Buddhism Buddhism and the Environment
Richard Payne
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 September 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 September 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0067


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.


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.

    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.

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

    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.

  • 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.

    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.

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

    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).

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

    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.

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

    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.

  • 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.

    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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