By Sensei Alex Kakuyo
The Amazon Rainforest is burning.
To be fair, it’s been burning in one form or another for a long time. Subsistence farmers in South America have used slash and burn farming practices for centuries, which involve them cutting down a stretch of trees and burning them in order to fertilize the soil for farming. But large-scale animal agriculture has greatly accelerated the practice.
Initially, a patch of forest is burned down and the land is used for grazing cattle. This raises the value of the property, so ranchers cash out and sell the parcel to soy farmers who sell their crops to cattle operations in the United States. By the time the land is used up, ranchers have another parcel of land that is cleared and ready to go. This locks soy farmers and cattle ranchers into a vicious cycle that’s slowly killing the Rainforest.
At the time of this writing, nearly 1/5 of the forest is already gone, and the fires have gotten so big that NASA can see them from space.
Why is this a problem? The Amazon is effectively the lungs of our planet, producing 20% of the world’s oxygen. If it dies, there’s a good chance that we’ll die with it.
The idea of my personal death doesn’t bother me. I understand that this body is only on loan to me, and I’m okay with it being recycled to make more birds, trees, rocks, etc. But watching the rain forest die is a different matter.
Buddhist practice has shown me the connection between my personal actions and the environment. I switched to a plant-based diet and stopped driving a car in the hopes that I could help save our planet, but as more of the Amazon burns each year, I’m realizing that it won’t be enough. The planet is going to die, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
As I ponder this, my thoughts take a turn towards the nihilistic. If it’s all going to go up in flames, why wait. We might as well get drunk and high, and start burning tires in the street! But then my training kicks in, and I remember that humanity’s love for self-destruction is strong, but Buddhism is stronger.
Because in Samsara something is always burning, dying, or being taken away from us.
Buddhism helps us make peace with that loss so it doesn’t eat us alive. Even as the world falls apart around me, I return to my practice; reminded that I must engage in peaceful, life-affirming actions each day regardless of the outcome.
The Amazon Rainforest is dying, and it’s our desire for beef that’s killing it. I hope this changes in my lifetime, but if it doesn’t that’s okay too. Either way, I’ll be where I’ve always been. At home; meditating and tending my garden.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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