“All sentient beings including animals and human beings must coexist. Thus, any policy that favors one or the other will have consequences. It is important to formulate policies and adopt practices which maintain the ecological balance. Given the interconnectedness of life, practices which benefit the sustainability of both animals and human wellbeing will be the best option.”
Buddhists believe in various realms of gods, human, animals and spirits. Does being born as an animal (for example: tiger, golden langur, dog or a fish) means it is their past karma?
Buddhists believe in a wide range of living beings including visible ones such as humans, animals, fishes, insects, birds and also many invisible ones such as gods, demons and spirits. In a common Buddhist classification, there are six realms of beings with many sub-categories within each realm. These beings are considered to be all results of their own karma. Thus, an animal is born as an animal due to its actions in the previous lifetimes.
As human beings, are we superior to animals? Does this also give us (human beings) the right to mistreat animals (domestic or wild)?
There is no concept of superiority unlike attitude promoted by the anthropocentric worldview but some beings are more fortunate and happier than others. Human birth is considered precious and special because it allows for the pursuit of higher purpose and meaning. All beings have their own strengths and weaknesses but no beings have the right to mistreat others. Mistreatment is bad karma and must be eschewed.
How does Buddhism view biodiversity (water, plants, insects and animals) in general?
Biodiversity is a result of the complexity of life and karmic causes. From the Buddhist point of view, biodiversity is an expression of the inconceivable nature of life and karmic causes, which only an enlightened being can fully understand.
Bhutan has over 72% of forest coverage, and prioritizes biodiversity conservation. Is biodiversity important for the world, according to Buddhism?
Yes, it is important for the world as life is interdependent and different life forms contribute in different ways to sustain the earth. From a Buddhist meditative point of view, biodiversity is the rich and astoundingly diverse expression of the one nature that we are all made of.
The diverse world helps appreciate the openness and potency of our fundamental nature from which such diversity emerges. A peacock’s feather is often used in Vajrayana rituals to demonstrate such existential diversity and beauty.
Human-wildlife conflict is a growing concern in Bhutan. Farmers blame conservation policies and wild animals (like tigers, wild boars, monkeys, birds) when they lose their crops or livestock to wild animals. What does Buddhism say about Human-Wildlife Coexistence?
All sentient beings including animals and human beings must coexist. Thus, any policy that favors one or the other will have consequences. It is important to formulate policies and adopt practices which maintain the ecological balance. Given the interconnectedness of life, practices which benefit the sustainability of both animals and human wellbeing will be the best option.
To conserve the golden mahseers in our rivers and to enhance livelihood opportunities for the locals, Bhutan is promoting recreational high-end fly-fishing (catch and release). Your comments.
Fishing for food or fun is absolutely unacceptable in Buddhism. There is no justification for taking the life of another being, except in rare cases of self-defense or survival. Even fly-fishing is totally wrong. People who think fly-fishing is right must try piercing their lips and being dragged. It is totally contradictory to the culture of compassion, empathy and respect for life. It is inhuman and from the Buddhist point of view, such people will go through a similar pain manifold in future lifetimes.
Is the Golden Mahseer revered and considered as one of the Eight Auspicious Signs (Tashi Tagye) in Buddhism?
Whether we identify the pair of golden fish with Golden Mahseer or not, the Auspicious Golden Fish (བཀྲ་ཤིས་སེར་ཉ་) is one of the eight auspicious signs and they represent the Buddha’s compassionate and clairvoyant eyes, and the agility and swiftness of the Buddha’s enlightened spirit. The two fishes symbolize the two types of penetrating and transcendental wisdom of the Buddha. They are also said to symbolize the two great rivers Ganga and Yamuna, solar and lunar powers, fertility and abundance, wisdom and compassion.
If we dedicate our actions, thoughts and words towards conserving biodiversity, do we gain some good merit in this life?
Dedication and prayers do bring some merit but it is not enough. For substantive merit, real action is required for real result. Thus, compassion must be expressed through the action of respecting life, saving biodiversity and protecting our environment.
As a Buddhist scholar, what is your advice for our readers and our youths on biodiversity conservation for Bhutan and for the world?
Our planet is our only home. It is fragile as is beautiful, and its survival depends on the state of the environment and life forms which constitute it. An imbalance in our ecology and life forms can destabilize this delicate planet we call home and bring an end to life and civilization as we know it. Neither economy, nor culture, religion or politics can help us exist, let alone make us prosperous or happy, if we fail to save the mother-earth.
This series is sponsored by Ecotourism Project “Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation into the Tourism Sector in Bhutan” funded by GEF-UNDP through the Tourism Council of Bhutan, RGoB.
Lopen Karma Phuntsho is spiritual thought leader, a Buddhist teacher and writer Photo: : Matthieu Ricard