The destruction of nature is the destruction of humanity. Nature is our home. All life on this planet, including, of course, human life, was born from the natural environment. We don't owe our existence to machines or science. Life on this planet was not artificially created. We are the products of nature.
There are many theories about the origins of humanity. Some say that the first humans appeared in Africa; others say that human beings appeared in various locations around the world at about the same time. Whatever may be true, it is indisputable that the human species was born of nature. Because of that, the further we alienate ourselves from nature, the more unbalanced we become. Our future as a species is grim unless we recognize this.
Our problem is not new. The eighteenth-century French philosopher and social reformer Jean-Jacques Rousseau, author of The Social Contract, called for a return to nature. Civilization, even in his time, had become too mechanical, too reliant on science, too concentrated on profit, distorting human life into ugliness. Rousseau protested this unfortunate development.
Indeed, we all want to be healthy. For that reason, we want to breathe clean air, to see beautiful flowers and greenery. We turn to nature for this, just as a sunflower turns to the sun. We must recognize that any action negating this inclination is a terrible mistake. All the money in the world won't buy the blue sky. The sun and the breeze belong to everyone.
No one is denying that science has improved our lives. But we need to match the progress of science with progress in our commitment to preserve and protect our environment. We need a balance.
For instance, we must remember the forests. Where does the oxygen that we breathe, that keeps us alive, come from? From forests, from sea plants. It has taken plants billions of years to create this oxygen.
WHAT ABOUT WATER?
Most of the water we use comes from river systems. Whether it rains or shines, water flows through rivers. Why? The trees and the soil around them absorb the water, storing it underground, from where it seeps constantly, bit by bit, into the rivers. If there were no forests and the mountains were hard as asphalt, all the rain that fell in a day would run immediately into the rivers and flow out to sea, just like a bathtub emptying when you pull the plug.
Soil is another gift of the forest. Small animals and microbes help transform the dead roots and leaves of trees into rich soil. Without that soil, we could not grow grains or vegetables. We would have no food, and humanity would perish.
Many other products come from forests. Without them, we would have no rubber bands, no paper, no wooden desks or furniture -- no homes. All of these, too, are the forest's gifts.
Forests produce the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil in which we grow food -- indeed, every aspect of our lives is made possible by trees.
And I think we rarely make the connection that unless we take care of the forests, we won't be able to catch fish in the sea. Without forests all the rain would flow away down the rivers to the sea. That rain would also carry large amounts of silt with it. The silt would cloud the sea waters, block the penetration of light, and lower the sea's temperature, making it too cold for many fish.
The forests also produce nutrients that eventually make their way to the sea and become food for marine life. The forests protect the life of the sea.
Life is a chain. All things are related. When any link is disturbed, the other links will be affected. We should think of the environment as our mother -- Mother Soil, Mother Sea, Mother Earth. There is no crime worse than harming one's mother.
Buddhism explains life in a system of ten stages or states of being -- the states of Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Humanity, Rapture, Learning, Realization, Bodhisattva and Buddhahood. The state of Humanity is right in the middle, with nobler states of life above and uglier states below. Those states below are unnatural states of being, states that oppose nature. The five stages above Humanity all value nature and strive to create a paradise where its beauty flourishes in abundance.
The question is whether we allow ourselves to be dragged down to the lower states or advance to the higher states. Only intelligence, culture and religious faith can lead us out of the animality that thoughtlessly consumes nature, leaving a barren wasteland. According to the Buddhist principle of the oneness of life and its environment, a barren, destructive mind produces a barren, devastated natural environment. The desertification of our planet is linked to the desertification of the human spirit.
War is the most extreme example of this destructive impulse. War destroys both nature and the human spirit. The twentieth century was a century of war. We must make this century a century of life. The twenty-first century must be one in which we make life the top priority in all spheres of human activity -- in commerce, in government, in science.
We are dependent on the Earth, not the other way around. In our arrogance, we have flagrantly overlooked this. The Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first person to see the Earth from space, declared it a blue planet. This is a great testimony. The blue of the oceans, the white of the clouds -- they are proof that Earth is the water planet, a planet sparkling with life. That's why I think it's important to have a philosophy that recognizes everything in the universe as living and sacred.
The essential teaching of Buddhism is that the life of the Buddha resides in every plant and tree, even in the smallest dust mote. It's a philosophy founded on a profound reverence for life.
To throw trash or aluminum cans by the roadside is the selfish behavior of someone living in a state that Buddhism terms the world of Animality. Such actions demonstrate an egoism that cares nothing for others. It is an unnatural way to live. A person who loves nature is simply unable to litter. Tossing one's trash away carelessly is to toss away one's humanity.
By the same token, one who loves nature can cherish other human beings, value peace and possess a richness of character unfettered by selfish calculations of personal gain and loss. Those who live in a calculating way will end up calculating their own worth in the same manner. Such a life is limited in the extreme.
People might think there is no reward in picking up trash others have strewn about. But it's important to do this out of love for nature -- without thinking about what one may or may not gain.
Only through such selfless actions can we live the best way as human beings. Because technology has advanced to the extent it has, it is more important than ever for each person to develop an awareness of environmental protection. Any apparent material improvements are illusory unless we enhance the fundamental quality of our lives.
ROLE OF THE INDIVIDUAL
Can you as an individual make much of a difference? Absolutely. Each individual effort is vital, and yet it is a lot easier to talk about environmental protection than to practice it. There are obstacles sometimes -- and sometimes practicing it can even be life-threatening.
I wonder if you've heard of the American marine biologist Rachel Carson. She wrote a ground-breaking book called Silent Spring, published in 1962, which attacked the problem of pollution.
At that time, very powerful insecticides such as DDT were being used all across the United States. They seemed to be effective at first, but gradually people were beginning to sicken and show signs of being poisoned from the chemicals. Beneficial insects, fish and birds were disappearing from the landscape. With no birds to sing, Ms. Carson wrote, a silent spring awaited us.
Her book announced these facts to the public and urged that dangerous pesticides be banned. Immediately after her book was published, she was vehemently attacked.
She was attacked by the giant corporations that made huge fortunes from manufacturing pesticides and by officials and politicians who were in the pockets of those companies -- because what she said was true. Such attacks happen all the time, whenever someone tells an unpleasant truth. We must learn to see through the charades of those in power.
All those linked to the pesticide industry, even agricultural magazines, joined in a campaign to discredit her. One wrote, "Her book is more poisonous than the pesticides she condemns." State research organizations joined the campaign -- research organizations that, needless to say, received large amounts of funding from the chemical companies.
It was a major campaign to silence Silent Spring. Even the American Medical Association stated that the effects of pesticides posed no threat to human beings when used according to the instructions by the manufacturers.
But Rachel Carson would not give up. And she went even further, declaring that pesticides were only part of the story of the poisons that were threatening our world. Eventually, she won the support of the people, and environmentalism began to spread across the United States and throughout the world. That torch of faith kept burning after she died in 1964 and has grown to dramatically transform public awareness.
Carson left these words in The Sense of Wonder for the younger generation: "Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life."
TREAT THE EARTH WELL
A Kenyan saying goes that we should treat the Earth well; it is not a gift from our parents but a loan from our children. But the adults of our day are leaving a dismal inheritance to today's young people and the children you will have. With their philosophy that making money is the most important goal of all, they are selling off your legacy -- the health, culture, environment and even life that nature has protected and nurtured for so many eons.
It is your legacy, so you must act. You who have not yet forgotten the beauty and wonder of the Earth, speak out! Your struggle to protect the twenty-first century, your century, the century of life, has already begun.
One popular slogan goes, "Be kind to our planet," but in reality, the planet has been kind to us. Behind each of us stands not just four billion years of kindness from the Earth but the compassion of the entire universe since time without beginning. Therefore, it's important not to slander or devalue our lives. Life is the most precious of all treasures. Each of you has been given this invaluable gift and each of you is irreplaceable. Those bearers of life -- the universe, the Earth and mothers -- cherish their children. The most important thing for the twenty-first century is that we expand throughout society that absolute, fundamental consideration, that profound compassion toward life.
If we do so, war and the suppression of human rights will disappear. So will the destruction of the environment.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Middleway Press. ©2002. www.middlewaypress.com
The Way of Youth: Buddhist Common Sense for Handling Life's Questions
by Daisaku Ikeda.
Daisaku Ikeda, who offers spiritual leadership to 12 million Soka Gakkai Buddhists throughout the world, responds to the complicated issues facing American young people in a straightforward question-and-answer format. He addresses topics that include building individual character, the purpose of hard work and perseverance, family and relationships, tolerance, and preservation of the environment.
Written from a Buddhist perspective, this collection of answers to life's questions offers timeless wisdom to people of all faiths.
About the Author
Daisaku Ikeda is president of the Soka Gakkai International, one of the most important international Buddhist communities in the world today. In 1968, he founded the first of many nonsectarian schools -- kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools as well as Soka University in Japan -- based on the mission to nurture the lifelong happiness of the learner. In May 2001, Soka University of America, a four-year liberal arts college, opened its doors in Aliso Viejo, California.
In his role as a peace activist, Mr. Ikeda has traveled to more than 50 countries, conducting dialogues with political and intellectual leaders and applying his strong belief that international understanding and the realization of peace begins with the heart-to-heart dialogue that is the hallmark of Soka education. He received the United Nations Peace Award in 1983.
He is the author of numerous books, which have been translated into dozens of languages, including The Way of Youth, For the Sake of Peace and One by One: The World is Yours to Change.