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His Holiness the Dalai Lama

The Sheltering Tree of Interdependence
A Buddhist Monk's Reflections on Ecological Responsibility

The XIVth Dalai Lama

1.O Lord Tathagata
born of the Iksvakus
Peerless One
Who, seeing the all-pervasive nature
Of interdependence
Between the environment and sentient beings
Samsara and Nirvana
Moving and unmoving
Teaches the world out of compassion

2. O the Savior
The One called Avalokitesvara
Personifying the body of compassion
Of all Buddhas
We beseech thee to make our spirits ripen
And fructify to observe reality
Bereft of illusion

3. Our obdurate egocentricity
Ingrained in our minds
Since beginningless time
Contaminates, defiles, and pollutes
The environment
Created by the common karma
Of all sentient beings

4. Lakes and ponds have lost
Their clarity, their coolness
The atmosphere is poisoned
Nature's celestial canopy in the fiery firmament
Has burst asunder
And sentient beings suffer diseases
Unknown before

5. Perennial-snow mountains, resplendent in their glory
Bow down and melt into water
The majestic oceans lose their ageless equilibrium
And inundate islands

6. The dangers of fire, water, and wind are limitless
Sweltering heat dries up our lush forests
Lashing our world with unprecedented storms
And the oceans surrender their salt to the elements

7. Though people lack not wealth
They cannot afford to breathe clean air
Rain and streams cleanse not
But remain inert and powerless liquids

8. Human beings
And countless beings
That inhabit water and land
Reel under the yoke of physical pain
Caused by malevolent diseases
Their minds are dulled
With sloth, stupor, and ignorance
The joys of the body and spirit
Are far, far away

9. We needl essly pollute
The fair bosom of our mother earth
Rip out her trees to feed our short-sighted greed
Turning our fertile earth into sterile desert

10. The interdependent nature
Of the external environment
And people's inward nature
Described in the Tantras
Works on Medicine, and astronomy
Has verily been vindicated
By our present experience

11. The earth is home to living beings;
Equal and impartial to the moving and unmoving
Thus spoke the Buddha in truthful voice
With the great earth for witness

12. As a noble being recognizes the kindness
Of a sentient mother
And makes recompense for it
So the earth, the universal mother
Which nurtures all equally
Should be regarded with affection and care

13. Forsake wastage
Pollute not the clean, clear nature
Of the four elements
And destroy the well being of people
But absorb yourself in actions
That are beneficial to all

14. Under a tree was the great Sage Buddha born
Under a tree he overcame passion
And obtained enlightenment
Under two trees did he pass in Nirvana
Verily, the Buddha held the tree in great esteem

15. Here, where Manjusri's emanation
Lama Tson Khapa's body bloomed forth
Is marked by a sandalwood tree
Bearing a hundred thousand images of the Buddha

16. Is it not well known
That some transcendental deities
Eminent local deities and spirits
Make their abode in trees?

17. Flourishing trees clean the wind
Help us breathe the sustaining air of life
They please the eye and soothe the mind
Their shade makes a welcome resting place

18. In Vinaya, the Buddha taught monks
To care for tender trees
From this, we learn the virtue
Of planting, of nurturing trees

19. The Buddha forbade monks to cut
Cause others to cut living plants
Destroy seeds or defile the fresh green grass
Should not this inspire us
To love and protect our environment?

20. They say, in the celestial realms
The trees emanate
The Buddha's blessings
And echo the sound
Of basic Buddhist doctrines
Like impermanence

21. It is trees that bring rain
Trees that hold the essence of the soil
Kalpa-Taru, the tree of wish fulfillment
Virtually resides on earth
To serve all purposes

22. In times of yore
Our forbears ate the fruits of the trees
Wore their leaves
Discovered fire by attrition of wood
Took refuge amidst the foliage of trees
When they encountered danger

23. Even in this age of science
Of technology
Trees provide us shelter
The chairs we sit in
The beds we lie on
When the heart is ablaze
With the fire of anger
Fueled by wrangling
Trees bring refreshing, welcome coolness

24. In the tree lie the roots
Of all life on earth
When it vanishes
The land exemplified by the name
Of the Jambu tree
Will remain no more
Than a dreary, desolate desert

25. Nothing is dearer to the living than life
Recognising this, in Vinaya rules
The Buddha lays down prohibitions
Like the use of water with living creatures

26. In the remoteness of the Himalayas
In the days of yore, the land of Tibet
Observed a ban on hunting, on fishing
And, during designated periods, even construction
These traditions are noble
For they preserve and cherish
The lives of humble, helpless, defenseless creatures

27. Playing with the lives of beings
without sensitivity or hesitation
As the act of hunting or fishing for sport
Is an act of heedless, needless violence
A violation of the solemn rights
Of all living beings

28. Being attentive to the nature
Of interdependence of all creatures
Both animate and inanimate
One should never slacken in one's efforts
To persevere and conserve nature's energy

29. On a certain day, month, and year
One should observe the ceremony
Of tree planting
Thus, one fulfills one's responsibilities
Serves one's fellow beings
Which not only brings one happiness
But benefits all

30. May the force of observing that which is right
And abstinence from wrong practices and evil deeds
Nourish and augment the prosperity of the world
May it invigorate living beings and help them blossom
May sylvan joy and pristine happiness
Ever increase, ever spread and encompass all that is

During the course of my extensive traveling to countries across the world, rich and poor, east and west, I have seen people reveling in pleasure, and people suffering. The advancement of science and technology seems to have achieved little more than linear, numerical improvement; development often means little more than more mansions in more cities. As a result, the ecological balance÷the very basis of our life on earth÷has been greatly affected.

On the other hand, in days gone by, the people of Tibet lived a happy life, untroubled by pollution, in natural conditions. Today, all over the world, including Tibet, ecological degradation is fast overtaking us. I am wholly convinced that, if all of us do not make a concerted effort, with a sense of universal responsibility, we will see the gradual breakdown of the fragile ecosystems that support us, resulting in an irreversible and irrevocable degradation of our planet, Earth.

These stanzas have been composed to underline my deep concern, and to call upon all concerned people to make continued efforts to reverse and remedy the degradation of our environment. The poem is being released on the occasion of the presentation of a statue of Buddha to the people of India; and to mark the opening of the International Conference on Ecological Responsibility: A Dialogue with Buddhism.

Bhikshu Tenzin Gyatso
The XIVth Dalai Lama

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