Visiting professor lectures on Tibetan Buddhists beliefs and their environment


The Kennedy Center hosted a lecture on the three types of Tibetan Buddhists and how they see and treat the environment.

Christian Haskett, a visiting professor of religious studies from Utah State University, lectured on Saving the Mountains, Saving Ourselves: Tibetan Buddhists and Their Environmental Outlooks.

The Tibetan environmentalists have protected their lands for over 3,000 years through their customs and religion. “I feel obligated to explain how and why (Tibetan Buddhists) make their decisions the way they make them,” Haskett said.

Haskett said the Tibetans historically live in the Tibetan lands such as Tibet, Nepal and the Himalayas which are governed by the Republic of China.  They also can be found in other areas of the globe such as Mongolia, Europe and Russia.

Haskett said they are environmentally oriented and strongly believe all things exist in relation to each other — people’s actions affect everything in the environment. Due to this belief, Tibetans work hard to maintain ecological balance.

“Religion and environmentalism are so integrated that it is hard to distinguish the difference between religion and environmentalism,” Haskett said.

Haskett said there are three main different types of Tibetans Buddhists: Tibetans, Exiled Tibetans and Western Tibetans.

Tibetans strongly believe all things in nature, from rocks to trees, have a guardian spirit. These spirits might punish or cause harm if people anger them.

“The land does not belong to (the Tibetans), but to the spirits,” Haskett said.  “You can transfer spirits or pacify them.”

Haskett said Tibetans are not concerned with global problems such as melting ice caps and global warming, but of their local environment of trees, rivers and mountains.

The second type, Exiled Tibetans, live mainly in India and generally stay close to the Dalai Lama. Haskett described the Exiled Tibetans as well educated people, able to speak at least three different languages and extremely educated in technology and sciences.

Haskett said some Exiled Tibetans are third generation refugees. They are less concerned for the environment because they do not want to feel national pride for another land.

“The Exiled Tibetans main goal is to use environmentalism to obtain back their homeland, so they are saving the mountains to save themselves,” Haskett said.

The Western Tibetans are white Americans and Western Europeans. Western Tibetans are concerned with spiritual liberation and their customs come from the West, which the Dalai Lama encourages. Western Tibetans also believe they should protect their lands in order to find spiritual liberation.

Haskett described Western Tibetans as democratic and non-hierarchical,  socially informed and engaged, non-sectarian, lay oriented and rational.

Haskett believes the Dalai Lama recognizes he has too much political power and strong spiritual influence and wants more room for democracy and gender equality, which are western characteristics.

The Tibetans, no matter what kind they are, revere their surroundings and strive to care for them.

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