Greenhouse gases continue to build up in the atmosphere warming the climate and giving us increasingly freakish weather. The ozone hole gets bigger all the time. The world's fisheries, not so long ago thought to be inexhaustible, are dead or dying. The rate of species extinction worldwide has not been seen since the end of the dinosaurs.
Particularly tragic when viewed from the perspective of a forest monk is the destruction of the forests. Everywhere the trees are going down. In Thailand, just to take an example with which I have some familiarity, seventy percent of the forest cover has gone, mostly since 1970. What little is left is under siege. The result has been a desiccation of the climate; old farmers say that the rainy season used to be up to two months longer.
We Canadians can hardly take comfort in the illusion that all this is happening far away. Our forests are already over-logged and there is talk here in Ontario of opening more land, even the last remaining old growth stands in our provincial parks.
What are the root-causes of environmental destruction? Depending on our political orientation we might blame governmental regulation, corporate concentration, misapplied technology, world markets or any number of other systemic factors. All these answers may point to part of the truth. But more fundamental than any of these are the three roots that have underlain all the evil in the world throughout beginingless time; greed, hatred and ignorance. And these are found nowhere but in our hearts.
The antidote to greed is contentment or fewness-of-wishes. It has been called the magic wish-fulfilling gem. The trick is simple, if what you wish for is merely what you already have then you are blessed indeed. This may seem like a dodge, but there is a profound truth here. Remember the Second Noble Truth of the Buddha; desire is the root of suffering.
Our modern consumer society works directly against this virtue. There is a frenzied rush to buy and consume the newest model, the latest style. Resisting this trend and developing contentment with a simplicity of lifestyle would do a lot to help our poor overburdened planet. It can also help on a personal level. How many in our society today are caught in a viscous cycle of overwork and mad consumption with all the results of stress, debt and unhappy family life?
No material goods can ever bring lasting happiness. There is a lot of truth in the trite saying that the best things in life are free. What multi-media extravaganza can compare to the beauty of a sunset over a lake and the call of the loon? Beyond even this is the bliss of peace, which surpasses the pleasures of the senses like the sun surpasses a glow-worm. And this bliss is the easier to find the simpler and less burdened is our lifestyle.
This is not to glorify poverty. After all, among the Buddha's closest disciples was the rich man Anathapindika. But those among us who have the good karma to enjoy a superfluity of the goods of this world should never forget our less fortunate brothers and sisters, of whom there is sadly no shortage in Canada. No one, least of all the well off, should neglect the practise of generosity.
As for the other roots of ill, hatred or ill-will may not be so directly related to the problem of environmental degradation but it can and does obstruct our efforts to address the complex issues involved. Too often those who are moved to take action poison their efforts by polarizing the issues and hardening the opposition. Compassion is flawed if it is not universal and the bodhisattva environmentalist needs to learn to love both the spotted owl and the logger trying to make a living if sensible solutions are to be found. Finding a balanced approach is not easy, the problems are complex.
This is where the opposite of ignorance comes in. We need to cultivate wisdom in all its aspects. The wisdom of knowing that all things are impermanent, even this lovely blue planet, can give us the needed detachment. The wisdom of understanding the intimate interdependence of all living things may give us the strength that comes from urgency. Much remains to be done, if we take our stand on simplicity, compassion and understanding then progress can be made.