Teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh on the Environment

Photo by d nelson https://www.flickr.com/photos/rezdog/From the Pope to the Dalai Lama, there are many faith leaders around the world that spread hope, offer wisdom, and are a source of inspiration.

One of them is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, poet, and prominent peace activist. Residing in Plum Village in the South of France, he is a prolific author, having published over 100 books. Nhat Hanh also coined the term Engaged Buddhism, which is about applying the dharma teachings to real-life situations, especially promoting non-violence. He first came to prominence opposing the Vietnam War, and in 1967, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At age 87, he continues to inspire people from all walks of life, from Facebook followers to Oprah.

A Call to Connect to Mother Earth

Nhat Hanh touches upon many issues, including environmental ones. When asked about climate change and what people can do to help the earth, the monk said the solutions go beyond economics. All too often, we see ourselves as separate from the environment, rather than a part of it.

There needs to be a spiritual revolution where people mindfully reconnect with nature and that change can happen when we see ourselves as one with the planet according to Nhat Hanh. “You carry Mother Earth within you,” he said. “She is not just outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment.”

Connecting Through Consumption

A part of reconnecting comes from reevaluating our lives and cutting down on consumption. This is a core theme in Buddhism — embracing a simpler life, not getting attached to material goods. One of Nhat Hanh’s books, Love Letter to the Earth, illustrates how being mindful in our actions will benefit humans and the earth. It goes from the microscopic cells in our bodies to the vast oceans and mountains. We need to have gratitude and appreciation for our surroundings.

“The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and anxieties. Tranquilizing ourselves with over-consumption is not the way.” Working towards a more compassionate mindset and diminishing the ego can help the planet.

The teachings of Buddhism illustrate how recognizing interconnections can lead to positive changes with the environment. Nhat Hanh wrote about this in another book, The World We Have. He calls for a collective awakening, one in which we reduce material consumption and embrace each other with love and compassion. He invokes the Five Mindfulness Trainings to guide us on solutions for a better planet. By changing our way of life, and coming together as a global family, we can work toward healing the Earth.

Photo by Geoff Livingston https://www.flickr.com/photos/geoliv/

Connecting Through Our Food

Another way of connecting and cutting down on unnecessary consumption comes from being more mindful of what we eat. Nhat Hanh is a vegetarian and encourages others to give up meat. He calls for humans to treat animals and their habitats with kindness and dignity.

On his website, he offers us to consider these New Contemplations before eating:

This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard and loving work.
May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food.
May we recognize and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed and learn to eat with moderation.
May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change, and heals and preserves our precious planet.
We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our Sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.

Be Mindful of Our World

The challenges facing the environment are big, but we can work through them. Using the lessons from this Zen master, people can come together to reconnect with nature and deal with the issues of climate change, pollution, and deterioration of ecosystems. Practicing mindfulness in our daily lives can benefit all of us and our surroundings. Nhat Hanh has plenty of books if you want to read more about his beliefs.

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About the Author

Gina Merlino is a freelance writer who cares about environmental issues. She has a Bachelor’s in Philosophy, a Master’s in Engaged Humanities, and is an avid reader of the news. You can find me on Twitter.

  • Randi Purchia

    Thank you for writing this piece on Thich Nhat Hanh. The idea that we carry Mother Earth within us is such a powerful one. We are fortunate that his wisdom is available to all of us.