In your journey, we have seen (cf. first part of the interview) that your relationship to Buddhism was inseparable from a certain ecological awareness. How do you make the link between Buddhism and ecology?
When Buddha says that the Self does not exist – this is 'anatman' and the concept of impersonability – what he means is that we are nature. We are made of earth, air, fire, water, and you have to be aware of that. There is no personal entity separate from this, our own Self is profoundly ecological. Our own consciousness is by nature ecological, so to speak. The great French philosophers, such as René Descartes, separated human beings from nature by considering the latter as an object. Buddhism does exactly the opposite by considering that nature and humans are united, that they form the same whole. It is the unity of life, life that is sacred. It is the purpose of spiritual ecology to remember that life is sacred, humans, nature, plants and animals. Today, the pollution of the environment comes from a certain pollution of the mind, monopolized by consumption, greed and lust. We want to buy everything, to have everything; this form of materialism is a form of corruption of the mind. The Buddhist teachings teach you to detach yourself from all these desires, to free yourself from these false needs. But without these intrinsic and personal qualities, we cannot protect the environment! This is why we look at nature and ecology so much as a scientific project, with technological solutions, etc. But this is not how we will solve the problem, because the domination of nature is first of all a spiritual problem...
How can the principle of compassion help with this issue?
Compassion and peace are two sides of the same coin: without compassion in your heart, you cannot make peace in the world outside. However, we must make peace on three levels: first, peace with ourselves. If there is no inner peace, there is no outer peace. It is only through this deep personal transformation that we can act for peace in the world. Then, peace with all those around us. Whatever our religions, our nationalities, our cultures, our races, our sexes, our differences, we are all human. Our humanity is unique, we all come from the same origin. We have the same destiny, we share the same future. This recognition of unity in all humanity is a second source of peace. And the third is to remember that humans come from nature, through the evolution of species. So making peace with nature and with the Earth, having compassion for the planet, the animals, the soil, the forests and the oceans, all this love helps preserve nature. It's a continuum: making peace with yourself, with others and with nature. These three levels of peace represent a basic idea of Buddhism.
The great French philosophers, such as René Descartes, separated human beings from nature by considering the latter as an object. Buddhism does exactly the opposite by considering that nature and humans are united, that they form the same whole. »
Right now, humanity is at war with nature. The way we deforest is an act of war. The way we pollute the oceans, how we treat animals – look at the factory farms where tens of thousands of chickens, pigs or cows are captured and confined in artificial lights, without seeing daylight, surrounded by machines, in the greatest cruelty… All this represents an act of war with nature. Peace with nature is concomitant with peace with humans, it is the same state of mind. And, conversely, it is the same cruelty that can be exerted on nature and animals as on human beings. Compassion for all living beings is fundamental peace.
Are you vegetarian?
Yes. Being a vegetarian is precisely an act of compassion with the planet. Meat production is one of the most important causes of cruelty on the one hand, but also of the climate crisis on the other. More than 30% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from food production, and the amount of water and energy required is colossal! The ecological footprint of meat is very large, not to mention the massive waste of the food produced. Combined together, the waste on the one hand and the greenhouse gas emissions on the other, it has an immense impact on our planet. This is why I recommend favoring a low-carbon, plant-based diet, it is not only more ecological, but also healthier. When you are kind to with animals , you are also with regard to yourself. I'm not saying that everyone should be a vegetarian, but I recommend being as much as possible. And if we must eat meat, then eat little and respectfully, with gratitude, thanking the animals before each meal. And above all, by avoiding having to resort to all these massive means of production... How to produce meat is a very important question, because we need animals for soil regeneration and for compost, so agriculture needs animals! Humans and animals should be able to live together in harmony and in partnership with nature.
How do you view new youth movements around climate justice, such as Youth for Climate or Extinction Rebellion?
These kind of movements are never monolithic, there are several layers. I find that a lot of people in these movements, like Fridays for Future, are pretty well trained and spiritually structured. In England, for example, Extinction Rebellion is entirely non-violent: during the last demonstration, 1500 people were peacefully arrested. In France too, I see that there is a large movement of people who combine these spiritual and ecological issues, there have been films In search of meaning ou Tomorrow ; personalities like Cyril Dion or Nicolas Hulot embody this. On the other hand, I urge these new movements not to act out of fear. I support Greta Thunberg 100%, she has like a divine power, but I urge her to act out of love! The power of love is much stronger than the power of fear. When we act with fear, we create disappointment, frustration, abandonment. While people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Wangari Mathai or Bertrand Russell acted out of love. Activism should be an act of love, not fear.
This brings us back to the question of non-violence, which regularly comes up as a subject of debate in France, with some considering that it is no longer a sufficient and effective enough means...
Non-violence has proven its success! This put an end to a lot of conflicts and problems, like patriarchal domination for example. Feminism and the women's liberation movement have been largely nonviolent. Barack Obama became president because someone like Martin Luther King led a non-violent struggle before him, just as the independence of India or the end of Apartheid were achieved through non-violence. All of the greatest heroes of our time, women and men, have been nonviolent activists, acting out of love and compassion. What is needed is a gradual, loving revolution, not a violent revolution. In 1968, a lot of people were violent in France, and it didn't work so well. But Simone de Beauvoir was non-violent, and she did much more to help women emancipate themselves. I am not saying that the feminist struggle is over for all that, there is still a long way to go, but we have won a lot of victories and they have always been the fruit of non-violent struggles in the 50s and 60s. non-violence has won more victories than violence. Violence can always be annihilated by greater or stronger violence. Governments will always have a greater capacity for violence than Extinction Rebellion, and demands will be stopped and annihilated immediately. We are much stronger and more powerful with non-violence. No one remembers violent people, but everyone remembers Buddha, thanks to his compassion and his non-violence!
In 1962, you yourself used the march as a means of combating the proliferation of nuclear weapons…
This march was an act of compassion, an act of peace. When you walk, you tune your whole body, mind, and energy together. You are available to meet other people, and you enter into harmony with nature, you listen to it. Animals walk, human beings spread the world walking, Buddha walked, Jesus Christ walked… It's a perfect pilgrimage for peace, there is no harm to nature with walking . Your needs are low, whereas when you travel by train, car or plane, all these means of transport create an impact on the natural world. So, yes, I think walking is still the most beautiful, spiritual and ecological way to get around.