by Sister Chan Khong: Dear Citizens of the Earth…
Forty-six years ago, in 1970, I was a young biologist present at a ground-breaking meeting between Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and six leading scientists in Menton in the south of France.
We met to address the damage that was being done to the Earth through human misuse of technology, the penetration into food-chains of poisonous substances and the mounting exploitation of natural resources. Together, our small group of seven scientists issued The Menton Statement in 1970, which was published in Le Monde and The New York Times in 1971 and signed by over 2,000 scientists in 25 countries.
It was one of the very first international statements by scientists to raise concern about environmental destruction and the urgent need to protect the Earth.
Our group also established a pioneering NGO, which we called “Đại Đồng Thế Giới” (World of Great Togetherness). We met with the United Nations Secretary-General and played a key role in preparing the ground for the UN Stockholm Conference on the Environment—the first of its kind—that took place a year later in june 1972. Ahead of the talks, we held a civil society conference and issued an “Independent Declaration on the Environment” to support the UN’s good intentions and help prevent the talks being stalled or sidelined by powerful governments.
It was as a result of the Stockholm Conference that the UN established the United Nations Environment Program and national governments began to create ministries for the environment.
Since that time, our teacher Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh continued to teach extensively, speaking out for the protection of the earth and the importance of following a “global ethic” to safeguard our planet.
He has transmitted the 5 Mindfulness Trainings to over 100,000 men and women, and over 4,000 have received the 14 Mindfulness Trainings. Each person makes a vow to contribute to building a small beloved community (“sangha”) near their home, and to live in a compassionate way to protect all species on Earth as the many thousand arms of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
Forty-four years since the UN’s Stockholm Conference, Mother Earth’s condition continues to degenerate, and today she is in desperate need of our engaged, compassionate action. For billions of years different life-forms have been evolving together and nourishing each other on Earth in harmonious equilibrium.
But now, humankind is destroying this balance, and Mother Earth is crying out in pain. Can you hear that your mother is dying?
Can you hear the cry of Mother Earth:
Please wake up, my children, and see what you are doing. Your atomic bombs have laid waste to billions of precious lives, even the most fragile life forms and micro-organisms, across vast swathes of silent desert and open ocean. You have cut down and set fire to my forests, and poured toxins into my atmosphere and waters. You have sliced out my mountains and precious earth to search for fossil fuels, gold and bauxite.
Your nuclear power plants, and factories of chemicals and steel have released radioactive waste into my waters and poisoned my earth. My body reeking and twisting with pain has brought forth storms and tornadoes, floods and hurricanes. I am a living earth and my quakes and volcanoes express my life-force, and my pain.
Today I am suffocating in the deep waters off the coast of Viet Nam. Billions of fish, dolphins, sharks, shrimps, crabs, and exotic rare species from the depths of the ocean, have been washed ashore, dead and lifeless, across 140 miles of coastline in Vietnam, from Ha Tinh along the coast of Quang Binh, and the coasts of Thua Thien and Da Nang Quang Nam.
What terrible poisons have you poured in my waters? There is only one great ocean and poison in one ocean is poison in my whole body. The South China Sea is also the Pacific Ocean, it is the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean.
My dear children, please listen! These beautiful fish are also your brothers and sisters, they are also crying for your help. If living species in the oceans are dying, how long will you last? Please remember, my beloved ones, that you cannot take any steel, gold and bauxite with you when you die.
Our Mother Earth has been crying out for so long. She has never stopped giving us whatever we needed: food, water and shelter, allowing us to flourish in her abundance, never asking for anything in return. But now she asks for our support, our love, our action. We have allowed our alienation and greed to dominate our lives to the detriment and exploitation of our Mother.
Many of us have forgotten that we are one with the Earth. The Earth is not a separate entity from us. We are part of the Earth, and the Earth is part of us. The Earth is not a resource for us to exploit at our will. The Earth is us; we are intimately interconnected with the Earth, just as we inter-are with all other species on Earth, too. Our spiritual ancestors have taught us about the law of interdependent co-arising: this is because that is. We are here because the Earth is here. All species are our brothers and sisters; we are all children of the Earth.
When we see our deep interbeing with the Earth and with all species, we will see what to do—and what to stop doing—to help the situation. We will have the clarity and compassion we need to help change the situation, so that a future can be possible for us all.
Yes, humans and societies need to develop and progress. But at what cost? We call our political leaders all over the planet, our civil servants, and especially our corporate leaders to stop and look deeply at our behavior. Our industries and corporations are destroying the very fabric that makes life possible and beautiful. We must make adjustments to the cries of Mother Earth.
Each one of us can take action in concrete ways.
1. Recognize that what we choose to eat greatly impacts our personal health, the distribution of wealth and resources, and the global environment. We can go closer to a vegan diet as recommended by a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences to reduce our impact on climate change and global pollution, and nourish not only our health but our compassion. We can commit to reducing our meat consumption by 50%, or to not eating meat and dairy products 15 days a month.
2. Recognize that environmental ills are inherently linked to human ills. We should look deeply at our lifestyle and make changes to reduce our consumption and simplify our life. Greed is a byproduct of an individualistic and materialistic way of looking the world. It has become rampant and is a major cause of the imbalances on our planet. Each one of us can support efforts to alleviate inequities wherever we live and between affluent northern hemisphere societies and southern ones.
3. Recognize that there are alternative renewable energy sources. We can encourage governments to find sustainable energy sources and transition away from nuclear and fossil fuels. It is possible to develop society and industry in new ways, and not at the cost of Mother Earth and numerous species on land and in the ocean, nor at the cost of the wellbeing of future generations. Nuclear waste, whether hidden beneath the earth or exposed, is a toxic cancer to our planet. We will be paying for the luxuries of today with sicknesses tomorrow. Each one of us can make efforts to reduce our personal consumption of energy, in terms of electricity, water, transportation, and the products we buy every day.
4. Recognize that the meat and agricultural industries are a major cause of environmental degradation. We must encourage governments to adopt sustainable development practices to minimize waste and pollution caused by cultivating, processing and transporting meat and fish, and to move away from meat and fish production, which are not sustainable food sources for a growing global population.
Sister Chân Không (Cao Ngọc Phượng)
Eldest Sister of the Order of Interbeing, on behalf of the 4,217 monastic and lay members of the Order
May you all enjoy the beautiful colors of spring, the fragrant Summer breeze and glowing sun, the gold and crimson leaves of autumn, and the cool, beautiful light of winter. May you remember also that every being with whom we share this beautiful planet is also a precious gem. May you enjoy everyone around you and not wait until it is too late, until everything is nothing more than a dream.