An organism, population, economy, society, or culture can only be as healthy as its habitat. Consequently, humans suffer when their environment suffers, at least indirectly if not directly. This is inevitable because, as both Buddhism and ecology realize, everything is interconnected and interdependent in some degree and manner. Thich Nhat Hanh refers to this as interbeing. In his recent book The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology (Parallax Press, 2008), he notes how healing one's self involves reconnecting with the wider web of life and contributing to healing nature, as well. That also means dealing effectively with the ultimate sources of suffering -- namely, ignorance, delusion, and craving, one's own and that of others.
The above considerations reflect the inherent and profound ecological and environmental relevance of Buddhism. The tensions between subsistence, a depleted measure of human well-being, and greed, an excessive measure of human satisfaction, fail to make room for the generosity and plenty our world is capable of. As we place a greater importance on the material rather than the spiritual, we further environmental degradation and destruction, and accordingly increase suffering for human beings and for many other kinds of beings in the diverse ecosystems throughout the world's biosphere. While the near future of humanity and planet Earth do not appear to be very bright, that of Buddhism shines, not only in diagnosing the ultimate problem, but also in prescribing the ultimate solution. If you want to know the source of suffering, then look into the mirror.
If you want to know the source for reducing suffering, then look to others; become interbeing.
L.E. Sponsel is Professor of Anthropology and Director of Ecological Anthropology Program at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, and author of the forthcoming book, Spiritual Ecology: A Quiet Revolution, the first major initiative of the Research Institute for Spiritual Ecology (RISE).
Poranee Natadecha-Sponsel, Ed.D., teaches Philosophy, Sociology, and Religion at Chaminade University at Honolulu.