Khoryug Environmental Conference – Nov. 8th to 12th 2013
India International Centre, New Delhi
by Yeshe Wangmo
Tuesday, Nov. 12 — The 5th Annual Khoryug Conference wrapped up in New Delhi today with an extremely informative and inspirational speech by His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje in the morning session. The five-day intensive gathering of about 60 monastic delegates from 50 monasteries and nunneries in the Himalayan region powerfully reflected the Gyalwang Karmapa’s ongoing commitment to environmental activism in the 21st century.
Khoryug (Eng. “environment”) was established by the Karmapa in 2009 and is headed by Dekila Chungyalpa, the founder of the World Wildlife Fund’s Sacred Earth Program. Dekila also is the main facilitator of this year’s conference, themed “Conservation of Freshwater Resources in the Himalayas.” Dr. Sarala Khaling, Regional Director at Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), and Tenzin Norbu, director of the Environment & Development Desk at the Central Tibetan Administration, were co-facilitators.
Khoryug Coordinator Gyaltsen Sonam spoke briefly about the impact that great spiritual leaders like the Gyalwang Karmapa can have on environmental protection: “What is the reason for an organization like Khoryug in the Himalayan region? Many people here believe in science but not scientists. Likewise, Himalayan people have great faith in spiritual masters like the Karmapa, rather than in scientists. Therefore spiritual masters have a huge role to play in preserving and protecting the environment.”
In the morning of the very first session, Dekila summarized the topics to be covered at this year’s conference: “On the first day we will be providing the basics on Freshwater Science. There will be quite a lot of detail on the Freshwater ecological systems and biodiversity, and once the basics are there we will invite the monasteries to talk about their own experiences — about the uses of water in their monasteries, where it comes from, where it goes, and what the status has been if they are suffering from water scarcity. There will be a lot of focus on health, hygiene and sanitation, because this is a need, especially in the communities and our monasteries…. Following that, we will move into the solution section, which is all about how the monasteries can secure their own drinking water sources –whether they can do rainwater harvesting or springshed restoration and also whether they can engage in wastewater recycling.
“We hope that the outcome of the conference is that monasteries feel that this is an issue they want to engage in and that they actually design their own monastic projects and work together to create large projects as well, for freshwater conservation.”
The five-day conference was chaired by the 17th Karmapa and included Power-Point presentations by scientists, roundtable discussions, films on freshwater problems and solutions, and question and answer sessions. On the fourth day, a field trip allowed the attendees to venture outside of the cloistered conference venue to visit an actual wastewater treatment site at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in South Delhi. The large group of monastics went on a guided tour of an ingenuous facility designed in 2006 to treat 8000 liters of wastewater daily. The tour also included a demonstration of rainwater harvesting. CSE offered to help set up pilot programs in both wastewater treatment and rainwater harvesting at a couple of the Khoryug-member monasteries.
In the afternoon, the conference attendees were joined by the Gyalwang Karmapa and his entourage on the banks of the Yamuna River to pray for the sentient beings struggling to survive in and around the dank, stagnant waters of this river, considered largely “dead” by scientific standards. Fortunately, the Yamuna comes back to life further downstream where it is joined and fed by tributaries running into the Ganges.
Lama Karma Drodhul attended the Khoryug conference on behalf of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra and made presentations when invited by the facilitators. One two separate occasions Lama Karma sang a spontaneous song of homage to the Gyalwang Karmapa in front of the entire group. Finally at the end, he joined the conference attendees in their pledge to bring Khoryug’s vision back home, to share the knowledge gleaned in Delhi for the benefit of all, to implement the techniques learned, and ultimately to realize the environmental goals of Khoryug at all of their respective monasteries.
Nothing sums up the purpose and goal of the conference better than the powerful and timely speech the Gyalwang Karmapa made today, on the last day of the conference, with Lama Yeshe Gyamtso from KTD translating. Here is the Karmapa’s speech in its entirety:
Over the last several days, you have spoken a great deal and heard a great deal about water [and] in particular the [general] situation, including how it has been protected. Although I haven’t had the opportunity to be with you continuously over the last several days, it has been reported to me that you have been working very, very hard and have done very well. So I feel that in spite of my absence things have gone well. Now you have heard from expert scientists who have both experience and knowledge regarding the environment from a scientific point of view. You also have undertaken a field trip which has enabled you to actually see with your own eyes the condition of water. So therefore I don’t think there is really much need for me to add to your knowledge. However, both Dekila and some of the journalists I have met with have asked me to explain the importance of water to Buddhism.
In a sense I think it is unnecessary to give a particular Buddhist take on the importance of water because the supreme importance of water to Buddhism and to everyone is that water is essential to life. We cannot survive without it. I think that is the best reason for its importance.
Now about water, if you look at this planet from the outside, you’ll observe that about two-thirds of this planet’s surface or more seems to be made up of water, which will give you the idea that there is a lot of water. However, 97.5% of the water on this planet is salt water found in the oceans. We cannot really use salt water. It is theoretically possible to move to desalinate it, to turn it into fresh water but doing so is impractical because it would be extremely expensive and would involve a great deal of technology as well as expensive energy.
Only 2.5% of the water on this planet is fresh water; 70% of that freshwater is found in the poles, the North Pole and South Pole, and what we now call the “third pole,” the glaciers in the Himalayan region. Most of the remaining 30% is found in groundwater in various parts of the planet. Only 0.3% is found in lakes and rivers. Now of this freshwater, 70% of our use of it is for agriculture, including irrigation; 22% is used in industry in various ways; and 8% is used domestically, which means personally. Now, that 8%, which is what we could call “the direct use of water “– what we usually think of when we think about our relationship with water — is used by us to drink, to cook and to wash.
Let’s look first of all at that direct use of water. If someone takes a 15-minute shower, and does not turn off the water during it, but leaves the water on during the whole 15 minutes, they’ll use about 22 gallons of water. In addition, most people use another couple of gallons brushing their teeth, shaving and whatnot. Most people use 6 gallons of water a day in flushing the toilet and if you have a dishwasher, the dishwasher probably uses 10 gallons a day. That means a minimum of 40 gallons a day per person, but in fact, in some developed countries, for example in the United States of America, people typically use for their personal, direct use more than 100 gallons of water a day.
Now I think there are ways to lessen this. For example, in a lot of hotels you notice that when you flush the toilet, it keeps on flushing for up to two or three minutes after its function has been performed and I think that there are ways of improving on this. Some people that I know accumulate the water they use for washing their face in a basin and then pour that into the reserve tank in the toilet or into the toilet bowl itself so that they flush the toilet without using additional water. And there are lot of things we can do like that to minimize our direct use of water.
However, far greater than our direct use of water, even though it may reach 100 gallons a day, is our indirect use of water. Now indirect use is the water that is used to create things that we use. So we don’t actually think of it as using water because it is not in front of our face. We don’t see the water. But nevertheless we use huge amounts of water. For example, in the case of those who eat meat, to create one pound of beef, 1,799 gallons of water will have been used. To create one pound of pork, 576 gallons, one pound of chicken, 408 gallons, and one pound of goat meat, 127 gallons. One pound of rice requires 449 gallons of water, one pound of barley 198, and one pound of wheat, 132. So, in that way, we can see that we need to think not only about our direct use of water, but also about our indirect use and considering the amount of water that is expended for the consumption of meat, this adds a second ethical concern to the eating of meat. The primary ethical concern remains the taking of life and so forth, but the impact of the consumption on the environment through its use of water must also be considered. In short, I think there are many, many things we can do to save water.
Now, with regards to the sources of water among these are, of course, rivers. Rivers, however, are not only water sources. They serve other functions as well. Rivers obviously are the living environment for many different species and they also, if left to their natural course and natural state, carry nutrients in the soil itself from the headwaters, down to where they flow. They create wetlands, which enable us to farm, and they also form the shape of the land through which they flow. We are destroying these rivers, destroying them through the building of dams, through horrific pollution, and through diverting the natural course of these rivers themselves. I think that all these environmental problems have resulted from our human behavior; one could say, misbehavior. Environmental problems have not descended upon us from the sky. We’ve created them through our own incorrect view and incorrect behavior. In particular, the unbridled, unlimited greed and desire of human beings, which is subject to limited resources, is the principal source of all of our environmental problems. Especially, the technology that we have achieved by now in this 21st Century enables us to impact the environment in a negative way to a degree that has never been possible for humans at any previous point in our history.
For example, those of you who live in Delhi, or all who certainly are here now, have observed the tremendous number of automobiles on the roads. There are always so many cars going that there are constant traffic jams, so that a journey that really should take just a few minutes could often take much, much longer. Now there are far more automobiles in Delhi than there were when I first came to India. And I think that everyone drives their car as a matter of personal choice because they are thinking of their own needs.
The problem is that each and every person has that same need to go somewhere, and therefore each and every person is making that choice based upon their own individual need, therefore creating a traffic jam. I think that this indicates a change we need to make in our choices and concerns. The choices we make, such as means of transportation, use of roads and everything else that affects the environment must not reflect our own needs alone as an individual. Our choices much reflect the common benefit of everyone. Our choices must not just reflect our own particular personal needs, they must be based upon what is best for the planet and the environment as a whole.
Ever since human beings have resided in this world, we have always been capable of doing things, including killing and so forth. I don’t think that killing and the results of killing are anything new. But nevertheless, technology has given us the ability to kill on a scale that we never, ever dreamed of before. Recently in Africa there was a mass slaughter of 4,000 elephants. In our parent’s day, it would have been difficult to even kill one elephant, but now we have the means to, in an instant, kill 4,000; with our guns and other weapon technologies, we can kill innumerable beings in a moment. And also in the same way, we simply are exhausting all of the resources in this world. To give another example, where fish used to be plentiful, it is said that in many instances, entire species of fish have been exhausted or used up by overfishing.
Yesterday we all visited the Yamuna River, which in the past was considered a very sacred place and was viewed with great wonder and great respect. In fact traditionally, the Yamuna itself is regarded as a pilgrimage site, for those who travel throughout India on pilgrimage. It has now become so filthy, so polluted, that it is a place that we seek to avoid at all costs and by every means at our disposal. For example, according to Buddhism, the Yamuna River is said to be the dwelling of one of the 16 elders, who is said to have dwelled there in the company or entourage of 1,600 other arhats. It seems unlikely given the state of the Yamuna that he is still there.
In the time of our parents, snow mountains, trees and rivers were all held to be sacred and any pollution of them was considered to be wrongdoing of itself. But now times have changed and many people regard the beliefs of our parents and our ancestors as meaningless superstition. They will tell you, “These things are not sacred. It doesn’t matter what you do with them. Do what you like.” Well this attitude is a problem and is one reason for our callous abuse of our environment. Another is the fact that the sheer population of human beings in this world has increased so greatly and so quickly, that whereas even if we abused the environment in the past, it had relatively, comparatively little impact.
Nowadays because of our sheer number, our abuse of the environment has a terrible impact. So because of the human population and because of modern technology, we are having a horrific impact on our environment, and we’ve become so jaded about this on the whole, that it is as if we are asleep. We are asleep in the sleep of ignorance of what we are doing to the environment. From one point of view, this 21st Century is an amazing time. We have amazing technology and we enjoy the benefits of that technology. But from another point of view it’s a horrible time because we are actually destroying the very basis of our existence and survival, such as water and other aspects of our environment. This is an utter contradiction. We are seeking to enjoy the benefits of our technology, while that technology is destroying our very means of survival.
Each and every one of the more than 7 billion people on this planet has a brain. We are all capable of understanding this and yet our ignorance about our misuse of the environment is shocking and the contradiction that what we want, and our self-destructive abuse of this planet, is horrific. We need to wake up from this ignorance, especially those who wish to practice spirituality must wake up. This is perhaps the greatest responsibility of us as spiritual practitioners. Therefore the main reason for offering environmental education to the monks and nuns of our many monasteries, is that our greatest hope as Mahayana Buddhists, our dream, our aspiration, is to bring about the happiness of all beings. If there is a way for us to do that, or make that closer to happening, surely that being our aspiration, we should engage in that with enthusiasm. Therefore, the conservation of our environment, which is the ground of the existence of billions and billions and billions of beings, must be our primary concern as Mahayana practitioners. And environmental conservation must be the very essence of our spiritual practice.
All of you gathered here, please make this intention central to your life. Especially as monks and nuns you are leaders and guides to the lay communities that you serve in the various regions within the Himalayas. If you can impart this message of environmental awareness and the importance of environmental conservation, it will bring tremendous benefit. Especially since, as you heard over the last five days, the Himalayan region is the water tower of all Asia.
I don’t want to say too much more because I don’t want to waste your time, and especially, it’s more important that you actually implement what you’ve learned here than that you hear more about it. In particular, make sure that you don’t separate your daily life from your acts of environmental conservation. Because it is, as we’ve seen, our choices in daily life, that impact the environment. If we do not change how we make these choices, and change the choices we make, simply attending this conference for a few days will not have much impact on the environment. So please implement what you have learned here and also explain what you have learned here to others. Don’t keep what you have learned hidden in your brains. Use it to help others. That is one of your responsibilities.
When we speak of the Tibetan cause – sometimes people mistake this as a uniquely political issue, but in fact it is much more than that and most importantly, it is an environmental issue. The Tibetan plateau is of great environmental importance to this world; we therefore call it the third pole and the water tower of Asia. In the past the Tibetan way of life, the way of life of our ancestors and our parents was one of environmental conservation, by which I mean, the Tibetan way of life was a way in which life was lived in harmony with the environment. Now this way of life fundamentally consisted of our religion, our spirituality and our culture. Therefore, since this way of life was a means of preserving or conserving the environment, this way of life must at all costs, be preserved, not only for the sake of Tibet itself, but because of the profound connection that the Tibetan environment has with all Asian nations, including Tibet’s adjacent neighbors. With regard to Tibet’s neighbors, of course China took over Tibet more than 50 years ago but that does not mean that China can do whatever it wants to the Tibetan environment. They must behave responsibly. With regard to the connection between Tibet and India, this connection is thousands of years old and is extremely profound. It is not simply a material or even a cultural connection; it is a spiritual one, the deepest possible connection. So therefore, India also is intimately connected with and bears some responsibility for this environment.
This is true of other Asian nations as well. Now as we are spiritual people, there is no need for us to dwell endlessly on political issues, but the happiness of beings, which cannot be entirely separate from politics, is very much our responsibility. Therefore, the environment and conservation of the environment is our primary responsibility. It is unnecessary for me to say much more but I would ask you all to keep this in your mind that we, all of us, bear a great responsibility for the environment and the environmental situation now is a state of emergency. Okay, now I’m really done.