The decline of the great Northwestern Glacier over the 20th century

In recent years it has become apparent that we are experiencing a wide range of global environmental problems – toxic contamination of our food chain, rapid exploitation and depletion of natural resources and global warming impacts. We have consistently ignored the resolution of these global crises, in favour of higher economic growth and rapid economic development. By Dharma and Ecological Responsibility is meant the critical distinctions to be made and the holistic linkages that have always existed between human beings and their environment. Such a discussion aims to highlight and influence social behaviour, by encouraging moral and universal responsibility towards every sentient being, and towards future generations. We need to explore the ways Buddhist tradition can contribute to ecologically-aware practice and lifestyle. 

In Buddhism, we have the principle of interdependence – the unity of all life, the inextricable web in which nothing can lay claim to a separate or static existence. We are living in a world in which any action influencing a single part of the system, can be expected to have an effect on all other parts of the system. Therefore, we should respect Nature and other living beings. The very existence of every living being on this earth implies interdependence. The notion that the world belongs only to human beings is foolish and naive. We should refrain from altering the nature and flow of the life cycle.


In Buddhism, we believe in the principle of impermanence. The Buddha’s teachings are about change and impermanence in the natural world. We are taught to accept the ever-changing flow of life in the biosphere, the cycle of birth and death, the impermanence of all beings. However, the trends established by corporate globalisation are based on denial of the impermanence in nature that the Buddha observed. We now have massive extraction of natural resources, commercial manipulation of genetic material through biotechnology and excess production of commodities merely to appease human comfort. These phenomena are not compatible with a natural flow of life and with natural processes. Rather, they are manifestations of a worldview that seeks to dominate nature, and that pretends life can be manipulated to suit and satisfy the ‘needs’ of human beings. But human beings have endless and limitless ‘needs’. A true sense of contentment, on the other hand, can be derived from Dharma.

Dharma encourages us to be compassionate and non-violent, with ourselves as well as others. Many of us avoid an honest examination of our lives, for fear of exposing our contributions to global problems. However, when we realise our collective irresponsible actions are the root of general ecological breakdown, Dharma can help us be more reasonable and sensible towards our environment. The teachings encourage an understanding of the many complex ways we affect others and our environment. Only by recognising how we are all part of this system can we actively work together. Thus we can disengage ourselves from the life-denying structures we have persistently pursued for ‘comfort’, and in the name of ‘development’.

The Buddhist doctrine of karma is based on cause and effect of one’s deeds. In simple understandable terms, if we persist with ecological destruction, we will make this world a very much worse place in which to live. We will leave a legacy of irreparable negative human deeds for future generations. We need to understand these connections and focus on fundamental causes in order to tackle the ecological crisis effectively. As in the past, the Dharma can play a pivotal role in sowing the seed of awareness and responsibility towards Mother Nature.


Gyana Vajra Rinpoche was born in 1979 in Dehradun, U.A., India. He is the second son of  Kyabje Sakya Trizin, head of the Sakya lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. As a boy, he studied many classical Dharma texts under his tutor, Lama Rinchen Zangpo. He learned all the rituals and prayers for several years and then studied Buddhist philosophy in depth for five  years.  He has received numerous  initiations and uncommon teachings, during decades of rigorous training with Kyabje Sakya Trizin,  HH Dalai Lama, Chogye Trichen Rinpoche, Luding Khen Rinpoche, and Khenchen Appey Rinpoche. Rinpoche set up the Sakya Academy to preserve and disseminate the Buddha's teachings and the unique contributions of the Sakyapa masters. Its curriculum enables  young monks to learn maths, sciences etc. providing them with a modern education to relate to the outside world, and ensuring  their Buddhist training is fully relevant.