Article Review and Commentary
The article being selected to review is Silva’s (1987) paper with regards to the Buddhist attitude towards nature. From the perspective of Buddhism, nature is dynamic which is undergoing a process of constant change while the deterioration of human morality would negatively influence such a process and consequently bring adverse impacts on natural environment (Silva, 1987). Moreover, it is suggested that the relationship between human and nature is interdependent so human must exploit the nature resources based on their basic needs rather than their greed in order to maintain the sustainability of the natural environment (Silva, 1987). Besides, Buddhism advocates cleanliness in the person as well as in the environment. More specifically, on the one hand, natural resources such as water and grass are imperative for the survival of most creatures so it is important to make sure human activities would not pollute these resources (Silva, 1987). This is to say, human beings should live in harmony with other creatures in the same natural environment. On the other hand, Buddhism advocates the inner cleanliness of a person which refers to the inner silence of speech, desire, and thought of a person. It is believed that this inner silence would facilitate the meditation process which would purify a person’s thought and improve his or her morality so that the person’s attitudes towards nature would turn to positive and his or her behaviours towards natural environment would change accordingly (Silva, 1987).
As the article suggests, the philosophy of Buddhism has several important implications with regards to environmental ethics. Firstly, Buddhism points out that the underlying cause of people’s over exploitation of natural resources is the deterioration of their morality (Silva, 1987). This statement can be justified in the sense that people’s harmful behaviours towards environment, such as over consumption and pollution, are motivated by their values and beliefs. That is to say, in order to completely eliminated people’s harmful behaviours towards environment, it is far from enough to develop policies to control such behaviours. Rather, it is the value and belief system which guides such behaviours should be changed. Buddhism possesses plenty of spiritual resources which can influence people’s moral values and support an environmental ethic. For example, the principle of non-harming resides at the heart of Buddhism. Such a principle promotes the value that people should never do anything harmful to others as well as to the environment. Once such a belief is accepted, people would find excessive consumption and pollution to the environment are harmful so they would limit such activities. Moreover, Buddhism’s recognition of the interdependent relationship between human beings and natural environment further raise the ethical awareness of people towards environment. For example, even if people do not accept the philosophy of non-harming, the reality that people is dependent on natural resources and the potential risk of permanently losing such resources would motivate people to exploit the natural resources in a sustainable way for the sake of themselves.
Secondly, Buddhism promotes the idea of adopting a loving attitude to the animal and plant life which give rise to the principle of properly using the natural resources which are shared by other creatures in the environment (Silva, 1987). A good illustration of such principle is the requirement for Buddhist to maintain cleanliness when using the natural resources such as water. From the perspective of Buddhism, the beliefs which underpin such a loving attitude are related with reborn. More specifically, it is believed by Buddhist that people could reborn in subhuman states among animals so it is possible that people’s own close relatives who passed away could have reborn as animals (Silva, 1987). This provides justification for Buddhists to treat other creatures with kindness and sympathy. Although this belief is developed from a Buddhism perspective with a high degree of religious content, the fundamental value it is trying to deliver can still be borrowed to influence general people’s environmental ethics. For example, people do not have to accept the story of reborn which is rooted in Buddhism but they should realise the key value promoted by such a story which is the factor that all creatures have the same right for living just as human beings do, so it is unethical for people to over exploit or pollute the natural resources which other creatures depend on for living.
Thirdly, Buddhism suggests that pollution or over consumption in the environment is caused by the psychological pollution within human beings so people should maintain inner silence and peace in order to improve their moral values (Silva, 1987). This view is correct in the sense that people’s activities in terms of exploiting the natural resources are resulted from their greed. In order to more efficiently and effectively exploit the natural resources, people developed advanced technologies which have brought the problem of pollution. Such a problem cannot be addressed superficially through the penalties incurred by environmental policies since such costs can easily be covered by further exploiting the natural resources. Instead, people should reappraise their value system and awake their ethical awareness to the environment. It is only through such a way that the pollution as well as the abuse of natural resources can be fundamentally eliminated. For Buddhists, they will be provided with psychological training to achieve inner silence to purify their thoughts and control unnecessary desires and needs. This form of psychological training is less applicable to those people who are not Buddhist or do not have any religious. However, Buddhism’s practice of providing psychological training has important implications for improving people’s environmental ethics in general. More specifically, the psychological training provided by Buddhism illustrates the initiative to find ways to constantly improve the moral status. It is such an initiative that should be encouraged and spread among human beings so that people would review their value system frequently and actively looking for ways to improve it.
Silva, L.D (1987). The Buddhist Attitude towards Nature. Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society.