Buddhism and Nature

When speaking about a monk who had chosen to practice in the forest, Buddha said:

And when he lives in a remote abode his mind is not distracted by unsuitable visible objects, and so on.  He is free from anxiety; he abandons attachments to life; he enjoys the taste of the bliss of seclusion  . . .

Buddhists, like Jews and Christians, find spirituality in nature. But there are three major differences between Judeo-Christians and Buddhists when it comes to environmentalism.

In Buddhism, Nature Is Not Sacred

Jews and Christians believe that God created Earth and creation/nature is a sacred place. But to Buddhists, nature is not sacred. It is just a conditioned world prior to extreme human distortion. In other words, the deep reality of nature is not separate from our fully enlightened nature. When we are enlightened, we have a clear view of the reality of nature.

In Buddhism, Humans Don’t Have a Special Role in Nature

In the Old Testament, God gives humans “dominion” over nature. Jews and Christians believe that it is their sacred duty to rule over nature, tend it, and keep it. But to Buddhists, there is no separation between humans and other sentient beings.  Humans are not intrinsically superior. Instead, all sentient beings are interconnected and interdependent on each other.

In Buddhism, Respecting Nature Brings Enlightenment

Jews and Christians respect nature because they view it as sacred. But Buddhists respect nature to achieve enlightenment.

After his enlightenment, Buddha had the clarity to identify four real truths to life. The first truth is that life always incorporates suffering. While suffering can come from the loss of a loved one, or hunger, or sickness, it can also come from a general dissatisfied feeling, anger, jealousy, and anxiety. The second truth is that suffering generally comes from desire and ignorance. A desire for money leads to greed, anxiety, and jealousy of people who have designer clothes and faster cars. The third truth is that through wisdom and detachment from desire, our suffering will end. And the fourth truth is that through a practice of the Buddhist path, wisdom and detachment from desire are achievable.

There is an element of environmentalism in these four noble truths. Overconsumption, materialism, and laziness cause suffering because they are tied to desires and ignorances. This is not just suffering of the spirit, but also of the planet. Detachment from materialism and education on more sustainable ways of living leads to a more enlightened life and a healthier planet.

Indeed, the Buddhist path encourages “right action”, which tells us to take an ethical approach to life and consider the past, present, and future generations. We shouldn’t take what we do not need. We shouldn’t harm nature.

Peace Is Found in Nature

Although there are differences between Judeo-Christian and Buddhist views on nature, all three religions acknowledge that peace may be found in nature. According to Buddha, it is easier for humans to attain detachment from desire in nature. Nature grounds and soothes our spirits. The wilderness is viewed as a peaceful place.

There is a connection between the spirit and our natural world.  Because of this, no matter what your religion, nature should always be protected.

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .
  • scottcooney

    This is great. I’d always wondered about Buddhism’s views on nature and the environment. I think EdenKeeper needs a sidebar menu with great posts like this that are the foundation of keeping eden!