"If a salamander is hurt, it hurts me. And my respect for the mountain makes me oppose the construction on it!" This is why Buddhist nun Ji-yul is protesting against the railroad construction through Mt. Cheonseong, and why she is on a hunger strike for the rights of animals and plants. Some Buddhists said the hunger strike isn't the right way to solve this problem. Why is she so enthusiastic about protecting the environment? What does nature mean to Buddhism?
Buddhism teaches that nature is as important as human beings. The Buddhist bible, Beopgukyung, says that humans should take advantage of nature like bees gathering pollen. When bees gather pollen, they don't damage a flower's beauty and fragrance. They gather it harmlessly. Humans should use nature's resources peacefully without polluting its beauty and harmony. We are one with nature, because we are living with nature.
Many Buddhists are working to protect nature but not in the same way as nun Ji-yul. In 2003, for example, Buddhists participated in a campaign opposed to the building of the Saemankeum embankment on the Western Coast, bowing every three steps with other religious leaders on their protest march from the coast to Seoul. And then there is Bangsaeng, the release of living creatures, demonstrating Buddhist's mercy and co-existence with nonhuman beings. Many Buddhists and non-Buddhists join this event, which lets captured animals like tortoises and fish go back home. It is an opportunity to practice mercy and to live in harmony with an equal partner.
It's easy to find other Buddhist beliefs related to nature and humans. "Our land could be clean if we regarded all creatures of this world as valuable things. Therefore, the relationship between nature and human beings should be one of mutual respect. When we treat nature as an equal partner, we become one with nature. However, it doesn't means that we worship nature to the point of people having to bear all difficulties and inconveniences," said Professor Kim Ho-seong, in the Dept. of Indian Philosophy, quoting from the Yumakyung.
The teaching of nature in Buddhism is much different from other religions. Buddhism teaches that nature and human beings are equal and mutually inclusive. Nature and humans can't live without each other's help. The Buddhist view is that nature is our partner, not our possession. So, how about living with nature mutually and equally?
Lee Seon-a firstname.lastname@example.org
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