Series Four Volume 2

Review: The Buddha’s Footprint

Johan Elverskog’s The Buddha’s Footprint is a scathing rebuttal to the popular reception of Buddhism as an eco-friendly, inherently green religious tradition. Through a close interpretive reading of particular points of the Buddhist textual canon and a detailed analysis of historical documents from Buddhist Asia, Elverskog refutes the Eco-Buddhist claim that the Buddhist tradition has historically been a positive force for environmental wellbeing. He summarizes his book’s argument quite well in the conclusion, stating: “Inspired by the Dharma’s prosperity theology, Buddhists were protocapitalists who exploited the natural world relentlessly as they pushed into the frontier” (p. 115). In arguing this position, Elverskog finds himself working against a long-established belief stemming from Max Weber that Buddhism (and Buddhist Asia) lacks “economic rationalism and rational life methodology,” which makes it “apolitical” and “otherworldly” (p. 39), a belief that underpins the contemporary Eco-Buddhist worldview. Nonetheless, he crafts a solid argument against this tradition of thought and highlights the main religious roots, socio-cultural developments, and ecological consequences of Buddhism’s protocapitalist prosperity theology.