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Green Buddhism: An Interview with Stephanie Kaza

Green Buddhism: An Interview with Stephanie Kaza

Stephanie Kaza

Stephanie Kaza is Professor Emerita of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont.  A leading Buddhist environmentalist, she’s the author of Mindfully Green: A Personal and Spiritual Guide to Whole Earth Thinking, Conversations with Trees, and Intimate Ecology.  She’s also the Editor of Hooked – Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire and the Urge to Consume, and Co-Editor with Kenneth Craft of Dharma Rain – Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism.  Stephanie Kaza joined Sandie Sedgbeer to talk about her latest book Green Buddhism – Practice and Compassionate Action in Uncertain Times, which offers guidance on how Buddhists can be a critical voice in the green conversation.

This Interview was originally published On OMTimes Dec 2019

An Interview with Stephanie Kaza: Green Buddhism

Interview by Sandie Sedgbeer


To listen to the full interview of Stephanie Kaza by Sandie Sedgbeer on the radio show What Is Going OM on OMTimes Radio, click the player below.

We’re living in unprecedented times, with climate deniers occupying the highest levels of Government and the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords.  With species rapidly disappearing, global temperatures rising, and the growing urgency to do something meaningful to act on the ecological crisis we face, two key questions arise: How can we stay sane in the face of such blatant denial? And how can we take wise action?

Sandie Sedgbeer: Stephanie Kaza, in your introduction to Green Buddhism, you write that when you began your studies at college, you thought you would concentrate on the sciences to possibly become a surgeon.  What happened to change that trajectory?

Stephanie Kaza: Well, my original thought was that I was so moved by the human body, the complexity, the amazing chemistry and sensitivity of the human body, and I wanted to be a healer, and I think I’ve taken the healing urge to a larger scale – to the environment. And I fell in love with much more than the human body.  To see that gorgeous complexity in every life form, from a small amoeba to a huge Sequoia Redwood.


Sandie Sedgbeer:  How did that inspire you to become a Buddhist?

Stephanie Kaza: I enjoyed being outdoors quite a bit, hiking, river rafting, and camping. I felt a deep sense of spiritual connection to nature, and I was looking for some religion that would support that.  It just turned out that the basic principle of inter-dependence and sense of connection with all of life was right in the center of Buddhism.  That’s what pulled me towards it.

Sandie Sedgbeer:  You’re Professor Emerita of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont.  You’re an Environmentalist, a Buddhist, a writer and author, and a lot more besides. And yet, the first phrase you use to describe yourself on your website is “A Lover of Trees.”  Does that trump it all?

Stephanie Kaza: Well, that’s a tremendous source of deep love and gratitude. I just returned from a pilgrimage to our most beloved trees, the Bristle Cone Pines, in the eastern part of California.  These trees live to be four thousand years old.  So, you bow down before these tree elders.  They carry a lot of wisdom through that much lifetime of experience.

Sandie Sedgbeer:  In the first part of your book, you talk about intimate relations and the intimacy of non-dualism.  Say more about that.

Stephanie Kaza: Very often in all the different kinds of religious traditions, from Shamanism to Catholicism to Judaism to Islam, there is an experience at the heart of their religious experience that’s often described as being at one with—or a “oneness”—either with a God or with some nature spirits, but some bigger sense of awe that goes beyond the human.  The kind of intimacy that I talk about in Buddhism that goes under this name non-dualistic is intimacy with that oneness and a sense of twoness.  Here’s this tree, or spider, another being that’s completely different from you as a human being, and acknowledging that difference simultaneously as acknowledging the connection makes that spiritual experience even deeper.  It’s quite profound to both senses that you’re in the same universe, but you’re also living completely different experiences and lives.


Sandie Sedgbeer: The book is extremely thought-provoking.  Thinking about how most people love trees, and then talking about non-dualism and stereotyping, and how we talk about deer, rabbits, and songbirds, as “nice” things, and yet call spiders, snakes, and bats nasty, mean names, and separate ourselves from them. Yet, there is no separation from anything. If we can’t separate ourselves from deer and rabbits, we certainly can’t separate ourselves from spiders and snakes.

Stephanie Kaza: Yes, this is one of the practices I picked up from Buddhist study that’s profoundly helpful in the natural world—that there is no picking or choosing.  Be present with all the things that are here.  Some of which you think you’ll like and some you think you won’t like, but the Buddhist training is not to turn away.  Not to go towards something in greed, or turn away from it in aversion, or makeup stories about it on your own – it’s a kind of delusion.  Those three are seen as the three poisons that cloud clear thinking.  So, many Buddhist training is about learning to recognize greed, aversion, and delusion in all its different forms.  As you say, we’ve many conditioned ideas about parts of the natural world that get in our way to seeing what it really is.

Sandie Sedgbeer:  It was a challenging book to read because it made me squirm in places.  It brought home to me that I need to be looking at my own dualistic thinking.  You also write about feminism and how that’s exposed to a particular aspect of conditioned thinking generally overlooked in Buddhism.

Stephanie Kaza: Buddhism, like many religions, has inherited a lot of patriarchal social forms and social conditioning, such as that the men will become the priests, or certain male intellectual streams are the ones that will dominate. However, a wonderful thing happened when Buddhism came to the west in the 1960s, at the time that feminism and environmentalism were both very much in public consciousness and dialogue.  So, I just ran with that.

I had read quite a bit of eco-feminism, and there was a lot of very strong intellectual critique, clarification, and development going on.  But nobody was looking at the intersection with Buddhism.  So, I brought my own ecological version of this and tried to find where these streams intersect. It did seem to me that feminists offered some wonderful insights that corrected some of the more patriarchal or non-feminist aspects of Buddhism and at the same time helped to expose some of our conditioned thinking about the natural world, which isn’t really anybody’s fault.  I certainly don’t want you to feel bad about some of the cultural stereotypes that you grew up with because we were taught them in books, they’re in our movies and television scripts, and people repeat them all the time.  So, of course, we all tend to think the same way about some of these things in the natural world.

Sandie Sedgbeer:  It is a powerful reminder.  Each time I read something about what Buddhism can bring to these issues, I wondered, What can I learn from Buddhism that I can bring to this? Each essay in the book reveals such deep, contemplative thinking about these issues. Did you find it hard deciding which of your essays to include and which to leave out?

Stephanie Kaza: I’d written many more pieces besides these, and they had to find a certain congruence and pacing. I wanted it to feel as if all this thought was still critical and relevant.  So that was my goal in editing the book. The three sections determined what went into the book, and I wanted to begin with this intimacy because that’s my life experience.  That’s where I start from, even before Buddhism; just being with nature – being with the natural world and all of its various members, whether it’s in the garden or out on a hike, or just walking in your city streets.  And I particularly enjoyed writing the piece about Tea Mind, Earth Mind, because of our beautiful Japanese Garden here in Portland, Oregon, which I go to all the time.  A very intimate place.

So, beginning there and then going on to ‘so what does Green Buddhism offer?’ Tying to give people who want that history, the ethics chapter especially, and then action – how do we take action?  So, it seemed to build naturally from experience in the natural world that is motivating and transforming, and then on to how do you think about it?  How do you put all this together? And then, so what?  What will you do now?  That basic trajectory can happen whether it’s in a religious context or any kind of spiritual context for really anybody.


Sandie Sedgbeer: Let’s talk about Part Two of your book Envisioning Green Buddhism and, specifically, Ethics Matter.   Because many people are saying that this is the underlying problem on this planet right now—what has happened to our ethics?

Stephanie Kaza: Let me tell a little story about where all those thoughts came from.  In the early-to-mid-2000s, Shambhala asked me to write a book with a more contemplative foundation than the usual 50 things you can do to save the environment because those books were coming out one after another, and they made it sound so simple.  Shambhala, as a Spiritual, Psychological Press wanted more depth.  At that point, I started thinking about these different contemplative principles, and what really sharpened my thinking was that my mother passed away in 2007. So I took a kind of retreat.  It was, of course, a compelling experience, and I just concentrated on this book and really thought about it, and came up with these three areas that could help simplify the way one thought about the commitments and the dedication one took.  It just seemed to fall into place quite quickly, and what really dawned on me was this idea of a Green Practice Path.  I took this idea, and I tested it after the book came out. I took it to the Thomas Merton Centre, a Catholic Centre supporting Thomas Merton’s contemplative life, and gave it in the form of a keynote address in an inter-faith setting.  Then I knew that these ideas could really hold up because they resonated so strongly for people of other religious backgrounds.

So, this Green Practice Path is a path you can step on and just keep trying, even though you’ll make mistakes, and things will be easier and harder on different days. But it’s a commitment to just keep trying. So, I could see, using the Catholic model, that there’s a kind of beginner’s mind when you first get excited about this sort of approach, and then a more developed state – I use this Catholic term “The Novice,” where you’ve committed, but still, are learning a lot.  And then, if you take this to the farthest depth, you’re just living and breathing the Green Practice Path all the time as part of everything you do. So, it’s a trajectory you can step on at any point and pick up any of these contemplative principles to work with one at a time and see “How can I reduce harm?”  “How can I be with the suffering right in front of me?”   “How can I embrace and act from a deep view?”

So, this Green Practice Path can really provide us a container for orientation in everyday life.  Sometimes people respond well to something you can hold on to, rather than feeling overwhelmed by all that looks impossible and undoable.  It quickly stops you in your tracks.

Sandie Sedgbeer:  It certainly does.  I want to read a little piece that really spoke to me.  You wrote: “The impact of human activity on the natural world has been well documented by many observers across many regions of the earth – soil erosions, species decimation, habitat destruction, water depletion.  There’s no shortage of evidence for the powerful nature of greed.  In some cases, greed is driven by profit motivation in others by hunger.  Environmentalists have made careers out of documenting the scale of its impact and fighting this biological drive run amok.  Most of the time, they point their fingers at others associating greed with capitalism or economic globalization.”  We all do that, but, as you say, what about other forms of greed?  There are many forms of greed that we don’t even think about.  Most of us would say, ‘No, I’m not a greedy person.  I don’t consume too much.’   Tell us about some of the other forms of greed that we could contemplate.

Stephanie Kaza: There’s a nice chapter in the book where I forced myself to do exactly that exercise and be really honest, and I realized that I, as a Professor, and a learner, and a great lover of knowledge, had a greed for knowledge.  I have quite a collection of books.  When people come into our house, they remark on the bookshelves, and that’s one place my greed is expressed. I’ve rationalized it, of course – that as a teacher, I would share these with others, and so on.  Even though I’m not teaching as much right now, I love collecting Natural History Field Guides.  And so, I have books on geology and birds and mushrooms, and so on.  That’s one kind of greed that looks very positive.  It’s just that greed in a more traditional, religious sense is seen as a sin. From a Buddhist sense, it’s seen as something to look at and try to understand.  It’s the drive towards something you want more of.  So, that could be money and profits as a corporate development of fossil fuels. Still, it could also be status and clout, or more members in your environmental group – you just think that if you have more people, and were more recognized, then everyone would believe you.  Sometimes, it’s for scientific data.  That’s often been true in environmental work.  You think if you have the numbers, and you can show people that there’s more carbon in the atmosphere, they’ll automatically respond and do something.  Of course, it turns out that’s not always true.  So, just to understand how greed pulls us towards those things we like and want more of, whether it’s good coffee or good friends, to watch how it works, because the opposite is what we’ve pushed away from, and to feel that as a biological and social organism develops great self-awareness.  It doesn’t mean you stop feeling greed, and it’s quite a natural thing.  After our very cold camping trip, I had quite a lot of greed for a hot shower.

Sandie Sedgbeer:  Yes, it does make you think about it differently.  I mean, you say that Buddhist Psychology explains greed in simple terms of attraction and aversion, and, in Buddhist terms, all emotions can be boiled down to three fundamental tendencies. First, wanting more of something – greed – or, we might call it, passion. Second, wanting less of something – hate – and wanting something that doesn’t exist – delusion.  So, talk about how wanting less of something can become hate and delusion as well.

Stephanie Kaza: Wanting less of something – people can work up quite a head of steam around trying to get rid of the bad people or develop very strong ethics around “What you’re eating is wrong, what I’m eating is right.”  I imagine the world’s vegans would prefer there be no Omnivores just because of all their rationalizations for choosing vegan eating practices.   So, when we take up an aversion stance, it’s quite easy to become self-righteous and decide that our ethics are the best. And this is a real, typical character flaw among environmentalists. I have to say with a little bit of laughter because it’s in their urge to correct things, and to make the world better, they can make a quite black and white distinction between something they think is the right way and not the other way.  That’s a very ugly manifestation of aversion, and I think one of the Buddhist contributions is to downplay that and to encourage all voices to participate, and never to lock in on one way as the only right way.

Now, the delusion – I’ll just say something about that because we’re in the middle of such a climate crisis – and delusion is being actively manufactured, and reinforced, and amplified throughout the world, as you said, by people in positions of authority, but also by people who are just afraid.  People who don’t want to think about the kinds of change that might shake up everything in their towns and communities and families.  It’s not an easy thing to look at, and I think it’s as important as compassion for the human psyche that doesn’t want that scale of disruption.  It’s very scary, and when you look at all those floods and hurricanes on TV, you don’t laugh.  These people are losing everything.  So, to stay in a world of delusion is a kind of comfortable and safe feeling.  It’s the “pull the covers over your head feeling.”  Some days, you do need that just to take a break, but ultimately, to look at it is going to deepen awareness and capacity to see right now that this is what’s going on for me and for others.  So, working with those three is a really important piece of this Green Practice Path.

Sandie Sedgbeer: This is where we see what we can learn from Buddhism and Buddhism’s approach here.  I don’t know that I would have thought about these things in the same way if you hadn’t detailed them so well in the book.  I mean, take passion.  We call it passion, but often it is just greed.

Stephanie Kaza: Well, Western psychology has many complicated emotional responses that are described there.  Despair, rage, frustration.  There’s a long list, and we are pretty well trained, those of us interested in emotional literacy, to use those kinds of vocabularies.  So, for me, Buddhist psychology simplifies things, making it a little easier to study personally, and then it allows you to make ethical choices out of those three principles.  So, for example, reducing harm.  That’s the very first principle.  Ahimsa [not to injure] in the Buddhist precepts, and you could see that you might be harming yourself with one of these greed patterns.  So, if you want to reduce harm, then it might mean that you choose less alcohol.  Or maybe you’re not digesting meat so well, so you might choose to do something with your diet, or perhaps with your transportation choices, or with your social relations.  Maybe you need more Green Practice friends to support your choices.  So, reducing harm is a never-ending field of opportunity, particularly in our very consumerist, materialist world.

Sandie Sedgbeer:  You taught classes on unlearning consumerism.  How do we unlearn it?

Stephanie Kaza: Oh, that was so much fun.  It was one of my favorite classes, and I based it on a class that I’d heard about called “Unlearning Racism.” I had the sense that social forces so powerfully influenced our understanding of race that it was somewhat parallel to consumerism.  So, we tried to do a certain amount of deconstruction, but I based it all on experiential learning.  Every week, the students had some little task they had to do – such as to measure their energy use – but the very first exercise sort of put the whole course in relief.  I asked the students to make a list of every single thing they owned.  They had to list all their hiking and skiing, and snowboarding equipment.  And They had to list all their clothes, underwear, T-shirts, prom dresses, and wigs.  Also, they had to list their toiletries.  I said, “Don’t forget the kitchen and the bathroom.”   Well, by the time they listed all those things and then wrote a very short, reflective essay, their minds were quite opened to how much stuff they had and how oriented to stuff they were.  So, we had a wonderful, wide-reaching, open-ended conversation, but the key to it was non-judgmental.  That’s where I brought my Buddhist background into the classroom so the students would know it wasn’t right or wrong, what they had or didn’t have.  I wasn’t going to jump on them, and I wasn’t going to allow them to jump on each other, either, because it was just to look, just to see how deeply shaped we are by brand names, by wanting to own something, wanting to participate in a certain activity and get all that stuff.  So, my eyes were opened as well.  I didn’t say too much, but it was interesting what they did own, and I appreciated most of all their honesty.  That’s where we could start. It worked really well with undergraduates because, actually, they don’t own much yet. It’s all in one room – their residence hall room.  When I’ve done this with adults, I have to restrict them to one room.  I say this will be too overwhelming, so pick your bedroom, or the kitchen, or the living room, and just list everything in that one room.  It has the same effect.

Sandie Sedgbeer:  So, now let’s talk about Obstacles on the Path, like anger, frustration, impotence, all of which get in the way of us being able actually to be useful.

Stephanie Kaza: Well, we’re human beings, aren’t we? And these things are part of what makes us who we are.  Part of what happens with the Obstacles is we protect ourselves.  We don’t want to feel certain feelings.  We don’t want to feel overwhelmed.  We’re not strong enough for really difficult mind states.  It takes practice.  It takes a focus and a commitment, and it takes something else I talk about in the book “Spiritual Friendship.”  I don’t think you can do this Green Practice Path alone, but in a hyper-individualistic society like in the United States and much of the Western world, we’re taught that we’ll do it all ourselves, a kind of tough attitude.  These things are difficult.  We need friends. We need people who can help us get discouraged and get stuck on some of these obstacles.  So, I mention one possible exercise.  There are a number of them from this wonderful teacher, Joanna Macey, who I’ve been working with a lot in the last year on a new to honor her at age 90. She’s been doing this work with obstacles for 50 years.

You start from gratitude, being glad that you can do this work at all, but then you acknowledge where you are, with whatever the pain is.  “I’m feeling depressed.  I’m grieving over losing the birds that used to come to my yard”.   People feel these things very deeply and with a lot of sadness and anger, but they are still a powerful response to the world, and that’s where the energy is. Suppose you feel that strong an emotion. It gives you a place to work with that energy and let it transform by being honest with it.  From there, you can shift out of that self-absorbed perspective of your emotional state into one that reflects your sense of relationship with the rest of life.  Once you’re in a state of relating with all other beings, there’s much more energy.  Such exciting energy coming from trees or even from your cat or dog in your house.  Or, currently, I’m very fascinated by mushrooms and fungi and how they have little root hairs scattered all across the earth and dirt and tying the whole world together.  So, that sense of being connected to all of that is a tremendous source of energy and joy in the face of overwhelming obstacles of difficult emotions.

Sandie Sedgbeer:  That’s been brought home to us a lot in recent years with all the books that have emerged about trees and the way trees support one another.  The community, the society they have, the brotherhood in a sense, and the way they work together.  This has been a real eye-opener for many people, opening our minds to other ways in which we’re connected that we cannot see.

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Stephanie Kaza: Exactly.  “That we cannot see.”  It really pays to have what some Buddhist teachers call “Don’t know mind.”  Just take the attitude of humility that there is so much more we don’t understand, and before we chop it down, or spray it with pesticide, think twice about what else is going on here?  What is the story behind this tree or these little flowers that just popped out that you’ve never met before?  To take a little bit of a precautionary stance.  We could slow down the rate of destruction quite a bit with just that first precautionary principle.

Sandie Sedgbeer:  In 1993, you published a book called The Attentive Heart – Conversations with Trees. Which recorded the series of your personal, sometimes spiritual, relationships with individual trees.  That book has now been republished this year, and in the preface to the re-released version, you point out that many of the stories you share reflect the changing conditions for trees and forests throughout the West Coast of America owing to Climate Change.  You talk about how Climate Change accelerating and National politics precarious. The future of the planet is at stake in such a frightening way. So many people feel overwhelmed, despairing even at what is happening to the planet and us. In this context, you raise the question of what the stories in Conversations with Trees offer us.  How are these stories about trees helpful to us?

Stephanie Kaza: When I first wrote this book, I felt incredibly shy and maybe a little bit crazy to be putting these stories in this kind of form, and I was greatly encouraged by a teacher.  I was in a Seminary Program for the Unitarian School of Thought, and I even considered becoming a Minister.  In fact, right now, I’m sitting in a Minister’s office in our local, downtown Unitarian Church.  This teacher encouraged me and said, you should keep going with these, and so my classmates and the teacher helped me get this to the form of a book.  Then I was quite deeply encouraged by meeting a wonderful man at a meditation retreat just before I moved to Vermont, who turned out to be a very good artist. I was really hoping we could convey something about the stories through the art.  So, he did these illustrations, and in the course of working on the book together, we fell in love and got married, and we just celebrated our 21st anniversary.  So, I didn’t put all that in this new preface, but there is a joyfulness in this book that I think can offer a respite, a refuge for people.  In a time of being overwhelmed, there’s a hunger for taking a break from the pace of social media and the internet and email, Instagram, everything that moves so fast.  The hunger to slow down and think deeply is coming back to life amid all the craziness.

So, this book is one island of refuge, and for people who have a little bit of a fellow feeling for trees, they’ll find a fellow spiritual walker here. When the book first came out, people would come up to me after reading it and say, “you know, I have this Maple Tree in my backyard, and I look at it every day, and it really means a lot to me,” but they were whispering.  They weren’t sure it was OK to talk about a tree-like this like it was a child or a pet or something, and I just encouraged them.  So, what I think of this book now is more encouragement, that whatever messages of love and care and complexity around trees and their stories we can spend time with, the stronger we’ll be individually, and the more we’ll feel we have friends.  Anyone reading this book will know they’re not alone.  There is a swelling cry for caring for trees and doing it in a beautiful, organized, personal, and intimate way.  So, the trees are just an example of a deeper relationship with some other part of the natural world than just human society.  I’m looking for, hopefully, better relations between humans and trees, but I’m also as interested in spiders and songbirds and the other beautiful things that make our lives so rich. So, I hope the book is a bit of a refuge and an encouragement to listen to one’s own soul in relation to the other living members of our community here.  It’s much bigger than just our people.

Sandie Sedgbeer:  There are many people who want to do something about Climate Change but may not necessarily have the time, money, or the skills to do something big, but I’m sure there are many small things that we can all do.  What would you recommend for somebody who says, “I don’t know where to start?”

Stephanie Kaza: I get that question a lot, and I really love it because just even asking the question means something is opening inside that wants to respond.  So, I say stay with that.  The fact that you want to respond will lead you to something that makes sense for you to do.  It doesn’t have to be a prescription, but staying open is the most important part.  So, what I often say is just talk about it.  Even if you can’t think of a thing to do yet, if you can talk about the news, the Greta Thunberg talk, pass that on to a bunch of friends, or bring it up at a family dinner.  If you can talk about the Extinction Rebellion tactics, even if you don’t like it or are unsure what you think, you’re still talking about it.  So, talking about climate is the most important thing we can do right now because the world conversation is swelling so quickly. This is only, really, maybe a 10-year-old movement.

Our big guy over here, Bill McGibbon, founded  He was a colleague of mine in Vermont, and back in the early 2000s, he thought, “Why don’t we just have a climate march?  It will be small. It’s Vermont, but let’s just do it.”  So, he led this little group from Middle Bury up to Burlington and, when we got to Burlington, which is where my University was, we had all the local politicians come and sign a little statement: “I will pay attention to Climate Change.”   We thought it was huge, with about 1,000 people.  Now, look at where things are.  Millions marched a few weeks ago for the Climate Strike.  So, anybody in any position can just talk about it and say: “I heard on the news” or “The local Bus Company is now running that bus every 15 minutes.  Maybe I’ll try that.”.  Or, “I just heard about Meatless Mondays.  Maybe I’ll try that.”

It’s the combined, small efforts that will help, but honestly, Climate Change won’t really be turned around by individual efforts like this.  That’s a hard thing to recognize, but ultimately, it’s going to mean laws and regulations, and big-scale changes, big business incentives, big shifts in energy infrastructure. Those are things we can’t do as individuals that really require a much bigger scale of effort, but we can encourage those choices where they’re happening.  So, if your local power company is trying to change their mix from coal or more polluting forms of energy to greener forms, you can support them.  You can say, “Way to go, that’s going to be good.” So, I’m really big on talking about it. Even my own little Buddhist sitting group is now talking about Climate Change, and one of the people goes and sits on a corner in downtown Portland and says: “Want to talk about Climate Change? Talk to me.”  So, I think that’s a really good place to start.

As far as specifics, it is true that eating meat is one of the larger energy consumers on the planet, so if you cut down your meat and eat more vegetables, you’re likely to have made a little bit of difference in carbon emissions, but that’s also true about transportation.  Transportation choices are one of the most important choices you can make right now.  About a third of the carbon emissions come from transportation.  So, just choosing how many cars you own, how many miles you drive, how you get around. Do you ride a bicycle? Can you walk?  All those things will help make a difference and will support the cities that are way ahead in making some of these transportation changes.  It is very exciting about bike paths and electric vehicles and buses, and so on.

So, I think that things to do are all around us, but staying close to the heart is very important here.  Staying open to the difficulty, to the call for a compassionate response, and just being willing, just to cultivate that. So, that’s what I tell people.

Sandie Sedgbeer:  Going back to the non-dualistic thinking that we discussed at the beginning.  It is a lot easier, I think, for people to grasp that an animal or a tree is not separate from us and may change how they relate to something they didn’t like before – like spiders, for example. When it comes to other human beings that aren’t behaving very nicely, it’s much harder to apply this non-dualistic thinking. People are getting very angry…with the US Government, the fossil fuel companies, with anybody who they believe is contributing to the problem.  What can we learn from Buddhism about cultivating compassion in those circumstances?

Stephanie Kaza: You have really identified something so important now.  This kind of divisive, free-flowing anger and rage.  It’s so harmful to human relations, and it makes it so much more difficult to do the things we need to do to take care of the planet to continue to live here. So, someplace to start with compassion is cultivating equanimity.  A sense of stability.  Anywhere that’s already somewhat stable is a really important island for that cultivation of compassion.  So, that may be your own home, where you know things operate well.  You can have three meals a day.  It’s warm. The bills are paid. You’re kind to your partner.  That kind of equanimity and stability is really important in a society where people are throwing a lot of tough things at each other.  So, that’s one aspect of this, and that’s seen as one of the highest Buddhist virtues, equanimity.  It’s seen as a way of offering love to the world without being too flamboyant about it.  Just staying very steady.

The compassionate side means trying to find that horrible behavior inside yourself.  Understanding that it has a root cause.  That it exists in all human beings, and you may be choosing not to act on it, but somebody else is feeling something similar and acting on it.  So, rather than separating, isolating, and condemning, understanding that we’re all made up of the same biological urges. Some people are under more pressure than others and less able to restrain those impulses.  Cultivating equanimity provides a kind of buffer zone, some margin for that acting out, and it can be a very proactive thing to do, to say: “No, we will eat meals at the same time every day.” Or, “We will act this way in our household or at community meetings, or in the workplace.”

So, I think of a Buddhist Green Practice Path as being a little island of safety, even if it’s difficult, but a place that helps others relax. That you’re always thinking it’s a way of serving other people so that we all have a better chance of living successfully on this much more fragile planet than we realize.

Sandie Sedgbeer:  If you had to distill everything you’ve accomplished in your life, the things you’ve learned, experienced, taught.  All the appellations that have been applied to you.  How would you most want to be remembered?  Would that phrase “Lover of Trees” be the thing that would remain at the top of the list?

Stephanie Kaza: It just might.  I’ve already figured out the tree that means the most to me where I would like to have my ashes placed.  So, I think the “Lover of Trees” is a coded way of saying “Lover of Life” and “Lover of all forms of Miracle.”  From the beautiful constellations in the sky to the changing phases of the moon, to the cycles of life across the year, and all the beings, humans, plants, fungi, and otherwise, that inhabit this miraculous planet.

Sandie Sedgbeer:  As I said before, your book touched me on so many levels. I didn’t know where I would even begin as there was so much I wanted us to talk about. What settled everything, for me, was that phrase, “Lover of Trees.” I thought, ‘right, there is a place to begin.’ Because when you learn about trees and really understand your connection to all beings, everything else falls into place.

Stephanie Kaza: I do talk about green wisdom sources and, of course, trees are one of the big ones for me, and there you are in the UK where there’s a long, long, centuries-old tradition of trees like a green wisdom source.  So, when your own culture offers that up and makes it an easy place to go for green wisdom, there are many stunningly majestic and amazing trees in every neck of the woods. So, I encourage everyone to go out and meet a new tree.

Shambhala Publications Inc. publishes Green Buddhism by Stephanie Kaza, and for more information on Stephanie Kaza and her work, visit


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