She ended up helping the senior monks develop a set of environmental guidelines
for Buddhists and monasteries. Before long, WWF colleagues saw the value of her work and asked her to reach out to religious leaders in their regions and countries.
“People started to say, ‘Why are you only doing this in the Himalayas? Why aren’t you doing this here? We have the same issues here, and our faith leaders are some of the most powerful stakeholders we have in the region.’”
In most places, it occurred to her, religious leaders weren’t being considered as stakeholders in environmental discussions despite the critical roles they hold in their communities. “In Africa, nine out of 10 people are very
religious,” she says. “Not just religious. Not just spiritual. Very
After creating Sacred Earth, she worked with Hindu, Christian, and Islamic leaders across Africa to help fight the illegal trade in wildlife. “We start to speak the same things the same way, in a united way,” Rev. Patrick Maina
, one of the participating religious leaders, said of the partnership
. “That is power. That is energy. Things are going to happen.”
The program is now working with religious leaders in the Amazon.
“And the dialogue has always been so inspirational to me… I have never had a meeting with a faith leader where we didn’t find agreement, and where we didn’t agree that something had to be done,” she said.
“If we’re not condescending and we speak their language, we do have a lot in common. Our mandate is to protect all life on earth. And whether you call it ‘God’s creation’ or ‘biodiversity,’ we mean the same thing.”
hile Chungyalpa has always been a devout Buddhist, for many years she was careful to keep her religious and professional worlds separate. In academic or work settings, she worried that mentioning her religion might make her seem biased, unscientific, or even too “emotional.”
That’s why she says it was almost scary when she started Sacred Earth. During the initial planning for the project, she consulted with several experts in the field to get their feedback, including Mary Evelyn Tucker
, a senior lecturer and research scholar at F&ES, and co-director of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology
. “She was so encouraging and reassuring when I was getting started,” Chungyalpa says of Tucker.
At Yale she will work directly with Tucker and John Grim
, the other co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology, on strategies to bring these two worlds together. Tucker and Grim say they are excited to incorporate Chungyalpa’s knowledge into their online education resources, and hope to work with her in developing a broader base of Buddhist organizations committed to these goals.