographies

There are several bibliographies on Buddhism and environmentalism available online. These are largely unannotated and not searchable, but they are still useful for further research on the topic. Stephanie Kaza’s Buddhist Views on Vegetarianism provides bibliographic information on vegetarianism in Buddhism. Buddhism and Ecology Bibliography, maintained by Duncan Ryūken Williams, is related to the project on religion and environment that produced Tucker and Williams 1997 (cited under Collections). Peter Harvey’s Bibliography on Buddhist Ethics is more oriented toward technical philosophic issues in relation to Buddhist ethics generally. Buddhist Ecology and Environmentalism appears to have grown out of Les Sponsel’s teaching, and the website also includes additional resources for the question of an eco-Buddhism.

Advocacy

Although much of the writing on Buddhism and the environment has a tone of advocating for Buddhism as the primary solution to environmental issues, some writers have made that their specific goal. Macy 2007 has been a formative although deeply flawed work in this area. Cooper 1996 argues that Buddhism as a form of cognitive evolution is congruent with evolutionary theory (see also Jones 1997). Parkes 1997 focuses on two Japanese Buddhist teachers, arguing that they contribute to Buddhist environmentalism. Loori 1997, written by a contemporary American Buddhist teacher, argues for a cosmic interpretation of the Buddhist precepts. Schumacher 1974 is, like Macy 2007, considered an early key work but is in its own way even more problematic. Henning 2002 promotes a version of Buddhism as congruent with deep ecology.

  • Cooper, Robin. The Evolving Mind: Buddhism, Biology, and Consciousness. Birmingham, UK: Windhorse, 1996.

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    Argues for the compatibility of Buddhist thought with evolutionary biology. Author follows the works of Sangharakshita, the contemporary Buddhist teacher. Contrary to evolutionary theory, suggests that the mind plays a role in evolution, which is described as continuous from biological, mental, cultural to “higher” evolution (see Jones 1997).

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  • Henning, Daniel H. Buddhism and Deep Ecology. Bloomington, IN: First Books Library, 2002.

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    Drawing on his personal experience living as a forest monk in Thailand, the author links dhamma/dharma to nature and the concerns of “forest monks” to the natural world. Interprets Buddhism as teaching the idea of “‘One’ world that is the home to all known life” (p. 13). Reviews basic Buddhist teachings, giving them an environmental interpretation.

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  • Jones, Charles S. “Review of Cooper, The Evolving Mind.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 4 (1997): 189–193.

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    Critiques Cooper’s argument for conflating evolutionary theory, which describes changes in populations with personal development, or “self-transcendence,” that occurs in individuals. Also highlights the important issue of misrepresenting a very modern version of Buddhism as an original or “pure” Buddhism. Available online.

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  • Loori, John Daido. “The Precepts and the Environment.” In Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds. Edited by Mary E. Tucker and D. R. Williams, 177–184. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, 1997.

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    Deploys a Huayan-like notion of the mutual identity of all things, and on this basis asserts that the Buddhist precepts are to be understood as having a cosmic significance rather than simply a personal one. As cosmic, therefore, the precepts are also environmental in nature. Exegetical rather than scholarly.

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  • Macy, Joanna. World as Lover, World as Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal. Berkeley, CA: Parallax, 2007.

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    Employing the idea of interdependence, proposes a view of the relation between humans and the world as one of both love and identity. With this relationship in mind, Macy lays out four metaphors that inform our present thinking: battlefield, trap, lover, and self. Unfortunately misinterprets the teaching of the three turnings of the wheel of the dharma (see chapter 13, “The Great Turning”). Originally published in 1991.

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  • Parkes, Graham. “Voices of Mountains, Trees, and Rivers: Kūkai, Dōgen, and a Deeper Ecology.” In Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds. Edited by Mary E. Tucker and D. R. Williams, 111–128. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, 1997.

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    Argues for an interpretation of notions of sanctity found in the works of Kūkai and Dōgen that retains a deep ecological sensibility, while at the same time avoids some of the unacceptable consequences of such an interpretation.

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  • Schumacher, F. Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. London: Blond and Briggs, 1974.

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    Long considered the groundbreaking study of Buddhist ethics in relation to environment and economics. The work is, however, deeply traditionalist in character, depending on antimodernist nostalgia for an idealized past as simpler and more authentic. Appropriates Buddhist terminology and ideas as part of its traditionalist rhetoric. Buddhist economics first appeared in Asia: A Handbook, edited by Guy Wint (London: Anthony Blond, 1966).

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  • Spellmeyer, Kurt. Buddha at the Apocalypse: Awakening from a Culture of Destruction. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.

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    Confronts difficult issues regarding the contributions to the environmental crisis made by Christian teachings that the world will end in an Apocalypse and that this is foreordained and good. Employs the Weberian distinction between “world-denying” and “world-affirming” as an analytic framework to promote Buddhism as an alternative view of history.

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Sectarian Analyses

Some of the literature has employed the specific doctrines or teachings of different Buddhist schools to the analysis and prescription of environmental issues. These have the benefit of being more focused, rather than speaking in generalities about “Buddhism.” Swearer 1997 examines the response of Thai Buddhist leaders to environmental concerns, while Sponsel and Natadecha-Sponsel 1997 examines the potential of the Thai monastic community in creating a response to environmental issues facing Thailand. Taking a Pure Land Buddhist perspective, Dake 2010 considers the value of Shinran’s ideas for environmentalism. Also looking to Japan, James 2004 engages Zen Buddhist ideas. Huayan thought, in the background for most of East Asian Buddhism, is specifically considered in both Barnhill 2001 and Cook 1989. The Indic origins of Buddhism are explored for their relevance to environmental concerns in Inada 1989, which specifically examines Madhyamaka thought. One of the most systematic and thorough works of scholarship on the subject is Schmithausen 1997, which explores the earliest Buddhist texts for a critical understanding of Buddhist views on nature.

  • Barnhill, David Landis. “Relational Holism: Huayan Buddhism and Deep Ecology.” In Deep Ecology and World Religions: New Essays on Sacred Grounds. Edited by David Landis Barnhill and Roger S. Gottlieb, 77–106. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

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    Places the discussion at the intersection of deep ecology, eco-feminism, and Buddhist thought. Central to this is the various understandings of holism and the debates over its proper interpretation. The author then contributes to this discussion from the perspective of Huayan Buddhism, a Chinese school that developed a balanced way of speaking of holism. The Huayan perspective allows for the avoidance of extreme positions—either reifying or denying the particular—in the development of a Buddhist-informed ecological philosophy.

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  • Cook, Francis J. “The Jewel Net of Indra.” In Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought: Essays in Environmental Philosophy. Edited by J. Baird Callicott and Roger T. Ames, 213–229. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

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    The “jewel net of Indra” is an image expressing the interpenetration of all being, the idea that all things exist within each other. The author asserts that this means the cosmos is “a self-creating, self-maintaining, and self-defining organism” (p. 215), an interpretation rather than explanation of the concept. It is on the basis of such interpretations that Buddhist thought has been seen as supportive of the neo-romantic idea of “Gaia.”

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  • Dake, Mitsuya. “Pure Land Buddhism and Its Perspective on the Environment.” In How Much Is Enough? Consumerism, Buddhism, and the Human Environment. Edited by Richard K. Payne, 63–81. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.

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    Brief analysis of Pure Land thought and of Shinran’s ideas relevant to environmental issues. Pure Land is often dismissed as an otherworldly form of Buddhism—an interpretation that could well run counter to the immediacy of environmental concerns. Yet, the author shows that Pure Land ideas can, in fact, be used for environmental purposes.

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  • Inada, Kenneth K. “Environmental Problematics.” In Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought: Essays in Environmental Philosophy. Edited by J. Baird Callicott and Roger T. Ames, 231–245. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

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    Interprets Buddhist thought, particularly Nagārjuna’s Mādhyamaka, as a form of holism, or a neo-romantic assertion of the integral unity of all being. Attributes the doctrine of the middle way, interpreted as a form of undifferentiated identity, to the Buddha Śākyamuni.

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  • James, Simon P. Zen Buddhism and Environmental Ethics. Aldershot, UK. Ashgate, 2004.

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    Critically informed exploration of Zen ethics and cosmology relate to contemporary environmental concerns. Deals with familiar accusations that Zen is amoral and quietistic, while looking to concepts such as compassion, nonviolence, and buddha-nature as bases upon which to develop a Zen conception of the intrinsic value of the natural world.

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  • Schmithausen, Lambert. “The Early Buddhist Tradition and Ecological Ethics.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 1 (1997): 1–74.

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    The most important if controversial article examining the environmental relevance of early Buddhism. Questions the direct application of the early tradition to contemporary concerns. Critiques writers who have distorted early Buddhist thought to make it fit with their own environmentalist sympathies. Sympathetic to environmental concerns but critical of attributing our own contemporary values to early Buddhism. Reprinted in Payne 2010 (cited under Collections) and available online.

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  • Sponsel, Leslie E., and Poranee Natadecha-Sponsel. “A Theoretical Analysis of the Potential Contributions of the Monastic Community in Promoting a Green Society in Thailand.” In Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds. Edited by Mary E. Tucker and D. R. Williams, 45–68. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, 1997.

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    Based on their own environmental interpretation of the significance of the Buddhadharma (teachings of Buddhism), the authors evaluate the relevance of the Thai monastic community to Thailand’s environmental issues. This evaluation includes not only what they consider positive contributions but also the liabilities hindering such contributions.

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  • Swearer, Donald. “The Hermeneutics of Buddhist Ecology in Contemporary Thailand: Buddhadāsa and Dhammapiṭaka.” In Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds. Edited by Mary E. Tucker and D. R. Williams, 21–44. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, 1997.

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    Examines the way in which Buddhist leaders have interpreted both texts and traditions of Thai Buddhism to create a Buddhist response to environmental concerns in that country. Includes a response to some critiques articulated in Harris 1994 and Harris 1995 (both cited under Skeptics); see also Sponsel and Natadecha-Sponsel 1997.

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Buddhist Worldview and Western Philosophy and Ethics

The use of Buddhist thought in support of environmentalism has stimulated a great deal of reflection on the relation between Buddhist thought and Western philosophy and ethics. These philosophic reflections on the project of creating a Buddhist environmentalism have been conducted by both proponents of the idea of congruity between Buddhist thought and environmentalism and skeptics who question the feasibility of such a project. The distinction between proponents and skeptics is not by any means clear, however. Not only do both engage in critical reflection on Buddhist philosophic conceptions, but it is often the sympathetic critic who best grasps the implications of Buddhist philosophic conceptions.

Proponents

Examination of Buddhist thought is pursued by some authors as a means of clarifying Buddhist concepts and facilitating their philosophic status as an aid to Buddhist environmentalism. Lancaster 1997 provides a pivotal critical attempt to separate Buddhist ideas from environmental ones projected onto Buddhism. Ives 2010 examines the concepts deployed in Buddhist environmentalism in order to clarify their meanings within Buddhist thought per se. Cooper and James 2005 explores the possibility of interpreting Buddhist thought in terms of virtue ethics for application to environmental concerns. An attempt to clarify terminology and Buddhist concepts as used in eco-Buddhist literature is Ives 2008. Sciberras 2008 argues against the imposition of Western ethical categories onto Buddhism. In a parallel argument, de Silva 1998 proposes that applied ethics be validated as an approach to environmental issues; de Silva’s proposition also states that this is the appropriate intellectual framework within which Buddhist thought can be best engaged with environmental concerns.

  • Cooper, David E., and Simon P. James. Buddhism, Virtue and Environment. Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005.

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    Argues that the contribution of Buddhism to environmentalism is not cosmology or worldview but rather its virtue ethics and the positive values that it promotes for human behaviors (i.e., virtues such as compassion, equanimity, and humility). Critiques such assertions as those that claim, for example, the idea of “no-self” (anatman) automatically entails a conception of interconnectedness.

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  • de Silva, Padmasiri. Environmental Philosophy and Ethics in Buddhism. New York: St. Martin’s, 1998.

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    Asserts the autonomy of applied ethics, as distinct from analysis of ethical discourse, and of environmental ethics as a subfield of applied ethics. Proposes karma and dependent origination as the framing concepts for Buddhist thought, including a Buddhist environmental ethics. Substantive extended argument by a leading contemporary Buddhist philosopher.

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  • Ives, Christopher. “Deploying the Dharma: Reflections on the Methodology of Constructive Buddhist Ethics.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 15 (2008): 23–44.

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    Reflections on the philosophic problems of engaged Buddhism, particularly in the area of environmental concerns. Discussion covers (mis)use of key terms, the naturalistic fallacy, dehistoricization and idealization, multivalence of Buddhist ethical concepts, imposition of views onto texts (eisegesis), and absence of clear articulation of first principles. Available online.

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  • Ives, Christopher. “In Search of a Green Dharma: Philosophical Issues in Buddhist Environmental Ethics.” In Destroying Mara Forever: Buddhist Ethics Essays in Honor of Damien Keown. Edited by John Powers and Charles S. Prebish, 165–186. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2010.

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    The author clarifies concepts that have been widely deployed in the development of Buddhist environmental ethics, including interdependence (pratityasamutpāda), responsibility, identification with nature (holism), intrinsic value, equality, animal rights, and the sacredness of nature. An important corrective to loose usage of Buddhist concepts or the attribution of Western ethical ideas to Buddhism under various quasi-Buddhist guises.

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  • Lancaster, Lewis. “Buddhism and Ecology: Collective Cultural Perceptions.” In Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds. Edited by Mary E. Tucker and D. R. Williams, 3–18. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, 1997.

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    Raises concerns with generalizations about Buddhism that ignore the diversity of the Buddhist tradition. Critically reflects on the reading of Western cultural conceptions of Buddhist ideas. Argues for the recognition of the cultural “locatedness” of different conceptions of nature, only some of which are congruent with environmentalist conceptions.

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  • Sciberras, Colette. “Buddhism and Speciesism: on the Misapplication of Western Concepts to Buddhist Beliefs.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 15 (2008): 215–240.

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    Argues against the imposition of Western ethical categories and concepts on Buddhism—specifically, the accusation of “speciesism,” the valuing of “humans and human life more highly than other animals and their lives” (p. 216). A response to Paul Waldau’s critique of “green Buddhism” in Waldau 2002 (cited under Skeptics). Available online.

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Skeptics

Whether Buddhist ideas can be successfully deployed in the project of creating a Buddhist environmentalism has also been the subject of several fundamentally skeptical critics. This is not to say that such authors are necessarily opposed to the project, but they are dubious about Buddhist concepts being applied as such to environmental concerns. Rather than being critical of efforts toward a Buddhist environmentalism per se, the critiques are usually more informed by the view that Buddhist ideas require extensive interpretation before being employed for this purpose. Eckel 2010, for example, explores considerations about the social class issues of contemporary Western Buddhist environmentalism in order to facilitate a more widely applicable understanding. Kalupahana 1989 suggests that a Buddhist analysis of Western conceptions underlying the ecological crisis is valuable, but proposes that Westerners look to their own philosophic traditions, particularly Pragmatism, for answers to the situation. Both Peter Harvey and Ian Harris have written extensively on the issues inherent in attempts to adapt Buddhist ideas to environmental concerns. (See Swearer 1997, cited under Sectarian Analyses, for a response to some of Harris’s critiques.) Harvey 1999 and Harvey 2007 both consider the question of unintended consequences deriving from Buddhist ethics. One of the most prolific authors critiquing Buddhist ethics is Ian Harris. Harris 1995 provides an analysis of varieties of contemporary Buddhist environmental thought, and Harris 1994 examines problems arising from Buddhist conceptions of causation.

  • Eckel, Malcolm David. “Is ‘Buddhist Environmentalism’ a Contradiction in Terms?” In How Much Is Enough? Consumerism, Buddhism, and the Human Environment. Edited by Richard K. Payne, 161–170. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.

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    Raises serious issues about contradictions within Buddhist values in relation to the environment. Conservation may reify the environment counter to the notion of emptiness, and aesthetic or hedonic values may unconsciously motivate preservation because of attachment to particular middle-class uses, such as hiking or skiing. Employs Riceour’s third stage of religious consciousness, in which traditional myths are simultaneously held in tension with contemporary critical reflection.

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  • Harris, Ian. “Causation and Telos: The Problem of Buddhist Environmental Ethics.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 1 (1994): 45–56.

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    Calls into question the possibility of developing a Buddhist environmental ethics, because traditional Buddhist thought incorporates concepts of causation that make purposeful action problematic. Causality is central to early Buddhist thought but developed in two different modalities: spatial and temporal. For purposeful action a temporal understanding is required. The plurality of Buddhist conceptions makes the development of a consistent Buddhist environmental ethic problematic. Available online.

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  • Harris, Ian. “Getting to Grips with Buddhist Environmentalism: A Provisional Typology.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 2 (1995): 173–190.

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    Sets out a fourfold typology of approaches to the relation between Buddhism and environmental ethics: eco-spirituality, eco-justice, eco-traditionalism, and eco-apologetics. Provides examples of each and considers the question of “authenticity.” Available online.

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  • Harvey, Peter. “Vinaya Principles for Assigning Degrees of Culpability.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 6 (1999): 271–291.

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    Interprets Buddhist ethics as primarily intention-based, which can contribute to environmental problems because unintended consequences are not considered. Argues that this ethical blind spot is a serious consideration in the contemporary application of Buddhism to environmental degradation stemming from the unintended consequences of human actions. Available online.

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  • Harvey, Peter. “Avoiding Unintended Harm to the Environment and the Buddhist Ethic of Intention.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 14 (2007).

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    Examines potential problems involved in applying traditional Buddhist ethics of intentions to environmental issues, where unintended consequences may be equally problematic. Determining the ethical value of an action on the basis of intent alone is inadequate for the development of Buddhist environmental ethics.

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  • Kalupahana, David J. “Toward a Middle Path of Survival.” In Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought: Essays in Environmental Philosophy. Edited by J. Baird Callicott and Roger T. Ames, 247–256. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

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    Provides a nuanced explanation of Buddhist ideas regarding conceptual oppositions as background to conceptions regarding nature. Then relates early Buddhist thought with American Pragmatism, specifically William James, examining similarities between the two. Recommends that Westerners look to the latter tradition before seeking solutions to environmental problems in Asian religio-philosophic traditions.

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  • Waldau, Paul. “Buddhism and Animal Rights.” In Contemporary Buddhist Ethics. Edited by Damien Keown, 81–113. London: Curzon, 2000.

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    After defining “animal rights,” considers traditional Buddhist views toward animals and relates these to contemporary concerns and animal rights. Finds both positive and negative aspects of the tradition for understanding nonhuman animals. Despite focusing on the negative, suggests that there are valuable aspects of the tradition supportive of animal rights.

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  • Waldau, Paul. The Specter of Speciesism: Buddhist and Christian Views of Animals. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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    Introduces the concept “speciesism,” defined as “the inclusion of all human animals within, and the exclusion of all other animals from, the moral circle” (p. 38). After reviewing religious and philosophic conceptions of animals, examines arguments that Buddhism and Christianity are “speciesist” ethical systems. (See Scriberras 2008, cited under Proponents, for a response.)

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Buddhism and the Eco-Sciences

The term “eco-sciences” is used here to identify both environmental sciences—understood narrowly as an extension of biology—and cultural sciences, such as anthropology and sociology when applied to the cultural dimensions of the relations between a society and the environment. There have been some studies on the cultural dimensions of resource utilization in traditionally Buddhist societies. Particularly noteworthy is the work of Toni Huber, which is informed by his background in forestry and his expertise in Buddhist studies and Tibetan society. Huber 2003 and Huber 2005 both explore the relation between Buddhist values and resource management in traditional Tibetan society. Huber and Pedersen 1997 examines the relation between traditional Tibetan meteorological ideas and environmental awareness. A related issue is the question of the relation between Buddhist thought and modern science. It is prominently asserted in much of Westernized Buddhist thought since the mid-19th century that there is a compatibility between, or convergence, of Buddhism and science. Thus, there are also studies done on the conceptual relations between Buddhist ideas and scientific ones. Some of these, such as Koizumi 2010, are interpretive in nature. Barnhart 2000 considers Buddhist conceptions of identity and selfhood in relation to genetic engineering, suggesting that a Buddhist view would be radically different from an ethics based on Christian conceptions.

  • Barnhart, Michael G. “Nature, Nurture, and No-Self: Bioengineering and Buddhist Values.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 7 (2000): 126–144.

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    Deals with the ethical issues related to bioengineering—particularly gene therapy, assisted reproduction, and cloning—with attention to the doctrine of the emptiness of the self (anātman). Treats karma as unproblematically moralistic in nature. Available online.

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  • Huber, Toni. “The Chase and the Dharma: The Legal Protection of Wild Animals in Premodern Tibet.” In Wildlife in Asia: Cultural Perspectives. Edited by John Knight, 36–55. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

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    Discusses ethical, religious, and legal changes beginning in 15th-century Tibet, including “sealing the hills and sealing the valleys,” giving Buddhist ethical principles legal status. Another involved “the gift of fearlessness,” protecting wild animals from the fear associated with being hunted, which was interpreted as an expression of one of the six perfections. Available online.

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  • Huber, Toni. “Antelope Hunting in Northern Tibet: Cultural Adaptations to Wildlife Behaviour.” Memorie della Societa di Scienze Naturali e del Museo Civico di Storia naturale di Milano, 33 (2005): 5–17.

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    Contemporary hunting practices in northern Tibet have been motivated by the international market for the wool of Tibetan antelope (shahtoosh) and have led to potential loss of sustainable herds. In contrast, while local traditional practices of pastoralists in northern Tibet included antelope hunting, herd sizes were maintained at sustainable levels. Available online.

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  • Huber, Toni, and Poul Pedersen. “Meteorological Knowledge and Environmental Ideas in Traditional and Modern Societies: The Case of Tibet.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 3 (1997): 577–598.

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    Examines claims that Tibetan culture was traditionally ecological and conservationist. Finds traditional Tibetan meteorology to be local, qualitative, and informed by moral values, contrasted with modern ecology, which is global, quantitative, and informed by scientific values. As such, claims of traditional Tibetan environmental sensibility are anachronistic projections based on contemporary sociopolitical concerns. Available online.

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  • Koizumi, Tetsunori. “The Noble Eightfold Path as a Prescription for Sustainable Living.” In How Much Is Enough? Buddhism, Consumerism, and the Human Environment. Edited by Richard K. Payne, 133–145. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.

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    Discusses interdependent systems and human evolution. Outlines an “energetic” interpretation of the eightfold path: four stages that correspond to potential energy and four that correspond to kinetic energy. Koizumi proposes that this interpretation allows the eightfold path to be seen as a model for sustainable living.

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Religious Valuation of Nonhuman Entities

The question of meat eating and vegetarianism is perhaps the most traditional issue that provides a basis not simply for dietary restrictions but also for moral obligations to other living beings. Thus, many authors have seen this as an acceptance of animal rights, thereby providing a basis for an environmental ethic. Although Buddhism is now widely associated in popular culture with vegetarianism, studies of traditional societies reveal more complex relations between Buddhism and both hunting and meat eating, as seen, for example, in Grumbach 2005. From a Japanese perspective, other cultural complexities of this issue are considered in Nakamura 2010. Several authors specifically argue for vegetarianism, including Bodhipaksa 1999, Shabkar 2004, and an early classic on the topic for modern Buddhism, Kapleau 1981. Steele and Kaza 2000 attempts to gather sociological data related to vegetarianism and other food-related practices on the part of contemporary Western Buddhists. The question of whether nonsentient beings such as plants—and by a possible contemporary extension, landscapes, watersheds, oceans—have “buddha-nature” is one way of approaching the question of whether the moral obligations recognized as extending to sentient beings also extend to them. This concept develops in East Asian Mahayana Buddhism as an extension of the bodhisattva vow to work for the awakening of all sentient beings, putting off one’s own awakening until that time. This is an extension of the idea of buddha-nature beyond its usual confines as a human characteristic. LaFleur 1989 considers the Japanese poet-monk Saigyō’s valuation of nature. Schmithausen 1991 examines early Buddhist scriptures specifically for the idea that plants have sentience.

  • Bodhipaksa (Graeme Stephen). Vegetarianism. Birmingham, UK: Windhorse, 1999.

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    Presents both doctrinal and pragmatic arguments for vegetarianism. Buddhist ethical principles employed include nonharming (actually deriving from Gandhi), kindness, sympathetic joy, compassion, and interconnectedness. Also argues for vegetarianism on the grounds of environmental benefits. Does not, however, directly link Buddhist ethical principles with environmental concerns.

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  • Grumbach, Lisa. “Sacrifice and Salvation in Medieval Japan: Hunting and Meat in Religious Practice as Suwa Jinja.” PhD diss., Stanford University, 2005.

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    Suwa Jinja was associated with hunting and meat eating, posing a problem for Buddhist interactions with the local kami cult. Rather than eradicating these practices, Buddhist rationales were developed for them, not only in relation to the kami cult per se but also to more general Japanese conceptions of purity and impurity.

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  • Kapleau, Roshi P. To Cherish All Life: A Buddhist View of Animal Slaughter and Meat Eating. Rochester, NY: Zen Center. 1981.

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    Extended discussion of the realities and ethics of meat eating. Includes discussions of the treatment of animals raised for consumption, as well as ethical reflections on the principle of cherishing all life. By a leading American Buddhist teacher. Available online.

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  • LaFleur, William. “Saigyō and the Buddhist Value of Nature.” In Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought: Essays in Environmental Philosophy. Edited by J. Baird Callicott and Roger T. Ames, 183–209. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

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    Abridged version of LaFleur, “Saigyō and the Buddhist Value of Nature,” History of Religions (1973–1974): 13.2, 93–128; 13.3, 227–248. Traces development of the idea of “the attainment of buddhahood by plants and trees” through Chinese Buddhist thinkers, then introduced to Japan by Saichō and Kūkai. Development of this idea in Japan, as in Saigyō’s poetry, is attributed to the influence of the kami cult, which located religious significance and power in the natural world.

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  • Nakamura, Ikuo. “The Debate on Taking Life and Eating Meat in Edo-Period Jōdo Shin Tradition.” In How Much Is Enough? Buddhism, Consumerism, and the Human Environment. Edited by Richard K. Payne, 147–160. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.

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    The latter part of the Tokugawa era saw much discussion within the Japanese Buddhist monastic community and the government regarding the status of monks, including those who ate meat and got married. This essay examines this debate, including doctrinal considerations of animals.

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  • Schmithausen, Lambert. The Problem of the Sentience of Plants in Earliest Buddhism. Tokyo: International Institute for Buddhist Studies, 1991.

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    Although most study on sentience and, hence, moral value of plants has focused on developments related to East Asian Buddhism, Schmithausen provides an examination of the notion of sentience in relation to plants as found in early Buddhist teachings. Another essential work for discussion of these topics. Highly scholarly.

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  • Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol. Food of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings on Abstaining from Meat. Boston and London: Shambhala, 2004.

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    Translations of two selections from Shabkar (b. 1781–d. 1851) promoting vegetarianism. The first focuses on the doctrinal prohibitions against the eating of meat, while the second promotes the development of compassion toward animals. Translators’ introduction addresses the conflicts between moral proscriptions against meat eating, and its role in Vajrayāna ritual.

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  • Snyder, Gary. “Nets of Beads, Webs of Cells: Ecosystems, Organisms, and the First Precept in Buddhism.” In A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Watersheds. By Gary Snyder, 65–73. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2008.

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    Personal reflections on the complex issues of environmental sensibilities in relation to Buddhist morality. Avoids simplistic solutions based on dualistic oppositions, which frequently inform discussions of Buddhist ethics and environmentalism. Several other essays are also relevant. Snyder is one of the most highly articulate and reflective members of the American Buddhist community.

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  • Steele, Kristin, and Stephanie Kaza. “Buddhist Food Practices and Attitudes among Contemporary Western Practitioners.” Ecotheology 9 (2000): 49–67.

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    Examines three interrelated questions regarding food consumption and Buddhism. What are the dietary practices of contemporary Western Buddhists? Are these ecologically more sound? Are these based on Buddhist beliefs? Discusses conflicting values within Buddhist teachings. Goes beyond simply equating vegetarianism with ecologically sound dietary practices, considering packaging, organic and local production, and humane treatment of animals. Available online.

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Environmental Social Action

Environmental issues are closely integrated into economic ones. Economic systems that create profit from waste and pollution are very powerful social forces in the face of which religious values may have little impact. For this reason, the change of economic systems is fundamental to resolving environmental issues. Inoue 2010 promotes an economic analysis that attempts to take into account the environmental impacts of both production and consumption. Zsolnai and Ims 2006 is the first collected work to examine the economics of Buddhist thought in relation to the environment. Darlington 2000 looks at the ways in which Thai Buddhist monks are involved in reconsidering the value of “development.” Instances of direct social action by Buddhists and on the basis of Buddhist thought are increasingly important as evidence of the actual relevance of Buddhism in relation to environmental issues. Williams 2010 discusses the actions of several Buddhist leaders in contemporary Japan, both politically liberal and conservative. Kaza 2000 reports on similar kinds of local environmental action on the part of two American Buddhist communities. Kaza 2010 reviews the nature of the environmental crisis and addresses consumerism as a key issue in solving that crisis. Barnhill 2010 examines the complex of ideas at work in Gary Snyder’s environmental activism. Of particular interest is the way in which Snyder’s views complicate the issues of eco-Buddhism in more profound ways than deep ecology does. Huber 1991 discusses the relations between doctrine and action, calling into question the assumption that action is determined by doctrine. Some groups have made information about their environmental activism more widely available using online technology (see, for example, EcoSangha Seattle).

  • Barnhill, David Landis. “Gary Snyder’s Ecosocial Buddhism.” In How Much Is Enough? Consumerism, Buddhism, and the Human Environment. Edited by Richard K. Payne, 83–120. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.

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    Detailed study of the complex sources of Snyder’s environmental understanding of Buddhism. Resuscitates “old Left” themes of labor rights and anarchist political analysis for environmental concerns, thereby involving the needs of humans, as well as of plants and animals. Also introduces bioregionalism—analysis based on natural divisions of the landscape, not artificial political boundaries.

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  • Darlington, Susan M.“Rethinking Buddhism and Development: The Emergence of Environmentalist Monks in Thailand.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 7 (2000): 1–14.

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    Discusses “environmentalist monks” within the Thai sangha who are considered models for social action from within Buddhism, creating, for example, “tree ordinations” (ordaining trees as monks) and committing adjacent communities to preserving the forest. These monks reject economic development propagated by the Thai state, despite long and close ties between the monastic sangha and the state. Available online.

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  • EcoSangha Seattle.

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    An example of a local environmental activist Buddhist group utilizing the resources of the Internet. Provides one possible model for other local groups, as well as the possibilities of employing the Internet for establishing relations between groups.

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  • Huber, Toni. “Traditional Environmental Protectionism in Tibet Reconsidered.” Tibet Journal 16.3 (1991): 63–77.

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    Calls into question the intellectualist assumption found in much of the literature on religion and social action—the assumption that belief determines actions. Specifically discussed here is the discrepancy between the value of nonharming in Tibetan Buddhist teachings and actual social practices. Also questioned is an overdependence on reports about traditional Tibet deriving from elite social strata, either aristocratic or monastic.

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  • Inoue, Shinichi. “A Buddhist Economics to Save the Earth.” In How Much Is Enough? Consumerism, Buddhism, and the Human Environment. Edited by Richard K. Payne, 121–131. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.

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    Proposes evaluating the environmental impact of industries along two axes: production and consumption. Each has four categories: from negligible to profound impact for production and from necessary to frivolous or harmful for consumption. Differential tax rates are proposed for industries depending on their score in this sixteen-point scale. Also discusses other aspects of the relation between economics and the environment.

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  • Kaza, Stephanie. “To Save All Beings: Buddhist Environmental Activism.” In Engaged Buddhism in the West. Edited by Christopher W. Queen, 159–183. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000.

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    Documents the rise of eco-Buddhism in the late 1990s. Links increasing interest in Buddhism in the late 1950s and 1960s with the simultaneous increase in awareness of environmental degradation created by consumerism. Repeats Macy’s rhetorical misinterpretation of the third turning of the wheel of the dharma.

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  • Kaza, Stephanie. “How Much Is Enough? Buddhist Perspectives on Consumerism.” In How Much Is Enough? Consumerism, Buddhism, and the Human Environment. Edited by Richard Payne 39–61. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.

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    Provides an overview of environmental problems created by consumerism, traditional critiques, and a Buddhist analysis based on clinging and attachment. Argues from the position that the primary goal of Buddhism is to reduce suffering, frequently found in engaged Buddhist discourse. Closes with a prescription based on Buddhist ideas for liberation from attachment.

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  • Williams, Duncan Ryūken. “Buddhist Environmentalism in Contemporary Japan.” In How Much Is Enough? Buddhism, Consumerism, and the Human Environment. Edited by Richard K. Payne, 17–37. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.

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    In Japan priests have been active community organizers supporting environmental causes. Under their guidance, temples have acted as community institutions preserving forest land from development and creating technological and economic interrelations needed for local environmental actions such as energy production. The author explains both politically liberal and conservative motivations behind priests’ decisions and actions.

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  • Zsolnai, Laszlo, and Knut Johannessen Ims, eds. Business within Limits: Deep Ecology and Buddhist Economics. Oxford and New York: Peter Lang, 2006.

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    Collection of essays providing analyses from both deep ecology and Buddhist ideas about economics to offer real-world solutions to environmental problems. Reflects differing aspects and emphases, some drawing mainly from deep ecology, others emphasizing Buddhist economics. Demonstrates the close interconnection between economic systems and environmental issues.

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LAST MODIFIED: 09/13/2010

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195393521-0067

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