Consider:  The Buddha was an Ecotopian.

Our topic for this program is “Down to Earth,” the title of a book-in-progress by our guest, Chicoan Lin Jensen. Lin’s book presents his personal, Buddhist philosophy of how and why we need to take care of the earth.

Background on Green and Global Buddhism

We’ll start our discussion tonight with this statement from The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order on “Green Buddhism”  They write:

The essence of Buddhism is timeless and universal. But the forms it takes always adapt according to context. […]

Caring for the environment is a natural part of the Buddhist path. The Buddha encouraged us to understand more deeply the underlying unity and interconnectedness of life. Values such as simplicity of lifestyle, sharing with others, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and compassion for all living things have always been at the heart of the tradition.

In today’s world, we need to hold to these values ever more strongly. More and more, we are finding it appropriate to identify clearly Buddhist ethics with ecological awareness. This involves conscious choices in the way we lead our lives and run our own buildings and organisations. Many of our Buddhist centres are now using eco-friendly services and supporting local green initiatives. […]

The Friends of Western Buddhism have other articles on Buddhism and the Environment.

s a powerful example of an ecologically conscious Buddhist center, we want to read from  this story of Singapore’s Buddhist Green Building: The Po Ern Shih Temple by Chris Tobias on the Buddhist TV Channel:

One year after opening, and about two years after construction began, the Poh Ern Shih Temple (or Temple of Thanksgiving in English) is looking great. I’m dropping by to visit the temple and check out progress on this green Buddhist sanctuary.

[…] I locate Boon, the temple president, just before lunch and we sit down for a chat.

“The building performance has been great,” he tells me. “We’ve generated 15 megawatts of power from our first phase PV systems so far in the first year, and we’re going to install another set in our second phase of construction.”[…]

7 large solar hot water heating units have also proven worth the investment. “We’ve had a consistent flow of hot water since we started operations, which is really good as we are catering for quite a congregation now,” Boon says. Gathered in the lunchroom are at least 150 people, and there are several classes going on upstairs.[…]

[…]Boon shows me the upper floors of the temple. The main worship hall has been completed, its lotus dome beautifully lit by thousands of energy efficient LED lights. The passive ventilation design of the dome and open walls channels the air through the space, allowing cooling to take place without the need for air conditioning. With a capacity to hold several hundred people, this is no easy task.

On the same level as the worship hall, there’s a terrace that is now fully planted with a garden. Butterflies are all over the place. “Let me show you something else,” Boon says.

He reaches down to pull open an access hatch. “We’re also storing some of our own water on site. We still haven’t gotten full permission for all the rain tanks we had planned to install, but this one was approved. We now can use the rainwater that falls to water the plants in the terrace garden.” As Singapore gets significant year-round rainfall, this will be a worthwhile investment for the future.

We go up one more level in the temple to get a better view of the pagoda structure that lets light in to the lower regions of the temple’s interior. During phase two of the construction, the pagoda’s overhangs will also be covered in PV panels. “Shhh,” Boon says, “don’t tell the architect!”

In addition to the pagoda, there are Solatubes also dotted around several of the terraces on the back of the temple, allowing natural sunlight to penetrate the lower levels. “It cuts down on the amount of lighting we need, and electricity we would need to run them. They work really well,” Boon informs me.

Unfortunately, one of the most innovative features of the The Po Ern Shih Temple [Boon, the Temple President says:]

“We were going to trial micro-hydro power generation in our rain gutters, since rain from the roof falls nearly 25m to the base of the structures. We don’t have approval yet. Something like this has not yet been done in Singapore, so it makes people a bit nervous. We don’t fit in the box.”

Something else falling outside the box is pollution monitors. Boon has been concerned for some time about the oil refineries located on an island just off the coast of Singapore.

He points to several stained points around the structure where airborne pollution has been brought down by rainfall.  “The temple is only two years old, and yet we already have signs of air pollution in the area. Our building already bears some of the scars,”

“I’ve already written three letters about the pollution, and if nothing is done by the government, we’re going to install monitors here and have the data live on our website. With asthma and COPD diseases on the rise in Singapore, people need to know what they’re breathing and how it affects them,” he says.,8440,0,0,1,0

We think that’s a pretty remarkable example of not only of ecological consciousness, but technical savvy, something one might not ordinarily associate with Buddhism.  And that is only one example: In an April program we read the story of Thailand’s  Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew temple which was constructed out of over a million recycled bottles.  Here’s the link to that article:

Our Questions for Lin Jensen

Our guest tonight on Ecotopia is Lin Jensen of Chico, who is writing a book called Down to Earth: A Buddhist Guide to Deep Ecology.

Part I: Your ecological and philosophical perspective:

  • What is your background in Buddhism?  How did you come to it?
  • At what point in your life did you encounter Zen Master Dogen’s Tenzo Kyokan, or Instructions to the Cook?
  • What do you mean by “deep Ecology”?
  • In addition to Buddhism, what background and biography do you bring to your study and practice of the care and preservation of the earth?
  • In your writing, you “indulge memories of a period of United States history occurring over sixty years ago.” What are some of those memories?   What do they tell us?
  • Throughout history, older generations have always grumped about the world getting worse. What makes you think this period—1930-2010—is different?
  • You write about compulsive consumption as an ecological problem and as a kind of “thermometer” of human behavior (also reflected in global warming). Please explain.
  • The scientist and nature writer Loren Eiseley tells the story of “The Starfish Thrower,” a young man who at low tide is saving starfish one at a time by throwing them back into the ocean.  You save earthworms stranded on the sidewalk, so we can ask you the question that comes out in Eiseley’s essay, “Does that really make a difference?”  How do earthworms fit into your ecophilosophy?

Part II: From philosophy to practice.  What can individuals or groups do?

  • You write: “In the long chronicle of earth’s evolution, we humans are being written into the story. Who shares the story with us? What is our role?” Who does share the story with us?  What is our role?
  • On this program, we’ve talked from time to time of “co-evolution,” that changes—natural or otherwise—can affect how creatures adapt and survive.  Can humans change the co-evolutionary plot line?
  • How can people distinguish between need and want?
  • Back to the starfish thrower: What steps can individuals take to make a difference? Do you see a role for group action in the form of political or legal action?  Can we write rules and regulations that will make a difference? Does your Buddhist philosophy include direct and/or group action?
  • Many people have written bleak prophesies of what will happen if people do not change their ways. What is your most optimistic answer to your question, “How does the story end?”

Playlist for Ecotopia #58: Down to Earth

1. Om Mani Padme Hum       6:31  Mercedes Bahleda  Path To Bliss

2. Forgiveness    3:35  Krishna Das    One Track Heart

3. Gone Gone     7:58  Geshe Michael Roach & Lama Christie McNally    Angel Of Diamond

4. Gayatri           4:17  Girish    Shiva Machine

5. Kandroma [Edit]      6:57  Mercedes Bahleda   Path To Bliss

6, Weave Me the Sunshine    4:28  Peter, Paul And Mary   The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

7. Under the Wings of Blessing      6:29  Nawang Khechog    Tibetan Meditation Music

8. Gending Erhu  10:59        Gamelan Pacifica    Trance Gong

9. The Diamond Cutter Chant        5:00  Mercedes Bahleda          Path To Bliss