The online Journal of Buddhist Ethics has recently begun an online conference on an interesting pair of articles dealing with Buddhism and the natural environment, by David Loy and my former grad-school colleague Grace Kao. (Both articles were originally presented at the 2010 AAR conference in Atlanta.) While the conference is oriented toward comments on the JBE website, I’m posting my response here because my thoughts are long enough to be a full blog post of their own.
The different backgrounds of the two writers are evident from their pieces – but that itself makes the dialogue between them more interesting and fruitful. Loy is writing as a Buddhist. In a sense Loy’s arguments come in two pieces: first a dialectical argument to a certain conception of Buddhist first principles, especially based on the idea of non-self, and then a demonstrative argument from those principles to a sense of environmental concern. The first section makes the article more than a piece of “Buddhist theology”; unlike Glenn Wallis’s manifesto, Loy’s article is written as if it is intended to persuade non-Buddhists to a Buddhist point of view.
The substance of Loy’s demonstrative argument is similar to one that I have criticized in the past: that Buddhism is environment-friendly because it tells us to acknowledge our interdependence with other life on the planet. Loy’s argument is a bit more sophisticated than the view I criticized, and might arguably stand up to some of those criticisms. But I’m not going to focus on that point here. Rather, I’m more interested in the dialogue between Loy and Kao, and its implications.
Kao is not a Buddhist nor a Buddhologist, but a scholar of cultural diversity and the issues it poses for global politics. Partially for that reason, Kao’s article does relatively little to engage Loy’s Buddhist claims directly. Instead, she raises interesting and important questions about the proper connection between cross-cultural philosophy and global politics. Continue reading