We will start this Jushoku’s Meanderings with a remembrance of Thích Nhất Hạnh, who died on January 22nd. He was a Vietnamese monk, prolific author, poet, translator and influential contributor to Buddhism outside Asia. He said of his own imminent death, “I am a continuation, like the rain is a continuation of the cloud.”
Thay, as he was called, was well known for his focus on interbeing. This was his wording for the Buddhist concept of interpenetration as described in the Avataṃsaka and other sutra. What a natural lead-in to this month’s essay, which is written by Monshin with contributions by Koshin.
Many people who began adopting śāsana (what is commonly referred to as Buddhism today) in the 1960s and 70s discussed whether Buddhism is a philosophy, a religion or a way of life. It is all three of these, depending on what features one is emphasizing. That is to say, Buddhist practices are certainly religious, there is a philosophic underpinning, but to truly be Buddhist, it must permeate one’s being as a way of life. For the purposes of this essay, I would like to address Buddhism as a way of life.
Several months ago, a friend and colleague who is a Shingon soryo (monk/priest), Rev. Joshin Jake Halcomb, sent me a draft of an initiative he is working on that is called ‘Sustainable Environment on Earth for All Beings (SEE-FAB)’. After reading the draft of the proposal I felt that this is something Tendai Buddhist Institute can support wholeheartedly. It is related back directly to the Buddhist teaching of interpenetration. That is, all phenomena are profoundly interconnected, mutually arising and that every phenomenon contains all other phenomena.
The draft of SEE-FAB is for a limited number of Buddhist centers, most are in Europe, to embark on a pilot study to determine how and in what ways the selected centers are engaged in environmentally sustainable practices or actions. In other words, this is not just giving lip service to the environmental crises, it is day in day out living a sustainable lifestyle. At the end of two years the results of the study will be published, shared with other centers and act as a road map for Buddhist centers worldwide on how to approach environmental sustainability.
I will share with you the section of the proposal on purpose.
“In 2020, the United Nations Secretary General announced “the world is facing a triple planetary emergency – a climate crisis, a nature crisis, and a pollution crisis. These are causing profound suffering: lost lives, lost jobs, rising hunger, declining health and widening damage from disasters.” The necessary environmental knowledge, expertise, and solutions are available, all that is required is action. Additionally, as Buddhists we practice so to cultivate compassion, ethical and moral behavior, and wisdom; therefore, for us, the call to action is even greater.
The SEE-FAB project will support Buddhist Centers and Institutions in Europe and abroad, with a special focus on:
· Energy (i.e., facilities, transportation, etc.)
· Water (i.e., facilities, food, landscaping)
· Resources (i.e., purchases, waste, recycling)
· Biodiversity (i.e., purchases such as flowers or food, and landscaping)
· Youth engagement and serving as a resource and example of environmental action in local communities
The SEE-FAB project will provide knowledge and tools through peer-to-peer learning thereby building capacity for concrete action, consistent with science, on climate, biodiversity, and pollution.”
One senior representative and one youth representative from each participating organization is invited to join the project team in order to facilitate joint learning and collaborative action. I have asked John Seakwood to be the Senior representative and Kairen Russell to be a youth representative, though youth in the case of Kairen may be misleading. They have agreed to represent Tendai Buddhist Institute. To get the ball rolling, I, along with Koshin and Shumon, have worked on the part of the project identifying the status quo for our temple, because we possess the institutional memory.
I am adding another dimension to the SEE-FAB project. Rather than this being a plan that is directed at leadership alone, I would like to share our findings with the sangha and ask our sangha to investigate their own households and join us as a sangha project. We should do this together. We will report the results of the temple to the project founders. We will also incorporate any ideas from the sangha at large.
I will ask that you compare your households to the measures Tendai Buddhist Institute has thus far taken. What can you do in your household that may have already been done at Tendai Buddhist Institute? What are you doing or see that Tendai Buddhist Institute can do that you might recommend to John and Kairen? Additionally, we realize that many sangha members may not be aware of the commitment to environmental sustainability that TBI has made already. Following is the material developed thus far.
We are a Buddhist temple, established in a 200-year-old Shaker-built house and barns, on a 110 acre property in rural Upstate New York. The Tendai Buddhist Institute, Karuna Tendai Dharma Center, Tendai-shu New York Betsuin, has evolved and grown with the surrounding landscape since its establishment in 1995. Tendai Buddhist Institute currently houses the Abbott, his wife and temple assistant, and welcomes the public for services and other activities several times a week The working of the temple has always incorporated environmentally-conscious behaviors such as recycling, composting, installing energy efficient fixtures, etc.
This environmental awareness was further demonstrated in 2005, when we constructed our Hondo (main hall – Jiunzan Tendai-ji – by disassembling a post-and-beam horse barn and reusing those and other local materials. We made sure every step of the process was environmentally conscious and involved the sangha community. Since then, other improvements have been made, including solar panels and propane radiant heating, etc. Most of the steps taken to reduce our footprint are outlined below. We always have our environmental impact at the forefront of our decision-making process.
What is the status quo of the temple from the past to the present?
1. Kuri (Abbot’s Residence, with lecture hall and other facilities)
a. Compost, we have had a compost since we began 27 years ago. Some sangha members who do not have the space for composting, bring their compost her and add it to our pile.
b. Recycling – this includes normal recycled waste disposal, donating materials to community restore facilities.
c. LED lights have replaced incandescent lights when they become inoperable.
d. Vegetable garden – this is a seasonal garden, providing fresh vegetables for the household, retreats and gyo as well as sangha pot-luck meals
e. Temperature in the house kept modestly low.
2. Kuri Renovations
a. Radiant floor heat (propane) was added on the first floor as central heating approximately eight years ago. The second floor depends on baseboard electric heat.
b. Minimally-polluting, efficient woodburning stoves.
c. Interior winter windows – decreases the heat escape.
d. Energy audit performed when solar panels were installed. Followed all the guidelines given at that time.
e. Solar panels added on the roof of the kuri about five years ago.
f. Additional power usage sourced from a town-based sustainable energy source.
3. Hondo (Main Hall) Construction
Disassembled 265-year-old post and beam horse barn by hand to restore and reconstructed the frame on a new foundation in 2004 -2005.
i. Building manager was training member of the temple and went on to become LEEDS certified construction supervisor
ii. Sourced additional new wood needed from within 30 miles, with the exception of several certified structural members.
iii. Shumidan (front altar) built with the floorboards of the old barn
iv. Structurally Insulated Panels used to sheath the exterior –SIP panels deliver unrivaled insulation and airtightness, which reduces energy costs over the building’s lifetime. SIPs are known to be about 50% more energy-efficient than traditional timber framing. A SIP building envelope has minimal thermal bridging and delivers excellent airtightness, which lends itself ideally to LEED and net-zero-ready building standards. They are 8” thick in the walls and 6” thick for the roof.
v. Radiant floor heat. The floor is finished with a combination of bees and carnauba waxes. The heat itself is left at minimum heat unless used for gatherings
vi. No petroleum products used during construction or for maintenance. The finishes used on the interior are Heritage Natural Finishes a premium, citrus-based penetrating oil. It is handcrafted in small batches, biodegradable, non-toxic, non-ozone depleting, with no heavy metal dryers!
vii. Sangha involvement in development
1. Disassembly of old construction.
2. Siding restored and repurposed.
3. Painted using the most environmentally friendly paint at that time (Behr’s Premium Plus line of eco-friendly paints – zero VOC).
4. Dorm building
a. Repurposed from being an old garage. Locally produced lumber, and other materials.
b. purposefully did not use plumbing in the building, electric baseboard heat used only when occupied in the winter.
5. Grounds/Landscaping
a. No insecticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. Maintains a natural habitat for bees, birds, bats, and other wildlife.
b. Grass kept long (4”) and allowed to mulch.
c. Shrubs and bushes planted to re-wild the natural landscape.
d. Field next to us used by local farmer for hay.
e. Excavation was done to avoid erosion and maintain natural watercourses.
f. Wetlands on property
g. Use of gravel drives for water runoff, rather than pavement
Many people comment on how peaceful and serene the temple and the land around it is. Part of this may be the feng shui of our modest temple. However, I suspect that a large part of the serenity is due to the care we have taken with the land and the buildings.
Considering our location, history and purpose, these steps taken towards reducing our environmental impact are essential aspects of having a place of practice and a place within our community. There is always more to do through avenues such as community outreach, environmental education, sangha member engagement, etc.
The second of the Six Perfections (Paramitas) is śīla. This is variously translated as morality, ethical conduct, and virtue. Virtue in regard to our environment, environmental sustainability, is without a doubt one of the most importance aspects of this Perfection today. Without it, we ignore our vow to liberate all sentient beings.
Tendai Buddhist Institute’s participation in SEE-FAB is intended to bring action, rather than mere words, to our attention on the environment. We want this to be a total sangha activity. Buddhist teachings concern the individual and her or his awakening. They also concern a balance between practice on the cushion, or chanting, or calligraphy, etc., and practice in the world. Let us make our awareness of the world around us, and its sustainability a practice as important as our own personal awakening.
With Love and Gassho. . . Monshin