Genesis of Eden

Genesis Home

Adams, Carol (ed) 1993 Ecofeminism and the Sacred,
Continuum Publishing Company, New York. ISBN 0-8264-0586-X

NOTE: This extract is included as an essential reading for transforming the world. You are requested to purchase the book yourself as it is, without question, essential reading material.

Extract from : Acting with Compassion - Stephanie Kaza

Stephanie Kaza PH. D. M. Div. assistant professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont. She has been a student of Zen Buddhism for sixteen years and has trained with Thich Nhat Hanh and Joanna Macey in the area of engaged Buddhism and social action, has helped plan three women and Buddhism conferences and is the author of a forthcoming book on meditations with trees.

The philosophical principles of Buddhism and feminism overlap and complement each other in a number of areas, mutually supporting an interdependent, systems-oriented view of the environment. There are also several areas in which one of these is underdeveloped in its traditions, practices, or teachings and is enhanced or influenced by exposure to the other. I outline here six areas of confluence, with some comments on differences that are not yet fully addressed.

Experiential Knowing

In contrast to much of Western philosophy and theology, Buddhism begins with the truth of personal experience. Experiential knowing in relationship to spiritual development is valued over textual, abstract, or other sources of knowing, which are distant from the individual (see Suzuld 1949, 267-313). The early canons of Buddha's teachings repeatedly urged the practitioner to thoroughly study his or her own experience and mental conditioning in order to break through the limitations of the falsely constructed self. The Buddha insisted his followers not take his authority as a final say on any matter, but rather sincerely investigate the teachings for themselves. Meditation practices aim to quiet and stabilize the mind so it is capable of observing thoughts, sensations, and actions in great detail. One's own mind and experience are the places in which one learns to recognize the universal nature of suffering (the first of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism). Experiential knowing is based on embodied mindfulness practices that develop awareness of need and greed, the suffering of pleasure and pain, and the impermanent nature of things. The content for this teaming is always one's own life. One's spiritual challenge is to investigate in depth the accumulated patterns of response to physical, social, mental, and psychological stimuli in order to liberate the practitioner from the suffering of unconsciousness. By shining the light of awareness on the nature of one's own conditioned reality, one finds the freedom to act effectively and skilfully, grounded in thorough self-knowledge. This experiential knowing or study of self in body, speech, and mind lies at the heart of all traditions of Buddhist teachings. Dogen Zenji, ninth-century Japanese Zen Master, expressed this:

To study the buddha way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things.
(Tanahashi 1985, 70)

Feminism is equally clear on the importance of experiential knowing as a foundation for social action and personal insight. The feminist movement in the United States, as well as in other countries, has consistently emphasized that women speak their own truths with their own voices. Feminists have encouraged women to reclaim the stories of their lives and speak what they know from direct experience. The personal is recognized as the political, for it is a genuine place of truth telling. This has meant speaking out about the painful suffering of sexual and environmental abuse, articulating the power of women's emotions, and hearing the realities of women's bodies and environmental health concerns. In feminist religious studies in Buddhist and other traditions, women struggle with the discontinuity between personal experience and patriarchal tradition, looking for new language, forms, and community that match women's religious experience (see Plaskow and Christ 1989). Feminists have validated the important realm of subjective knowing, acknowledging the inner experience of self that places the knower in an interior as well as exterior context (Belenky et al. 1986). Subjective knowing in women has been consistently denigrated by Western patriarchal cultures as self-centered, romantic, and distorted by emotionality. The scientific inquiry method, which insists on the necessity of an objective perspective, is the extreme opposite of subjective or interior knowing. It depends completely on the assumption that the actor can be separate from the object of one's actions (see Harding 1986). This overlooks the critical discipline of subjective knowing that reveals the inner structure and conditioning of the individual mind. It is this built-in conditioning that limits accuracy and objectivity in perception. Integrated, experiential knowing, which includes both object of knowing and the knower herself, is necessary for understanding the compleidties of the enviroriraental crisis.

For many women, the experience of knowing in relation to the natural world develops the mind-body's response to other beings and to lunar and seasonal cycles, informed by kinesthetic and sensory awareness. Body rhythms and responses to the earth have long been celebrated in earth-based spiritual traditions such as the Goddess cultures, not necessarily only by women. Among Buddhist cultures, the Japanese and others have cultivated an emotional and aesthetic attitude toward the natural world that represents intimate and pre-reflective encounter with the environment. In the Japanese view, nature is seen as the realm of "spontaneous becoming" a meeting ground for the dynamic unfolding of person, tree, rock, and bird (Tellenbach and Kimura 1989, 155). The embodied knowing of child and mother can be a model for intimate relations with the earth (Levitt 1990). The child in the womb knows only mother as earth; it is surrounded by, sustained by, and conditioned by the mother as context. Likewise, the earth is body to the woman, completely informing, conditioning, and nourishing her life. This metaphor does not imply that women have preferred access to these truths (the "essentialist" position in feminist philosophy). Rather, embodied knowing for any person is a direct link to experience of relationship with the earth. The earth itself can be seen as Buddha's body, supporting all lives, being the Great Life. Embodied knowing is a source of confidence for embodied spirituality and environmental political action. The Buddhist and feminist emphasis on direct experience of the environment is informed by the body as mind, rather than body and mind as separate. Through knowing based on experience, one becomes grounded in actual reality rather than in one's ideas of reality. Through this grounding, the practitioner gains a legitimate voice with which to speak personally and specifically of environmental relationships and how they are ignored, sabotaged, or otherwise denied.

Examining the Conditioned Mind

Central to Buddhist philosophy and meditation method is the practice of discriminating wisdom. This is the detailed study of how things work-both in external and internal realities and in the interaction and co-creation of the two. The purpose is to break through delusions that generate and perpetuate a sense of an independent and separately existing self. The discriminating mind can expose rationalized actions and mental cultural-emotional habits that perceive beings as separate objects rather than as members of a web of relationships. In the context of the environment, there are at least three prevalent patterns of thought that block relational perception (Kaza 1989). One common thought habit is stereotyping of animals and ecosystems by describing them in oversimplified terms. People tend to lump the few characteristics they know of an organism or plant community into a generic representative that does not accurately reflect reality. For example, the generic whale is playful, altruistic, intelligent, large, and gentle -each characteristic fitting one species or another, but not existing anywhere in this combination in a real whale. Emotional responses to plant communities also lead to undifferentiated labelling. Deserts are viewed as wastelands, and all forests are seen as cool, dark places, despite the many differences in topography, climate, plant and animal inhabitants, and human history. A second form of objectification is projection, in which the mind projects internalized ideas onto favored and unfavored elements of the environment. By reducing the reality of a forest to someone's idea of a forest, the community becomes objectified-seen as object with a convenient name and simplified description. "Cute" or "nice" animals, such as deer, rabbits, and songbirds, elicit more sympathetic responses than "mean" animals, such as coyotes, spiders, and bats (Keflert 1989). Likewise, good land is land that can be farmed or developed; bad land is what is too steep, dry, or impenetrable to be subdued. A third prevalent thought habit is dualistic thinking, in which one object or idea is placed in opposition to another, often with the implication that one has power or superiority over the other. Self-other opposition forms the mental basis for anthropocentric relationships with plants and animals, as well as prejudice and racism. We-they conflicts, expressed in views of the environment as enemy, share the same mental polarizing structure as mind-body, creator-created, nature-culture dualisms (see Keen 1986). The mind separates and distances one side of the polarity from the other, rather than seeing the opposites as complementary and inclusive, each arising in the context of the other. Feminism has exposed a particular aspect of conditioned thinking generally overlooked in Buddhism: the influence of gender identity and cultural habits of objectifying women. Many writers have described in depth the suffering that has resulted from oppressive dualistic thinking, projection, and stereotyping of women. Ecofeminist philosopher Karen Warren suggests three features of oppressive conceptual frameworks that apply both to treatment of women and the environment (Warren 1990). The first, value-hierarchical thinking, refers to placing value or giving preference to what is seen as being of higher status, as opposed to considering all things equally. The second, value dualism, points to the typically Western pattern of viewing opposites as exclusive, and then assigning moral superiority to one-half of the dualism, i.e., male-female, day-night, temperate-tropical, vertebrate-invertebrate. The third feature is the theme of domination, the argument that justifies subordination of one opposite by the other. To uphold this logic requires considerable mental and social cooperation with oppressive cultural conditioning. One can see this logic at work in rationalizing intolerable conditions for laboratory and factory-farm animals (Kheel 1989).The same dominating, objectifying mind that uses women for sex objects also justifies the use of land for strip-mining and forests for clear-cutting. Those with international power promote development projects for less industrialized nations that contribute not only to environmental degradation, but also to the oppression and further impoverishment of women (Shiva 1988). In highly industrialized nations, women are subjected to aggressive domination by powerful market advertising that manipulates their desires for consumer products. Both Buddhism and feminism provide critical tools for examining deeply the roots of antirelational concepts that support envirommental destruction. Both insist on thorough review of all aspects of the conditioned mind that perpetuate mental and physical patterns of domination. However, because Buddhism has been transmitted almost entirely through patriarchal cultures, its investigation of gender conditioning is underdeveloped. This weakens the Buddhist argument for ecological interdependence, because it misses the critical link between patterns of oppression of women and the environment. The feminist Buddhist position includes the connection, observing the nature of mind in women and men that sustains a separate self, capable of dominating humans and environment.

The Truth of Interrelatedness

The fundamental law in Buddhism is the Law of Dependent Co-Arising: that all events and beings are interdependent and interrelated. The universe is described as a mutually causal web of relationship, each action and individual contributing to the nature of many others (Kalupahana 1987, 26). The Pali word for this law, Paticca-samuppada, explains the truth in its literal meaning. Paticca means "grounded on or on account of'; sam is "together," and uppada means "arising." Thus the whole phrase can be translated "the being-on-account-of-arising-together." Or in the text,

This being, that becomes; from the arising of this, that arises; this not being, that becomes not; from the ceasing of this, that ceases .2

An linage for this cosmology is the Jewel Net of Indra, from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition (Cook 1989, 213-30). The multidimensional net stretches through all space and time, connecting an infinite number of jewels in the universe. Each jewel is infinitely multifaceted and reflects every other jewel in the net. There is nothing outside the Net and nothing which does not reverberate its presence throughout the web of relationships. This law is one of the most obvious connections between Buddhism and the environment. As ecologists point out in example after example, ecological systems are connected through water, air, and such pathways. Impacts of chemical pesticides on agricultural lands carry to adjacent wetlands; industrial carbon emissions affect global atmospheric climate patterns. Interdependence and interrelationship are central starting points for ecological research of food webs, nutrient cycles, and forest succession. Indra's Net, however, contains more than the ecological sum of biosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere. The Buddhist principle of interdependence includes human thought, perception, and values, and their impacts on the ecological-evolutionary conversation. This critical difference is what makes it possible and necessary for people in the Net to act ethically out of regard for the other beings in the Net. In the context of human relationship, feminist ethicist Mary Grey describes the metaphysic of connectedness as "revelatory paradigm" and "moral imperative." She suggests the ethics of care and responsibility naturally develop from a person's experience "trying to be faithful to relation or connection" (Grey 1991, 13). A number of feminist ethicists and writers point to mutuality and solidarity as key values for the feminist movement (see Farley 1986; Daly 1989). These values spring from the need for sister bonding as a source of strength in facing the internalized pain of the victim of sexism and in organizing for institutional and social change. Full mutuality or interdependence is not possible for one dominated by the absolutizing, individualist "I." Thus to experience the richness of full mutuality, one must transcend or break through the limitations of the thought habit of individualism reinforced as the dominant ideology in the Western world. For the woman who has suffered physical, economic, psychological, or spiritual oppression, freedom from the rigidity of the fixed "I"/self and release into the web of relationships means the choice of many more nourishing options for growth and development. Because this maturation occurs in a shared context with others also suffering isolation, the feminist experience of interrelatedness is a process of mutual becoming, born out of mutual vulnerability. 'Me joy and satisfaction of this experience may then be a foundation for "passionate caring for the entirety of the relational nexus" (Grey 1991, 13). A woman who uncovers her own capacity for mutuality can then (and often does) extend her efforts and empathy to the many other women in different cultures and places who also suffer from lack of freedom of choice. For both Buddhism and feminism, the core truth of interrelationship or mutual becoming is central to individual liberation or freedom from false reification of an independent "I." Feminist Buddhists who understand this path of liberation can be extremely effective and compassionate participants in the struggle for environmental consciousness. Acting from deep-rooted experience in the freedom to choose options other than oppression, they can work creatively and skilfully to open up environmental conversations that have been frozen by loss of relationality.

Emotional Energy as Source of Healing

The Buddhist practice of investigating conditioned body, speech, and mind includes detailed observation of the nature of emotions. In the Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, for example, the meditator is instructed to practice awareness of pleasant, painful, and neutral feelings as they arise in the mind and body. In Thich Nhat Hanh's modern-day commentary on this Sutra, he suggests exercises for identifying and acknowledging feelings and seeing the physical, physiological, or psychological roots of particular feelings (Nhat Hanh 1990b). By becoming fully familiar with the nature of anger, grief, fear, desire, denial, or the blocking of these feelings, a practitioner gains confidence in living through the sweep of emotional responses that naturally arise from moment to moment. The first step of healing from the suffering of difficult emotions is to recognize and fully claim the rich information and energy response of the body/ mind. In the investigation and mindfulness practice itself, energy is released and becomes available for healing through attention and understanding. Rather than suppressing deep emotions, Buddhist practice can help a person develop the capacity to consciously use this energy to relieve suffering. Much of the response to the current envirommental crisis is an emotional response, fined with grief, fear, and anger at the loss and destruction of plants, animals, forests, and watersheds. The depth of response may be so overwhelming that people become immobilized and unable to act. Buddhist practices to validate and move through these waves of emotion can be extremely helpful in freeing up energy to take action on behalf of the environment (see Nhat Hanh 1990a; Macy 1983, 158-61). Western feminists also recognize the importance of emotional response in the process of awakening to oppression. Most Western white women have been conditioned not to express anger overtly. Strong displays of empassioned emotion have been marginalized and viewed as unacceptable by the ruling patriarchy and its male model of "cool" and reserved emotions. Anger at sexual and environmental abuse qualifies as an "outlaw emotion," invalidated by those who wish to avoid hearing other experiences (Jaggar 1985). Feminists, however, are well aware that powerful social and gender conditioning can only be overthrown by a strong surge of energy and desire for change. Anger is very effective in marshalling the energy necessary to dismantle the structure that perpetrates violence against women and the environment. If one begins with the fundamental truth of one's own experience, recognising that perception and conception are intimately related, it becomes necessary to know how we feel in order to act morally. As feminist theologian Beverly Harrison asserts, "The failure to live deeply in 'our bodies, ourselves' destroys the possibility for moral relations between us" (Harrison 1985, 13). For Harrison, anger is a "feeling, showing that all is not well in our relation to others or the world around us" (Harrison 1985, 14). Powerful emotion is a sip of resistance to the unsatisfactory moral quality of our social and environmental relationships. This signal is the wake-up call to look more deeply into the situation at hand. Harrison argues that the power to respond is the power to create a world of moral relations. This is the work of spiritual and religious practice, the transformative work that can serve to slow environmental destruction and heal the wounded biosphere. The combination of Buddhist mindfulness practice and feminist moral response is a powerful antidote to widespread despair and depression over the possibility of nuclear annihilation, environmental catastrophe, or out-of-control corporate greed. This practice does not remove the threats or mitigate the devastating consequences of irresponsible actions, but it does help to generate the tremendous energy needed to address the complexities of the global environmental situation (see Macy 1983). Anger, despair, or other strong emotions alone are not enough to stop environmental tragedy, because they cause polarization and defensive reactions that block communication. Environmental activists already have a history and bad name in some circles for misusing emotions in the service of battle strategy. Habitual unexamined anger can harden into ideology that further erodes opportunities for working together. By cultivating a deeper, more fully informed emotional response, one cultivates greater possibilities for healing transformation of relationships between human beings and the environment.

Relational Ethics

Buddhist ethics are grounded in the truth and experience of the Law of Dependent Co-Arising. Sila, or guidelines for moral action, are central to Buddhist practice in all traditions. The Three Pure Precepts are vows to refrain from actions that ignore interdependence, to make an effort to act out of understanding of interrelationship, and to serve all beings in the interdepending web. The five (Theravada) prescriptive precepts to not kill, not lie, not steal, not abuse sexuality or intoxicants spring from a fundamental recognition of relationship. One aims to act as respectfully and inclusively as possible toward plant, animal, and human companions. In the Mahayana traditions, the model of enlightenment is the Bodhisattva who gains awakening in order to serve all beings. This is in contrast to the 'Meravadan goal of achieving liberation to be freed from the cycle of endless suffering and rebirths in a human body. Buddhist or other religious beliefs that place emphasis on Otherworldliness, or some version of escaping from the drudgery of this world, are not helpful for responding to the escalating deterioration of the environment. Forests can only be replanted here on this earth by those who live here, not those who have ended the world. The Bodhisattva model encourages the practices of compassion for all others as a means of accomplishing a profound sense of interrelatedness. One can specifically cultivate "eco-bodhicitta" or the mind of enlightenment that serves all relations of the environment (Ross 1991). The experience of compassion for others' suffering is what allows us to feel the connections with disturbed ecosystems and threatened species, distressing as they may be. Sensitivity and moral concern for the health of human relationships can extend as well to plants, animals, forests, clouds, stones, and sacred places. Buddhist relational ethics are based on knowing that one cannot act without affecting other living beings, that it is impossible to live outside the web of interconnectedness. The beautiful Jewel Net of Indra is sustained and enhanced by the quality of moral intention and commitment to the many facets of the Net. To act from this sense of relatedness is deeply empowering, setting an ethical example for others to consider. Compassion in Western culture, in contrast, is frequently associated with pity and powerlessness and relegated to the domain of women!s nurturing (KIein 1986). In examining Western psychological values, feminist researchers have challenged the traditional stages of moral and psychological development based on male socialization, as described by Kohlberg (Kohlberg 1981). In this model, moral maturity develops through increasing allegiance to universal rules or principles of justice and individual rights. Carol Gilligan's work, in contrast, suggests that women's moral development in the West is based on maturing responsiveness to relationships and consideration of others in moral choices (Gilligan 1982). Kohlberg's male model reinforces an environmental ethic oriented to rights and justice; GUfigan's altemative model supports an environmental ethic of care and responsibility. Relational ethics as described by both Buddhist teachings and feminist writers might also be called contextual ethics. A contextual ethic, as I use the term reflects both the diversity of human voices in a given place and time (Warren 1990, 139), and the specific environmental relationships in which the human dilemma is embedded (Cheney 1987). Built into this approach to ethics is the rejection of any single authoritative ethical voice or posited human nature that exists independent of historical context. Abstract individualism is seen as ungrounded and relatively unhelpful in addressing the tensions of a specific environmental conflict. Environmental moral dilemmas occur in a web of relationships. Each situation has a unique history, based on very particular causes and conditions. A contextual ethic represents a shift from emphasis on rights, rules, and predetermined principles to a conception of ethics grounded in specific relationships. Environmental actions based entirely on rules as moral guidelines inevitably leave out some aspect of the situation that is not included in the legal framework. Rules generalize; relationships are intricate and complex. A relational ethic calls for compassion for all the relationships involved in the situation parent-child, tree-animal, bird-human, soil-rock. Relationships are not something outside of who we are; they, in fact, define who we are to a large extent as moral agents in a social and historical context As Warren argues, "Relationships of humans to the nonhuman environment are, in part, constitutive of what it is to be human" (Warren 1990, 143). Relational morality is not simple; it is extremely difficult to make sound environmental decisions when relatively little is known about ecological relationships. The stakes are often very high when the consequences of human actions mean the loss of millions of plant and animal lives. Trade-offs in tropical environments, for example, are almost a matter of triage today. The practices of compassion and contextual reflection generate a deep appreciation of biological and cultural complexity and of the long-standing ties between humans and all other members of the biotic community. I believe this is an essential foundation for critically needed re-evaluation of what we are doing on the planet and what is ethically acceptable and life-sustaining.

The Role of Community

All Buddhist traditions venerate the three Jewels-the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. In environmental terms, the Buddha can be interpreted as all beings who teach, or the teacher within, or the Buddha as environmental teacher. To see all beings as teachers means one can learn from wolf, redwood, buffalo, river, and mountain (see Dogen Zenji 1985, 97-127). To see the Buddha as teacher within means one learns from one's own experience with the environment. The Buddha as environmental teacher is the one who points to the truth of interdependence and co-dependent arising of all life forms. Dharma is the truth of the teachings in their many forms, perceptions, and experiences. Each plant and animal, as well as human, is an embodiment of evolutionary truth, a testimony to thousands of years of living more or less successfully in conversation with the environment. Each experience of connection with members of the environmental web is a taste of the deep truth of the nature of reality as mutually causal and interdependent.

The Third Jewel, the Sangha, is traditionally described in Buddhist literature as the monastic community, or those who practice within a retreat setting. Rules for sangha behavior are extensive, numbering over 300 in some traditions, with specific rules for nuns, often in subordinate relationship to monks. For most American Buddhists, some of these rules are inappropriate because of cultural differences, but even more, they are not specific to lay or non-monastic practice, which is the prevalent form of practice in the United States. Deep ecologist BM Devall proposes the concept of "eco-sangha," in which people practice with aH the members of their bioregion or watershed area and consciously identify with and include the environment as community (Devall 1990). One then sits in meditation not only with others in the human community, but also with the surrounding biota, maples, jays, warblers, and wildflowers. Feminist Buddhist Rita Gross suggests that sangha is the "indispensable matrix of spiritual existence" necessary for human liberation (Gross 1991, 73). She critiques the historical tendency in Buddhism to emphasize the lonely path to freedom, suggesting that too much aloneness is not a good thing, for it is not, in itself, instructive in how to get along with others. Her feminist reconceptualization of sangha rests on the values of community, nurturing, communication, and relationships, traditionally cared for by women in many cultures. With no theistic ultimate Other in Buddhism to provide guaranteed relationship to the person experiencing isolation, there is no alternative but to provide relationship for one another. She suggests, "It is necessary to create the social, communal, and compassionate matrix of a society in which friendship and relationship are taken as categories of utmost spiritual importance" (Gross 1991, 78). A feminist interpretation of sangha validates and deepens the key feminist political and psychological values of solidarity and mutuality. Companionship and shared activities, including dialogue on environmental ethics, are then central to spiritual development and need to be cultivated as primary virtues. Women's friendships and love for each other and the mutual growth process may be threatening and confusing to some, because they challenge traditional ethics based in individualism. I believe that the friendship-sangha model is a helpful and appropriate basis for refinding and redefining our human relationships with plants, animals, and ecological communities. It is both enjoyable and sustainable, and can serve as a significant counterpoint to the recent history of industrialized attack and plunder.


These six areas of philosophical similarity or complementarity between Buddhism and feminism offer a solid foundation for a Buddhist feminist approach to environmental issues. I believe the environmental ethics generated from such a position recommend restraint in human activities that cause destruction and loss of habitats, species, and ecosystems, with the aim of reducing suffering for many forms of life. However, for effective evaluation of these two approaches, it is necessary to keep in mind the historical traditions of each source philosophy. There are several potential weaknesses of traditional Buddhism that may serve either to limit Buddhist involvement with the environment or, through dialogue and activity, may actually help define the evolutionary edge of American Buddhism.

Egocentrism as Central Concept

Buddhist philosophy and religious practice emphasize breaking through the limited perspective and conditioning of the small self or human ego, in order to experience the boundless interrelated nature of reality. The route to liberation assumes an over-valuation of self or ego, which distorts perception and perpetuates self-centeredness. This fundamental approach may not be as applicable for marginalized groups of people, including women. Teachings that point to the falsely constructed separate ego may be received as disconnected from the actual lived experience of oppression, or as a paternalistic strategy for pacification or assimilation . For women and others experiencing social messages that continually devalue the self, the Buddhist emphasis on egolessness may only serve to further erode the not yet fully formed and validated person. Practices that suppress the ego may be misinterpreted as a denial of personhood which can be used as a method of subjugation and denigration of marginalized groups. Feminism has taken a strong position on self-advocacy as a key principle in fighting abusive patterns of social conditioning, whether in marriage, work, or health matters. Self-advocacy is critical to women speaking up for their rights, their existence, and more humane standards of behavior. The marginalized or oppressed woman is encouraged to find her voice, her dreams, her capabilities, her inner strength. This is essential spiritual work, the challenge of distinguishing the true self from the many layers of social and gender patterns that deny the self. This critique of Buddhism is relevant to environmental work in at least two respects. One, in the realm of ecofeminist spirituality, there may be a tendency to overemphasize the subjective experience of environment as universal, in the enthusiasm for a women's nature-based religious practice. However, this may more accurately reflect the need to simply establish the existence and validity of women's personhood, long overlooked by many religions, including Buddhism. I suggest that Buddhist feminists seeking ecological spirituality examine the teachings in depth to recognize healthy aspects of self-development as well as the blocks to egolessness. Second, recognition of the full "personhood" or intrinsic existence of plants, animals, mountains, and rivers depends on one's capacity to fully recognize one , s own personhood. For the Buddhist woman student, personhood may be displaced by the brilliant experience of boundarylessness before the self is fully developed. This then diminishes the person's capacity to deeply reflect and stand in solidarity with the fun existence of any particular environmental other. Calling up the image of Indra's Net, this suggests that the reflective power of each jewel within the Net directly enhances the beauty and perception of all the other jewels. It is the quality of this reflection and existence that then guides our choice of envirommental actions; an ethic of restraint expressing respect and appreciation for the beauty of the other members of the web is not possible if one does not first fiffly and deeply appreciate the self.

Power Relations Analysis

The social conditions of power, status, and privilege critically affect environmental decisions, law and treaty melting, and natural resource negotiation. Social aspects of Buddhist religions are riddled with power relations, as much as any other organized religion. The social glue of power roles determines the nature of attitudes and actions of those in power and those not in power. While Buddhist philosophy clearly includes the relevant tools for examining the nature of power relations and the abuse of power, this area of inquiry is not a central emphasis in American practice today. Gender power relations, in particular, are not generally addressed, most likely because Buddhist philosophy and practice forms have come through patriarchal cultures with primarily male teachers and leaders. In many schools of Buddhism, there is a strong emphasis on practice relationships with an authoritative teacher. This can be a relationship of respect, but it can also be a relationship of abuse, where power and status are used to gain sexual access to women students." Issues of power relations have been raised by American feminist Buddhists trying to correct for Asian cultural influence in the historical development of Buddhism (see Boucher 1985; Gross 1986; Karabinus 1987). This inquiry into gender conditioning is not widespread and not necessarily well-received by American Buddhist centers or teachers. By broadening the field of inquiry to areas of hidden gender assumptions, feminists challenge the status of many of the governance and religious forms transferred to America from Asian patriarchal cultures. Those who hold religious or administrative power reinforced by Western male favoritism are generally not inclined to examine the language, behavior, and psychology of gender conditioning, despite feminist research showing the powerful capacity of gender conditioning to influence all other forms of conditioning. This weakness in Buddhist philosophy as it has arrived in the Western world could have significant detrimental effects on the evolution of a Buddhist environmental ethic. The truth of interdependence, acknowledging the intrinsic value of each member of the web, is just a starting point for investigating the nature of specific relationships. The environmental crisis is driven by the complexities of power distribution, giving preference and status to some governments, some corporate ventures, some ecosystems, some species, some cultures over others. An effective Buddhist environmental ethic is strengthened by the dimension of power analysis presented by feminist theorists. Political, economic, and personal power can serve the environment, if illuminated by awareness and social consciousness of the logic of domination. Without this awareness, the critical role of power can be overlooked by the Buddhist practitioner focusing on the beauty and miracle of interdependence.

Social Ethics and Engaged Practice

Buddhist ethics traditionally emphasize behavior guidelines and liberation for the individual, rather than structural change of social systems. The current literature on Buddhism and social change is somewhat limited in covering the history of commitment to social issues (see Sivaraksa 1991, Jones 1989). In contrast, Christian ethics trace their origin to the earnest stories of Jesus' suffering and compassion, developing principles of social justice as central to Christian religious practice. In some cases, Asian Buddhist cultures reinforce the acceptance of reality to the extreme of passivity. This can make it very difficult for Buddhist religious or social leaders to advocate social change. Feminism is fundamentally based in a need, desire, and strong motivation for social change. This drive for change might be seen as incompatible with Buddhism, presenting possible difficulty in merging these two approaches. The urgency and passion behind the feminist agenda may seem unmeditative to practicing Buddhists; the passive acceptance of Buddhist religious culture may seem unmotivated or apathetic to committed feminists. Yet each has something to gain from the other, particularly in developing a strong movement for environmental justice and a new code of environmental ethics. Social environmental ethics are more than the sum of individual ethical practices regarding the environment. They are the ethics necessary for dealing with the whole systemic pattern of environmental destruction, which has a force and momentum of its own. A religious practice that only advocates individual improvement in environmental actions (such as recycling, vegetarianism, or birth control) does not go far enough in investigating the roots of socialized environmental destruction. The development of a social ethic to address the scale of environmental systemic disorder requires a motivation to work with the system as a whole and to uphold standards for the system as well as for the individual (see Fourez 1982). In this task, the commitment of feminism may be a useful catalyst for inspiring Buddhist dialogue and activity necessary to affect the environmental situation at any long-term meaningfull level.