Litter-picking; The Dharma Enhancing Life and rescuing the intestines of the earth, the fruits of ‘mundane’ practice

”Sees not the faults of the world” Sutra of Wei Lang


Perfect view, bhikkus, if it is helped by five things, has a lib of mind as its fruit… Perfect view is helped by virtue, by wide learning, by discussion, by tranquillity and insight.

Why shouldn’t you feel personally inspired when taking the rubbish out [or picking it up, not just your own litter, but others out of joyful compassion]? Like many Mahayana sutras, this relates to how bodhisattvas behave, practice, live. Yet it describes their response as aesthetic and appreciative rather than utilitarian. Taking up a bit of reality here or some work there, Bodhisattvas will surround it with beauty – which is why they are so effective – and why taking out the rubbish will be inspiring.

Litter-picking & The Dharma
Enhancing Life and rescuing the intestines of the earth, the fruits of ‘mundane’ practice

Milan Ghosh February 2010

I lost a 15-page article on this subject, it took weeks to write, now it’s litter, mere rubbish, gone, gone, gone. How tiresome, so here we go again, writing it all again. Here is a shortened reincarnation of that rubbish article (GROAN!).

I litter pick because ”I don’t like litter”,
People ask me why I litter-pick, mostly there are friendly eyes watching, mostly friendly questions, or tone of voice, but a few fools, ask why sarcastically. And even call me names such as ”Weirdo” ,”He’s ‘mad”’ etc. It’s their loss. Those who are content have no wish to harm. But one can’t teach a fool. I am only wise fool, picking up litter daily on my way wherever I go, in town in Holbeck, near Elland Road where I live, wherever I go e.g. Chapeltown and Harehills,

Why don’t I like litter?
Well it’s an eyesore unnecessary contagious, so I try to reverse this negative contagion, making the negative downward stream flow backwards uphill to the positive open heart. And, yes, there really is no such thing as a small act of kindness in what can be a cruel world – I think of the world now more like Samsara-Nirvana, full of skilful people as well as the ‘negative’. The wider context cultivates a certain type of emptiness in which negative consequences, are less, then eradicated, ignorance and unwholesome actions are no more. I can meditate on this when litter-picking.

It’s decadent. Most of us could do better and just practice patient love for the world, others and ourselves included, because litter degrades us. Surely we can be patient, forbear time and trouble until we get to a litter bin or home before we drop it where it belongs.

Because its about recycling

Because it generates friendship affection and community. Picking up litter creates new friends, from strangers. People sometimes give money, which I used to refuse; but it was blind to refuse such goodwill – simple metta.

Because it’s just the right thing to do. Litter is an eyesore, it pollutes water, kills wildlife; I even pick up bottles tops and splintered plastic forks on the road; otherwise if I don’t it would add to the billions of sea creatures killed by swallowing plastic fragments.

The Hierarchy of Litter-Picking -Firstly there’s the dangerous items; ahimsa; looking after all living things, the master harms no living thing.

Electrical waste contains flame retardants theo-bromates that contaminate groundwater, and the food chain and will damage nerves and brains.

Glass is bagged up and double bagged, from ‘witches knickers’, plaggy bags caught in trees, or on the ground, but not tied up, so as to prevent it bursting and littering again, and also to make easy depositing into local bottle banks. Energy, economy and balanced effort are manifest.

Dog poo is now often so dry and hollow, by rapid dehydration in a warmer climate, that I simply kick it into the gutter. Kids and adults can fall on it harming themselves, spreading worms and other diseases. I wash my trainers with some bleach in the machine every 2 days, and go Indian: only place them on the doormat, nowhere else. If people are repulsed by my shit-kicking, then I take the opportunity to educate them, with the above practices. It’s been easy to get more frequent street cleaning in our increasingly dense city, and dog warden patrols. Simply ask your local councillor; go to It’s a top issue along with street safety.

Organic waste food some salvageable, sealed in cans. Other organic waste decaying papers and food; I concentrate it in one pile each time I pass; take off the paths, concrete areas, into gardens, worms and other creatures too. Incidentally I rescue worms during the rain wherever I am passing off the paths and onto grass areas in parks. Man has created this obstruction for them and when its drier they die, so I rescue them.

Plastic: bottle tops, fragments, bags. metal cans are ripped open and sharp so I bag them up first, then deal only with the non-damaged ones. I put the metal cans into local green bins, even though, since the bin men’s strike 3 years ago, they throw recyclables to landfill, and do not use use the contamination tape, or their own system. Please email your local councillor, or write to him or her if you have problems with recycling street cleansing or litter.

There’s cannabis found dumped often with identifying materials such as clothes and personal papers, serial and batch numbers of goods such as PCs, by the allotment cul-de-sac. yards and by the allotment.  Give up drugs yourself, help others do so, have a lucid happy mind, and a more peaceful community. It is a complete myth that if a drug dealer is shopped to the police another immediately springs up. Buddhists have said this defeatism, but they do not report the dealers themselves to Crimestoppers 0800 55511 Dob in a Dealer or the police, do not observe the effect, do not speak from a ground of action, or practice. It would be at least twice as bad round here for drugs and all their effects, and it has been 5 times worse at least with their conduit gang who use the 2 motorway slip roads into South Leeds as an entry route. So I do not now take offence at such ignorant defeatism- I carry on content to make a difference.

For me my own life is not so important, and I am no longer suicidal – everyone’s life is worthy. So for little me the practice of fearlessness, courage and vajra is down to earth, inspired by a certain variety of Asian Buddhist such as Thich Nhat Hanh, and the good people of Chapeltown LS7 where I was bred. Initially it bred many good tings such as reggae and open-heartedness, but also violence, prostitution and money madness.
For me the dharma is not primarily intellectual, that is what I call a conceptual straitjacket, aka prapaunchya. I do aspire to read more, but I wish no longer for ordination, only to create a local community freer of drugs, crime and black-market greed, as well as lost souls. To provide what’s needed and wanted: community peace without too much thinking. Not to boast; however to let off steam in this difficult, but easier task.

I have noticed that some vegetarians, even vegans find leather so convenient they buy it for gloves shoes and other uses (related to this: a survey showed 1 in 7 vegetarians cheat and eat meat occasionally). I do not judge this unskilfulness in any way; firstly because we are all hypocrites until enlightenment, second part of the advice on the path, is to not judge anyone or anything in any way; to let yourself, see absolute reality. In my view the skilled teachers are always kind and appropriate to the trainees karma-personality; otherwise learners may not learn. See the Dalai Lamas book recommended below in References.

To help people, I suggest they only use leather shoes, boots, gloves picked up from the street, such as shoes, clothes, gloves especially useful for DIY jobs and gardening. Wash in a washing machine with a drop of bleach ensures germs are killed, but gloves, boots and shoes will not be blanched. And in this way no new demand is created by buying leather; reclamation, to my mind is a deep respect for the animals that have died to create it. Its also good environmental practice. They can be washed 2 or 3 times in a machine; soap powder has 5 percent bleach in it, so let go of ultra hygiene and mental comfort of uncleanliness.

I welcome your views; you can copy them to the LBC website, and forward them simultaneously to

I can provide reclaimed a/ litter-picked leather, and other strong gloves on request
c/o my 0787 168 9799, home or LBC; others can also take on this voluntary role.

It’s all about learning to live well with out metta, to see it as less difficult not as a daily task of trying to be loving and kind to others. The practice of loving kindness, not apathy or fighting battles is a challenge, however if we persist through consulting anyone not just Buddhists who are obviously more advanced in such down to earth love and community we shall progress.

This article is deliberately not over cognitive though I do think deeply; the fruits of litter-picking are abundance generosity, friendship, community, gratitude, compassionate love, rising above blame and praise; ethics: just ‘doing the right thing’ – to name a few.

Feedback is always welcome electronic or not. Environ-mental new ideas and practices for a better world are welcome too; thank you for your time and trouble.
If you feel fear, feel the infinite too, talk to friends, do it litter-picking – and anything wholesome too. Do not let self-consciousness, or being judged by others stop you meditating , contemplating reflecting, other practices or doing the right thing. ”Love yourself, always, today now and tomorrow….” the Buddha said in The Dammapada…”

The Dalai Lama The Power of Compassion Thorsons 1981: for discussion on Interdependence and emptiness correcting unskilful habits

The Novice Thich Nhat Hanh. In a general sense he displays diligence, joy, fearlessness, courage inspiration and compassion beyond belief. It is not directly related to environmental issues, but the transcendence he demonstrates removes neurotic thinking, and transforms and translates easily, often without words, into inspiration. You just know what your next step is.

The ‘Mischief’ Chapter in The Dhammapada: the Sayings of the Buddha Thomas Byrom Random House 1976

I, of course, also recommend Sangharakshita’s version of The Dhammapada, Windhorse. (Personally I do not like the lack of rhythm and rhyme, for I know this device helps people retain and understand the dhamma. However it is said it is a more accurate translation, and one can indeed see it is, so I read the two together.)

Also another good translation is E.K. Eswaran’s The Dhammapada, out of print, but there is a copy in the LBC Library; particularly useful is the long introduction explaining the culture and background to the Buddha’s sayings.

If anyone is keen enough to find spare copies, donate or buy them from, I would be happy to organise the sharing and study between friends of not just this translation but all in fact, perhaps through LBC. We shall see

Please email


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