Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
How can we find the way to live in harmony with our environment, fighting the scourges of environmental destruction and pollution?
This is the question that SGI-Brazil member Viviane Ferraz has repeatedly wrestled with throughout her career. She currently works for a public-sector organization in São Paulo, the Companhia de Tecnologia de Saneamento Ambiental (CTSA), where she responds to citizens’ complaints about pollution and environmental damage.
“We need to promote an understanding of the interrelation between life and its environment throughout society,” she explains. When local citizens encounter pollution in their environment, it is Viviane that responds to their complaints, organizing surveys and preparing solutions.
Although this is, for Viviane, the job of her dreams, her path to it was by no means smooth.
Viviane was first introduced to Nichiren Buddhism in 1989 when she was 17 and still looking for a university place.
“I chanted as much as possible and was able to win a place at São Paulo University. Getting into a public university is very difficult in Brazil, and given my family’s financial situation it was a tremendous benefit for us all.”
At university she studied geography, which covers the relationship between humankind and the environment, selecting courses that examine the complex and far-ranging environmental problems facing our planet.
In many cases, the destruction of the environment is caused by humanity’s greed, she realized, and indeed her first job supplied proof of this. She had taken a position with a natural resource development company as part of a topographical mapping team. But the company was ultimately oriented to profit-making and, to Viviane, didn’t pay sufficient attention to environmental preservation.
For example, on one project, the flow of a river was diverted arbitrarily, destroying the local ecology. Viviane found it unacceptable that such a large and prosperous company could tolerate such damage to the environment. She found herself constantly disagreeing with her employer’s actions, but when she discussed this with her seniors and colleagues, they told her that with an attitude like hers, she would never be able to do her job.
related article Acting Locally by Yongjie Yon Yongjie Yon, Canada. Involvement in SGI leads to his developing a confident self enabling his participation in community engagement such as the Earth Charter. “When you have a great determination,” Viviane philosophizes, “you are certain to face adversity. Sometimes you will feel like giving up, but at times like that you can draw on the encouragement of others and of your faith, and find a way to rise above the problem.”
Viviane has drawn inspiration from SGI President Ikeda’s writings, particularly his peace proposal of 1992, which discussed the Earth Summit and its call for sustainable development. It states in part:
We are groping for a kind of balanced development that ensures environmental preservation ... development that looks directly to the future, that protects the interests of future generations.
This inspired me to really study the Buddhist theory of the oneness of life and its environment.
“This inspired me to really study the Buddhist theory of the oneness of life and its environment. This also ties in with my specialty of geography, and has further inspired me to take action to make this concept known throughout society.”
Unable to reconcile her concerns about the environmental damage caused by the company she worked for, she made the difficult decision to quit and pursue a different career path, having to sit further exams to qualify to become a public servant. But it paid off, as she found her current position with CTSA.
This body is responsible for surveying and managing air, water and soil pollution arising from industrial waste, agrochemicals and garbage, and creating a better environment. In addition to responding to complaints from citizens about environmental destruction, arranging surveys to assess damage and processing data about pollution, Viviane also participates in environmental education programs.
“Education is the key,” she asserts, “and my goals for the future are primarily in that field. We need to find a new approach to environmental education to meet the needs of our contemporary society and to open the path to the future.”
[Courtesy October 2001 SGI Quarterly]
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