I wrote in my sustainability introduction page that I believed that sustainability is important now more than ever. We live in an age where human population and consumption is putting too much strain on the nature to sustain us – we are “using up our savings” so to speak. But why should this concern Buddhism? Isn’t Buddhism about enlightenment, and not environmentalism?
I would beg to differ. The Buddha is also known as the Middle Path – where one neither lives too extravagantly nor too frugally. Extravagance implies selfishness and hedonism. And frugality leads to a short and useless life. In other words, Buddhism is about moderation.
Buddhism talks about moderation in our understanding, thought, action, speech, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration. You might look at this list and say “how can we have moderate understanding”? Well, I believe it is important to understand certain things and not others.
The Buddha used an analogy of a man dying from an arrow wound who wanted to know about insignificant details like who shot the arrow and how the arrow was made, etc. In the end, he dies because he does not get the treatment he had needed. In short, some things are necessary and others are not.
Since Buddhism has always been about living within one’s means, it shares much in common with the ideas of sustainability. But it would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that the Buddha was an environmentalist (or label him so). For there is an obvious reason why sustainability didn’t concern him – it wasn’t an issue anywhere back 2,500 years ago. In the Buddha’s lifetime people lived within nature’s regenerative capacity.
But we cannot say the same thing today. We are pushing the environment pretty hard. Which is why moderation is necessary. And whether it is from a Buddhist’s mouth or an environmentalist’s, it should make no difference.