Pad Yatra Response

In the documentary Pad Yatra: A Green Odyssey we follow the Himalayan trek of Gyalwang Drukpa, a lama of the Drukpa lineage and a staunch environmentalist. Gyalwang leads several hundred people through a path in the Himalayas picking up cleaning up plastic waste, and educating remote villages on the importance of eco-friendly practices. Given that the Himalayan region is being so heavily impacted by the rapid pace of global warming, as could be seen by the extreme and unpredictable weather, it was heartwarming to see an influential religious leader in the region take such personal charge of the efforts to reduce the impact that plastic waste can have on this crucial ecological system. From a religious perspective, Gyalwang has effectively altered some of the core messages of Buddhism in a way that strongly appeals to a western audience. Buddhism has always preached the message of compassion for all living things, and in this way Gyalwang’s message is no different, all life is precious no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. This could be seen in the moments when the group stopped to blow bugs off of the trail or when several followers helped a trapped horse out of the mud. Buddhism in a traditional sense requested compassion on the grounds that all living things are of a similar soul, just in a different state of reincarnation. This message has never deeply resonated with a western audience since the concept of reincarnation is not one that has ever been strongly established in western culture. However, by using the backdrop of global warming, a phenomenon that western culture and science is very much aware of, Gyalwang has provided a context in which Buddhism’s unyielding compassion can be more culturally understood. This can be seen in the large number of westerners who participated in the long trek. Approaching Buddhism from an ecologically preservative perspective creates opens an interesting path to rethinking some traditional Buddhist doctrine. Global warming is Humanities collective suffering for the bad karma of pollution and destroying the natural habitats of creatures all around the world. This bad karma can be cleansed through pilgrimages such as Gyalwang Drukpa’s or smaller acts such as the planting of trees to help rebuild deforested areas. One line from the film that particularly stuck out to me was in reference to how the storms like the one in the documentary had been happening more frequently in the past several years (paraphrasing) “We need to stop calling them natural disasters, they are not coming from nature. These are man made disasters”. The idea of taking responsibility for the damaging acts of the past and taking the necessary steps, regardless of how big or small, is one that would appeal to young western audiences. I personally am not sure if I believe in the concept of reincarnation currently, or if I will ever believe in it. However, I do believe in global warming and if Buddhist practice was rooted in the idea of reducing global warming for what will be either my children’s generation or my next reincarnation, then I would be much more inclined to support it.

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