Three Jewels: A Gateway to
Environmental Work as a Buddhist
by Irene Woodard
How does my religion inform my environmental work? We were given this question and it sat with me, for months. It is a chicken / egg type question, and perhaps that is why it took me so long to respond.
I went back to the very start of when I became a Buddhist, 1977, and that gave me a prompt to investigate: the Refuge Vow. The Refuge Vow is the vow one takes early on when one comes to understand that the Three Jewels, The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha are very precious in one’s life. Recognizing these three essentials, and sensing that they are keys to how one wants to approach one’s life, one takes refuge. There is a formal yet simple ceremony. Sort of like a wedding ceremony, one takes vows before the community, the sangha. There are witnesses! The very fact that there are witnesses to this out loud decision, this public display, makes it quite serious, as well as there is a celebration. One celebrates the moment.
From this moment on, I will live as a Buddhist. I will embody the three jewels. They provide a view, of how to live, of how to make decisions.
The first jewel, The Buddha. We are taking a vow to live as the Buddha did. The Buddha, someone, who actually lived, and breathed and walked on this earth. The example of the Buddha is someone who actually, lived a life, not harming himself or others, who was mindful in his actions. So as an example, we know this is possible. Someone else did it, so this is something we are able to do as well. We can make choices, of how and what we eat, wash our clothes in cold water. For me, I live an hour and a half from New York City. I can choose to drive my car, or go by bus. As the day progresses, even brushing my teeth, the water can run, or I can simply wet the toothbrush and turn it off. Depending on where we live, we have large and small decisions that we make, all day long. If we live mindfully we can choose actions, make purchases that are not harming this earth.
The second jewel is the Dharma, the teachings. By taking refuge in the Dharma, we are stating that the wise teachings are worthy of following. We acknowledge this precious human birth, is special and rare. That we will not squander our days. We acknowledge the laws of karma, cause and effect. If we sit with our car idling, we might be more comfortable, but it has an effect. If we don’t fix a leaky faucet, water will go down the drain. If we continue to drink out of plastic bottles, we are part of the throw away culture. Instead we might finally buy a water bottle, hang our clothes to dry, celebrate with a vegan birthday cake. If we don’t participate in these actions, we are in denial about climate change...we are not seeing that we are part of the interdependence of all beings.
Finally, the third jewel, is Sangha, community. The richness of the sangha is that we are part of a whole. We have the support of others as we travel on this path of sustainability. If we are joined with others towards the goal of living more in tune with the nature, we strengthen each other. These are companions, who are inspired by the life and actions of the Buddha, and trust the teachings, the Dharma of cause and effect. Together we can remind one another of how we would like to live. We might see a fellow traveler, plant a garden, put a solar roof up, or change to a vegan diet, and we are more willing to try it ourselves.
And so, this simple refuge formula, in the three jewels, taken to heart each day, provides me with a religious tool I can count on to guide, protect, and provide companionship on this path of green faith.
Irene Woodard, has been a student of the Shambhala Buddha Dharma for over forty years. A professional florist, she has had hands on experience with nature, and as a mother of a son and daughter she understands caring for what we love. She has held numerous roles in the Shambhala mandala, as teacher, Director of Practice Education and Board Member. As a GreenFaith Fellow and Board Member, she has joyously taken part in Interfaith environmental work in her home town of New Paltz, in the United States and globally. She writes haiku and loves to bake breads.