Eco Buddhism: Mindfulness and Environmental Justice

Environmental philosophies are capable of generating major shifts in the relationship we have with the environment (De Silva, 1998). Philosophies are very much part of the interdependent matrix of nature, society and humanity and are vital to our understandings of environmental justice.  Too often we rely on science, technology and the economy to gain an insight while overlooking philosophy. As De Silva (1998) notes, constantly seeing the environment how an economist or scientist does means we’re using a ‘lopsided framework to understand the world’.

Writing for the Guardian Professional Network this week, Jo Confino highlighted Buddhism’s role in environmental justice. Confino (2012) explored the work of Thich Nhat Hanh (known as Thay), a Zen master who has been practicing meditation and mindfulness for 70 years. Thay believes that spirituality can heighten environmental justice and a spiritual revolution is required to confront challenges we face.

Monk on a mission: Thich Nhat Hanh

We need to move beyond constantly talking about ‘the environment’ as it results in people seeing themselves and Earth as separate entities (Confino, 2012). Most of us are guilty of viewing Earth in terms of what it provides us, which doesn’t facilitate change. The catalyst for a new environmental direction is an ‘insight of inter-being… having a real communication with the Earth’ (Thay, 2008). This non-dualistic approach allows us to view our consciousness as also the consciousness of the planet (Confino, 2012). The current ‘vogue in economics’ to protect our planet by putting a price on it is covering the problem, not resolving it (Confino, 2012). Thay argues that we don’t need economic valuations, we need enlightenment.

A fundamental spiritual belief is that change will only occur by falling back in love with the planet, because if we do ‘anything for the benefit of the earth; the earth will do anything for our well being’ (Thay, 2008). We need a collective awakening to the fact that the earth and living species are in danger and with this awakening comes collective action and responsibility.

“Sometimes something wrong is going on in the world and we think it is the other people who are doing it and we are not doing it. But you are part of the wrongdoing by the way you live your life” – Thay, 2008

We all take sides in environmental conflicts, appointing victims and their oppressors, we remove ourselves from situations but essentially our demand is the cause of that conflict.

“When the need to survive is replaced with greed and pride, there is violence, which always brings out unnecessary devastation. When we perpetrate violence towards our own and other species, we are violent towards ourselves” – Thay, 2008

Core Zen beliefs

By protecting each other and all species, we are protecting ourselves. Selfishness has no place in an environmentally just future. As Confino (2012) notes, we are living under a system which we constructed, but no longer control, whereby we are so focused on our immediate problems we lose sight of everyone and everything else we share this planet with. We shouldn’t tackle this system which facilitates injustice with anger or frustration, instead we should adopt mindfulness.

One could argue that Buddhism is naïve but will anything on Earth change  if we don’t transform ourselves from within? Is human consciousness our only hope at increasing justice? Environmental justice is the product of compassion and understanding which is currently bypassed due to our self-centredness. Before action, we need understanding. Spirituality, philosophy and ethics are by no means the sole solution but through education they can be incorporated into a holistic approach.

“In my mind I see a group of chickens in a cage disputing over a few seeds of grain, unaware that in a few hours they will all be killed” – Thay, 2008

This implies that people are arguing over resources- what we can gain from Earth- unaware that this approach results in environmental destruction and eventually the end of civilisation. In becoming a collective we will have environmental justice but are we willing to unite?


Confino, J. (2012). Beyond environment: falling back in love with Mother Earth. Available: Last accessed 26th Feb 2012. (Note: all quotes by Thay sourced from this article)

De Silva, P . (1998). Environmental Philosophy of Buddhism. In:Environmental Philosophy and Ethics in Buddhism. London: Macmillan Press. 29-35.

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