Eco-Crisis: The Buddhist Solution and Man's Responsibility



                                                             Prof. Ariya Sen


       Ecology, the science that studies the conditions of existence of living beings and the mutual relations between organisms and the medium they inhabit, arose within the system of biological knowledge. Any set of living creatures not only uses natural resources in the course of its vital activity and adapt itself to the conditions of the environment, but also transforms the latter. Historically food gathering was man's first mode of obtaining materials goods. It is an indisputable fact that human beings are consuming natural resources more and more intensively today with the aid of technical means that have grown immensely in power. Mankind has long been acquainted with crisis caused by nature's elemental forces-earthquakes, floods, drought, famine, and epidemics, but they had a local character and were limited in time and space. They were generated by outside causes by the forces of nature. Man was only their victim and not their cause. The present crises are the result of the activity of man himself and are clearly expressed social character. Certain features of crisis situation may be endangered by difficulties linked with problems of growth, but those crises are also the result of man's interaction with his habitat uncontrolled in the conditions of developed world. We all know about the energy crisis and raw materials crisis, the population crisis, the food crisis, the ecological crisis, and so on. There are the crises of material kind. In addition to them we also speak of crisis affecting man's psychological and spiritual world. " We also see many scientific discoveries employed for anti-human or simply without providing adequate guarantee for safeguarding health of population and the fundamental ecological bases of life on our planet."

          The ecological situation in the modern world is not uniform, and there can be essential difference between separate countries. Their differences are due to the uneven economic and social development of various countries and regions, the dissimilarities of the demographic factors and the different availability of natural resources. The essence of the problem, however, are determined by the socio-cultural systems within which they arise. Modern technology is so constructed that production not only has to convert a part of nature unto social goods, but also to pollute the environment while doing so. In our view the anarchic production motivated by profit motive and its rapacious exploitation  of natural wealth and uncontrolled development are the main causes of the alarming situation that have built up in the West and that is having a mounting negative effect on the environment of the whole globe. Monopolistic association pursuing their own selfish interest and above all international companies are recklessly polluting the earth's atmosphere and surface, rivers, lakes and oceans with harmful wastes. At the same time, the interaction of nature and society can no longer be limited to our planet, because of the development of astronautics and the building of space vehicles for exploring and mastering outer space and earth. Some scientists analyzing the origin of the ecological crisis in the world have been disclosing its inner connection with Capitalism's laws of development and antagonistic contradictions. If we examine the global ecological problem in a philosophical perspective, it has to be recognized that the key to a cardinal solution of ecological problem lies in a reconstruction of modern civilization which is directed by modern technology. The aim of which the ruthless exploitation of natural resources with the blind belief of a progressive development of mankind.

          Tackling combating ecological problems is not just a scientific and technological matter, but a more important cultural, psychological and ethical issue of today. Needs of the modern man have been multiplied and they can be satisfied only by spending more and more energy. In this process resources are exploited at such an alarming rate that the world will be without much of them in less than hundred years. The so called enlightened modern man is not only destroying the resources, but also is polluting the environment as a result of this development as one scholar dared to say, " the terror and tragedy of development." In the western model man's needs are artificially created so that multinational and other big companies could make profit by exploiting nature and labour. It is assumed that there is no end to his needs and that all his needs could be fulfilled by exploiting resources that nature has created over billions of years. Western civilization characterized by its high level of industrialization and technology and its attitude towards the world the man and life has created a philosophy of life which emphasizes one aspect, the economic development; it has brought into prominence the manipulation of nature with the construction of an artificial world. This unlimited manipulation of nature has created an unhealthy atmosphere in the world.

          Thus, socio-ethical control of science and technology is becoming an urgent necessity of the time. Steady scientific and technical progress has secured an unprecedented growth of man's power in relation to nature. We have built a scientific and technical civilization that is encroaching heavily on nature. Our industrial economic, scientific and technical activity has not simply attained a geological scale but a cosmic one as well. In general we are in a position to encroach upon nature without limit remaking her more and more radically fostering lust, hatred and illusion within ourselves. During the nineteenth century when the western world began to be dazzled by the accumulating achievements of science and the amazing vistas of progress that seemed to be opening up in every direction belief arose in the inevitability of human advancement through technical mastery of nature. The belief was strengthened by the current theories inspired of Darwinism. Mankind now has command of tremendous material force but does not know how to use this power for beneficial ends. The madness of greed, for possessions and for power points a finger not towards perfection but towards self-destruction. Buddhism teaches that the basis of all life, the main spring, as it were, of the vital principle of living beings is craving (Tanha). The facts of biological evolution most striking confirm this.

         We cannot and must not exercise all our power over nature without restriction, without allowing for the possible negative consequences of our activity. The development of progress of last century and this on the one hand and lack of knowledge of structure and functioning of the whole life system on earth, i. e. the biosphere on the other hand have been the real basis why we forget for a time that there are objective limits to our action on nature that both material production and society as a whole do not function independently but as components of the biosphere outside which human life is inconceivable. What now we need is the national use of natural resources following a middle way as taught in Buddhism, taking into consideration of man's essential needs all over the world. Protection of the environment is one of the most pressing problems to today. Today we have reached critical points in several areas of man's impact on nature-the ecological situation as it exists in our day is unique as regard both its significance for humanity as a whole and character of the tasks it is raising before society. The progressive development and very existence of modern civilization depend on a constructive solution of the problem of man's relation with his habitat. All kinds of industrial products are made for profit, hence this insoluble combination of technology and profit motive may become the chief driving force of technology and industrialization and finally to ecological problems unheard in the history of mankind before the advent of industrial revolution. There is a string belief in the so called developed countries of the West that mankind is steadily progressing. It is easy to understand why this feeling exists. For the Industrial Revolution which we are still experiencing, has produced, and is still producing a bewildering array of mechanical gadgets which perform the task.

          What is the basic motive behind our actions regardless of how we actually conduct  ourselves? We conceive ourselves to be a small weak organism struggling against an environment which is always actually or potentially hostile towards us. We must always think that nature was not created by anybody for the ruthless exploitation of man's insatiable craving which is the basic and most common quality of human mind according to Buddhism. Today we are becoming increasingly aware that something is fundamentally wrong with our marvelously intricate technological civilization despite all the talk of progress. Crime stress unhappiness, cruelty and conflict not only persists but grow steadily worse. We see that our civilization is motivated at present by one of the most stupid of human emotions, greed. (Tanhaya niyati loko, Tanhaya parikassati- Dhammapada) Man has been so much enchanted by scientific and technological progress that he is misled into believing that he has almost completed conquered nature and has control over it. He also believes that with this conquest of nature all problems will be solved and heaven will be established on earth. But he is not aware that nature that he think he has conquered is not the whole of it but only a part of it possibly a half of it, that is the external material world limited mostly to our own planet. The other half is within ourselves, the nature of man or the man as a part of nature. In the process of struggle to conquer the material world of nature, man even often neglects his responsibility to master the inner nature within himself and tends to loss control over it. Conversely this inner nature, which is carving (Tanha) has grown stronger and stronger and has taken much control over man. Thus, in looking outside with a pride that he has conquered nature man has unconsciously been conquered by the nature inside himself and obediently come under its control. It is this uncontrolled controlling nature within man that has frustrated all his hopes of turning the earth into a paradise.

        It is nature that keeps unhappy the inner man under the plaster of happiness like pleasure and causes the unhappy men to diffuse unhappiness and unpeaceful man to diffuse peacelessness, violence and conflict in society declaring war against nature and the environment in thirst for more and more pleasure and self-indulgence. Modern man is proud that he had scientific attitude towards all things. However, it is a pity that his attitude to science and technology is less scientific than it should be. He does not know science and technology as they really are and would be and thus cannot deal with them in a scientific way. This also implies that his knowledge of nature is still inadequate so that he cannot maintain right and proper relationship with nature and his habitat. The science and technology in the modern world are being wielded by both subjective sensuality (Klesakama) and objective sensuality (Vatthu kama). Environmental pollution is a problem of modern age, and a product of Industrial Revolution unheard of during the time of the Buddha in 6th century B. C. in India. But 'a number of Pali discoveries reveals the close link between man's morals and the natural resources available to him' (Buddhist Perspectives on the Ecocrisis, Edited by Klas Sandell, the Wheel Publications. No 346/348, Buddhist publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 1987, p 13). But the Buddha has condemned some of the religious rituals which demanded the felling of trees and slaughter of animals as an essential part of religious ceremonies, such as Vedic sacrifices. Buddhist texts formulate the general principles that should be followed by men when they are trying to earn their living. In the process of producing material goods he should not hoard wealth for the sake of wealth by exploiting natural resources extensively producing harmful effects on nature's creations. Apart from this Buddha present a way of life called the Middle Path of which Samma ajeeva - the Right Livelihood is very important in the evaluation of man's economical activities. This refers to how we earn our living on society. Thus trading in weapons and trading in poisonous material are prohibited. Right Livelihood is an extension of the two other factors of Right Speech and Right Action which refers to the respect for truth life, property and personal relationships.                        


      According to Buddhism, the source of suffering and unsatisfaction is called is called craving (Tanha) "Craving is a fire which burns in all being". Every activity is motivated by desire. They range from the simple physical desire of animals to the complex and often artificially stimulated desires of civilized man. To satisfy desire animals prey upon one another and human beings fight, kill, onset, lie and perform various form of unwholesome deeds. Craving is a powerful mental force present in all forms of life and is the chief of the all bad things uncontrolled and all the good things brought under rational control. The Buddhist ethical theory propounded in the Ambalatthika Rahulovada Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya could be taken as a criterion or yard-stick for the comprehension and evaluation of the concept of development and industrialization in the board sense of the integrated human life. The Buddha on this discourse established the moral criterion by which to determine a good or a benevolent action and the bad or malevolent action. It is from the benevolent or malevolent effects of the thought word and action upon both the doer or individual and the other or society that we are to distinguish between good and bad. In other words Buddhism judges any action or word by its results on the individual and society. If we examine the motives and consequences of our production and industrialization its drastic and harmful effects upon the environment and equilibrium of biosphere them it must be concluded such development activities are unskillful and dangerously and therefore should be avoided. In the Sigalovada Sutta (Digha No 51) Buddha says:

" The wise and virtuous shine like blazing fire

He who acquires his wealth in harmless ways,

Like to a bee that honey gathers experiences maunt up for him.

Like  ant hill's rapid grow

Let the civilized man follow this good example of bee and ant for the betterment of human life. 

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