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Buddhist Countermeasure against Obstacles to Sustainable Development

Lee, Do-Heum(professor, Hanyang University,

  1. Preface

  In short, the current global village is a world where ‘room’ that can be used for self-purification has disappeared. While flowing, water is naturally purified by ion fluence, microorganism decomposition, and plants absorption. If 100 tons of water of a river is naturally purified as such, even if 99 tons of waste water is discharged into the river, the water in the river will be maintained as grade 1st clean water thanks to the ‘room’ of 1 ton. This is also the case with society. Nature and society can be circulated and recovered as long as there is ‘room.’ However, as the room has disappeared, the phantom of the end of mankind is wandering around in darkness in the form of environmental disasters, social disorganization, and the generalization of violence and terrorism.

  In this situation, sustainable development is a countermeasure that makes room in this global village. Now this issues are not a discourse of several educated persons but a task of all the people who worry about the future of mankind. On September 27, 2015, the UN General Assembly agreed on Sustainable Development Goals(hereafter, SDGs), and as part of it, Paris Agreement was adopted, and on April 22, 2016, 170 countries out of 196 agreement countries signed on the agreement. Although other factors such as Pope Francis’ persuasion also acted, there are largely three reasons why 196 countries including the USA and China agreed to Paris Agreement. First, the goals were downward adjusted compared to Kyoto Protocol and compulsory obligations of individual countries were greatly eased. Second, a wide bond of sympathy was formed on the opinion that if the climate change due to environmental destruction is neglected, human civilization may come to an end. Third, since renewable energy will become cheaper than fossil fuels within 10 to 30 years, capitals did not press the governments. These changes suggest that sustainable development may be not only a normative goal that must be pursued by mankind but also a vision that is practically realizable.

  Unlike the substantialism of the West, Buddhism interprets the world on the basis of dependent origination between humans and nature. Unlike Newtonian mechanical paradigm and Descartes’ notion of mind-body dualism that dominated the modern times, Buddhism develops the ecological paradigm for coexistence of all living things and the life view not to kill even microorganisms. Therefore, many people utilize Buddhism as a paradigm or logic for sustainable development. However, Buddhist discourses about sustainable development thus far have been mostly normative, declaratory, and ethical and some of them even showed reductionistic or eco-fascistic inclinations. Religious or ethical discourses without criticism of or resistance to those contradictions that hinder sustainable development and those states and capitals that enforce such contradictions may hide contradictions and rather reinforce their legitimacy. Therefore, I will categorize obstructive factors to sustainable development into energy problems, human nature, mechanical paradigm, myth of growth, states, and capitalist systems to examine Buddhist countermeasures against them.

  1. Energy problems vs. voluntary moderation of desires

 After the Industrial Revolution, the global village used huge amounts of fossil fuels to create energy and the energy has become a basis for the 7.3 billion populations to work to produce goods to live on. However, fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide and pollutants while generating energy leading to many problems including global warming and climate change. Aside from such problems, although new oil fields are discovered and shale oil is mined, many scholars regard that fossil fuels will be exhausted by 2060 to 2080.

  There are largely two countermeasures against energy problems. One of them is replacing the energy systems with renewable energy that does not emit carbon dioxide and pollutants. The other one is changing the energy consumption oriented paradigms and lifestyles. Buddhism cannot provide any measure for the former, but can provide wisdom for measures for the latter.

  Although the communal culture and tradition of Sangha(the Buddhist community) also acted, thanks to wisdom, Buddhism faced the fact that the pleasure coming from possession is also a cause of defilement and suffering and stipulated that Buddhist monks should live life of non-possession with religious precepts. Without extinguishing greed thoroughly, nobody can reach Nirvana. Each Buddhist monk should have only three suits of dress and one bowl and should share other necessities.

  Since the public cannot easily reach the stage of Buddhist monks and practicing Buddhist monks’ lifestyle is more difficult, extinguishing desire at the level of Buddhist monks cannot be forced to them. However, they can realize that the increase of desires or resultant pleasure is not happiness. This realization can be possible not through discipline or practice but through wisdom. Through this wisdom, we can reach ‘voluntary moderation of desires for others’ that are in relationships of dependent origination with us, and pursue the state of composure, and can reach the true and long-lasting happiness as a result. If we change our lives into those to reach composure through voluntary moderation of desires, we can live satisfactory lives while using less energy.

  1. Mechanical paradigm vs. the ecology of dependent origination

  One of factors that brought about global environmental crises is the mechanical paradigm. This world-view treats life as machines that moves in the law of causality and takes the development and exploitation of nature and lives by humans with objective knowledge for granted.

On the contrary, Buddhism develops the ecology and the life view not to kill on the basis of the doctrine of dependent origination. This author wrote the shortest novel comprising three sentences. “A housewife living in Gangnam, Seoul showed irritation to and spoke ill of an a service repairman, who came to fix her washing machine. In the night of the next day, an overseas Korean living in LA, USA died in a traffic accident. He was the husband of a friend of the wife of a colleague of a service repairman and the housewife’s elder brother.” The service repairman vented his anger on innocent colleague as soon as he arrived at his workplace, the colleague did so when he arrived home, his wife talked bluntly to her friend living in LA on the phone call she received from her friend just at that time, the overseas Korean living in LA got in a hassle with her husband due to the phone call, the husband encountered the traffic accident on the way to his workplace because he failed to see a car coming from the opposite site while he was ruminating of his wife’s hurting words, and the dead man was turned out to be an elder brother of the housewife that showed irritation to the service repairman.

  Iron is made only when 26 protons are combined at high temperatures exceeding 3 billion degrees and such temperatures and pressure can be generated only when a star is exploded. The iron in my red blood cell was made when a star was exploded, scattered as interstellar matter, formed the earth 4.5 billion years ago together with other substances, went into a living thing 3.8 billion years ago when lives were created on the earth, and finally came into my body after being moved between living things that have been evolving. Through Biosphere Ⅱ project, scientists in the USA found out that microorganisms are involved in the balance of atmosphere on the earth. As such, the entire universe ranging from people around me, microorganisms in the atmosphere in front of me, the stars shining as spots far away to the dust floating between the stars is involved in enabling me to exist as me of today.

  “If the law of dependent origination indicating that lives exist and act because of each other is ‘factual judgement’, the necessity to inevitably ‘get along well’ with others is ‘value judgement.”[1] At the moment of realizing this wisdom, we realize that we should coexist with all lives and substances that are in relationships of dependent origination with us. “Since all soil and water are your former body and all fires and winds are your true substantiality, you should always release captive creatures and should recommend others to do so because they are beings that receive life through transmigration after transmigration in the six states of mortal existence.”[2] Not to kill even small lives in water, Buddhist monks were carrying water filtering bags to drink water after filtering out the small lives. King Beopheung(reign: 514∼540) and Seongdeok the Great(reign: 702∼737) of Silla dynasty, and King Beop(reign: 599∼600) of Baekje dynasty issued royal messages telling not to kill any life, even livestock.

  Hwajaeng buddhism of Wonhyo(元曉: 617∼686) is a Korean philosophy of coexistence to reveal identity as a false-self not through superiority but through differences and enable others to exist not by struggles but by putting oneself out of existence. Wonhyo developed the theory of “bul-il-bul-i(不一不二, neither one nor two).” “The theory of neither one nor two” implies that we should seek co-existence through realizing difference. A seed alone has no meaning, but we can find it by comparing its difference with the fruit. A seed and the fruit are not one because they are separate entities [not one]. As an apple seed bears apples and an orange seed bears oranges, the genes of a seed decide the characteristics of the fruit and the fruit in turn leaves its genes in the seed, so they are not two [neither two]. The seed cannot exist without the fruit so it is empty, and the fruit cannot be born without the seed so it is also empty. However, when the seed dies it gives birth to a stem and forms branches, flowers and eventually fruit. The fruit cannot live on its own but when it drops to the floor it gives out seeds. If the seed tries to preserve its own existence it will rot, but if it considers itself empty and falls to the ground it will become bud and sprout to become a fruit. Emptiness is the premise of birth, death and change. There is no fruit when there is a seed so the fruit does not belong to the seed. We do not live alone in this world, but give existence to others by regarding ourselves as being empty.”[3]

  Chi Won Choi(崔致遠: 857∼?), a governor of Hamyang in the Queen Jin Sung era(887∼896), met the problem of flooding of the river Wi as soon as he proceeded to his new post. Embracing Hwajaeng buddhism, against constructing a dam, he made waterways and planted trees to prevent flooding. As we saw the relation of seed and fruit, in this case water nourished trees and trees preserved water. So, the river Wi has not flooded for 1,100 years as well as kept clean. Even today, there is a dense forest in Jiri mountain called “Sanglim” which is the only broad leaf formation designated as a natural treasure(no. 154). Dams cause water to defile and harm water life but trees absorb rain and purify water. As such, Buddhism has a paradigm to change mechanical world view into ecological one.

  1. Human nature vs. the theory of altruism as Buddha-nature

  Is human nature good or evil? Will humans cooperate for sustainable development to overcome the global crises or find egoistically their own ways to collapse?

  Mankind has been arguing about monotheism vs. deism, and the theory that human nature is fundamentally good vs. the theory that human nature is fundamentally evil for several thousand years. However, the foregoing theories are normative or ethical arguments and non-scientific statements that cannot be disproved. Richard Dawikins generalized the evolution of living things for 3.8 billion years. “The fundamental units of natural selection, the basic things that survive or fail to survive, that form lineages of identical copies with occasional random mutations, are called replicators. DNA molecules are replicators. They generally, for reasons that we shall come to, gang together into large communal survival machines or ‘vehicles’.”[4] Humans are just survival machines composed of selfish genes. Humans as biological beings that have been plundering others to increase themselves and the offsprings and groups that share genes with them and such plundering is conducted even now.

  However, humans are social beings too. Humans formed society to cooperate with each other. Humans who gathered around fire had formed groups. If a primitive man hunted alone to catch three deer in a month while 10 primitive men hunted in group to catch 40 deer, the latter case is more advantageous to increase their genes. In return for accepting society and civilization, humans deferred their selfish instinct and altruistically cooperated. As pointed out by Peter Singer, “Humans formed society based on altruistic cooperation while beginning to pursue kin altruism, reciprocal altruism, and group altruism and challenged blind evolution based on high degrees of reason to augment fair and impartial viewpoints while pursuing ethic altruism too.”[5] Since those that cooperate well are advantageous in evolution, humans have evolved so that mirror neuron systems to imitate others or empathize with others’ pain are formed in the brain nerve cells of humans. In conclusion, humans are ‘genetic chimeras’ in which good and evil, selfishness and altruism coexist.

  Therefore, the important things are not how to argue over human nature but how to promote good each other. “To infer by putting what this author studied until now together, no matter whether individual levels or group levels, largely eleven factors determine the ratios of good and evil as follows; ① systems that control the distribution of labor and production, ② empathy with others, ③ creation and sharing of meanings, ④ social systems and institutions, ⑤ religions and ideologies, ⑥ ritual and culture, ⑦ group learning and education, ⑧ others’ eyes and behaviors, ⑨ discipline, ⑩ laws and rules, and ⑪ leaders and politics.”[6]

  Among them, Buddhism can play the role of promoting sustainable development with ②, ③, ⑤, ⑦, ⑨. Buddhism regards that all common people have the Buddha nature. Human life is a continuum of sufferings and this world is a house on fire. Enlightenment is practicing the noble eightfold path to extinguish all greeds and see the Buddha nature. Wonhyo talks about the non-duality of the Buddha-Dharma and the secular law. Even if I have become a Buddha through discipline and great striving with extreme devotion, if there is any sentient being in pain, I am not yet a Buddha. I will become a Buddha at the moment I save him and make him into a Buddha. To say this cognitive scientifically, operating the mirror neural system to empathize with others’ pain and save others in solidarity with others is seeing the Buddha nature.

  Finding the Buddha nature in myself through discipline, making new meanings, sharing the meanings through group learning, empathizing with others’ sufferings, and saving others in solidarity with others is to “first attain enlightenment through cultivation, then save all beings.(上求菩提 下化衆生)” and lead the public to sustainable development. However, Buddhism has limitations in promoting the good in fields of ①, ④, ⑥, and ⑪.

  1. Myth of Growth vs. life with wisdom of contentment with less or little gain

  In modern society, the Industrial Revolution, the scientific revolution, and capitalism were combined together and states led the combination. The ideology that advocated and implemented this rapid development is the myth of perpetual growth. People regarded that human civilization would develop unceasingly, science would guarantee the development, economic growth is the supreme good, states could develop only by achieving economic growth, and the lives of all people would become more abundant, and their freedom and happiness would be enhanced only when the pie gets larger.

  However, the earth is finite. Resources are also limited. As mentioned in the above chapter, fossil fuels will be exhausted before long. Even though the pie gets larger, the benefits are not evenly extended to the poor. Inequality has been intensified further due to monopoly to the extent that 10% of the population possess more than a half of the entire wealth and 1.3 billion people out of mankind are living with money less than one dollar per day. “The global level environmental crisis has put 38% of all species of livings things existing on the earth into the crisis of extinction.”[7] Humans would not exist without these animals.

  With regard to the foregoing, Buddhism presents the life of the common karmas(共業), the middle way(中道), and the wisdom of contentment with less or little gain(少欲知足). “All living things [common people] are the owners and heritors of karma and came out of karma.”[8] The karma includes not only individual karma but also the common karma that should be performed jointly by groups. Karma is not passive or defined fates. Karma is a principle to control variations of beings following causality and time to occur righteously. If good karmas are accumulated according to the will of the entity, evil karmas will become extinct. Even if I extinguished all of my evil karmas, if I do not perform good deeds to extinguish the evil karmas of the group to which I belong, I cannot get out of the bridle of evil karmas. On the contrary, if group members perform practices to increase good karmas together, the common evil karmas will disappear and good things will happen in the group.

  If you think that you are in deep causal relations with others, lives in surroundings, and even nature and realize that the principle of karma is acting on the causal relations, you will see that not conducting collective evil karmas is taking the middle way between self-benefit(自利) and others-benefit(利他) and living your life with the wisdom of contentment with less or little gain. Having many things is making so many karmas. The less you have, the less you make karma. If you share things with others, neurotransmitter will be secreted in your brain to compensate your thinking that you acted free and for abundance so that you will reach a pleased and peaceful state of mind.

  As such, Buddhism combines common karma and the middle way to deconstruct the myth of growth and present slow and leisurely life with the wisdom of contentment with less or little gain.

  1. States vs. Buddhist theory of justice

  In fact, the strongest obstacle that blocks sustainable development through force and the compulsion of laws is states. Furthermore, after the beginning of neo-liberalistic capitalist systems, the cartels of states-capitals have been solidified further and civil societies, which are forces to check the cartels, have been weakened or incapacitated to the extent that politics and policies only for the cartels are implemented. If states refuse 17 measurable SDGs, the SDGs will remain only as the UN’s declaration.

  Buddha insisted equality among the four castes and recognized poverty as a drive that leads to other evil actions. Buddha said, “The common people commit thefts due to poverty.”[9] He also said, “If there are lonely persons and old man in the country, save them by giving goods to them and if poor people come to ask something, please do not refuse.”[10] Evil deeds such as thefts and murder are committed not because the criminals are evil but they are poor. Furthermore, poverty is not a problem of individuals but results from structural factors of society and common karmas. Even if there are gaps among individuals according to their karma, filling the gaps with mutual aid conforms to the doctrine of Buddhism. When seen from the viewpoint of Buddhism, “As can be seen from the case of baru-meal with four pieces of traditional wooden bowl where a certain gifts of alms is shared, the practice of mutual aid is discipline per se rather than a measure of discipline.”[11]

  When Buddhist doctrine is projected on modern society, it can be seen that Buddhism conforms to ecological welfare states. Of course, since Buddhist view of state has a limitation in that it was set to fit ancient times, it should be combined with modern view and context of state or political science. Although there may be differences according to cultural areas, condition, and situation, now, all states should be changed into righteous and peaceful ecological welfare states.

  “The State should purse higher quality of life rather than quantitative development, people’s happiness index rather than GDP, cooperation and coexistence rather than competition and development. States should be managed focusing on how diverse lives are living in the rivers and forests in this land rather than trade volumes, on how many of people passing through streets smile rather than GDP, on how fairly wealth is distributed to poor people rather than increasing national wealth, on how much happily labores work as self-realization rather than increasing corporate profits, on how much inferior persons show off their hidden ability rather than cultivating excellent talented persons, and on how much cheerfully everybody gather to play in the yard rather than making a bet and competing. And those who hope these dreams should participate in the discussion, the polish decision, and rally. Energy systems and industrial systems should be innovated so that they can harmonize with all lives and nature. Nuclear power plants should be closed and energy systems should be changed to be centered on renewable energy. Rather than bread and happiness only for me, bread and happiness for all should be pursued. Almost all means of production should be nationalized and medical service, housing, and education should be provided free of charge step by step. To this end, a tax revolution should be carried out.”[12]

  1. Capitalist system vs. Buddha-in-eye community

  Since the capitalist system relies on expansive reproduction as its movement principle, it cannot survive without development and growth. In this system, capitals can be maintained only by securing profits by exploiting surplus value and converting the profits into capitals to accumulate it. In this system, the state where everybody worships a fetish and plunders others’ things to satisfy her/his desire becomes a natural routine unless the acts violate the law.

  On the contrary, Buddhism is anti-capitalistic because it pursues non-possession, encourages sharing, requests to eliminate greed, and pursues altruistic life.[13] However, there are limitations in criticizing the capitalist system. The fallacies of hasty generalization are made when applying ancient society to modern society and many errors and leaps are made when the logic of community of the Buddhist community is expanded to states or social systems. Considering the foregoing, this authors combined Buddhism, Marxism, and the Dure community tradition of Korea to make a countermeasure named ‘Buddha-in-eye community.’[14]

  “Buddha-in-eye communities are constructed with units of villages, villages are operated with residents’ autonomous governance systems in which every village resident participates with the same power, and renewable energy is used to fit the conditions of each region to maintain the village as an ecological community in which quite some energy is self-produced. Individuals also become Buddha-in-eye subjects. Introspecting the fact that the subjects in modern times caused violence and massacre of others because they excluded others to reinforce identity, Buddha-in-eye subjects pursue the coexistence of differences. Buddha-in-eye subjects put together, passive freedom(freedom from chain and oppression), active freedom(freedom to self-realization), and altruistic freedom(freedom for others). Passive freedom refers to getting out of all chains, repressions, and greed to enjoy the pleasure of life as the body and mind like as a living thing without any external obstacle or constraint while implementing the purpose and existing as a human. Active freedom refers to overcoming all obstacles and alienation while properly recognizing, judging, and interpreting the world in front of the subject to reconstruct the world according to his will and purpose while realizing true self or being reborn. This stage is the state of sense of joy reached after changing the world through labor and practice or accomplishing self-completion through discipline. Altruistic freedom refers to realizing that the individuals are closely related with others in social relations and making others freer by empathizing with others’ suffering and banding together with others thereby making oneself freer.

  Those that put these three types of freedom together are Buddha-in-eye subjects. Buddha-in-eye subjects are alliances of free individuals that produce and distribute jointly and exchange necessary things in reciprocally repaying manners. Individuals’ freedom and happiness become conditions for others’ freedom and happiness and individuals’ rights and dignity are acknowledged and act equally while implementing the justice of reciprocality and equality. Buddha-in-eye subjects should carry out the education toward empathy with others’ sufferings and cooperation with others, and establish socioeconomic systems for mutual reconciliation and communication that put competition and coexistence together, and use village money. In this community, administration and legislation are implemented through agreement in the commission for self-governing, and restorative justice is realized.”[15]

  1. Conclusion

  Now, we have no more room. If we do not shift the paradigm, and do not break up the capitalist system or do not change the states into ‘a righteous and peaceful ecological welfare states’, and do not promote sustainable development, and do not take part in this movement, we may live in dystopia in the 22nd century.

  We all have the Buddha nature. However, due to wrong politics, systems, culture, and education, rather than revealing the Buddha nature to each other, we have only encouraged demonism. If corruption is not a problem of individuals but a problem of the structure that makes them corrupt, the structure should be changed into a structure of peace and coexistence.

  If a person try to become a Buddha first rather than blaming the world, people surrounding him will reveal the Buddha nature in them one by one. No matter whether conservative or progressive, and buddhist or christian, we all want to be free and happy. Now, we should stop the zero-sum game to plunder others’ freedom and happiness to achieve our freedom and happiness. Our freedom is completed only when others are free and we become truly free when others are happy.

  “The spot at which we are sick is the center of our body, not the brain, heart, or navel. Even when we slightly cut our finger, the neurotransmitter, nutrition, white blood cells, and macrophages are concentrated on the spot to heal the finger and make our body healthy. As such, refugees, starving children, old man, women, and nonstandard workers are at the center of the earth. Empathizing with their sufferings and banding together with them first is a way to save us and the earth.

  A Korean broadcasting company conducted an experiment. When one or two persons were standing at the center of a main street in Seoul to look up the sky, nobody paid attention to it. However, when three persons were doing so, so many people gathered and looked up the sky to the extent that the traffic was paralyzed soon. Although we are too wimpishly governed by situations and submit to authority, if only three of us band together, we can take small but large steps to change situations. We say that there is no god when injustice, irrationality, and evil power win. However, Buddha or Jesus is present where people empathize with the sufferings of the weak and band together with the weak.”[16]

[1] Beopin, “The life thoughts and life ethics of Buddhism”, Woljeongsa-temple Workshop 2014

: The Buddhist value of life on the Biological Diversity, 2014, p.9.

[2] 『The Brahamajala Sutra (梵網經)』, 「盧舍那佛說菩薩心地戒品第十」(『大正藏』24, p.1006b): “一切地水是我先身 一切火風是我本體 故常行放生業 生生受生常住之法 教人放生”

[3] Wonhyo, Keumgang-sammae-gyung-ron(The Commentaries on the Diamond Samadhi Sutra), p.625.

[4] Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene(New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), p.253.

[5] Peter Singer, The Expanding Circle: Ethics, Evolution, and Progress, Sung Han Kim (tr.)(Seoul: Yeonamseoga, 2014), pp. 22-49.

[6] Do-Heum Lee, Hwajaeng Buddhism and Marxism: A Convergent Dialogue on the Crises of Mankind (Seoul: Jaeum-gwa-moeum, 2015), p.613.

[7] Jean-Christophe Vié, Crig Hilton-Taylor, Simon N. Stusart (eds.), Wildlife in a Changing World, an analysis of the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(Gland, Switzerland: The International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2008), p.16.

[8] Majihima-Nykaya(中部), Vol.3 ed. Robert Chaimers, PTS, p. 203. Jung-pyo Lee, “The Buddhist Life View,” p.242 recit.

[9] Diga-nikaya, The Institute of Buddhism and Society, The Buddhist View and Ethical Criterion, recit.

[10] Diga-nikaya, Kyung-jun Park, The Buddhist Philosophy on Socio-economy(Seoul: Dongguk University Press, 2010), p.137.

[11] Hye-Suk Lee, Report on the Retirement Welfare of Monks in Korean Jogye-order.

[12] Do-heum Lee, ibid., pp.775-777.

[13] So, Basic income is another alternative.

[14] Looking straight into the eyes of a counterpart, we will find our image reflected in others eyes, which we Koreans named “눈부처(Nun-bucheo, Buddha-in-eye) because the shape is resembles a Buddha hidden behind ourselves. As soon as we look at Buddha-in-eye, there is no difference between ourselves and others. Buddha-in-eye subjectively makes it possible for both of self and other to coexist. The Buddha-in-eye forms a subject in association with infinite relationship with others.

[15] Do-heum Lee, ibid., p.774.

[16] Do-heum Lee, ibid., pp.181-185.