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Lions Roar : March 2007
ALL OF THE WORLD’S religious and philosophical systems have developed sets of commandments, injunctions, or pre- cepts that codify the core beliefs of the moral person. The Ten Commandments are most familiar. Islam has a similar list of injunctions. Buddhism’s Ten Grave Precepts embody congru- ent principles. These are instructions on how to live with our fellow human beings in harmony; they are social precepts. Today we must recognize that our environmental relation- ships require the same kind of guidance. If we are to survive as a species in a harmonious relationship with the earth, we need a set of earth precepts as simple, universal, and powerful as the social precepts that have guided our social relations for so long. These can be—and indeed, should be—as simple and basic as the Judeo-Christian Decalogue or the Buddhist precepts. There are many different ways to capture the same truths, but here is one offering of a set of earth precepts: HONOR THE EARTH, UPON WHICH ALL LIFE DEPENDS. To honor the earth is to vow to treat it with appropriate grati- tude, respect, care, and love. This is the simplest and most basic of the precepts, containing all the others. Simplicity is often the most difficult practice. CONSIDER THE CONSEQUENCES OF ALL ENVIRONMEN- TAL ACTIONS OVER AT LEAST A 100-YEAR TIME FRAME. Even the most farsighted individual rarely thinks more than five or ten years ahead. Over and over, we fail to recognize environ- mental disasters until it is too late. In taking responsibility for the earth, we must anticipate the consequences of our actions over the time frames that the earth’s processes require. DO NOT DESTABILIZE THE EARTH’S ATMOSPHERIC OR AQUATIC SYSTEMS. The atmosphere and the oceans constantly cycle oxygen, carbon di- oxide, and water around the planet, creating the earth’s climate. De- spite their immense size, the atmosphere and the oceans are not im- mune to our influence, as shown by the sharp rise in carbon dioxide levels since the industrial revolution. The resulting climate change threatens to disrupt every human and natural process on earth. DO NOT DEPEND UPON ENERGY SOURCES THAT CAN- NOT BE REPLACED. At present, our dependence on fossil fuels is almost absolute, which is leading us toward catastrophic economic, social, and ecological crises as these resources are exhausted. Fortunately, renewable energy technologies from solar to wind power to bio- fuels are ready and waiting; we simply need to commit to their use without further delay. DO NOT REMOVE LIVING RESOURCES, INCLUDING SOIL, TREES, AND MARINE LIFE, FASTER THAN THEY CAN REPLACE THEMSELVES. By definition, a healthy relationship with the earth must be sus- tainable forever. All living things must be able to maintain them- selves in equilibrium. In terms of sustainability, any time frame shorter than “forever” merely delays an inevitable collapse. The Earth Precepts Biologist PEPPER TRAIL offers ten principles for living in greater harmony with the earth Getting to Peace In his new book, Getting to Peace, William Ury, an internationally recognized leader in conflict negotiation, has laid out a number of principles for finding solutions that work to stabilize political conflicts at many levels. It seems to me that his work on “getting to peace” applies well to environmental issues, which often involve conflict between different parties and different points of view. Some people have said that we are now fighting World War Three—not the war against terrorism, but the assault against the environment. Pesticides, nuclear waste, toxic chemicals, clear-cutting—all these and more are direct attacks on living beings of many kinds. In his book, Ury lays out a role for what he calls “the third side,” a party outside the immediate conflict but with a vested interest in a peaceful outcome. This suggests a useful role for Buddhists concerned about the environment. The third side party can clarify differences, provide protection to threatened parties, and educate where knowledge is needed. Someone with Buddhist sensibilities can draw on the practices I’ve suggested—being with the suffering, cultivating systems mind, practicing non- harming—and help to stabilize an ongoing conflict. The third side plays an active part, engaging conflict but not taking sides. Ury describes ten specific third-side roles, all of which apply to environmental situations. I’d like to highlight three that seem particularly well suited for a Buddhist approach. The bridge-builder works to prevent conflict by strengthening weak relationships in the human and ecological web. Very often environmental problems arise from user conflicts over a resource or a particular area. Round-table discussions that bring all the par- ties together can help coordinate and regulate user activities. This approach has been effectively applied, for example, in conflicts involving spiritual use of public lands by Native Americans. 46 SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2007 3DNATURELLC,3DNATURE.COM