勿体無い もったいない Mottai- n’ai:
A Buddhist Ecological Perspective
Mottainai, literally meaning ‘essence’ is an ancient Buddhist term that translates into having respect for the resources around you, to not waste these resources and to use them with a sense of gratitude. Mottainai is closely associated with the conservation practices that we recognize in the West as the three R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle – with a fourth R added: respect.
According to the prestigious Japanese dictionary Kojien, the word mottai-nai (pronounced moat-tie-nigh) is the Buddhist term most commonly used to express a feeling of regret when something is put to waste without deriving its value. Recently the term has become a keyword in coping with global problems related to resources and the environment.
Regrettably today, many societies think of resources and the environment (nature) as something to be exploited for financial profit. The near catastrophes in American and Russian atomic reactors, however, show what can happen if we one-sidedly try to exploit nature solely for what seems to be our benefit. We have benefitted a great deal from the scientific and technological developments of recent years, but at the same time, we have lost sight of nature for what it is for itself. A mountain is no longer simply accepted as a mountain; it is something that must be exploited because it may have various resources. A river is no longer looked on as having value as flowing water. It is looked at for how many kilowatts of power will be generated if a dam were constructed across it. Trees are considered for the number of board-feet of lumber that it will produce, and grass for the number of cattle it will support.
Similarly, people are no longer valued as individuals, but for the work they can do and how much they can consume. “You are only worth as an individual what you can bring to the market place” is the mantra that is drilled into the minds of many peoples in todays faced paced industrial societies.
When we consider the utility of things as the most important characteristic of that thing, that thing is no longer what it was, but what it can be exploited. We have become, first as individuals, and secondly as societies, a people disconnected not only from Nature but from our own true self-nature.
As practicing Buddhists I encourage you to please simply take a moment to reflect on the spirit of “mottainai” in your daily activities. Remind yourself of the inter-connectedness with all things. Be kind, respectful, honest, and continue seeing everything and everyone as Buddha —if you can’t manage all that right now, sit some more and keep training.
May Peace Prevail on Earth!
Reverend Daito Thompson- Osho, director Sarasota Zen Center