Earth Awareness Initiatives Happening at the Monastery

In the spirit of the Green Dragon Earth Initiative started several years ago by Shugen Sensei, both lay and residential sangha have been taking a long thoughtful look at the day-to-day details of our relationship to the environment. What is our relationship right now, and how do we want it to evolve? Where are we as a community, a family, an ecosystem, a nation, or a planet, headed to?

At the Monastery we started gathering ideas and jotting our on-the-ground aspirations on a large whiteboard. This public discussion space has been packed full twice with visions and project ideas, and is now on round three. Ranging from changes to our recycling and composting streams in the restrooms to community actions against the oil and gas pipelines, some ideas manifest quickly while others will continue developing long after this three-month period comes to a close.

In many ways, we’re jumping in with both feet to change our daily lives. The Monastery has significantly cut the use of paper napkins by making cloth napkins from re-purposed linens. New signage and bins are popping up to remind us to compost or recycle paper products and leave as little as possible that will go into landfill. Our new landfill “trash” cans are tiny while our compost ones are large! Cutting down on electricity use by using clotheslines and avoiding the dryers has sparked many discussions about the procedural details and daily sacrifices necessary for change. Who’s responsible for hanging the laundry during meal clean-up? How cold is too cold to air dry towels? Is this really making a difference? These actions and questions in learning to live lightly and steward the Earth are where our practice of awareness comes to life.

Part of our reflection on this earth practice is a natural curiosity about where we stand in the bigger picture. What is our impact? How do we measure it? How much change can we hope to see from our efforts to reduce consumption and waste? We’ll have more information when we do a follow-up to our carbon footprint evaluation that was conducted by residents this spring. But for starters, according to the calculator we utilized to see just how much CO2 we’re producing, we are well under “the average carbon footprint of a typical 35 person household in our zip code.” This is good news, and hopefully an inspiration for those of us here and at home to continue to do more.

In addition to many small changes in routine, the Monastery is also investing in several infrastructure changes that will help us live more lightly on the planet. The Sangha House is having an additional solar array installed on the southeast roof (the portion right above the main entrance), allowing us to produce even more of our own electricity. In the garden, the old hoop-style greenhouse is being replaced with a larger, more substantial one that will provide for increased vegetable production and a longer growing season. The two projects became related when we chose to install electric heaters in the greenhouse rather than propane as a way of continually reducing the amount of fossil fuels that we burn on-site, putting to work our increased solar capacity. Both projects are new and significant steps toward reducing the Monastery’s carbon footprint.

Taking care of the planet is not just a three-month experiment. As Shugen Sensei has emphasized several times during talks and discussions, what is required of us is a fundamental shift in our attitudes toward comfort, and a willingness to change our daily relationship to what we’ve been calling “resources.” As one resident aptly reflected, “I now understand the importance of making changes in my everyday life as a way of making clear my love and care for the Earth. I see this practice as one of creating karma, of reinforcing that habit-energy so that having made choices that fight climate change even in seemingly insignificant ways I will be more likely to make choices that have a larger and more visible impact. Most importantly, I’m aligning my actions with my intent.”

The overall feeling in this spring Ango is one of enthusiastic inquiry into the impact of our lives, from our personal choices all the way up to the human impact on the climate of the planet. The energy is tangible, and the questioning is deep and heartfelt, and will continue shaping and being shaped by our practice as sangha of the earth.