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Monk practicing calligraphy in Qixia si

Monk practicing calligraphy in Qixia si, near Nanjing

This is a report on the second meeting of the Reading Group on July 20th where a short discourse given by Ch’an Master Sheng-yen was viewed and then followed by a discussion of the topic. Below are notes taken from the video, followed by a summary of the discussion.

How can we be contented with a simple life to seek inner joy?

This is not an easy question to answer.Nowadays we are reliant on so many man-made machines and inventions that we have lost our freedom and independence, our ability to self-govern our living habits.   How can we hope to restore our lives to natural simplicity?

The state of the environment

In our present way of living, we can no longer return to nature but instead, nature has been completely distorted by human beings.There is no place in the world where we can go where man’s pollution is not felt Because air pollution caused by man is so serious that even at the top of the highest mountain, acid rain is still detected on occasion. 

Human beings are destroying Great Nature and I wonder what the earth will be like in five hundred years.Places I’ve visited like Australia and New Zealand, Europe and South America still contain unspoiled nature, but even these are gradually being developed.  The developers of these pristine lands are people of the civilised world, not the locals. They chop up the forest piece by piece for grazing so that they may sell milk and beef to the civilised world to the detriment of the locality.  Thus, as consumers, it is hard for us to return to simplicity. 

Spiritual Environmentalism

Throughout in the secular world at large, if we can keep a piece of simple and pure nature within our minds, we may suffer less defilement from the environment that is around us and that vexes us, and then we can reduce additional problem we cause for others.

This we can accomplish through the use of the Buddhadharma.   Although we are in a house on fire, in our mind we can still maintain our tranquillity and pureness.  Although our ‘body’, that is our environment, may be scorched and may yet suffer further, we can still maintain unwavering peach in our mind.  This can be accomplished if we work hard. 

Lifestyle Environmentalism

In addition, we must endeavour to have a little less desire in our mind, less pursuit of insatiable greed, leaving more of the natural resources for nature; we can then cause less damage to the natural environment.By using less paper, more trees will live; by using water more wisely, less electricity will be consumed.

The nature of defilement

It is often say that human beings do not have many needs but have too many wants.What is needed is not a defilement, however when something is a want but not necessarily a need and it is pursued, then it becomes a defilement.

Conserving Great Nature

To help Great Nature, we can each waste less, each make saving and economise, and, we should continuously recycle the resources we use.When these cannot be used any further, they can become natural fertilizer or natural materials again rather than becoming rubbish.


So, we can now have this understanding, that if we begin with a spiritual environmentalism, and then extend it to lifestyle environmentalism, we can then broaden it to the protection and conservation of our natural environment. This may be said to be what we need most today, can we survive by doing so?  We certainly can.


Following two half hour sittings, we watched the video of Sheng-yen.  The first observation made was that we are now reliant on technology in our daily lives and we have lost the simple way of living that previous generations had.  Also how technology has become a distraction from what is important in life and how that distraction impacts on the environment.  This is the consumer culture that has arisen in the world, led by the west.  Concerning pollution, it is easy to feel helpless to affect this in face of the task at hand and too easy to feel jaded when calls are made to reduce our carbon footprint.  In the discussion that follwed Sheng-yen’s advice to engender spriritual environmentalism, then lifestyle environmentalis to then help conserve Great Nature, we spoke about how to cultivate the first of these.  To develop spiritual environemtnalism, an understanding of the Buddhadharma, meditation and mindfulness in daily practice is necessary. 

What do you think?

Please let us know what you think of the issues above.  Watch the video and tell us what you think.

Being Content with the Simple Life