Buddhist monasticism has always been a profound stepping out of the mainstream of society. Even in the time of the Buddha, these communities were considered to be a challenge to materialism, deity worship, social class hierarchy and institutionalized discrimination. For 2,600 years Buddhist monks and nuns have been living examples of an alternative way of life based on virtuous living and sustainable environmental practices. They undermined the subtle but pernicious delusion pervasive in wholly worldly values. They have few possessions, live in small huts and are models of frugality. Their intentional simplification leaves a small carbon footprint, easing the burden on the earth’s precious resources.
The Buddhist teaching of contentment with little directly confronts the materialistic attitudes of unbridled consumption. When it is increasingly clear that unrestrained and ungoverned corporate greed is crippling our natural environment and creating a massive discrepancy between a wealthy and powerful elite and a growing impoverished underclass, an institution that is specifically designed to uproot greed is even more relevant. When the majority of wars have their roots in economic desire for wealth, the Buddha’s firm non-violent stance on Awakening rather than acquiring, directly counters the culture of endless war.
Forest monasteries also challenge many of the assumptions underlying the mainstream economic system. For example, Vimutti does not charge for anything and relies entirely on donations. All teachings, accommodation, food, books and facilities are offered free of charge, and our continued survival depends entirely on individuals who feel they want to support our values and aspirations. Economic sustainability then manifests in a system of mutual generosity called ‘dana’. Whereas other spiritual organizations might feel the need to incorporate profit making ventures in order to sustain themselves, forest monasteries rely solely on their community’s integrity to attract support. The dana system not only counters many of the negative effects of a more self-centered system based on personal gain, it encourages the goodness in people’s hearts to grow. Big hearted generosity, service and caring for fellow humans and animals then lays the foundation for a society that dwells in peace and is guided by wisdom.
This reflection by Ajahn Chandako is from the talk, Metta for the Environmental Mirror, p.1.