Eco-Sangha is Buddhist Ecology in action

“To be a Buddhist is to be both an ecologist and a conservationist.”

That is how Rev. Don Castro described what EcoSangha strives to promote. The term combines the words “ecology” and “sangha,” which is the Buddhist community. Together the word is a term used to call Buddhists to action to incorporate conservation in their lives.

“It is a vision that all Buddhists can embrace, uniting us in addressing a most crucial issue facing all life on this earth,” Rev. Castro wrote in a post on the Seattle University website to explain EcoSangha. “We may disagree for personal or sectarian reasons on the method conservation to cure our sick planet. But, we should all be able to agree on the inherent, ecological nature of Buddhism.”

 Castro, the retired head minister of the Seattle Buddhist Temple, is credited with starting the Eco-Sangha movement within the Buddhist Churches of America.

Karen Akahoshi, inspired by Rev. Castro, started Eco-Sangha at the Betsuin in 2008.

“Basically we are trying to continue to educate people about our responsibility to care for the Earth,” Karen told the Nichi Bei Times, a Japanese American news publication,  in 2011.

The group’s mission statement is:

As Buddhists, the EcoSangha of the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin recognizes that  we  are interdependent with all  life. From this  position  of  Oneness,  we  ask  what  we  can  do  for  our environment. Our goals are to promote:

    • understanding of the inherent ecological nature of Buddhism
    • ecologically friendly behavior through the established guidelines
    • recognition of the profound implications of our behavior on future generations

Within the Betsuin, the group has encouraged the use of paper products rather than Styrofoam or plastic; compostable utensils and non-plastic bags; tap water rather than bottled water; recyclable plates; and eco-friendly cleaning products. For example. The Betsuin’s Obon Festival and Bazaar has been using recyclable containers.

Since 2009, the Betsuin has conducted an Earth Day Service and even with guest speakers, activities and demonstrations in the gym. Fittingly Rev. Castro has been an Earth Day speaker.

On Earth Day, the gym and outdoor areas are set up with a number of stations to demonstrate such activities as aquaponics; worm composting; arts and crafts with recycled materials and  accepting old batteries, compact fluorescent lamps (CFL), books, gently used shoes and inkjet and laser printer cartridges to be recycled. There is also an Art Contest with cash prizes.

EcoSangha also recycles shoes, printer cartridges and clean white Styrofoam throughout the year.

After starting San Jose’s group, Karen Akahoshi worked to spread the Buddhist ecological movement to other temples and a number of them have started their own EcoSangha programs. In 2014, the Buddhist Churches of America adopted a resolution to promote “ecologically friendly behavior.”

RESOLVED that each BCA temple be encouraged to adopt policies that promote an awareness of the profound implications of our behavior on future generations and to promote ecologically friendly behavior in the spirit of “mottai-nai.”

Mottai-nai is a Japanese term that means “wasteful,” but in contemporary Japanese society it has a deeper meaning rooted in Buddhism.

Mottainai is Japanese term meaning “a sense of regret concerning waste when the essential value of object or resource is not properly utilized,” wrote Rev. Toyokazu Hagio in his book “The Taste of Nembutsu,” published by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission Of Hawaii. 

Mottainai is the essence of what EcoSangha is about.