Ecodharma and Environmental Justice

· Earth Initiative, Retreats, Sangha News

By Dojaku Niccolino

If you’ve wondered how to respond to human-created ecological devastation and climate breakdown, so has author David Loy. “What does Buddhism have to offer?” is the question he posed for a discussion at Fire Lotus Temple last November, and the major theme of his upcoming Ecodharma retreat via zoom on Thursday, October 3rd.

In Ecodharma: Buddhist Teachings for the Ecological Crisis, Loy explores how Buddhist principles might address the climate crisis and how Buddhist practice can help us grapple with the intense emotional impact of living on a planet whose systems are breaking down.

Loy traces the history of how humans gradually became disconnected from the natural world, and how this profound disconnection has led to a spiritual crisis which has in turn created the environmental crisis. What Loy calls the “lack projects”—the persistent feeling that we are not enough and need to chase after external objects in order to feel fulfilled—are re-created on a global level in how we relate to the natural world, or in many ways fail to relate to it. “The Extinction Event which are are currently living through could more appropriately be called an Extermination Event,” he stated. “It is not something that is happening to us, it is something we are doing.”

In our disconnection from the natural world and fascination with our own power and technology, we have become “self-created gods.” He quoted Israeli historian Yuval Norah Harrai: “Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?” 

This is sobering stuff, to be sure. But Loy sees that Buddhism may offer a path out of this destructive cycle of lack-projects and disconnection. We are living at a time when the interest in addressing this crisis, including in the Buddhist community, has rapidly increased. With mass movements such as the global school strikes for the climate and the prominence of climate activist Greta Thunberg, emphasis on environmental justice and the rapid growth of groups like Extinction Rebellion, it is as if there is a global immune system being activated in response to this sickness. The time of Covid has only made this crisis starker.

Nearly thirty years ago at the The First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit was held, generating these 17 Principles of Environmental Justice which have seeded in the work of many in the environmental justice and climate crisis movements. It is important for we Buddhists to recognize that we are in the midst of much ecosattva activism based on this recognition of our interdependence:


Loy cautions that Buddhist practice needs to come off our meditation cushions and into the world. “Our task is to do the very best we can not knowing that anything we do makes any difference whatsoever,” he stated. Clearly, many Buddhists do feel that Buddhism has something to offer in this dire moment. Now is the time for us to make that offer.

ZMM sangha at the front gate during a #blacklivesmatter vigil in June

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