Tibetan Buddhism Leader Promotes Environmental Activism At Yale

17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje
17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje


Though I’ve written about Buddhist environmental activism, I’ve generally found the concept a bit confusing. Don’t Buddhists see the physical world as an illusion that draws us away from “the path?” Not exactly – as Robyn noted in an overview of the faith’s relationship to the natural world, Nature allows a believer to detach themselves from the desire that’s so damaging to one’s spiritual life. Rather than distract us away from our connection to something bigger, Nature highlights this connection.

That last point seemed to serve as the foundation of a talk by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje at Yale University this week. The leader of the oldest sect of Tibetan Buddhism, the Karmapa told his audience at the school’s Woolsey Hall that “In order to understand the necessity of environmental protection, we need to understand how connected we are to one another and to our environment… If you look at the situation, there is absolutely no reason not to support environmental activism.”

Addressing his own lifestyle choices, the Karmapa took note of his own choice to become vegetarian as a means of doing his small part to address climate change. He also spoke to his concerns about “the intrusion of non-biodegradable and artificial substances into nature.” Environmental challenges, regardless of their scale, though, spring from an “artificial boundary” between humans and the environment.

We don’t just depend on the natural world for resources to sustain life; rather, it’s a part of the larger unity of spirit to which we all belong. I don’t know that I agree with one comment that Buddhism is “especially environmentalist,” but I do think that those of us from other faith traditions (or none) could give the Karmapa’s claims some thought in our day-to-day interactions with the natural world and the resources it provides.

Have your heard the Karmapa speak on Buddhism and environmentalism? If so, what did you think? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Photo credit: Prince Roy at flickr cc

About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at