According to Buddhist teaching, there is a very close interdependence between the natural environment and the sentient beings living in it. Some of my friends have told me that basic human nature is somewhat violent, but I told them I disagree. If we examine different animals, for example, those whose very survival depends on taking others lives, such as tigers or lions, we learnt that their basic nature provides them with sharp fangs and claws. Peaceful animals, such as deer, which are completely vegetarian, are gentler and have smaller teeth and no claws. From that viewpoint we human beings have a non-violent nature. As to the question of human survival, human beings are social animals. In order to survive we need companions. Without other human beings there is simply no possibility of surviving; that is a law of nature.
Since I deeply believe that human beings are basically gentle by nature, I feel that we should not only maintain gentle, peaceful relations with our fellow human beings but also that it is very important to extend the same kind of attitude towards the natural environment. Morally speaking, we should be concerned for our whole environment.
Then there is another viewpoint, not just a question of ethics but a question of our own survival. The environment is very important not only for this generation but also for future generations. If we exploit the environment in extreme ways, even though we may get some money or other benefit from it now, in the long run we ourselves will suffer and future generations will suffer. When the environment changes, climatic conditions also change. When they change dramatically, the economy and many other things change as well. Even our physical health will be greatly affected. So this is not merely a moral question but also a question of our own survival.
Therefore, in order to succeed in the protection and conservation of the natural environment, I think it is important first of all to bring about an internal balance within human beings themselves. The abuse of the environment, which has resulted in such harm to the human community, arose out of ignorance of the importance of the environment. I think it is essential to help people to understand this. We need to teach people that the environment has a direct bearing on our own benefit.
I am always talking about the importance of compassionate thought. As I said earlier, even from your own selfish viewpoint, you need other people. So, if you develop concern for other people’s welfare, share other people’s suffering, and help them, ultimately you will benefit. If you think only of yourself and forget about others, ultimately you will lose. That is also something like a law of nature.
It is quite simple: if you do not smile at people, but frown at them, they respond similarly, don’t they? If you deal with other people in a very sincere, open way, they behave similarly. Every body wants to have friends and does not want enemies. The proper way to create friends is to have a warm heart, not simply money or power. The friend of power and the friend of money are something different: These are not true friends. True friends should be real friends of heart, shouldn’t they? I am always telling people that those friends who come around when you have money and power are not truly your friends, but friends of money and power, because as soon as the money and power disappear, those friends are also ready to leave. They are not reliable.
Genuine, human friends stand by, whether you are successful or unlucky, and always share your sorrow and burdens. The way to make such friends is not by being angry, nor by having good education or intelligence, but by having a good heart.
To think more deeply, if you must be selfish, then be wisely selfish, not narrow-mindedly selfish. The key thing is the sense of universal responsibility; that is the real source of strength, the real source of happiness. If our generation exploits everything available – the trees, the water, and the minerals – without any care for the coming generations or the future, then we are at fault, aren’t we? But if we have a genuine sense of universal responsibility as our central motivation, then our relations with our neighbors, both domestic and international, improves.
Another important question is: What is consciousness, what is the mind? In the Western world, during the last one or two centuries there has been great emphasis on science and technology, which mainly deal with matter. Today some nuclear physicists and neurologists say that when you investigate particles in a very detailed way, there is some kind of influence from the side of the observer, the knower. What is this knower? A simple answer is; A human being, the scientist. How does the scientist know? With the brain, Western scientists have identified only a few hundred so far. Now, whether you call it mind, brain, or consciousness, there is a relationship between brain and mind and also mind and matter. I think this is important. I feel it is possible to hold some sort of dialogue between Eastern philosophy and Western science on the basis of this relationship.
In any case, these days we human beings are very much more involved in the external world, while we neglect the internal world. We do need scientific development and material development in order to survive and to increase the general benefit and prosperity, but equally as much we need mental peace. Yet no doctor can give you an injection of mental peace, and no market can sell it to you. If you go to a supermarket with millions and millions of dollars, you can buy anything, but if you go there and ask for peace of mind, people will laugh. And if you ask a doctor for genuine peace of mind, not the mere sedation you get from taking some kind of pill or injection, the doctor cannot help you.
Even today’s sophisticated computers cannot provide you with mental peace. Mental peace must come from the mind. Everyone wants happiness and pleasure, but if we compare physical pleasure and physical pain with mental pleasure and mental pain, we find that the mind is more effective, predominant, and superior. Thus it is worthwhile adopting certain methods to increase mental peace, and in order to do that, it is important to know more about the mind. When we talk about preservation of the environment, it is related to many other things. The key point is to have genuine sense of universal responsibility, based on love and compassion, and clear awareness.