Sacred Texts

1. Introduction to Textual Resources

The Buddhist tradition spans 2,500 years and more than a dozen cultures. Many texts address important aspects of human-nature relations, and a good number of these demonstrate ecological insight. No single text encompasses the diversity of Buddhist doctrines and practices related to the environment. Contemporary Buddhists are exploring affinities between cardinal Buddhist teachings and environmentally conscious ways of life. As they seek inspiration and guidance on present-day environmental issues, they often find themselves reinterpreting classic sources. In that way, the literature of eco-Buddhism–old and new–continues to develop.


2. Classic Sources from the Buddhist Tradition

Maharatnakuta Sutra, “Dwelling In the Forest”

Kashyapa, after a forest-dwelling monk arrives at a secluded place, he should follow the Dharma of a forest-dweller and perform eight deeds to show kindness for all sentient beings. What are the eight?

To benefit sentient beings;
to gladden sentient beings;
not to hate sentient beings;
to be straightforward;
not to discriminate among sentient beings;
to be compliant with sentient beings;
to contemplate all dharmas; and
to be as pure as space.

Kashyapa, a forest-dwelling monk should perform these eight deeds to show kindness for all sentient beings… .”

Kashyapa, if a forest-dwelling monk sees men, women, boys, girls, or animals when begging for food, he should have kindness and compassion toward them and think, ‘I strive with vigor so that I can make the vow that sentient beings who see me and those who give me food will all be reborn in heaven.’ …”

Kashyapa, if a forest-dwelling monk is given much food, he should gladly put a handful of it on a clean rock, thinking, ‘I give this to the birds and beasts that can eat it. I am the donor and they are the recipients.’ …”

Metta Sutta, “Loving-kindness”

This is what should be done
By those who are skilled in goodness,
And who know the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways,
Peaceful and calm, wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: in gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be,
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born to-be-born–
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings,
Radiating kindness over the entire world,
Spreading upward to the skies,
And downward to the depths,
Outward and unbounded.
Freed from hatred and ill-will,
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down,
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.


Lotus Sutra, “Dharma Rain”

The Thus Come One, worthy of honor and reverence,
is profound and far-reaching in wisdom.
For long he remained silent regarding the essential,
in no hurry to speak of it at once.
If those who are wise hear of it
they can believe and understand it,
but those without wisdom will have doubts and regrets
and for all time will remain in error.
For this reason,
he adjusts to the person’s power when preaching,
taking advantage of various causes
and enabling the person to gain a correct view.
You should understand
that it is like a great cloud
that rises up in the world
and covers it all over.
This beneficent cloud is laden with moisture;
the lightning gleams and flashes,
and the sound of thunder reverberates afar,
causing the multitude to rejoice.
The sun’s rays are veiled and hidden,
a clear coolness comes over the land;
masses of darkness descend and spread–
you can almost touch them.
The rain falls everywhere,
coming down on all four sides.
Its flow and saturation are measureless,
reaching to every area of the earth,
to the ravines and valleys of the mountains and streams,
to the remote and secluded places where grow
plants, bushes, medicinal herbs,
trees large and small,
a hundred grains, rice seedlings,
sugar cane, grape vines.
The rain moistens them all,
none fails to receive its full share.
The parched ground is everywhere watered,
herbs and trees alike grow lush.
What falls from the cloud
is water of a single flavor,
but the plants and trees, thickets and groves,
each accept the moisture that is appropriate to its portion.
All the various trees,
whether superior, middling, or inferior,
take what is fitting for large or small,
and each is enabled to sprout and grow.
Root, stem, limb, leaf,
the glow and hue of flower and fruit–
one rain extends to them
and all are able to become fresh and glossy.
Whether their allotment
of substance, form, and nature is large or small,
the moistening they receive is one,
but each grows and flourishes in its own way.
The Buddha is like this
when he appears in the world,
comparable to a great cloud
that covers all things everywhere.
Having appeared in the world,
or the sake of living beings
he makes distinctions in expounding
the truth regarding phenomena.
The great sage, the World-Honored One,
to heavenly and human beings,
in the midst of all beings,
pronounces these words:
I am the Thus Come One,
most honored of two-legged beings.
I appear in the world
like a great cloud
that showers moisture upon
all the dry and withered living beings,
so that all are able to escape suffering,
gain the joy of peace and security,
the joys of this world
and the joy of nirvana.
All you heavenly and human beings of this assembly,
listen carefully and with one mind! …
I bring fullness and satisfaction to the world,
like a rain that spreads its moisture everywhere.
Eminent and lowly, superior and inferior,
observers of precepts, violators of precepts,
those fully endowed with proper demeanor,
those not fully endowed,
those of correct views, of erroneous views,
of keen capacity, of dull capacity–
I cause the Dharma rain to rain on all equally,
never lax or neglectful.
When all the various living beings
hear my Law,
they receive it according to their power,
dwelling in their different environments.
Some inhabit the realm of human and heavenly beings,
of wheel-turning sage kings,
Shakra, Brahma and the other kings–
these are the inferior medicinal herbs.
Some understand the Law of no outflows,
are able to attain nirvana,
to acquire the six transcendental powers
and gain in particular the three understandings,
or live alone in mountain forests,
constantly practicing meditation
and gaining the enlightenment of pratyekabuddhas–
these are the middling medicinal herbs.
Still others seek the place of the World-Honored One,
convinced that they can become Buddhas,
putting forth diligent effort and practicing meditation–
these are the superior medicinal herbs.
Again there are sons of the Buddha
who devote their minds solely to the Buddha way,
constantly practicing mercy and compassion,
knowing that they themselves will attain Buddhahood,
certain of it and never doubting–
these I call the small trees.
Those who abide in peace in their transcendental powers,
turning the wheel of non-regression,
saving innumerable millions
of hundreds of thousands of living beings–
bodhisattvas such as these
I call the large trees.
The equality of the Buddha’s preaching
is like a rain of a single flavor,
but depending upon the nature of the living being,
the way in which it is received is not uniform,
just as the various plants and trees
each receive the moisture in a different manner.
The Buddha employs this parable
As an expedient means to open up and reveal the matter,
using various kinds of words and phrases
and expounding the single Law,
but in terms of the Buddha wisdom
this is no more than one drop of the ocean.
I rain down the Dharma rain,
filling the whole world,
and this single-flavored Dharma
is practiced by each according to the individual’s power.
It is like those thickets and groves,
medicinal herbs and trees
which, according to whether they are large or small,
bit by bit grow lush and beautiful.
The Law of the Buddhas
is constantly of a single flavor,
causing the many worlds
to attain full satisfaction everywhere;
by practicing gradually and stage by stage,
all beings can gain the fruits of the way.


Hua-yen Sutra, “How Bodhisattvas Serve Sentient Beings”

O noble-minded people, if you can help all sentient beings equally without discrimination, you will then consummate the full and perfect compassion, with which, if you accommodate sentient beings, you can then make all Tathagatas happy and satisfied. In this manner a Bodhisattva should accommodate and embrace all sentient beings.


Tu-shun, The Jewel Net of Indra

… Knowledge accords with things, being in one and the same realm, made by conditions, tacitly conjoining, without rejecting anything, suddenly appearing, yet not without before and after. Therefore the sutra says, “The sphere of the universal eye, the pure body, I now will expound; let people listen carefully.” By way of explanation, the “universal eye” is the union of knowledge and reality, all at once revealing many things. This makes it clear that reality is known to the knowledge of the universal eye only and is not the sphere of any other knowledge. The “sphere” means things. This illustrates how the many things interpenetrate like the realm of Indra’s net of jewels–multiplied and remultiplied ad infinitum. The pure body illustrates how all things, as mentioned before, simultaneously enter each other. Ends and beginnings, being collectively formed by conditional origination, are impossible to trace to a basis–the seeing mind has nothing to rest on.

Now the celestial jewel net of Kanishka, or Indra, Emperor of Gods, is called the net of Indra. This imperial net is made all of jewels: because the jewels are clear, they reflect each other’s images, appearing in each other’s reflections upon reflections, ad infinitum, all appearing at once in one jewel, and in each one it is so–ultimately there is no going or coming.

Now for the moment let us turn to the southwest direction and pick a jewel and check it. This jewel can show the reflections of all the jewels all at once–and just as this is so of this jewel, so it is of every other jewel: the reflection is multiplied and remultiplied over and over endlessly. These infinitely multiplying jewel reflections are all in one jewel and show clearly […]