Robyn writes: Spring is well on its way, and with it comes Earth Day. As always, the date is April 22, but this Sunday some of us will also celebrate at KTD with some environmental projects I’m coordinating. I am a volunteer who recently lived at KTD for about 2 months, and in that time, I’ve learned how I might best make a contribution. I look forward to staying involved on Sundays, and my goal is to put my training in sustainability issues and my experience with environmental work to use, supporting His Holiness’s teachings on environmentalism. After starting up a project to increase composting, I was asked to say a few words connecting this and other immediate projects with long-term goals.
Environmental issues relate to every human activity in this world, but I think that in order to understand global issues, it’s important to first appreciate the life occurring close to home. Wherever we live, we have communities of other living things existing nearby. I see connecting to these neighbors as achieving two main goals: increasing our appreciation of interdependence as an all-pervasive phenomenon and deepening our compassion for all sentient beings.
First, the separation of humans from the natural world is ingrained in our very language; the terms “nature” and “environment” each encompass physical phenomena in general, but we use them to just mean whatever is outside human society. However, all human societies throughout history have grown according to their local environments and natural resources, and all of our technologies were developed from initial reactions to these environments. European societies, at least, made great efforts to show the power of the human mind and its ability to control the world around us.
We can see today, though, that this control is limited. Societies have had to change technologies over time to deal with limited resources and harmful waste; studying the natural balances that are inherent in ecosystems have shown us models of how our societies may sustain themselves over time.
This modeling can be seen in something as simple as compost. When we maintain compost in a way that creates soil, we are trying to recreate an environment similar that of a soil surface layer. In order to process a large amount of organic matter, we simply make a much larger surface layer that can house very large numbers of microbes, worms, and insects. This process allows us to appreciate that without decomposers, none of the waste on earth would go away except by using methods that create different wastes. The soil created then provides the foundation for all plants and animals that we see around us.
To my second point, I have always thought it interesting when people identify me as someone who loves nature. What we call “nature” is simply systems of life in its purest form, which I think ties this meaning of the word to what we discuss as human nature and, of course, Buddha nature. Since the human mind is so complex, many people focus on their love of more complex things rather than simply the love of life. However, all people instinctively love life and enjoy seeing other living things; this need may seem obvious, but many psychological studies have been focused on trying to prove the effects of other living things on our well-being.
I personally find human behavior confusing at times (reacting to people who are reacting to other people who are reacting to other people, etc); observing wildlife, then, I appreciate seeing living things that are simply concerned with living. All beings have this simple desire to live, which unites us all, and that is easy to remember when we see other living things going about their lives. When we really watch some little creature, whose existence we normally wouldn’t notice, we can build compassion for this and other beings that are outside of our everyday lives.
I wanted to start the discussion in time to observe Earth Day this Sunday; I hope this will continue throughout the year. If you are interested in helping with compost or landscaping projects this weekend or in the future, you can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!
— Robyn Glenney