Posted on November 1st, 2009, by

Second Conference on Environmental Protection

Gyuto, Dharamsala – October 3rd to 9th, 2009

His Holiness the 17th Karmapa opened the Second Conference on Environmental Protection on October 3rd, 2009. The first conference on environmental protection had been held in March 2009, and at that time representatives from 22 Kagyu monasteries and nunneries gathered from all over the Indian subcontinent – India, Nepal and Bhutan. At the second conference, the number of monasteries and nunneries represented has now grown to 33. The representatives began arriving early in the large hall where the conference is being held. At the front, above the Gyalwang Karmapa’s chair, hung a large green banner proclaiming The Second Conference on Environmental Protection for Kagyu Monasteries and Centers.

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Environmental Conference: Day One, Saturday 3rd October, 2009

Welcome Ceremony

The Welcome Ceremony began promptly at 8.30am with the chanting of prayers, led by Umze Woser Rabten, followed by an offering of traditional Tibetan butter tea and sweet rice to all the guests. The Honourable Kalon Paljor Tsering, Minister of Health in the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, gave a short opening speech. He emphasised how material progress has led to a dangerous situation in the twenty-first century because of unprecedented pollution which is causing extensive damage to the environment – he cited acid rain which damages plants and trees, poisoned drinking water and polluted air. He gave one example from a certain country where people were able to buy half-an-hour’s supply of oxygen in order to get some relief. He expressed the hope that now that His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa had raised awareness of environmental issues amongst the Kagyu, and initiated an environmental protection movement, the influence of his work would grow steadily and spread throughout the world.

Launch of the Tibetan edition of Environmental Guidelines

In a short ceremony, the Kalon opened a pe-ray containing copies of the eagerly-awaited Tibetan edition of the Gyalwang Karmapa’s booklet on environmental issues Guidelines for Karma Kagyu Buddhist Monasteries, Centers and Community, translated into Tibetan from the original English by the Gyalwang Karmapa himself. The booklets were distributed and immediately everyone began reading and flicking through the pages.

His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa’s Introduction to the Conference

His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa then gave the introductory address. After reviewing the history of the booklet, he read the introduction to everybody. He warned that environmental changes happen very slowly but are cumulative and gave the example of a frog in a water container. If you catch a frog and put it into a container of water and light a fire under it , the frog won’t notice the water is getting hot and when it finally does, its too late.

A few individuals on their own cannot protect the environment; we have to work together as a team to do it and that is the reason why the conference has gathered here to learn about how to protect the environment. Often environmental issues are seen as something to be discussed or as political issues, but Gyalwang Karmapa saw them as an essential part of dharma practice, working for the benefit of all sentient beings, as contained in the words of the Buddha, .

For too long, people have behaved thoughtlessly and ignored the damage to the environment that they are creating and, if this continued there was a great danger that it would be too late to do anything. Gyalwang Karmapa posited a special connection between the environment and the Kagyupa, and promised to expand on this theme later in the conference.

Finally, it was the turn of the monasteries and nunneries to present feedback, region by region, on the action that they had taken to implement the environmental guidelines and the 108 methods, since the March conference.

Many of them had planted trees and plants. In Nepal, the monasteries and nunneries had organised a recycling system for plastics, and, though they had already been using vegetable waste to feed the cows and pigs, waste that couldn’t be used that way, was now being composted and used in the gardens and fields.

The afternoon session was led by Ms Dekila Chungyalpa, the conference facilitator, who works for the World Wildlife Fund, based in Washington, D.C. She gave an overview of the five environmental issues which form the core of the Environmental Guidelines booklet and provided information on the latest scientific findings.

Environmental Conference Day Two: Sunday 4th October, 2009

Gyalwang Karmapa on the Universe, Ecology and Buddhism

Many of the monastic representatives have not had the chance to study modern science so Gyalwang Karmapa began by giving a slide-show presentation of scientific cosmology in which he demonstrated the vastness of the universe and the minuteness of earth and the solar system within it.

Using earth as his starting point, he illustrated its position as the very small planet, third from the sun, comparing its size with Jupiter (1114 times bigger) and the sun (900 times bigger than Jupiter). From that he moved to the solar system’s place in the Milky Way galaxy, explaining the need to use light years to measure vast distances, and, then, finally, he described the universe, and demonstrated how even something as vast as our galaxy (100, 000 light years across) was minute when compared with the universe itself. By this stage everyone was staggering at the impossibility of even conceiving of such vastness. His Holiness commented that details about the vastness of the universe and even about so-called black holes, could be found in Buddhist scripture.

Gyalwang Karmapa continued by highlighting the specialness of the earth. Light from the sun takes eight minutes to reach us; if it took either a minute longer or a minute less, life on earth would not be possible. Within the vast universe, so far, scientists had been unable to find another planet which supports life.

He explained how the moon and sun’s gravitational fields influence water on earth – the tidal oceans- and how, of all the water on earth, only 3% is drinkable, the rest being saltwater, and of that 3%, only 1% is available: the rest is stored in ice at the poles including the ‘third pole’- the Himalaya region, and especially Tibet. Tibet is the source of most of the drinking water for much of Asia.

Gyalwang Karmapa then discussed the position of homo sapiens. He used a diagram to illustrate how the earth was more than 4 billion years old and there had been many life-forms previously, such as the dinosaurs, but homo sapiens was a recent arrival approximately 200,000 years ago. Yet, during that time, homo sapiens had had a great impact on the planet.

Humans have the tendency to want too much. If somebody gets a television, everybody else wants one. Nowadays people think they need a television and a mobile phone, and soon everyone will want a car. It was human behaviour which had created greenhouse gases, and which was putting excessive pressure on, disrupting and destroying ecosystems. Humans affect their environment and the scale of the demands made on the environment has increased dramatically to devastating effect. In China, in the olden days, fishermen trained cormorants to catch fish for them, one-at-a-time. Nowadays great trawlers harvest the oceans and fishing stocks are becoming irreversibly depleted.

In Madhyamika philosophy we are taught to question the fundamental nature of things. Modern science has reached similar conclusions to Buddhism, that everything is interconnected and interdependent; what is sometimes called ‘the butterfly effect’. Thus it was very important that we consider the effect of our actions on the environment, and that learn to live with less.

This earth is like a grain of sand in the vastness of the cosmos, but it is our only home and we have nowhere else to go. There is no point apportioning blame. We have to work together to preserve and protect it.

Presentation by Nepal Buddhist Federation

The Ven.Thubten Jigdrel gave a short presentation on the work of this non-sectarian Buddhist organisation, which includes ordained and laypeople working together. The N.B.F. has worked to establish a plastic-free environment and has held a seminar on environmental education and the preservation of wildlife.

Gyalwang Karmapa Tests the Representatives

His Holiness gave a tongue-in-cheek exam, to check up on what people remembered of the science from the morning session.

Field trip to Local Water Clean-Up and Forestation Project

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Environmental Conference Day Three: Monday 5th October, 2009

Forest Conservation

Sanjeep Pradhan, from World Wildlife Fund India, gave a lively presentation on forestry conservation. He began by explaining the importance of forests and plants and the critical role they play in supporting not just human life but a vast biodiversity and controlling levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen. However, forests were under threat and already rising temperatures globally showed the devastating effect of this. Rising temperatures meant glaciers – an important source of drinking water -were melting and disappearing, whereas on the plains there were floods. Weather systems had become unpredictable, so whereas some places suffered from hurricanes, others had drought, which led to famine.

The responsibilty to protect the environment lay with everyone; be pro-active:

  • plant trees
  • use renewable energy such as bio gas
  • encourage apiculture (bees)
  • start vermi-composting (using worms)
  • reduce, re-use and recycle

Sanjeep then discussed the factors which were necessary for successful regeneration of forest and tree plantation:

  • site selection
  • choice of appropriate indigenous species
  • indigenous species should be given priority
  • consider the purpose the trees will be used for
  • discuss the planting in the community, especially with the women
  • clearing and preparing the land
  • how to plant
  • caring for seedlings

Khenpo Choekyi Gyaltsen described activities at Phulahari Monastery in Nepal.

The monastery was built in an area of millet and corn fields. In 1993 they set up a project to landscape the area around the temple, and began planting in 1994. The inspiration for the work came from and continues to come from the spiritual masters of the Kagyu lineage. The original aim was to beautify the temple surroundings but, as the monks learned more about environmental issues, the aim became one of environmental protection.

Their knowledge of gardening was gleaned from experience as they worked. Many of the first plants were too fragile or were eaten, so they set up a nursery to nurture young plants and saplings, and through experience they discovered which plants would grow and which wouldn’t, how to protect and care for them, and how to achieve a balance, for example, between those with summer foliage and evergreens.

Initially, it took about fourteen years to establish the gardens, but the monastery has continued to plant, replant and maintain them.

Restoring Spring Water Sources

A local ecologist, Arvind Sharma, from the Himalayan Nature Society, gave a presentation. He pointed out that until a problem arose, people never gave a thought about where the water came from. The HNS was working to restore natural spring sources in the Dharamsala area, with financial support from the British High Commission, so that villagers were no longer dependent on the infrequent municipal water supply. It ensured that the area around the water supply was cleaned up and checked water purity.

Water Conservation in Action- Rumtek Monastery

Lama Gyaltsen Sonam gave a presentation of how they restored the water source of Rumtek Monastery and implemented the 108 guidelines to protect the environment with local school childrens.

Field Trip to Dolma Ling Nunnery

The final event of the day was also the most surprising because it encapsulated so many of the environmentally sound practices that the delegates had been hearing about.

There were bins for collecting paper and cardboard for recycling. Manure from the nunnery herd was left to decompose and then used as fertiliser on the gardens and fields. Vegetable waste was collected and composted. The nunnery took water from a local river, collected it in a pond, and then filtered it to provide drinking water so they had an independent water supply. There was a new bathhouse, where the water was heated by solar panels built into the roof, and the wastewater from the bathhouse was filtered and then used to water the gardens.

There was also a small paper recycling workshop where old newspapers and other old paper were reduced to pulp and turned into paper once more, This paper was then turned into greetings cards which could be sold to generate income.
Conference on Environmental Protection – Day 4 – October 6, 2009 – Dharamsala

Waste Management

The main topic for the morning was waste management. Dr Anjan Kumar Kalia (Him Renewable Energy Consultants) gave a clear and comprehensive presentation on waste management. He first explained the different types of waste and highlighted that although waste could be a problem it was also a wealth.

His then focused on vermi-composting which used kitchen waste, and bio-gas, which is produced from animal and human waste. The session concluded with questions from the audience.

The overall theme for the afternoon was Wildlife Protection

The Science of Conservation

Dekila Chungyalpa began the session and talked about the scientific understanding of biodiversity. She explained how the term biodiversity refers to species, gene pools, ecosystems and ecological processes. Human activity has had a devastating effect. Scientific evidence shows that, as modern human beings spread across the globe, many species became extinct. In the past it was due to hunting, more recently deforestation and destruction of habitat.

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The ecosystem includes everything within a particular environment – the air, the soil, the temperature, the water flow and all living things. If something changes in the ecosystem, everything changes. Finally, Dekila explained how conservationists value different species and what types of strategies they use to protect species and ecosystems.

Wildlife Protection and the Illegal Wildlife Trade

Tenzin Norsang from the Wildlife Trust of India talked about how wildlife was being destroyed by poaching. He began with tigers. The tiger population on the Indian sub-continent is declining rapidly and the blame lies with the illegal wildlife trade. Tigers are being poached from reserves for tiger parts which are then smuggled out of India to be used in medicine and charms.

The chiru – a wild antelope in Tibet- is being killed by professional hunters for its soft, underbelly fur which is made into very expensive shahtoosh shawls. One-horned rhinos in Assam are being killed for their horns. Tenzin Norsang explained that the Indian Wildlife Protection Act threatened fines and imprisonment to those who broke the law. At the 2006 Kalachakra in Amaravati, His Holiness the Dalai Lama had spoken out against people wearing fur from endangered species, and this seems to have helped, but in 2009 the number of tigers killed had risen.

Finally, he described work to protect wildlife such as creating elephant corridors, and asked everyone to respect animals.

Final Teaching by His Holiness: The Future; Destruction or Protection?

The final presentation was given by the Gyalwang Karmapa who spoke about the importance of biodiversity. Biodiversity still exists and needs to be preserved. He read some Tibetan verses to illustrate how In Tibetan culture wildlife is often referred to and praised.

His Holiness paid particular attention to the role of the tiger in the ecosystem because so many monks had raised questions during this and the previous conference about the value of protecting such a terrible predator! Perhaps the world would be better off without the tiger.

Forests take thousands of years to form and are a rich ecosystem. Protecting the forests protects all the living beings within the ecosystem. The tiger is king of the jungle and protects the forest. The tiger regulates his behaviour. He eats 18 to 20 kilos of meat at a time, when he is hungry. If he kills a water buffalo, he can’t eat all of it at one sitting, but he will return again and again. He never wastes anything. Usually a tiger chooses his kill carefully from the sick, the old and the weak in the herd. Thus he has a role in maintaining the health of the herd. Though the tiger looks fierce, his life is short, perhaps between ten and fifteen years only in the wild. Humans, on the other hand, aren’t fierce but they live a long life and hunt a lot! The tiger has a range of 10 – 15 kilometres of forest, so he is preserving that area of forest.

Many people think the tiger is no good because it kills a lot. Similarly, in water, the shark is the tiger of the seas. Interest in sharks is growing because they are frightening, and people think the ocean would be better off without them. But by eating lots of fish, sharks maintain a balance in the ecosystem. Both tigers and sharks play important roles in their respective ecosystems.

Gyalwang Karmapa then explained how the food chain works. Plants need soil, sun, and water to grow. They are eaten by deer and rabbits, who, in turn are eaten by omnivores such as bears or carnivores such as the tiger The tiger dies and is eaten by the vulture. The vulture dies and rots and is eaten by the worms and insects who return the nutrients to the soil, so that the plants can grow. This cycle is like the cycle of samara, with both good and evil.

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We regard our human life as precious, but according to biodiversity, all life in an ecosystem is precious.

There is a story of how the Lord Buddha in a previous life offered his body to a hungry tigress. If tigers are not important, why did Buddha offer himself to the tigress? She was starved and sick and she didn’t even have the energy to kill him, so Buddha cut his arm so that the tigress could drink his blood. Survival is very important to everyone, including tigers, and that’s why Buddha offered his life to save the tigress and her cubs.

In Thailand there is a place where monks and tigers live together. It began when a hunter killed a mother tiger and gave the cub to the temple. That cub died. Then the monks started rescuing orphaned cubs, because the South Chinese tiger is very rare, and now the monastery has 17 tigers. However, the monks are now trying to reintroduce the tigers into their natural forest habitat. Buddhism teaches that everything has been our mother and father. These monks have shown love to these mother sentient beings and so they have survived.

It is human nature to try to discover new things and to get benefit from everything. In Buddhist teachings, every sentient being wants happiness and wants to avoid suffering. The tiger eats meat but wants happiness. The earthworm also wants happiness, but we humans consider our own happiness to be most important.

His Holiness showed a slide of a tigress carrying her young cub carefully in her mouth, to contrast the image of the tiger only as a fierce killer.

He then talked about the food pyramid. The tiger was the top predator, but damage lower down the pyramid which threatened the top. Because of global warming the tiger was being forced to change its natural habitat. When the tiger changes its habitat it has a negative effect on the whole environment.

All living things are interconnected and interdependent. What affects one, affects all in some way. All sentient beings have the right to live.

Conference on Environmental Protection – Day 5 – October 7, 2009 – Dharamsala

Question and Answer Session

Dekila Chungyalpa answered questions arising from Tuesday’s sessions on wildlife protection.

Some key points that emerged:

  • The monastic community has a responsibility to lead and give advice on environmental issues.
  • Protecting the environment also protects wildlife – they are not separate activities.

The monks and nuns wanted to know more about how they themselves could protect wildlife.

Tenzin Norsang suggested 3 things were necessary: Awareness, Acceptance and Action. The monks and nuns had already developed awareness and acceptance. Action required a strategy and planning, taking the available budget into account, or special circumstances, for example 2010 will be the Chinese Year of the Tiger, so it might be appropriate to specifically target that year for tiger protection activities. The aim should be to start small and expand influence outwards. Having considered the local situation and community, monasteries and centres could organise campaigns, workshops and seminars. It was important to explain the benefits to the community at large of environmental and wildlife protection such as the growth of eco-tourism. Each individual could also have an impact by discussing the issue with family and friends and others within their community .Work to save the tiger could be combined with work to save the chiru; often there was an exchange of tiger parts from India and chiru skins from Tibet at the border.

Discussion Groups

An important part of the training has been group discussion which offers all the representatives the opportunity to speak and encourages exchange of information and ideas This morning’s discussion was focused on the future organisational set up.

The Gyalwang Karmapa attended the plenary session and listened carefully to the feedback from each group.

Testing Time

In the afternoon Dekila sprang a test on the unsuspecting monks and nuns. They were quizzed on topics covered over the first four days, with questions such as, “How long does it take light from the sun to reach the earth?” Although the test was light-hearted, there were some excellent answers, demonstrating how much learning and discussion had been going on, and, there was a lot of laughter!.

Field Trip 3 River Clean-Up

After the theory test came environmental protection in action. The conference members decamped to the banks of the local river where they broke into small groups to tackle collecting the rubbish- mainly plastic and paper – which was polluting it.
Conference on Environmental Protection – Day 6 – October 8, 2009 – Dharamsala

Dekila began with an account of climate change because of global warming, which has led to increased rainfall in some areas and drought in others, glaciers in the Himalaya were shrinking, sea levels were rising, extreme weather events were increasing. In severely affected areas, the population was forced to relocate leading to social unrest. The long-term consequences would be on power and water supplies. She gave detailed instructions on rain water harvesting , how monasteries could collect rainwater from the rooftops, filter it and store it in tanks.

Environmental Destruction in Tibet

Tsering Yangkyi from TESI Environmental Awareness Movement gave a detailed presentation on what is happening in Tibet including deforestation and the effects of large-scale mining for minerals.

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The Effects of Climate Change on Tibet

Chokyi, from the Environment and Development desk of the DIIR, showed slides illustrating how climate change has already led to shrinking glaciers and lakes, degraded pasturelands, most memorable, the sacred Gang Rinpoche (Snow Rinpoche ie Mt Kailash ) with hardly any snow on one face.

The Way Forward

In the penultimate session, the monasteries and nunneries presented their commitments. The monastery representatives of India, Nepal and Bhutanese offered Mandala to His Holiness. Tsurphu Labrang presented gifts to the Speakers, Organising Committee and Monastic Representatives.

Gyalwang Karmapa’s Closing Remarks

IMG_6410iHis Holiness thanked everybody who had been involved in the conference, and congratulated the monasteries for participating in this second conference.

He said how much he appreciated their efforts but the motivation was important. Working for environmental protection should not be just to please him nor out of competitiveness with other monasteries, but should be done wholeheartedly with the motivation that environmental protection is benefiting all sentient beings. They should hold this aspiration.

His Holiness reminded everybody that religious practice without ethical behaviour was empty.

On this planet, there are millions of insects, animals and plants. In order to survive, human beings need all of them. It is not possible for humans to survive on their own. Because all living things on this planet are interdependent, we all have to take an interest in and act to protect the environment for our own survival and happiness.

Likewise, Buddha’s teachings frequently instruct us to work for the benefit of others and to stop harming them, but often we do not know whether the everyday things we use are harmful to the environment or not; usually, we are focused on our own comfort. However, our lifestyle harm the environment, directly or indirectly, so we can’t be complacent and think, ” I am not harming anybody.” We have to view things from a new perspective.

When His Holiness lived in Tibet, people used to work only a few hours a day, and yet that was sufficient to earn a living, so that the rest of the time could be spent with the family or at leisure. Nowadays, in the city people work for 24 hours, and even that is not enough. At this rate the day may come when they have to work for 48 hours and there won’t be time to sleep any more. “Why is it”, asked the Karmapa, “that people can’t earn enough money to live on even working 24 hours? Because there is no end to human greed, unless we ourselves are able to check it.”

Gyalwang Karmapa pointed out that compared with earlier times, people these days consume so much energy. All the difficulties that they now face are created by themselves. They try to behave like machines, but humans are not machines – machines never get tired. And in the end, all the suffering comes back down to human greed. People think they need things that they actually don’t, and consequently, they cause themselves to suffer. Everyone needed to reflect on this.

It was important for everyone to put environmental protection practice into daily life, and, instead of thinking of their own benefit, to think for the benefit of all sentient beings, which is an essential feature of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition.

Then Gyalwang Karmapa shared his own aspiration ─ that if he had the power he would become the protector of the earth and cover it like a tent.

Aspiration for the World

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The final event of the conference was a performance by monks and laypeople from Tsurphu Labrang of Gyalwang Karmapa’s poem Aspiration for the World, first in Tibetan and then in English.

World, we live and die on your lap,
On you we experience all our woes and joys.
You are our ancestral home of old.
Forever we cherish and adore you.
We wish to transform you into the pure realm of our dreams.
We wish to transform you into a land for all creatures,
Equal for all and free of prejudice.
We wish to transform you into a loving, warm and gentle goddess.
Our hope in you is so ever resolute.
So please be the ground on which we all may live
So all these wishes may come true,
So all these wishes may come true.
Do not show us the dark side of your character,
Where nature’s calamities reign.
In every section of our world’s land
May there thrive a fertile field of peace and joy,
Rich with the leaves and fruits of happiness,
Filled with the many sweet scents of freedom.
May we fulfil our countless and boundless wishes.

Composed by the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, and translated into English by Tyler Dewar.

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