A Buddhist Monk's International Journey To Combat Climate Change

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A Buddhist Monk's International Journey To Combat Climate Change
Bhikkhu Bodhi is a world-renowned scholar and monk who travels the globe to spread his message on climate change and sustainable living.

Chuang Yen Monastery, just outside New York City, is home to the Western Hemisphere's largest statue of Buddha. It's also the home of Bhikkhu Bodhi, a Buddhist monk spreading the word on climate change one listener at a time.

This idea of a tie between Buddhism and care for the environment isn't new. In fact, the Dalai Lama wrote a book dedicated to the topic of climate change.

There is a lot riding on the United Nations climate conference this week, and Bodhi says while policy change is important, in his opinion so is a change in heart for individuals.

While he says he's been fortunate at the monastery — his home for the past 14 years — he's also noticed more intense storms.

"You'll see several places along the road where large trees have been uprooted and knocked down," Bodhi said.

Along with the changing climate, he recognized a changing view of Buddhism in the U.S., with a focus mainly on obtaining personal peace.

"Buddhism in America was losing this important aspect of a social ethic that addresses the problem of what I call global, concrete, tangible suffering that afflicts so many people around the world," he continued.

Using the premise, Bodhi and a group of students founded Buddhist Global Relief — an organization that works to stamp out world hunger by supporting sustainable food programs. They work with programs all over the world, from India to Uganda to Detroit.

"What we try to do through our projects is to have people trained in methods," Bodhi said. "Small-scale farmers learn the techniques of ecologically sustainable agriculture, so that once they learn these techniques, they can become independent and develop their own small farms."

But his dual mission to help those in need and address climate change didn't end there. Bodhi travels the world giving speeches and even taking his message to the United Nations.

"It is the delusion in our own minds that makes us flow along complacently," he said.

"People are always responsive to the words of spiritual leaders," Bodhi said. "So if we speak up more explicitly, directly, clearly about the climate crisis and about the impact that it's going to have on humanity, it really calls for a very determined, full-scale response."