Buddhists Combat Climate Change

Catalonia, Barcelona: On top of a mountain just outside Barcelona stands the Sakya Tashi Ling Buddhist Monastery. Secluded from the rest of the Castelldefels community the monks, nuns and volunteers strive to combat climate change.

By: Kirsty Wilson

Meandering to the top of the protected Parc natural del Garraf where an old farm barn has been converted in to the monastery, it is obvious this unique monastery is in the perfect location for “humanity to be at one with nature.” And gives a reason to want to defend the world from global warming.

On the way to the top, shrubbery, hopping rabbits and the cozy villas will hold your attention until your eyes skim over the view of a long white sand beach in the distance. Enough for anyone to make the move to converting to a Monk.

Businessman to Buddhist

Six years ago Sergy Gomez left his professional life as a business owner in Catalonia’s capital of Barcelona. He left his old life behind to follow the Buddhist path towards eternal happiness in a monastic lifestyle.

After twenty years following the Buddhist religion he is still modest in his practice, “I’m still learning, there’s still a lot that I don’t know and I look to my master to guide me.” He lives in the Ngagpa lifestyle, which in turn allows Sergy to communicate his “logical vision” on environmental change to those on the outside.

MEDINAT’s meaning

Its origin was the result of a sleepless night for the director general of the monastery, Jamyang Tashi Dorje Rinpoche. Sitting and waiting for the feeling of tiredness to arrive led to the rest of the night planning and drafting a program to encourage people to tackle environmental problems contributing to climate change.

Its name comes from the words mediation and nature in which are two fundamental principles of Buddhism. Hence why environmental dilemmas, such as climate change, are so important to them to make a difference.

“It’s in the same way that I can recognise your suffering; we are the same person because we are humanity” said Sergy.

He also commented that the “MEDINAT project works as a platform for reflection and debate. With a better understanding this will provoke more responsibility. We teach people by being an example and above all teach ourselves to be coherent and aware.”

Circle’s of Life

The project works by having eight stages within three concentric circles (or gardens). Carles Ruiz Felterer is a volunteer and the coordinator for culture and environment at the monastery. He has joint responsibility to lead MEDINAT to hopeful success. He said:

“Each garden represents a separate step of the eightfold path.  Practically showing the public how each part affects us, they are all entwined and can all be the answer to to resolving even modern day issues like climate change.”

The dharma wheel symbolizes each step to achieving a goal via truths or teachings. Copyright: flickr:bornofashes

Four Noble Truths:
1. Life means suffering
2. There is a cause of suffering.
3. There is an end to suffering.
4. The way to accomplish the end of suffering is through the eight-fold path.

The eightfold path:
The fourth of the noble truths demonstrated the path to end suffering and self-enlightenment.

Experiencing the Gardens

Showing the locals, and anybody else who wants to participate, practical examples of how Buddhism is right to tackle such issues enable them to open their minds to a new way. Without being preached at.

The first garden for example, is called the Zen garden. This will portray the concept of death and re-incarnation and how biodiversity will naturally help us. It aims to prove how all of these circles are “interlinked” and will affect each other and therefore us.

Carles said: “Its in the very early stages and we need to raise a lot of money beforehand.” Any project the Monastery develops has to come from those that contribute on a regular basis, like Carles, and sponsors. So what is the expected cost for a project like Medinat?

“We aren’t 100 percent sure but it will be in the millions (euros). But we are quietly confident we can do it. It’s a beneficial project and even a small difference could path the way for bigger things.”

Public Reaction to the MEDINAT

Catalonia is a predominantly Catholic country and so a minority religion like Buddhism professing to know the way to solve world problems like this could be disregarded.

Jamyang Rinchen is another Monk at the monastery who works with the public and says that they are “open to hearing new ideas. People are confused but express dissatisfaction intuitively. Us working at a local level seems to be more advantageous to them than big political conferences like Copenhagen.”

The Ngagpa Way

Ngagpa Buddhists, which reside at this monastery, are rarely known outside of the Buddhist community because their way of life is somewhat different to the      traditions we usually recognize about the religion.

They are not subject to vows like celibacy and are allowed to have a family and professional life if they wish. Distinguished externally by the white stripe on their  robes and internally difference by their integration in to customary life.

Sergy said: “It allows us to have relations with society because we directly and actively participate. It doesn’t generate any conflict and the reality of this community relation and dialogue makes cooperation easier.”

This interaction with the outside world allows room for approaching social problems that can be changed at a local level to help on a larger scale, like climate change.

“Separation between mother earth and human beings doesn’t exist”

“We are living beings as well as plants and trees. We are the same; we have the same life rhythm. The separation doesn’t exist just like the separation between me and you, we don’t really know where my person ends and yours begins.”

Climate change in Buddhism is not a case of putting solar panels on new housing like the new law states throughout Spain.

Before anything practical can be done to make a long-term change they begin with looking at the inner self, “what’s important is to change our behavior.” This is an ideal they work towards every day to work towards eternal happiness is what they see as the answer to our current “degradation.”

In their opinion climate change is man made and we have to realise that consumerism is harming humanity. This is the first step before practical changes can be made.  “After this we will only then be ready to establish the politics and actions that would be respectful with our real lives.”

Other than the Spiritual Path

Buddhism is sensitive and supporting of the scientific facts and practical resolutions to social problems. “Modern science is proving the great truths that Buddha explains. Impermanence makes us realise that we live in confusion and illusion and that reality is not how we imagine it. Buddhism has the idea of reality and is closer to the scientific view,” said John Stanley, Buddhist scientist and founder of ecobuddhism.org

Practical changes are encouraged like switching off lights but it is a change in lifestyle that will be effective in the long term.

Volunteers at the Sakya Tashi Ling monastery also produce pamphlets on environmental problems that are distributed to the rest of the community on the outside. C said that they “demonstrate the importance of what the monastery is trying to do and how the public can work towards changing the inner self to make the changes needed a part of an every day routine.”

“The alarm bell has sounded”

“The danger is not climate change the danger is if we can’t adapt to the natural conditions that are happening.

Mother Earth is a being that that reacts due to our abuse and this is the explanation of the latest happenings e.g. Chile and Haiti catastrophes. Without a doubt if we do not make a change than our future generations will be even more affected than we are.”

Never too late

These Buddhists are facing the need for change in order to reach any targets made by nation states. Encouraging people locally to do the same so they can have a better way of life as well as the rest of the people around them- Not only in Castelldefels but also humanity in the rest of the world.

“This is very important because we are used to covering things up and denying that they are happening,” said John Stanley, Buddhist scientist and founder of ecobuddhism.org.
At the Sakya tashi Ling Monastery a religious group is not only fighting against climate change but also assumptions that they think a god will find the answer. Sergy sums up the projects in one: “Above all it is to have a vision, a new vision, a new vision of lifestyle or the philosophy of life…It’s a logical vision with logical answers.”

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