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Tibetan nuns lead the way in protecting Mother Earth

How the nuns at Buddhist Tekchokling Nunnery, Nepal, adopted green policies through their Khoryga project

‘As practitioners of Buddhism,’ explained Ani Tsering Youden, ‘we believe that we must change ourselves before we can change others.’

Ani is a Buddhist nun in the Himalayan region of Nepal, and coordinates the Khoryug or environment group in her nunnery.

More than 50 monasteries and nunneries throughout India, Nepal and Bhutan are connected by Khoryug, which partners with community organisations and NGOs to protect all life on Earth.

Buddhism teaches that the root cause of suffering is three poisons: attachment, anger, and ignorance. To some extent, the protection of nature and wildlife can act as an antidote to these poisons, and most Buddhist leaders encourage their students and followers to be active participants in environmental protection.

Trees are a good example: we depend on trees to provide us with oxygen. The source of the air we breathe is elsewhere, and not within us, and so we must have compassion for the environment.

In March 2009, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa held the first eco-monastic Environmental Conference in India. This was the moment that Khoryug was created.

Khoryug defines its work through the following environmental guidelines for Buddhist monasteries, centres and communities:

Forest protection: forests are necessary for life and monasteries can protect them through reforestation, and minimising harvesting in degraded areas.

  • Water protection: the rivers in Tibet and the Himalayas give life to hundreds of millions of people and should be protected from pollution, landslides, and floods.

  • Waste management: For environmental, aesthetic and health purposes, monasteries can encourage better management of waste, both on their own land but also in the wider community.

  • Climate change: The impact of climate change is being felt strongly in Asia; monasteries can lead communities in making use of renewable energy and improving energy efficiency.

  • Wildlife protection: Wildlife in Asia Is being directly threatened by the illegal wildlife trade, and monasteries can discourage ornamental use of fur and ban hunting in their vicinity.

‘There is a need for us to limit our wants. We need to take practical steps together to protect our Mother Earth’ – Ani Tsering Youden

With a particular focus on water, wildlife, disaster management, and climate change, the Khoryug network is preparing now for the difficulties and challenges that environmental degradation will bring to the area and its people.

One of its goals is healthcare. The network has trained over 400 monks and nuns as emergency responders and 20,000 people are served each year by its monastic health clinics.

Children mark World Environment Day at the Tekchokling nunnery Picture: Tekchokling

Over 100,000 trees have been planted through Khoryug programmes. Trees are a sacred symbol in Buddhism and there are many examples of the importance of trees in the life of the Buddha. In Ani’s nunnery, for example, there is no use of electricity for heating except that generated by solar power.

Khoryug has also created a number of publications to disseminate their work, from guidelines for monasteries and nunneries to disaster management guidelines in several languages.

‘There is a need for us to limit our wants, as desire causes suffering,’ said Ani. ‘We need to take practical steps together to protect our Mother Earth.’

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