The Precepts and the Environment

by John Daido Loori Roshi

Featured in Mountain Record 30.1, Summer 2011


Editor's Note: Although Daido Roshi's version of the precepts as they apply to the care of the Earth has appeared in the Mountain Record before, it felt important to include it in this issue to provide a moral and ethical perspective on how to deal with the environmental problems that we face today.

Imagine you will, a universe in which all things have a mutual identity. They all have a codependent origination: when one thing arises, all things arise simultaneously. And everything has a mutual causality: what happens to one thing happens to the entire universe. Imagine a universe that is a self-creating, self-maintaining and selfdefining organism—a universe in which all the parts and the totality are a single entity, all of the pieces and the whole thing are, at once, one thing.

This description of reality is not a holistic hypothesis or an all-encompassing idealistic dream. It is your life and my life. The life of the mountain and the life of the river. The life of a blade of grass, a spiderweb, the Brooklyn Bridge. These things are not related to one another. They're not part of the same thing. They're not similar. Rather, they are identical to one another in every respect.

But the way we live our lives is as if that were not so. We live our lives in a way that separates the pieces, alienates and hurts. The Buddhist precepts are a teaching on how to live our lives in harmony with the facts described above. When we look at the precepts, we normally think of them in terms of people. Indeed, most of the moral and ethical teachings of the great religions address relationships among people. But these precepts do not exclusively pertain to the human realm. They are talking about the whole universe, and we need to see them from that perspective if we are to benefit from what they have to offer and begin healing the rift between ourselves and the universe.

The Three Pure Precepts, Not creating evil, Practicing good and Actualizing good for others, are a definition of harmony in an inherently perfect universe, a universe that is totally interpenetrated, codependent and mutually arising. But the question is, how do we accomplish that perfection? The Ten Grave Precepts point that out. Looking at the Ten Grave Precepts in terms of how we relate to our environment is a step in the direction of appreciating the continuous, subtle and vital role we play in the wellbeing of this planet—a beginning of taking responsibility for the whole catastrophe.