a sustainability dharma glossary

Working definitions in sustainability dharma.


absence – all words are inherently empty.

difference and differance – in linguistics, the view that any sign has significance (meaning) through a system of difference. Derrida, taking this position to its logical conclusion concludes that signs have no significance labeling this differance. This is similar to emptiness and non-self in Buddhism.

enlightenment – the state of knowing and living in the understanding of impermanence, suffering, non-self.

family resemblance – similar things have differing degrees of similar-ness. See prototype theory

God – “I have no knowledge of, but only a concept of God.” (Warren M Tang, 2017)

impermanence – all things are marked by impermanence. See suffering and non-self

language – a concept that facilitates communication and thought.

meaning is use – “The meaning of a word is its use in the language.” (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, No. 43.)

metaphor – since Reddy (1979) and Lakoff and Johnson (1981) it is no longer the monopoly of literature and literary criticism but the property of all language.

mind – while in Western thought the mind and soul has a special status In Buddhism the mind is one of the senses.

non-self – the self is not what it seems to be.

perception – the awareness after sensation.

presence – the belief that the intrinsic meaning of a word exists and is stable, much like the existence of a soul.

religion – a social institution which binds its people to a code of conduct in order to make that society better. Typically, it does this by explaining the origins of the world as being created by a higher power or entity, and that the worship or respect of that power or entity is rightfully due. In order for religion to maintain its status and binding power upon an individual it is sometimes necessary for it to instil fear into people so as to dissuade them from rejecting its authority. The authority of religion is therefore typically built not upon logic (truth of the nature of the world based on reasoned argument of facts) but upon unfounded beliefs or faith. Christianity is an exemplary religion.

self – the self is not what it seems. The self is a complex mix of body and concepts. The self is a concept.

sensation – the pure sense data from the senses before it process to become perception. Sensations include exteroception (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch), interoception and proprioception (body orientation and body-part position).

society – a concept. A group of people seen to be bound by a common place, language or languages, culture, customs, institutions and/or understanding. Often preceded by an adjective, as in American society, capitalist society and postmodern society.

soul – In western thinking, particularly in Christianity, it is treated as existent. In Western philosophy, it is thought to equate to mind.

space/object – a conceptualisation of reality. Without

space/object-time – another term for the world. The reality which contains space-time and by default objects.

thing – real and imaginary objects (concepts) in space/object-time.

sustainability – The idea of sustainable development – or sustainability – was first given prominence in the 1987 United Nations report, Our Common Future. Also called the Brundtland Report (named in honour of the Norwegian Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, who was the leading spokesperson for the report) it puts forward the idea that the current level of natural resource consumption by the industrialized world and the growing economies of developing nations (together with a rapidly increasing population) is unsustainable. In pragmatic terms sustainability is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Sustainability can be at the personal, local, communal and global level. While personal sustainable living may be possible, sustainability may not work on the higher levels.

world, the – Wittgenstein wrote, “the world is the totality of facts, not of things”. In sustainability dharma it is, “the world is the totality of things, concrete and abstract”.

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