Buddhism & Sustainability - North East India's Monastic Orders Embrace Environmental Initiatives

The Buddhist Channel, 9 June 2023

Assam, India -- The monastic orders of Buddhism in North East India have always been renowned for their peaceful serenity and spiritual doctrines. However, in recent times, they have evolved into environmental custodians, merging their religious values with a deep-rooted obligation towards the environment.

A notable instance is the Buddhist community of Chalapathar Shyamgaon, a village situated in East Assam. Triggered by the impending extinction of the bhungloti creeper, a local plant historically used to dye Buddhist monastic robes in their characteristic saffron colour, the community made the courageous decision to designate the neighbouring forest as the Chala Village Sanctuary.

This was not a mere symbolic act; it represented the commencement of a determined endeavor to conserve and revive the local ecosystem. The monks of Chalapathar Shyamgaon have since committed themselves to protect the forest from illicit logging and hunting, even establishing a group of 22 individuals to help the overworked Forest Department. Their commitment, however, extends beyond mere conservation.

The community has been actively reforesting areas previously stripped by unlawful logging, planting more than 20,000 seedlings supplied by the Forest Department. Additionally, they've created a biodiversity park, featuring a variety of orchids and native trees. So, what drives these communities? The answer is embedded in the teachings of Buddhism. The Buddha underscored the importance of living in consonance with nature and respecting all forms of life.

Buddhism promotes mindfulness, an intense consciousness of the consequences of one's actions on the world, as a strategy to avoid causing harm to nature and other sentient beings. The doctrines also underscore the principle of "ahimsa", or "non-violence", which is often construed as a directive to exhibit compassion and refrain from killing, extending to non-human lives as well.

This mindful perspective applies to the ecosystem as well. The Buddha advised against disturbing the living spaces of other creatures or exterminating other forms of life. As such, destroying natural habitats can be considered a breach of Buddhist principles, an act of carelessness that damages not just the surrounding environment, but the interconnected chain of life.

The initiative undertaken by the Chalapathar Shyamgaon community and others like it accentuates how Buddhist monastic orders in North East India are embodying these teachings, advocating environmental stewardship as a spiritual obligation.

By incorporating Buddhist values into conservation endeavors, they are not merely preserving their local environments but also providing a compelling example of environmental accountability for the global community.
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