Buddhism And Sustainable Development
Published On : 27 Feb 2017
Article Category : Musings
Mantriji Content Manager
Human beings have always romanticized the idea of creating a legacy, of becoming immortal, of being remembered forever; the best and the noblest way to do that was shown to us more than 2500 years ago by a man who still lives on, he lives not so much because he performed deeds or actions to influence the world, on the contrary he undertook a path to minimize his footprint on the world, who wanted to minimize the effects of his actions on the world, he is known as Buddha.
Buddhism is one of the oldest religions in the world, which is still in existence. It is based on the philosophy propounded by Gautam Buddha, sometime during the 6th century BC. It is an atheistic philosophy, centered on the idea of suffering and lays down the path to be followed for cessation of suffering. Initially, Buddha did not entertain the inquiries by his disciples on the nature of reality (metaphysics), i.e., what is the nature of soul? Is it eternal? And such others (in all 10 such questions have been mentioned in the Buddhist texts).
Buddha believed that our foremost concern should be to eliminate our sufferings instead of speculating about the nature of existence, the reason for this being that if a person is wounded by an arrow, he should first tend to the wound rather than speculate about the make and build of the arrow, and who must have fired it. In pursuit of cessation of suffering the Noble eight-fold path was given, and if one would walk on this path, then, it would lead to liberation. The idea of liberation involves two phenomena, first one being ‘cessation of suffering’, and the second one being ‘freedom from the cycle of life and birth’.
However, the Buddhist idea of rebirth and soul is an intriguing concept, Buddhism does not believe in an eternal, immortal, unchanging soul, as is the popular concept of soul in several other Indian philosophies (of those who do accept the existence of soul).As per Buddhism the soul is ever changing, it is changing with each passing moment, and neither is it accepted that soul exists as a single, indivisible, homogenous entity, instead, soul is considered the aggregate of body, feelings, tendencies/instincts, ideas, and consciousness; all of these themselves are fleeting in their existence, changing and transforming from one moment to another. The soul can be seen as a candle flame, just as there is a new flame every new moment (since it is composed of new melted wax and new chemical particles), but due to the rapidity of successions we think there is one continuous flame, similarly the soul too is constantly new and changing, but part of a continuous stream.
The idea of rebirth as transmigration of soul from one body to another does not hold well with the Buddhist idea of rebirth, here, rebirth is not so much soul-wise connected, rebirth here is causally (our actions serve as causes for effects) connected; to explain this convoluted idea in a simple manner, example of a candle is used beautifully, when we use one candle to light another candle, we do not say that it is the same flame, but we do understand the relation between the two, these two flames are causally connected. In the human sphere this idea gains more significance, especially, in terms of sustainable development. When a person dies, he is not reborn again as the same person with the same personality (remember Karz!, Rishi Kapoor; No? no problem), however, we all will continue to live causally. Whatever we do today creates an imprint on the world; all our actions are causes for the effects in the future, ours, as well as others’. The world is currently grappling with the specter of climate change, this change and its detrimental effects are due to the causes of those who performed selfish actions with no sense of moderation, they were excessive and extreme in their disposition, and in pursuit of pleasure. They are partly - and in a huge way- responsible for shaping the world as it is today.
The Buddhists believe in the Law of Karma, the law being ‘for every effect there is a cause’, while other philosophies persuade us to do good deeds by catering to our selfishness by suggesting that they will result in good returns in the future birth, Buddhism takes a more realistic approach to it, and does not excessively resort to transcendental phenomena to promote the law of karma, or doing of good deeds. Individuals live on in their progeny (because of collective racial knowledge, genes, etc.) and moreover we live on in the effects of our actions. The idea of our causal connection can be seen in relation to the Butterfly Effect – the flap of a butterfly’s wings in one place can create a typhoon in another. The present that we are living is not entirely of our creation, we were born in a certain circumstance, and were subjected to certain events beyond our control, now no matter what we are like, we are transformed by the events we encounter, especially, events outside our control, for example climate change, racism, etc., these events transform us in ways that make the person responsible for the creation of those events to continue to live through us (remember the candle example); in the same way we will shape the future and our link and memory in the effects we produce will ensure our continuation. It is here that the Buddhist idea of moderation sits beautifully in the picture of sustainable development, if we pursue a moderate life, the middle path, we are moving towards not just liberation, but also ensuring that the future generations have to bear less with our selfishness and rashness. This ensures the end of the cycle of rebirth. When someone takes the vow to attain Buddhahood, he is called a Bodhisattva, and it is seen as an act of great compassion, an act for the benefit of all human beings. The benefit of all human beings in someone taking the vow of Bodhisattva is not difficult to understand now, even if such as person does not impart his/her knowledge to the world, they would still be doing great good to posterity because of the simple fact that they are ending their Karmic chain, they are removing their imprint (ecological or otherwise) from this world. This, exactly, is what the world needs today, and although we will not be reborn again, we will become eternal, like the Buddha.
Tags : Buddhism Sustainable Development