Concepts

The Oneness of Life and Its Environment

We are constantly exerting an influence on our surroundings while our surroundings are constantly influencing us.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona, Ariz. Photo: © iStockphoto / Alexey Stiop.


When people’s inner lives are misguided or unbalanced, the environment—human society, the ecosystem, oceans, atmosphere and geography—is negatively influenced. This is not a static relationship. The connection between our surroundings and us is dynamic and ever changing. We are constantly exerting an influence on our surroundings while our surroundings are constantly influencing us.

The Buddhist view of the relationship between people and their surroundings, between life and its environment, holds that life is neither created nor merely a physical phenomena, but an ever-present potential in the universe. It explains that life naturally emerges wherever causes and conditions are suitable for it to do so.

The place where life emerges and exists is called an environment, which for us includes our families, communities and workplaces, as well as the landscape upon which we live. Life cannot exist apart from its environment, and life in turn profoundly affects its environment.

Apart from the environment, we could not sustain our lives. That we depend on and closely resemble our environment makes the Buddhist concept of the “oneness of life and its environment” a matter of common sense. But the Buddhist view goes beyond a merely mechanical connection. It recognizes a common thread that binds living entities and their environment—the true aspect of all phenomena, the Mystic Law, which can be understood as the very life of the universe itself.

A change in the will of humankind must begin with a change in the awareness and inner resolve of individuals. 

Regarding this concept of the oneness of life and its environment, “oneness” derives from a Chinese term that literally means “two but not two.” On one level, people and their surroundings are distinct and separate entities. While it is important to recognize and appreciate this distinction, when viewed from the standpoint of the true aspect of all phenomena, these two things are one and the same.

Nichiren Daishonin also explains: “If the minds of living beings are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds” (On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1,p. 4). A fouled environment is the product of polluted hearts and minds. In turn, this fouled environment functions to pollute the bodies, hearts and minds of those living within it. The ongoing destruction of nature, in this light, is connected with people’s ignorance of or lack of appreciation for the true nature and value of life.

Ultimately, addressing and changing these problems requires a change in the collective will of humanity. But a change in the will of humankind must begin with a change in the awareness and inner resolve of individuals. When we view ourselves and our environment as essentially one, we see the value of cultivating and enriching our inner humanity while working to improve our external circumstances. To attend exclusively to either the internal or the external will leave us going in circles.

The purpose of the SGI movement is to enable a positive transformation in the lives of individuals, who in turn act with wisdom to exert a positive influence on their environment. When we each gain genuine confidence that a transformation of our inner resolve will absolutely yield a transformation in our environment, we can become a cause for effecting genuine change.