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One Earth Sangha

Evolving EcoDharma

Foundations of One Earth Sangha


Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Together with our community of teachers, practitioners, and partners, One Earth Sangha is not only sharing EcoDharma, but evolving the forms and practices of EcoDharma. But what do we mean by “EcoDharma”, what does it emphasize, and why do we consider even our definition of it to be part of our mission? For us, EcoDharma goes far beyond metta or loving-kindness for all beings, recognizing interdependence, and even a moral call for non-harming. This article explores some attributes and implications of the EcoDharma that calls to us.

One way to understand the Mission of One Earth Sangha, our activist agenda, is that we exist to collectively generate the forms, practices, and contents of EcoDharma. This Dharma is focused on repairing humanity’s relationship not just with ourselves and one another, but with Earth and the living Earth community of which we are a part. In this space, we bow in gratitude to those who have developed EcoDharma, whether by that name or otherwise, including authors and teachers, such as ThĂ­ch Nháș„t HáșĄnh, Stephanie Kaza, Joanna Macy, David Loy, Robin Wall Kimmerer, bell hooks, Dr. Michael Yellow Bird, Gary Snyder, Enrique Salmon, Robert Aitken Rƍshi, and more.

© Rick Lam from Unsplash

To better understand what we mean by “EcoDharma,” look to the name: EcoDharma integrates Eco and Dharma. Dharma is BuddhaDharma, the exquisite and evolving wisdom tradition founded by Siddhartha Gautama in the sixth century B.C.E. “Eco” refers to “ecology,” a study of the activity of relationships in nature that evolve over time and how they impact the health of both individuals and the system as a whole. At One Earth Sangha, our EcoDharma breaks down like this:

  1. As a premise, EcoDharma is rooted in Dharma. Dharma wisdom and practices, as interpreted and enhanced across traditions and generations, are fundamental to EcoDharma. The practices of turning towards, instead of away from, suffering, seeing conditioning as conditioning, understanding the Middle Way as the stuff of insight and not a compromise between extremes, curtailing reactivity, training in ethical speech and action, cultivating compassion and the other heart practices, recognizing interdependence, understanding emptiness 
 these are only some of the critical insights that explicitly inform our EcoDharma. Indeed, we submit that the potential of the Dharma to understand our present conditions, and then inspire and guide our response, is largely untapped.
Highland Rivers
© Jamie MacPherson from Unsplash
  1. EcoDharma explicitly recognizes all beings in the living Earth community. It confirms the full worth, dignity, even “personhood,” of not just humans but all beings and extends this recognition to waters, lands, as well as the Earth. Mindful of the dominant tendency to downplay injustice within the human family, EcoDharma recognizes and counters the view of a human-centric universe.
  2. EcoDharma embraces difference. Within ecosystems, diversity is directly correlated to well-being, adaptation, and on-going evolution. So too, EcoDharma values different voices and diverse ways of being and knowing. EcoDharma calls us to discern the forms of domination which work to subjugate the other, including speciesism, patriarchy, colonialism, consumerism, militarism, individualism, and white supremacy. Dharma institutions and organizations (including our own) are not immune, tending to flatten difference and rationalize oppressive control. Our practice therefore includes actively countering these as we would any hindrance to well-being. We also recognize that difference can be over-emphasized, flattening individuals to their perceived particularities (for instance, “I don’t see color” becomes “I only see color”). All beings are complex with endless dimensions and are ultimately unfathomable.
  3. The subjects of EcoDharma are both individual and collective, expanding the scope of wisdom and cultivation from the individual to social forms including communities, organizations, cultures, and institutions. It offers a fractal lens on suffering as rooted in ignorance at every scale, including enculturated greed, hatred and delusion. It not only recognizes that individuals can shape the collective but do so inevitably, whether consciously or unconsciously. EcoDharma therefore embraces individual agency, our ability to influence yet not determine collective outcomes.
  4. EcoDharma emphasizes deep time, the accumulation of influences over time, especially beyond the span of a human lifetime. By emphasizing the cultural forces across time, including the actions of our ancestors, this Dharma sees conditioning, cause and effect, building not over decades but millennia. So for instance, we welcome the ethical obligation to those least responsible for social and ecological destruction, including marginalized human communities, the more-than-human, and all who have yet to be born.
  5. EcoDharma welcomes the leading edge of scientific discovery, especially the emerging understanding of the nature of matter as well as the intelligence, awareness, and self-hood that expresses in creatures, planted ones, and other self-organizing phenomena. At the same time, we reject the reductive view of scientific materialism that robs our lives of their particularity and meaning. Rather, we recognize diverse cosmological views: indigenous as well as creaturely, botanical, terrestrial, watery, and Earthly ways of being and knowing.
Black Lives Matter Protest
© Taylor Brandon from Unsplash
  1. EcoDharma considers engagement as fundamental to the Path. In a world where harm to other is indirect and embedded, service to all forms of “other” is a necessary aspect of ethical behavior and crucial to our own well-being. Yet the Dharma clarifies that Right Action emerges from clear comprehension. When we act from ignorance, we make matters worse. Our practice is to look deeply in order to understand the sources of harm and then to engage collective, accumulated, and embedded destructive forces with compassion and accountability. Right Action is reward unto itself, empty of self, and, at its best, strategic, authentically helpful, yet not attached to outcome. Our work is to foster the Path of Engaged Practice.
  2. The final mark of this EcoDharma, resting on all others, emphasizes the Path as relational. This points to the potential for lessening suffering, increased freedom, from forging Right Relationship with what has been fragmented. We open to not only the internal and interpersonal other, but also the cultural and interspecific (between species) other. EcoDharma shines a light on mana, the reduction of the other to be better than, less than, or even the same as self. Extending this teaching, EcoDharma critiques the objectification that leads to exploitation, hyper-individualism and materialism. Rather than an ideal of unification, “we’re all one”, we align towards healing and repair through full recognition, active restoration and ongoing reciprocity. Attending to the Rest of Nature is a necessary part of our Dharma practice and the fodder for wisdom. All beings are fully-esteemed partners in awakening.

These are foundational to our holding of EcoDharma, and yet there is so much more to be said about ecological Dharma wisdom, practice and ethics. Think of all the genius of the Dharma and apply that. Think of all the genius of ecosystems and apply that.

We suggest that this developmental direction is wholly consistent not only with classic Dharma but Indigenous ways of knowing as well as the leading edge of science, specifically neurology, ecology and quantum physics. Whether by the name EcoDharma or otherwise, teachers, authors, and practitioners are evolving, sharing and living EcoDharma. There is so much more to understand, apply, and explore, and that’s the point. We have just begun and you are a part of this evolution.

In the comments section below, we invite you to share what EcoDharma means to you.

Kristin Barker

Kristin Barker

Kristin is co-founder and director of One Earth Sangha whose mission is to cultivate a Buddhist response to ecological crises. She is a graduate of Spirit Rock's Community Dharma Leader program and now teaches with the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (DC). As a co-founder of White Awake, Kristin has been supporting white people since 2011 with a Dharma approach to uprooting racism in ourselves and in our world. With a background in software engineering as well as environmental management, she has worked at several international environmental organizations. She is a GreenFaith Fellow and serves on the advisory board of Project Inside Out. Kristin was born and raised in northern New Mexico and currently lives in Washington DC, traditional lands of the Piscataway peoples.
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