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Northern Buddhists agree 12 major environmental initiatives

July 2 2005:

Mongolian Buddhist ceremony in the rain, on the sacred mountain of Bogd Khan

With twelve important proposals ranging from planting a tree for every "momentous" occasion of life, through to offers to fund Chairs of Buddhist Ecology in every Asian Buddhist University, the Northern Buddhist Conference on Ecology and Development came to a dramatic end on Thursday.

The Conference was attended by nearly three hundred monks and lay Buddhists from Mongolia, Russia, Japan, Cambodia and elsewhere and it was hailed by Mongolia’s recently inaugurated President Enkhbayar as the ‘largest meeting of Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia’s modern history.’

It was also one of the most productive meetings, leading not only to the acceptance of twelve landmark recommendations but also to offers of practical help - made by governments, temples and NGOs.

Northern Buddhist Association for Ecology and Development

If someone you know dies, why don't you plant a tree in their honour? Or plant two trees: one in your home country, and one in a desert like the Gobi of Mongolia
A new body, provisionally titled the Northern Buddhist Association for Ecology and Development, is to be created. The Dutch government, in association with ARC and the World Bank, has agreed to fund the development costs of the body, including legal fees, a website, a workshop on Buddhist buildings and sacred landscapes, a religious calendar of environmental teachings and a handbook.

New Chairs in Buddhist Ecology

The representative from UNESCO also offered to fund Chairs in Buddhist ecology at Buddhist Universities throughout Asia. “This tremendous proposal will allow the emerging Asian Buddhist Network to have an intellectual, spiritual and training dimension to its ecological work which would not otherwise be possible,” said Joanne Robinson, ARC’s coordinator for the Asian Buddhist Network. “It will also mean that hundreds of students will learn the importance of ecology to the Buddhist understanding of the world.”

Among the three—human beings, society, and Nature—it is us who begin to effect change. But in order to effect change we must recover ourselves, one must be whole. Since this requires the kind of environment favorable to one’s healing, one must seek the kind of lifestyle that is free from the destruction of one’s humanness. Efforts to change the environment and to change oneself are both necessary. But we know how difficult it is to change the environment if individuals themselves are not in a state of equilibrium." Thich Nhat Hanh. Buddhist statement on ecology

Adding Buddhist Ecology to the school curriculum

Many contentious issues were raised during the four day event. Many monks were worried about the lack of Buddhist ecological teaching in the schools’ curriculum. The Mongolian Minister of Education responded to these concerns by agreeing to plan for the incorporation of such teaching into every secondary school in the country.

Land Issues

Land issues were also raised – including specific concerns about land laws and their impact on monasteries and monastic land. Mrs Oyundar from the Ministry of Nature and Environment commented that traditional attitudes and reverence for sacred mountains and rivers sacred mountains and rivers was often more important than state laws in protecting nature. “Many people believe in the religious taboos, restrictions, and outlook,” she said “This was why the new Association will be so powerful.”

President Enkhbayar promised to try and repeal an old Communist law which heavily taxes religious organisations, as long as the money saved if used to help ecology and development.

Chinese offer Pan-Asian meeting

In a surprise move the Tubadan Rinpoche, who is Vice President of the Buddhist Association of China, announced that, inspired by what his delegation had seen and heard, China would plan a Pan-Asian meeting on Buddhist Ecology and Development next year, and he extended an invitation to all present to attend.

With organisations such as WWF, UNESCO, the Dutch Government and the World Bank lining up to offer support and assistance and with ARC agreeing to help create the new organisation, President Enkhbayar declared the conference a ‘wonderful success’ and closed what he described as the most significant meeting of Buddhists ever to take place in Mongolia.

The Twelve Recommendations:

1. Establish an association to link the activities of temples and monasteries, governmental and non-governmental organization, and donors.

2. Produce a series of programs and articles concerning traditional conservation, and present these to the public through the press and broadcast media.

3. Prepare books and manuals on traditional conservation that are suitable for the public school curriculum.

4. Train specialists in ecology and traditional conservation at the Buddhist University.

5. Work towards establishing a suitable legal arrangement for Buddhist monasteries.

6. Establish official ecological conservation days for the Buddhist community.

7. Resolve the dates of arrival of the naga to be observed throughout Mongolia, and ensure that the associated taboos and symbolic customs are respected.

8. Develop Gandantegchenling Centre of Mongolian Buddhist as a model green monastery, using environmentally-friendly technologies.

9. Link meritorious actions like funerals with nature conservation and restoration activities. So for example adopt and encourage a tradition of planting trees in honour of people who die.

10. Hold this conference again in the future on a broader scale.

11. Establish a working group to coordinate the implementation of the above recommendations.

12. Raise awareness in Buddhist communities of the need to ban hunting and trading of endangered species.

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