December 22, 2009 – Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya
This afternoon, in the packed assembly hall of Tergar Monastery, His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa formally launched www.khoryug.com, a Tibetan and English-language website dedicated to environmental protection. The website offers educational resources on environmental protection, news on environmental projects underway in Kagyu monasteries and nunneries, and offers a forum for people interested in the environment. Khoryug.com forms part of a larger series of projects that His Holiness has undertaken to protect the earth for future generations, goals for which will eventually restore the natural environment of Tibet and the Himalayan areas. As such, khoryug.com follows the emerging pattern of the activities of the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, to work for the well-being of others in ways that are both immeasurably vast and yet eminently practical.
The event opened with a presentation by Dekila Chungyalpa, Director of the Greater Mekong area for the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) – the single largest organization devoted to environmental protection in the world. Dekila has served His Holiness as coordinator for his activities to protect the environment, and she stressed the importance of geographical areas that are part of the larger Tibetan cultural zone. She noted that three of the 19 areas in the world chosen for special attention by the WWF, for their value in terms of biodiversity, fall within Tibet and the Himalayan region. The rate of change in Tibetan and the Himalayan areas is ten times faster than elsewhere, with glaciers visibly melting from year to year. In addition, the mountains of this area are the source of rivers that support millions of people. As such, the environmental condition of Tibet and the Himalayas has particularly far-reaching consequences. Dekila described a number of projects that participants in the Kagyu Monlam can participate in to clean the environment around Bodhgaya itself.
Khenpo Kelsang Nyima from Rumtek spoke next, commenting on the experience that many of the Tibetan monastics had when attending the first environmental conference convened by His Holiness in March 2009 in Varanasi. “His Holiness led us to see,” he said, “how beautiful a place the world is.” He further emphasized that His Holiness had impressed on the monastics present that “we humans have created the problem, through our greed, and must take responsibility for solving it.” Khenpo Kelsang Nyima praised His Holiness for his constant and far-reaching concern for others and for, not only caring for those in the present, anticipating dangers in the future and working proactively to avert them. The Khenpo then offered a report on the practical steps taken by the Kagyu monasteries and nunneries to work for their own local environments. A wide range of projects were implemented, including cleaning water sources, planting trees, separating waste and recycling, composting, installing solar heaters, converting to low-energy bulbs, ending the use of plastic bags and bottles, and much more.
Next to speak was the Gyalwang Karmapa himself. His Holiness presented the need to work for the environment as a logical extension of our Dharma practice, connecting it to our Mahayana commitment to benefit others, and to live in a way that is consistent with the basic fact of interdependence.
In a powerful address, His Holiness urged the audience to ask themselves whether the beautiful aspirations and prayers they make in the morning are carried out in their actions throughout the day. Often when opportunities arise to work to benefit others, we do not seize them, and if we ask ourselves why this is so, it is usually because we are simply working for our own egocentric concerns. “Too often we behave as if others existed for us, and as if the Earth was ours alone to use as we wish,” His Holiness said, “and our actions based on such attitudes have had cumulative effects that are devastating for the Earth itself.”
Drawing on the point made earlier by Dekila, that we humans are but one of the immense number of species of life on this planet: His Holiness added that we, nevertheless, dominate the planet as if it were ours alone, and we are responsible for virtually all the damage done to it. His Holiness emphasized that this attitude is inappropriate as well as damaging given our total dependence on others, and especially on the earth itself, for our well-being and for our very survival. The Gyalwang Karmapa noted that without the plants that yield oxygen, we would not even be able to draw a single breath.
Using a Powerpoint presentation to underscore his points with images, His Holiness took the audience on a dazzling tour of the galaxy, pointing out along the way that we humans have nowhere else to go if we destroy the earth’s natural environment.
“Yet unlike humans, the earth is endlessly forgiving,” His Holiness noted.
“When someone commits heinous crimes, such as murder, he is shunned and expelled from human society. Yet however much harm we do to her, the Earth never banishes us. Despite all the damage we have done thus far, she has never given up on us, but continues to yield her resources to us with great generosity. We, therefore, all have a responsibility to consider what practical steps we can do to respond in kind to this great kindness that we receive from the Earth.”
The event concluded with a moving rendition of the song Aspiration for the World, composed by His Holiness himself and sung by a chorus of students from the Tibetan Children’s Village School.
Although the primary audience for the presentation were Tibetan monks and nuns, translators were on hand to deliver the message to the international audience in nine different languages. Many were in Bodhgaya to attend the upcoming Kagyu Monlam and the annual winter teachings for foreign students. For these students, the focus on taking steps to care for the environment, as an extension of Dharma practice, had a particular poignancy. One student from Mexico, visiting India for the first time, commented afterwards: one of the most pressing questions she had, from her stay in Bodhgaya thus far, was” how to respond practically to the great pain and suffering visible all around?” With His Holiness’ message on environmental protection, as a way to take care for others, and the upcoming projects to work directly to clean the local environment in Bodhgaya, “her question is answered,” she said.