Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture
Volume 8, Number 4
Special Issue: Religion and Nature in Asia and the Himalayas
Guest Edited by Georgina Drew and Ashok Gurung
“Wastes and Worldviews: Garbage and Pollution Challenges in Bhutan”
The global trend toward urbanization has led to increasing waste challenges, especially in developing countries. Although Bhutan is still one of the world’s least developed countries, its economy and capital city have grown rapidly during the past two decades, causing solid waste production to outstrip management capacity. The government instituted new waste management initiatives in 2007, but they gained little traction. Ethnographic research in communities across the country revealed competing paradigms about the identification of waste, the disposition of waste, and household practices of waste management. Vajrayana Buddhism, the dominant religion throughout much of the country, profoundly shapes local beliefs and practices. Local environmental imaginaries and cultural concerns about ritual pollution have conflicted with technocratic management protocols, leading to confusion and incompletely implemented policies. Waste management policies may be more effective if they engage with the values and practices inherent in a lived religion that contributes to cultural understandings of waste.
“Everyday Buddhism and Environmental Decisions in the World’s Highest Ecosystem”
As Tibetan Buddhists from the Nyingma sect, the Khumbu Sherpa generally view the landscape as sacred and protected by various deities and spirits. Beliefs that humans can earn protection by following certain religious practices have traditionally provided beneficial environmental outcomes. Changing economic conditions, including those driven by foreign tourism, however, have reduced the prevalence or changed the character of these religious beliefs and practices. Mixed quantitative and qualitative research conducted in 2004–2007, 2008, and 2011 showed both generational and market-driven changes related to how consultants conceived of the relationship between humans and nonhumans and which environmental taboos they observed. Everyday Buddhist knowledge and practice appeared to focus on fewer spiritual entities and to be hybridizing with more secular belief systems. For Sherpa who are not following place-based religious traditions, economics may motivate less sustainable decisions; other Sherpa will likely continue their practice or utilize new knowledge to support sustainable environmental behavior.
“The Earth as a Treasure in Tibetan Buddhism: Visionary Revelation and its Interactions with the Environment”
In this article I examine conceptions of the environment in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of Treasure revelation that I propose are founded upon systems of exchange and relationality. Tibetan religious specialists known as Treasure revealers do not simply remove a Treasure from its place; they often leave a ‘replacement Treasure’ intended to appease both the local protective deity believed to be in charge of guarding the Buddhist Treasure and nourishing the local environment. I demonstrate that the logic of Treasure revelation is based on forming an interdependent exchange between humans and the land they inhabit. The source of the Treasure becomes a place deserving respect, protection, and devotion on both religious and ecological levels. I call this phenomenon ‘the ecology of revelation’, and I maintain that this is a fundamental socio-religious ethic characterized by respect for the environment and awareness of humans’ connection to it.
“Sentience of the Earth: Eco-Buddhist Mandalizing of Dwelling Place in Amdo, Tibet”
Dan Smyer Yu
I present a case study of Tibetan Buddhism as a lived religion embodied in the greater environment of a village in eastern Amdo, Tibet. Specifically, I explore the interconnectedness of place-based Buddhist practices that, I argue, present an example of care for sacred landscapes in Tibetan Buddhism. Based on my ethnographic work, I make a threefold argument. First, Buddhism in Tibet can be viewed as ‘an emplaced religion’ signifying the antecedent role of place in forging the complex intertwinement of the Earth and humans. Second, the sacredness in the local landscape entails a shared, hierarchical entwinement of place, humans, and gods. Third, the way the villagers, especially the lay tantric yogis, consecrate their environment expresses their connection and care for the landscape.
The articles described above are available for download here. Current and past issues of the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture are included in memberships to the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture. The ISSRNC is a community of scholars engaged in critical, interdisciplinary inquiry into the relationships between human beliefs, practices and environments. Scholars interested in these relationships are cordially invited to join the society, attend its conferences, and submit work for possible publication in the journal.