East West Wisdoms

Interweaving Spirituality and Therapeutic Healing

East West Wisdoms

Frightening fires promote focus on global warming alarms

Posted on Sunday, September 15th, 2019 at 10:10 am

The September early spring fierce fires in Australia prompt us to think more deeply about what we can do to mitigate global warming. Prompted by several big fires only a few kilometres away from my home on the usually moist, green Sunshine Coast of Queensland, I am moved to share this Lions Roar post offering a Buddhist view on how to respond to global warming.

As Tynette Deveaux, editor of Buddhadharma writes:

It seems we’re at a crossroads with climate change. The choice before us is either to lean in to the reality of it and take meaningful action or to ignore what we are seeing and feeling around us and go about our lives as though we weren’t hastening our own end. This crossroads isn’t exactly new; after all, we’ve known about global warming for decades. But ever since the IPCC report came out last October stating we need to get things under control by 2030 if we are to have any hope of averting an irreversible climate catastrophe, the world has been placed on notice.

In his address to the United Nations, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi explains that the Buddha’s diagnosis of climate change would rest with the human heart, and more specifically with the roots of craving and ignorance. He reminds us of the parable of the burning house in the Lotus Sutra, in which the children continue to play with their toys while flames surround them. Today, he points out, we are those foolish children going about our everyday lives while our one and only home — the Earth — literally burns.

Whether it’s the raging fires in the Amazon or the devastating hurricanes and floods that are obliterating entire communities, more and more we are forced to confront the high stakes of climate destabilization. We are also forced to examine our reactions and actions (or inaction) in the face of it all. For those of us who embrace the Buddhist teachings, it’s an interesting test of sorts.

Ahimsa, or non-harming, is a fundamental tenet of Buddhist ethics. It seems straightforward enough on paper, but what does it actually mean to live by this principle when we are witnessing entire species becoming extinct and people dying from heat waves, droughts, and storms brought on by global warming? Who are we harming with our lifestyle choices or with our silence on climate justice? Are we brave enough to ask and see?

What about interdependence, another cornerstone of Buddhism? Do we truly understand how we are interconnected with all other people, birds and animals, the water, air, and land — and appreciate the responsibility that comes with this?

And as we experience the fear and panic that climate crisis brings, are we stepping forth as bodhisattvas to help or are we looking out for number one and shoring up our mental defenses to try to insulate ourselves from others’ pain?

There will be many tests to come, and many opportunities to put the Buddhist teachings to work. If we believe in the Buddha’s awakening and our ability to do the same, we must awaken to the climate crisis as well. And we must act, quickly.


....And as Environmentalist Stephanie Kaza (Lion's Roar Sept 13, 2019) suggests, we can draw on Buddhist principles promoting peace and compassion and be a bridge builder, mediating to reduce conflict between opposing sides.

"The bridge-builder works to prevent conflict by strengthening weak relationships in the human and ecological web. Very often environmental problems arise from user conflicts over a resource or a particular area. Round-table discussions that bring all the parties together can help coordinate and regulate user activities.

Where conflicts have escalated and relations are damaged, a Buddhist practitioner might be drawn to the role of healer. A third-side party with a commitment to compassionate action can be a valuable asset in moving a situation forward to resolution. The Buddhist practitioner skilled in relational thinking can analyze the causes and conditions of the conflict and work to heal brokenness and damage. This may take diplomacy, courage, and patience, depending on the degree of the injury. I can imagine bringing this healer role to your own neighborhood if people are angry over bird-hunting cats or chemical spraying. The healer helps conflicting parties understand each others’ positions and find a better solution to the problems at hand" (Kaza, Lion's Roar Sept 13, 2019).

So I guess a core message I get from these two excerpts from Lion's Roar, is that however frightened or distressed we get from news of the latest fire, flood, drought, storm, destruction or apparently wonton act of harmful development, we must keep our hearts open as we consider any possible action we could take to mitigate the suffering and damage we perceive. We must act to promote cooperation, rather than division and hostility. If we decide to join public demonstrations, we must remain mindful of the interdependence of all forms of life; all perspectives and all aspects of the environment. Fear promotes ill will but love and compassion soothe that fear and helps clear the mind so we can see a fruitful way forward. What do you think?

With warm wishes,


4 responses to “Frightening fires promote focus on global warming alarms”

  1. Jonathan says:

    Thanks again Jacqui - a timely reminder of an alternative response that seems to be missing in current public discourse in Australia.
    I was particularly reminded of the need to notice and reflect on my own responses to inaction, denials, failure of leadership and obfuscation (despite the evidence burning in their faces) I noticed that I my anger rising and became aware that blaming although in some ways cathartic was likely to be unhelpful.
    Noticing and calming and choosing a response based on love care and compassion for others is vital. It is so much the opposite of ignoring the issue. It also helps us better see our own motivation in actions and protest.
    Your article reminded me today that all are suffering in this and that those who have denied (or perhaps have been deluded) will need care and compassionate responses to come on-side without further suffering.

  2. William McILwain says:

    The Buddhist teaching of 'do no harm' is as much for future generations as much as the present one. Native Americans had a process where they looked 7 generations ahead for any repocussions before they made major changes to their lifestyles. We dont even pay current generations that same courtesy before destroying the environment.
    It is palnfully obvious greed is the motivating factor when people cast their votes and wiley politicians play to that greed. There is no political will to make the changes the earth needs when there is no pollitical reward for doing so. What it will take is a real leader to show the way, but alas i fear there are non that i can see in the present political arena.

  3. Richard says:

    The most important thing is that we act. The timelines demand that if we are to avert a catastrophe, we need to urgently reduce our emissions.
    There is a tradition of non-engagement in Buddhism. There is a fear that in acting we do so out of fear or hatred. But to not act allows profound harm to continue. I would err in acting and engagement and challenge ourselves to maintain compassion acknowledging that we might fail in this ideal but to continue and learn in the process.

  4. Kathy Shiels says:

    Thanks so much Jacqui! it's such important reading and I'm inspired and heartened by your reminder of the cooling place of love and compassion in the midst of the devastating fires.

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