Buddha’s affinity for the environment


Courtesy : Vesak Lipi (2007 Edition)

 “I beleive that only a religious ethic (towards nature) will serve to protect us, an ethic that regards man as the trusty of nature for the welfair of all people now and in the remote future”.
-Bentfy Class-The Buddha has made it abundantly clear that nature should be uninterfered with so that humanity may enjoy its presence, and value for their benefit.He also preached that all life, including plant life should not be destroyed. Nature is a life giver for humanity. With the Industrial Revolution taking place in Eruope, social and Health problems began to surface because less attention was paid to nature.The present day problem of environmental pollution was not known during the time of the Buddha, as man at that time lived in peaceful harmony with nature, without attempting to subjugate and exploit it.Buddhism teaches us that if man is to enjoy nature’s benefits, he has primarily to lead a righteous life. Today man’s insatiate craving for all types of wants has made him to be more and more unrighteous. Presently, this situation has led to an ominious vicious circle wherein unrigheousness or adharma has made the life more difficult. With these difficulties life is made more irreligious. The tragedy here is that a vicious circle continues to gather momentum. This trend can be arrested only by making peace with nature, by abandoning this unsatiated greed for more and more so-called comforts and facilities.

For instance, unlike a scientist who may attribute the absence of rain only to external causes, the Buddha attributes the senseless behav-
iour of man in felling trees to be one of the contributory factors for the reduced supply of rain, of causing of drought, which prevents cultivation of land for food crops.According to the Mahasupina Jatake (No. 77) when nations have unjust rulers, the travesty of righteouseness is seen. Hence, according to the theory of moral causation as taught in Buddhism, not only water but even the other resources as well that are needed for man’s survival can become hard to find, unless they are mindfully utilized without destruction and waste.It is man’s bounden duty that he should sustain himself at all times through righteous means. He should neither try to subjugate nature or make her his slave, nor should he blindly do any harm to her aesthetic aspects that are in plenty. The Buddha was a complete respector of nature’s beauties.HE LIVED IN THE OPEN
Born under a tree in a public park indicating his future homelessness, He accordingly became a great respector and lover of nature and led a homeless life in the spiritual sense. Even as a pensive householder, He was used to visiting public parks to enjoy their surroundings. It was in the course of such visits that He witnessed the four signs of suffering that tempted him to renounce the worldly life and be a recluse. He saw a vital difference between the attractive enjoyment of beauty as a mundane man, and the subtle appreciation of it at the supramundane level. It is interesting to note that Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha was bom in the open in a “salgrove” (Park). He attained enlightenment when in a deep Jhana seated under (Ashvatta) Tree at Gaya, and later passed away (His Maha Parinibbana) also in the open, at Kushinara; again enjoying the shade of Sal trees.

As Prince Siddartha, He was a worldly man who saw the transcience of mundane pleasures and rose to the supra-mundane level of a Buddha, who is a connoisseur in the transcendental plane. Throughout his career, subsequent to the “Great Renunciation” his love for nature had been quite prominent. He adodpted the ascetic way of life by donning the appropriate mendicants garb, after crossing the river Anoma. His first place of rest in his new role was in the mango grove of Arubiya on the river bank, where he spent the first week after the Renunciation.
Here He, seems to have planned his future course of action, “away from the maddening crowd’s ignoble strife”.

The Bodhisatva must have really felt greatly relieved from his regimental life away from the walls of the Royal palace, and quite enjoyed the new surroundings with flowering plants and fruit laden trees, in a captivating landscape that had the flowing waters of the river Anoma close by. This view becomes further confirmed by the claim He has made that in these surroundings, He never felt the pangs of hunger and thirst, because he saw what happiness was (peetibbakkha).

At Rajagaha, which was his next stay, He sought the shade of a stone-slab attached to the Paandeva Hill, where He partook of meals obtained by begging. He spent the night in the Gijjhakutor mountains, which later became one of his favourite abodes. Next, He proceeded to Vesali where He rested under a tree on the bank of the Ganges river. At Vesali, He also met the Jain ascetic Alarakalama, whom he had left after some time, and was thereafter frequenting the river Mahi, close to which lived the ascetic teacher Uddaka. It was after leaving him that he proceeded to Uruvela through which town flowed the river Neranjara. On its bank was the pleasing landscape called Neranjara Upavana, which satisfied his heart’s wish for a suitable site to launch his “struggle” because, it had a river, hillocks, trees, thickets, sandy banks etc. away from the “maddening crowd”.

Then again, it was under the Ajapala banyan tree that He accepted the milk-rice offered by Sujatha. After a bath in Neranjana, He partook of the milk-rice in the shade of Ajapala tree and spent the day in meditation in a neighouring sala grove (this tree is not the tree popularly known as sal in Sinhala but the tree botanically known as shorea robusta), which is connected with his birth, enlightenment and even parinibbana. In the evening, He proceeded to the shade of the ashvattha tree, which shaded him in his final struggle for Buddhahood. Even in His subsequent life as a Buddha, one park to another park, and from tree to tree,; finally ending up also in the saala grove Upavattana at Kusinara (Kashinagar), where His Maha-parinibbana took place.

From the foregoing story, one could conclude that Gautama Buddha was the world’s greatest admirer of nature’s attractions at the spiritual levels. As such, it becomes the bounded duty of those who call themselves Buddhists to preserve nature’s resources.

Buddhist monks are enjoined in their disciplinary codes not to harm a plant, herb or tree. The idea is that all plants have some from of life or “soul” attached to them. According to plant lore three types of spirits could reside on trees (1) VRUKSHA DEVAS (2) Goddessess of the human world (3) YAKAS or evil beings.

“The Bo tree has a definite place in popular and religions (as in Buddhism) and is never uprooted, wounded, because of the belief that divine spirits who have their abodes will lose their dwellings. Moreover, the Bo-tree under whose shade the Buddha attained his enlighement is regarded as symbol of the Buddha himself and is venerated as such.”
– Prof. Nandasena Ratnapala- Ph D. DLitt (Professor of Sociology)

The late Mr. A.G. Sin Kariyawasam BA (Hons) was born on Oct. 1st 1933. Educated at Mahinda College, Galle and at the University of Ceylon Peradeniya. Was Editor of The Buddhist (Colombo YMBA 1978-1986). An Oriental and Buddhist Scholar. Author of “Buddhist Ceremonies and Rituals of Sri Lanka”. Editor, Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 1960-1989. A well-known Broadcaster of Radio Ceylon. Served as Editor, both English and Sinhala at the Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy. Was a Dhamma School teacher, (English medium), at Wattarantenna, Kandy – He passed away on 27 December 2004. This article was written by him three days prior to his demise, especially for VESAK LIPI DIGEST.