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Clean up: Buddhism and Protecting our environment

For the past 24 hours, “What did I buy?” “How much did it cost?” “What did I throw away?” “What did I reuse or recycle?”

These are the 4 questions that which Venerable Zhi Yue asked us at the start of her dharma talk on “Clean up: Buddhism and Protecting our environment” across the 2 evenings of 24th and 25th June 2016, at Fo Guang Shan, Singapore.

This exercise allows us to be more mindful of what we are buying. It is because all things arises in dependence upon one another. We are all connected with one another. Our actions will have an impact to other people and the environment. We rely on other people to become who we are. Understanding the importance of cause and conditions will also help us to be mindful of our actions and the impact on the environment. To have a better understanding of cause and condition of why we buy things, we were given time to discuss in pairs and some shared with the audience what they have discussed.

Next, when does “trash” become trash? We have the perception of trash is due to mind of differentiation and duality. Day and night; success and failure; clean versus dirty. When we are experiencing day time, the other part of the world may be experiencing night time. Hence, we are encouraged to practice the middle way to have a more balanced view, instead of asceticism or luxury.

In relation to the environment, whenever we throw away things, it is because ‘I’ do not want this, ‘I’ do not need this. To overcome this, we can change our perspective from ‘I’ to others. We can think about will someone else in the community needed this. So why do people buy things? Many people do not buy product, they buy the feelings and identities associated with the products.

Hence, how could we protect our environment? It can be done by beginning with spiritual protection. When the mind is pure, the land is pure. Why do we have sufferings? We can get the answer from the four noble truths. In life, we are motivated to do things because the 3 poisons- greed, anger, and ignorance.

We can purify our karma by implementing the 3 acts of goodness in terms of body speech and mind. In terms of body, our cultivation can occur in our daily life such as in terms of food, clothing, shelter and transport. We should learn how to not give in to greed, anger and ignorance. In terms of food, we can practise the five mealtime contemplation. First, we can consider the efforts necessary to supply the food and appreciate its origin. Second, reflect upon one’s own virtue being insufficient to receive the offering. Thirdly, it is to protect the mind integrity to depart from error and as a general principal, to avoid greed. Fourthly, we can consider food as medicine and bodily nourishment that prevent emaciation. Lastly, perceive the food as necessary for attaining enlightenment. For clothing, according to statistic, in Singapore, we only wear 30% of the clothes that we bought. Hence, we can work on the clothes selection so that we can maximise the usage of the clothes that we bought. In terms of shelter, we can learn to reduce the usage of electricity, water etc. For transportation, one can take more of public transport instead of private car as there is less carbon footprint produced.

Speech: We should refrain from false speech, slander, harsh speech and idle chatter. It is because people can seek happiness through buying things, hence, it might cause an increase in wastage. When we speak words of compassion, encouragement and hope, it will reduce one’s desire to buy things in impulse unnecessarily and when one seek happiness through human interaction, one will tend to buy less.

Mind: We can change the way we think because how something appears is always a matter of perspectives. We can transform greed with generosity; anger with compassion and ignorance with wisdom. We can view things from “I” perspective to “others” perspectives.

In closing, Venerable Zhi Yue wants us to ponder what we can do for the environment and summarise what she have covered for the 2 days.

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