Karmapa urges Himalayan water responsibility at recent conference

Karmapa and conference attendees reciting blessing prayers on bank of sacred, but badly polluted, Yamuna River

The 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorjee, recently concluded a five-day environmental conference with a strong call for the world’s two most populous nations, China and India, to recognize the importance of Tibet’s fragile Himalayan ecosphere to the rest of Asia and increase efforts to preserve it.

Speaking to the 60 monks and nuns gathered in New Delhi, India, for the 5th Khoryug Conference on Environmental Protection for Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries and Nunneries, the Karmapa sought to distance environmental concerns from politics, according to reporting from Tibet Post International:

“Some people think the Tibetan cause is a political issue, but it is much more than that. The Tibetan plateau is of such great environmental importance that we call it the Third Pole and the water tower of Asia. Therefore, most importantly, Tibet is an environmental issue that affects all of Asia.”

More deeply than that, said the Karmapa, environmental activism should be the natural manifestation of our religious life:

“As spiritual practitioners and certainly as Mahayana Buddhists, our greatest aspiration is to bring about the happiness of all beings. The conservation of our environment, which is the very ground of the existence of many billions of beings, must be our primary concern. Conservation must be the very essence of our spiritual practice.

The practical focus of the Karmapa’s remarks was on water use. He noted that the Tibetan plateau is the source of most of Asia’s freshwater and advocated for both direct water use, and indirect water use in terms of consumption choices. In this vein he pointed out how much more water is required to maintain livestock than to grow crops “and reiterated his longstanding appeal for vegetarianism as an environmental as well as ethical issue.”

Toward the end of the conference, the Karmapa led blessing prayers on the bank of the Yamuna River, itself an example of the clash between spiritual tradition and population pressures. According to a report from the Karmapa’s Office:

“The Yamuna River is considered sacred, with its source at Yamunotri in the Himalayas being one of the holiest Hindu pilgrimage sites. And yet, paradoxically, the river is also ecologically considered a ‘dead’ river, heavily polluted and in some places barely flowing due to human interruption of its natural course.”

The thrust of the conference, however, was that through education, attitudes toward the environment can change. The Karmapa’s Office said that monastic representatives had received education in natural rain harvesting and wastewater treatment systems developed by the Indian Centre for Science and Environment and will soon work in concert with the NGO to introduce such systems to their monasteries and nunneries.

(See also: Buddhist leader Gyalwang Drukpa named “Guardian of the Himalayas”)