How Much is Enough? - Preface

Buddhism, Consumerism, and the Human Environment

Editor's Preface
"How Much Is Enough?"
Buddhism and the Human Environment

Richard K. Payne

In the twenty-first century, the Buddhist tradition exists in a social environment radically different from any previous era. The global horizon of contemporary Buddhism creates new questions, questions that the tradition had never in fact confronted previously. In the Western cultural context, two of these are the therapeutic culture and the social activist culture. While the therapeutic culture, which presumes a psychological orientation, can tend to be highly individualistic, the social activist culture has the opposite orientation. In the second half of the twentieth century, Buddhism became involved in several struggles for social justice—perhaps most memorably the opposition to the war in Vietnam, opposition that included Buddhist monks using self-immolation as a means of protest.

Closer to the end of the twentieth century, environmentalism became an increasingly important part of the social activist world, and as a consequence Buddhism also became involved in the issues of environmentalism. One of the key ideas for all forms of Buddhism is the absence of any eternal, unchanging, or permanent essence to be found either in people or in the objects of our daily experience. For many contemporary Buddhists, this notion of "no-essence" is interpreted in a more positive form to mean that the existence of each and every thing, including people, is causally interconnected. Thich Nhat Hanh has coined the term "interbeing" in an attempt to express how deep mutually interdependent existence is.

It was out of this sense of mutually interdependent existence that the international symposium on "Buddhism and the Environment" was organized by Mitsuya Dake and David Matsumoto, members of the faculties of Ryukoku University, Kyoto, and the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Berkeley, respectively. The conference was held in the Alumni House, on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, on Sunday, September 14, 2003. Keynote speakers for the symposium were Lewis Lancaster, University of California, Berkeley ("Buddhist Strategies and Discourses: The Views of Causation and Contemporary Problems"), and Ryusei Takeda, Ryukoku University ("Where Should the True Encounter between Religion and Science Take Place?"). Panelists included Stephanie Kaza, University of Vermont; Duncan Williams, University of California, Irvine; Ryugo Matsui, Ryukoku University; Ruben Habito, Southern Methodist University; Tetsunori Koizumi, Ryukoku University; Malcolm David Eckel, Boston University; and Mitsuya Dake, Ryukoku University.

The emphasis that the symposium placed on the human environment highlights the interdependence of our human social reality with the encompassing and supporting natural world. By becoming aware of this interdependence we can see that the distinction between social and natural is itself an intellectual construct, an analytic tool for looking at things in one particular way. It is not a "natural" distinction, and we can look at things differently. Seeing the interdependence of the social and natural, we can experience more directly the karmic relations between our actions and the human environment around us, both social and natural.