Right now, speaking about Buddhist monks should be done carefully. Certain Buddhist monks behave in a very unfortunate manner on the pretext of religion. Not only them, but also all the extremists are trying to sow the seeds of racism and religious extremism in this land to serve someone’s needs. Facing such instances should be done intelligently.
As a country with unfortunate experiences in the past, a recurrence of such a dark period is uncalled for. In such a scenario, we met a Buddhist monk, who thinks differently about what is happening around him. In a society that would do anything for money and power, he is an exception and an example to all. His life dedicated to the nature is an important lesson for the young.
He is Ven. Wekandawala Rahula Thera, incumbent of Sri Bodhirukkarama Vihara at Kudabubula in Weeraketiya. Given below are the answers he gave to our questions.
How he began to love nature
I loved nature since being a little boy, but had not much opportunity to pay much attention to it during school or Pirivena education. But, that did not discourage me. I had my own way to gain experience by meeting environmentalists.
Then, I got to know about the environment and natural resources management course conducted by the Environment and Nature Study Centre. The environmentalists I met before had no real interest to raise public awareness on environment.
But, meeting Dr. Ravindra Kariyawasam and following the course have been a great help to me. The course is free of charge and its nature gave me the much-needed boost to create a place to disburse the knowledge on environment.
His experiences with the nature
First thing I did was to conserve the water sources and other natural resources at Kudabubula, where my temple is located. The Dhamma School, the young and adults all got together and worked to preserve the Bubula jungle, starting off with planting trees, clearing it of polythene etc.
However, they had no way of getting plant seeds. They found plants created from fallen seeds from Jak trees. They had their own plant nursery, and then starting planting trees in the jungle. Various people visited them, but they had not honest intention of giving knowledge to the villagers. But, they were interested in getting their effort joined to a project they were doing.
Environmental problems in the area
What we learnt was that in our area too, destruction of the jungle created many problems for the people. Monkeys, chipmunks, peacocks and other animals invaded the villages and created trouble. Even when we did not have that much of knowledge about environment, we thought as to why they invaded our village. They had been living in the mountainous jungles such as Gonadeniya.
Then, we decided on the reforestation. So, we stretched our work beyond the borders of our village. In the meantime, we learnt and gained a lot of experience on the environmental groups and the environmentalists. In such a scenario, we bonded with the Environment and Nature Study Centre as it had the real need that was absent in other environmental groups and environmentalists.
Very critical of environmental groups, environmentalists
We saw the reality of our experiences during our work previously, only after we started getting involved at national level. It is unfortunate that most environmental groups and environmentalists are confined to achieving their personal objectives and financial needs. I haven’t seen any other environmental group getting involved in educating and empowering the public in order for them to mediate for a change in the field of environment at national level. Everything is based on money. To be environmentally-friendly, knowledge is essential. But, environmental groups do everything else except giving knowledge. We may speak a lot about environment, but days go by without any good happening for environment. Only the bad happens.
Reason for such a situation
Environment is not an issue. Environmental matters take the shape of our economical and political natures. That situation has caused the dwindling of natural resources. That has been happening for a long time. For instance, the country’s heart is the central hills that affect the country’s weather, biodiversity and everything else. But, the economical and political interference have resulted in the central hills failing to store the rainfall. The sensitive environmental systems are facing grave destruction.
In the central hills alone, we can see more than 300 small hydropower stations. Alien plants have invaded our environment. Nature has been a victim of massive development projects too. Also, tea, rubber and coffee plantations have caused deforestation. Reservations along rivers have been ruined and factories have come up. Rivers have been blocked to build hydropower stations. Land-filling in low-lying areas causes flooding. The expressway network has blocked most river valleys. For example, many hitherto safe areas such as Baddegama in Galle have are now getting flooded due to the Matara-Hambantota expressway.
This economical and political style has adversely affected our environment. Last year, many natural calamities happened. It is worse this year. But, even today, no steps have been taken to conserve environment. The situation will become far worse next year.
Govt. claims of a natural disaster zone
When something happens, society does not look at the root cause. If we study the root cause of the recent natural disasters, it is very clear that they were the doings of environment destruction. Answers should be found how to conserve the environment to minimize disasters, rather than focusing on the need for disaster preparedness. But, we know that the successive governments had sold and destroyed the environment. If we take the national physical plan from 2011 to 2030, the targets are to create naval and aviation centres, economic and tourism centres etc. It does not talk about environmental conservation or biodiversity. By now, the national political programme is for a massive environmental destruction. So, development is today a very dangerous word. People die in landslides. People die in floods. People lose their homes and have to live at temporary camps. The rulers are trying to glorify this dangerous devil.
Turning to healing sick animals
As a person who is interested in nature, I also have interest in how to help animals. But, I did not have the knowledge in the beginning. That, gap too, was filled thanks to the Environment and Nature Study Centre. I remember that when we were small, we did not kill the snakes that came to our Pirivena, but put them into bottles and take them some other place. But, when a big snake came, we could not do that. We were afraid or loathed them. This course helped to dispel that fear and loathing of animals.
Our country is home to around 94 species of snakes. But, only five to six of them are very poisonous. Others are not so. The course taught me how to catch snakes. Now, snakes are not killed in the Kuda Bubula and other villages. When we are informed about any snakes, If we can, we go and catch them and take them to the jungle. Among them, we find sick snakes. They are treated before being sent to the jungle.
About the nature school
If we want to protect the environment, we need people who have the knowledge. When we take education, there is a big absence of teaching environment conservation while making use of the environment at the same time. Education tells us only how to use more and more of the environmental resources. Therefore, the nature school affiliated to the Environment and Nature Study Centre was opened to fill that gap. Anyone is welcome. There is no racial or religious difference. Many subjects on environment are taught, in addition to camps, field trips, dialogues etc.
Education is a tool that can change society. The nature school fulfills the need to teach us how to create a better environment. It has already created a generation that thinks similarly.
Pictures – Nishantha Priyadarshana