The Avatamsaka World as a Guidance towards Human Behaviour for a Sustainable Earth
The Avatamsaka World as a Guidance towards Human Behaviour for a Sustainable Earth
Shih Bao Yi
The Avatamsaka World as a Guidance towards Human Behaviour for a Sustainable Earth
A Buddhist disciple who was concerned about the degradation of Earth, once asked his teacher: “What will happen to our Mother Earth? Will she fight back and bring us more natural disasters and problems?”
Dharma Master Hsin Tao replied: “Imagine what would happen if all your limbs were amputated and all your organs were removed? You will become very sick, even on the verge of dying. When Mother Earth becomes crippled and disabled, she has no choice but to express her symptoms of pain and unease. When you show no love to your Mother Earth and ill-treat her, she will show symptoms of high fever and diarrhea. We call them natural disasters, but in fact, we caused them.”
Earth, is currently the only planet known to have an atmosphere that supports life. However, the “most intellectual creature” to walk this beautiful planet is also gradually destroying it. Sustainability is currently a global challenge. Sustainability is widely defined as the ability to meet the needs of people and their communities both in the short term and the long term. (Tucker, 2017) For Earth to be sustainable, Earth’s natural resources, ecosystems, climate and the atmosphere must be responsibly managed and protected so that both the current and future generations of all living things on Earth can live a decent life.
Three Pillars of Sustainability
There are three main pillars of sustainability: environment, social and economy. These three pillars are interrelated concepts that should be discussed together to form a solid ground where major decisions and actions are made. (Thwink.org, n.d.)
The Three Spheres of Sustainability: Environment, Economic and Social
To date, most national and international not-for-profit organizations focus on only one pillar at a time. For example, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) of many nations and other environmental NGOs focus only on the Environmental Pillar. The World Trade Organization (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) focus mainly on the Economic Pillar. Oxfam, Amnesty International, UNICEF focus mostly on the Social Pillar. The United Nations (UN) attempts to strengthen all 3 pillars, but is only able to provide a small impact due to its consensual decision-making process and small budget. The (“Three Pillars of Sustainability”, n.d.) As no powerful international organization is working on all three pillars simultaneously, this leaves a void.
As the 2008 Great recession has established, a weakness in the other pillars can directly weaken the environmental pillar. During the 2008 recession, budgets of many countries were running deficits, resulting in many nations cutting back or postponing stricter environmental laws. At the same time, many NGOs see their donation and sponsorship income fall as people struggle to put food on their tables. Similarly, if the Social Pillar weakens, the Environment Pillar weakens too. As an example, if war broke out in a country or if the country lives in dire poverty, people living in the country will focus on short term benefits more than long term consequences, because their lives are at stake. Therefore, it is vital that these three interconnected Pillars of Sustainability are focused on simultaneously.
Knowing what national and international NGOs can do is limited, and that mankind is in fact the culprit behind Earth’s destruction, we should all pitch in to save Mother Earth before it is too late, and the effects become irreversible. How can each of us help to fix this problem permanently? To answer this question, we need to know how we have caused this problem and have allowed it to persist over the years. Every so often, we hear of ecological disasters occurring around the world. Since 1992, the Union of Concerned Scientists consisting of over 100 Nobel laureates and 1,600 other distinguished scientists from 70 countries, have warned us that if mankind obstinately persists in their current actions, our planet will be irretrievably mutilated, resulting in vast misery. Yet, we do not heed the warnings. (Khisty, 2009)
In 1973, Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess coined the phrase “Deep Ecology” and has helped to give it a theoretical foundation. Arne realized that ecological science, concerned with facts and logic alone, is unable to answer ethical questions about how men should live. Instead, men need ecological wisdom. Deep ecology helps mankind develop ecological wisdom by focusing on deep experience, deep questioning and deep commitment. Naess also believes that men should re-evaluate their understanding of human nature. He alleged that when an individual is cut off from others and their surrounding world, the separation will lead to pitfalls of anthropocentrism and environmental degradation. Accordingly, a new understanding of the self is needed. (Madsen, 2016)
Albert Einstein once said: “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.” Likewise, this article proposes that instead of trying to create more experiments to find a direct solution to manage each effect of climate change, we should take a step back and try to think a little deeper. If we contemplated deeply, we would eventually realize that many of these crises are a result of human behavior which has been tainted by pride, envy, ignorance, attachment and aversion. In Buddhism, pride, envy, ignorance, attachment and aversion are known as the 5 poisons. Since the problem seems to have arisen from within each individual and can be found within the teachings of Buddhism, perhaps we might find more guidance for how to solve this problem from within Buddhist Scriptures, such as the Avatamsaka Sutra.
In the Mahayana Buddhist School, the Avatamsaka Sutra (Major Scripture of Inconceivable Liberation) with its vivid metaphors and extravagant visions, is considered one of the most influential classic text of Buddhism. This Sutra was the first teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni, immediately upon attaining enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. This Sutra comprises of 39 books, which also explains the path to attaining enlightenment and what it means to attain enlightenment.
This Avatamsaka Sutra is famed for its intricate and didactic philosophy, illustrated with intriguing metaphors inspired by the Sutra. The philosophy in this Sutra emphasizes less on forming systems of thought and belief for its own sake. Rather, it establishes a set of practical applications for new ways of looking at things from different perspectives, of discovering harmony and even discovering synergies from apparent disparity. This exercise aims to help develop a round, holistic perspective to achieve unity in diversity, and overcome all mental barriers that create fragmentation and prejudice. (Cleary, 1993)
The Avatamsaka doctrine elaborates in great detail the principal of Dependent Origination. The sutra portrays a cosmos of infinite realms, in which everything simultaneously interrelates, interpenetrates and is interdependent on everything else. Fa Tsang’s theory metaphorizes the Avatamsaka World as a J¬¬ewel Net of Indra. The net is made up of Jewels. If we inspect any one of the Jewels, the images of all other Jewels are completely reflected in that Jewel. This is also true if we inspect any other Jewel and will remain forever so. (Cleary, 1993)
The above concept is true at all levels: at a unit/ individual level, at the level of the manifold and even as a whole nexus. In the Avatamsaka World, one individual is considered in terms of its relationships to other individuals, as well as to the whole nexus. Similarly, the whole nexus is considered in terms of its relationship to each individual, as well as to all individuals. On Earth, every action and decision we make will affect our environment and the people around us. Consequently, this will affect the way the environment and other people around us interact and respond, which may again directly or indirectly affect us. Since all people and all creatures share in each other’s existence, there is ultimately no true benefit if one group alone won at the cost of another. (Cleary, 1993) Korean Zen Master Samu Sunim once said: “Everything depends on others for survival and nothing really exists apart from everything else. Therefore, there is no permanent self or entity independent of others. Not only are we interdependent but we are an interrelated whole. As trees, rocks, clouds, insects, humans and animals, we are all equals, and part of the universe.”
This article aims to determine how human behavior that is tainted by the 5 poison in Buddhism, has played a strong role in harming the sustainability of Mother Earth. This article further discusses actions that can be done to save Earth, using the Avatamsaka Sutra as a guidance toward human behavior. The 3 Pillars of Sustainability mentioned above will be used as a foundation for this discussion paper, to provide a comprehensive understanding and solution for the sustainability of Earth.
In 1907, Leo Baekeland invented the first fully synthetic plastic that contained no molecules found in nature. During the early 1960s, mankind invented plastic bags that were not biodegradable, but they were much cheaper to produce compared to paper bags. Plastic was then mass produced and widely used. These plastics that mankind thoughtlessly discard after using, are washing up in the oceans and marine animals like sea turtles and whales are afflicted because plastics were mistaken for food. (Science History Institute, n.d.) Studies show that only 9% of plastic ever created has been recycled. (The Story of Stuff Project, n.d.) The United Nations estimates that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish by weight, in the ocean. Furthermore, new research from the University of Hawaii at Monoa has found that there are hidden sources of greenhouse gas that we have not previously accounted for. As soon as plastic is directly exposed to sunlight, sunlight not only breaks down plastic, but the process also releases methane and ethylene – two of the most problematic greenhouse gases. (Royer, Ferrón, Wilson, & Karl, 2018)
In the example above, ignorance has tainted mankind. When mankind invented plastic, due to the lack of knowledge and information, they were unable to foresee then, the damage that plastic could cause our environment. Here, I quote Aristotle: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Mankind thought that they were extremely intelligent and have even congratulated themselves when they managed to invent plastic. Little did they know that their inventions could create such major issues. This quote is congruent with the Dunning-Kruger effect in psychology which states that the scope of people’s ignorance, is often invisible to them. (Dunning, 2011) Poor performers seem largely unaware of just how deficient their expertise is. Their incomplete and misguided knowledge not only lead them to make mistakes, but the exact same shortcomings also prevent them from recognizing their mistakes. This would explain why mankind had turned a blind eye to all the warnings throughout the years.
In Buddhism, the Avatamsaka Sutra might be able to provide some guidance on extenuating ignorance. The Seventh Treasury in the Avatamsaka Sutra is “The Treasury of Wisdom”. Beings who perfect the Treasury of Wisdom are able to cast off all doubt and confusion, and see things for what they truly are. No different philosophies and arguments can change or influence them. In order to achieve “The Treasury of Wisdom”, men should educate themselves consistently. If men consistently educate themselves, they will understand that the cost of plastic might be cheaper but the cost to the environment is significantly larger. Mankind will then understand that they need to factor in the long-term costs to the environment and not just short term monetary costs. With the newly gained knowledge of what plastic does to the environment, they will also recycle plastic more diligently. (Cleary, 1993)
Human’s greed for gold, silver, platinum, copper, lead, zinc, cadmium, quartz and other precious metals has resulted in extensive mining. Mankind utilize these materials from mining activities to produce automobiles, machineries, houses, watches, plasma TVs, mobile phones, jewelry, cosmetics, medical equipment, etc. Mining could potentially release harmful substances into the water. Some of the rocks, when crushed, exposes radioactive elements, asbestos-like minerals and metallic dust that pollutes the air and water. Additionally, the low pH of mining wastewater can result in acidification of the surrounding environment. In some cases, cyanide is used to extract metals from oxidized ore and may cause significant wildlife mortality and contribute to extinction of certain species of animals. Mining is heavily dependent on fossil fuels to generate the energy required to operate the mine and fossil fuels create a huge amount of carbon emission, which contribute to climate change. Additionally, mining also causes erosion and sinkholes. These noise pollution, air pollution, water pollution, increase in carbon emission, soil erosions and sinkholes can be prevented if humans are not attached to material things, greedy, or covetous. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2016).
As of 1991, more than 83% of gold consumption was for jewelry. (Dockery, 2019) Cyanidation was the breakthrough gold mining technology of the 1890s. Currently, around 90% of all gold extracted worldwide uses cyanidation. The ratio of waste to gold recovered from the mining process is highly disproportionate. A gold wedding ring generates approximately 20 tonnes of waste. (Tuffnell, 2017) The consequences of mining can be resolved if mankind perfect “The Practice of Non-Attachment” in the Avatamsaka Sutra. Human beings are foolish, with no knowledge or vision. They are greedy, covetous and are attached to material things such as the body, possession, phenomena, recollection, etc. They do not understand that all things are empty, and that all things are illusion. The Sutra also states that there is no delusion apart from sentient beings and that there are no sentient beings apart from delusion, that there are no sentient beings within delusion, and that there is no delusion within sentient beings. Moreover, it is not that delusion is sentient beings or that sentient beings are a delusion. If men understand this, they will know that all things are unreal, where all things suddenly arise and perish, with no solidity or stability, as though dreams, as though reflection, as though phantoms, as though illusions, fooling the ignorant. Having understood this, men will halt all pursuit of the superfluous and gain liberation.
Since 2000 BC, various forms of pesticides have been used by mankind. (Fishel, 2019) Most pesticides intend to serve as plant protection and pest control. However, there have been growing concerns about the environmental and health hazards associated with pesticides. The use of pesticide has threatened the survival of rare species such as the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon. (Mahmood, Imadi, Shazadi, Gul & Hakeem, 2015) 40% of insect species are declining, and a third of the insect species are endangered due to pesticides. (Sánchez-Bayo & Wyckhuys, 2019) Additionally, pesticides have contaminated air, water and soil bodies to toxic levels. Pesticides enter the natural ecosystem via two different means, depending on their solubility. Water soluble pesticides dissolve in water and enter the ground via rivers and lakes, indirectly causing harm to untargeted species of animals. Fat soluble pesticides, on the other hand, are absorbed in the fatty tissues of animals, which are transferred up the food chain resulting in greater toxicity in animals at higher levels of the food chain. This process is known as “bioamplication” and it disrupts the whole ecosystem as more species up the food chain may die due to these increased levels of toxicity. (Mahmood, Imadi, Shazadi, Gul & Hakeem, 2015).
Of the 5 poisons, the problems above stemmed from ignorance and aversion. This can be resolved if mankind cultivates a conscience. The fourth treasury mentioned in the Avatamsaka Sutra is “The Treasury of Conscience”. Throughout the years, men have conducted the necessary research and have realized that the use of pesticide is harming Mother Earth. Yet, they are not ashamed of actions, in spite knowing that their actions have indirectly inflicted pain upon other beings. Men do not respect other species on Earth. They have committed many evils and their actions have even caused some species to be permanently wiped out from Earth. If everyone cultivates a conscience and have a moral sense of what is the right or wrong, they will feel negative emotions such as guilt, when they are doing something wrong. This moral sense of guilt can then be used to guide them in their lifetime. (Cleary, 1993)
One success story for the Environment Pillar is the Osprey’s recovery from pollution. In the 1950s, Ospreys are widespread in North America. However, during World War 2, insecticides developed for military use flooded into civilian markets in the form of pesticides. Due to bioamplification, Ospreys received large doses of pesticide from fishes they consumed. The pesticides thinned their eggshells, decreasing the number of eggs produced. Nestling and adult Ospreys were also poisoned by the pesticides. As a result, by mid-1960s, Ospreys on the Atlantic coast fell by 90%. Men eventually learnt and understood that their actions have harmed the Osprey population. By 1970s, their conscience prevailed, and the most lethal pesticides were banned. Concerned naturalists did all they could to help the Osprey population regain their numbers. Currently, there are more Ospreys in the United States and Canada than ever before. (Poole, 1989) Dr Jane Goodall, a renowned English primatologist and anthropologist, once said: “The more I travel around the world, the more horrors I am shown about the damage we have done to this planet. But I have reasons for hope, which are: the amazing human brain, the extraordinary resilience of nature, … and finally, the indomitable human spirit to tackle what seems hopeless but don’t give up and succeed.”
Economies of the world are built such that corporations that seek power, social status, wealth, appearance and dominions tend to benefit the most. In the pursuit of the superfluous, corporations have learnt to be selfish, brutal and ignore the red health signals being emitted by Mother Earth.
Between 1960 and the early 1970s, a powerful social movement contended that economic growth cannot be sustained forever, and that economic growth has caused environmental decline. Our current measurement of economic growth is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP refers to the increase in wealth of a nation. GDP is determined by calculating the total market value of goods and services produced by a country, over a specific period. (Cornwall, 2018) In this calculation, the effects to the environment are being completely disregarded. Are we defining economic success wrongly? Have we been measuring the wrong indicators?
Now, more so than ever, learning is important. The Avatamsaka Sutra promotes the Treasury of Learning. Through learning, mankind will know that something exists because something else exists; and that something does not exist because something else does not exist. They will also understand that something comes to be because something else comes to be. For example, through learning, men will understand that social conditioning exists because ignorance exists. When men’s discriminating consciousness cease to exist, name and form cease to exist. When craving comes to be, suffering comes to be. If individuals in society do not learn and are ignorant, they will easily be conditioned by the society and blindly seek power, social status, wealth, appearance and dominions at all costs. If men are unable to rid themselves of discriminating consciousness, they will be heavily influenced by the materialistic world. Men are suffering today, because they are greedy. Learning is crucial so we can find out what we have been doing wrongly all along and fix these errors before Mother Earth is brought to her knees. (Cleary, 1993)
Johan Rockström, director of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, suggests that we are currently “a big world on a small planet”. The economy currently exerts an insurmountable pressure on Earth, so much so that there is no free natural capital left. Johan believes that our economic system is outdated as it was built when we were still “a small world on a big planet”. In the past, we believe that the vast oceans cannot be emptied, the abundant forest cannot be cut down, that ice at the polar regions are permanent, and that we are living a in a planet that can absorb any form of abuse. Now, we are paying a hefty price for all our past actions – the ozone hole, accelerated melting of polar ice caps, shift in heatwaves and storm patterns and the collapse of fisheries. In fact, humans are now considered the largest geological force of change on Earth. We are so large a force that we have even triggered the sixth mass extinction of species on Earth. (Rockström & Klum, 2015) How did we get it all so wrong?
In 1968, Edward Abbey, an American author and advocate of environmental issues once wrote, "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." Thus, we should carefully evaluate what these growths we have thoughtlessly pursue really meant, and what these growths have cost us. Costs to the society can no longer be predicted by using those outdated economic models. Our economic system which currently builds on linear principles do not work on a finite planet. We exploit Earth’s resources, create value, and then waste. However, the associated environmental impacts to create value and the effects of these wastes are not being accounted for. (Rockström, 2017)
Furthermore, the current economic model is inequitable. People from wealthy nations rack up huge environmental debts each year to better the quality of lives for their citizens. On the other hand, people from low income nations are helping fund these environmental debts of wealthy nations, even though they have not benefitted from it. (Fairbrother, 2016) For example, how an office worker chooses to commute in New York will affect a farmer in Ukraine. According to the Glossary of Environment Statistics, “environmental externalities” is an economic concept of unintentional environmental effects of production and consumption that affect people other than those directly involved in the activity. In a shrinking world, events that at first glance, seemed unrelated, but they could, in substance, be linked to the same chains of cause and effect. Parallels could be drawn to the Avatamsaka Sutra which states that everything simultaneously interrelates, interpenetrates and is interdependent on everything else.
In the book, Endangered Economies: How the Neglect of Nature is Threatening Our Prosperity, Geoffrey Heal clearly identified 4 major reasons why our economic system is failing. He has also offered some solutions, such that both the economy and environment are able to coexist and supplement one another. The first issue is environmental externalities, as described above. In order to internalize these environmental externalities, more countries can impose the “green taxation”, such that the costs to the environment is borne by parties who incur it. (Heal, 2016) Ireland introduced a plastic bag levy in 2002 and have managed to decrease discarded plastic bags from 5% of total litter pollution to 0.13% in 2015. (Schweitzer, n.d.) Besides that, men should advocate to give aggrieved parties the right to sue, as have happened to BP, Transocean and Halliburton in the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Consumers play an important role too as they should boycott companies responsible for environmental damage. (Heal, 2016)
Next, Geoffrey also recognizes that property rights that are not always clearly defined has contributed to the declining heath of Earth. As an example, no one owns open oceans. This lack of ownership results in exploitation because there is no incentive for anyone to conserve and manage the oceans. (Heal, 2016) According to WWF, only a narrow coastal strip of ocean falls within the territories of coastal countries. Approximately 64% of the oceans are international waters and are open-access common areas for everyone. These areas are known as The High Seas. Commercial fishing, oil and gas exploration, mining, shipping and pollution at the High Seas are less restricted, resulting in degradation of many High Seas areas. (WWF, n.d.) Mankind should advocate for these areas to be more regulated with systems of tradeable quotas. Men have had success with the cap-and-trade approach in the past. In the 1990s, men have developed the cap-and-trade approach to halve all sulfur emission and combat acid rain. Power plants that lowered their pollution more than required could sell those extra allowances to other plants. As a result, sulfur emissions went down faster than predicted and at a quarter of its initial predicted cost. (Chan, G., Stavins, R., Stowe, R. & Sweeney R., 2012)
The third issue highlighted by Geoffrey is that men do not value the services that are provided by the natural world, even though these services are vital for mankind to prosper. Corporations do not include nature in their accounts and balance sheets and thus, the accounts and balance sheets do not reflect the depletion of nature. The United Nations (UN) has set a framework for accounting of natural assets. (Heal, 2016) However, UN’s framework has certain limitations as it does not cover accounting for all forms of capital. Additionally, the framework is designed for application at a national level and it does not resolve how best to record the multiple and often unknown ecological dependencies between ecosystems. The Framework also highlights important issues that require further investigations and there is still much scope for improvement. (Obst, 2015) Critics suggest that there is currently a high level of subjectivity involved in current Environmental Accounting Practices. Without appropriate standards to bring about uniformity, there is in effect a lack of adequate benchmark to evaluate the environmental performance of companies. (Lodhia, n.d.) Several countries such as Australia, Canada and Norway have already started implementing it. However, certain countries like the United States has declined to follow suit. (Heal, 2016)
Last but not least, how mankind currently evaluates economic performance is an issue. Geoffrey believes that economists worship false gods, and that the measure of GDP is inaccurate for economic performance. GDP of a country could increase when natural disasters happen. For example, when an Earthquake happens, GDP may increase to necessitate rebuilding. Correspondingly, the introduction of longer lasting, energy efficient light bulbs and electronic will result in a decrease in GDP as fewer lightbulbs and electronics will be sold in the future. Hence, Geoffrey proposes that instead of GDP, a better economy indicator that measures the sustainable increases in human wellbeing should be used. Better measures of economic performance are currently under development. (Heal, 2016)
On May 22, 2019, as part of President Masisi’s efforts to shore up rural votes for the upcoming election, Botswana has lifted it’s 5-year hunting ban, spurring criticism from wildlife conservation groups. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the African elephant species as “vulnerable”, which means that population numbers are less than satisfactory but can be improved if proper measures are taken. (Patel, 2017). According to Mark Jones, a veterinarian and head of policy at Born Free Foundation, Botswana currently has the highest elephant population of all African countries, with an estimated population between 120,000 and 130,000. Most of the countries surrounding Botswana allow hunting and many elephants have thus moved to Botswana due to the poaching. (El-Bawab, 2019)
Exquisitely carved historic ivories are objects of desires. Thus far, ivory is commonly sold as jewelry, used for musical instruments, billiard balls and minor objects of decorative value. Tusks are elephants’ teeth, specifically its upper incisors. By breaking the elephant’s tusk, the pulp containing nerves and blood vessels from the inside of the tusk would be exposed, and in a worst-case scenario, cause a massive infection and an eventual, extraordinarily painful death. Elephants go through 6 sets of teeth in a lifetime. Poachers kill elephants rather than tranquilize them because tranquilizing an elephant is time-consuming, expensive, dangerous and requires a specialize expertise. As elephant tusks extend to the cranial cavity, poachers hack out the tusk in order to retrieve as much ivory as possible. These elephants usually die a gruesome death as much of their face and cranial area are missing. (Keyes, 2010)
The Avatamsaka Sutra states that all beings should practice “The Treasuries of Ethics”. The act of hunting, whether legal or not, strongly contradicts “The Treasury of Ethics” in the Avatamsaka Sutra. According to the Sutra, all beings should accept and uphold pure moral principles that mainly benefit all beings. By abiding the ethics of non-dwelling, men do not dwell in the form of desire. Men should instead commit to the precept of not killing any living beings and perfect the ethics of non-injury by protecting and saving the elephants. To perfect the ethics of non-transgression, enlightening beings should abide by the Precept of the Ten Virtuous Acts, which are: to forever cease killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, two-faced talk, slander, meaningless talk, greed, anger and false views. Therefore, instead of hunting elephants for their tusks, men should strengthen their own minds and characters, enact stricter laws to ban killing and help preserve the habitat of wildlife. By practicing the treasury of ethics, mankind can better human-ecosystem relations and help prevent elephants and other animals from going extinct. (Cleary, 1993)
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military has engaged in an aggressive program of chemical warfare. Over the years, men’s pride and aversion has caused many wars. Between 1961 and 1971, U.S. military sprayed a range of herbicides across more than 4.5 million acres of Vietnam to destroy the forest cover and food crops used by the enemy Vietnamese troops. During this process, crops and water sources were also contaminated with herbicide. The most widely used herbicide then was Agent Orange which contain significant amounts of the most dangerous kinds of Dioxin - TCDD. Dioxin is highly toxic even in minute doses. It is a highly persistent chemical compound that lasts for many years in the environment, particularly in soil, lake and river sediment. Most human exposure is through the food they eat. These dioxins caused liver problems, skin irritations, miscarriages, birth defects in children and cancers such as Hodgkin’s disease, prostate cancer and leukemia. Vietnam has reported that approximately 400,000 people were either killed or maimed, half a million children were born with serious birth defects and 2 million people are suffering from cancer or other illnesses as a result of exposure to Agent Orange. (History.com Editors, 2019) Until this day, hate crimes and political crimes such as mass shootings in the United States and bombings in Syria are still happening frequently.
The third treasury, “The Treasury of Shame” denotes that sentient beings have acted shamelessly in the past, present and future. All beings are greedy, filled with hatred, ignorant, prideful, conceited and dishonest. Following which, they injure one another by speaking vile words, plundering, raping, killing and doing all manner of evil. They do not respect, agree with, obey, guide or care for each other. If men understood and practiced the treasury of shame, they will remember the wrongs that they have committed and understand that they have acted shamelessly in the past. Following which, they should concentrate on eliminating evil, realizing perfect enlightenment and expounding such teachings to all beings. Only then, can human-human relations be drastically improved. (Cleary, 1993)
In the above example of war, “The Practice of Non-opposition” is also important. Through the practice of non-opposition, men will always practice tolerance and forbearance. They will always be humble and respectful, not harming self and others, not stealing, not being attached to oneself and not to seek fame or profit. This is because the enlightening being understands that negative feelings will sour human-human relationship, which indirectly harms the peace on Mother Earth. Instead, when such enlightening beings encounter countless other beings who utter vile, unpleasant, detestable and unbearable words, or when they are being physically attacked by weapons, and that their lives are about to end, such enlightening being should purify their minds and reflect that the body has no reality. Neither pain nor pleasure has any existence, therefore, the enlightening being should accept suffering with patience and out of compassion for all beings.
In the 21st century, technology is an important part of life. It can be found in virtually all sectors. Technology was founded with the aim of improving the quality of life for humans. However, the advancement of technology has brought with it some unintended social effects. As an example, Facebook came about in 2004 because it wanted to create a more open and connected world. However, in 2018, Facebook faces the courts multiple times due to breaches of data privacy. Its security flaws have allowed hackers to access personal information of up to 29 million people and have also exposed unpublished photos to app developers. (NBC News, 2018). On top of that, Facebook content can be shared amongst users with no significant fact-checking. Recent evidence showed that the more popular fake news are more widely shared on Facebook compared to other popular mainstream news stories. (Silverman 2016) A significant number of commentators have suggested that Donald Trump would not have been elected president, if not for the influence of fake news. (Parkinson 2016; Read 2016; Allcott & Gentzkow 2017)
Similarly, smartphones have brought with it some unintended consequences. When smartphones were designed, who would have thought that smartphones could be a major contributor to automotive deaths and injuries? Not only that, but a study has revealed that selfies have killed 259 people between 2011 and 2017. (Bansal, Garg, Pakhare & Gupta, 2018) Besides that, the Strava app was introduced to the world with the intention that users can share their running and cycling routes. Some observers have recently realized that the Strava fitness tracking map reveals confidential military bases in war zones. Apparently, when a large number of soldiers subscribe to Strava and exercise in the same locations every day, their collective composite heat map can reveal unexpected information. As the data on Strava is not anonymous, consequence could be dire if the data regarding timetables and patrol routes falls into the wrong hands. (Berlinger & Vazquez, 2018)
Another practice that is encouraged by the Avatamsaka Sutra is “The Practice of Non-Confusion”. Via perfecting mindfulness, the minds of men will be imperturbable, free from distraction, consummately pure, immeasurably vast, without any delusion or confusion. Thus, they can understand all worldly speeches and verbal explanations of transmundane law that exists beyond the existing world. Truthful teachings have a broad scope which include teachings related to emptiness, virtuous qualities, the cosmos, etc. Even though countless good and bad sounds or noises fill countless worlds, men will never be distracted by them. Through practicing “The Practice of Non-Confusion”, technology inventors will then also understand that with great power comes great responsibility. With a non-confused, purified mind, men can then see further. They will be better equipped to predict consequences of their actions and try to circumnavigate negative consequences before the situation gets out of hand. With a purified mind, consumers of technology will also then be able to utilize technology to benefit themselves in a more sustainable, ethical manner. (Cleary, 1993)
Finally, if men can develop greater compassion and freely donate or share everything they have with other living or non-living things without asking for anything in return, both human-human relations and human-ecosystem relations can be improved substantially. Here, we shall explore the “The Treasury of Giving” and “The Practice of Giving Joy”. Some examples of the types of giving mentioned in the Avatamsaka Sutra are partial giving, exhaustive giving and inside giving. Partial giving, for example, is when one received fine food, they share it with others. Exhaustive giving is for example, giving all food, clothes and other necessities in life to help others, even if their life ends because of it.
In summary, this discussion paper shows that the human race has not been living sustainably, resulting in Earth’s resources being depleted quicker than the resources that are being generated. Since, we are all guilty for having played a part in the degradation of Earth, instead of relying on the NGOs and legislators of each country to pass laws beneficial to the environment, we should all pitch in to help fix the issues that we have created. This article also demonstrates that many of the crises we are currently experiencing, are in fact, a result of human behavior which has been contaminated by the 5 poisons in Buddhism – pride, envy, ignorance, attachment and aversion. As the root of the problem can be found within the teachings of Buddhism, this article suggests that we will be able to find more guidance for solutions within Buddhist Scriptures, such as the Avatamsaka Sutra. This discussion uses the 3 Pillars of Sustainability – Environmental, Economic and Social, as a foundation to provide a comprehensive understanding and solution for the sustainability of Earth. These three pillars should be considered simultaneously, because a weakness in any of the other 2 pillars can indirectly weaken the Environmental Pillar. All of us should constantly remind ourselves: If not me, who? If not now, when? Men should act now, before it is too late.
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