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Columbia Missourian

Zen Buddhist will lecture on perspectives on environmental challenges

By Caitlin Kerfin
April 17, 2013 | 9:23 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Stephanie Kaza looks to Buddhism for insight into overcoming environmental problems like climate change, waste and resource depletion. 

Kaza, director of the University of Vermont Environmental Program, will give a lecture, “Responding to Environmental Challenges: Insights from Zen Buddhism,” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in  Fisher Auditorium in Gannett Hall.

If you go

What: “Responding to Environmental Challenges: Insights from Zen Buddhism,” a lecture by professor Stephanie Kaza of the University of Vermont.

When: 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 18.

Where: Fisher Auditorium, Gannett Hall

Cost: Free

“Buddhism had a lot to offer about desire and consumption as well as non-harming,” Kaza said. 

The Zen Buddhism law of interdependence, which suggests seeing the world through relationships and not objects, could be applied to the way we treat the environment, she saidMeanwhile, the Buddhist technique of mindfulness can increase awareness of our everyday acts of consuming, Kaza said.

Daniel Cohen, a professor at the MU Religious Studies Department who teaches a course called "Buddhism and Environmental Ethics," agrees that Buddhism promotes environmental responsibility.

"Being mindful of the environment means to cultivate compassion and ahimsa, or non-harm," Cohen said. "I think the message in Buddhism in general says issues like pollution are not outside of us."

An increasing number of students each semester have signed up for his course, Cohen said, indicating a growing interest in Buddhism and environmental ethics. So he suggested bringing Kaza to give the annual Distinguished Lecture on Religion and Public Life. He uses some of her books in his class.

Kaza looks for ideas "that come from Buddhism that may help create models for solving environmental issues," Cohen said.

Although the lecture will focus on Zen Buddhism, Kaza encourages people of all faiths to attend. The topic will cover moral concerns that apply to everyone, she said.

Kaza became interested in religion and ecology in the 1990s. She was already practicing Zen Buddhism when she became a part of what she calls the "religion and ecology movement."

She's written several articles on the subject. Her latest book, “Hooked! Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume,” is a collection about Buddhism and consumerism. She is also president of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies and a member of the Religion and Ecology group of the American Academy of Religion.

The lecture is free and open to the public. It will be followed by a reception and book signing.

Supervising editor is Richard Webner.