Students explored the connections between environmental studies and Buddhism at the annual “Distinguished Lecture on Religion and Public Life” on Thursday night in Fisher Auditorium.
The lecture, “Responding to Environmental Challenges: Insights from Zen Buddhism,” given by Stephanie Kaza, professor of environmental studies at the University of Vermont, was the fifth in the series.
The lectures, which began in 2008, “brings a distinguished scholar to campus each year for a public talk of relevance to both scholars of religion and the general public,” according to the Department of Religious Studies website.
Kaza explored the connections to be made between environmental studies and the practices and teachings of Buddhism. She demonstrated how many simple Buddhist practices may benefit almost all practices, then specifically applied them to environmental studies.
Kaza urged for greater value in quality of life and well-being.
“Philosophically, Buddhism sees the world as a web of interdependent causes and condition,” she said. “There is no single cause and effect. That you will always be able to see all those things over there were causing that, and then it generated all these effects. They're system thinkers, so this works very well with an ecological perspective. Personally, that is what really drew me to Buddhism. I was already thinking ecologically, and this seemed to make so much sense.”
Kaza, who has authored a number of books on environmentalism and Buddhism, serves on the Executive Council of the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences and the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors.
After the lecture, Kaza was present at a reception to discuss her viewpoints and to sign books, including “Hooked! Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume,” which was available for purchase outside the auditorium.
Junior Warren Hunter thought it was interesting that the combination of religious philosophy, with a study like environmentalism, could be so easily put into practice, he said. He was surprised by the simple actions that one could take from others' beliefs and apply to their work.
The mindfulness techniques used by Buddhists can improve the effectiveness of leaders, Kaza said.
“It makes sense, in a very sustainable way, to just build a practical, functional, loving society that is based more on kindness,” she said. “Leadership informed by that type of practice will generate confidence in other people, and we really need this kind of faith-based leadership to inform our environmental work, because it will help people really get to the concern at hand, when they are speaking very clearly and calmly.”