The Buddhist Approach to Sustainable Development

Buddhism stresses three kinds of relationships—between humans and nature, between human beings, and the relationship with oneself. Buddhism considers human beings and the environment interconnected at the deepest level, inextricably linked, and interdependent. This interconnectedness of all life is starkly visible in global problems such as climate change and deforestation. Buddhist philosophy, based on respect and concern for all life, accords closely with sustainable development, which means creating social harmony and equality, protecting the environment, and ensuring economic prosperity. Buddhism is essentially about bringing all these elements of life into balance, whether on a personal level, community, or global level. This means fundamentally that we cannot build happiness or prosperity upon the destruction or disregard of other life, including the natural environment, for ultimately, we will suffer the consequences.

It must be remembered that Buddhist philosophy originated over 2,500 years ago, well before the first industrial revolution (IR 1.0) of ‘mechanization,’ where humans and machines replaced animal labor. Since then, we have had IR 2.0, that of ‘automation,’ due to breakthroughs in power generation and distribution, wireless and wired communication, and mass production techniques. In this period, there was a heavy reliance on coal and petroleum for power generation for industries, automobiles, and our consumerist lifestyle. We now know that this need to drive automation and its resultant products and services can be directly traced to climate change. Had the Buddhist philosophy of protecting the environment and ensuring economic prosperity been adhered to, the world would not be in such a crisis today. Since the 1950s, we have had IR 3.0, that of ‘digitization,’ with the development of digital systems, communication, and rapid advances in computing power, which have enabled new ways of generating, processing, and sharing information. While this has provided most people on Earth to own a computer connected to the internet, it has also caused massive solid waste management issues, with mountains of discarded phones, printers, and television sets. Again, had the Buddhist philosophy of protecting the environment and ensuring economic prosperity been adhered to, these consumer and business products would have been designed with their entire life-cycle being considered in the design phase.

Therefore, it is vital that the fundamental principles of Buddhist philosophy be adhered to as we enter IR 4.0, that of ‘cyber-integration,’ involving entirely new capabilities for people and machines – in which technology becomes embedded within societies and even our human bodies. The Buddhist view that human beings and the environment are interconnected at the deepest level, inextricably linked and interdependent, is no more evident when we integrate ourselves at the ‘thought’ level with our machines. Today, mainly as a consequence of all these industrial revolutions, all of the macro and micro ececonomicigns, as well as other environmental and socio-economic factors, indicate that humanity critically needs both a system transformation and a value transformation in transitioning towards a more sustainable industrial system.


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Tommy Andrian, S.E., M.Ak, Cert.DA., MOS.