Tokyo, Japan — After a cordial meeting with a group of Japanese parliamentarians on April 6, 2015, His Holiness the Dalai Lama joined a panel taking part in a Global Environmental Forum for the Next Generation at the Yomiuri Hall, Tokyo, Japan.
"Today the topic is the environment, which is something I'm still learning about. When I first arrived in India, I had no idea about the importance of the environment, but gradually I have come to understand its significance," he told an audience of 1100 who attended the Global Environmental Forum.
One factor here is our increasing population. It's 7 billion now and some say it may reach 10 billion by the end of this century. In this context, large numbers of people live in poverty. There is a huge gap between rich and poor, which we have to close and ensure more equality.
"Then there is our rapidly changing climate, and natural disasters that appear to be on the increase. The need to take care of nature and the environment is urgent. It's a matter of human survival because this planet is our only home. We have to take ecology seriously. Although the climate does change naturally, the rate and extent of recent change is an evident result of human activity. We need to learn more about this and what we can do about it.
"If we compare changes in the climate and damage to the environment to war and violence, we can see that violence has an immediate impact on us. The trouble is that damage to the environment takes place more stealthily so we don't see it until it is often too late. Trying to restore it at that point is very difficult. We need to educate ourselves and make caring for the environment, even in small ways like remembering to turn off the lights when we leave the room, a part of our lives."
He suggested that we reassess our life-style in order that poor people's standard of living is raised and resources are used more equitably. For example, His Holiness said, countries spend vast sums of money on weapons. Nobody wants war; war means killing. It's like a fire for which the fuel is human beings. It's a fire that can consume us all. War is a part of human history, but the ideas that create it, the sense of 'my country', 'my people', 'us' and 'them' are no longer relevant in the globalized world in which we live.
"We need to think of all human beings, who, like us, want to live a happy life. My future depends on others, and theirs depends on me."
He said that Japan, as the one country to have suffered nuclear attack, has taken the lead in opposing nuclear weapons. In a recent meeting of Nobel Peace Laureates in Rome, delegates were shocked by the description of the nuclear winter that would follow a nuclear exchange. It was decided that it was no longer enough to speak out against these weapons; there needs to be a timetable for their elimination and pressure on those who possess them to meet it.
"I strongly approve of your opposition to nuclear weapons and urge you to keep it up."
Professor Ryuichi Yamamoto of Tokyo University made a clear presentation of the hazards of climate change. Global temperatures are rising. There are floods in England, drought in Australia, tsunamis in Indonesia. While cold waves sweep some parts of the United States, California is undergoing the worst drought in the region for 1200 years. There is clear loss of polar ice and as it goes on sea levels will rise.
One solution is suggested by Professor Akira Miyawaki of Yokohama University, who advocates the dense planting of indigenous trees. Professor Miyawaki was indisposed and his presentation was made on his behalf by Professor Nikawa Makoto. He explained that Miyawaki isn't content only to give advice, he acts. In his view life is what is important and forests have many ways to protect life. He has planted forests in the vicinity of polluting power stations, but he has also observed that when earthquakes destroy buildings, trees more often than not, remain standing. Therefore a forest is a place of shelter.
Having planted 40 million trees so far, Miyawaki considers he is planting for the future and his approach to dense planting results in 20 years in the kind of mature forest that might take 200 years to grow if left to itself. He views tree planting as a way to protect loved ones. He tells a story of a little girl whose parents were concerned because she never laughed. He involved her in planting trees and she began to smile. Miyawaki believes in creating a forest of life to protect humankind.
Dr Murakami Kazuo, an old friend of His Holiness's, told the audience that the key word he was going to talk about was 'genes', which he described as switches that turn actions on or off. In recommending that we turn off negative genes and turn on positive ones, he said that a change of heart can surprise our genes. We can turn them on by changing our state of mind. He is a proponent of the positive power of laughter. He showed evidence of experiments he has conducted with rats. Tickling them releases their stress and activates their positive genes. He said he is conducting research into the similar therapeutic value of prayer, focusing on monks at the Shingon Monastery on Mount Koya.
Murakami concluded that part of our trouble is that we only think of ourselves and our own country. He said we have to learn to live simpler more modest lives.
Invited to comment, His Holiness said how impressed he was with the Professors' work. The account of planting trees prompted him to remember a suggestion he has made in Australia that if trees were steadily planted inland from the coast it would be possible to make the land more productive. Similarly, he has speculated about the possibility of colossal solar energy installations in the Sahara, where there is abundant sunlight, to drive desalination plants. The freshwater thus produced could then be used to green the desert, providing crops for millions of people.
"One of my friends in India," His Holiness said, "the Gandhian environmentalist and leader of the Chipko movement, Sunderlal Bahuguna, asked me whenever I can and wherever I am to spread the word about the importance of planting trees and caring for them. And I agreed to do so, as I am doing now.
"One of the important aspects of caring for the environment is taking a sufficiently broad view. A few years ago the results of a summit in Copenhagen were disappointing because too many participants put national interest ahead of world interest. They overlooked the obvious fact that if the world is doing well, we all do well.
"Instead of wasting millions of dollars on weapons we may never use, the money should be put to more positive ends. And it's no use waiting for our leaders to take action, we the people have to take action to show our disapproval of these instruments of war and violence. This is in our interest, because invariably when things go wrong it's ordinary people who suffer."
As the meeting was coming to an end, Professor Ryuichi Yamamoto suggested that panels like this one, consisting not only of scientists, but also experts in ethics, should be convened to advise.
An environmental declaration was read out in Japanese and English which began with a basic understanding that the natural environment of our planet is facing a serious crisis. It went on to specify guidelines for action:
1. Maintain a serious interest in and moral conduct towards the global environment and carry out ongoing environmental education and awareness-raising activities so that an international ethics panel can be established.
2. Plant three trees per person or provide the support for those trees to be planted to restore a green earth.
3. Turn on the genes of altruism through smiles and prayer to lead humble lives in harmony with all of nature.
Thanks were offered to the members of the audience who had turned out on Monday; to Professor Murakami for inviting His Holiness; and to His Holiness for sharing his precious time. A final appeal was made:
As His Holiness suggests, let's not wait, but stir ourselves to action."