Wait A Minute! ~ GREEN DHARMA
A FRIEND OF MINE recently
visited Tibet, and among the human rights abuses and
other shocking things she saw there was the great
number of trucks loaded with huge logs being driven
towards China; she counted over 400 in just one day;
the narrow roads were clogged with them! The occupation
forces of China are raping and pillaging Tibet of
its natural resources, and cutting down the forests
in the east of that tragic land at an alarming rate,
with the result that the states of western China to
the east of Tibet, where the mighty Yangtse River
has its source, are undergoing disastrous floods,
as are Nepal, Bangladesh and the eastern states of
India. For the sake of immediate profit, Tibet’s
ancient forests are being systematically destroyed,
with no consideration of the long term effects. When
forests are destroyed, the soil no longer holds water
and is easily eroded; landslides and floods then follow.
Tibetans always respected nature, and were
mindful of the importance of conservation, felling
trees only with the greatest reluctance. But with
their land now occupied and controlled by a brutal
and repressive force, they are unable to do anything
to prevent the destruction. As settlers from China
stream in, the Tibetans are rapidly becoming a minority
in their own land, and for the sake of harmonious
relations with China, the governments of the world
My travels have taken me through several
deserts, where the land is dry and barren, and almost
nothing grows. I was struck with the desolation of
such deserts, as some of them were once fertile lands.
Now, the few people who inhabit them manage to eke
out a precarious living. I am not eager to join them
there; I prefer green to brown.
At the time of the Buddha, the Indian subcontinent
was not densely populated and much of it was forested.
But now, because of the immense population, most of
the forests are gone, leaving large areas of scrubland
and increasing desert. Attempts at reforestation have
had little success, as trees are cut down for fuel
and building purposes before they can grow to maturity—cut
down without being replaced. It is hard to educate
poor people about the necessity to think of the future
when survival in the present occupies their minds.
How many Buddhists have noticed how trees
played a part in the Buddha’s life, I wonder?
Prince Siddhartha was born under a sala tree; later,
when he was a boy, and was taken to the Spring Ploughing
Festival, he sat meditating beneath a jambu (rose-apple)
tree; at the age of 35, he became Enlightened under
the bodhi—a kind of fig—tree; He gave
His first sermon beneath a tree in the Deer Park;
and He passed away under some sala trees. Did trees
contribute anything to the special events in His life,
apart from providing shade, or was it a concession—on
the part of those who later narrated the Buddha’s
life-story—to the widespread Animism or nature-worship
of that time, a way of winning people over to Buddhism?
Until today, shrines at the base of trees are a common
sight in India.
The books say that, after His Enlightenment,
the Buddha stood for a week in the same spot, gazing
at the tree under which He attained Enlightenment,
as a way of showing respect for the shelter it had
provided Him. It is a little hard to imagine someone
standing in one spot for a week, without moving, and
we might be forgiven for doubting it, but we should
consider the implication of the story: what is it
trying to convey?
Almost all the events of the Buddha’s life-story—even
the most trivial—may be seen as having some
relevance to us. We can see the role of trees in the
story as encouraging us to understand their vital
importance to us; we have been far too profligate
with trees, cutting them down willy nilly, without
bothering to replace them. The underlying ideas of
Animism are worthy of consideration rather than being
regarded as superstitions of primitive hill-tribes
and jungle-folk: the belief that rocks, trees, mountains,
rivers and so on are the homes of spirits, and should
therefore be treated with respect; it’s not
a bad idea at all, and far superior to the long held
notion that nature is there to be exploited for whatever
we can get from it, without thinking of the future
or of what we can—and should—put back.
The biblical notion that God gave man the right to
use nature as he likes is totally unacceptable today;
we are being forced to realize that the Earth doesn’t
belong to us, but that, as the most intelligent species
on the planet (though one sometimes wonders about
that), we are only the custodians of it and should
take care of it and pass it on in good condition to
those who come after us. Unfortunately, now that we
are starting to understand this, we find it is rather
late; we have inherited a global garbage dump from
those who went before us, and have contributed to
The 21st century is almost here, but although
tremendously advanced technologically, in some ways
we are quite backwards. I have just read a newspaper
article entitled Belief in Devil High. Since it is
very short, I will quote it in full here:
“NEW YORK, Nov. 5, 1995: Two out of three Americans
believe in the existence of Satan, with 85% of the
evangelical Protestants taking that position, a Newsweek
magazine poll showed on Saturday.
“More than one out of three people polled—37%—said
they had been tempted by the Devil while 61% of the
evangelical Protestants said they had, according to
the magazine. Among the general population, 27% said
they did not believe in Satan, while only 13% of the
evangelical Protestants did not.
“The poll, conducted July 27-28 by Princeton
Research Associates, reached 752 people including
209 evangelical Protestants. The margin of error was
4 percentage points for the entire group and eight
points for the evangelicals.
“The poll asked whether certain things were
caused by the Devil. The answers—with the general
public figures first and evangelical Protestants second—ranged
from crime (36%/59%) and pornography (34%/62%), to
feminism (12%/20%), famine in Africa (16%/26%) and
the homosexual rights movement (21%/43%)”.
The USA is considered the foremost example
of a developed country and taken as a role model by
millions of people world wide, though it is hard to
understand why; it is a greatly imbalanced society,
and one to be learned from rather than emulated. Such
a belief as outlined above indicates a desire to shirk
responsibility for one’s own life and to blame
others—be it only an imaginary Devil—and
is reminiscent of the Middle Ages, when it was widely
believed that disease was caused by demons, or the
evil-eye cast by witches; combined with poor hygiene
and non-existent sanitation, such ignorance allowed
plague and other epidemics to rage unchecked. That
myth was dispelled by the advent of modern medicine
and the discovery of viruses, microbes and bacteria,
etc.; these days, no reasonably intelligent person
believes that disease is caused by demons or witches.
So as not to appear one-sided, I will reproduce
something from Singapore’s Straits Times of
3rd of November 1997:
“HONG KONG: An elderly Hong Kong woman was left
in a ditch for two days because superstitious passers-by
refused to call emergency services on the unlucky
number 999, reports said yesterday.
“The 73-year-old woman slipped into the drain
late on Thursday in Kowloon, one of the busiest and
most densely populated areas in the world, and was
only rescued on Saturday when another elderly woman
called the police after hearing about her plight from
some of those who had seen her.
“Most people do not like to call 999 except
for extreme emergencies because Chinese people do
not like to mention this number,” a police spokesman
told the Sunday Morning Post.
“It is because of superstition. It is an unlucky
“The woman, whose husband had reported her missing,
suffered bruising to her forehead and right knee but
was otherwise unscathed, the reports said.
“She is thought to have fallen into the large
dry drain while she was walking home.
“Social commentators expressed shock at the
callous attitudes of those who ignored her plight.
“My God, I cannot accept that. Every time I
hear about these sad stories of our senior citizens
I feel extremely sad and ashamed of Hong Kong people”,
said the director of the Society for Community Organization
at Ho Hei Wah”.
Einstein, through his research and ponderings,
came very near to the Buddha’s Way, and wrote:
“The religion of the future will be a cosmic
religion. It should transcend a personal God, and
avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural
and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious
sense of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful
Buddhism has always emphasized that we are
part of the world around us, rather than separate
from it; it teaches us to consider the rights and
feelings of all living things, and not just humans
(and certainly not just the feelings of people of
our own religion or sect!) As a world view, it is
complete, leaving out or disregarding nothing. Nor
is it only living things we should consider, but everything,
for, in reality, nothing is dead or not living! The
Way of the Buddha may be compared to the footprint
of an elephant: the footprints of all other animals—including
man—can fit into it and there will still be
space to spare; really, it is a green philosophy,
symbolized in the Mahayana vow of the Bodhisattva
not to enter Final Nirvana until the last blade of
grass has become Enlightened.
We should not take this literally, of course,
but figuratively; grass cannot be enlightened! But
a thing doesn’t have to be true to be effective
and good; whoever believes that the animals of Aesop’s
Fables or the Jataka Tales could talk? We all know
that such tales are not literally true, but are means
of conveying a message or lesson. What is important
about the Bodhisattva vow is the aspiration: to see
so far beyond oneself that even a lowly blade of grass
is not outside one’s concern.
We should always beware of literal interpretations;
a prime example is how countless Christians (though
not all) have misunderstood Jesus’s words at
the Last Supper about the bread and wine: he was only
speaking symbolically, and meant that his disciples
should remember him whenever they ate and drank—that
is: often. Instead of this, a fantastic notion arose
(called The Doctrine of Trans-substantiation) whereby
the consecrated bread and wine of the mass was actually
believed to become the flesh and blood of Jesus, making
it nothing more or less than ritualistic cannibalism!
Jesus would be quite amazed at how much he was misunderstood!
On several occasions, he threw up his hands in despair
of his disciples ever understanding him—and
not without good reason, too! If only he could see
what became of his teachings!
But, back to the position of trees in Buddhism:
many people have misunderstood and become tree-worshippers.
The meaning, surely, is that we should show respect
to all trees, and not just the kind of tree under
which the Buddha was sitting when He became Enlightened.
We can sit under only one tree at a time, not two
or more; if He had been sitting under a gum-tree or
an oak tree when He became Enlightened, we would now
be paying respect to that instead of a type of fig
tree! His Enlightenment had nothing to do with the
tree He was sitting under! Any tree might be a bodhi