Zoomcasts during Covid: During the Covid pandemic, obviously the normal mutual exchange and learning activities of eco-temple could not continue. However, this work continued in an ongoing series of Zoomcasts started in the early part of 2021 and hosted by Melinda Varfi in Hungary. For 2021, we held four seminars as follows: 1) February 26th on “Tera Energy: Inspirational Learning from a Japanese Buddhist Energy Community” with Rev. Ryogo Takemoto; 2) April 15th on “10 Years of Fall-out: Taking Nuclear to Court” with Rev. Hidehito Okochi concerning the Fukushima nuclear accident. Both of these seminars were facilitated by the simultaneous translation of Tom Eskildsen; 3) July 29th on “Green Sustainable Livelihood & Compressed Stabilized Earth Bricks” with Gauthama Prabu and Ninad Lanjewar in Tamil Nadu, India; and 4) October 28th on “Metta Garden: A Space for All Beings while Practicing Loving Kindness” with Kanchana Weerakoon in Sri Lanka and New Delhi, India. We plan to continue these on-line seminars in 2022 with hopefully some live field reporting.
Below are the various activities of members based on our new project cycle system developed in 2020:
Small Sphere: Local Ecology through Food Security and Waste Management for Home & Community:
Atisha Dipankar Peace Trust, Bangladesh (Sanat Kumar Barua)
- They are creating a project called Bengal Greenhearts for safe food production and consumption with maintaining food security and sustainable food supplies by developing a local Good Market with the wider INEB-related Good Market project to connect human resources. By developing connection with the main Good Market project, they hope to create income generation for further developing the work.
- At the Mahabodhi temple in Delhi, they could not do the summer crop due to COVID and the main monk leaving. However, with the arrival of a new monk from Sri Lanka, they have started to plant a winter crop.
- In Sri Lanka, in mid 2021, the Eco Friendly Volunteers group selected 15 candidates out of 22 applicants to support for establishing Metta Gardens. Most are housewives or retired women in urban and suburban settings, who report a real transformation in their consciousness through getting closer to nature.
- In order to spread this work more after COVID finally abates, Kanchana has started to write a handbook on making Metta Gardens.
- For 2022, Kanchana is developing more networks with environmentally conscious monks in Sri Lanka to spread the practice of Metta Gardening in temples as with the Delhi Mahabodhi temple, especially with Galkande Dhammananda, a very ecologically engaged monk.
Medium Sphere: Community & Regional Ecology through Land Restoration and Integrated Farming
“New Theory Agriculture” (Kok Nong Na) for Sufficiency Economy, Thailand (Phra Sangkom Thanapanyo Khunsiri):
- 2021 was a great year for the KNN movement because King Rama X became interested in this work through the influence of one of his royal consorts and has begun to financially support and promote it. He has called it “enlightened agriculture”. The king knows that he is not so popular among the young generation and his advisors are telling him to support more grassroots activities that are popular with the common people.
- The KNN system makes a great contribution to organic food and medicine and clean ground water. In this way, it challenges the still powerful forces in Thailand promoting intensive, chemical agro-business like Monsato and the Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group. However, they cannot block the King’s authority on certain issues. Phra Sangkhom estimates that there are now over 10,000 such KNN projects in Thailand. At the end of 2021, he met the head of the military in Surin district in the Northeast to establish KNN into the curriculum of 35,000 schools there.
- After Covid ends, it is hoped this will become the new norm for agriculture and self-sufficiency. However, right now, it is important in creating a more self-sufficient economy as COVID affects international trade and other parts of the Thai economy like tourism. This is also a great opportunity to advocate to people at the top of the system to change policy. It is creating space for the practice of sustainability in prisons, in schools, and in temples. One of the concerns going forward is how to use all this new money from the government wisely as such vast amounts of money always attract corruption.
Large Sphere: Regional & Trans-National Ecology:
Wildlife Corridors, Forest Preservation, & Biodiversity, Thailand (Phra Win Mektripop & Somboon Chungprampree)
- Somboon visited Phra Win’s temple in July and they are collaborating with the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to develop a research project on wildlife corridors to use as a model for action research. They will study and help develop and preserve the corridor that stretches along the Phukheio-Namnow and the World Heritage Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complexes in North-East Thailand, which serves as the backbone watershed for central Thailand and an important one also for the entire Mekong region connecting Laos and Cambodia. This will include on the ground environmental work for reforestation, which leading Engaged Buddhist monk Phra Phaisan Visalo’s foundation will also support.
- In the first half of 2021, they held 3 workshops on reducing the use of wildlife products for Buddhist goods, especially ivory for amulets that are very popular in Thailand. About 100 monks and nuns attended. This was funded by US Aid, and a prominent temple named Wat Saket will continue to support now that the US Aid fund is finished. They followed this work up with a meeting with the Department of National Parks concerning the use of wildlife products for Buddhist use as well as the legal status of forest temples located in national parks.
- A final new initiative of Phra Win is to connect with Japan’s suicide prevention priests and learn their techniques to possible apply to eco-temple in terms of offering people with mental illness as place to rehabilitate their mental health in a forest temple close to nature, like where he lives. There could also be a connection made with the Metta Garden project as a form of psycho-spiritual therapy that could even be done in urban environments.
Cross Sector Technology I: Clean, Sustainable Energy
- Rev. Okochi has been active in an ongoing court case with his group the Interfaith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy, which has brought a legal case to close down the giant nuclear fuel reprocessing center in Aomori on the northern tip of Japan’s main island. On a sad note, Rev. Masakazu Iwata, a minister of the United Church of Christ in Japan and a leader in the Interfaith Forum, recently passed away. As he was based in Aomori, he became the chief plaintiff for this court case. He also inspired Rev. Okochi’s design for his Pure Land Buddhism and No Nukes flag which he carries in protests.
- Nuclear power seems obsolete in this day and age but the vested interests in Japan called the Nuclear Village are fighting hard to revive it. They have been hiring PR companies to spread disinformation on solar energy, such as building such big solar parks leads to deforestation and landslides as well as the surcharges to support renewable energy to enter the market are raising electricity prices. In one way, Rev. Okochi agrees that mega solar parks and wind farms are not the way forward, but rather smaller, local projects to meet the needs of the community and avoid power outages. When the government liberalized the energy system after the Fukushima incident, many believed that new renewable energy companies would thrive, but they did not foresee that new companies would emerge that promote and use coal. The Japanese political leadership is in turmoil now, so there seems to be little chance for major change in these energy policies, so they are continuing to work at the community level as best they can.
- Gautham Prabu (see below) would like to invite Rev. Okochi to share his experiences in a zoom seminar with his community in southern India where there is a very strong pro-nuclear campaign run by the government.
Cross Sector Technology II: Ecological Architecture through Compressed Stabilized Earth Blocks (CSEB)
Sukhavati Eco-Temple (Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, India) under the Foundation for His Sacred Majesty (Mr. Gauthama Prabhu Nagappan, Executive Director)
- Gautham Prabhu in Southern India has been working with innovators in the alternative town of Auroville in Tamil Nadhu to learn how to make CSEB and to procure the special machines needed to make them for the purpose of not only building his eco-temple but also providing an income generating business of CSEB makers among his Dalit communities. In March 2021, they were able to secure a two-year grant to procure such machines from the Karuna Germany foundation, a branch of the Karuna Trust created by the Friends of Western Buddhist Order. Since then until October, they began training some workers at Auroville in how to use these machines. Since November, they have started to move the ten new machines to a plot of land in their region to begin production with a focus on female Dalit women to help them build their own economic viability as producers. Architects and builders are also consulting the group on how to build the eco-temple itself and the surrounding campus.
- Gautham’s groups plans in 2022 to train young Buddhist teachers in his community not only in Dhamma but also environmental sustainability. At present, there are two monks also training in orthodox Theravada in Sri Lanka, and he hopes they can travel to Thailand in 2022 to learn more hands-on community development in Thailand with Phra Win and Phra Sangkom.
Cross Sector Social Enterprise I: Eco-Products
Atisha Dipankar Peace Trust, Bangladesh (Sanat Kumar Barua)
- They are making a project for eco-friendly household & commercial products (paper made cups, plates, boxes, packets, reusable market begs, clean energy, pure drinking water etc) for supply and production. The goals are to rid the local area of plastic pollution, ensure good health free from infectious diseases, and create compostable products to reduce soil and water pollution. Bengal Greenhearts