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Venerable Changwu speaks at Queens College on ‘A Buddhist Perspective on Protecting the Environment.’

On Tuesday, February 20, 2007 CMC resident Changwu Fashi was guest speaker in the noontime Lecture Series, “Dialogue of Religions, Protecting the Environment: Christian, Jewish, Muslim & Buddhist Perspectives” at the Catholic Newman Center, Queens College, New York.

The series is an interfaith initiative sponsored by Campus Ministries of Queens College, the President’s Office, Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies, Catholic Newman Center, Newman Club, Queens College Hillel, and Ikaros Hellenic Orthodox Club. Students and clergy from the four faiths attended.

In her presentation, Changwu Fashi discussed the following topics:
1. Our main environmental crises in today's world
2. The perspectives and attitudes that have led to our current crises (mainly the western)
3. Buddhist perspectives on the environment and nature
4. Comparison between Buddhist and Western perspectives
5. Dharma Drum Mountain’s example in actualizing Buddhist teachings on protecting the environment: Rainwater Harvesting
6. Our suggestion for solving the problems - cultivating inner peace and harmony, and a fresh and wider perspective on environmental protection.

Changwu Fashi spoke at length on aspects of industrial and technological advances, noting both their detrimental effects and innovations in these fields that help protect the environment. In describing differences in Abrahamic and Buddhist perspectives on human use, exploitation, and care of the environment, she pointed out that Abrahamic religions teach a hierarchy of God, man, and nature, while Buddhism teaches a web of interconnectedness of which humans are an integral part.

Changwu Fashi drew from the life of the Buddha and from several sutras to support this view. As an example of Buddhist concern for environmental economy and protection, Changwu Fashi showed slides on the building of the Dharma Drum Mountain complex in Taiwan.

Here, watercourses were rerouted while building was in progress, mature trees were carefully moved from building sites, and water conservation technology, named Rainwater Harvesting, was extensively applied in the building design. Using architectural diagrams of the water collection and circulation system in the women’s residence and other parts of the complex, Changwu Fashi described the efforts DDM goes to in conserving our planet’s resources.

A question from the audience was "Does Buddhism have a place for science?" Changwu Fashi replied, “Science and Buddhism have the same attitude towards seeking truth, even though each has its own specific methods and approaches. More than ten years ago, science and Buddhism encountered each other and started a forum of communication to exchange views and share experiences.

That endeavor continues to prosper and many more scholars, scientists and Buddhists have joined in this evolutionary movement. H.H. Dalai Lama is the main force of Buddhism promoting this. He has said that if Buddhist teaching conflicts or in contradicts scientific findings, those teaching should be reviewed and reconsidered. I share his views.”

A theology student raised the question of the value of science. In her view many of the world’s problems in the world have been brought about by science, such as plastic surgery and the sacrifice of animals for experiment, and that scientific research should be stopped. She believes that religion, not science, should take responsibility for the advancement of society.

Changwu Fashi replied, “Science has been contributing to the evolution and civilization of our world, which has progressed greatly in the past hundred years. We can not deny the effect and contribution that it has brought us. If scientific research and experimentation are initiated and conducted for good purposes, then they are fine, not harmful. Whether science is beneficial or harmful to people and the world depends on how we use it, how we apply it. If we use it in a harmful manner, then it will harm us. If we use it in a wholesome way, it will benefit us.”

In conclusion, Father Paul asked Changwu Fashi to offer a closing prayer. She led the audience through a body scan relaxation and invited them to focus their attention on their breath for a few moments, finishing with a short metta meditation. The audience responded sincerely, sharing these moments of awareness and lovingkindness in peace and gratitude.

Following the lunch and lecture, Dr. Christos Ioannides, Director of the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, invited Changwu Fashi, Guoming Fashi, Luh Nelson and myself over to the center for a visit. He showed the Fashis the location of Mt Athos, the Holy Mount on the rocky peninsula of Halkidiki in northern Greece, accessible only by boat, and pictures of the many Greek, Serbian, Russian, and Bulgarian monasteries, sketes and hermitages there.

Dr. Ioannides suggested that they must also use water collection methods and practice environmental protection. The conversation turned to a comparison of immigrant Asian and Greek communities and their religious presence in the metropolitan area, and to the need to foster further interfaith exchange in the future.

(The story is written and shared by Sheila Sussman)

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