• Steve Kear

Steve Kear

Steve Kear

Photos by: Rosy Kear
Enabling a great change

Steve Kear shares how practising Nichiren Buddhism reawakened a positive desire to halt climate change

I learned from reading SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s writings that we can all make a difference if we take responsibility and transform our own life. There is no need to feel powerless.  Also, in thirteenth century Japan, Nichiren Daishonin wrote:

If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present.1

I feel that if we apply this truth to our situation today, we get a very clear understanding about climate change, the state of the world and the need to transform the causes we are making. However, I was unaware of this before I started practising Buddhism.

From a small boy I developed a passion for birds and their conservation and went on to gain a degree in biology, specialising in ecology. However, while at university I became very pessimistic about the future of the world, seeing many of the environmental problems and the lack of political will to solve them, and also foreseeing that this tendency would continue. I completely lost hope. The planet was doomed, as far as I was concerned, and I was pretty depressed by that prospect. I even decided that there was no way I would bring children into such a world.

I realise now that in my twenties I pushed all of my ecological interests and passion out of my mind. Instead, I turned to follow the social norm of trying to build a conventional, financially secure life through a career in IT.

Then, in 1985, at the age of 27 I started to practise Nichiren Buddhism with my wife, Lin. We attended local weekly meetings and quickly started practising strongly. We were encouraged to make clear goals and chant for them, and soon received convincing proof of the power of the practice. That summer we studied Nichiren Daishonin’s treatise ‘On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land’.2 The relevance of this writing to modern times astonished me and I felt I would find the answers to everything with this Buddhism. Encouraged also by the joy and enthusiasm of the members I met, I gained new hope for the future.

This new hope led to us having two children, and I rekindled and broadened my environmental interests. I also changed career path and was able to help several large companies improve efficiency and reduce their carbon emissions at the same time. I also became interested in sustainable building and installed energy-efficient measures in our home.

However, around 2010 my job became very stressful and I started suffering from anxiety, resulting in a period of unemployment and financial hardship. Not long after that my parents both passed away within a year of each other. Subsequently I received some money from my parents’ estate. I was now financially secure, so what to do with the money? With hindsight I realise now that, once again, I fell into following the social norm and treated myself to a new executive car.

Life was ticking along quite nicely until the autumn of 2018: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported to the UN that, in effect, we had only twelve years to stop global warming. This news was a huge shock to me. I knew that the global climate had been changing. I’d seen the effects on wildlife during my lifetime – but this was now an emergency. I felt like I had been shaken from a deep sleep.

Every morning when I woke up this question would come into my mind and worry me. I needed my morning practice to clear my mind and come back to the present. I chanted to answer the question, “What can I do?” based on my Buddha wisdom. In my daily Buddhist study I found clarification and inspiration so many times.

For example, I found that as long ago as 1968, President Ikeda was encouraging us to tackle environmental destruction saying that it is:

…essentially a struggle against the devilish aspect of life that resides in people’s hearts. The problem cannot be solved without conquering the tendencies towards self-interest and egoism of all involved, whether business people, academics, government officials or ordinary citizens.3

It became clear that I could not simply expect governments to solve the problem. I must take responsibility and take action as a Bodhisattva FOR the Earth.4

In a daily guidance, President Ikeda said: ‘knowledge leads to wisdom’.5 In other words, if I wish to use my Buddha wisdom then I need the relevant knowledge. I found a reputable carbon footprint calculator online and it told me that the average person in the UK has a carbon footprint of 13 tons a year, well above the world average of 5 tons. My personal carbon footprint for 2018 came out at 8.5 tons. I was able to see that by having a genuine one hundred per cent renewable electricity supplier I had saved 1.5 tons, and by having a meat-free diet I had saved another half ton. It also showed me that the biggest remaining area was travel, despite the fact that I had not flown anywhere that year.

I realised that although I loved my car, I was feeling more and more uncomfortable with it. As I chanted I had to admit that, if I was really honest with myself, my choice of car was more to do with ‘attachment to earthly desires’ than Buddha wisdom. Since then I’ve changed it for an electric car and that has reduced my carbon footprint by another 4 tons.

I also made other life changing decisions and I’m very pleased to say that the effect of all my new choices is that my projected carbon footprint has gone down to less than 5 tons. But I’ve made concrete determinations to personally do more.

The IPCC report really was a wake-up call for me. In the year that has passed I have rediscovered the passion for the environment of my youth. I’ve been on demonstrations, joined environmental organisations and written letters. But still I have moments when the massive scale of the problem of climate change and its urgency seem overwhelming. Little wonder, really, when 2019 was such an unprecedented year of death and destruction, and the beginning of 2020 started in much the same way.

It is not just war that brings misery and suffering to humanity: rising sea levels and extreme weather events caused by climate change do so too. In President Ikeda’s annual peace proposals to the UN he speaks about the Sustainable Development Goals and many of them are concerned with the natural environment. What particularly resonates with me is Goal 13: ‘Action for Climate Change’, which has the subheading: ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’6. This is a global call for individuals to take ‘urgent, coordinated, and consistent action’7 to combat climate change through reducing their carbon footprint. As President Ikeda states:

A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind. 8

If ever there was a need for human revolution, it’s now, urgently.

My practice and study of Buddhism have enabled me to make a connection between what’s going on globally and how I live my own life. I have learned from President Ikeda’s writings that our movement for kosen-rufu includes protecting our natural environment. We cannot create a peaceful world unless we are successful in combatting global warming.

In a recent article in support of the UN Climate Youth Summit in September, President Ikeda referred to action being taken by young people when he said:

It is certainly not an easy task to halt global warming. But if we take youth initiatives seriously as a starting point …, I believe it will certainly be possible to open a way to build a sustainable global society. Indeed the fate of humanity in this century rests on our relentless efforts to follow the lead of our youth in this respect. 9

I am remaining positive and determined. I have realised that because of my natural interests taking action for climate change is part of my personal mission in this lifetime. I have talked about this topic at local SGI-UK meetings and had very encouraging feedback. Recently I started chanting specifically to see meaningful progress on climate change this year. Most importantly, I try always to chant with proper focus, pausing my thinking mind and just listening to Nam-myoho-renge-kyo – so I remain in the present moment, where I create the future I wish to see. I am trying my utmost to ‘enable a change in the destiny of all humankind’ by leading by example and through dialogue based on wisdom and compassion.

  1. Nichiren Daishonin, ‘The Opening of the Eyes (II)’ (WND-1, p. 279).
  2. (WND-1, pp. 6-26).
  3. Daisaku Ikeda, The New Human Revolution (World Tribune Press, 2008) Vol 15, p 28.
  4. Bodhisattva of the Earth: An innumerable host of bodhisattvas who emerge from beneath the earth and to whom Shakyamuni Buddha entrusts the propagation of the Mystic Law, or the essence of the Lotus Sutra, in the Latter Day of the Law. They are described in the ‘Emerging from the Earth’ (fifteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, the first chapter of the sutra’s essential teaching (latter fourteen chapters).
  5. Daisaku Ikeda, Buddhism Day by Day: Wisdom for Modern Life (Middleway Press, 2006) p. 308.
  6. See: www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/climate-change/ for more details.
  7. See: www.un.org/en/actnow/ for more details about this and how to register what you are doing.
  8. SGI Newsletter No. 10118, 7 January 2019.
  9. Daisaku Ikeda, ‘Climate Change: a person centred approach’, published online on the InDepth News website, 19 September 2019, at www.indepthnews.net/index.php/opinion/2985-climate-change-a-people-centered-approach/.