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It is so wonderful to at last see a site and a book (“A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency”) and a declaration (which you can sign) that reflects a thoughtful and heart-felt Buddhist response to the climate change problem. The contributors are so eminent and across all traditions. Here are a few:
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
His Holiness Gyalwang Karmapa
Thich Nhat Hanh
I feel grateful to Christopher Titmuss for having planted the seeds of whatever spiritual-ecological consciousness lies in me. I had him as a meditation teacher in Orangeville, Ontario in 1992. I remember him speaking passionately and poetically about water as “the blood of the earth”.
I am only now reading Christopher’s book The Green Buddha, written in 1994. I think many of its observations and sentiments were prophetic. However, I can’t say that I like the dominant tone of this collection of Dharma talks. It is one of righteous indignation about the injustices done to the earth, committed by the capitalist / military western economic consumer machine that manifests “obscene greed” and ignorance writ large. Christopher is right, of course, but does he have to go on and on with the outrage, even if it is outrageous?
Still, I think there are valuable spiritual lessons to be learned from this book. In one passage, Christopher writes:
There are some orthodox Buddhists who voice the rather strange view that the preservation of the teachings comes first. One has to give up “doing good” for others, such as working to end poverty and injustice or attempting to apply environmental ethics. These voices dismiss such issues as nothing more than temporal matters. “Why concern oneself with such passing issues?” they argue. “By being involved in the problems of the world, we get lost in the world.” For them, doing good is like a band aid which block the opportunity for realization of the Ultimate Truth and enlightenment, which is beyond good and evil.
… the great danger with such conservative voices is that they encourage spiritual seekers to lose interest in the fate of people and the earth through clinging to limited standpoints…. Such voices can inhibit a spontaneous predilection to end suffering, as a natural expression of empathy with others, as natural as the responses of an emotionally healthy mother to her child.
I think he is right about this. When we read the Metta Sutra for instance, and wish all beings to be at ease
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born…
we really do feel for future generations who will suffer the consequences of our actions today. And if we really wish to be harmless towards all species now and in the future, we have to be moved to act.
At the same time, there is a danger, as Christopher also points out, with ecologists’ preoccupation with the future. Always looking to what dangers are lurking and the possible disastrous consequences of ecological cataclysms: the potential of being pushed and pulled by the burnout cycle of hope and disappointment:
Spiritual wisdom and practices, the capacity to be steadfast in the Here and Now, and to be free from inner [ego] investment safeguard the heard and mind from burnout.
Spiritual awakening, the realization of Ultimate Truth is an indispensable feature for action…. Change comes through people realising what is happening Here and Now. That realization only shows itself in acting for change, not in complaining… This change of consciousness invites a different order of participation in the world…. We must seek fresh and appropriate political forms respectful to the life of our Earth and the experience of living Here and Now.
The Buddha has taught us to practice looking directly into the seeds of fear in us, instead of trying to cover them up or running away from them. This is the practice of the five remembrances.
- I will have to grow old.
- I will have to get sick.
- I will have to die.
- One day I will have to lose the things I cherish today, and the people I love today.
- When my body disintegrates, I cannot bring anything with me except my actions of body, speech and mind – they are the only inheritance that I can bring with me.
When we can practice accepting these truths in this way, we will have peace, and we will have the capacity to live healthy and compassionately – no longer causing suffering to ourselves and to others. When people with cancer or AIDS are first diagnosed and told that they only have 3 months or half a year to live, they often react with anger, denial, and despair in the beginning. They cannot accept it. However, once they can accept the truth, they begin to have peace.
The Buddha taught that all phenomena are impermanent; there is birth, then there is death. Our civilization is also like that. In the history of the earth, many civilizations have ended. If our modern civilization is destroyed, it also follows the law of impermanence. If our human race continues to live in ignorance and in the bottomless pit of greed as at present, then the destruction of this civilization is not very far away. We have to accept this truth, just like we accept our own death. Once we can accept it, we will not react with anger, denial, and despair anymore. We will have peace. Once we have peace, we will know how to live so that the earth has a future; so that we can come together in the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood and apply the modern technology available to us, in order to save our beloved green planet. If not, we will die from mental anguish, before our civilization actually terminates.
I feel pretty confident that I’m going to like “Hooked! Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume“.
Although I haven’t read it yet, Amazon tells me that people who bought “Buddhist Ethics, A Very Short Introduction” also bought “Hooked” (and I believe in recommender systems because that’s what I do for a living!)
Collections of essays are bound to be uneven, but with authors like Joseph Goldstein, Pema Chödrön and Ajahn Amaro I’m pretty confident there are pearls of wisdom here.
Many thanks to Marion Foot for pointing me to the Monasticism and the Environment conference web site, where readers can find both MP3 recordings and the PDFs of the transcripts for the talks given at this Catholic-Buddhist interfaith conference. It is inspiring to see spiritual leadership at the forefront of what is a critical issue, both spiritual and worldly.
This is the joint statement that was issued at the end of the conference:
We live in a time of environmental crisis and calamity, but also in a time when more and more people are coming together to respond to the suffering of the world. Our monastic interreligious dialogue has brought us to a new awareness of the social and spiritual relevance of ancient monastic traditions that have been sustained for millennia by Buddhist and Catholic communities.
One of my Dharma friends used to have the line “Tread lightly on the earth” in his e-mail signature.
It seems to me that an awareness of the impact we have on others — i.e. an awareness of our relationship to the environment — is an essential aspect of a life devoted to harmlessness. Being mindful of our consumption habits, the effects they have on other people and other species is not separate from the practice of unconditional freedom and enlightenment.
Films such as David Chernushenko’s documentary “Be The Change” — from the Living Lightly Project — are grass-roots attempts at providing a counter balance to all the bad news from such sources as Al Gore and Tim Flannery. The trailer (below) of David’s film brings me hope that the growing individual awareness of our place in the world will manifest in a collective awakening which may transform our individual and collective sense of “self”.