Honoring the Pure Land: Eco-Dharma and Buddhist Practice


Over the past few months, we have been talking a lot about interdependence – which is found in the teachings of Pratitya–samutpada – co-dependent arising –  that all things exist simply from the causes and conditions that have made this moment this moment. This was the heart of the content of the Buddha’s awakening even more so than the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. (Bronkhorst 1993, p. 99-100, 102-111.)  We have also learned from the Zen and Pure Land traditions that everything we have and has so little to do with us ( our small ego self)  – by any measure our lives are more gift than accomplishment. When we speak of grace in our fellowship we are talking about the
reality of this interdependence – our awareness and awakened entry into the web of life.   This is when we realize that “there is no I apart from others” (Gyomay Kubose Sensei), or that As Shodo Harada Roshi teaches,

“The heavens and earth are supporting me and all of humankind for me to be alive. This whole world revolves for this. I am so thankful, we have to see it as it is, or else we mistakenly think that we are alive according to our own power while it is all beings
who support us and to whom we should be thankful.”

Another thing we have been talking about is the cultivation of gratitude and how our awareness of interdependence can help us see the supportive and dynamic relationships of all things – life becomes a dance that we are all participating in, a flow of being. as Kiyozawa Manshi writes,

“Who am I? I am nothing but this moment in the flow of life. This flow of life is not in my control; it is the life of the universe itself. The life of the universe flows in me and I just flow with this life and that is myself.”

And lastly. we have been talking about renunciation – the unburdening ourselves of our attachments to stories, ideas, fixed views and the objectification of others.

Our conversation on renunciation last week, really got me thinking — about my practice, about our practice as a fellowship. And all this thinking dovetailed with thinking I have been doing on a way to share the Pure Land Teaching from a non-traditional perspective that resonates in our current global situation. I think there is a strong position to look at the teachings from an ecological frame. But more of that later.

First I want to go back a few years I first was introduced to Buddhism through the Beat poets – especially Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac – It is interesting now to think how many times Buddhism had intersected my life before it stuck? So many times –  The dharma is like John Dharma Seed Buddha planting seeds thought our lives –  Buddhism became real for me I real  to me in the late 90’s as I started my program into the Environmental Studies program at the University of Utah – There I began to study Deep Ecology and began to read Gary Snyder again  and I started to notice this movement of Ecological Expression of the -Dharma –  I purchased a book called Dharma Gaia then and it really resonated with me  – there were a lot of groups at that time and a lot of interest – there still is interest – To name two, there is the Thich Nhat Hahn affiliated  – Earth Holder Sangha  and One Earth Sangha. The later’s focus is on becoming Eco-Sattvas.  Even with such groups as these the level of interest is not the same as it was then. It seems that the majority of public energy toward Buddhism has been hijacked over the years by the Mindfulness movement.

You may ask what is wrong with that; nothing inherently but with the shift in focus comes with some problems with what American Buddhism is going to ultimately look like. Here are some issues with this shift of focus. I appreciate this from  Joshua Eaton wiring about the popularity of the “Mindfulness” movement that…

“launched a constellation of publications, gurus, life coaches and conferences that make up the mindfulness movement. Its proponents’ tout yoga, mindfulness, and meditation as panaceas, good for everything from managing stress and increasing longevity to turning around poor urban schools and establishing world peace, all one breath at a time.”

All without having to sacrifice a thing!

So I started asking myself – why this happened – I started to look at my own life, my relationship with my Consumer Self – and how much of my daily life is based on the fact I consume therefore I am.    We all have been born in a society that is pathological in its individualism and its sense of entitlement – to use the natural world as it sees fit.  Many of the Sutras talk about our heavy karmic burden – from a modern perspective and living example of such a karmic burden is growing up in this Western mindset – it is hard to extract ourselves from these perspectives.

Joanna Macy writes that our social structures act ….

as collective forms of our ignorance, fears, and greed, they acquire
their own momentum, enlist our massive obedience, and depend on our
collective consent.

This is the world most of us have been born into and in many ways, we are blinded by-
The first falsity is that we are separated from the world – and given dominion over it. – This not only separates us from the wisdom of the world but the wisdom of our own embodiment.

She does on to say,

The Buddha warned us against this and took pains to illuminate the radical interdependence of mind and matter. This is important because the environmental crisis has deep attitudinal roots. The bulldozing of nature and the abuse of our own bodies reveal the split in the psyche that cuts us off from the physical world. This separation engenders a fear of nature and a compulsion to control it. To fill the emptiness caused by this perceived separation and to seek satisfaction with external diversions, be it alcohol, smoking, eating, sex and shopping.

Our natural world and our inner worlds are reflections of one another.

Today I want us to explore our own practice in relation to some stark realities – the realities of ecological devastation, species die-offs, and global warming –it is ironic how we have become like the ancient Nero playing the violin as the world burning –
Don’t get me wrong, I am right there with you. Pretty Violin isn’t it – (holding up my SmartPhone).  Even this can be seen as a karmic burden – depending on how we use it.

So I was looking at my own practice in relation to a and ecological pratitya-samutpada and realized that in some of my practice  I have been more interested in ornamentation than what is really important.

Then I read a post on our FB page shared by Vaughn Lovejoy – I love synergism. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee,

“For some reason, much contemporary spirituality appears unconcerned with the spiritual effects of our present ecocide, is unwilling to accept that the inner and outer worlds mirror each other, or to consider the consequences, particularly what this might mean for any possible individual or especially collective transformation.”

I think this is so important in our world right now – It made me think more about Buddhism being more than just mindfulness – Buddhism can be and is for some an important form of self-help – and for me it has been this at times and much more.  –  and I think we need to ask for it to be more, more because the weight of our collective karma is calling out for a special kind of Bodhisattva as One Earth Sangha calls these contemporary bodhisattvas –  EcoSattvas. Because what good is it if being mindful being awake if you can’t breathe!

And here is where I think that a shift in our view is needed – one that can change how we engage with our world – many of the things we have shared in our dharma talks over the past 3 months have laid the groundwork for this – and all the practices that we have shared, especially the need to affirm the universal self of interdependence, the cultivation of gratitude and generosity.  The cultivation of these practices can only do with when we are able to see things as they really are which many of us are not; -myself included.

Gyomay Kubose sensei says that Acceptance IS Transcendence -but this acceptance is not a resignation or giving up, far from it – it is facing the reality of what is happening in the present moment. And what is that reality? – Elizabeth Roberts

“…that the web of life on our planet is seriously endangered  Through
the mundane activities of our daily lives we violate the ecology of
major life systems everywhere…in the name of convenience the planet is
consumed for the personal advantage of a few.  “

One day aliens will discover our now extinct civilizations – and their anthropologist will give a report on our extinction and the primary cause will be convenience. 

So what are some of these Mundane activities these conveniences? One of mine was to use coffee cups at work I figured that it was over 400 cups to the landfill! And what about all the plastic water bottles! Be aware of such things, this too is mindfulness practice!

She goes on to say

“when we learn not to cling to the world, when we no longer have a hostile attitude toward the human condition, we are free to recognize the world as ourselves- and that is key because it is our intimacy with the world as ourselves that can be transformative not just for ourselves but for our natural environment.”

So all of this brings us to our next step and – in the words of Gary Snyder.

“ We must now become warrior-lovers in the service of the Great Goddess Gaia, Mother of the Buddha(s)”

As I have been thinking about this and I realized that a truly Eco-dharma perspective requires a renunciation that many of us have not been willing to commit to and I am not talking about going off the grid but for right now. I am talking about the renunciation of convenience that is killing our world. There is much we acknowledge but less that moves us into the direction of action – and it is in not just the acknowledgment that everything
is intimately connected where change takes place, but when we let that knowing into our heart,  into our bodies. It is an embodied realization.  When we do that – we see clearly that our current way of being in the world needs to change dramatically.”
Before we go on I want to ask a few questions to ask ourselves.

Q:  What is my relationship with the natural world?
Q: How does this relationship enter into my daily practice?
Q: Can the simple act of recycling be a form of mindfulness practice?  Are there any pitfalls in the perspective?

It is interesting how recycling can be seen as Buddhist practice –

Here is something I learned from David Rutledge and something that could be the first principle of an Eco Practice, This first principle can be found in a Japanese word  Mottainai which expresses a feeling of regret for wasting the intrinsic value of
a thing. In our vernacular, it could be translated as “what a waste –don’t be wasteful.
He goes on to say,

“As a concept, mottainai  is said to come from Buddhist teaching and reflects the feeling that arises from the awareness of both the interdependence and impermanence of all things. It is here that we find Buddhism and ecology share a common vocabulary—particularly in terms of interconnectedness—which cautions us to be mindful of our actions so as to minimize suffering and not be wasteful.”

We need to realize through our practice the inherent value in a thing– to leave no grain of rice in our bowls, if something breaks, repair if you can, treat the objects that you have with good care and respect.”

Along the same line, in Japan, there is this idea to live in a way as to not leave a trace.  This is the opposite of our way of life where we need to mark everything to prove we are here. But what a way of looking at being, living so gentle in the world as to not leave a trace.  I think this is possible when we see the world and our selves as the same body. When we do this, the aspiration to minimize suffering no longer is just about ourselves and other human beings but all of existence.

So what would all of this look like in our daily lives? That is a good question and in response, I want to leave you with vows or aspirations that each of us can integrate into our practice. These vows are part of One Earth EcoSattva training – and I think they are an outstanding blueprint for a more ecologically aware practice and I encourage you to explore them for your own practice.

I want to close with these – these are the EcoSattva vows from One Earth Sangha – These EcoSattva Vows are elements that I would encourage you to explore in your personal practice.

Based on my love of the world and understanding of the deep interdependence of all things,

I Vow To live in Earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products
and energy I consume.

[I Vow] to commit myself daily to the healing of the world and the welfare of
all beings; to discern and replace human systems of oppression and

[I Vow] to invite personal discomfort as an opportunity to share in the
the challenge of our collective liberation.

[I Vow] to draw strength and guidance from the living Earth, from our
ancestors and the future generations, and from our brothers and
sisters of all species.

[I Vow]To help others in their work for the world and to ask for help when I
feel the need.

[I Vow]To pursue a daily spiritual practice that clarifies my mind,
strengthens my heart and supports me in observing these vows

Let us go forward today – and walk gently and keeping in mind the words of the great master Dogen –

“Reality is a spiritual activity – the whole world follows the Buddha way”

May it be so.

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