Phases of the Buddhist Approach to the Environment

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 31, 2024

Phases of the Buddhist Approach to the Environment

Johannes Cairns
University of Helsinki

Various typologies of Buddhist ecophilosophies have been proposed but they have overlooked temporal dynamics and the relationship between beliefs and practice. I address this research gap by proposing a three-tier diachronic scheme. The first premodern phase featured a mixed bag of attitudes and behaviors in relation to ecology, with some being supportive of environmental ethics and others subversive. The second phase arose with the early counterculture environmental movement and consisted of ecophilosophies and activism with limited influence. The third phase started in the mid-1990s with political acknowledgement of the ecocrisis and has gained momentum. It consists of global adoption of ecophilosophies and environmental practices, including conservative Asian organizations, and new radical ecology. The dynamics indicate that a tradition of accommodating to prevailing political paradigms may have obstructed Buddhist environmentalism in the past but could facilitate it in the future.
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